Cicada tattoos? ‘To me, cicadas are synonymous with home’

Growing up in the 1990s, Jillian McKeown remembers shoveling cicadas off her sidewalk in the west suburbs.

Kitty Paul Jones gets nostalgic when the insects come out, remembering how she’d pick them off trees as a kid.

Jessica Flink thinks about how she isn’t the same person she was 17 years ago, the last time the periodical cicadas emerged in northern Illinois.

All three women sat cicada tattoos help them reflect on their lives — in 17-year chunks.

“I kept thinking of a rebirth, going through that time in my life, and, all of a sudden, I’m thinking, ‘What am I passionate about?’ ” says Flink, who got a cicada tattoo in Colorado a few years ago. “Cicadas can sometimes represent a carefree living. And it kind of represented that time in my life.”

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Flink and her husband get a new tattoo every time they travel. During their drive to Colorado Springs, thinking about moving there. Flink, who lives in Crest Hill, says she felt she was on the brink of change.

Jessica Flink of Crest Hill shows off her cicada tattoo with a 17-year periodical cicada on her arm.

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It didn’t turn out to be a move. But, soon after that vacation, she learned she was pregnant for the first time. Now, her daughter Ripley wakes up looking for the cicadas — “adas,” she calls them.

Flick looks at the tattoo on her forearm and sees it as a symbol of rebirth.

“Just like how a cicada changes so quickly [from] a nymph and then sheds its shell, I’m not the same person I was 17 years ago,” she says.

Jessica Flink’s daughter Ripley puts cicadas in her mom’s hair.

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Jones, a tattoo artist in Bradley, near Kankakee, was a teenager when the 17-year cicadas last emerged. She remembers riding with her father on his motorcycle, arms around his waist, in the summer to get ice cream — and taking cover behind him to to avoid being pelted by the flying insects.

Kitty Paul Jones, a tattoo artist.

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Jones, who works at Electric Lady Lounge tattoo shop, doesn’t have any cicada tattoos but created cicada-inspired designs for her flash — a selection for customers to choose from. Two show a cicada outline filled with colors. One has a cicada nymph. Another is a banner featuring the words “scream, – – – -, and die 2024.” Jones says that’s a meme-ified motto of the cicadas, whose brief life above ground consists of buzzing, mating and then dying.

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She says she saw similar memes and thought: ” ‘Wow, that’s me! That’s all I want to do.’ That’s a really big part of millennial culture, too — both nostalgia and meme culture.”

McKeown, a librarian in Rogers Park, grew up in Villa Park and laughs at the memory of her 7-year-old self shoveling cicadas off the sidewalk. “I feel like that really informed my childhood and left a stamp on me,” she says.

Jillian McKeown got a cicada tattoo in honor of the insects she says represent Illinois summers and nostalgia for her childhood.

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Adding to her other nature-themed tattoos, McKeown got a tattoo of an annual cicada in 2020. She says the bugs give her a sense of nostalgia and pride.

“If you are from Illinois, I feel like cicadas punctuate every season,” she says, noting that summer is marked by the emergence and buzzing of annual cicadas. “To me, cicadas are synonymous with home.”

McKeown says getting the tattoo early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when she was lonely and unsure of things, was reassuring.

“We were all in such a dark place,” she says. “Getting this tattoo — and not only getting the tattoo but getting the cicada — just gave me this feeling of childhood comfort and hope in kind of a strange way.”

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