Bradley Spann’s “mystic native”

“The same black line that was drawn on you was drawn on me.
The Wallflowers

I don’t remember how I first heard of the Boulder Tattoo Project. Did I read an article somewhere or overhear someone mentioning it at a coffee house? Did someone tell me about it? Years ago a friend who was in advertising said there is something called the rule of seven. You have to see an ad seven times before you are consciously aware of it.

I was in Espressoria on Pearl St. when the Boulder Tattoo Project entered my mind for the seventh time. There was a flyer and a card mentioning Anne, the poem, and Lexington, Kentucky. I knew I had to be a part of it. I took the card and then forgot all about it. The card lived amongst my ephemera. I would find it again and again. I was living with friends and renting the couch. My things were in trash bags. Then, after a year of crashing on sofas and living in a friend’s office, I had a place to stay. Even if I had to move away, I wanted to be part of the project. I sent Chelsea an email.

Looking at the poem, I spotted lots of cool phrases. I wanted ‘scorpion’ or ‘Bolder Zodiac.’ My third choice was ‘mystic native.’ After sending my email, I thought I wouldn’t be picked. I also thought I wouldn’t be around in November. My life was in flux. Then things began to get stable. Chelsea let me know that I would be getting ‘mystic native’ tattooed on me. I told a friend and she said, ‘That is cool! It’s cool because you can say you are native to all things mystical.’ I realized I would be around in November. I chose to get the tattoo on my birthday, November 5th.

Getting my tattoo was overwhelming. I showed up early. It was my BIRTHDAY! My first tattoo! I chatted with the tattoo artists. They weren’t open yet. I got the time wrong due to nerves. I came back half an hour later. The place was buzzing with activity. There were a few of us there to get inked. I was excited. Was it going to hurt? I was put at ease by Chelsea’s good humor. Everyone was in a good mood. A woman named Katya mentioned she was going to get a cup of coffee across the street and wanted to know if she could buy me one. She even offered me an apple. I very quickly felt part of something. A woman before me got a tattoo on her shoulder. It was her first. She was all smiles. Adam waved me over and set to work on my tattoo. He said it would not hurt that much. He was right. I was grateful that I had been chosen to be part of the project. Mystic native was soon written on my chest.

Why get a tattoo? Why be part of the Boulder Tattoo Project? All of us, I believe, seek community. We want to belong to something. Some of us are fortunate. We find community with the people we live near, or work with, or play sports with, or play music with. Others take a wrong turn and head down a rough path, which leads us astray. It is all about finding your tribe and a place to belong. I was homeless for about a month last year. I could not find work. I was depressed. Looking for work while being depressed is like a dog chasing its tail. You never get anywhere. It is dizzying. My friends helped me. They housed me. They helped me get a little work here and there. I am fortunate. I was never on the street. It was a dark time filled with tears and shame. A dark passage.

Saying yes to being part of this project was me saying yes to my community. I was saying, ‘I am part of Boulder, Colorado!’ As I wrote above, I did not think I would be around to get the tattoo. I had been thinking of moving to Philadelphia to live with a friend. A new start. My friend is an empty nester. She has plenty of room. She could also possibly help me find work. I even thought of moving back to my hometown, Los Angeles, even though it no longer feels like home. I love my family but now in middle age I had to find my own life.

Saying yes to the project was saying ‘thank you’ to my friends. My tattoo means I am the keeper of something much greater than myself. I am a living work of art. I am two words from a sentence in a poem which represents Boulder. I went to Naropa University and still work there on occasion. Lineage was something mentioned often. It was used in reference to teachers and students. I feel we, the tattooed, can say the same thing. My tattoo represents the Boulder of now. All of our tattoos represent this as well. My community has held me and taken care of me. My tattoo honors my friends, my community.

I left Boulder after I graduated from Naropa in 2009. I never thought I would move back. As much as I had loved it, I had some difficulty with parts of the population. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Call it stupidity. I need not elaborate. When I left, I was angry and hurt. In 2012 a friend offered me work. I was given a place to stay. When I told a friend about my moving back, she said, ‘You will keep coming back to Boulder until you find out what it is you are supposed to get from Boulder.’ I understand that now. Since coming back, I have written a one-man show which I performed in the Boulder Fringe Festival. I will be touring my show across Canada this summer. I have also become part of a storytelling community here. This is why I had to come back. I am proud to say that I represent Boulder, Colorado from now until my dying day.

I have wanderlust. I often find myself yearning for a home. Some places I knew I had to leave the minute I arrived. Some places were close, but no cigar. This may sound very corny, and if it does please forgive, but there are some places which are special. They live inside of you. They never leave you, no matter where you may roam. My tattoo is my remembrance of my past two years in Boulder, written in ink.”

Bradley Spann

Bradley Spann’s “mystic native”


3 thoughts on “Bradley Spann’s “mystic native”

  1. Bradley, I also chose to be tattooed on my birthday – ALSO November 5th! Happy birthday to us!

  2. I love you Bradley Spann. And you are most def. part of my Boulder story and always part of my world community. What a great and funny story teller you are. This just completes the last conversation I had with you or should I say laughing til I cried session in Jeffry’s trailer:) And Chelsea congrats, sounds amazing. I love that my worlds of friends in Boulder always merge and they still do without me there. See you soon!!!!!

  3. I leave a comment whenever I appreciate a article on a website or I have something to contribute to the conversation. Usually it’s caused by the sincerness displayed in the article I browsed.
    And after this article Bradley Spann’s “mystic native” | The Boulder Tattoo Project.
    I was actually moved enough to leave a thought
    😉 I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind.
    Is it simply me or do some of the comments come across as if they
    are written by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are writing on additional online social sites, I would like
    to follow you. Would you list all of all your communal sites like your linkedin profile,
    Facebook page or twitter feed?

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