Headspace

written by Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito.

Originally posted Nov. 11, 2020.

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As we walk and run through the natural landscapes that surround us there is a unique bond of body, mind, and spirit that begins to develop with these special places. Connecting with nature allows us to connect with the deepest, darkest, and most personal depths of our own being. This connection teaches us patience, empathy, compassion, and above all, that, it is the quiet stillness on our planet that deeply nourishes our souls. 

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I have lived in many states in the United States, and I have lived and traveled through Central America. It is through my travels, the memories of special landscapes, and the love found within the people that I have met along my journey that feeds my creative being. Above all, it is the love, the compassion, and the generosity of the people that I have met in these spaces that tie me to my own humanity. Over the past almost four years now that my partner and myself have had our home base in North Central Texas, we have experienced a disconnect. We have a need to be by the Pacific Ocean, the mountains, the valleys, and deserts of the West. This need is not just because we have transitioned from NCAA athletes to Extreme Sports Athletes, but most importantly as the West Coast is the only place we have ever felt truly at home in a place. We both have experienced great calm and a centered sense of self when living remotely in the West. That might lead you to ask, why the heck have we been living in Texas then? The answer is simple, my husband finished his Doctorate at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA during the spring of 2017, and was hired as a tenure-track assistant professor and researcher at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. I transferred to finish my MFA here through Texas Woman’s University, which I completed in the Fall of 2019, and my MA online through Academy of Art University in the spring of 2020. You are probably thinking, ok what does this have to do with spaces that inspire you to create and center you? My answer is Hartlee Field Road.

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Hartlee Field Road is a magical area in Denton and it leads to the only close natural preserve (Denton Clear Water Creek) where you can hike at peace in nature surrounded by beautiful Texas farmland. For all of the other spaces where you can hike, climb, and mountain bike you have to drive at least an hour on the freeway. During these crazy commutes in search of finding natural Texas landscapes unscarred by man, you pass miles of concrete roads, you travel through housing developments that look all the same (where capitalism drives all development and kills all natural trees and species living during building all in the name of profit). This is one of the major issues here in Texas; there is no concern or acknowledgment for the indigenous species of flora, fauna, and animals living in the spaces developers want to bulldoze in the name of quick easy cheap builds. During graduate school to cope with the stress, I was running 100-120 miles per week on paved roads (yes I over-trained and am currently nursing a healing ACL knee injury as a result). When I ran, I would bring my camera, and shoot the natural indigenous Texan beauty before and after developers came in. This project, a documentary series of images is still on-going, but before I go down a rabbit hole, I will re-center, and get back to Hartlee Field Road.

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Hartlee Field Road has vast open stunning Texas cattle farmland, fields of crops, unique homes with land surrounding them, and it allows the viewer/s to partake in at least three types of clouds in the sky clearly defined at any given time no matter the season. This road, the neighborhoods, farms, and natural areas surrounding a fifteen-mile square radius are so tranquil they became my go-to for a quick ten-mile de-stressing jog. My partner and I continue to run, hike, cycle, and mountain bike in this area. Recently we noticed signs were put up to “Save Hartlee Field Road +1(469) 464.9548”, which upon calling this number you can get more information. Please sign a petition to save this area (if you are a Texan, Farmer, Rancher, and or someone who likes to get outside please call) to stop the expansion of this road to essentially turn it into a minor highway. This development would displace natural inhabitants, increase stress for cattle, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, cows, and the humans that live here. It would turn this beautiful refuge into yet another Texas concrete jungle devoid of the natural indigenous beauty.

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Hartlee Field Road has become a second home, a way for my husband, as well as myself to be able to get out into nature in-between VanLife trips in our converted Sprinter Van @luckythesprinter to the West, Southwest, and mountains when we don’t have time to drive on the freeway to get somewhere. This road allows us to train, destress from work, creating, and connect with one another as partners. More importantly, the residents do not want this conversion. 

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So please, I am writing today to urge you all, and in the Spirit of The Holidays during this awful pandemic to please call +1 (469) 464.9548 so that everyone can continue to enjoy this social distanced tranquility for years to come.

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Kindest Regards,

NORNSLIFE

Originally posted Oct 18, 2020.

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Kana Harada’s work is an ephemeral journey through her being’s connection to her surroundings and her ability to use what inspires her as her artistic muses; Mother Earth in all her glory drives the reason behind creation. Focusing on graphic design, drawing, and Japanese fine art, Harada studied at the Ochanomizu School of Fine Arts from 1979-83, in her hometown of Tokyo Japan.[1] Harada attributes the drive behind her mental model of creation to her prayer of peace and love for all of humanity, our planet, and every creature in the universe.

Presently living in the DFW metroplex, one of her most visually enticing pieces is currently exhibited at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, entitled Foojin-God of the Wind. This piece is a mixed media and foam sheet piece. It has been delicately placed in the corner of an exhibit room with hard bright light creating amazing drop shadows on either side; which further propels Harada’s use of curvilinear form. One must look inwardly upon their own reflections of the god or gods that they believe in when visually consuming this piece. Yet despite the heaviness of the subject matter, a sense of delicate whimsy exists. A fragility exists in this piece, as in all of her work, which serves as a unifying element even across mediums. Yet, a strength is present that is denoted by the repetition of form and lack of bright hues.

The viewer is met with psychic lines that drive the eyes around the piece’s black edifice.[4] You can’t help but contemplate the universe, our core beliefs, and the fragility that we balance our daily lives upon when confronted by this piece.

“My work is the embodiment of my prayer for peace and love for humanity, mother earth, the universe, in short, all of us.”

Harada uses elements that surround her daily life, which give her inspiration when creating. She connects with the environment by paying acute attention to the constantly changing sky and environment. She is particularly inspired by the natural world that surrounds Mt. Fuji in Japan. Harada, on her website [1], mentions she finds a deep connection to the elements—specifically the immensely lush forests—that surround Mt. Fuji. This area is full of deeply peaceful and mediative elements, which gives Harada a sense of connection to our planet. She said, “I express this through what inspires me: the ever-changing sky, the spirit of the trees and the wondrous flowers I have encountered in the lush forests at the foot of Mt. Fuji and across the U.S...” [1] this deeper connection to nature draws the viewer/s in, especially due to the current status of world politics, beliefs about global warming, and every instrumental outcry for the reduction of humanities damage to our planet.

There is something deeply emotive about how Harada creates and how her life drives her creation. I find myself deeply moved and enthralled when viewing her work. Kana Haradas’ use of conceptual, creative, artistic, and technical knowledge demonstrated within her work gives me an infinity of memories from my own life that leave me wanting more. This work is for all of humanity, not only for artists; this is just one of the things I deeply admire about Kana Harada. This piece leaves me thinking about the current political and environmental crisis the United States is currently struggling through in 2020.

Works Cited

  1. Harada, K. (n.d.).KANA HARADA. Retrieved January 31, 2018, from http://kanakanakana.com/ index.html

  2. Harada, K. (2008). Foojie-God of the Wind [Foam Sheet and Mixed Media]. Commanding Space: Women Sculptors of Texas, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

  3. Lauer, D. A., & Pentak, S. (2011). Design Basics (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Originally posted Oct 12, 2020.

Transformative Perception, Image 6 of 20, Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito, Summer 2019 Colorado

Transformative Perception, Image 6 of 20, Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito, Summer 2019 Colorado

Stepping into the unknown…. Misguided wanderings of what was, what is, what will be….

Breathe pressed against heavens, Heavens so close, yet constantly reaching, pushing into new Awareness….

the Nothingness of misguided views.

Break, break free of all that was, step Step, step after burning fresh-pressed breathe of air so thin it is as if to breathe the Heavens.

All you see is mountain crevices of interior thoughts and representations of what…. What it means to truly be…. Free….

Transformative Perception, Image 8 of 20, Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito, Summer 2019 Colorado

Transformative Perception, Image 8 of 20, Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito, Summer 2019 Colorado

Carnivorous assignations of Vegan platitudes, the OP to the OG of all it means to truly be Free…

Let go.

Process… the dialectic fornications of Encroachment….

Puff, swoosh, Breathe what we All can see.

Sight offers constant approach to the seemingly impassable crevices.

Crevices so wide, deep, and free… just to approach means championing pasts so torn I dreampt never to be free… yet…. Yet with each long lasted glance, step forms and, and the constant comfort of pushing myself deeper In… I begin…. I begin to Truly see all that I am and could be….

Just like that Fort Garland of La Víta peeks and antiques.

It’s just like that Home cooking…. that Home cooking Momma used to Make.

Transformative Perception, Image 18 of 20, Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito, Summer 2019 Colorado

Transformative Perception, Image 18 of 20, Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito, Summer 2019 Colorado

Back in again, the reproach I feel so warm and real.

What choice is there…put one foot Forward… Another… another… And someday I will see my Momma again.

To see the full Transformative Perceptions Series of Images click here.

-NORNSLIFE | Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito

Originally posted Oct 4, 2020.

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Wisp wisp wisp…. swoosh Swoosh swish…

The crossing of points under, over, under, and through.

Walking towards the unknown, a precipice of contrary relinquishments, compromises, and Silence.

Not anymore…. not Anymore will I be subject to Silence….

pushing through as eloquently as before and even more.

A choice to go forward, a choice to go right and left… uncertainty of Decisions…

Yet….

Yet, in relinquishing all fear, I am Free, whose Wings truly let open,

I begin….. truly begin to let go,

Letting go of all that drama, stepping into the Unknown I go.

-NORNSLIFE | Daniella A. Colombo-Dougovito

Originally posted Sept. 29, 2020.

Inherently being human means experiencing life and its full spectrum. We begin to die from birth, but we also start to grow, learn, and experience sight, taste, and sound on our own unique individualistic spectrums. It is our senses that drive our formulation of memory and our capacity to learn. Some of us decide to also dedicate our lives to keeping the most sacred temples of all; our bodies. 

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 2005

Playa Grande, Costa Rica, 2005

From an early age (three, to be precise), my Mother—a truly amazing woman—taught me to suck it up, keep going, be strong, and that you are just as capable as a cisgender male out there (I am cisgender female, my pronouns are she/her). In short, a woman can become just as physically strong, is as intellectually capable, and that I should never let a man make me feel less than. Growing up, I learned these lessons too quickly as my biological father hit my Mother and me. To say there was physical abuse, as well as verbal abuse, is an understatement. I found myself doing anything I could while my brilliant Mother was at work to avoid or keep my father from getting into one of his moods where he would reach for a belt or worse while she was at work being a #femaleboss at work. 

Luckily, I realized that what had been happening for most of my young childhood was not “normal” or okay. I told my Mom as much on the steps of our Burns Park home in Ann Arbor that she needed to get a divorce to protect us. If she didn't, I told her that my biological father would soon start hurting my little sister the same way he hurt her and me. It was when I was that the protection order was filed and granted by a judge. Shortly after that, my father was hit head-on and killed by a drunk driver in a brand new Porche his “very important” dad had bought him. He was released from prison that night, even though he killed my dad. 

This rocked me to the core. I had lost grandparents (my grandfather William Paul Stempien VP of Chrysler Foreign Relations and Gran); I had lost cousins. Yet, something changed when my biological father was killed regardless of the immense physical and psychological scars he left me with. Walking into my living room, my Mom and a second Mama waited to inform me that my dad was killed, that his body was so disfigured the only way they could identify the body was from the metal parts in his knees from surgery years past. As soon as the words came out, I sprinted to the front door. The door burst open, I flew out, I spread my wings, and let go. With every barefoot footfall, the immense anger that would fuel a professional athletic career for years to come surged through my body. 


“The door burst open, I flew out, I spread my wings, and let go. With every barefoot footfall, the immense anger that would fuel a professional athletic career for years to come surged through my body.”


To say I ran for my past would be egregious; I ran because the pain became so encompassing that the only way I could cope, process, and think was in motion. I ran for what that criminal took from me—a chance to possibly have a father, a decent man that could apologize for years of hitting me, breaking my eardrum, abusing my Mom, and attempting to rape her. At the same time, we kept this quiet from our families and everyone in our lives. My Mom did not want to be judged; she didn't want my father to become enraged from my father's misuse of prescription, alcohol, and drug use to deal with his Bipolar Disorder. I ran for my Mother, who could no longer run due to a severe knee injury; I ran to let out my pain, to try to cry, which at that point for many years, was impossible because my father trained me to not cry by telling me he would hit me harder if I did.


I ran for my Mother, who could no longer run due to a severe knee injury; I ran to let out my pain, to try to cry, which at that point for many years, was impossible because my father trained me to not cry by telling me he would hit me harder if I did.


Originally, processing trauma was put into clay, ceramics, paint, and ballet. From the time I was three years old, I began to study ballet, visual arts and would take classes outside of school for years to come. This outlet was not just an outlet; you see, I am from a family of female artists. My Grandmother was a talented ceramics artist and painter. My Mother's chosen medium was sketching, ceramics, and paint. Some people come to art—whether it is music, dance, visual art, theatre, athletics, or cooking—at later points in their life due to natural skill or love of the medium. I was born to this. I was born to communicate with my body, my brain, and it is inexorably who I am. I am a female artist athlete. When I became blocked in one art, I use the others to problem solve, express myself, and connect to the world. The physicality and strength it takes to create my work are still how I continue to fly even when my legs, body, and mind may be grounded.


The physicality and strength it takes to create my work are still how I continue to fly even when my legs, body, and mind may be grounded.


So I guess I should thank my biological father. I should thank him for the pain, for the loss of childhood when it was just us at home away from prying us of public or family because it added more fuel to my fire. You see, my whole life, I have dedicated myself to physical, intellectual, and psychological growth. I did this to honor my Mother, it was all I knew, I did this to honor myself and other women as she had taught me. A true feminist my Mother was. Her immense strength to stay, but to leave immediately as soon as I could tell her when I was eleven that “it wasn't okay”, and never look back. You see, most abuse survivors feel they can't leave because the abuser won't let them, for fear of death, for fear of retribution, the hope there is still good in the abuser who was once kind to them, and my Mother had the immense strength to leave as soon as my sister and I were summering with our Italian family in New York. Mom taught me to commit to something and give everything I have when I did commit, it is how she lived her own life, and how I still live mine. I always pushed myself to be better than boys/men; this drive in the weight room and in the crew boat enabled me to erg a 10k holding a 158/500m (Olympic crew boat finishing time when I was 17). It is this drive I still use today in my art, in my business, working for others, and learning with a growth mindset. Due to this drive, dedication, and this deep desire to crush, I was nationally recruited to row crew even after breaking my back twice because we had coaches that didn't know crap about keeping your core (your entire core front/back/sides) super strong. I signed with the NCAA. I was going away to row crew in college, then the day before I was supposed to leave, I found my Mother, dead in her bed, and had to try to perform CPR on her cold purple and blue body. This was the worst day of my life, or so I thought.

Stating that my Mother was a girl boss is an understatement. While she (Dr. Sandra Ellen Colombo) was working on her Ph.D. at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor was approached by Steve Jobs when he formed his company, Next; Jobs wanted her to come and work with him. At the time, my Mom was pregnant with me, really wanted to finish her Ph.D., as such she thanked him graciously but ultimately turned him down. She set up M-Pathways (the ethernet for The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,) and ran the IT department at U of M for over two decades until her death suddenly happened when I was 18. 

After the death of my Mother occurred, I decided to defer for a semester from my NCAA-signed-university. I wanted to be near my little sister, manage everything that goes on with someone's passing, and try to stay close to my little sister and those I loved at the same time. It became so hard for me to deal with emotion (at the time, I didn't know this; it has taken years of therapy to come to these truths and grow). I kept people at arm's length. I couldn't see my friends. I couldn't bear to hug anyone. Two months after my Mom's passing, to honor her and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, I decided to run my first Marathon (the Nike 26.2 original course in San Fransisco, CA, and did finishing well). I was numb. The only time I could feel anything was when I ran. Certain people said I was running away when I ran, and the truth was when I ran, I was running head-on into emotion. For some reason, when in motion, I connected with my body, heart, and mind. When running, this was the only time I could cry; I could cry with every breathe, with every step, and I could even feel Her. I felt my Mother with me as my feet would cross miles and miles of diverse terrain. For miles, I would have to wait as I searched for her. Searched for a feeling. When it hit it, this feeling enabled me to reconnect with my humanity and escape my daily life's numbness that was dominated by the inability to tell loved ones how much I loved them. 


Certain people said I was running away when I ran, and the truth was when I ran, I was running head-on into emotion. For some reason, when in motion, I connected with my body, heart, and mind. When running, this was the only time I could cry;...


I spread my Mothers ashes with some of my family in Costa Ríca in the summer of 2005, a year after her passing. We spread her ashes into the ocean at Playa Grande, where I learned to surf with her wings guiding me across the lip and down into the barrel of what seemed like endless volumes of water. I experienced a numb quietness there I had never experienced before and later recognized it as peace. The type of peace that only follows the tremendous loss of someone cherished. 


We spread her ashes into the ocean at Playa Grande, where I learned to surf with her wings guiding me across the lip and down into the barrel of what seemed like endless volumes of water.


It was the fall 2005 semester at Stamps when I decided to work a semester abroad. I would fly back down before term started at The University of Michigan, Penny Stamps School of Art and Design. I wanted to create a surfing movie and document the Ticos living a surfing life in Northern Costa Rica. Luckily, Stamps gave me permission to develop a body of work that was exhibited up on my return in the School of Art and Architecture Winter 2006 term. I did all of this right after the death of a woman I would still need in my life for most of its entirety. I did all of this in immense pain with the added pain of being sexually assaulted in Costa Rica while on a run in the jungle. After making a wrong turn and, as a result, coming off the jungle trail at sunset, I was irreparably shaken to the core again.

I was pushed to my face. Having my dignity all but stripped from my body, kicking, not being able to breathe, not being able to rotate enough to free myself from my attacker, and run for my life. Somehow, as he adjusted himself, I was able to kick hard, push my body off the ground, and sprint faster than I ever imagined my legs could carry me. Yet, my dignity was squashed on more by the police that was supposed to help me. I walked into town to file a police report in Tamarindo Costa Ríca. In the police shack (yes, an open-air hut under dried banana leaves), to my great surprise, I had to file this with a ballpoint pen on a carbon copy. The three male officers looked at me like it was my fault for not understanding my broken Spanish from intense anxiety or English.

I felt a sudden drop in my stomach as I realized that these men didn't see me as a survivor who needed to be helped or protected… but instead, they looked at me like it was my fault. Upon turning to leave, I knew that nothing would be done to catch the man that hurt me in a way I could have never grasped until well after the incident. All I wanted to do was reach out to my chosen family. It took me a few days because I didn't quite grasp what had happened to me; it was as if my brain made the area where the memory of the attack was stored go black, and then it hit me. It hit me hard. I called my chosen family for help, they told me they didn't believe me and needed to stay there. Again, I felt whatever dignity I had left was being torn away from my body. My Mother would have been on a plane in a heartbeat if she had been alive. Yet, these people I chose to be second parents told someone they considered their child that they didn't believe her and that I had to stay there.

I bet you are thinking that no “good” parent would do this, no decent human being would do this, and this is beyond revolting. You are right. Rape has a way of doing this. It breaks you if you don't have the people you need—who you love, who believe you, and it does this regardless but is much worse without support. It's worse because the sickening recognition follows that those people think you that you could make up something so utterly egregious, and or their response is because they don’t want to comprehend due to their own fear what happened to someone they loved who is thousands of miles away living in a foreign country. After being raped you begin to feel like your life is worthless, that you are worthless, that there is no point in the daily monotony of living, and this leads to wanting to take your own life. Rape shreds reality to the point where you can't connect or even recognize the person you are. You become a shell of yourself and begin a life of just surviving with a side of inability to truly open yourself up to others. Rape disables you from having access to the ability to allow love in your world. It disables you from recognizing it and destroys the amygdala's ability to properly process emotion. I felt stranded in a world that could never genuinely grasp my intellect let alone be able to understand the vast amount of knowledge that it takes most almost a lifetime to learn. Some lead such privileged lives that they can never understand; instead, they avoid and fear you because of this gifted ignorance. I say gifted because having the privilege of not experiencing the things I have survived is a gift. It is a gifted ignorance. 


Rape shreds reality to the point where you can’t connect or even recognize the person you are. You become a shell of yourself and begin a life of just surviving with a side of inability to truly open yourself up to others.


I was a kid. I was 19. I had knowledge well beyond my years, and I was utterly alone in the world without the Mother, who had been my best friend. I had shit guidance. I had trusted the wrong people who never took the time to explain why I should try seeing a therapist to process my Mom's loss, the other severe trauma, loss, or the rape I survived. My chosen family didn't make me or tell me that I needed to get a financial planner to figure out to handle an immense amount of money I just inherited. I had no idea I had to file taxes or how to get college paid for. Basically, I didn't know shit. I needed my Mom and was alone. My mind was blank from just trying to survive.

After coming back from Costa Rica to U of M, I walked on the University of Michigan Track & Field as a Multi for a hot second. I shortly realized that I needed to be as close to my Mom and be with her as possible, plus at the time Stamps had no Graphic Design program. So I transferred to do a minor at a small college in San Diego, rented a room in a widow's home on Mt. Soledad in La Jolla, CA, and was able to surf Black's beach every morning before heading into school and feel her with me. Yet, I felt again less lost. I felt home for the first time in the United States, and well, California has that magic. You connect with nature via the sea, land, and mountains. It was where I began to climb. It was where I first mountain biked, and well, it is still where home is located in my heart. 


I felt home for the first time in the United States, and well, California has that magic. You connect with nature via sea, land, and mountains.


Midwest Final Match, The University of Michigan Women’s Rugby vs. Michigan State University Women’s Rugby, Fall 2008

I finished a year and a half degree (minor in graphic design) in a little over a year. I returned to Stamps Winter at U of M, Ann Arbor, MI, in the winter of 2008, an utter mess and ready to be asexual for the rest of my life. Then, I met some of the University of Michigan Women's Rugby girls at the Y. They recruited me because of my crazy cut upper body strength, and I joined the Women's Rugby team, dominated, and was in the A-Side starting line up. I finally found a sport that allowed me to tackle, crush, and release an immense amount of anger and trauma that I survived in a healthy manner via athletics. With every sprint into a ruck, into a try, I was able to feel again, and it was shortly after I started playing during a late-night practice in the Oosterbon Football Field building that I met my person. My partner, my other half, and the human being that would be my wing person in adventure for the rest of my life. He played on the University of Michigan Men's rugby team. He was as driven to express and feel via physical movement just as much as I was. He taught me that love does exist, that your person does exist, and that when you find your person, you go all in no matter how terrified you are. A year later, the women's team did the same. We dominated at USA Rugby Nationals (the last match has serious foul play, but that is for another blog post). Two years later, we were married. One more year later, my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Severe Anxiety and Panic Attack disorder triggered. These conditions triggered after years of believing running, blankly talking about what I survived was enough, as well as not seeing a therapist or having the bravery to allow myself to cry and hurt how your brain needs to process what you have survived. This was partly because of how I was raised by a family that didn’t go to therapists to talk, but I soon realized real courage is letting yourself feel all the emotions, to cry, be terrified, angry, and once you do it is only then you can heal and become stronger than ever before.

Right after my PTSD triggered, we moved back from Colorado to Ann Arbor Michigan for a year while my partner applied to Ph.D. programs, struggled to get his Depression under control, and for us to regroup. This was when I started to run 50-mile ultra-marathons at 23 years of age (I say this like it was forever ago when it was only some years ago). I also began to pick up a camera for the first time since the high school darkroom. Soon, the mountains, trails, and water in Colorado, open spaces in Michigan became my solace. I have always been like a wild Arabian stallion my whole life, but after losing my Mother, surviving brutal rape, something unthinkable was taken from me—my ability to create and connect with my body through the physicality of my work. I stopped for almost four years, then behind the lens, and in nature, I began my journey into finding my new normal post PTSD triggering. This was a future that I would have to continue to navigate without my Mom. Still, luckily, my maternal Grandma was there as much as she was able late in her life, and for this, I will ever cherish and be thankful. 

Unfortunately, I face/d a future without the woman who taught me how to survive. A future to learn; to dance; to laugh. To apologize for being an asshat teenager that sometimes could not give hugs because of what her father did to her. A chance to get pregnant and an opportunity to have my Mom with me when I gave birth. A future without my Mom to be there when I finished a graduate degree. A future without her help with all I had to grapple with as I completed two graduate degrees within six months during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I earned my graduate degrees not just for myself to continue down my cathartic journey into healing from my PTSD through the physicality of my visual artwork, but also to honor her, to honor the years of money/time she spent on me taking all the visual art, music and dance courses, and athletics to help train myself into a life of dedication and study just as she had. She was there at every regatta even though she was a single full-time working Mother girl boss. To be at such turning points in my life again now, to finally know how I want to continue to honor her through my Visual Art that you see on this website

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(originally published July 31, 2015)

Looking back on the 2015 LOOK3 FESTIVAL lecture with Larry Fink in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is hard to put into words what I experienced. How does one put into words the culmination of one experience leading up to another that changes your life for the better, if even for a single moment, you change, and your life changes? A vast majority of artists indeed come from an array of troubled backgrounds, yet find their way through the garble of everyday society and living not by chance, but the choice of the genre they/we decide to use as our filter. This filter acts as a sifter that smoothes out the rough edges of our history and helps them, not blend but meld together into a lifelong culmination of experiences that make us who we are.

I sat through the questionnaire interview with Mr. Fink, speaking candidly, honestly, and openly about his life experiences. He reaches in “through the ass to the uterus” to pull out and create images through his perception of reality. In doing so, the identities of both himself and persons in his images become one. Sitting in the air conditioning of the Paramount Theatre, I pondered over and over again what am I doing, how am I going to accomplish it, and how I could create images through my eyes, just as Larry had done.

he then replied, “this is fucking hard I know....” I said, “shit I know.”

Being a Master of Fine Arts Photography student is challenging and rewarding. Still, I kept thinking to myself no degree could ever compare to a life of self-taught experience of image-making that this man has completed. Larry knew all along from a very young age, from his first memory at three years old, of being at a party with his parents looking up from a bassinet, with music blaring how he saw the world, and later he began to translate this through his imagery. I am only now fully committing to showing what is important to me in life since the beginning of this past year. Yes, I created art at the University of Michigan during undergrad, but it did not have the type of meaning that could encourage societal change to better the world. So now I want to say something, I want to preserve/conserve the trails, forests, and animals that inhabit our planet, and I have to navigate the hills to find out how to conquer this within my imagery. I need an answer. When I approach Mr. Fink, I will continue to call him Larry because he seems like the kind of person who would want me to do so. Anyways, I approached him after my husband motivated me to go and meet my idol; I was like a doe-eyed schoolgirl, 12 again, and in pigtails.

As I walked up to him, my mind was completely blank, a rare occurrence, and I seldom had anything to say. I found myself asking to speak with him; he turned around and told me that pants would come off as the stagehand was taking his mike off, with his unique sarcastic sense of humor. I waited, then he walked over and held out his hand. He asked my name; I said, “Daniella,” as it is my name, and it seemed like the appropriate answer. I had a million things to ask and say in my head, but all that came out was a thank you. I thanked him for speaking so openly and candidly. I explained I was an MFA student at AAU. I also informed him that I had studied his work during my Concept of Photography course with Shannon Ayres this past semester. I told him how much in awe I was of him, that I was just now trying to figure out which genre to work in.

He asked me what that was, I responded without thinking, “statement pieces or pieces for environmental preservation.” He said, “well, that is great, admirable, now you can go to places make pictures of forests cut down.” So I interjected, “but this has been done”….he said, “yes, well everything has been done, but you have to figure out why. So you have to figure out why you want to create these images,” and then he reached out with his right hand, and rubbed my left cheek looking into my eyes. At this moment, I became dumbfounded. Dumbfounded, not only of the kindness one human being who just met another could show, but the direction I so badly needed from not only an educator but parents I had lost during childhood. With one reach of the hand, a few words, he opened himself up to me, showed me this was what I had to do to answer these questions, and without saying anything for a few moments, he then replied, “this is fucking hard I know....” So I said, “shit, I know.”

The reason I have pinned down now is that nature has become like the mother I lost at eighteen, and it guides me through my anxiety-driven life in society. I want to break free constantly; I am free when I leave behind the mass-produced affluenza that has led to deforestation and the depletion of our planet’s natural resources. We must undo the damage man has had on our world over the past few hundred years. Suppose we don’t continue to reduce our carbon footsteps on this planet, inform our children of the importance of preserving life, trails, forests, and not killing the creatures/resources in our world so “the man” can make more money. In that case, we will have no planet left one day and will cease to exist. Now I don’t know if the best way to describe what I want is through humor or seriousness. Still, I do know that the spirit, openness, and precious moments I had with Larry Fink at age seventy-four while being twenty-nine were some of the most memorable moments of my life. I thank him again. I thank you, Larry. Your kindness made my shit baggage-filled life seem somehow unique essential, and your encouragement, with just one gesture of your hand, made it seem as if everything would fall into place. With one touch, I knew that just like you know, your voice is remarkable, it is possible to find out how to make mine so too, and now I have to figure out “the how.”

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