"If you're at 2,000 feet looking down, how does this all fit? What picture are we making? I think we're all pieces of a mosaic and if we were to step back and look down from a distance, there'd be this bigger thing that we're all doing but can't see."
Diana Carson-Walker – Artist. Warrior. Scientist.
In October, 2012, after several years of being the Scientist being in charge – I had two science degrees, was working a stable well-paying government job, and my soul was on life-support. – (just before my dying gasp), my Artist scrambled to the top like a drowning person and said, “Enough! I am in charge now.”
Stepping sideways into crazy, I am planning my escape from a stable, respectable job in natural sciences, and desperately scrabbling into the life of an artist.
When did you first realize that you had something you wanted to contribute creatively?
I’ve always done various creative things throughout my life. I’ve sewn, painted, cooked, and I’ve done physical disciplines like martial arts. I didn’t realize that these could all come together. It hit me literally 2 1/2 years ago. It was sort of a nirvana moment. I suddenly realized what acting was, and what a fit it was for me – I’m thinking of the sacredness of story and the connection that comes with that.
Right now I work as a soil conservationist. I work with farmers to try to get them cost share assistance to farm more sustainably. So it’s environmental science mixed with agriculture. I’ve been doing that about three years now. Before that I worked for the forest service.
What was that like?
I was a hydrologist there. My passion – what drove me getting into this field – is that I love the outdoors, environment, ecology, and how it all works together. I am still really concerned about water quality and pollution, and I was trying to get more into that by doing stream restoration to help clean up the environment. But as my career has continued, I’ve been spending most of my time doing paper work. I don’t really make that much of a difference.
Then I found writing and acting. They just sort of meshed together in my mind, and I fell in love with it. It’s kind of insane.
The scientist in me is like: “what are you doing? Are you nuts?”
But story… it’s an art form that just strikes me as a pathway into the divine
I see the divine as all of us connected. Somehow that connects to a higher power that you can just feel.
That’s what my nirvana moment made me realize. It all came crashing down on me while I was in a hotel room for work. My husband and I were going through some rough times having just moved to California. We hadn’t been away from each other for so long before. I called him. I said, “Okay. This is going to sound weird, but I think I want to act.”
He didn’t know what to do with that.
It was the first time in our seventeen years that I’d gotten that reaction out of him.
In the past, he’d told me ‘whatever you want just do it.’ That wasn’t his reaction this time.
Wow. That’s putting yourself out there.
Yes. He was the closest person to me, and he was the first person to hear about my decision. We split not too long after that for a lot of complicated reasons. Then I spent the first year learning how to come out of the closest about my decision.
Where in your body do you feel creativity – this need for expression?
It varies. A lot of time it’s in my throat and heart. When I’m writing or really inspired it tends to hit further down.
There are times when it will root right in my body, and I think of my martial arts background. I feel like I just need to move or hit something.
What does this sensation feel like? You can use a metaphor if you’d like.
It’s almost like singing fire. Like I’m singing out fire. There’s a heat – maybe it’s passion – and sometimes it just wants to come straight from my chest. It’s an opening or an unfolding feeling… or a blossoming.
What I fell in love with was watching actors peel everything away and then just stand there, letting us see them. And the bravery!!!
Those are the two modes I want to be in creatively: the open and the ‘here I am!!’ And then the connection that follows from that.
There are those stories that inspire you and that make you feel as though they’ve put something into you. Something you didn’t walk in with. I want to be on the other end of that.
I started down this path watching Dr. Who. The way he sees humanity and embraces all of it… I just loved the kaleidoscope and the variation.
I’m not familiar with Dr. Who. What do you mean?
He’s a great archetype. He’s sort of hero and dark minstrel. Dr. Who is an alien that looks human, and he’s the only one of his kind left. He positions himself as a guardian of Earth.
There’s a great quote from the series. A human is talking to him, asking about his race. Gawking at how far they go back and all of their abilities. “We must look like ants to you,” he says to the doctor. “No,” he responds. “I think you look like giants.” He loves the human race and our spirit.
It gave me, from a very nerdy standpoint, a fresh perspective.
I’d like to ask you about a few different experiences. Just like we did with creativity, I’m curious what they feel like in your body.
The first sensation is fear. What does fear feel like to you?
Fear feels like the bottom has dropped out of my stomach, or out of my world. It feels like someone has physically taken my lungs and twisted them in half. I can’t breathe.
It’s very paralyzing.
The next experience is a success you weren’t expecting.
What does that feel like in your body?
I have a lag with stuff like that. There’s a no zone at first, then it’s a physical shift left. After that: Whoo!! A sudden elevation that feels like flying.
The next experience is anger.
What does anger feel like in your body?
Anger hits me right in the mouth. I can slice and dice someone verbally.
It has a feeling that feels hot and like cold steel at the same time. That might be the martial arts training again, because I learned how to channel feelings and get very precise about how I used them. I can be viscous.
The next experience is love.
What does love feel like to you?
That’s one I’m still exploring. At the moment, I’ve shut that experience down. It can be very painful. I’m single for the longest I’ve ever been (over two years now) and sometimes it feels like something in me has fallen asleep and is gradually waking up. It’s a pins and needles feeling… only it’s my heart.
My daughters are all away from me, so I’m an empty nester. Lately, I find myself sending them love daily. Love for me is painful and born out of want. I’m trying to – and I’m getting shades of this – experience a blossoming. The potential is there, but right now I’m wounded. I’m working on it, and that’s exciting.
The whole experience is like trying to walk on a foot that’s been asleep.
What has been your greatest failure — something which led to your greatest shift in consciousness and led you to where you are today?
My most recent failure was falling in love with acting.
I pursued both my undergrad and graduate degree in mid life. I’ve only been out of school for six years. I thought I’d found what I wanted. I thought the environmental work was it. It appealed to me. It was interesting. I felt comfortable and at home in it. But what I failed to realize was that my passion was not ignited. I was dying.
That’s when I had this huge shift in consciousness. This ignition of passion was foreign to me. I didn’t even know what it was for months. I’m still digesting what it is.
My failure was my belief that I needed to be this know-it-all scientific person, and that my value was only linked towards what I could create or contribute factually. This shift has made me realize that was is valuable is connection.
I’m still in the middle of it, so it’s hard to explain.
What do you seek in connection?
I want to make a difference. That’s the common thread.
I was hoping to make a difference in the environment and quickly became overwhelmed. I realized that the only place you can make a difference is in people, through your connection to each individual.
You never know what could come from even one connection, but something will happen. I’m convinced of this. You can try to cause a shift by doing, but
You can always spark it or throw another straw in the basket of the camel. Or, just add your little incremental piece. Or maybe just connect and who knows what will come from it. Something will happen. I’m convinced of this. Whether it’s in you or in them. There’s always that positive building or shift. But trying to make a change by doing – that’s all temporary at best, and small. But if you want something that goes beyond you, connection. It’s that ripple effect.
What does the child in you believe about the world?
She believes that the world has a place for her; that the world wants her. She believes that this is all one big adventure, and she steps out knowing that the world is going to be there to land on. She jumps, knowing that it’s going to catch her.
She believes that she deserves to be here and that she has something to offer. She had once been pretty squashed and consistently reminded that children should be seen and not heard. She’s coming out now.
She also believes that we need to be able to wander through life, and not have to have all these clear cut directions. She wants to play. I’m negotiating that desire with her.
I’m like: “Our whole life can’t be play right now. Right now we have two jobs. We have to act around pay cheque jobs, and try to progress the acting a point where we can switch to only that. We have to be focused in order to make that shift.
My inner child doesn’t like listening.
It’s like we’re sitting in a tree house, kicking our feet over the edge and chatting.
She asks: “How did they build this tree house anyway?:
I respond: “Well… it took focus.”
In acting classes, sometimes we do animal work. It’s a body-centric way to enter into a different character.
Using that as inspiration, what animal are you?
Year’s ago I would have said a cat hands down.
What are the qualities of a cat?
They’re fast. They’re lethal. They’re understated. You don’t really notice them. I love their grace and their strength.
But I’ve done some shamanic work – it’s my spiritual pursuit. You journey to the underworld in the company of a guide animal. From that experience, I would say that my animal is actually is a dragon.
That’s cool!! What are the qualities of a dragon?
They have tough skin; scales. Resilient. Their wings are a big thing. Some people think of them like angel wings, but I think of them as being big and strong. They’re capable of lifting me up out of whatever I’m dealing with.
I also think the tail looks like a great weapon. I’m a bit of a warrior. I have a fighter in me.
I also love how magical they are. They can exist in multiple worlds at once. At least mine does.
How do you dream?
I’ve done an incredible amount of day dreaming in my life. I can waste an entire day putting myself in different scenarios. I can see myself in the scenarios I want to have happen. I imagine myself experiencing them. Then I back out and think: “Okay. What is that? Where am I right now? And how do I get there?”
I can see myself acting. I often imagine myself doing it. When I imagine deeply, it’s like I’m having a mystical experience of sorts. When I return to my reality, I write what I experienced on post it notes and stick them to my door. I see those notes every day.
I also journal a lot.
Do you have any success stories you can share from this style of dreaming?
For example, I’m in love with London. My desire to go there kind of just came to me.
My intermediate goal is to get into drama school in England somewhere. When I got myself to London, I spent three weeks there, and did a two-week drama school workshop at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts.
When I got there I thought to myself: “This is exactly what I was picturing.”
It’s coming true in pieces. This is the biggest dream I’ve ever set my heart on.
Before I set out to become an ecologist and work with streams, I first fell in love with the idea by walking along the water. Then I started to dream my way towards it as a goal. But I didn’t really investigate what it took to get into the job I was picturing. I just thought it would magically happen. And it didn’t. I’ve ended up on this sidetrack of paperwork and not really doing the work I wanted to do.
I’m refining that process now. This one is driving me so hard. I have this vision of being in England, and I’m trying to get very specific about it.
It’s interesting because there is no precise way to get into acting. You can prepare and you can train, and you can put yourself in the market, but then all you can do is keep trying. There’s not a path you can map out.
I want to be as precise as I can be with my goal and my vision, but I’ve picked something that I can’t really be very precise with.
Steve Jobs has this great quote about how you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking back.
I love that.
It’s hard because I want to do so many things at once. I want to start working professionally as an actor, but I also want to go to school, and I also want to be a writer.
The hardest one right now is wanting to live in a different country. In London. That one I can’t really figure out because the UK isn’t really letting people in. Not Amercian’s at least. I can get over there on a student VISA, but I can’t get a working VISA as an actor until I’m established as an international talent.
I also keep thinking about how much I’d like to have a partner.
My ex husband are still really good friends. The divorce didn’t hurt me, and I don’t have any hostility around having a relationship. The one with my ex husband actually did work out. It was just done.
I would like to have a partner again, but I haven’t really made it a priority to get into another relationship. I whine about it a lot. I complain a lot. But I really haven’t been inclined to do much else about it.
I used to always fall into relationships. I’m over 50 now and thinking, “is it different now?”
What in your opinion are the qualities that make a great artist?
You become an artist when you fall in love with your art. Before that maybe you’re just dabbling. You become an artist when you can’t not practice your art, whatever it is.
If you were to write a letter to a younger self, what’s the hook you’d start the letter with to make sure they read to the end?
Do you feel like you’re suffocating? Here’s a way that you can breathe.
And what would be the key points in that letter?
To listen to that very small voice that you think is speaking nonsense. Stop and listen to it.
Appreciate who’s around you right now. If I have any regrets, one is not connecting enough with my family when I lived close to them. If I could back, I’d really want to take the time and ‘see’ them.
Do you believe in fate or destiny?
Yes. But I don’t know what form it actually takes, or how set it really is. I sort of believe in a pull or a calling. A mission. I don’t believe in destiny in the way that you’re stuck on this path and you can’t ever get off of it.
I think everybody’s mission is to find out what their mission is. That’s kind of the meta mission. And
What I’m most curious about is understanding how this all fits together. If you’re at 2,000 feet looking down, how does this all fit? What picture are we making? I think we’re all pieces of a mosaic and if we were to step back and look down from a distance, there’d be this bigger thing that we’re all doing but can’t see.
Who are you and what is your identity?
I’m to be discovered.
If I had to pick a description I’d say a story shaman. That’s more of a job than a ‘who am I’, but that’s what I feel I’m called to do in a general way. To be a story mid-wife, and bring them into the world.
Stories from other people or from yourself?
From something beyond. I sort of have this vision that all art and creativity comes from a higher (or at least different) plane, and artist’s are tapping into that channelling it through to our world.
Shamans live in this world and the next world. Their job is to be the bridge between the two.
What books have had the biggest impact on you?
‘Finding your North Star’ by Martha Beck.
That one’s about discovering who you truly are. She has a way of describing the kind of wild change that I was going through. She helped me to realize that I wasn’t actually going crazy.
She went from a wild Phd academic life, to a much softer lifestyle life coaching. She has a blog that’s very funny too.
‘Finding the Element’ by Ken Robinson
He has one of the most watched TED talks ever about how school’s kill creativity.
Hat’s Off – A documentary about Mimi Weddell
Mimi started acting at 65, and acted until she was 90. She died at 97.
One of the directors she worked with said that anyone who thought they couldn’t work with her didn’t realize what a light she brought to the set. This woman just blossomed into what she was supposed to do.
My first reaction when I watched it was ‘YES!’ She was 15 years older than me. There’s still a chance.
Connect with Diana
On Diana’s blog Sideways into Crazy, she shares her own journey into the creative path, and invites others who have realized that their mainstream job/life/expectations does not feed their soul. “If you feel like you have to furl your “Freak” flag to keep living the life you currently have, this is the place for you. If you are facing radical change in your life, or discovering a dream that is so big it terrifies you, this is the place for you.”
Check it out here: www.sidewaysintocrazy.com
Latest posts by Creative Life Interview (see all)
- “It’s a pins and needles feeling… only it’s my heart” — a conversation with Diana Carson-Walker - January 21, 2016
- “It will get better in time. Don’t give up on your dreams, because you’ll go far if you believe in yourself” – a conversation with Jenny Story - November 10, 2015
- “There’s this connection that happens when you write something you want down, and make it tangible in the world” – a conversation with Daniel Scherl - November 3, 2015