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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

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When I was fifteen, I designed a tattoo I wanted to get to commemorate my mom. The word, green, was the name she gave me when her tumour-riddled brain refused to let her access words- including my name. The font was taken from the band that played the first show I ever went to (with my mom), and I incorporated a moon and star- we had always shared a love of the sky. It was meant to symbolize our relationship, and it included symbols of all the most formative things my teenaged brain could comprehend at the time. My dad made me wait until I was 18 to get the design tattooed on me, but he did suggest engraving it on the bench that looked on to her grave. On my eighteenth birthday, he handed me a hundred dollars, I picked up my best friend, and I finally got my green tattoo on my left forearm. Years later, my brother would get the same tattoo, tying him to us even closer than he had been to start of with.

A year and a half later, my dad and I had a huge confrontation that resulted in us barely speaking for years afterward. During this confrontation, he expressed his disapproval of some of my choices, and I told him, through salty, gasp-filled breathes, that I was an adult who was capable of making my own decisions about my life. That same summer, I got my fourth(?) tattoo by a woman who was just learning to tattoo in her apartment for $20. Three birds sitting on a wire on my left wrist, one flying away. Dad, my brother, (still at home), and mom (who left, but is still here). On my right arm, there is one lone bird, soaring. Independence. The birds are facing me- a reminder. I went straight to a concert (The Specials) and danced until I was so drenched in sweat that the bandages on my wrists fell away into the pit and the ink smudged throughout my new tattoos.

It has been eight years since my first tattoo, and my body is now home to seventeen pieces of permanent art. Seventeen stories to illustrate my life so far. Just a couple of days ago, a lovely friend graciously offered to hand-poke one of her drawings into my skin. I looked through her sketchbooks and found a thin evergreen tree with an eye for roots, complete with straight lines extending downward. I instantly felt connected to the naturalness, the resilience, the grounding, the good vibes, the introspection, the connection of this image. I thought for a while about the placement, and after discussing with another close and cherished friend, my initial intuition was confirmed, and I decided on the placement: my left forearm, parallel to my green tattoo, and so that the roots of my new tree, which faces away from me and out into the world, extend towards the lone bird on my wrist wrist.

This series of tattoos wasn’t even meant to be representative of my healing process as I have learned to grieve for my mother while simultaneously standing in my power. But it was. Really, it’s a perfect expression of how when you learn to accept the universe as it is, that’s a step towards ending your own personal suffering. I am so grateful for this process.

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