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detail in strike brand

About a month ago I decided that I wanted a brand. It wasn't terribly well thought out, but I'd always had the vague idea that if I ever found a symbol that I liked, I'd consider either a brand or a tattoo. I was also having some difficulty adjusting to college life. One night i was feeling remote and vaguely sad, and as I was reading "Fables and Reflections" by Neil Gaiman,I noticed a frame which showed a close-up of Death's eye. It is a wonderful image, simple and graceful and powerful. I wanted it.

I immediately set out to work out how I could do it with what I had. I decided that it would be relatively small, about 1-3/4" wide by 3" high, and on the inside of my right leg just above the ankle, I knew that the scar would spread out and that the "dot gain" (printer's term for the way a dot of ink spreads on a page) is pretty large with burns because the skin near what is directly struck dies as well. I decided to use paperclips to brand with, and pliers to hold them. I'd heat up the paperclips on the stove.

I took several paperclips and used the pliers to bend them into shape. Instead of a more conventional strike brand, where one uses a piece of metal to strike the skin repeatedly to make a pattern or image, I ended up with two paperclips each of which was shaped like half the image I wanted. This was important because I didn't want to have to think as i was burning myself. After I had the pieces shaped I put them where the brand would go and molded them to the shape of my leg, so that i didn't have to worry about parts of the brand not coming out. Now was the hard part.

Those of you familliar with branding probably spent the previous paragraphs thinking "no way that would work," and all I can say is i almost wish you'd all been there to tell me that. The brand came out well, though, and ultimately I'm glad you weren't. There are several problems with the technique I just laid out that must be noted.

First of all, the stove I used was electric. It was what I had, so I used it, but it DEFINITELY wasn't a good idea. The stove didn't get hot enough to really be effective for a while, and also...

..Paper clips are damned thin metal. In physics, this translates into the fact that they take on heat quickly and lose it quickly. Combined with the fact that the stove didn't give much heat in the first place, this meant that i actually had to strike the same area several times, with breaks in between for the clip to heat up again.

Anyway, I had my paper clips and I was almost ready... I thought. I grabbed a book of T.S. Eliot and read "The Waste Land" out loud to provide some kind of ritual (Read it. If you aren't moved by that, I'm not sure I like you very much) while they were heating up. Finally i could see them glowing red, and I decided to start. I picked up the pliers, took the first piece off the burner, and brought it an inch away from my leg

And found that I couldn't move it any closer. I like to think that I have good pain tolerance, but times like those make me feel like a complete wuss. I repeated that procedure 5 or 6 times before I gave up and went back to my room. There I sat, pondering my general worthlessness until THAT was too much to bear, and I returned to the kitchen. Once again, I spent three or four minutes paralyzed by nerves, and then finally I picked up one of the clips with the pliers, and calmly brought it down on my skin. Held it there. It was at this point that the problems with this idea became apparent, but I was too far in to stop. I just rebranded what looked undercooked until it all looked relatively well done. Then i dropped the clips into the sink and ran water on them to cool them and went back to my room.

The aftercare was relatively simple. For a few weeks i kept it covered, with a sterile pad i changed once or twice a day, as it seemed like I needed it. I still had antibacterial cream from a previous infected cut, so I used that along with hydrogen peroxide washes to keep it clean. I've developed a pretty cavalier attitude towards injury, made up of half discomfort and half fascination with the glimpses pain gives me of how my body works. When it scabbed over I ripped the scab off periodically, partly because if it scabbed overnight and didn't look clean i was worried there might be infection under the skin, but mostly because i'd read that agitating the wound made it scar better.

After about 4 weeks it was done healing. I'm very happy with the way it turned out, but there's one thing I'd like to say I learned.

Someone very close to me was deeply hurt that I'd done this to myself. Initially, my reaction was a bit of the indignant, "my body, I'll do what I want to it" argument (and i believe in that, ultimately. that's not the point). What I later realized was that while I would not cede control of my body to someone else just because they'd be hurt if I didn't, what I did was still deeply inconsiderate. No one can tell me what to do with my body, but then again, no one has to like me either. There are some people I now realize that I care about enough to involve in decisions about my body. It turned out alright, but next time there are people I'm going to ask (or at least inform) before I do anything.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 10 Jan. 2005
in Scarification

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Artist: me
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Location: boston

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