Why I Got a Group Tattoo with 221 Complete Strangers

PSA: Many highly tattooed people hate it when you ask the story behind their tattoos. But much to their annoyance, I dig it.

So here's the tale of why I got a group tattoo with 221 complete strangers, and, inadvertently, one old friend -- as told in a philosophical metaphor -- due to the fact that I have pink eye and am therefore wearing my thick-rimmed glasses today; they make me mull.

Ahem. (Taps on wine glass, steps on podium.)

Some people believe we are all part of a bigger story. Single stars in a constellation.

Alone, each one of us has unique beauty. An important sparkle. And if we imagine enough, rationalize, explain and stretch, our singular lives might even seem to make sense. We might understand our star to have significance.

But in the larger picture, that might not have been its purpose at all.

In the end, the big picture might be surprising. Or it might be obvious and simple. I don't know; I can't see it yet.

My star -- my contribution to the larger story -- is "curiosity."

Ask me why I'm a journalist. How I pick my stories. Why I get up in the morning. Why I got a group tattoo with people I don't know. To any question, my answer will always be the same: to nurture the curiosity that we're all born with, so mine will never starve. The more you feed it, the fatter it grows.

In curiosity, I find meaning and purpose and joy.

Tattooed on the back of my neck, you will find that mantra: "in curiosity." To me, this phrase, surrounded by scattered, seemingly random stars, has personal meaning.

But that is not the meaning of the phrase -- not even close. "In curiosity" is a small slice of a lengthy poem, written by Boulder poet, Anne Waldman. There are more than 200 other parts of that very poem, tattooed on other bodies around Boulder, as part of the Boulder Tattoo Project.

I see them everywhere I go. The grocery store, coffee shops, wait, even on Facebook. I was surprised to find out a childhood friend, Christine, also participated in the project. Her foot reads: "aspirational Boulder!"

Among strangers, our permanent bond has resulted in instant connection and understanding. Between old friends, the stars remind me how Boulder brought Christine back into my life, after more than a decade of separation. We grew up in Loveland, but she works just a few blocks from my newsroom.

Once again, friendship was not the initial purpose of the stars, but it has become a secondary one -- and arguably more important.

The project was the second of its kind in the nation, a spinoff of the Lexington Tattoo Project, with many more planned in other cities across the country. Claw and Talon Tattoo in Boulder did the tattoos for free, funded by various sponsorships, on mostly women (70 percent), across all economic demographics, most inspired by their love for Boulder. For 29 participants, this was their first tattoo.

And the stars: They are part of a composite. Of what? None of the 223 participants in the project has a clue.

We will find out in a few weeks. Project organizers will stream a documentary about the project, and then piece together photos of our individual phrases and stars, to reveal the bigger picture, and full poem, they all create when united.

The composite might be surprising, or it might be obvious and simple. I'm not worried about it. I'm just curious, of course.

And there's a unique beauty in that. An important sparkle, in curiosity alone, and in curiosity together.

Read more stories about the weirdest city in the world, Boulder, Colo., here: Only In Boulder.