Category Archives: Body Art

Bionics, Biological Self-Checks, and How I Just Lost my Right Nipple Ring.


Yeah, I didn’t literally lose it. It migrated to the surface over the course of more than a year. I was attempting to remove it, thinking that it needed to be re-set, and while attempting to remove the bead it just popped off.

Seriously, straight through the flesh. I didn’t feel a thing physically, so I’m presuming that there was nothing but a little cutaneous tissue holding it on. However, there was this profound moment of loss. I put up a blog post on piercing art before, and since have gotten six pieces; two in my right ear, two in my left (nonsymmetric), and two nipple rings.

I remember people fretting about male body art in the east, in my notoriously old-South family, but honestly I am much more concerned about losing it than I ever was about getting it. We think of these things as something permanent. We think of them as a lasting part of us. However, the truth is that tattoos bleach over time, scarification can (somewhat) fade over over an extended period, and believe me, the body is very good at differentiating between what does belong to it, and what does not, so every piercing you get, given enough time, will find its way out.

Some are better behaved than others.

I remember back in the day, when neuroprosthetics wasn’t a real thing, and we referred to it by the comic-book names of bionics and cybernetics, there was a lasting belief that the metal could simply be sealed to the body somehow. The thought was, incorrectly, that stopping the bleeding would convince the body that the wound was closed. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case; if you breach the skin, the immune system will know about it, and may complain vividly until the gap is closed.

This was eventually worked around by integrating the skin as part of the treatment. Modern artificial cochlea are actually two-piece components; one of them is subdermal (beneath the skin), the other superdermal. The superdermal part is the part that you can actually interact with; it requires a power source, it can be tuned and calibrated, and it can be removed. In operation, it communicates with the subdermal part via a focused magnetic field, which passes through the skin with little interference. The subdermal component is the one responsible for communicating this signal to the auditory nerves.

You know what happens when you try and merge the super- and sub- components into one? You get a nasty infection and potentially further damage.

For bionic limbs, the winning method (as of yet) is to receive signals sent to the stumps that correspond with attempted actions with the missing limb, interpret them with an on-board neural network, and feed the proper message to the twenty two or more motors in the limb. It is fantastically effective, and even allows for feedback to the brain. No breach necessary.

So how does the body know that the wound is open? Our dermis is a little more complicated than a paper bag. Describing the entire immune response requires more patience than I have as a writer, or you have as an off-brand reader who might have been expecting something more akin to modular human designs (which it is not). However, the breach of the skin releases compounds called cytokines, which act as messengers to the rest of the body and trigger a full-fledged assault. Unlike well-designed software, the body was formed on the crucible of natural selection, and often has many functional systems partially manifest in a single physical one.

So, the next obvious question. If hole-in-the-chassis bionics and cybernetics don’t work, and my right nipple ring was removed as a foreign invader, why hasn’t my left moved? There are more factors, I’m certain, than I specifically know of. However, deeper piercings, particularly those with a hole on both sides of the flesh, have slower rejection rates. (Note that I did not say “no rejection rate”; but slow enough to approximate to permanence.) Additional issues can include secondary local inflammation; which you may think of as the immune system going into five-alarm mode and accepting greater degrees of loss. This includes infections (which have their own problems, keep it clean!), irritation from over-cleaning (which also has its problems), and metal sensitivities. Using something biocompatible is generally a good idea, even if you have no known metal sensitivities. Last but not least is weight; heavier jewellery migrates on account of gravity alone.

Cytokines are one of the first-phases of what you may think of as an organic observer pattern. Think of the various immune-related tissues as observers; and compounds like cytokines, chemokins, and elastin proteins, are messages to them. “Ah,” you say, “now you’re speaking my language!” Sort of. Is it possible to prevent this by suppressing the messages? Sure, if you don’t mind developing oozing sores from a repressed immune system. As for me, I will simply be having Phil give it a thorough autoclaving and punch it back in there, perhaps further down.

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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Body Art


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Steel Addiction

I’m seriously getting into this piercing thing.

When I was fifteen, I suffered a head injury that had me in a wheelchair for quite a while. Before it happened, I was gearing up to do one simple thing—get an ear pierced, with a ring. Not both ears, just one, with a plainly visible heavy ring. Of course, when you wake up from a month long coma that has you in such muscular lethargy that you can’t even get out of bed, or the wheelchair, getting your ear pierced is the least of your concerns.

It wasn’t to fit in, it wasn’t to impress anyone, it was entirely for me. My earring, in a specific style, just the way I wanted it. That was nearly fifteen years ago.

Come to notice it, I am in need of a shave. Big day.

Come to notice it, I am in need of a shave. Big day.

A few weeks ago, I went ahead and did it, and got that freakin’ ear pierced. Mild acute pain, nothing serious like the more skittish among us tend to claim, and a solid fourteen-gauge ring hanging from it. Healed perfectly. I got a brilliant piercer, by the name of Phil, to do it. He runs a place in Santa Fe called Talisman Tattoo & Body Piercing. He gave me some straight-forward cleaning standards and techniques to use, a little advice on what not to do and what to expect, and sent me on my way. Looked great, felt great, accented my typical facial expressions and body language perfectly.

Given the effect and the price, I decided before I got home that I would be coming back to the place. The question was what to get pierced. I thought about another earring (in the same ear), or maybe an eyebrow stud as has been suggested to me in the past. I even thought about getting a quaint septum ring. (They really aren’t that much of an issue in Santa Fe.) The point was that I felt like myself, completely liberated with all illusions of what adulthood offers dispelled. I came to realize, for the first time in nearly fifteen years, that the possibility may exist but I probably won’t die before tomorrow. I felt like myself.

So, three weeks later (today), I got my left nipple pierced. We returned to the place for a tattoo and piercing show, during which piercings were half off.

Phil Temer, The Man Himself

I went with stainless steel, both times; it’s important to me that any body art I get gels well with everything already established on me. Stainless steel has a clear mirror shine to it, and was designed for surgery to begin with, so it felt like an excellent start. The ring in my ear is a closed ring, but the one in my left nipple has a bead on it. Given the top-heavy nature of a closed ring, it tends to migrate until the opening is inside the piercing, which is both irritating and a bit of a problem if left alone. I’ve heard my share of horror stories of people allowing the piercing to heal over the opening.

Now, I didn’t exactly need a sedative for something like this. That head injury I briefly touched on? It redefined pain for me. And, while I’ve found that after a painful experience like that one you tend to respect pain more than ignore it, this didn’t faze me at all. No topical pain killers, they’re unnecessary for it, though he may have used a disinfectant. The artist makes a mark across the nipple with a mild ink, showing the entry and exit points, giving you a chance to critique it. After I gave him the go ahead, Phil pushed a relatively large and hollow needle into my flesh.

The idea of having a fourteen gauge hollow needle shoved into your nipple may initially sound horrifying to some of you, but let me tell you, there is a reason that they are hollow. It does not hurt more than a solid needle, in fact, it probably hurts less due to the lack of stretching pressure. The tissue removed is mostly cutaneous, perhaps containing a little fat, and fat is designed by the body to be disposable to begin with. After the needle reached the surface on the other end, he let go of it and grabbed the ring.

Smarts so good.

Smarts so good.

There is another reason that the needle is hollow. Phil bent the ring open, and hooked one end of it to the back of the needle. After that, he pushed the needle through, and dragged the ring with it. The feel was seamless, no bump or nook as it entered, and none as it exited. After that, he pulled the needle off, and straightened the ring. If I remember correctly (and I’m hardly a body piercer myself), the last step was to pop on the bead. I may easily have forgotten a step, as I said, it isn’t what I do. I’m a writer. This was a melding of surgery and artwork.

So, I’m pondering what to get next, as I will get something, next. The concept of engineering my own jewellery has crossed my mind; one thought was to find something unique from “Principia Mathematica” (Isaac Newton) and engrave the relevant alchemical symbols onto the stainless jewellery, then have it stapled in my upper ear (through the cartilage). (Same ear.) I don’t know what it would be yet, but that work has served as a founding philosophy for me on many occasions. I have encyclopedias of angels, demons, gods, and symbols, many of which nicely work their way into body art. Nothing is out of the question in the long run, but for the moment I would prefer it to be a more overt insignia.

As for tattoos, it’s not out of the possibility but it isn’t something I intend to get yet—I have real ideas for a very unique kind of ink, which I haven’t developed yet. I won’t speak on the details, but it would cover a large portion of my body and be the most unusual thing anyone has ever seen in someone’s flesh. Also, naturally, any ink I got would be concealable in formal settings. But first, develop the ink, get a proof-of-concept going. Otherwise, it isn’t likely that I will ever get anything other than an eloquent tribal tattoo in the fashion of the Māori, on the upper arm or thigh; possibly a more fundamental symbol on my upper or lower back surrounded by comparable art, and consistently in India-ink black. Hideable, beautiful, elegant.

My father has objected to the idea of this kind of art, on the notion that I will be unemployable. The reality, which it has taken me nearly ten years to realize, is that if these fabled people were going to employ me, they would have done it by now. I’ve played by the rules, lived by the code, and kept it a little too sterile for too long now without results. If you hire me, you will look at my references and my accomplishments, and you will apply my skills to a clearly specified end goal with an immediately available pay check, and you will do it because you know my capacity on the job. If you’re more worried about body metal than you are about my results, then you don’t know what you’re doing, and I’m not interested in working for you anyway. (I’ve made that mistake twice already.)

The addiction has set in. I feel beautiful, I feel confident, and I feel like myself. It’s bliss.

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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Body Art


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