How Did I Get Here? How I moved to New York to follow my dreams

The other day, I woke up with David Byrne’s voice echoing through my head–“How did I get here?” As the sunlight streamed through my window much like the trickling synthesizer behind the questions posed, I realized that my life has changed beyond recognition in the proverbial blink of an eye. I got out of the bed I never thought I’d sleep in, fed the cat I never thought I’d adopt, walked the door I never thought would mark the boundaries of a space I never believed I’d inhabit. And like some fantastic notion of a life I’d always wanted but never thought possible, I head off each day to a school I’m proud to attend, and live in a neighborhood that swells my heart to call home.


But for all its upbeat new wave sweetness, the song so resolutely planted in my mind is actually quite melancholy. I marvel at how quickly my life has transformed, but the song itself recalls more of the emotions that kept me in my previous place. Like the “water underground”, so deadly and destructive in its most overwhelming, awesome form, I know what held me back was fear. I was afraid that moving wasn’t practical, that I wasn’t good enough to get into school, that my family would resent me for wanting more than I had. I was afraid that if I took the necessary risks, I’d be left with nothing. Fear is paralyzing, and having a little–a mind-numbing job, a general education, a room in my family home–is better than having nothing at all.

I often looked at people my age, even younger, living in New York City and wondered what they were doing that I wasn’t. They sold coffee or clothing or answered phones or served food, they enrolled in prestigious programs or worked towards higher degrees, they dressed in stylish clothes and wore their hair however they pleased–why couldn’t I? I asked friends and acquaintances who lived in the city how they organized their moves, but their responses were overwhelmingly similar–“I didn’t.” It seemed as if everyone I knew acted on instinct, following their hearts and figuring out details later. But I was too afraid to follow suit, citing practicality as my excuse.


And then some time in July of last year, everything changed. There was an itch under my skin that simply wouldn’t go away. No class I took, no work I did could banish the awful, creeping feeling that I was wasting my time. I felt like I was drowning in familiarity. So I did the only thing I could think of to push myself to the surface: I applied to new schools. Some were in places I’d never seen with my own eyes, others in places I’d visited and thought of fondly, but all schools I could envision as the start of a new life chapter. It wasn’t an instant fix–in fact, the fear got much, much worse before it began to fade. I can’t even tell you that it disappeared entirely–there are nights I come home and wonder how on earth I’ll be able to sustain this new life I’ve built for myself. The difference is, now I know it’s not impossible.


Every day is an adventure, full of hope and love and dreams I didn’t even realize I had. I meet fascinating people and encounter puzzling sights. I’m presented with challenges that I’m happy to meet head-on and best of all, I get to be endlessly creative. I’m still adjusting to the freedom I’ve given myself, still learning how to stretch and grow and quiet the fear that keeps me from testing my boundaries. But every step is a step closer, and I’m excited to see where I go next.

If any of this sounds familiar, take the advice that I never accepted: go. Do. Become. Don’t mistake fear for practicality. Don’t listen to the trickle of doubt in the back of your mind–it can become a flood without warning and sweep you away. Don’t drown in your uncertainty. Things will come together when you stop holding yourself back.

Metamorphosis, Writing

Trusting my Path, or what three years of blogging has really taught me

There are days where I wake up feeling inherently dissatisfied with myself. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact emotion–it’s a sadness, an anger, an anxiousness that’s so pervasive I feel like I’m drowning in it. It’s like waking up with a spiritual headache, a gaping wound in the soul. It’s impossible to say exactly why these days happen, what triggers them, and part of the anger is the frustration of knowing I should have a better handle on my emotions. –and that’s the very thought that reels it all back in: I am not a robot. Neither is anyone else living and feeling on this crazy little planet called Earth. We all have permission to feel and emote, regardless of how much sense those emotions really make sometimes.

cicadas Brood II

Before I even bought a domain, when I was still writing on LiveJournal and toying with the idea of starting a proper blog, I played with a few different themes–book reviews, food writing, recipes, makeup tutorials all spun through my head as I envisioned layouts, upkeep, coding, and producing content. When I finally bought this domain in 2010, my initial plan was to document the changes I wanted to see in myself, my personal transformation into the individual I wanted to be. I was going to face fears and take chances to become one of the bold and daring Internet Mavens I had followed on and off for years. There really wasn’t much of that, and the whole thing sort of de-railed and became a generic cosmetics blog full of lifeless product reviews and half-hearted looks. But in a way, I accomplished the original goal completely behind the scenes: I took chances and struck up conversations I wouldn’t have otherwise, I tried on roles I was too shy to originally assume, and I pursued jobs I might have been too insecure to apply for. It wasn’t that I was becoming someone else–I had been that person all along, and simply found the courage to realize it.

self portrait, April 2013

self portrait, April 2013

I have come a very long way in the last three years, but of course, I’m not fully satisfied with where I am just yet. I’m a driven individual and I don’t settle for “good enough,” but I’m learning to accept the steps along the way. I need to enjoy each level as I climb, to take in every detail necessary so I don’t have to head back down for something I missed. Trusting the path I’m on has been one of my biggest challenges. There are days I tell myself that I wasted my time in culinary school because I could have been finishing my degree in art, or I should never have gotten my cosmetology license because I should have been studying creative writing or journalism. What a waste of energy! It’s so tempting to think of what could  have been or what I should  have done, but the truth is that everything I’ve done and everything that’s happened to me has shaped who I am. I would not be standing at the point I am today without every decision I’ve made along the way. And it’s tempting to think that I’m no where, that I’ve accomplished nothing that makes this point notable–but compared to the point I stood at three years ago, it’s a remarkable change. 

photo by Made U Look

photo by Made U Look

Three years ago, I was adrift in a sea of comparisons. There were so many people I envied, so many people I wished I could be. But comparisons are unhealthy and destructive. You are your own person on your own path, and while other people may influence you to explore one direction or another, you cannot follow them or replace them. In the age of social media, it’s hard to ignore someone that annoys you, or makes you deviate from your path. Just remember that people act out for attention because they’re hurting–they desperately seek approval or put others down because they need to feel important. Their anger and sadness can be contagious, and it’s easier to disengage than to fall prey and remedy yourself. The next time you think about spewing venom at or about someone, think about why you feel the way you do. Consider what they’ve done to upset you and where that came from within them. Then let it go. It can be hard, but in the end, it’s better to let the negativity dissipate than to release it into the universe.


Any time I wonder if I’m heading in the right direction, or feel like I’ve gone down the wrong road in life, I take a moment to look around me. If I look hard enough, there are signs everywhere–a flower, an insect, a bird, a song on the radio, all confirming for me what I all ready know deep down inside: that I am exactly where I need to be right now.


Transformation, Rebirth, and Brood II

I believe in the power of Names. In their primary function of identifiers, they’re not only used to give commands but also offer insight into the thing being named. When I tell people the name of my blog (or my email address, or Twitter handle, or Instagram), they inevitably ask, “Why cicadas?” The answer is usually more than they bargained for because as much as I believe in names, I also believe in symbols–and the cicada is a powerful symbol.

FX Photo Studio_image-10

When I registered my domain, QueenCicada was simply the screen name I had been using at that point. My blog was originally titled “Metamorphosis,” tying in with my transformative theme and insect infatuation. When I decided to rebrand, I wasn’t sure anyone would understand the tie or that it would turn off potential readers–but the truth is, the cicada is a symbol of beauty and creativity too. Cicadas turn up in a fascinating myth mentioned by Plato in “Phaedrus.” According to the heartbreakingly beautiful story, cicadas were originally human beings devoted to the Muses, classic Greek personifications of the arts. They sang their love for so long and with such depth of emotion that they couldn’t stop to eat or drink, never even realizing they had died. The Muses rewarded them by transforming them into creatures that neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, able to sing and dance from the moment they are born until the moment they die. Humans enchanted by their music clearly recognize beauty in life, more susceptible to the call of the Muses than those than continue on with their lives, ignoring the insects’ song. But that’s not entirely where my cicada inspiration came from.

FX Photo Studio_image-11

When I’m in need of guidance, I often seek out a model or ideal. I’ve never been one to look to heroes or idols like celebrities as role models, so while some people aspire to the beauty of Marilyn Monroe or the charm of Audrey Hepburn, I’ve found my inspiration in more primal sources. As a child, I saw the cheetah as a guide to reconcile playfulness with grace, while I later looked to the turtle to develop a strong sense of home while learning to reach out and explore the world before me. I turned to certain animals at certain times based on what I knew of their nature and life cycle, trying to incorporate their ancient wisdom into my daily life. But the cicada came to me in a very different manner.

FX Photo Studio_image-12

Years ago, the tea shop I worked in got a ceramic tea pot in from China. It was a delicate basket-weave design, topped with a perfectly sculpted cicada on the lid. I was positively taken with it. Each day I worked, I thought about the insect on top, why it would be chosen to adorn something people would put on their table and drink tea from–in our Western society, insects are usually considered unclean and just generally icky. What little I knew about cicadas didn’t seem to clarify anything: I knew they were periodic, and shed their skins to transform their shape much like butterflies from their cocoons. What I learned was that they’ve been powerful symbols of immortality and life after death in the East. Their lifespans are remarkably long for an insect, and the shedding of their nymph skins is symbolic of a triumph over death, of life beginning again as one stage ends. It’s an incredibly powerful idea, and the more I thought about it, the more it moved me. My life, like so many others’, has been cyclical.When things seem to be incredibly difficult and impossible to move past, I’m often too frustrated and exhausted to recognize the valuable experiences that I ultimately take away.  It’s only looking back that I realize what an important period of growth I had completed and can experience the amazing rebirth as a result. I firmly believe the universe has a way of wiping the record clean when we absolutely need it: we can be reborn into new cycles.

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 4.07.24

This week has been incredibly emotional for me: my area is beginning to see the first wave of Brood II. Just days ago, I watched as dozens of cicada nymphs emerged from the ground, perching on trees, plants, decks, walls, tables, or street signs to shed their skins and take to the air. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this event coincides what I’m sure is going to be a summer of self-discovery for me, one of my greatest periods of rebirth yet. Each one of those tiny nymphs represents a hope or dream I have for my future: some will tear through their skins and emerge mature and complete, while others will be trampled before they have chance, experience snags, or form improperly. My heart breaks as I see mangled wings, missing legs, blinded eyes, but I know that nature isn’t always kind and trust that it’s part of the universal plan. As long as some of those live on to give new life, to inspire future hopes and dreams, they’ve succeeded. It’s a standard I also aspire to.


The Paths We Take

Even as an adult, I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up. The entire idea of pinning down a path for myself seems daunting. I’ve tried on a lot of hats–pastry chef, hair stylist, translator, illustrator, but none of them fit well for very long. We’re trained to think that everything has its place, but figuring out where our own isn’t always so cut-and-dry. In the past, each time I began to diverge from my chosen path, I viewed it as a failure: I wasn’t good enough, I was too flighty, I was impulsive. But taking a step back, I realize this was never the case. Each job I took, each course of study I completed taught me a set of valuable skills. I learned how to perform tasks that I could apply to numerous fields even outside that specific career. Each moment taught me more about myself, about what I enjoyed and what I did not, and what I identified with. I wonder if I might have decided to become a vegan had I not worked in restaurant kitchens, or if I would have explored the option of cosmetology had I not explored my theories on art in philosophy classes. Even when I fell out of love with jobs and schools, I learned valuable lessons about moving on.

Custom cake and gumpaste flowers I made around 2008

I love working as a makeup artist. I love learning my products, experimenting with techniques, teaching people how to emphasize their best features. It’s a rewarding career: there’s no feeling quite like turning the mirror on a client and watching their eyes as they realize the beautiful person in the mirror is actually them. It’s an honor to work with people on some of the most important occasions of their lives, knowing that you were a part of their memories and contributed to making their photographs beautiful reminders. But if I imagine myself 10 or 15 years in the future, I don’t necessarily see myself as a makeup artist down the line.


Looking back, I always thought I would end up in the literary field. I love to write and constantly have fiction projects going, but I also love to read and edit other people’s work. My focus in art school was illustration, often taking inspiration from literature or my own projects for my work. And while my attention has shifted somewhat recently into fine arts, I feel myself being pulled back to illustration again. I’m interested to see what themes I end up exploring once the summer break comes and my work can become my own again. I appreciate the instruction and direction that my classes give me, but I’m always anxious to see how they’ve influenced me when I begin to produce pieces that are truly my own again.

FX Photo Studio_image-6

With school winding down in just a few weeks, I’m starting to plan my life for the next few months. In my memories, summer holidays were blissfully unstructured, breezy and carefree, but as I get older I feel like structure is no longer an option. It’s mandatory. Structure keeps my productivity up, and productivity it what keeps me sane. I’ve got some exciting new ventures on the horizon and I can’t wait to share them with you as they start to solidify. I’d like to think that by the end of the summer, I’ll be closer to answering that question everyone poses to themselves at some point: “what will I be?” I may never be able to respond with absolute certainty, but each aspect of myself that I explore brings me one step closer.


Sharing my Constants

My life has always had two constants: words and pictures. From the moment I could hold a pencil, I drew pictures and I wrote stories. It’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation because the stories and the pictures were always intertwined, one filling gaps in the other. I can still find old pieces of computer paper cut and stapled into illustrated books created at recess in grade school or earlier.


Years before I registered a domain of any kind and hosted my words on LiveJournal instead of WordPress, I wrote a lot of fiction. The art always complimented the project of the time: portraits of characters, important scenes, dream sequences that might never have happened on paper. Sometimes, the words spilled onto the art as well, crowding into sketches and crushing characters with a weight of their own. This blog actually started as a sort of overflow parking for those words–a place to write about things that didn’t have a place of their own in my work, but ended up taking on a life of their own. That fact is probably why I burned out doing the swatches and look posts I did for a while–the words had no place.

I struggled for a long time with professionalism and personality. It felt like one voided out the other, and always wary of the Internet Oversharers, I kept myself out of this blog for a long time. I would show you what I was wearing, what products I was using, but not a lot more. You might see my cat, my lizard, my dining room table, but rarely anything that didn’t directly pertain to cosmetics or style. But style is more than what you’re wearing or how your makeup is done. Style surrounds everything we do. I often say that life is an art of its own–the way we live can reflect our tastes and aesthetics as much as our clothing or our lipstick. We are our own greatest work. This is how I can reconcile the new direction I’ve been taking here and the personal details I’ve begun to share.


In the effort of sharing more of the Girl Behind the Blog, I’m going to be taking part once again in May Monster Madness, a blog hop for horror lovers. Last year, I struggled with my participation–what place does a beauty blog really have in the horror world? I’ve always found beauty in the strange, but readers looking for product reviews or makeup tips probably wouldn’t appreciate the sudden shift in content. Now that I’m allowing myself some freedom, I want to share love affair with the bizarre and the monstrous: my goal is to make a post each day during the week of May 11th to share some of my favourite strange and beautiful things along with a whole list of others around the ‘Net. Want to join in? I’ve included the link signup below–you can add the banner graphic to your sidebar and invite your readers to do the same!

Luna, Metamorphosis


I’m a firm believer in the power of newness. While I also believe that I am the sum of my experiences and that everything happens for a reason, I believe in the self-invention and a fresh, clean slate is the most inspiring thing I could possibly imagine. This is why I start each year with Resolutions.

Most people laugh when asked about New Year’s Resolutions. They’ll say things like, “I’m going to lose weight,” or “I’m going to go the gym,” or “I’m going to start cooking more,” each and every year. “New Year’s Resolutions are silly,” I’ve been told. “They never stick.” January 1st of 2010, I resolved to start a blog. January 1st of 2011, I resolved to become a vegan after about fifteen years of vegetarianism. January 1st of 2012, I resolved not to let my illnesses and weaknesses define me. I have followed through and stuck with each and every one of these resolutions, and this is only a small handful of the resolutions I’ve made over the years.

For a large part of 2012 I felt stagnant. I was stuck in one place, going no where that I could see, and while my life was moving around me I felt too bogged-down mentally to move with it. Worse yet I sometimes felt as if I was regressing, moving backwards to places I’ve all ready been and struggled to remove myself from. I was fighting battles I’ve all ready fought. Some of these battles have been victories, others are in stalemate, but I refuse to lose any of them. Perhaps that is why the “newness” of 2013 has felt so important in the weeks leading up to the New Year. In the last months of 2012, I wove myself something of a cocoon, tucking in to examine myself and calculate the vastness of the changes taking place. I’m ready for the next phase, not something completely different but the next cycle of who I am and how I live. An evolved and higher state of me.

Some of these changes will be superficial: I plan to pare down in 2013, streamlining my style and cultivating signatures. This obviously applies to my wardrobe, but to other areas of my life as well. I’ve been talking about working out a concrete budget, balancing my accounts by hand to avoid the trap of digital overspending. By focussing my attention on developing signatures, I’ll save money on impulse buys and failed experiments and be able to apply those funds to things I genuinely need or want to work towards.

Other changes will be invisible, running too deep to really see at a glance. These will be the changes that allow me to be the person that I really am, the person I see inside and want to share with everyone else. These are the changes that involve being more courageous, accepting and actually feeling my emotions even when they aren’t 100% rational, reducing my anxiety and developing healthy coping mechanisms. While they may not be evident to anyone but the people I interact closely with, these are the changes that will take the most work and have the biggest effect on my life.

Up until this point, Readers, I’ve kept you all at arm’s length under the guise of professionalism. Having labels and tags to strictly adhere to felt more proper, so if it wasn’t about lipstick or shoes I really had nothing to say here. But I have a lot to say. I’d like to let you in on other things that interest me, the things I do that might not involve powder brushes or outfit snaps. So here’s what I’ve decided: Metamorphosis was begun to document my self-discovery and transformation and I feel like that’s very relevant again. From here on, Metamorphosis will be something of a landing-pad for me. Every post I make will appear here, on this site. If you’d prefer to simply follow my beauty and fashion posts, I’ll be cross-posting them and only them on Bella Cantarella. If you simply want updates on my artistic endeavors, I’ll be cross posting them (hopefully with more frequency) over at Crypt Orchids. I’d like to update this page at least twice a week, and the topics I cover will dictate the posting schedule everywhere else.

I want to thank you all for bearing with me for the last few years. It’s been a thrilling, maddening, hair-pulling, utterly inspiring journey so far and I hope you’ll stay with me as it continues.