Talisman noun \ˈta-ləs-mən, -ləz-\, plural tal·is·mans 1. : an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune. 2. : something producing apparently magical or miraculous effects. Example: <a pendant of white nephrite jade is often worn by Indians as a talisman to ward off heart disease> French talisman or Spanish talismán or Italian talismano; all from Arabic ṭilsam, from Middle Greek telesma, from Greek, consecration, from telein to initiate into the mysteries, complete, from telos end — more at telos
First Known Use: 1638
Synonyms: amulet, fetish (also fetich), mascot, mojo, periapt, phylactery, charm
Antonyms: hoodoo, jinx
Every once in a while someone asks me about my skull ring. It gravitates around from one finger and hand to another, sometimes it dangles from my pinky finger and other times it is firmly planted on my ring finger. There’ve been many concerned — or even alarmed — glances at my hand, usually from one of the more spiritual of my colleagues. Others seem to chalk it up as one of the oddities associated with being an artist. I once had a student ask if it was my wedding ring and before there was a chance to respond, she exclaimed, “Sweeeeet!” and was off to tell her friends that my wife and I chose skull rings to celebrate our joining. Trust me, we decidedly have not done so!
The real story is far more mundane; there’s nothing magical or rock’n’roll or occult connected to my choice of jewelry. Several years ago I was diagnosed with Diabetes. The world as I understood it simply reeled; the news floored me and, at first, I accepted it — not with grace and dignity and aplomb — but rather badly, I’m afraid. I didn’t want to lose my sight, my fingers or toes or legs. I didn’t want to live in fear of stroke or pulminary disease. I sure as hell didn’t want to die.
But there things stood, in a confrontation — a face off, if you will — with mortality.
I needed something to hold on to as I began to reshape my life. Continuity became mantra: Diet and exercise, rather than noble and occasional pursuits, became the focal point of my day: get up and check blood glucose levels; eat, record, and track nutritional information; rigorous exercise; repeat the eating and recording mechanics five more times each day; light exercise. For a year I took insulin, but vowed to make that a temporary setback. My doctor was surprised and very pleased that I was able to maintain such rigor in my life, and she took me off the insulin needle.
The skull ring, especially in the beginning, was critical to my need to maintain consistency. When I get whiney about being too tired to exercise, or really start to crave those damn carbs (potato chips and warm chocolate chip cookies and fresh bread… yum!), I finger this heavy band of silver to remind myself that the alternative to staying in check offers me a rather stark reality.
I still slip up from time to time (especially around the holidays) and I get very frustrated when my blood sugar levels inexplicably spike up higher than normal. My skull ring reminds me that I cannot sit back and allow shit to catch up to me, to overtake me. It’s my talisman, my amulet — a symbol of my mojo … and a fetish of sorts, I suppose.
Tomorrow morning, when I ride in the Tour de Cure, I’ll be astride my shiny, chromed ca. 1980‘s Freschi Supreme Super Cromo. It’s a very fast bike, but not an especially good choice if there are any hills to climb. Regardless, I’ll be riding to help support the effort to cure this damned disease. And if I do encounter a tough hill, I’ll be wearing this ring to remind me that every pedal stroke is totally worth the effort.