A Tattoo Story

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I used to think that this quote was Oscar Wilde’s. It seems like something Wilde would say.

I learned it wasn’t when I was thinking about getting a tattoo of that quote. What I was thinking was to have a hobgoblin sitting on another of my tattoos, one that reads WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT THERE?

The reason I wanted to put a hobgoblin sitting on that block of text was that I’d come to believe that thinking that way was perhaps a bit too rigid for my own good.

The story behind that tattoo: In Howard Zinn’s phenomenal A People’s History of the United States, there’s an anecdote about Henry David Thoreau, who spent a single night in the town jail of Concord, Massachusetts, for failing to pay a tax. He refused to pay the tax as a protest against American imperialism and slavery. This was in the 1840s, I believe.

During that day in jail, Emerson, who was something of a mentor and benefactor to Thoreau, came to see him. As the story goes, Emerson looked in through the bars of the window and asked Thoreau, “Henry, what are you doing in there?”

Thoreau responded, “Waldo, the question is, what are you doing out there?”

His point was basically that, as MLK put it, in an unjust society, prison is the only proper place for a just man.

Anyway, the point of my telling you about that story is to bring you back to the point where I conceived of that hobgoblin tattoo. I got the Thoreau line printed on my forearm in 2012, when I was a corporate defense attorney increasingly determined to find a way to change my life so that the externals of my lifestyle and work aligned more closely with my values.

It was after I’d paused my career and set out on a years-long journey that I conceived of the hobgoblin as a reminder not to take myself too seriously.

And I guess it was the universe reminding ME just how important that is when I learned that the guy talking about the hobgoblin I wanted to put on my arm was the exact same guy I’d told to fuck off in choosing to print those words on my arm in the first place.

So there you go.

The End.


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