Anja Snellman



Stories in Ink

He slips into the room like a boat from the dimness of the reeds.

I glance at this gangly creature who has slumped into my two-seater, on the first day after my vacation. His legs are resting on one of the arms of the chair, and his broad-brimmed black felt hat covers his face. His arms are hanging loose. He has secured his big fringed suede bag between his legs as if I would steal something from him.

His jeans are unhemmed and frayed, and the holes in his smoke-gray T-shirt reveal tattoos like pieces of a fresco painting.

MANY of my therapy clients have fascinating tattoos.

When I was working at a substance abuse treatment and opioid replacement therapy clinic for young people in Helsinki, I asked the members of my therapy group to share the stories behind their tattoos:

What was their first one? Where did they get it? What stories, feelings, and people were related to each of their tattoos?

WE HEARD wild stories about getting tattoos at rock festivals, drunken tattoos, self-made tattoos, prison tattoos, and tribal images tattooed far away on an island in the Pacific. 

These “tattoo therapy sessions” became popular at the clinic. The clients were eager to share the stories behind their tattoos, and these stories led us, along unpredictable routes, deep into their life histories.

A few days ago, in my current practice, I again asked a client about their tattoos. Once again, I heard an exciting story, a unique perspective on a young person’s experiences, losses, loves, and values.

TATTOOS ARE definitely much more than ink on the skin. I have eight, each carefully thought out and meaningful to me.

My most recent one is a deer on my right upper arm. And all of them have been tattooed by the wonderful Reetta, who uses vegan ink. 

Anja Snellman

The excerpt is from Closer by Anja Snellman, slated for publication in English in 2024.

New Terrain Press 2024. All rights reserved.

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