IF WE CAN ONLY SURRENDER UNTO THE WILD

Originally posted Aug 2, 2021.

My Uncles Tray, Carmel By The Sea California Summer 2021, NORNSLIFE ART | DACD

People have said that when immersed in the untouched wild places of the Earth that it makes them realize just how inconsequential they are, but I have found the exact opposite to be true. After spending almost three months off and on during this summer in the wild backcountry spaces of the American West, immersing myself in nature creating, I began to realize just how essential we all are, and the great importance that I have as an individual to work towards the preservation of these spaces that acquiesce healing. 

Cliff Side, The Grand Canyon National Park Arizona Summer 2021, NORNSLIFE ART | DACD

Art for Activism and Social Commentary are genres that I have always been drawn to throughout the entirety of my art career. I have always created within these genres while working in my own mixed media visual art processes; whether it was during my MFA or MA work, visual art work or performing at an early age, researching the physical act of creation’s ability to aid cognitive healing in affected persons, or exploring the cross cultural, religious, gender, and political barriers to facilitate de-stigmatized conversations around mental health and disabilities, I have always sought to create art that affects change, and healing. This also rang true in my earlier works, where I created with the intent of seeking to break down the stigmas surrounding child abuse survivors, rape survivors, and sexual assault survivors living with mental health disabilities as a result of the severe trauma that we have survived. Cognitively, I know that this makes complete sense due to the fact that I, myself, am a survivor; which meant that part of my Mt. Everest climb—a cathartic journey into healing—would be creating within the fine art, constructed artistic reality, self-portrait, and self as study realm. You can’t help others until you do your own healing work. As work does, it grows; it becomes more abstract or literal, and evolves. This evolution was huge for me over the past five years as my work began to take more abstract, impressionist, and contemporary leanings when creating in site specific wild spaces completely immersed in nature. This evolution has not been easy. Growing up a pampered athlete artist—“a comfortable city gal”, as my partner would say, regardless of being a Senior Girl Scout (OH YEA) who lived in the Costa Rican jungle for a part of my Undergraduate studies at Penny Stamps School, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I was an NCAA champion female rugby player, being at one with bugs, and dirt everywhere without super clean spaces to retreat to after has been a difficult transition. I don’t think I will ever be someone who doesn’t need to shower as soon as they get home after a long day of training and working remotely in the backcountry, and honestly I like being fresh and clean. This is probably why our mobile studio Lucky Sasquatch ( @luckysquatch ) always smells so good. I guess as I am writing this I am realizing that I am an artist whose creative processes need cleanliness, organization, and some order to be involved within the fluidity of my work flow. I am also a very driven, type A, highly functioning Neurodivergent chick that prizes herself on getting shit done before everyone else even with my numerous mostly un-seen cognitive disabilities, and I believe this is also where my competitive athletic side comes into play. I always seek to go above and beyond to deliver. This is just a part of who I am. Though, I digress.

Sunsets Bliss, The Grand Canyon National Park Arizona Summer 2021, NORNSLIFE ART | DACD

Back to the physical act of creation in site specific wild spaces in nature. The acquiescence of cognitive healing and person to person uniquely dependent self—re-normalization of the Amygdala region of the brain. As I travel by foot with camera in hand, deeper into the wild spaces of our planet, I notice my severe anxiety, PTSD, sleep, and other cognitive symptoms begin to dissipate over time. The longer the duration of time that I have spent every summer for the past five years immersed in the backcountry of the American Southwest and West with my partner, my symptoms as well as his, begin to grow less strong on a daily basis until they went away completely after a month of working off grid. The transition of city work life from remote work life is always a difficult one, which also has gotten better with each trip we take into nature to create. I began to notice that once I retreated into city life, my anxiety would be crazy high for the first few weeks each time but then overall my basal symptoms would be drastically reduced post deep immersive creation in nature. The overall triggers became less and less as well.  This reconnection of the “ID”, if you will, begins to transpire. With each shutter click, each brush stroke, or motion of my hands creating sculpture allows me to cognitively recognize the completely rational irrationality of it all. Meaning, I could now actually recognize and better control my symptoms; not just after my therapist helped me, but on my own. My symptoms are completely normal because of what I have survived and experienced in my life. The ability to recognize these greatly heightened symptoms during trauma was never accessible, but after four years making these trips while working weekly with a therapist, doing my ultra marathon training daily, and creating in nature, I can do so. The sensory receptors of physical and emotional pain post numerous traumas continually survived since childhood through my teen years and early twenties, no longer constantly weigh on me like a 100kg anvil pulling me into the depths of the ocean, but rather are filled inside a much lighter 15kg kettle bell. This kind of freedom—yes I say freedom, because when you have not understood yourself, your brain, and or could not control your body’s response to your brain for almost a decade and can do this after working your butt off continually for years, you are more free than you have been in years, and life becomes not just survivable but, it is livable—this is what the wild gives spaces promise to give us if we can only surrender. Creation in nature, where we as a species are meant to be, heals and this is deeply true for my partner, whom has chronic genetically inherited ADHD and Depression. 

The Man, Grand Canyon National Park Arizona Summer 2021, NORNSLIFE ART | DACD

This freedom is the very same freedom that people of privilege can’t fathom, yes I say privilege because if you have survived even some of the shit us trauma survivors have you are among the privileged, which means that you can’t ever truly understand it, nor would I ever wish you to, but the point in my sharing this through bravery of the written word, frankly not giving a crap about the negative backlash of possible haters, is because helping others is the intended outcome of majority of my art, and life. If I can help others heal through the physical act of creation and hopefully soon continue my scholarly research along this route via a Practice Led DPhil or PhD, I will have achieved my purpose in surviving, and going through what I have gone through. Demonstrating the power to heal within my own research, work, and giving joy with hope to others is what I am all about. Just know, all you survivors out there who are too scared, for whatever reason to come forward, to get help, to open the door to healing, that you can, and that you are not alone. I mean, shit, the goal of putting myself through hell, crawling through the bloody, beaten, broken gutter of what I have survived, allowing myself to remember, to feel it all, and truly process it properly emotionally with intense courage enabled me to get here. It enabled me to become a better wife, friend, colleague, small female business owner, and professional artist. The baggage that you carry has massively negative consequences if un-dealt with for too long. I learned this the hard way and I never want anyone to have to do so because it blows. To get to the point where I was no longer in flight or fight mode daily, constantly battling every moment of every day through severely heightened physical pain (kinda used to this as it hasn’t gone away and I have been an elite level current extreme sport athlete for years), emotional pain (still bad not as hardcore though), severe  chronic panic attacks (rarely occur as I can control pre-trigger symptoms if caught) that make you get vertigo, and more was to demonstrate that, The Physical Act of Creation, paired with psychological treatment can facilitate healing, and growth. You just have to do the work. You have to cry. You have to talk about all the feelings, the anger, the rage, and only then do you begin to acknowledge how truly strong you are; how truly capable you are. That creation, therapy, nature, pot (yup), and physical activity put you on the road to a healthy life. This life includes the ability to recognize co-dependent toxic relationships that are un-healthy, it gives you the courage to love these people from afar, or recognize how awful of human beings they are because of their own issues/inability to do the same due to fear, and move forward with your life. Nature gives you perspective. She facilitates your healing if you do the work, and I have continued to do so this summer.

Untitled, Big Sur California Summer 2021, NORNSLIFE ART | DACD

The COVID-19 Pandemic hit us all extremely hard—shit we are still in it going on two years . It seems kind of impossible to undergo this kind of healing when you are terrified to step outside your door without a mask, can no longer physically connect with humans the same way, and, man, does Mother Nature in the backcountry also help with these feels. Especially the remote job working uncertainly feels, which luckily now we all know is better than stuffy traditional offices and totally do-able if you are driven human! I mean, I graduated with my MFA December 2019 in person, and MA May 2020 online, into the pandemic, and the worst job recession America has ever seen. Starting up my own small business during this time has been crazy hard, as has applying for remote jobs and PhD/DPhil positions, but I refuse to give up. Never will. It isn’t in my nature. One of my dearest colleagues during my MFA studies, as well as a colleague who is a friend died as a result of an abusive partner not two months ago due to a forced isolation from friends/family plus abuse that continued during the pandemic, and I lost two other friends who have done/said things that are not only ableist but quite frankly not ok. I am still grappling with this, this is why it has taken me so long to write to you all as I have been deep in grief, loss, the resurgence of the past loss of both my parents by the age of 18 due to my friends death triggering these memories I survived as a kid, and more. I want everyone to know they are loved, feel loved, be loved, and one of the things my partner and therapist have told me is that not everyone deserves this wild unbridled kind of ceaseless love. Some don’t deserve it all. Part of me kind of feels this is true, but the intense weight of loss has been something that has crept up on me all summer when we come out of the back country, it is slightly lighter when in nature, and maybe that’s why my choice of medium has been something different, exciting, terrifying; one that I haven’t touched in years. Certain times in your life drive you to certain materials when you are a natural mixed media artist; there are dominant characters and mine include photography, painting, performance, and sculpture. It was all dependent on the shit life was throwing at me during that moment in time. What matters is that we choose what best communicates not only the subject matter of each piece but the conceptual matter as a whole, and that aesthetic, creative, and artistic skill are all used to follow the creative processes to fruition while facilitating our own unique healing journeys. 

Untitled, Nor Cal Summer 2021, NORNSLIFE ART | DACD

Texas to Arizona, Arizona to California, California to Oregon, and now we are in Nevada heading towards Utah. It has been a long trip; I am finally ready to start applying to shows and have a bunch of projects in the works, y’all! I know this was a long blog, if you are still here with me, I send you tons of love, thanks, and light for making it to the bottom of the page. Shorter blogs to come ;), as well as poem shorts on my Instagram page @nornslife_art, be sure to check out my art work for sale and help support my journey as an emerging Professional Female Artist and Small Business Owner. Love and thanks to all y’all for following me on this journey! All y’all’s support is invaluable. 

Lucky Sasquatch, California Summer 2021, NORNSLIFE ART | DACD

Get Vaccinated & Mask Up So I Can Meet Y’all ;)! Please!! 

With Tenderness,

Daniella

NORSNLIFE ART | DACD, MFA & MA