Ink-Stained Wretch from Stigmata

Creative types have an interesting relationship to notions of ownership – from the copyright that protects their work to the semi-sacred spaces in which they create it. Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own was the early 20th century prototype for this type of declarative claim for personal space, literal and figurative, feminist and otherwise. By century’s end, taking ownership included whole states (My Own Private Idaho) and finally religious figures (“Your Own. Personal. Jesus.”).
It’s a combination of Woolf’s concept and Depeche Mode’s need for “Someone to hear your prayers / Someone who cares” that’s preoccupied me since rising.

Question: When do you know when your sense of ownership of the ecstatic state of creation has dipped into a kind of psycho-religio madness? Answer: When you get stigmata.

Yes, stigmata. It’s not just for Catholics anymore. With enough inner-angst, anyone can grow the wounds of Christ. This is body-piercing at an entirely new level – through the palms of one’s hands, the feet and the assorted other places Jesus was messed with on his way onto the cross and the journey from B.C. to A.D. (talk about crossing time zones).

My stigmata is a bit different. I woke up this morning with pools of black ink welling up in my palms. I consider this neither a religious miracle nor a kind of masochistic affirmation of my writerlyness. It’s just a goddamn mess. Albeit, I might have still been dreaming. Also, I sleep with a pen and pad nearby and I might have fallen asleep with them mid-sentence.

Either way, I woke up and rubbed my eyes and now I look like the Hamburglar. If I really do have stigmata, I’ll have to wear maxi-pads on my hands as I type this so I don’t ruin my laptop.

Stigmata, in my case, isn’t supernatural, it’s just super annoying. And it isn’t helping me make my deadline one bit. Now, medical professionals might say that a “psychosomatic symptom” like bleeding printer’s ink from one’s palms is the result of over-identification and autosuggestion gone awry. And if it weren’t for my general lack of identification with anything beyond Han Solo, I’d be inclined to believe them. I’ve simply decided that I’m cursed. Or I’m the victim of a conspiracy perpetrated by dry cleaners. I cannot tell you how many shirts have become shop rags thanks to ink stains. For that matter, I can’t tell you how many shop rags have become shirts when I’ve neglected to do my laundry.

I suppose I could have worse problems than stigmata and wardrobe malfunctions a la Jackson Pollock’s Black and White (Number 20). I could’ve woken up as a cockroach. It happened to a guy I knew in college. Or at least I read about him in college. Who am I fooling? I don’t remember college – except for roaches. And burnt fingers.


No one knows from where or whence the phrase ink-stained wretch came. Some attribute it to Samuel Johnson, the 18th century poet and lexicographer, thought to be the first man to read the dictionary, because he wrote it. Others attribute the snarky sobriquet to Toronto sports writer Trent Frayne and author of the memoir The Tales of an Athletic Supporter. Chances are it’s neither. It was probably some schmuck like me who woke up in a pool of black ink and was simply relieved it wasn’t any other liquid.

As for my stigmata hands, I’ll bandage them up. Though I’ll look as though I’ve been boxing a fountain pen, I can finally justify writing A Wound of One’s Own or My Own Private Inkwell. Or … I’ll stop.