following your art

by Janice Nigro

I am not a surfer, an actress, or a musician. But here I am-a scientist-three years into making a life in southern California. Yes, in LA LA Land.

LA is a great city to be in, but it is not all that easy to live here. The city is big, expansive, and cars are everywhere. But I love living by the ocean. Nature is all around us even though we think first of the movie making, smog, and traffic-whales, dolphins, and seals are easy to see here and even better from a stand-up paddle board. Not enough palm trees though, and the water is warm only for a few weeks in the fall.

I am also so far away from most of my friends. They live in out-of-the-way places like Norway and Tasmania (yes, I wonder how this can be?) as well as many other cities that are just not here.

So I missed the target a little bit, but I have family in LA and that’s been a great thing.

You think LA is just a place change so life should or could go on as you once knew it. For sure there would be differences-more sun and less rain-but for me a lab is a lab. Plunk yourself down and get back to the routine but with new faces and new ideas.

The only caveat to that plan was I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in a lab any longer.

Going to Norway was easier than coming home. A lot changed all at once when I left Norway. I was leaving behind a career path as well as a life.

My plan was to begin a business in freelance scientific editing back in the USA. A home-based business sounds ideal, especially in traffic trapped LA, but working from home subtracts out the social element from any job. You find you have more time to focus on work every day, but the challenge is to meet people. Even if you don’t socialize with colleagues from work outside of work, you still have someone to talk to while you are at work.

I knew how to make a social life in a place I had never lived before. Moving to Norway thrust me into a similar scenario. There I took Norwegian classes to meet people. Although my language skills were always debatable, I now have friends living in many great cities around the world.

I no longer had a use for Norwegian back in the USA-maybe another language would work-but I jumped at the chance when the opportunity arose to socialize through  art. Not a natural segue from a career at the bench.

I always took different art classes, but I never saw that I had any talent for it. I just felt relaxed making art. But 2.5 years after selling my first underwater photograph at the local market, I am deep into the art scene in my neighborhood.

I achieved my one primary objective which was to socialize. And I decided to take a chance on a project that had come to me years before on a diving trip. The concept is creative, although most days I have reservations about my skill level to carry it out. My plan boiled down to what someone once referred to as making fish purses. My vision is perhaps more sophisticated than the output, but they sell.

I started to follow some of my favorite local artists on social media. I go to their shows. I see how hard they work and how they manage their businesses. When I saw a call for submissions to a local art exhibition, I didn’t hesitate. My photos were accepted into that exhibition as well as a second one, and a third will take place during the summer. Just recently, a celebrity went home with a piece of my art. It’s forward movement.

Creating art and meeting new people through it has given me a way to navigate the transition back to the USA less painfully. I did not plan it, and I am not sure I would have discovered using my art as a social vehicle if I had never left the USA.

The trick though is to potentially integrate the art and the editing into a career path that will work. It’s chaotic looking from the outside, and the pull to go back to the order in being a bench scientist is great.

I have not necessarily used my three years in LA to the fullest-there is so much more to do here, but it’s been a rich experience and without the structure of a regular work day. Art is in me now.

I am still not a surfer, but maybe I can take a lesson from them. They catch a wave and go with it. They also crash, but then they just catch the next one.


Are you surfing a career/life transition?

©Janice Marie Nigro/


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