You Can't set up Limitations
I have always lived in survival mode.
I was raised in Northern Nevada, one of three sisters. There’s about 30 cousins on my mom's side and we're all really close, but I was never that close with my parents. Family was always really important to me, and it still is, but my immediate family was always a place of conflict for me, so as soon as I turned 18 I was gone. I just left and started traveling.
I graduated high school in '96, barely, living in my car. I thought, "Why am I even going to school? Why do I care?" But I did. I drove to California, went to Oregon, then ditched my car and started hitchhiking all over the U.S. and a lot of Canada. I rode freight trains for almost eight years until I moved to Santa Fe. I was never in any one place for very long.
I learned how to tattoo in 1998, two years into traveling around. In 2001, I went to botanical medicine school in upstate New York, and that was probably the longest I had been in any place until I lived here. I would just do stints in places. I raked blueberries in Maine. I worked for this radical collective and did poster work for them. We would take them to protests and try to educate people on these huge global policies that stem from the U.S., but through pictures. I worked with them for a little while, did a few School of the Americas protests.
But back to 1998, when I learned how to tattoo, I met a guy who I ended up being friends with for the next 10 years, who liked my tattoos at a festival, and he asked me if I wanted to learn how to hand poke. I said something like, "I don't know, sure." I was open to it; I wasn't one way or the other; but the second that I did it I knew, "Oh, I'm going to do this forever." It's not like I was even thinking about a career then because I just because I didn't have that mentality at all at that time. I was still thinking I was very subversive, and on the fringe, and eating out of dumpsters. So I wasn't thinking, "Oh, this is going to be my career," but I knew once I did it, "I'm going to do this forever. This totally resonates with me."
The person I was kind of traveling with decided he was going to come back to Santa Fe, and, since I had a little bit of money and my sister lived in Amsterdam, I decided that I should go visit her. I went to visit her for maybe a month, then came back to New Mexico to pick up my van and my dogs. And my van was broken down.
It was January, and except for the time in New York I'd never really "lived" anywhere, so I thought, "Well, maybe I should try living in a place for one whole year." I kept thinking about how I was really operating out of these base root chakra levels and always in survival mode, and there was no real stability. It was just sleep, eat. Those are the basic things. Then you get to move up a little from there, but not much further because those things are always kind of in flux. So that was my idea, that if I tried to live in a place for one whole year and I had those base chakras taken care of, how would I develop as a person? How would my heart grow? How would my voice grow? So that was my deal with myself, that I was going to live here for one year.
The first 10 months of living here, though, I was ready to leave the whole time. I could not wait to get out of here. I hated it so much. I kept meeting the wrong people. I kept thinking, "These people are not nice; they're really narrow-minded; there's no diversity at all; and I just can't wait to get out of here."
I broke up with the person I was dating and got my own place, and then started working at a local club and then a local café. I just started meeting different people, meeting people who were really from here. That's what changed it for me in those last two months, because I had been determined I was going to dip the second my year was up. But I started meeting people who were actually from New Mexico and I totally got this place, because I was getting invited to huge New Mexican family holiday brunches that were just like my family: There's 20 aunties; there's a hundred cousins; everybody's talking at the same time; there's tons of food.
I was just totally at home, and I started to understand it a little bit more, just the richness of the culture and the lineage. Then in just the last two months it changed. I got the magic and I totally fell in love. I went and lived in Europe for a couple of years, five years ago, but other than that I've been here for 14 years now.
When I moved here I was 27, but I had a lot of older friends and they were always talking about their Saturn Returns. All of my older friends were excited that the next year was my Saturn return, because when you turn 28 and a half is when it starts. I started reading a lot of books about it, and my understanding is that it could either be like your midlife crisis or it can be the time when you hone your will and the entire universe and solar system is totally at your side, like all the supports are there. I thought, "I need to hone my will."
And I started seeing, working at the café, that Santa Fe is definitely the kind of town where you can wake up and you're 40 and you're still a waiter, or you're still a bartender, or you're still a barista. And I'm not knocking that at all, but for me I knew I did not want to go down that path. I knew it could happen to me — that's this town — but I decided, that can't happen to me; it just can't. So I asked myself, OK, what are the things that I'm passionate about? And it was plants and it was tattooing. Those were the two things I knew I truly loved.
At the time I was still such a punker, still had some piercings, had my shitty renegade Hare Krishna dread mullet thing that was growing out, but I was definitely still very much a punk and a little bit feral, so I thought if I wanted to get a job at this local herb shop I should probably try to pretend I don't wear black all the time. I went to the thrift store and bought some earth tones and then went and had an interview — I have a lot of herbal and botanical medicine knowledge, so I easily could have just gotten the job except for me.
I go for the interview and I'm trying to pretend like I'm all demure and soft-spoken, and of course I start talking with my hands like I am right now. And I was talking and explaining something and I hit the lid off of this glass jar and it literally flies across the whole store and just hits everything it could possibly hit in its path. It was at that moment I said to myself, "Ah, fuck it, they're not going to give me this job. They saw through my earth tones to who I really am." So I did not get the job at the herb shop, and I thought, "OK, that's just not the path for me."
It was shortly after that I got my apprenticeship at a tattoo place. I ended up meeting this local tattoo artist, Mark, just casually, not thinking that he was going to apprentice me or even that I wanted to. He ended up seeing a handful of tattoos that I had done on someone and he told the friend who had introduced us that I should be tattooing, like that's what this person should be doing. I went in one day and started chatting, and I left there with a handshake saying that I would apprentice with him for three years and I would work for him for two to pay him back for the apprenticeship. And that was that.
I ended up going to Europe and living there for a couple of years, after that, and then five years ago this past December I moved back and started my shop.
What advice would I give to other women? Always have a pistol in your purse? I really don't know. Try to be in right relation with yourself first, and then it goes out from there. Have integrity. But if you're not checking in with yourself and you're not… No, I don't want to say that; that's not advice. I don't know, buy gold and silver, invest in bitcoin.
By the age of 9, I was the only babysitter in my neighborhood. So I babysat for $1.25 a kid, kept the money in a cash box, and a ledger of what was coming in and going out. I ended up buying myself a plane ticket to Seattle at 10 to visit my auntie and cousins. Just like my babysitting days, I have always figured out how to hustle — which still resonates today. When I got my house, when I started my shop, when I learned how to tattoo, they weren't things that just happened to me. I had to work for them and make them happen. But I didn't even know sometimes that they were possible. You can't set up limitations by what you know. I wanted to do something, so I figured out how to do it and made it happen. I try not to just be limited by my own ideas of what's possible.
I came here with a broken-down van, a cast iron pan, two dogs, and a pair of combat boots — and now I own a house and a building and have like a million high heels and two cars. It's so stupid. It's actually too much stuff. It's just a really crazy turn of direction from, "Oh, I think I'll try to develop my heart chakra," but New Mexico has just been really, really good to me.
Crow hails from the high desert of Northern Nevada. She began her love affair with tattooing in 1998 when she first learned how to hand-poke tattoo. Years later she moved to Santa Fe and began a traditional apprenticeship with Mark Vigil of Four Star Tattoo. In 2013, with the desire to offer a different tattoo experience, Talis Fortuna was born. She is now the sole owner of the shop.
Words: Crow B. Rising