The Things I Came Here With by Chris MacDonald

Chris MacDonald’s memoir The Things I Came Here With takes you through the highs and lows of discovering where you fit in the world and how much that compares to where you want to be or expected to be.

 He takes us through his childhood and some of his formative experiences which took him from a kid dissecting a live frog with his knife to running his own tattoo studio. He grows up with his parents and siblings in a little blue house that he frequently remembers and even visits as an adult.

One of his most prominent memories is watching his family members, particularly his mother and his older brother Rob incorporating art into their immediate surroundings. Rob paints a big tree mural on the side of his wall and his mother moves things around and decorates and paints intentionally with colour.

The author frames the move away from the little blue house as a definite move away from his childhood and how from that point everything seems different. His parents’ divorce drives that home, and his remorse over what feels is the abandonment of his mentally ill mother by the rest of his family and himself is a common thread throughout this memoir. We see the regret of his treatment of others echoed in how he describes his first breakup with a girl named Angie who he says he treated poorly.

MacDonald doesn’t flinch from describing his regrets. He details at one point as a child urinating on a praying mantis with the intention of drowning it and initially laughing at its struggles to protect itself before recognizing the wrongness of what he was doing. He describes the hurt and betrayal he has at being beaten up by friends as a teen and suspected of stealing a specific item despite his acknowledgement that he stole things out of their bags like money to pay for smokes and drugs. His description of his guilt over his stepmother leaving him a large sum of money which he was able to use to buy his first house was particularly evocative because he describes how he just didn’t want to have a relationship with her at all, and she did so much for him.

MacDonald’s vulnerability lies in explaining how he first looked into art and tattooing as a way to connect to his brother. He is turned down from work at a tattoo parlour with his current portfolio and it stalls his progress in the industry for a few years. He portrays his concerns over the technical quality of his earlier work with such bluntness, and he compares himself to his brother as if it were a challenge often. Tattooing becomes a recurring escape and his journey finally brings him to what seems to be a certain sense of peace with himself.

Where the writing and experiences shine in this book is when he has a chance to talk about the experience of tattooing someone and how it feels to walk through that process. He talks about how he messed up on the first big tattoo he did because of placement but the customer loved it. He describes that feeling of walking into a tattoo parlour and knowing from how the air smells and he’s greeted that it’s a good spot. The descriptive writing takes you right to that exact spot he’s sharing and it’s magical. If only there were more of these moments shared in the memoir.

The Things I Came Here With is an apt metaphor for all the baggage, struggles, pain and success in finding yourself exactly where you’re at, even if it makes you slightly uncomfortable, especially if you’re feeling good about it.


Chris MacDonald is a tattoo artist and the owner of Under My Thumb Tattoos, a respected tattoo studio in Toronto, Ontario. He is a songwriter and a guitarist with LeBarons. Chris lives with his wife and daughter by the lake. The Things I Came Here With is his first book.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ ECW Press (Oct. 18 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 264 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1770416412
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1770416413

Stephanie Sirois (they/them) is a writer, artist and journalist on unceded Wolastoqiyik territory. They spend their time reading, writing, making art and exhorting their family into playing board games with them.