“Nemo” is a neurodivergent, pansexual, nonbinary person who lives in the forest in unincorporated King County and enjoys a variety of creative pursuits, including underwater photography.
Nemo grew up in a fundamentalist Christian, deeply conservative family in which the creative arts, among other things, were disparaged. During their upbringing, Nemo was strongly discouraged from pursuing them. As Nemo approached adulthood, that began to shift. They began to pursue music, then woodworking, photography, creative writing, poetry, designing worlds for tabletop RPGs…The snowball started to roll and gained momentum in the years since. These creative pursuits were bolstered by Nemo’s discovery of meditation and subsequent development of their own meditative practices. Over the course of the last two decades, Nemo has come to understand that the creative arts are one of the most accessible roads into the self and outward into the universe as a whole. These days, Nemo primarily works in the mediums of music, photography, woodworking, and the written word.
Likely due in large part to their ADHD, which went undiagnosed and untreated well into their adulthood, Nemo has pursued a number of professional paths. They have worked as a plumber and HVAC tech, they have worked as a climate scientist and university lecturer, they have worked as a beach lifeguard and an EMT, they are a SCUBA instructor, and other jobs over the years, but have not found fulfillment in any of these pursuits to the degree they have found in the arts. Over the years, Nemo has come to appreciate on deeper levels the truth that, while the sciences have improved our lives in countless ways, it is the combination of the arts and human connections, often formed through the arts, that make life worth living.
In addition to the creative arts listed above, Nemo loves animals and has a whole mess of them – a dog, three cats, and seven chickens. They love spending time with their partner and in nature in many forms, most commonly hiking, camping, gardening, SCUBA, and freediving, and find these activities to be profoundly recharging. Nemo also finds deep fulfillment in learning new information, developing new skills, and exploring the world around them. Nemo reads a great deal, enjoys tabletop RPGs, plays a lot of video games, and gets very little sleep.
Juvenile horn shark (Heterodontus francisci)
Redondo Beach, CA 2018
Far from a terror of the deep, the horn shark is docile and harmless, unless you’re a crab or a sand dollar. This is a juvenile but the adults don’t get much bigger – the largest rarely exceed 3-4 feet in length. They mostly eat shellfish and mollusks with their tiny mouths and can only really defend themselves passively by means of their “horns” – venomous spines in front of the two dorsal fins that are typically only effective after the poor animal has been swallowed. They are often spat back out because of those horns, no worse for wear, but could probably use a good therapist after the experience.
California blue dorid (Felimare californiensis)
Laguna Beach, CA 2018
The California blue dorid is a species of nudibranch – a type of sea slug, and one of the most varied, flamboyantly colorful clades of life on the planet. Much like the horn shark, nudibranchs rely on passive defense – poison, typically – and I have witnessed them subjected to similar treatment. Nudibranchs make great macro photography subjects too, because they don’t move very much. For example, this nudibranch was munching on some algae when both of its neurons managed to link up long enough for it to slowly lift its head.
Peacock mantis shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllarus)
Tulamben, Bali 2016
The mantis shrimp is a fascinating creature. Not a true shrimp, they are the only extant genus of stomatopod, an order that predates the dinosaurs. The peacock mantis is a smasher-type mantis (as opposed to stabbers) because its front appendages are club-like (as opposed to dagger-like) and capable of striking with great speed and up to 350lb of force. This produces cavitation bubbles that briefly reach thousands of degrees. Needless to say, I approached this subject with caution.
California scorpionfish (Scorpaena guttata)
Catalina, CA 2016
An ambush predator with truly impressive camouflage in the kelp forests and rocky reefs of southern California, the scorpionfish is so named for the venomous spines that run along its fins and gills and which possess an agonizingly painful sting, to the pain of which I can personally attest. We stress good buoyancy control while diving not just for the safety of the reef…
White-spotted hermit crab (Dardanus pedunculatus)
Tulamben, Bali 2016
As hermit crabs grow, they often find new shells in the most adorable way – several hermit crabs who are all outgrowing their homes will line up in order of size then each vacate their current shell and move into the next biggest shell. Some species of hermit crabs are decorators – they will stick various anemones, algaes, and other marine creatures onto their shells for camouflage. Really though, it is because these crabs understand the importance of beauty in the world.
I don’t like labels. I used to like them and I still see their value; I used to rely on them almost exclusively as the lens through which I struggled to come to understand myself as a child and well into adulthood. Over time though, I have come to understand that labels obscure individuality as soon as they are applied. Labels come with all sorts of associations, spoken and unspoken. When one person applies a label to another person, they consciously or unconsciously apply all of those associations, whether they are accurate or not. To paraphrase Alan Watts, we all speak different languages and words obscure meaning. Words are one of the most powerful tools we have invented as a species, and words carry that power when we use them to describe our identities – we would do well to keep that in mind while we go about using this fantastic thing we invented called language.
I used to construct my identity through labels. Growing up in an abusive home, I did what so many children in similar situations did – I cobbled together a sort of identity, but it was not authentic, it was based on the perceived expectations of those around me, born out of the infant and young child’s deepest needs for safety and security, which so often in the cases of abuse or neglect translates into the child trying to mold themselves into whatever into whatever would help them meet their needs for safety and security in a dangerous environment. I built my identity out of the labels I heard applied to me, and like so many other children in similar situations, I particularly emphasized the negative labels.
I didn’t know who I was by the time I left home. I had a sense of who I was trying to be, but that person was not my authentic self, it was a goal I had constructed unconsciously, based on the perceived expectations of those around me, and it eventually broke me to the point that I had a very black-and-white choice: either figure out who I was and build an authentic identity from the ground up, or allow my already-severe PTSD to continue to worsen and likely experience a short journey with a tragic ending.
Partway through grad school, this cobbled-together identity finally crumbled too much for me to continue to ignore. With the incredible support and patience of my partner, I began searching for my authentic self for the first time in my life. There were pieces of authenticity in the identity I had cobbled together for myself, and those acted as supports in the process.
My queer identity, long repressed due to the rampant violent hatred and bigotry in which I was raised, was one of the biggest touchstones for me. My sexuality and gender are so firmly fixed within me, as gender and sexuality are, that these served in many ways as two islands of stability while I made sense of the chaos around the rest of my identity. My love of the arts served as a third – this is a part of me as deeply fundamental as my gender and sexuality, and it managed to persist and survive through the repression of my childhood. When I began to release my creative energy as an adult, that snowball deposited pieces of my authentic identity as it rolled, easily discoverable to me. My curiosity about the universe formed the fourth touchstone – somehow this piece of me also managed to persist through an upbringing in an environment that taught intelligent design and a 6,000-year-old earth. This forms the basis of my primordial connection to nature and the renewal and resilience that I draw from the universe and from the life around me. Finally, my partner has been an invaluable support and source of constancy as I made sense of the chaos and allowed my authentic self to emerge from hiding.
I believe that we are born with these things wired into us at some of our deepest levels. I don’t imagine very many people viewing this art show will disagree with this fact regarding gender and sexuality, but creativity and curiosity are often treated as qualities that only some rare individuals possess. We are all born scientists. That curiosity and excitement about the natural world gets crushed out of us by adults who respond to our curiosity with annoyance or by shutting down our questions. We learn that questions are not safe, that curiosity is not ok, and that light gets buried deeply within us. Similarly, we are all born artists. Our self-expression gets crushed out of us by the adults around us and by our peers – every time we are mocked, disparaged, excluded, attacked for some form of creative self-expression, we tend to bury that light deeper and deeper as well, until it joins the light of curiosity, buried so deeply that we are no longer aware that it exists within us. I believe that one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and to the universe is to journey inside of ourselves – dig, find those lights, and peel off the layers obscuring them.
We are here to love, to create, and to experience love, creation, and the universe itself. Every act we perform has the potential to serve this purpose or to act against this purpose, and I believe that one of the most important aspects of our journeys through life involves identifying the choices that we can make to build love, connection, and creativity in the universe and deliberately choosing those things. There are qualities within all of us that are fundamental – we all have the choice to build ourselves on the foundation of those qualities, to discover our authentic selves. While I am only a short way down this endless road of self-discovery and self-allyship, the inner peace and joy that this journey has already produced in me have convinced me beyond any doubt that following this road is the most important thing I can do for myself (and for those around me) in this life.
With love, gratitude, and reverence,