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First Person


Cyle Talley

‘It paid off to screw up’: Will Baker on tattoos, and the value of mistakes

Will Baker on blind faith, tattoos, and the value of mistakes
Ar 170419620
Will Baker
Ar 170419620
Will Baker

The sun is shining and the weather is damned near perfect as I walk through the park where people are laughing, sun-tanning, and doing other ... Durango-type things. A bearded guy with hair that nearly reaches his baggy, herringbone-patterned pants is throwing a tennis ball for his gigantic-eared dog, who chases it with a frightening, deranged zeal. The young man is Will Baker, and his dog’s name is Scooby-Doo – because of course it is. Will has a tattoo in German that takes up nearly the whole of his forearm, and I ask him what it means as his dog pants and waits for someone to throw the damn ball. I tell his story here, in his own words.

It means “Faith is blind, trust is proven.” My family isn’t super-religious, but we sat down and prayed every night over dinner. At some point I realized that I’d rather trust something wholly than put faith in something blindly. As it started to heal fully and really take shape, I realized, “Oh, this is how this thing is going to be for the rest of my life.” It was sort of exciting to think that if one day I have kids, they’re going to want to know what it says on my arm, and why I think that way.

I’m happy to share with people what I’m about, because I want to hear what they’re about, too. That’s the cool part about tattoos – they bring people together. The vast majority of people who ask about my tattoos are people who have ink themselves. We’re sharing stories and learning and sort of honing what we’re about as we go. Really all I want is to be able to lay my head down at night and know that I did alright by me. If that means helping someone, great. Even just walking the dog and making sure that he gets taken care of – I think too many people my age want to put a definition on life and make it play by their rules. “I have to do such and such by the time I’m—” and then when they don’t get there, or it doesn’t come in the way that they think it’s going to, they feel like they failed and then they believe that, because they failed, they should quit. We’re all still sort of reeling from high school, and the tests that can’t be retaken. We have to relearn how to be OK with failure, learn from it, and get better.

Like the other day at work, I messed up changing the fryer oil. It had been changed the day before but I changed it on reflex and then realized after the fact that I’d f—ked up. I had to take responsibility for the mistake, fess up, and then I recommitted myself to being diligent, and checking the things that I do reflexively. It paid off to screw up. My boss was pissed for a few minutes, but then they were on to the next thing.

You can’t succeed without making mistakes. That’s what it comes down to, and that helps me to keep things in perspective. I want to do things – work, fun, whatever – well. I want to give my full effort so that at the end of the day, I can look at it and say, “Yep, that was me. I did that, and I’m proud of it.” Otherwise, what the f—k are you doing things for? I get that people have jobs that they have to have to make it through the month or the day, but for me, for someone in my spot – I’m not planning on going to school, or furthering my education too much more – I have to work hard to prove my worth, and I like doing that. Like I said, I want to get through the day in a way where I can lay my head down at night and think, “Yep, I did everything I could to do right by me and the people around me.”

Cyle Talley owns and uses a shoehorn. Email him at: cyle@cyletalley.com.