I have been following the latest art project by Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde and fell in love with the concept, poem, and message. I have always been a fan of tattoos and a fan of Frank X Walker’s poetry. But, what most do not know is that the side of me… or should say, my soul… that loves these poems, tattoos, avant garde art has been tucked away under long flowing clothing and fabric covering my head. Nearly 12 years ago, I converted to Islam. I studied Islam for three and a half years before taking the plunge into this spiritual path. However, what I learned and fell in love with is not what I came into. I found a community of judgment and rules. I kept on thinking that maybe I would find the gem I read about. I was coerced to be in an arranged marriage. I found that my spouse’s father was of the ones I had read about; sadly he did not follow his father’s path, but that of the dull and lost community around us.
I am of all things loyal to a fault. I have the patience of a saint and always try to see the best in people. I kept trying to make it all work and hoping to find the spirituality that I craved. Instead of strengthening me, this community tore me down. I could not be me… the tattoo loving, poetry reading, hillbilly from the Appalachian family. I was being told and ever so slightly brainwashed into being a version of every Arab Muslim woman of the world. I do not know exactly what it was; my children getting older, seeing the skeletons in the community closet, or just my strong self climbing to the top, but I started breaking down the bullshit I was being fed by the community.
I started wearing “American” clothes again. I took off the hijab. I questioned everything! I went searching more and found that the spirituality I loved is out there, just not in the sect of this community. I became myself again. I started going to music concerts although I was told that it was “haram” (forbidden) and the devil’s work. I went out to events at the library and widen my circle. I took my friend up on an invitation to a poetry reading. It was Frank X Walker and his work that I had read before… being he was an Affrilichian poet. I was coming back to me; to being me, the true me.
Then I heard about the Love Letter To The World tattoo art project, where people all over the world were going to have words of Frank X Walker’s poem, by the same name, inked into their skin forever reminding us about love, harmony, balance, reflection, centering, humility, inspiration, companionship, change, and revolution. I cried. I knew I had failed to be what the world needed…me; simply me and not someone else’s idea of what I “should” be. When I was a young lady, I rode with Tattoo Charlie.. THE Tattoo Charlie; I have the three tattoos to remember him and the person I once was. I had a pierced eyebrow and tongue ring, but took them out. Ink doesn’t come out and so they are always there as reminders of your truth even when (and especially when) you forget. My tattoos are a Celtic heart (for my heritage), a feather and ribbon with my initials LJB (always Lonna Jo Bowen), and a Kachina doll (from the necklace of a traveler that stayed with us and opened me to the southwest).
I am happily a Sufi now. I have not yet made my way out of my marriage, but working on it. Nor have I gotten my tattoo yet; for a few reasons including that it will in fact bring everything to a head. It will create a massive change in my life (and possibly a revolution) that is not easy to face, but getting stronger daily to endure. My second son (out of five children) will be turning 18 in February and is wanting a tattoo. I talked to him about this project and we will be going in for our words to be inked in us together. He has not decided his and I am fairly certain mine will be “healing waters” because I have been swimming since I was three and always feel renewed in the water.
Here is the preview trailer for the project. Be a part of this collaboration with the world. Get inked and never forget who you truly are; your essence, your part in this beautiful world of ours. Go to http://lovelettertotheworld.com/ and read the poem. Click on the bottom to hear the poet himself read the poem. Choose your words and click them to request the words and get your printable tattoo to take to the artist of your choice.