Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
It might seem unusual to be publishing a memoir in your mid-forties but when you’re an old soul with miles of experiential wisdom to impart, it works beautifully.
This is a genuinely inspirational story of perseverance and resilience. Chris MacDonald is a Toronto tattoo artist who’s come a long way from his rural beginnings in Alliston, Ontario, where he ran wild with his brothers. Along the way, his parents divorced and his mother disappeared from his life. He lived the life of an at-risk kid—cutting school, imbibing, starving, skateboarding, playing punk rock—learning his trade, and building relationships along the way.
“I miss my mom all the time. Maybe if I had closure, things would be different. Unfortunately, I don’t. I only have the things I came here with” (257). Those things are a creative soul, a solid work ethic, and a talent for music and art. Chris’s writing is lyrical and impressive, flowing from his fingers like the tattoos he respectfully etches on his client’s skin.
“Tattooing is a hulking chimerical beast, startling and beautiful when spotted. It’s a shape-shifter: a cosmic, chrome scorpion; a crude, grey-scale beauty; a Zulueta tribal badge” (240).
This page-turner is divided into three parts: early life in the small town of Alliston, surviving Toronto on his own, and finally, becoming a tattoo artist and getting his own shop. Part One flows like poetry as his memories paint the page. Part Two is tougher as he crawls through the underbelly of the city. And Part Three reads like prose. By then, MacDonald is head-down into the business of becoming an entrepreneur so he can support his new family. His poetic soul never leaves, though; it’s just transferred to his art and music.
Through a series of descriptive vignettes, we wend our way through MacDonald’s life. He’s sensitive, caring, wounded, emotional, and most of all, honest. You’ll find yourself rooting for him and identifying with him. An eighties’ kid, his first crush was a “safari-guide figurine” and then he saw Olivia Newton-John. If you know Toronto at all, you’ll paint yourself into the many places where MacDonald skates and crashes. Poor and starving, he does what he must to survive.
I can only applaud Chris for his perseverance, and for using the talents he came here with.
You can find Chris at Under My Thumb on the “western edge of Little Portugal” in Toronto. You can even book some time with him, enjoy the therapy being tattooed offers, and emerge wearing one of his creations. Go to Instagram and view his work. But first, read this, his first book.
The Things I Came Here With is published by ECW Press.
W. L. Hawkin is a genre-blender who writes the kind of books she loves to read. She publishes with Blue Haven Press.