I grew up in Rhode Island, the smallest of the 50 states in the US. In RI I studied theater and traditional two dimensional art forms- drawing, painting, charcoal and photography. In 1998 I moved from RI to Phoenix, AZ where I completed a degree in Interdisciplanary Arts and Performance. During this time I developed a passion to create interactive installations- complete immersive spaces where the viewer was able to interact with the exhibition. I was looking to break down the boundaries between the art and the viewer. I graduated with my degree in 2002 and headed off to grad school with the intent of creating bigger, more elaborate projects.
One night for class we attended an installation that one of my professor's former students was showing at a gallery in Phoenix. This artist had shown at the galleries in New York City that you read and dream about as an art student. Meeting him I felt as if his life should be an example of what to expect in the future. He proceeded to tell us he had never sold a piece of art in his life. People just don't buy installations. He survived off grant money and as he honestly admitted- the fact that his wife was a doctor. After class that night I joined one of my fellow grad students for a few drinks and discuss how I was feeling. In the end I found that I didn't want to pay alot of money for a degree that would teach me to create better art that no one was going to buy. I felt in order to call myself a professional artist I need to be selling work. Someone else supporting me wasn't going to cut it. My other financial option would be to teach at the university level, to raise another generation of artists to face to the same crisis I was facing- you can't pay the bills making art. Not that there aren't artistic careers but to be a professional artist in today's world really is a dream.
So I left graduate school that night and never looked back. I worked for a few years managing a camera store and doing some freelance graphics projects. During this time I suffered from a series of health problems. My doctors were quick to provide pills for the symptoms without holistically looking at the problem. I had headaches and they sent me to the neurologist. I had back pain they sent me to a rheumatologist. The back pain turned out to be a kidney stone so they sent me to a urologist. They removed the kidney stone but the pain didn't go away so they sent me to a pain management specialist. And on and on it went. After several years of this finally I went to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ.
Going to the Mayo Clinic is like having a second job. You meet with a doctor who takes your whole medical history. Then they refer you to specialist. Every visit you go to scheduling where they print you out a new 18-20 page document with your updated appointments, test schedule and instructions. On average, I was there three days a week for 8 hours at a time. I was poked, prodded and scanned. I saw psychologists and psychiatrists determined to convince me it was all in my head. And after enough time you start to question yourself- maybe it is all in my head, I thought. Then one day I get a phone call. They had gotten a blood test back and if the results were correct they had diagnosed my problem. However, the results were so abnormal they wanted to have me take the test again because I shouldn't be able to be out and about, never mind working if the results were correct. The results were correct and the an answer was that I had a rare endocrine disorder that was dis-regulating every system in my body. After a rather extensive surgery and a six month recovery I was good as new.
Feeling that my health problems had set me back in my career, I then moved into a more traditional corporate sales position in the online education industry. During this time I worked as many as 60 hours a week striving to exceed quotas and chasing promotions. After several years of doing this I found myself having health problems again. This time I was having extreme pain that was preventing me from being able to use my right arm. While the doctors couldn't agree on much regarding the cause or what was causing the pain they all were in agreement that I was not to use my computer. Which meant no work for me. I went out on disability and was receiving 60% of my salary. As a single woman I was able to live (maybe not quite as comfortably) but comfortably off that. I mean I wasn't spending money on gas cause I couldn't drive, I wasn't spending money on work lunches and Starbucks coffee. However, I was stuck in my home alone all day pondering my catch 22. I couldn't think of a job I could do that would pay as much as my disability did but I couldn't stand the idea of just sitting in my apartment all day doing nothing. Another big problem was I hated my job.
I found myself wondering how I had wound up where I was striving for the American Dream of the corporate job with the good title and nice apartment. All while I was in studying and making art I strove against the conformity that is so prevalent on the surface of American culture. Yet here I was stressed out that I couldn't work at a job that I hated because it cause so much stress. So one night I came home to find I had received an application for social security. And I made a decision. I was leaving. My friend had headed off to Guatemala about six months previous to this and I had promised her a visit. So that was where I decided to start. I sold all my stuff- my car, my furniture, my books and said I would be gone long enough that it would be worth it to have given it all up. That was in 2010.