W. P. Johnson

One Lonely Story

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2012 at 8:24 pm

     The first tattoo I ever got cost me about five hundred dollars. It took five hours, and covered most of my left arm (student loan refunds are wonderful, aren’t they?). Rather than describe it, it’s pictured below.


The banner is from a poem I wrote 6-7 years ago. I wrote it during a night of drinking and drugs wherein my friends and I had taken a Herculean amount of Ritalin (yeah, we’re total party animals, aren’t we?). However, if my memory serves me correct, we took thirteen times the suggested dosage. All night long I was worried that I was going to have a heart attack and that we should call an ambulance. We never did, though we debated the decision until sunset, arguing that if we called “now”, they’d get there by the time we needed them.

We were still strung out, wishing we could sleep. I must’ve played the song “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground on guitar about twenty times. For months my chest felt funny, like it was clogged with cotton.

So I got a tattoo based on that experience.

When it comes to tattoos it would seem that there are three kinds of people. People who would never get one because they’re “forever”, people that keep getting them until there isn’t any space left on their bodies, and people that want a tattoo but can’t decide on anything (they obnoxiously hold on to the notion that they’ll find something “perfect” when that something doesn’t really exist). Even worse is when said person insists on drawing their own work because they know better than the tattoo artist does, and the number of analogies I could make on why this is ridiculous are too numerous to bother listing.

For a while I belonged to this first group of people. I never saw myself having tattoos. I had decided at a pretty early age that I wanted to be a writer, or some kind of artsy person, and the idea of having tattoos bothered me for the simple reason that they give an early impression as opposed to letting my work speak for itself. I had this self-conscious fear of doing a reading and having people stare at my arms and let the stigma of having a tattoo effect how they interpreted whatever it is I was doing. And god forbid I write something that’s worthy of the American Canon of literature but it’s ignored because I’m a PBR drinking jerk off with a shitty Misfits tattoo.


But back in the day, PBR was cheap and so were Misfits tattoos. These days I drink a nice Pale Ale and save up a little for my ink. (A quick disclaimer: I only have one “clunker” as far as tattoos go, whereas the rest I saved up for.)

Truth be told, the only reason I got a tattoo in the first place was because I was just around them so much. In Philadelphia, ALL my friends had tattoos and it didn’t seem so strange to have one. It didn’t really feel like it was “forever”. It just seemed like something you did when you had some extra cash lying around.

Or maybe I thought it would help me get pussy. I don’t know.

At any rate, I got my first tattoo because… I just wanted one. I don’t know why. I didn’t really care what it was, though I had a basic idea after having nearly overdosed on Ritalin. I didn’t really care if it meant something in particular, if it was special. I didn’t care that it would be there forever. I didn’t care if it faded in a year, though I’d hope not for the amount of money I spent. What it really came down to was the feeling of wanting to commit to something for life, to stop second guessing and just DO IT. And not only that, do something that would stay with me forever. No regrets.

I think that’s what I really got out of getting a tattoo: no regret.

At thirty, I’ve only garnered a handful of publications. Forever I had tinkered away at the great American novel, or whatever it was you want to call it, thinking that if I just worked hard enough, eventually it would be finished and I could send it out to Random House and they’d see how brilliant it was. But what they’d really see is the name “W. P. Johnson” and they’d think “who the fuck is this guy? Next”.

So I’ve been working on short work. Something I should’ve done a while ago. Some would argue against this if writing novels is what’s in my blood, and there are many exceptions to the rule (Craig Clevenger, who I took an intensive with, told me that he only had 1-2 short publications before selling The Contortionists Handbook). All I know is that the more I write, the more short stories I send out, the better I get. And I believe that by the end of the year I’ll be getting paid for my work and by the end of next year, when the time is right, I’ll work on my novel and send it out to a publisher that isn’t as massive as Random House and they’ll see my name and say, “W. P. Johnson… oh yeah, I’ve seen him around. Let’s give this guy a chance cause he’s paid his dues.”

Wait, is that a Lion tattoo on his elbow? NEXT.

But what to these two things have to do with one another? They have to do with regret. Or a lack therefore of. I don’t regret spending nearly a decade fiddling with a novel idea, putting it down when it became too hard, and then trying another idea because it was bright and shiny and new and repeating this ad infinitum. I don’t regret not sending out more short work. I don’t regret that the decision to write horror didn’t really happen until about a year ago, a genre that I feel very at home with. I don’t regret going to college when I could’ve been writing.

I don’t regret having eight tattoos. In fact, I think I’ll get some more. I’m split between getting my other elbow done (shark head), or Cthulhu dressed as a biker with the banner “Born To Be Weird”. Comment belong if you have a preference and I’ll post the results.

I think I’ll keep writing more too. And when I do finish the first novel and manage to sell it, I won’t regret all the years I spent writing short stories, all the blogging and the social media and the workshops and the other bullshit. These are things that lead up to other moments in life. They add up, just like eight or nine tattoos will eventually cover a person’s arm.

The first tattoo was pretty lonely. Now my arm is almost filled up.

Which brings me to more publication announcements: “A Song For John” is featured on the first anthology put out by Dark River Press. I also have a story that will be featured at Surreal Grotesque in their serial killer issue, and Pulp Modern will be publishing their third issue soon, which features my zombie story “White Light, White Heat”. Also Solarcide has invited me to be a part of an anthology due out sometime this summer. The story I plan on submitting is entitled “Cold Heart” and it’s probably the most fucked up story I’ve ever written (Martin or Nathan, if you’re reading this- it’s not the draft you’ve already seen).

If I have to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn it down due to content. But we shall see.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

PS- Still haven’t gotten my Black Flag bars yet…

  1. […] the other two to arrive, Elmer couldn’t help but notice my tattoos (by the way, as I mentioned in One Lonely Story, I ended up getting a Cthulhu/rat hybrid on my inner arm, which is, to date, the most painful part […]

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