A Tattoo Reminded Me to Write

People get tattoos for all kinds of  reasons.  Some use body art to memorialize important people and events in their lives.  Some want to share aspects of themselves with others without having to say a word.  Others view their bodies as blank canvases to paint and decorate with designs, pictures, and words that appeal to them.  This is the story of why I got my tattoo.

Back in the nineties, I belonged to a writer’s club along with my good friend, TQ.  Although we named the club the Heineken Writer’s Club after our favorite adult beverage, we were serious about our craft and held each other accountable, giving brutally honest critiques on our pieces.  We attended writer’s workshops and classes throughout Manhattan, and challenged each other to sit down to write every day.  With that kind of drive and commitment, we knew it would be just a matter of time  before we left the corporate world to write full time. We often dreamt about how freeing and exhilarating that day would be.  It was always about when and never if that day would come. 

One day, I commented on the striking tattoos on a coworker’s sleeve and she told me that they were all her designs brought to life by Andrea E., a talented tattoo artist in Alphabet City.  Coincidentally, the subject of tattoos came up in the writer’s club several months later. We decided right then that we would get author-themed tattoos to serve as both inspiration and reminder. I recall saying at the time that I didn’t want to be an old man who when his grandkids ask about the tattoo, would have to tell them that he used to dream about becoming an author.  He would have to try to explain to them how he let that dream slip away so easily, while still encouraging them to always hold on to their own dreams.  No, I wanted it to be crystal clear why I would have a writer’s tattoo.

I decided that it would be a combination of a scorpion, my sign, and a fountain pen representing my dedication to writing.  I imagined the scorpion’s tail morphing into a fountain pen, with one drop of red ink to signify sacrifice.  TQ chose the ancient Egyptian ankh symbol with the tip forming into a fountain pen, and we met with Andrea to discuss the designs and schedule appointments to have them done.  She was extremely popular and booked out six months in advance, so you know we really wanted those tattoos to wait like that.

When tattoo day finally came, Andrea showed me a drawing she’d mocked up. I made a couple small tweaks and she did her thing.  Two hours later, I left fired up and motivated by my new ink.   I felt like a writing superhero, churning out pages and pages of the good stuff.  I was not going to be that old man.  Still, I never took that next step to totally commit to writing as a career, and instead continued to treat it like a hobby.  Over the years, my role and responsibilities at work grew, and so did the amount of time I spent working.   Twelve-hour days weren’t unusual. I also had a young family that moved 3000 miles away from their family and friends for my job.  So when I wasn’t working, there was no shortage of family activities and obligations.  Something had to give and that something was the time I spent writing.

At first, I often heard a nagging voice reminding me that I hadn’t written in a long time, and urging me to get back to work.  As time passed, I heard from that voice less and less, until it stopped altogether.  I earned a great salary leading a team of awesome people, many of whom I considered friends.  We set challenging goals that we worked hard to achieve, and it checked a lot of boxes for me professionally.  Sure, I wasn’t writing creatively, but I was churning out some amazing and riveting emails and memos to staff.   At some point, I started to believe that  striving for that next promotion and growing my 401k until I was able to retire would be enough for me.  I allowed myself to forget how vital writing was for my soul.  Perhaps it was a way of giving myself grace.

Time flew by.  Five years became ten, and then twenty, and thirty.  My title, salary, and 401K  grew.  I was executing Plan B perfectly.  I told myself that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and to hold on for a few more years.  If my younger self heard me talking and thinking that way, trying to hold on until retirement, he would have grabbed me and shook me until I came to my senses.  And in a way that is exactly what happened.

One morning, in the early stages of the COVID pandemic, with nonessential businesses shut down and everyone under some kind of  lockdown, I remember stepping out of the shower and walking by the large bathroom mirror.  During lockdown, while working from home near a fridge filled with my favorite things, I put on more than a few pounds and developed the habit of not looking too closely at the mirror until I had a shirt on.  But it was different that day.

As I walked past the mirror, I caught a glimpse of my tattoo.  It struck me that I hadn’t really looked at it in years.  I stopped and walked towards the mirror to get a closer look.  As I stared at my left arm, I thought about that kid who got the tattoo that day.  I remembered why I chose  the fountain pen, and although the one drop of red ink had faded over the years, the memory of what it represented was as vivid as ever.  I stared at that tattoo in the mirror for more than a few minutes.  In a way, I was having a conversation with my younger self, who couldn’t understand how I convinced myself that I could ever be truly happy and fulfilled without writing in my life.  My younger self couldn’t believe that my new career goal was toiling until I was old enough to retire.

Life has a way of helping us to forget our dreams.  It allows us to be okay with being less great or less special than we set out to be.  Maybe it’s out of kindness, so we don’t bound ourselves to regret.  My tattoo reminded me of a time when I still dreamt, and it inspired me to dream again.  I am thankful for that because it is never too late to dream. If you come across this post and ever find yourself in the same boat, try your hardest to remember the version of you that still dreamt, and what you dreamt about… and dream again.


Q&A with Back to Dixie author, Len Hyde

What is your book, Back to Dixie, about?

Back to Dixie explores how a government’s race policies can either uplift or oppress, as experienced through the lives of everyday Black people over 10 tumultuous years when the political pendulum swung far left to extreme right. In the early chapters of the book, the administration is unapologetically progressive, with some labeling them as liberal and even socialists.  They were remembered for passing the SCALE Act for Social Justice in 2023, making good on a campaign promise to address systemic racism as a top priority. 

SCALE was widely considered to be the most positively impactful laws for Black Americans since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Because of this, though, it had many passionate opponents who quickly repealed it when they came into power later on in the story.  The new administration also passed laws removing key voting and civil rights from many Black and poor people, and in 2029, they signed the National Workfare Act into law.

Under the guise of job training, the government rounded up millions of the country’s citizens, stripping them of their freedom and forcing them to work long and hard only to survive – their lives demonstrated to mean little.  Michael Dobson and his friends Devin Thomas and Odessa Bradford risk everything in an attempt to save their family and loved ones from the clutches of Workfare, and find a way to be free once more.

That is both frightening and intriguing.  Where did you get the idea?

The idea of Back to Dixie came in the nineties when an urban legend ran rampant in Black communities.  It said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 only temporarily gave Black people the right to vote, and would need to be extended by Congress in 2008.  If not extended, Black people would no longer enjoy the privilege of voting.

Though I found out that it was just a rumor, the story idea was so compelling that I knew I would have to write the book one day.  I just didn’t know that it would be almost 25 years later! 

Were you influenced by recent events in writing Back to Dixie?

Back to Dixie’s dedication reads, ‘For those with no voice, but truths to tell.’  That’s there because I didn’t have room on the page to list the names of all those whose voices are forever silenced by racism.  The deaths, the marches, the arrests, the acquittals, and the reactions certainly influenced me to finally write a book I’ve only dreamt about for so long. 

I hope the story serves as a reminder of the kind of damage that the disease of racism can cause if left to fester and grow.  I would be thrilled if it becomes a part of a wakeup call for society, providing another reminder of the importance of valuing each other, especially those who are different—that is the way we all win. 

Who is the book for?

The book is for everybody…  Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, any race.  Liberal, conservative, progressive, any political party.  It’s for people who believe systemic racism is one of the country’s biggest problems, just as much as it is for those who don’t think it’s a real thing.

Ultimately, I want Back to Dixie to be part of a conversation on American race relations that needs to happen more and more throughout the country. 


Fictional Presidents of Back to Dixie

Back to Dixie explores the dramatic impact that politicians and corporations have on America’s race relations through the eyes of everyday people. The novel covers a period of 10 years and the administrations of two very different presidents.

In the early chapters, President Jim Weldon passes the SCALE Act for Social Justice in an attempt to address the systemic racism issue. Later in the book, President Willie Earl revokes the voting rights of many Black and poor citizens and passes the National Workfare Act in 2029. Workfare, originally described as a job training and betterent program, would later be compared to modern-day slavery.


How a Back to Dixie law sparked political outrage online

I recently decided to share the graphic that highlights some of the provisions from the SCALE Act from Back to Dixie with an online audience. Naturally, I expected a spirited discussion, but even I was surprised by the reaction. Watch my new Youtube video to find out why.