the roaring of the voices

This tattoo belongs to Ryan:

After everything took a turn for the worst (failed out of college first year, lost the girlfriend, had to move back home to an abusive parental relationship to the place I said I’d never return…), I lost my faith in everything, especially myself. I was surrounded by negativity, inside and out. I honestly believed I had ruined my life and that those around me saw me for everything I was and felt like: a complete and utter failure. I attended a local community college to get my grades back up and prove that I was worthy academically to earn a degree.

I signed up for a Literature course. I don’t remember the level or the professor (rumors floated around that he was a failed writer) but we read an anthology that contained this story called “Hands” by this guy I’ve never heard of, Sherwood Anderson. I remember reading the story on the floor of my bedroom, against the wall, the windows open and the leaves whispering outside. I wish I could tell you how my life changed at that moment. I can’t, though. Something clicked, something ignited a fire. It’s like I had found a purpose to try again. That was 2001.

It is now 2011. I went back to the same school I failed out of, was captain of the swim team, went onto receive my Masters in Education, rode my bicycle across American the summer of 2008 and will finish my second Masters in Creative Writing next May.

No one thought I would recover from hitting rock bottom. Especially me. No one thought I could get a Masters. No one thought I could ride my bicycle, 4,000+ miles alone. No one thought I could go to school for creative writing. But “Hands” did something. It allowed me to believe in myself enough to ignore everything else that told me I couldn’t. I didn’t think I could. I knew I could. And I did.

Literary Tattoos: Winesburg Ohio Sherwood Anderson Hands

By a fence he had stopped and beating like a giant woodpecker upon the top board had shouted at George Willard, condemning his tendency to be too much influenced by the people about him. “You are destroying yourself,” he cried. “You have the inclination to be alone and to dream you are afraid of dreams. You want to be like others in town here. You hear them talk and you try to imitate them.”

On the grassy bank Wing Biddlebaum had tried again to drive his point home. His voice became soft and reminiscent, and with a sigh of contentment he launched into a long rambling talk, speaking as one lost in a dream.

Out of the dream Wing Biddlebaum made a picture for George Willard. In the picture men lived again in a kind of pastoral golden age. Across a green open country came clean-limbed young men, some afoot, some mounted upon horses. In crowds the young men came together about the feet of an old man who sat beneath a tree in a tiny garden and who talked to them.

Wing Biddlebaum became wholly inspired. For once he forgot the hands. Slowly they stole forth and lay upon George Willard’s shoulders. Something new and bold came into the voice that talked. “You must try to forget all you have learned,” said the old man. “You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.”

- Excerpt from “Hands” in the novel Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson


  1. Caitlin says

    Ryan, thank you for sharing your story! its fantastic and inspirational and I hope this tattoo is a reminder of all the great, amazing things you have now accomplished, even though way back all those years ago, everything seemed impossible and out of reach.

    I’m just blown away by your story and your successes, and what an awesome tattoo!

  2. Bonnie says

    Congrats on your determination and success. Reminds me of the saying, “You’re never too old to be whom you might have been.”
    Thank you for introducing me to this story. I am now a fan of Sherwood Anderson. When I saw your tattoo and then again when I read the book, I was so overcome with emotion over that line. For me, the “roaring of the voices” are external but mostly internal. I need to find the right spot to ink this as well. Thank you for sharing. You are as inspirational as these words!

  3. Eduardo Acosta says

    I read this a while ago but didn´t save the link, I thought I would never read it again, but just found out I bookmarked in favorites.
    Thanks for sharing, it´s so inspirational.
    I´m 37, from Mexico I must find a way back to who I should have been all along. Stories like yours remind me it can be done.

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