Upon enrolling in college, students dream of becoming many
things. Visions of being doctors, lawyers and veterinarians fill
young minds and eventually empty bank accounts. However, few
students, if any, dream of becoming a word.
However, senior sociology major, Mark Mercer has done just that.
Mercer chose to participate in author Shelley Jackson’s
Ineradicable Stain project, which involves getting a word from her
unreleased short story, “Skin,” tattooed on his body.
From now on, Mercer will be known as “covers.”
“It’s on my upper left arm,” said Mercer, who first learned
about the project after reading a press release in the magazine
Cabinet Quarterly. “I like the concept of the whole thing. The idea
of being part of something bigger.”
“Skin” will be published nowhere else except on the bodies of
willing literati everywhere.
Shelley’s call for people to become her “words” began in
September, after she had the title inked onto her wrist. As of Jan.
6, approximately 1,600 of the needed 2,095 participants had come
forward, according to Shelley’s Web site,
www.ineradicablestain.com. Any lack of participants, however, does
not concern the author. She believes that if the book is not
completed in tattoos then whatever is tattooed will be the final
“In the event that insufficient participants come forward to
complete the first and only edition of the story, the incomplete
version will be considered definitive,” Jackson stated in the
release. “From this time on, participants will be known as “words.”
They are not understood as carriers or agents of the texts they
bear, but as its embodiments.”
Basically- once a word, always a word. The author goes on to
offer this comforting bit of sentiment.
“As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the
story will also have died. The author will make every effort to
attend the funerals of her words,” Jackson said.
His first attempt to get a word from Jackson failed, but Mercer
was rewarded on his second try. Once he received his part of the
story, he sought out an artist to officially put the stain on his
“I thought about going to a tattoo parlor, but I ended up going
to this guy who was holed up in his house for some shady reasons,”
Mercer said. “I bought him a pizza and some fries, gave him $7 and
he was down.”
Now that a patch of skin on his arm has officially become the
property of one New York author, Mercer must submit photos of both
the tattoo and himself to Jackson. The author will then send Mercer
a copy of the completed story, which he had to sign a
confidentiality agreement not to disclose.
“Out of 2,000 people, it would suck to be the one guy who leaks
the story,” Mercer said. “A lot of people are attracted to this by
the sense of anonymous community it promotes. But I like the idea
of someday far down the road running into someone who is another