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In a world in which vicious vitriol is the vanguard of criticism, a hundred words could not have been more troubling, not because of what was said but because of what wasn’t said, what was missed, because of the emotion behind the letters and punctuation marks that came together to form the paragraphs.
Because they made my point and missed my point.
Let’s flip back to the day after Valentine’s Day, when I strung together some words that professed my considered thoughts about tattoos, what they mean to me and what troubles me most about them: that they were being marketed in Valentine tattoos, meaning children should think body art is a good and worthy life choice.
Naivety is purged from psyches during the first semester of journalism school, something I tossed aside with my tablet and chisel, so I understood with completely open eyes that my perspectives on this subject might not be well-received in some corners.
You put something out there that goes counter to a person’s passion, and you can expect to absorb their most heartfelt words in return. It’s the business.
There were a couple of particularly well-stated responses that were published in these pages as fair comment and didactic disagreement. There were others, as well, on this newspaper’s Facebook page.
Yes, there were supportive words, of course, but those came in the forms of spoken asides or notes or E-mail not submitted for publication – even when I asked if they could be included.
But then a neatly typed note arrived via the U.S. Postal Service that shook my foundation, a few dozen words that carried no signature – thus can’t be published per se – and were infused with a forcefulness and ferocity that amazed me with their power and substance. The language was firm, the assault continuous and some of the words were in capital letters:
“It’s judgmental, one-sided and irrational.”
“You have NO RIGHT AT ALL to tell ANYBODY in this community how to think or act!”
“If a concerned husband gets a cancer ribbon tattoo for his wife, is that terrible?”
“You have seriously offended some people in your community, and we as a community shouldn’t stand for it; and we won’t.”
“I suggest you honestly and sincerely apologize to your community.”
Signed: Seventh Grader, Mrs. Holtzworth’s class, Shelby East Middle School.
In my career I have many times been ripped by someone acting adolescent.
Now I have been shredded by a true adolescent, my stinking carcass of commentary left beside the road of public comment to await the arrival of the journalistic dead wagon.
All of this begged myriad questions, of course.
Why would a student in a middle-school class take time to respond to a column written by an old man writing in an old medium? In fact, I feel sort of honored by the attention. Newspapers have for years looked for ways to attract younger readers, and I seem to have connected with at least one.
And for that I owe some gratitude to Rebecca Holtzworth, the teacher at East Middle School. I sent her an E-mail to try to ascertain why a person crossing the threshold into teenagerhood would have bothered to read my words and taken the time to write back.
She responded that her class was working on writing editorials and letters to the editor – bless her for that – and that she had had the class read the letter about my column on tattoos.
That prompted her to bring out the original column that inspired the letter. The class read that piece, and she asked them to analyze how the opinion was presented, its argument made.
And this one student – male, around 13, she confirmed – was vehement. I’ll let her take it from here:
“Opinions varied so greatly that it provided for a great discussion,” she wrote. “He felt so strongly that he asked if he could submit a letter, so I helped him find the address, but he sent it himself. I was proud of him for going the extra mile to express himself.”
I hope she gave him an A. She should be proud of any student in middle school who has strong, defined opinions about anything other than the opposite gender and acne – at least that the student would talk about openly, but that’s my stereotyping.
Her student carried out his mission perfectly except for one key element: He didn’t understand that his assaulting paragraphs were illustrating my original point in indelible ink.
Because if you recall, my core complaint – everything else is in the eye of the beholder, to be sure – was that tattoos were being marketed to and presented as a good thing to children too young to understand their life-changing impact.
Too many parents were – are – being overly permissible, and there isn’t enough counter education to explain there could be recoil and regret about putting something permanent into skin you would keep for 80 or 90 years. The beauty of today doesn’t translate in permanence.
And now we have a 13--or-so-year-old who thinks tattooing is so appropriate that he would put those feelings into words on paper and spend the 45 cents it costs to mail them.
In my parents’ day, his comments might have been deemed impertinent.
But, then, tattoos weren’t that popular at the time.