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Dark Side of the Moon

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

I always knew I wanted to be an artist; not just wanted...but needed to be an artist. I was born to create. As a child, I was constantly drawing, but I can attribute my appreciation of art to my father; a man always dressed in a suit and tie and toting a stereo camera everywhere he went. Stereo photography and Japanese art and prints were passions of his. We often spent weekends in San Francisco browsing art then having lunch in Chinatown. He introduced me to what would become one of my very first loves-photography. He gave me my first camera and ushered me into a world full of artistic observation. On our hikes together he would always point out different lighting and all of the beauty he found everywhere in nature.

Despite the artistic influence and inspiration instilled in me by my father...most of my family was of the opinion that pursuing art and photography as a career was a pointless waste of time. This left me only dreaming of becoming an artist since my truest desires were not embraced or encouraged by any means. I am the youngest of four children and suffered a great deal of violent, physical abuse from one of my older brothers. My oldest sister was very criticle of me and of my desire to invest my time in creating art. She was most often very harsh with her words, making me feel minimized and demeaned with the comments she made. My mother was distant and very disengaged in my childhood and my father was always working. Thankfully, my oldest brother was there to protect and look out for me, but he left home when I was 9 to join the AirForce. I’m sure it is not difficult to understand why I wanted to leave home as soon as I could-and that’s exactly what I did.

As soon as I graduated from high school, I was off and gone. I left for Humboldt State University to begin my own life. My first year of college, I experienced for the first time what it felt like to be able to be in control of my own life and make my own decisions. I began as a Geology major and then switched to Engineering...but also began sneaking in art classes on the side (drawing and photography). My sophomore year of college is when I began rowing. I joined the rowing team and stuck with it. One of the reasons rowing appealed to me so much, is that you can be a beginner at any age and still manage to be successful at it if you work for it. You don’t necessarily have to start early in order to compete and enjoy it.

One semester short of graduating from Humboldt State, I journeyed back to my hometown where I began an engineering job at Lockheed. I absolutely loved working there and loved the people I worked with. But my passion for and dedication to rowing eventually led me to an internship at University of Washington in Seattle, where I would coach rowing. Coaching is a way for me to create my own kind of family. At this time, sports were a difficult field for women to excel in ...but not excelling was not an option for me. This is what I loved and I went for it. I still continue to coach today and wouldn’t have it any other way.


I have been asked before about my headspace when I’m creating my art and/or what my process looks like when creating some of my favorite pieces. Of course, there’s never one straight answer to questions like these. The mind is a beast all its own. There have been times when I splattered red paint on canvas to express rage, using the art as my a way to let go of anger, pain, confusion. You have to dive in deep and completely let go in order to create and express what needs to come out-and it’s hard. When I try to paint something that really hurts, I might use 25 different layers on the wood because that is a way for me to emotionally work through it. Some of the pieces that mean the most to me, like the collages of me as a young girl, are ones which symbolize me working through the emotional turmoil and turbulence of my past-using the art and process as a coping mechanism.

Another piece of mine that means so much to me is Walks with Emma. Emma was my St. Bernard Labrador Boxer mix...but much more importantly, my soulmate. She lived to be 14 years old. This painting represents peaceful walks with her; walks similar to the ones I used to take with my father while noticing all of the nature surrounding us. I have always been inspired to capture and paint what I see on these walks because I use nature as a main tool for my healing. To me, this piece expresses new growth, new life, Spring. I have been through some very dark times in my life and Walks with Emma is very significant for me because it reminds me that, even through all of the dark leaves, there are still blossoms peeking through that will survive. This is the only piece of mine I have ever framed for myself and put up on my wall. To me, this painting is hope.

I show up for my art with vulnerability. Many of my pieces depict a shy strength but it can still be a little scary. I show up, let go completely, and let myself get lost in the art, the flow, the expression...wherever it wants to take me. I will be lost for hours. I let my eyes wander in and out of what I’m painting. It is a full feeling; completely engrossed in the moment of it all. I tap into this full feeling while I’m coaching rowing as well. I can almost feel myself in the boat with them-feeling what they’re feeling. When it comes to my expression...if something is interesting, I just go with it. I get lost in a place of freedom-no censorship of what I see in my mind’s eye and what my hands want to create with that. I have to give myself absolute freedom and permission to play; not worry about making mistakes because it is just for me. I grew up having to censor so much because I was told that it was not productive or appropriate; not sharing what I wanted to say or do because I would be harshly criticized when I did. Art helped me to survive growing up. Art gave me a voice when I had not found a way to use mine yet...and art still does that for me everyday.

I have come a long way and I honestly feel as if I’ve had a number of lives and gained many survival skills. Some things will never change and some things are continually evolving everyday. I will always be the most comfortable behind the camera lens, I will always be the glass half full person that I am, I will always be a pacifist. But I also continue to battle the critical voices and narratives still replaying in my head and the PTSD I have from my abusive past. I remind myself that these voices are not me, I do not have to absorb them, just let them run right through. Utilizing themes of adversity, resolutions, solutions, nature, flowers, bridges, trees, mountains in my art...these all bring me peace, healing, and coping tools. I continue to learn more about myself with every piece of art I create, every experience in nature I have, every time I give in to freedom. If there is one piece of advice I would love to go back and give my younger would be to LIVE BOLDLY.

There are many other pieces to my story, as we all have, and there is a place and time for sharing each piece. So until next time...

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Unknown member
Mar 14, 2021

This is your sister, who left home when you were 8 years old to go to college to get my two degrees in Geology and Engineering. I remember when mom called me about the fire and asked me to (again) rescue you - I tried to call you to find out what you needed, but couldn't get through - so I called the Fire Station to find out the extent of damage. I was told that the "fire" involved a candle and a curtain, and that all you lost was the curtain. But your drama to the family, was that yet another story to get money? Stop lying about your family, this is not considerate.

These false stories, especially the…


Unknown member
Mar 07, 2021

I add, I too wrote a blog about my 8 months living in Ghana in 2014. It is a time that was life changing and I take comfort that I can go back and review my weekly posts. The hardest step is the first step.


Unknown member
Mar 07, 2021

Susan, I admire you to write publicly about your past and how you deal with it. Reading it, my daughter could write with many similar experiences. But she found photography on her own and i too was always working. She has become a Yoga teacher and has said multiple times that finding Yoga saved her life. Thank you for sharing. A former rower who had the benefit of your coaching, even if for only a short time. I have never forgotten you.

Susan Wood
Susan Wood
Mar 08, 2021
Replying to

Thank you, Terry, your words mean so much to me. Truly. -Susan

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