Donna L. Torrisi spent 29 years working with low-income patients in the Family Practice & Counseling CLINIC, a multisite practice in Philadelphia. After realizing that many of her patients’ tattoos related directly to the trauma she was there to help heal, she decided to partner with professor and clinical social worker John Giugliano and photographer Ken Kauffman (all Philly-based) to spotlight the stories of a group of local women and their tattoos. The resulting book, The Tattoo Monologues: Indelible Marks On the Body and Soul (October 19, 2021; She Writes Press), features the personal stories and photographs of 29 Philadelphia-based women for whom body art played a role in their healing after trauma or loss.
Torrisi says: “Each woman commissioned her tattoo for a different reason: to
help cope with cognitive difficulties in the wake of a brain aneurysm, to keep
her late mother close to her heart, to bring a sense of control after enduring
sexual abuse. Yet for all the variation, each woman’s decision to get a tattoo
served a similar function: it grounded them, empowered them, and brought a
feeling of catharsis. It gave them control over their narrative and their pain.”
Below is an interview with the author:
1. What motivated you to write your book, to force
you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into a book?
I began with the simple idea of a book about women and their tattoos without any thought of trauma or pain or redemption. After the first several interviews, those themes emerged and I shifted the focus. The first person I interviewed, Manya, was my colleague and assistant at work. Her daughter was killed tragically in a car accident. Manya’s first and only tattoo was in remembrance of her….it was etched on her back because her daughter “always had her back”. I was moved to write the book because I was touched by the experiences of my patients who have overcome very difficult and painful life experiences. They were eager to tell their stories, and I thought their stories should be told. Before working on the book, I didn’t realize the deep connection between tattoos, suffering, and then emergence from that pain.
2. What is it about and who is it for?
It is a collection of stories of 29 women as well as the story of a tattoo artist and analysis from some professional trauma experts. In this Photo-Story book, women tell their personal stories of pain and triumph.
3. What do you hope the reader will be left with after reading it?
A greater understanding of the depth tattoos reveal, a better understanding about why women scarred by emotional pain chose to mark their bodies. The body art had helped them transform their suffering into something fixed, controllable, beautiful, and unique. The resulting book is at once a testament to the universal power of perseverance and redemption, and a personal tribute to these particular women’s experiences and the tattoos they hold dear. I also hope readers are left with more of an awareness of trauma and its effect on human beings
4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?
I would say, the writing of the book for me was the easy, fun and gratifying part, getting it published and marketing it is the greater task--unless, of course, you are John Grisham or someone in the category. It can also be a huge expense if you do it well.
5. How did your
understanding of how people use body art to process their pain and impactful
life events change after conducting the interviews for this book?
I began with the simple idea of a book about women and their tattoos without any thought of trauma or pain or redemption. After the first several interviews, the themes emerged and I shifted the focus of the book. The first person I interviewed, Manya, was my colleague and assistant at work. Her daughter was killed tragically in a car accident. Manya’s first and only tattoo was in remembrance of her.it was etched on her back because her daughter “always had her back”. Before working on the book, I didn’t realize the deep connection between tattoos, suffering, and then emergence from that pain.
6. Tattoos have become ubiquitous these days. They no longer hold the transgressive element they used to. Has this diminished their healing power at all?
Good question, I actually think quite the contrary. In fact, as tattoo parlors and tattoos have exploded, the artistry and creativity of both the artists and the tattooed have come to take on a greater depth in both their appearance and their ability to tell a story. There is so much story-telling capability in the tattoos we see today: Celtic and Greek symbols, realistic renderings of lost loved ones, chests without breasts adorned with an environmental design, and lines from songs and poetry that depict a heartfelt story.
7. Is there something unique about tattoos that aid the healing process for these trauma survivors? Psychologically and clinically speaking, how can tattoos help?
First let’s remember that a tattoo is a major commitment—there is no going back. It is indelibly emblazoned on one’s body. Some women, like the woman who lost custody of her children due to substance abuse and inked her body with each of their names said; “now they are always with me”. So, there’s a sense that the beloved individual who is physically lost to them can somehow be physically present. The courageous woman revealing her body art says, “look at who I am and what happened to me. I am still here and surviving.”
8. How do tattoos relate to the memory loss issues commonly developed from trauma?
Trauma often results in repressed memories. Psychologically speaking, the repression can protect the person from something they can’t manage at that time, something that’s too overwhelming. When an individual reaches a different place in their lives, when they are more able to manage past trauma, sometimes repressed memories surface. Consider the woman in the book who moved into a basement apartment as a young adult, which triggered memories of having been molested as a girl in a neighbor’s basement. It was only after the memory evolved to the conscious, knowing mind that she could conceive of a tattoo image that signified her take on the experience.
9. What trends in the book world do you see -- and
where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
This is not my expertise and I do not feel equipped to answer this
10. What challenges did you overcome to write this book?
Finding a publisher was the biggest challenge and then making a decision about which self-publisher to choose. In the end, I chose the most costly one but the one I trusted the most to do a professional job.
11. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?
I think it should be mine if they have a fascination with tattoos or an interest in learning how inking of the body relates to trauma management, survival and redemption. Let’s remember that a tattoo is a major commitment—there is no going back. It is indelibly emblazoned on one’s body. Some women, like the woman who lost custody of her children due to substance abuse and inked her body with each of their names said; “now they are always with me”. So, there’s a sense that the beloved individual who is physically lost to them can somehow be physically present. The courageous woman revealing her body art says, “look at who I am and what happened to me. I am still here and surviving.”
Contact For Help
Brian Feinblum, the founder of this award-winning blog, can be reached at email@example.com He is available to help authors promote their story, sell their book, and grow their brand. He has 30 years of experience in helping thousands of authors in all genres.
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About Brian Feinblum
Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2021. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America. For more information, please consult: linkedin.com/in/brianfeinblum.
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