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Alana Louise Lyons

Trusting the Lucky Cat

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In any story we have the privilege of telling, we look for the natural phenomena of everyday life: the likeness and the rarity of an individuals talent, dreams, and struggles. To us, the ultimate definition of a life, is choice. Ultimately, choices are one of few things that separates our humanity. They are influenced by culture, family, connection, time, and place. However often based on logic, not all choices are founded in any particular rationale, nor are they necessarily decisive. The decisions we make are based on our own history, philosophy, and fascinatingly, a sizable degree of the unknown within us. We simply make them because we do.

In this Woven Ink, Alana Lyons shares with us how she became the proud wearer of a bear, a deer, a hot air balloon, and a broken arrow, among other fantastical companions. From Alana’s collection, we learned that tattoos not only project our ideas of beauty or evoke a story, they memorialize our decisions and the circumstances of their arrival. They are deliberate reminders of who we were in a specific moment or season of life. Strewn across her like landmarks on a map, her tattoos represent a path, the natural mystery of life as it is lived, remembered, and treasured. Her stories have soaked into her skin, taking on a personality of their own, open to be interpreted by strangers and friends who stop to marvel at their careful traces of color. One might notice a tranquil dignity, like that of an unexpected meeting with a stag; yet another may catch the gentle gaze of a cub before it has grown into its full ferocity. Like a living fantasy, each invites you to wonder at what it could all mean.

The first tattoo often gives a person away. Despite later attempts to learn from mistakes or inject more meaning into the next piece, that first bit of ink is singularly incomprehensible. The lifelong implications or stinging pain can never fully be anticipated. Like many of her subsequent tattoos, this first revolved around the complexity of family. It was after an argument her older sister, already painted with tattoos, had with their mother that Alana first felt that sting of knowledge. With only a car ride to the shop to decide, I imagine there were a number of things she considered. What should it be? Where should it go? What can it mean? What can I live with the rest of my life? More importantly, though, was the act of loyalty to her sister. Ready or not, Alana chose a small diamond to be hidden on her hip. “I was going through a tough time with Jake,” her now husband, she tells us. “And diamonds are forever,” letting us translate for ourselves the uncertainty she felt in their relationship that day. It wasn’t a stretch for us to understand. Just as that diamond is now forever fixed on her, the memory of that day will never leave her.

If her first tattoo seems spur of the moment, the second may further mislead you to think Alana a flippant canvas. But luck is always on her side. As a young intern at a branding agency in Atlanta, GA, she worked long hours proving her salt in the design industry. In a competitive environment, constantly chased by deadlines, Alana dug in. Along with experience, she gained friends and a deeper love of her budding profession. At the suggestion of a more senior designer and friend, Alana agreed to commemorate her season of falling in and out of love with the life of a graphic designer. She chose an artist right next door to their studio, and as luck would have it, the artist was a former graphic design professional who had left design to take up tattooing. Alana laughs at recalling this detail. “It’s something I always think of doing, but know I never will.” She wrings her hands and laughs a little more sheepishly. It almost seems she would love to try.

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The tattoo she plans blends two obsessions of the time: cross-stitch and type design. Her favorite collected cross-stitch pattern is still in her home, and naturally reads, “Home Sweet Home.” For her tattoo, the straight, cross-hatched lettering spells out “type.” Hugging the letters is a heart-like symbol used to denote the end of a paragraph. It’s the only design like it I’ve ever seen, and I can hardly believe how straight the lines are. “The shop that I got this from had a sign that said, ‘Straight lines at your own risk.’ Because it’s that big of a deal to get lines perfect. But this was one of my earlier tattoos, so I didn’t really think about that. I kind of lucked out there.”

The “type” tattoo that emerges from this scene unveils several things about Alana. First, she is intensely loyal. Almost all of her stories resound with the names of her family, and friends who have become family. Second, she lives in the balance of intentionality and remaining open. Before arriving at the shop for any tattoo, she arrives with an idea in mind. Something chosen; deliberate. But upon entering the shop, she positions her expectations to be happily altered. She often leaves placement – an intensely important decision in getting a tattoo – up to the artist. Furthermore, the scale and interpretation of her hopeful design is readily redrawn if the artist offers reconsiderations.

Just as gracefully as the elements scale her forearm, Alana recounts a scene of respect and collaboration between artist and subject. As a graphic designer, Alana stresses the importance of the artist in the work she submits herself to permanently. Although she has chosen to decorate her skin with curious reminders of extremely personal moments, she describes the benefit of relinquishing trust to their interpretation. In all of her stories save one, her original idea for the art she wanted done was subjected to a hand-picked professional opinion: the tattoo artist. Giving over that trust to a ‘specialist’ in the field is something she understands entirely. “When you’re working with a client, you don’t want them telling you how to use color, or type.” She humbly yields that same freedom to an artist she trusts. The final design intermingles the impressionability of youth and the wisdom of accepting advice.

As we continue examining each piece, I am surprised by how many tattoos relate to specific relationships. Each finds a way to reference someone she values deeply. A great deal of her work is even done by the same artist, one she affectionately refers to as the “family artist,” alluding to the work he has done for both her brother and sister design she drew entirely for herself is the Lucky Cat. “Like the kind you see in restaurants,” she reminds us. But this cat is different. Rather than wagging its right paw, which beckoning that you ‘bring in the business,’ Alana redefined her cat with it’s left paw raised. The left paw is a request that the fates will give her luck. This paw represents her birthday, august 8, 1988, or 8-8-88. In China, an eight represents infinity, or living forever. For Alana, this signifies the luck of her life. In it’s left arm, the cat carries a coin inscribed with a symbol for family. Draped above the cat on either side are flowers. They represent her mother and father, securing her on either side.

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The memories she chooses are often entrusted to animals. Their calm stares imply the danger and unpredictability of growing up. Alana remembers always drawing animals as a child, foreshadowing what would one day be drawn on her. And though silent, they speak for her in a way. The deer on her right arm, for one, is endowed with twelve points, one for each year spent in Georgia with her mother. Though quiet and gentle, it is made for the wilderness. It thrives there. After twelve years of security and provision, Alana left home, thereby severing dependence on her mother. I remember that moment in my own life as one of great expectancy and curiosity about the world I had yet to meet. With as much grace and respect as I could conjure, I threw off the predictable nurture of home and rushed out into my wilderness. But like Alana, I can barely speak on my values or most treasured moments without family entering the plot.

Perhaps the two major themes in our conversation with Alana were family and coming of age. I remember ‘coming-of-age’ as a literary theme sutured into my consciousness by a petite, gray haired high school English teacher. We studied the classics in all of their dramatic overanalyzable glory, to the point that I was convinced I would become a lifelong pupil and teacher of these universal truths. As much as I obsessed over those tales of sorrow and striving, tears and triumph, it never occurred to me that each of us might ever come of age in our own lives. These were characters, romanticized and unearthly in their easy courage and loose attachment to external expectations. Although I consider that I have myself ‘come of age,’ it was without the grandeur of a marker. Alana’s tattoos became those markers: laden with authentic suspense, mystery, and heroism comparable to any respectable classic novel.

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As her story progresses to me that just by the stories connected to her tattoos, I have a real sense of what Alana values. The hot air balloon on her right shoulder she got with her sister. Alana let her decide what they would both get, and and where. When they saw the first picture of the two side by side, they realized the artist had drawn them flying the same direction. From this brief telling, I glimpse the closeness between them, and the precious trust between sisters. The stylized spoon, in which I was most interested in, illustrates how a friendship turned to family when she married her husband, Jake. While in Atlanta, the two were best known by their friends for lavish feasts they would cook together and share on Sunday afternoons. Jake, who is a trained culinary expert, bears a matching fork. In choosing this set, they decorated themselves with a shared memory, a constant reminder to one another of their life together, and the common love of sharing food among friends.

In our generation, tattoos have gradually evolved from signs of rebellion to ornaments of adulthood. They paint the figuring-it-out process of becoming who you are. Even the assortment of tattoo styles Alana represents is a commentary on the stages and people that have escorted her through life to this point. The very permanence of tattoos acts as an agent of maturation. You are suddenly marked, visibly and irrevocably by your choices and must prepare for the inevitable questioning. You are forced to decide how you will define and defend yourself. The narrative you create will define you. But the beauty is, you get to define it. In Alana’s case, it is one of a family strengthened over time, a marriage founded in friendship and hospitality, and finding direction by learning to trust the path you’re on.

In accordance with their vivid, contrasting imagery, the narrative behind each tattoo captures a sincere glimpse of a past only she can fully know. Imbedded in her skin are the marks of Loyalty and Family, a love of the present moment, and a humble trust that good luck will surface in its own time. Captured in whimsy of each is an echo of who she is becoming, and the ones who bring meaning to that process.

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