How A "Soul Tattoo" Changed My Life

In a small, white-walled corner of a Brooklyn loft space, Ashley Glynn is burning sage around her healing crystals, tarot cards, and a bag filled with ink, needles, and latex gloves. I'm here because — like any normal, self-respecting person in the thick of an early-30s life crisis — I'm about to get a “soul tattoo."
During this ritual, Ashley, also an illustrator and photographer, reads my tarot cards, drops some spiritual knowledge, and together we determine a tattoo design that embodies my reading. I’ve since discovered friends that have gone before me, but when I first saw Ashley’s work on my colorist’s arm, I’d never seen or heard of anything like it. I went straight to her Instagram for that familiar rabbit hole — tattoo-lusting — and booked the appointment shortly thereafter.
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At 19, 27, and 33, I subscribed to the idea that tattoos should be carefully considered. Lately I’ve become less precious about it and even recently got one that holds no significance other than I like the way it looks. The soul tattoo was different. Beyond a penchant for additional ink, I was driven to get it by the desire for clarity.
In October 2016, I left my home in New York City to join my husband on tour for his work. For 10 months I’ve been wheeling in and out of hotels, AirBnBs, and the guest rooms of gracious friends, whiling away hours in airports with the “Watch Offline” feature on my Netflix app. I’ve stayed the night at an abandoned summer camp, biked the Golden Gate Bridge, saw Red Rocks, hiked Camelback Mountain, ate more pizza than I care to admit, and strolled the Chicago Art Institute until my feet were sore and puffy. It’s been exhilarating and exhausting and forced me to examine my faults, fears, and dreams in exactly the way I’d hoped. But a nagging, panic-inducing question still looms over my husband and me, one we’ve been avoiding all year. “So, what’s next?”
If worrying about the future were a sport, I’d at the very least qualify for the Olympic team. First there’s the question of where we’ll live. We could go anywhere! Do you know how debilitating that is? There’s the job talk. For a writer and a musician, the delicate decisions about which opportunities to accept and to turn down can be the difference between thriving artistically and starving financially — or each cutting off the other’s opportunities to follow our own. Then, of course, there’s that whole parenthood thing.

There will be a choice we make, and a choice we don’t, and that’s all there is to it.

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I’ve never felt naturally inclined toward motherhood. That’s not to say that I didn’t grow up mothering my baby dolls or assuming, without much thought, that I would have kids someday. But that gut-punching urge to make another person, to love that person more than myself, and to put all my hard-earned money into caring for that person instead of, say, buying more shoes, has never quite captured me. But I can’t shake the feeling that my hesitation is less about a lack of desire and more a fear of change and new challenges.
Earlier this year, a girlfriend told me about a “Dear Sugar” column by Cheryl Strayed, back when she was conducting her now-popular podcast as a column for The Rumpus. In it, a 41-year-old man asks, “For those of us who aren’t lucky enough to ‘just know,’ how is a person to decide if he or she wants to have a child?” Strayed asks him to make certain considerations and to reexamine existing fears, but it was this part in the beginning that really got to me.
She recalls a poem by Tomas Tranströmer called “The Blue House.” He explains that we all have a “sister ship,” which is a metaphor for a life that takes “quite another route” than the one we have chosen. Strayed explains, “We want it to be otherwise, but it cannot be: The people we might have been live a different, phantom life than the people we are.” There will be a choice we make, and a choice we don’t, and that’s all there is to it.

Flashback to playing on the beach with Little Boo. Hope everyone has a safe, sunny, and relaxing long weekend! ✨

A post shared by Deenie Hartzog-Mislock (@deenkat) on

This phantom life — the idea that there are infinite streams of potential me’s running parallel to my own reality — hit me like a sack of bricks in the face. It’s so simple! Just make a choice! I sent the article to my husband and thanked my friend for sharing it, though I didn’t realize that Strayed’s words had put something into motion that would change me entirely. Something that Ashley Glynn would conjure to the surface six months later, with a deck of Tarot cards and indelible ink.
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Fast forward to me standing outside the doors of Ashley’s studio space at Minka Brooklyn, the collective that offers ayurvedic face-lift massage, “colorpuncture,” and usual suspects like Reiki, sound healing, and meditation. While the stick-and-poke aesthetic and the tattoo’s unique meaning caught my attention, I was quietly intrigued by the tarot element.
Before I moved to New York City, I was a free spirit. But 11 years of other people’s armpits in my face during subway rush hour, and the winters, and the constant struggle to stay afloat left me tired and skeptical. I wanted to believe, though, and I’d been searching for signs during our time on the road. I went to The Integratron (twice!) for sound baths. I did hot yoga till I was only 30% water. I started running to clear my head. Still, an inkling of cynicism left me feeling that these offerings (Colorpuncture? Really?) might be indicators of a higher power of bullshit.
Part of me was afraid to believe in something I couldn’t define or understand because I was too scared of being vulnerable for once. But now I’m at a crossroads. I’m scared of our political climate. I don’t want to be afraid of my decisions anymore. This seemed like as good a time as any to cash in on mysticism.
My session began with that sage smudging and then intention-setting. Whenever I’ve been asked to “focus my intention,” I always flounder. Am I doing it right? What if I think about the wrong thing? I felt an immense amount of pressure to manifest the “right things.” (Like I said: Olympic-level worrying.) Ashley laid the cards in a horseshoe shape. I pulled what she called several Reversals, meaning that I needed to clear my doubts and uncertainties in order to trust the journey and myself.
The Six of Pentacles and the Three of Rods showed progress and opportunity in my career, but urged me to think more about what I truly want in the future. My cards were heavy with themes of growth and balance, and some cautioned that I take myself less seriously. I needed to trust that the universe would deliver.
I am unaccustomed to saying things like "trust the universe," but I’d already exhausted pre-emptive cynicism and other related tactics. A new approach was in order. From the outside, my reading seemed perfectly average, but as the cards were flipped, they began to pick up where Strayed left off. The message was clear: “Make a choice and get out of your own way.”
After the reading, Ashley and I discussed the tattoo design. She envisioned a woman leaping toward the sun; I’m a fire sign and have always been drawn to the sun. But my rising and moon signs are water signs, enforcing my struggle for balance. I flipped through Ashley’s book of illustrations and chose a design that called to me.
She tailored it to my reading on the spot: a woman’s head sprouting with a fern for grounding, a rose for self-care and love, and a sunflower for my deep-seated love of the sun’s warmth. On her right palm, an eye for awareness and intention. In her left arm, the sun and the moon as one to represent balance, and some light numerology in the sun’s rays for added personal touch. While she worked, I played Khruangbin, one of my favorite bands, and we talked like old friends. Ashley’s energy is simultaneously calm and powerful. She’s spritely but easy-going. Being with her felt like floating on water. I left a new woman.
As the day wore on and the weeks rolled into one another, I was reacquainted with a feeling similar to the one I had after reading Dear Sugar. Clarity. Finally I was able to see the things I’d been wanting all along. I imagined a home with natural sunlight pouring through the windows. I focused my energy on finding new creative opportunities. Like a fog lifting, I could admit out loud the one thing I’ve been afraid to say: I do want to try to start a family. Whether it happens naturally or not is a roadblock we’ll tackle when we get there. The obstacles I’d previously belabored weren’t so intimidating anymore.
My experience with Ashley pushed my boundaries. I chose to believe that maybe there is such a thing as magic. Most importantly, I made a choice to trust in something beyond myself and let go of the rest. What I love about tattoos is that they never let you forget who you once were.
I still don’t have the answers to my questions, but they’ll come in time. For now, I have some choices to make — and the knowledge that, finally, I can do so confidently. So long, sister ship.
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