A Beetle, 5 Ways

Art, Identity, Life, Uncategorized December 4, 2015

IMG_0312Your first assignment, he told me, is to draw different parts of a beetle five ways, and each drawing should fit the page horizontally or vertically. These were instructions from Ben, an artist I had met on a recent online date and instantly decided we must be friends. A trade had been arranged: drawing technique lessons for help with public art submissions.

This beetle, in the span of five hours had become my savior. I found him under a stool next to my door, and he was perfectly preserved and almost prehistoric in nature. By the time he became my subject, the bottom segments of his legs had been inadvertently ripped off so he sat slightly lopsided and very low to the ground. Yet somehow, in his imperfection, he exuded a grounded self-assuredness that was calm and regal – an insect version of Nefertiti.

Just a few hours prior, I finally broke down on my couch, after weeks of holding it together. I was recently jobless, I had a terrible cold, and my life was once again feeling directionless. I felt paralyzed by my inability to make a decision about my career, or more appropriately, my nonexistent career that I no longer cared to pretend existed. My professional life spanned floral design, paralegal, yoga teacher, lawyer, consultant, copywriter and then it hit a patch of resistance that we’ll call cancer for the moment. Cancer was three years ago, almost to the day. But cancer would unfold into something else that was far greater than I could have ever expected.

Cancer fueled artist, which fueled memoirist. Which fueled a reflection of life and death, and darkness and the light of which we are in constant pursuit. And then I entered into the dangerous territory which I shall call artist creep. Artist creep was fully solidified three months ago when I was on a trip meeting with my book designer Emily in Los Angeles. I had been quietly working away most nights and weekends for almost a year on an illustrated memoir when it began to develop a life of its own. This story in words and pictures had passed through its infancy and adolescence and was maturing into a finished creation when I realized that I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t want to be an artist any longer.

As I stood over Emily’s printed out pages, her little daughter Willow came into to see what we were doing. Willow pointed to her favorite drawing and Emily said, this is Nicole, she’s an artist. The pride / conflict / fear / elation I felt in that moment is something that I don’t think I will ever forget. It marked a point of surrender, of acceptance that I had to pursue being a professional artist. It was a crushing realization that I had spent so much of my adult life evading the creative dragon that persistently nipped at the heels of various professional achievements.

There are many of us floating around Brooklyn who have attempted to be responsible adults well into our thirties and realized we have been fighting against the grain to the point of exhaustion. And sometimes against the grain is the conventional understanding of going with the grain. We are on the cusp of Generation X and Generation Y and don’t have the role models that younger millenials will have for a nonlinear life. We are generalists who have dabbled in a little bit of everything always hoping to find that perfect chemical reaction of intellect and interest that will transport us into suddenly feeling like a grown up.

When the magic alchemy doesn’t show its face, we self-perceive as failures. Alain de Botton touches on this idea of crushing failure that is endemic in highly meritocratic societies. He describes the modern day proxy for social value as professional identity. Maybe that’s why I’ve always hated the “what do you do” question endemic to New York City. What I did never described me, and I was constantly evading the inner creative that had longingly gazed at the ceramic studio after poli sci classes at UC Berkeley. I didn’t deserve to succeed, and I didn’t deserve to fail either, because I’d never given myself the chance to be professionally content.

This beautifully imperfect beetle revealed itself as the complexity of identity. We are the sum of parts, and professional identity is rarely as perfectly packaged as we are conditioned to believe. The idea of one career path is a dangerous illusion, and it is one that I am still grappling with. Can I be an artist and a writer and a member of a technology product team? Do these cancel each other out?

Drawing my beetle five ways, I focused on a leg, and how its delicate spines collected light. I noticed the subtle ridges in the hard plates of its thorax and the beautiful symmetry of four spots on either sides of its body. For every wave of hyperventilation inducing anxiety was an anchoring of calm. Finally, I stumbled onto something that truly mattered to me. Sketching my beetle, I was slowly reclaiming my 20-year-old self. Instead of Wheeler Hall, I’m choosing the messy, muddy ceramics studio, 15 years later.

Darkness and Revelation: A Workshop on Grief

Uncategorized November 2, 2015

I am really excited to announce that I am co-hosting a workshop on grief with my lovely, talented pal Colleen Doyle at The Brooklyn Cottage on December 2! There are only 7 spots left so please sign up if you would like to explore darkness and revelation with us in pursuit of the question: how might we design new tools, services, and rituals to support grief? (More below)

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The dark passageways of human experience–loss, disappointment, grief–are facets of life that many of us avoid. Yet as the natural world so gracefully reminds us, as we descend into winter these shadows of all existence are inescapable. Join artists Nicole Skibola and Colleen Doyle as together we bravely grapple with matters of death, decay, and the pain of loss with curiosity and admiration. This intimate event will engage participants to generate new language and classifications to better understand grief and to imagine new expressions to interface with and repurpose personal loss. The evening will begin with a short reading from Nicole’s illustrated memoir on her own experience with loss as a young woman with a devastating cancer diagnosis, and then transition into a facilitated design session in pursuit of the question: how might we design new tools, services, and rituals to support grief?

Participants are asked to bring an open heart and an object that symbolizes a source of loss.

Date: Wednesday, Dec 2nd
Time: 7:00-9:30 p.m
Participant limit: Twelve
Cost: $35

Register HERE!

Loneliness

Uncategorized September 8, 2015

I’ve been feeling excruciatingly lonely lately. I haven’t been alone. I’ve been surrounded with friends, many of the most supportive ones right here in my building in Red Hook. I had a long conversation with one of them last night. About the loneliness of creation and vulnerability. Of putting something that represents you so deeply and fully and completely that you are laying on your belly hugging the ground beneath you. Another building friend sent me this poem. And I can’t stop reading it. It’s the perfect representation of loneliness. It’s called a Supermarket in California, Allen Ginsburg, 1956.

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LA Calling

Uncategorized August 23, 2015

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I’ve been in la la land for a few days and it’s been so intense and hard and beautiful. Being here, working on my book and spending my time with creative friends has been a full circle experience of light, dark, light, dark, fear, love, vulnerability, and a feeling of stepping into a giant abyss. A good friend gave me a beautiful Labradorite stone to wear around my neck yesterday. Here’s the mineral’s properties. Pretty much sums it all up.

This stone is all about magic! Don’t be fooled by its dark outer appearance, this stone holds a rainbow of brilliant hues as it catches the light. This is a great stone for assistance as you move through the darkness, the void, the unconscious, and the unknown of life. It helps illuminate the truth while protecting you as you traverse into unseen worlds. It strengthens your intuition and enhances your particular psychic abilities.

Rockaway Beach

Uncategorized July 28, 2015

I am alone at the beach. Everyone who was supposed to come didn’t, and now I am here with the crowds and the wind and the waves. The water is rough, I observe, as I rush into it, meeting each wave with my body. I briskly swim out past the break, where kids and their parents shriek with the powerful wake of water. There is a man out where our feet don’t touch the ground and it’s rough out here. We give size each other up before turning to the horizon. I see the waves forming a few hundred feet away and there is fear mixed with determination as the white caps whip like egg whites over the curdled surface. My back is to the shore and it’s me and the ocean. I feel anger from somewhere welling in the pit of my chest.

Come on, I whisper under my breath, a taunt to the ocean, my legs working an eggbeater. The waves come, as they always have and I find solace in their rhythmic formation and violent dispersal. Never turn your back to the ocean, I remember being told after I almost drowned in San Diego when I was in my early twenties, just a couple of years after playing waterpolo in high school. I replay the sheer terror of turning around to find a big wave breaking over my head and then another one and another one, and my ex boyfriend dragging me to the shore. I developed my first fear of the ocean and its brutal force.

But this time, the waves are smaller, or maybe I am less afraid. These waves are the events over the last 3 years. Cancer, loss, sickness, betrayal. Friends who are no longer friends, self-doubt, grief, disappointment. I feel the emotions welling as I plunge under some like a seal and meet others head on, the water smacking my face and rushing up my nose. I am not sad, or angry, at least actively. I am defiant, a scrappy fighter telling the ocean that I can take it, I can take the waves and the burn of salt and even the riptide. I hear the occasional shrill of the lifeguard’s whistle, pointing at me and waving that I come in closer to shore. I look at him like a smug teenager and then wait for a wave to carry me in, pausing above the hungry undertow. I feel like a total badass now, I am manhandling the ocean! I triumphantly declare to myself, knowing that at any moment the tables could turn and I could be swallowed alive and quickly digested in the belly of the Atlantic.

Maybe that’s just it. Face the waves and you have a better chance of survival. But there are those times where I’ve been distracted, or comfortable, or tired and I’ve turned too late, to find a huge wave crashing over my head, and all I see is the back of its throat, the acid and brine of hardship. Experiencing the shit has made me accutely aware of how quickly life can change and become grueling. I know that loss and sadness is a part of human existence and I would like to think that gratitude and perspective and love can separate the bone grinding abyss of despair from grief and loss that ride on the back of love and hope. I want to face the waves, past the break where my toes only occasionally skim the sandy bottom of the dark Atlantic. Maybe that’s the secret, but I don’t really know.