Once A Word, Always A Word

Apr 212004
Authors: Chris Hess

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


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