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This Is Personal!

Today I'm the happiest human on earth, & not too shabby at welding art, but I didn't start out that way! Growing up I suffered with undiagnosed depression & zero self-esteem which led me to  abusing alcohol. By the10th grade I was kicked out of two high schools, including the one for the "bad kids", arrested 6 times, on probation twice, lived in & out of detention homes for a couple years. At 16 I got pregnant. (I mean come on, who didn't see that coming?!) I stopped all my partying moved back home & settled down to be the best Mom I could be. I had no physical, emotional or financial support from my sons father. It was scary.

I went back to the Alternative High School my senior year with my 2 month old son & graduated on time with the highest grades in the school! I worked a full time job after school stocking shelves while my parents watched my son & saved so I could get us our own place. I would get home at 11:30pm & have to be back up at 6:30am to be at school on time. It was tough but something I'm very proud of. Work ethic has never been a problem!

I had this amazing son whom I loved with every fiber of my being but I still hated myself & as a teen mom I felt I was an embarrassment & disappointment to myself & my family. To remove myself from myself I started abusing alcohol again. Because I was abusing myself I attracted relationships & situations that were also abusive, misery loves company. Life went on this way for years.

Anything that brought me joy also brought me pain. I was in love with auto mechanics but I experienced sexism throughout my 7 years in the industry. My 1st husband & I both partied & the result was an abusive relationship. When I finally had the courage to leave my parents said my son could stay with them but but I couldn't, we slept in my car a couple nights but I knew my son needed stability & I wasn't it.

Without him I had nothing & leaving him with my parents is the single hardest thing I've ever done, but I knew I wasn't healthy for him & it was the right thing to do.

I needed to get us a place. Looking for the quickest solution to get my son back & get us a secure home I took the little money I had & invested in what I felt would be a quick return & tidy profit. Like all my best intentioned plans that one backfired too. I broke rule number 1 of selling drugs, don't get high on your own supply.

I moved into a camp two friends had in a small clearing in the woods, bartered drugs for my own tent & went to work destroying my brain as best I could. Each of us had something we specialized in & people showed up around the clock. I don't know if it was weeks or months I lived out there, everything was a blur & I was unhappily not seeing.

I bathed in the river, ate nothing, & don't remember sleeping. I thought about killing myself every day. I hated myself & blamed everyone but me for giving me this life.

In the depth of hell a memory was triggered. Sitting by the road one day a car drove by & I recognized a friend from AA, I was less than a mile from his home. I went on autopilot, got into my car, drove the mile up the road, rang the bell, & asked for the help I knew I needed.

I was emaciated when I arrived at the hospital, they were scared I was going to go into cardiac arrest. I was mentally & physically broken. My Dad told me later he thought I'd never be able to write my name again. I was admitted into the BSU & on lock down. After weeks I had sobered up enough to realize the pain I caused my son & went into a deeper self hatred than I had every experienced previously. I started Hulking out & destroying whatever was around me in a rage. Several orderlies had to wrestle me to the ground & sedate me with Thorazine. Nothing could control my self hatred turned outward, after my third destructive rage I was transported in handcuffs & shackles to the state mental hospital. 

Things got worse before they got better. For everyone's safety I was kept heavily medicated, but nothing they gave me could make me numb enough to forget what a horrible human I was.

My doctor tried everything from hypnotism to group sessions with me but nothing was  changed my anger. Every time the Thorazine would wear off I'd be fueled with rage & destroy everything I could. They'd wrestle me to the ground, shoot me full of Thorazine, lock me in a strait jacket, strap me to a gurney, & leave me to rage myself to sleep.

One day, after a group session, I asked my doctor when I was getting out & he replied NEVER. It was the single greatest gift I have ever received.

F@ck You, I'll Show You! I took every ounce of anger I had at myself & turned it into fuel & was released 3 days later. I didn't understand the super power I unlocked that day but moving forward it was the single most powerful tool I've put in my toolbox for happiness & success! It's so powerful I later wrote a book called F@ck You Fuel to teach others how they can use their anger for success & happiness. F@ck you turns into thank you. It's wild how it happens, but that's a story for another day!

I got out, but I was a mess! I was on a handful of pills that kept me zombied out & I wasn't capable of living on my own, so a family from AA took me in. I went to meetings & got to see my son occasionally. I finally got healthy enough to get my own apartment, a no bedroom sweltering dump on the 3rd floor but it was mine! The first thing I did was took the bus to the mall & walked over to my sons school & brought him home. My parents were outraged & the school tried to stop me but there was no court order. It was one of the greatest moments of my life! The whole world was against me but I didn't care, my precious son was home.

I enrolled him in the elementary school two blocks away from our apartment & we skipped to school every morning. When I picked him up after school he would run to me and I would swing him in a circle. All was right in the world until a few days later I met my future ex husband. 

He was loving, protective, & fiercely loyal, which was everything I was missing, but he was 6 days out of prison, where he had been in & out of his entire adult life. We both did the absolute best we could with the damage we showed up with, but fast forward 6 years & we were unhappily married, & living in the projects. It wasn't for lack of trying, we worked 7 days a week hauling scrap metal & I was selling stuff on Ebay, but no matter how hard we worked we could never get ahead.

In early 2007 we sat down with our neighbors to watch the movie Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, & a couple minutes into the movie I saw this woman sculpting these big angel wings. It was like being hit by lightning, & I knew in that moment it was what I must do. This didn't make any sense because I had no artistic ability & I had never welded before, but I spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out how.

I felt like this is what I've been training for all my life. I was already obsessed with the TV shows Biker Build Off, Monster Garage, & Junkyard Wars, but it never dawned on me I could weld or fabricate. I visited our local BOCES where I attended the automotive program in high school & asked about their welding program. I was so excited about the possibility of learning to weld but when they told me it cost $1,200 my heart dropped. 

That year we had earned $10,000 to support our family of five, there was wasn't enough to pay bills. I was not deterred. I went home & told my husband I was going to go to welding school & that it cost $1,200. His answer was no. I went to my parents & asked to borrow money & that was a no. Everyone thought it was ridiculous & they were right but I knew with every fiber of my being this is what I was meant to do so I decided to work extra hard & save.

In October 2007 I struck my first arc in welding school. I was in love with it long before I ever picked up a torch! My teacher, Jim Ostrum, taught the way my Dad does, by doing, & I thrived in his classroom. I let everyone know I was going to be a sculptor & Mr. Ostrum nurtured my passion. He was the first person to support me & was absolutely instrumental in my happiness today. Let me take a moment to honor him publicly. Mr. Ostrum, to say your support & knowledge drastically improved my life is an understatement. I am eternally grateful! Thank you Sir! 

I still have the first welding project I made in school. I beam with pride every time I see it!

Close to the end of the 6 month course Mr. Ostrum starts telling me about a local custom fabrication shop he thinks I should go apply to. Well, that's not going to happen I think! I had no desire to ever work for anyone again after the sexism I experienced in the automotive industry. I assumed the welding industry would be the same. Each time he approached me to go apply for the job I turned him down. I had no idea what my next logical step was but it wasn't working for the man. I needed to weld as much as I needed to breathe but I didn't see a way at that time. We were living in government subsidized housing & there was no garage to weld in if I had the money to buy a welder. Graduation grew near. 

We showed up for one of the last classes & Mr. Ostrum announces were going on a field trip. Over to Cameron Manufacturing & Design we go & we get a tour. I was hooked. They had all the machines & equipment I saw on TV. I applied for the job & asked for $10 an hour figuring I was worth $9 & it would give me some wiggle room. I passed their welding test & a couple written tests & they offered me $13 an hour. I bawled like a baby. Not only would I get to keep welding but now I was getting paid for it! My first year I would be making more than 3 times what I earned in the previous year, & I only had to work 40-50 hours a week! It was a huge boost for my low self esteem, I needed a win. 

It was hard work physically & even harder work mentally. I thought I knew what I was doing when I first showed up but spent the first year grinding my welds back out & remaking a lot of stuff. Their standards were high & it was a humbling experience to be called to Quality Control over the loudspeaker. Everyone in the 200 person shop knew you screwed up. I worked hard to improve!

As I learned new skills my self esteem & confidence grew. I felt capable & happy. I was moving closer to my goal every day.

I was not comfortable with the decisions my husband was making & after many years of trying I chose to move on. It was easy & difficult. I had two sons by then & felt like if I stayed it would be like telling them his behavior was acceptable. I didn't want them to believe this is how a man acts so I took our clothes & left him everything.

The next couple years were challenging, again I had no support but I worked diligently to provide for my boys. I loved them & my job & it made the challenges not so challenging. Their love & support have gotten me through some very tough times.

I fixed my credit & bought a one car garage with a house attached in December 2011. The garage was earmarked for my welding shop but it took two more years before I was able to afford a welder & the tools I needed to weld art at home. I struck my first arc in my new shop in November 2013 & 40 hours later I had a 3 tier chandelier hanging from my garage ceiling. Don't ask me where the idea came from but there it was in all it's glory. I took several pictures & then bawled like a baby when I tried to post it to my Facebook page. I was terrified of peoples judgment. I had spent the last 4.5 working up to this moment, I told everyone & their mother I was going to weld art, I wouldn't shut up about it, but now that the moment to share my creation with the world I was terrified of other people's judgments. 

I momentarily forgot who I was creating the sculpture for. I forgot I was creating for me. I started this adventure because welding sculpture seduced my soul. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. My free choice was taken away.  I needed to create through metal as much as I needed to breathe. I loved to weld, I was proud of my design & craftsmanship, the chandelier was what I had dedicated my life to, I made it for me because it pleased me, so who cares what anyone else thinks about it, it's MY art, created for me.

It took me 24 hours to come to this realization & in November of 2013 I posted a pictured of the chandelier to my personal Facebook page. I couldn't have been more wrong about people's negative reaction, not that it mattered by that time, but it was well received. People said the nicest things. 

After work & all weekend long I designed & welded sculptures & took any job that showed up at my door. I was in my glory. My parents were now onboard with my lucrative welding career & proud I had a home & secure job. 

August 1, 2014 after receiving my journeyman distinction in iron plate & sheet metal, I announced to my boss & parents I was quitting on the first of September to go full time as an artist. I don't know what they said at the shop but my Dad said I was making the biggest mistake of my life & my Mom cried. I felt like no one had my back. It was awful. I was still fighting my own demons & needed all the support I could get, however it was gone again. I understand their reaction today as love & concern for their darling daughters security, but back then I felt they didn't trust me to figure it out & they didn't feel I had the talent to support myself financially. I took it very personally.

Work threw a retirement party for me, the first in history for someone who didn't actually retire. To this day I feel the highest honor is the respect of a fellow craftsman. I'm eternally grateful for my Cameron family!

I spent the next 9 months working my tail off & getting no where. I had two things working against me, I didn't understand I was running a business, & unbeknownst to me my boyfriend was using me for my money & going through my meager savings to build "us" a garage that would double my workspace. 

My self-esteem had improved, but that wasn't saying much. My desire to be loved was so great that I missed every red flag he was waving & when the smoke cleared my savings was gone & I was beat up. It crushed me. The mental anguish of being used hurt more than the bruises. How could you not see that coming? Why can't you get anything right? Why can't things be easy for once? I stepped off the edge & freefell into the cold familiar embrace of depression. 

I had $85 in my bank account & I didn't see any way I could make this pig fly but I also didn't have any quit in me. I cried. Even though I had left my job with the utmost respect & they said I was welcome back any time, going back was never an option for me. Going back would be saying I failed & there was no way I'd ever let my boys see that. I had to find a way.

I saw an ad on Facebook for an event who needed vendors in Millerton, PA on Memorial Day & thought that might be a good way to sell art, so I sent in the $35 fee to set up. I took the back seat out of my Jeep, packed it full of art, & headed to Millerton.  The first evening my son & I met the sweetest family who gave me encouragement & friendship that I had been missing so much. That friendship bolstered me up when I really needed it, you never know the power in the kindness of strangers. My youngest & I slept in the back of the Jeep that night & the next day I made $40 & bartered for some maple syrup. It doubled the money I had in the bank so I saw it as a massive success. 

The next weekend I set up at an event in my hometown, Erin, NY called the Erin Woodfest, which hosts the New York State chainsaw carving championship. It cost $35 to set up which cut my finances in half but I sent the check. I set up & displayed the spoon rings, tables, silverware people, & bookends I had been creating. My neighbors had heard the banging & loud music coming out of my garage for almost a year by then, but no one knew what I had been up. To say they were supportive was an understatement. I made $165! I got a good kick in the confidence from it but there was a much more impactful experience I had that weekend that gave me an understanding that is still my north star to this day & lesson #1 for any artist, STAY TRUE LIVE FREE.

When I went full time as an artist I was working 12-14 hours a day happily welding and creating art. I would share what I was making online but nothing was selling. As the money started NOT rolling in I started getting scared. I began working 16-18 hour days. As I was creating, my thoughts were consumed with failure & how I was failing magnificently. It was crippling to my ego & art.

When I set up at the Erin Woodfest I was creating out of fear of failure. By the time I left I was an entirely different artist. 

The Woodfest had chainsaw artists, people who use chainsaws to sculpt works of art. I was absolutely mesmerized! I was watching a group create and I noticed this guy carving with a pair of headphones on & kind of dancing a little as he worked. He lowered the saw, took a couple steps back, studied his sculpture for a minute and nodded to it.

If you know you know. There's this moment in creation where the artist observes, as a whole, what they have brought into existence, & approves. This is a very personal moment for an artist, however it doesn't happen when you are creating out of fear, it only happens when you create for yourself, for the joy of creation.

I had been sculpting out of fear. Welding & sculpting for the love of it because I was drawn to it is what allowed me ascend out of the depth of depression. Who cares if I make money, I just wanted that feeling back, I wanted to create because I must, the money would work itself out. Here another 15 second moment in time deeply impacted my life. STAY TRUE LIVE FREE. Make art because you must make art. Stay true to who you are and your freedom is happiness.

I met two people at that event that we became instant friends with. Two weeks later they invited me vend beside them at legendary Coney Island. I couldn't afford to get there so another carver offered a ride and in 2 days I made $635, which I got to keep 2/3rds of after paying the owners to set up. It felt like a million dollars!

I got invited to show after show with the carvers & realized people loved watching them create. & they sold a ton of inventory after. I thought if I could weld live people would buy more art. I couldn't afford the equipment I needed so I went to local stores & asked if they would sponsor welding curtains so I could make a live welding art show & in return I'd hang their company sign up behind my booth & advertise them at every event. It was audacious AF, but 17 no's later I got a YES! Praxair Gas in Elmira, NY donated 4 weld curtains with frames, gave me a banner to hang, & I was in business!

There's no nice way to say this, I bullshitted my way right into the Americade Motorcycle Rally! It was a week long event up in Lake George and it cost $1,800 for a vending spot. I emailed the people & asked if they thought their audience would be interested in a live art welding show. I told them I normally charge $500 a day, which was total BS, but for them I would barter for the $1,800 booth setup. They said yes and I got my first gig. Everything else was real easy to book after that, I got a referral!

For the next two years I was creating art at home during the week & traveling with my son up & down the east coast setting up at events, & welding live on the weekends. It was a total grind but I loved it. I loved the time with my son traveling & I was starting to have money in my bank account at the end of the month.

In 2016 I traveled to 48 shows, and 2017 was similar. During this time I homeschooled my son, taught how to weld art through videos on YouTube, & wrote my first book. I was exhausted & the art I was mass producing wasn't pushing my skills so I made a really bold move. In August 2017 I decided that by the 1st of the year I would learn how to sell my art online & only do 3 shows next year. It was crazy to cut off my only stream of income like that, but by now you know it's not about the money for me, it's about creation. I wanted to create great masterpieces, one of a kind works of art no one had seen or thought of before. I knew I would figure it out because anything less was unacceptable.

The first 3 months of 2018 were terrifying, however I've got that beautiful work ethic, & by the end of the year I had it figured out! I followed my heart & over the last several years have taken my happiness, skills & business to a level I didn't know existed!

Against all odds I have, for the last 9 glorious years, been a full time artist.
In that time I have...

Designed & created art for Iconic brands & exclusive clients in 15 countries!
Designed & created 5 public sculptures!
Written & published 6 books!
Donated thousands of dollars to charitable causes I love!
Produce hundreds of videos that are regularly viewed by people in 52 countries!
Welded live at SEMA in Vegas, The Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis, 
& of course I Welded live at Americade!

What's more impressive than my accomplishments however, is that I no longer experience constant depressed thoughts or anger. By changing my focus I changed my life. I'm not perfect, I get sad days, & angry moments, but I bounce back to happy naturally like I used to bounce back to depression. Looking back it was easy for me to see my ways of thinking that created the life I hated & attracted the negative people & situations. 

The Inspiration Blueprint (For someone who is still looking for their their joy & passion in life.), & F@ck You Fuel (How I turned my anger into fuel for success), are available on my Shop page. If you need one & can't afford it email & I'll send you a copy.

I told you this was personal!

It's been a journey worthy of a movie already & I'm just getting started! Stick around & see what I do next!
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