Artist Feature: Blaire Zika

One of the very best things about this life on the road is meeting people that we would never have met otherwise. And we stick around long enough to allow some of those meetings to turn into friendships. Blaire is one of those meetings. I wish I could say that I was cool about it, but I totally wasn’t (I never am, dammit)…I’d seen Blaire walking her sweet pup, Lucy, around our RV park and I have no idea if it was the confidence in her walk, her gorgeous tattoos, her fantastic style, or just her general mojo, but it’s distinctly possible (ahem) that I ran out to the street as she passed by our camper and asked her to be my lifelong friend. Yup. Totally cool. 

To Blaire’s credit (and courage), she didn’t run screaming from my awkwardness, and I have been bowled over by her in conversation after conversation ever since. Smart, compassionate, courageous, kind, funny as hell, and committed to simply and honestly moving through this life in the very best way she knows how, I cannot even begin to capture her many dimensions.

And on top of all of her other virtues, Blaire is a extraordinary artist. 

She has a show coming up here in Reno next week and I have been fascinated by the work and energy and preparation that goes into such an endeavor. In the midst of all that work, Blaire graciously agreed to allow me to photograph and interview her and I am so excited to share her words and her work and her amazing smile with you!

What is your art background…have you been formally educated or are you self-taught or some combination of both?

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a "doodler.” I can remember teachers in elementary, middle and high school initially becoming upset with me because they felt I was not engaged in the class. During the progression of the year, my teachers began to understand that doodling helped me to process information. I never had to focus on the doodles or sketches, rather they just seemed to create themselves. What I discovered was my ability to think through questions or thoughts that were on my mind. I understood from a young age that my artistic, creative outlet was highly therapeutic.

My first year of college I took an art class and I HATED it!!! I remember feeling super frustrated around the concept of “grading” someone’s art. I dropped the class by the second week and never looked back. I never wanted to feel that my creative outlet was being critiqued for a grade. I understand the judgement (for lack of a better term) that will accompany my first art show: my art isn’t for everyone. From an art show perspective, at least my work will be judged from an artist platform perspective and not from an instructor ensuring that I am following a rubric.

What medium(s) do you most enjoy? 

I most enjoy pen and paper. My art is deeply intricate and the precision I can achieve with my pen and paper is where I like to play the most. I will  incorporate liquid acrylic into my pieces from time to time, but on rare occasion. 

Have you always considered yourself a creative person?

As I mentioned above, yes. I have always felt that I am a creative being. I have a deep appreciation and respect for all art. I consider anyone’s self expression art. How people choose to share themselves with the world is art. I love all of it.

Can you tell us a little about your process?

My art usually follows moments or events in my life when I am feeling blocked from progressing forward. When I feel the need to really sit down and process and work through an aspect of my life, art is how I make that progress happen. I am able to sit with my sketch pad for hours upon hours without having to think of anything other than what is weighing me down. I always have music playing, music is my lifeline. I light some incense…ambiance is so important to me. Feeling comfortable in my space allows me the freedom to release myself from the world and slip into a sacred space of healing and creating. 

Generally speaking, where do you tend to draw your inspiration from?

I just begin. I don’t try to get in the way of my art or manipulate it in any way. I just allow it to become what it is meant to become. People may assume that because my art is a tool to support me through my grief, that I draw inspiration from it, but that isn’t the case. Rather, I find inspiration to live as a result of my art. 

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Your upcoming show is called Reflections of Now and was created during an intensely personal period in your life. Can you share what aspects of that period inspired this particular work and what effect creating this art had/continues to have on you? 

Reflections of Now is a collection of artwork I created in the aftermath of my husband’s death. I would work up to 11 hours at a time on a piece and that would allow me time to recognize, acknowledge and work through each component of my grief. I made a commitment to myself early on in my grief process that I would feel each part of it. I didn’t want to wake up 5 years from now and realize that I didn’t process what had happened to me. I wanted to be raw with my being and give myself grace and the space necessary to heal in a healthy way. I remember not even really enjoying a piece once I was done with it. I would simply finish a piece, turn the page, and it was on to the next one. It wasn’t until about a year after my husband had passed that I began to look back through what I had created. I will always remember the profound moment that I understood that I was truly healing. I was looking through my art and I was overcome with the thought that during my darkest hours, I was still able to create something beautiful. It took my breath away. In that moment, I knew I was going to be ok. I was surviving and doing a damn good job of it. 

Has sharing your work publicly come with any unexpected emotions/challenges? Can you tell us a little about that process and why you ultimately chose to share your work?

The upcoming show will be my first experience sharing my art with perfect strangers. The trepidation I feel around sharing my art publicly isn’t so much about my art, but the vulnerability that comes with sharing the story behind my art. Trauma and grief are highly personal experiences and sharing that time of my life is always uncomfortable. But I realized that if just one human can see my journey and may then realize that they too can heal the darkest of places in their soul then it is 100% worth it for me. 

Do you have any specific hopes for what someone taking in your art would get out of it? 

I hope they can appreciate the healing that creating each piece provided to me. They don’t have to enjoy the work I have created, but it is my hope that they respect the power of healing through creating. 

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What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t consider themselves creative?

They need to get out of their own way. The fact is that we are all creative beings. Society tends to navigate us in a certain way and with that comes personal judgement around how we express ourselves. If we could just experience our own creativity without judgement then there is a strong chance that we can experience one another without judgement. 

Any thoughts/philosophies/ideas you’d like to share about making art or the creative process or its value to you or society as a whole?

Yes, when we can appreciate the process for which creation comes then we can appreciate the person who is creating. We are all trying to navigate this crazy journey called life and creativity helps that process. 

If you are in the greater Reno-Tahoe area, be sure to join us for Blaire’s opening at Boho Gypsy’s Treasures on September 14...it's going to be quite the shindig!

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Plan B

A couple of weeks ago I had my first “dump truck” on the river. That’s raft-guide jargon for hitting a rapid in such a way as to make one side of the raft dip down (or the other side get much higher) so that the raft nearly flips over but doesn’t, and instead just dumps everyone (in this case, guide included) out of the raft and into the river. Everyone was fine- I was able to swim to my raft, pull myself back into it, and eventually get the three awesome women I was guiding all back into my boat before we had to run the last two good rapids of the day. We got through the rest of the river without major incident, but as the adrenaline began to wear off, I realized that I’d tweaked something in my back. As it turns out, I damaged my “QL” muscle and spent the better part of more than a week walking and moving as little as possible as I waited as patiently as I could for everything to heal. Even now, more than two weeks later, I’m still not back to 100% and am still not back on the river and at this point, I have all of my fingers and toes crossed that I will get a few more days of guiding in before we wrap up our time here in Reno-Tahoe and move onto wherever we head next.

But I digress.

As they say, “the wind from one door closing opens another” and while I hope I’m not done rafting just yet, these weeks of rest have reminded me how beneficial (and productive!) a bit of real down-time can be. It’s also reminded me how vitally important it is to have a “plan b,” a list of things that interest and stimulate and energize us when life doesn’t go according to plan. As it turns out, injury (or illness or grief or job difficulties or…or…or…) happens to the best of us and it can be easy to allow a few days of sitting around at home to begin to take a downward spiral toward a feeling of purposelessness and stagnation. I remember how lost I felt all those years ago when I first started chemotherapy and my body, which I’d relied on not only to carry backpacks and guide rafts to make my living but also to run through the woods and climb rocks and ride bicycles to keep my emotional self balanced, began to be unable to do all of the things that I’d built my identity (and mental health) around. I didn’t know who I was when I couldn’t move my body with the same strength and dexterity I was accustomed to and this lead to a bit of an emotional crisis that I’m only now, nearly fifteen years later, fully grasping.

While I’m in a much different place in my life now and this injury doesn’t carry nearly the terror or long-term incapacity that came with cancer, I can feel tiny echoes and reminders of how detrimental feeling purposeless can be. It’s lead to some fascinating conversations and I’ve drawn a few preliminary conclusions from talking with others who have experienced similar setbacks:

~ We need purpose in our life. Period. I’ve talked about this here on the blog before, but for a long while now, I’ve believed that the key to “happiness” is not an overabundance of leisure time, but rather challenge and purpose. Where I think sometimes people go wrong with this is in thinking that their purpose has to have some level of grandiosity to it. If you feel a deep calling to facilitate peace in the Middle East, then please, by all means, forge ahead with my admiration and best wishes. But if your purpose is to re-read the entirety of the Little House On The Prairie books or clean out your garage or learn to speak conversational French or make restaurant-quality pad thai, then that counts. It can change whenever you want and you can course correct in whatever way works for you. Just. Do. SOMETHING. And then, when you are done, go do something else. And while you’re at it, make sure that if your current purpose gets derailed, that you have a few more ideas waiting in the wings so that you can switch gears when you need to.

~ “Find Your Passion” is a crock of shit. Elizabeth Gilbert was far, FAR more eloquent than I am when she addressed this in her absolutely-fantastic-if-you-haven’t-read-it-yet-do-so-right-this-very-second book Big Magic, but the gist of things is that for most of us, we don’t have some single clearcut passion that drives us (if you do, then I’m thrilled for you! Congrats! Go pursue that!). For most of us, finding our purpose(s) means that when something is interesting to us, we check it out. And maybe we pursue it for a bit. Wander around a bookstore…do you gravitate to a certain section? Gravitate away. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book or walked away from a conversation thinking, “I wonder what all goes into building a boat with hand tools/ how hard it is to play the banjo/ if I could draw a cartoon of a cat…?” Look it up. We all carry tiny little Google machines in our pockets…within those little Google machines lives an app called You Tube. Everything you’ve ever wanted to learn is available there for free. Okay, MOST everything. Even better…make use of the resources around you. Public libraries are a THING, y’all. Stop by yours, get a library card, and look at their events calendar. There is a better-than-decent chance that something is happening that feels at least mildly interesting to you. And following that interest is how you figure out a purpose and perhaps a passion. Or google “adult learning” or “community/ continuing education” or some variation to find classes in your area. I’ve found everything from art classes to classes on computers and how to book travel and wild food foraging and beyond. There are often free movie nights and lectures and options that cost you nothing beyond marking your calendar and showing up. Which leads me to…

~ Even us introverts need some community. I am an introvert by nature. People often don’t think that because I’m outgoing and enjoy people and love to have great conversation with friends over dinner, but at the end of they day, I need quiet alone time to fill my tank and almost ALWAYS want to cancel any and all plans that require that I put on pants and interact with humans. I’m energized and fulfilled by my own company and tend to get my best creative ideas and work done when I have plenty of time alone. But. That tendency can lead us to isolate ourselves past the point of being healthy. Sometimes I get downright irritated with myself for obligating myself to a weekly drawing class or a coffee date with a new acquaintance, but these sorts of interactions are, indeed, important. Its been shown over and over that connecting to others and having some sense of community is necessary for our general well-being, especially as we get older, and it really is worthwhile to suck it up and put your damn pants on.

~ It’s unlikely that your “plan b” will drop out of the sky and into your lap. This is really a variation on the second bullet point, but let me hammer the point home again. We have to do the work. If you don’t have any interests at all, you aren’t looking very hard (or you have a mental illness that should be addressed by a professional…seriously, one of the most common signs of depression is a sense of listlessness and disinterest, so if this is you, please, PLEASE go talk to someone…it doesn’t have to be this way and you can’t do it on your own, help is out there and I implore you to find it). But barring mental illness, the idea that you’ve already been exposed to all the possible interests in the world and none of them is for you is ludicrous. Don’t expect purpose to find you…take an active role in finding out what lights you up (see the above suggestions to get started!).

~ If you are stuck at home or in bed or have limited mobility, make use of technology- it’s your bridge. We live in an age of technology. Often this technology is lamented as we feel overwhelmed by things beeping at us or overstimulating us or we allow ourselves to get sucked down the rabbit-warren as we scroll through social media or dive headlong into the black hole that is mindless internet surfing. But all of this technology has a good side and often that good side comes in the form of connection. Either connecting us with other humans or with the knowledge or tools to learn and grow. Skype or FaceTime can put you face to face with people all over the world. Try an online meetup or perhaps a group such as a book club. There are audiobooks (by the way, these are often available for free from your local library as are e-reader books that you can instantly download...just sayin') and online classes (I also like these and these, or what about learning a new language or for free here?). Screen time doesn’t HAVE to be mindless. Avail yourself of the benefits of our technological age. 

At the end of the day, it’s unlikely that any of us will live out our lives without ever hitting a hiccup of some sort, whether it’s an injury or illness that limits our movement, or a career change or retirement or moving to a new place. We feel untethered and unsure of what to do with ourselves and it’s easy to hang out in the intersection of indecision. But that intersection is a good place to get hit by a bus if we’re not careful, so it’s often better to pick a path and begin down it, even if we realize it’s not the right one for us and have to veer off to find a different one. 

As I eagerly await my back’s full healing and a return to the river and the running and activities that are at the heart of why we chose to hit the road in the first place, I will implement my plan b and switch gears to discover and pursue the unknown worlds that are available to me. I will follow my curiosity and make the most of this time of rest. Because the alternative is misery, and, well, who the hell wants that?  

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A few shots of a hike we took a couple days before my “dumptruck”…we left from the Galena Creek Visitor Center, less than 30 minutes from our RV park, and walked an easy nine-mile loop over the course of a few hours. It was a lovely reminder of the beauty that lays right outside our door...

P.S. If you haven't signed up for my newsletter, be sure to head over and do it...I have a little gift coming at you on Saturday...

Our Next Move

This is it, you guys. When next you hear from me, we’ll be en route.

En route to where, you may be asking…well, drum roll please…

We are heading to our next assignment…in...

RENO!

Yes, THAT Reno. 

Before you let the whomp, whomp surprise take hold, just look at a map. Look at all that glorious green space to the left. That’s Lake Tahoe plus a whole bunch of state park land as well. We will be just east of the Sierras, accessible to those big ol’ mountains with their big ol’ trees and that big ol’ lake. It’s gonna be awesome.

I’m not leaving Texas without a bit of heavy heart…three months is enough time to start springing tiny roots, especially when there has been plenty of access to family. I’ll miss the afternoons on my mom’s back patio, wine spritzers in hand and the way her dog, Cubby, and Tess lay near one another in the grass with their matching ears in the air. I’ll miss the impromptu picnic table time with my brother, and sitting next to him by the river as we tie fly to tippet and razz each other with silly leftovers from our childhood. I’ll miss the ease that has come with this extended togetherness, the kind that there’s simply not time for when you have only a week or two to visit. It’s been a true gift and I’m so grateful for the growth that has come with being here.

But this is what we signed up for when we let go of our old life. We made the implicit agreement to say goodbye just as we began to really settle in, to allow the cuttings of our life begin to root and then pull them up and begin again. To say farewell again and again and again, because as it turns out, that seems to be the only way to say hello again and again and again as well. 

We must depart so that we can arrive. That’s the deal we made when we chose this path. It’s uncomfortable in a lot of ways, some ways that I hadn’t planned on or prepared for. But it’s also so exciting, the undeniable sense of possibility and untapped experience bubbling up.

I’ve been realizing over these last months how ready I am to do my work. To do the work of honesty and hard looking at myself and how I walk through my world and my relationships. I’ve always done my best and tried to face my choices with courage, and this isn’t an exercise in self-flagellation. That serves no one. But it seems that each day I am able to loosen my grip just a tiny bit more on my old stories, the perspectives I hold onto because they absolve me of some kind of guilt or culpability, because they allow me to absolve others without the need to face my own hurt or confusion. It’s a powerful thing to let go, one clenched digit at a time, to the things we think we know, a powerful and terrifying and healing thing. It’s taken a good deal of my courage and I suspect it will require much more before I’m through, but I’m a bit surprised to find that there is some relief in that as well. I’m no longer interested in the get-out-of-jail-free cards I once sought. I read a little quote recently that said “Deal with it before it deals with you. Always.” And I want to. I want to deal with all of it. The raw and the not-so-nice-to-look-at. The terror and implicit vulnerability of truly loving others despite, and because of, our deeply flawed natures and theirs. It’s heavy, beautiful, terrible work and I’ve found myself in the midst of it. 

And so it is that we go from here. In the way of all transitions, anticipation walks alongside trepidation, excitement mingles with nervousness, eagerness holds hands with reluctance. It seems so fitting that we’ll begin our journey in the desert…isn’t that where all awakenings begin? Beneath wide sky and unyielding sun, in a place where only the hardiest can thrive. Before we make it to our clear, cold, deep lake in it’s mountain oasis home, we will cross the desert and leave some old bits of ourselves there, the toll required for passage.

We leave in four days. It’s time for our next move.

The General Route:

A: Leaving New Braunfels, TX

B: Big Bend National Park

C: Guadalupe Mountains National Park + Carlsbad Caverns National Park

D: White Sands National Monument

E: Saguaro National Park

F: Flagstaff + possible quick trip to Petrified Forest National Park

G: Grand Canyon National Park

H: Reno!

There are a few stops planned between parks (we can't NOT stop in Marfa, right?) and we have just over two weeks to travel, so I imagine that our itinerary will be flexible.

We are headed to cell-phone/internet no-man's land, so while I will do what I can, there may be a bit of radio silence along the way. I admit to being a bit excited for the unplugged time. So I ask that you bear with the silence and possible interruption to blogging and email response and know that I will be back with you as I can be!