• m.decapua

Like many other 20-somethings who haven’t given up on Facebook yet, I follow the photojournalism project “Humans of New York.” The interviews -- or monologues, really -- that accompany these portraits offer beautiful windows into strangers’ lives, the good and the bad. It is striking to me that each subject truly has a story to tell. How does each post capture such a rich character? We can certainly credit Brandon Stanton, the man behind the lens, for his exceptional interviewing skills. But recently, it got me thinking.


You'd sooner find me here, with my parents' dog, than NYC these days.

I grew up in suburban Connecticut, close enough to “The City” that I could call it that. I tried to make a habit of going there when I was in high school, old enough to take the train without parental supervision. Every time I walked through Manhattan, Williamsburg, or wherever, I imagined getting stopped and included in HONY. Does he even shoot people who are just visiting? But I so wasn’t a tourist… (eye roll here). It was always about the image, though. Like it was a street style blog more than anything. What would the Internet think if they saw me like this?


I’ve been pretty low since graduation. It’s easy after high school -- a brief summer break and you’re right back in a classroom. Nobody tells you that college graduation spits you into an unstructured hell of free time and job applications. Socially, emotionally, and intellectually, I’ve done little besides slowly decay into my living room furniture. I worked full-time for a while, but it was retail, and I spent an excruciating three and a half months in between that and landing what seems like a dream job. Of course, unemployment sucked. But in all that time, practically a year, I only read two books. I opened Unity once. I wrote three-quarters of a blog post. You get the picture. One gray afternoon in January it all came crashing in on me as I sobbed on my couch after reading a HONY post. I was so happy for the woman in the picture, whoever it was. So proud of her for what she had overcome. In the comments section, thousands of people were offering their support, financial or otherwise. And I, lonely and jobless and feeling invisible, couldn’t help but cry about all of it.


You would think that’d be a one in a million post, to serve such an outpouring of compassion. But it isn’t. It’s every single one. Everyone is curing cancer. Or just lost someone they love to cancer. Everyone is struggling, but keeping the faith, or they finally reached what they’ve been struggling for all along. Everyone is trying to make a better life for their children, or repay those who have helped them. Every single subject paints a vignette of the human condition whether they know it or not. It can’t just be “right place, right time” -- Brandon knows that everyone has a story to tell, he just might need to dig for it. So I imagined him digging.


Instead of picturing the way this particular lipstick would look photographed in July, in harsh sun, in the Bronx, I was caught off guard, interviewed in my cold Vermont apartment. I wore a blanket, and days-old mascara collected in the creases around my eyes. For some reason, I recounted to him my senior year.


I made some incredibly close friends on my semester abroad, capping off my junior year at Champlain in Montreal. I think the harsh winter makes friendships stronger. You binge drink together every couple of nights, because you can, and because buying in bulk means you rarely have to face the cold to have fun. And in the meantime, there are weekend trips and the trauma bonding that comes with our fine institution’s game program. Honestly, I recommend it to everyone. The Montreal part. The game program.. You’re usually already in or out.


When we got back to the main campus three months later, a group of these incredibly close friends approached me to make a game together. It was the most fun -- chaotic fun -- I’ve ever had. I remember working in the computer labs during crunch time and walking home with my teammate after sunrise. We won some awards for the game, and showcased it at PAX last year. It was honestly surreal, to achieve one of my long-standing career goals while still in college. The other narrative designer on my team gave me our exhibitor pass at graduation, and I get choked up when I think about it.


Our very professional Halloween photo, taken in 2017, before the team grew. These are some of the most talented people I know.

We gained a surprising amount of traction in a short time, but I worked with an incredibly talented group.The game was more or less finished by graduation, but not quite publishable. My team dispersed, but we outlined a plan to get the game on Steam by the end of the summer. It didn’t happen. We never lost touch as friends, but we don’t talk about it. It wasn’t anyone’s fault -- we all moved on to more pressing things. I haven’t touched the project since May, either. But some of us were banking on this. And I feel like I missed my shot.


That’s where I would have gazed off into the New York City skyline, but instead stared blankly past the cling film on my windows. That’s the line to leave it on, though. An unspeakable number of strangers would assure me that I didn’t miss my shot, that “let me publish it for you!” and “here’s seven million dollars!”


But Brandon was not in my living room, recording me from my desk chair. I had the story to tell, but no one to tell it to. If the Internet saw me like this, they would not be seeing me for my cool shoes or the way I cut my hair, at least, not entirely. They might see their own lives reflected in the way depression grips mine. Or they would simply see highs and lows, hopes and fears, in a moment of their time on a feed.


Luckily, the Internet will not see me like this. Or, not The Internet(™), just my people, because I have also failed entirely to market or maintain my site this year. But if you’re wondering what post-grad life has been like for me, here you go. I’m glad to be working in games again -- it came with the first signs of springtime, and the symbolism is not lost on me. I’m going to make that a separate post, though. Eventually.



For many artists, content can be inspired or prompted by many internal and external factors. Generally, though, art is created following a moment of emotional charge. Much of my art, therefore, is generated as a response to deep-seated trauma. Artists who have experienced trauma often use these experiences to inform their work. My experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are a large part of my body of work, and PTSD as well as intergenerational trauma have deep ties to contemporary art.


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is categorized under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, as a trauma- and stressor-related disorder. It occurs when a patient “was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence” (Diagnostic). Symptoms of this disorder include persistent psychological effects, such as depersonalization and flashbacks, as well as physical effects such as chronic nausea and increased startle response. With this disorder, the sympathetic nervous system gets “stuck” in the fight-flight-or-freeze response for a prolonged period of time, causing “depletion and disruption of the normal functions of our system” (Davis).


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder refers to acute, severe instances of trauma that continue to affect patients for a prolonged period of time. However, many individuals experience traumatic events in their lives without crossing the “threshold” of PTSD. Trauma, simply put, “occurs when we reach a point where we can’t cope” (Davis). Trauma can shift an individual’s perceptions and beliefs about safety, trust, and intimacy, whether subtly or severely, for any amount of time (Baldwin).



The PTSD diagnosis is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of trauma. Some researchers consider it to be an “arbitrary boundary which almost says that the truly traumatized people are on one side and the rest of us are on the other” (Davis). According to one researcher, this boundary should not exist, as “trauma is carried within us all in varying degrees. Each of us is on a sliding scale that goes all the way up to and past the line that tips a person to being diagnosed with PTSD” (Davis). Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, so is there any indicator as to whether a trauma victim will develop the disorder?


Many psychologists say yes. Various factors, from the size of the hippocampus to genetic indicators of cortisol levels, may have an impact on a person’s response to traumatic experiences (Tucker). In one study, it was found that a large percentage of women who endured sexual abuse had mothers who were also victims (Rose). In addition, folks who experience trauma as a child, especially repeated trauma, are more likely to develop PTSD as a result of a trauma experienced as an adult (Baldwin).


One of these indicators is of particular interest to me -- inherited, or intergenerational, trauma. It is a well-documented theory that trauma responses can be passed down through up to three generations, possibly more (Castelloe). According to one researcher, “psychic legacies are often passed on through unconscious cues or affective messages that flow between child and adult” (Castelloe). Legacies of cultural groups predispose many for PTSD -- for example, the history of oppression of Jewish people leads some Jews to feel trauma as relayed through cultural artifacts and artwork. Through another lens, the descendent of a Holocaust survivor may feel a physiological response to their grandparents’ unresolved trauma.


Through collective history, trauma can be transmitted within cultures. Through DNA, it can be transmitted within families. In my particular instance, for example, I may or may not be predisposed to PTSD due to my culture (I am from a highly privileged cultural group, but face gendered violence as a woman). It is very likely, though, that I am predisposed to PTSD due to my grandfather’s traumatic experiences in World War II and his failure to process this trauma properly.



Processing trauma is imperative to surviving with Post-Traumatic Stress. It is no surprise, then, that many PTSD patients express their pain through art. Artistic endeavors, from writing to painting, provide an outlet for reflection and resolution of trauma. Through creativity, patients have the freedom to explore their psyche and relieve stress. Art therapy is a very effective treatment path for some PTSD patients.


According to a Greek artist and trauma survivor, Dumith Kulasekara, contemporary art can represent traumatic experiences in a variety of ways, but there are a few common themes. In their article in the Athens Journal of Humanities and Arts, they explain: “Sometimes it has to do with the content or the subjects of the works in which trauma could be both directly and indirectly present. Sometimes it has to do with the history and the background or the context of the works that could exist as underlying reasons for the origin of those works” (Kulasekara 35). What this means is that the traumatized artist may sometimes intentionally depict their trauma in the work, while other times the work may simply be inspired or informed by the trauma.


In terms of content, themes in depicting trauma include notable absences, repetition, and use of the human form in unconventional ways, usually used to create tension and discomfort for the audience. Distorting the human body, in physicality or in concept, “produces a sense of trauma” (Kulasekara 43), as does leaving prominent holes or absences. In addition, psychic closeness “is able to create a sense of confrontation to the viewer with the thing that is indescribable, creating a sense of trauma” (Kulasekara 47).


Sometimes, an artist will intentionally approach a piece with the goal of processing trauma, as in art therapy. This trauma may be personal or cultural. In Kulasekara’s article, for instance, work influenced by gender-based violence is explored. These means of processing widespread trauma adds to the discourse regarding that trauma in the modern art world (Kulasekara 50).



Works influenced by cultural trauma can sometimes depict the trauma, as a means of coping or adding to discourse. This can be seen in Kiki Smith’s “Tale” -- see above. This sculpture expresses trauma metaphorically, but shows it directly to the audience. She does this to make a very explicit statement about the intergenerational trauma experienced by women as a marginalized group. In contrast, other works influenced by trauma may not depict the traumatic experience or the abstract idea of trauma, but may be created by an individual who is influenced by their traumatic experience. This includes the work of Alex Janvier, a First Nations painter from Canada. He creates mostly abstract art, but sometimes depicts life as a First Nations student who was subjected to abuse in residential schools. See the image below for one of the less abstract pieces by Janvier, “Okanda.”


According to the artist statement on Janvier’s website, he is “a First Nations person emerging from a history of oppression and many struggles for cultural empowerment. Janvier paints both the challenges and celebrations that he has encountered in his lifetime.” His approach to processing trauma through art is different from the one taken by Kiki Smith, but both have precedent in contemporary art. Both speak to cultural and intergenerational trauma, though they do so in different ways.



When trauma is transmitted between communities and families, the challenge of processing the trauma is as well. As noted in “How Trauma is Carried Across Generations,” “The next generation must grapple with the trauma, find ways of representing it and spare transmitting the experience of hell back to one's parents. A main task of transmission is to resist disassociating from the family heritage and "bring its full, tragic story into social discourse."” Here, Molly Castelloe, PhD, is quoting Gerard Fromm’s book Lost in Transmission: Stories of Trauma Across Generations. These stories can be brought into social discourse through art.


As an artist with PTSD, I use my creative work to process my trauma. However, it is rarely something I do consciously. My audiences may look at my work and see me as a product of cultural trauma due to gendered violence, but the concept of trauma is rarely depicted directly, whether literally or in metaphor. Understanding the scientific and physiological impacts of trauma, as well as the factors that may have made me more likely to experience PTSD, will inform my work going forward. The story of my trauma, both cultural and personal, deserves to be told, and I deserve to free myself and the next generation from my trauma.


Works Cited

Baldwin, David. “About Trauma.” Trauma Information Pages,

www.trauma-pages.com/trauma.php.

Castelloe, Molly S. “How Trauma Is Carried Across Generations.” Psychology Today, Sussex

Publishers, 28 May 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-me-in-we/201205/how-trauma-is-carried-across-generations.

Davis, Jonathan. “Can Trauma Be Passed on through Our DNA?” UPLIFT, 1 Sept. 2017,

upliftconnect.com/intergenerational-trauma/.

Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders : DSM-5. Arlington, VA :American

Psychiatric Publishing, 2013. Print.

Janvier, Alex. “About the Artist.” Alex Janvier, www.alexjanvier.com/aa1.html.

Kulasakara, Dumith. “Representation of Trauma in Contemporary Arts.” Athens Journal of

Humanities and Arts, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 34–59.

Rose, LindaJoy. “Generational Trauma: How We Can Heal Our Selves Through Our

Ancestors.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 4 July 2017,

www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/generational-trauma-how-we-can-heal-our-selves-through_us_595ba894e4b0c85b96c66482.

Tucker, Patrick. “Predicting PTSD.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 13 Aug. 2014,

www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/predicting-ptsd/376020/.

  • m.decapua

I am writing this down so I can will it into existence. I am writing this down because, for the first time in my life, I have dreams of a future, and those dreams are within my reach. I am writing this down because the power to live this future exists somewhere inside of me, and if I put these words on paper, some cosmic force will hold me accountable.


So here I am, at just shy of 22 years old, having very recently discovered that maybe a lifetime is worth experiencing. Graduation is in a few months, and with my shiny new BFA I will be thrust into the world outside of Champlain College. I’ll be sticky with the amniotic goop of academia and skinned at the knees from dragging myself across the finish line.

And then what?


Part of me wants to stay in school. I’ve toyed with the idea of going directly into graduate studies, furthering my specialization in poetry through an MFA in Creative Writing. I could move out West and try to grow new roots in Vancouver or Seattle, some rainy city on the coast, and work a menial job while studying for a few more years. In my dream life, I live there. It’s not a matter of “if,” but a matter of “when.” And I don’t have the faintest idea when that “when” is going to be.


I don’t think that I’m ready to leave Burlington. When I think about my relationship to this town, I see something unfinished, like a letter never sent. I have loved my time here, but there is so much that I have left to do. I am only slowly learning how to engage with people, and I want to see these relationships through. I want to spend time in Burlington that isn’t confined into a strict schedule of work and school. Exploration hasn’t been high on my list of priorities, and I know that Burlington is rich with opportunities to do so. I will likely spend another year or two here, if I don’t get sucked in like most naturalized Vermonters do. I recently got an exciting and interesting job working with Medical Marijuana patients at a dispensary, so I will be able to sustain myself financially (and intellectually -- the cannabis industry is fascinating in the current socio-political landscape) for some time.


This is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. My job is rewarding, but it’s a job, not a career. When you boil off the excess, it’s still just retail. And while I will cherish my time there, a few years down the line I will itch for a change. By then I hope I am ready to leave New England. Not for good -- especially while I still have my parents. One day I’ll come back to Burlington, maybe as an old lady. Maybe as a jaded 30 year old. Who knows, but I’ll be back.


I came to Vermont to learn how to make video games. After three and a half years here, I can say that I have done exactly that. Maybe not much else, but I did get that accomplished. I went from having never programmed in my life to being able to competently design and build my own games. These days I am a narrative designer and creative director for a Champlain College Game Studio senior production team. I am working very closely with this team to create a meaningful, story driven interactive experience. My own capstone project will be a book of original poems with an accompanying game. This project is one of my first examples of what I really want to do with my life, and my time as an artist.


The game that I am making has few rules, and is largely exploration based. The player can discover the poems from the book, assembling them with greater context and narrative understanding. It will be a different sort of video game, with hardly any pressure at all to perform well. The story will follow the pace of the player. In doing so, I will create a multimedia art piece about my journey with PTSD. Using multiple mediums to develop a deep sense of place and emotional vulnerability is my ideal artistic expression. I want to immerse my audiences in a feeling and a moment, and in doing this, I will expose them to discourse surrounding trauma, gender and sexuality, and intersectional and environmental justice.


I understand that having the freedom to create such art is a privilege, and that I cannot expect to be doing it for a living. If I want to create highly political art games, I will need to do something else to pay the bills. If all goes well, that something else will be narrative design at a well-known game studio. A triple-A studio in the Seattle area, such as Nintendo of America or Bungie, or tabletop game pioneers Wizards of the Coast, would be a dream job for me.


Unfortunately, I may not be a good fit for a studio like that. In the male-dominated gaming industry, women do not hold many creative positions. Industry averages are around 7-15% women, and these statistics include clerical workers like secretaries and HR representatives. In addition to these bleak rates of employment, women face severe sexual harassment in many major game studios. The “boys club” effect in most STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) industries prevents women from pursuing these careers, and perpetuates the norms of sexual harassment in these workplaces.


I am not the kind of person who will tolerate overt or systemic discrimination or harassment at my place of work. Even if I were not directly affected by gender based violence, I would still have a moral issue with representing such an organization. This makes finding a good match in a game studio a challenge, involving much more effort than I have time or energy to exert. Because of this, I have considered opening my own game studio/publishing house.


This is, as some would call it, a pipe dream. But it is a risk that I may one day take, if I find myself in the correct circumstances to do so. A mentor of mine recently reminded me that “nothing happens by accident,” so if I want to find the correct circumstances to open my own studio, I have to create them. And I will.


My studio would be more than a game studio -- it would be a creative space. Combining the concepts of a game studio, in which many people are working together toward a team goal and creating a single product, and an art studio, in which individuals pay for the space and resources to create their own products, would make my establishment unique. Creatives on the game development team would work in a collaborative space with creatives from the greater community, fostering art in all media.


As a media publishing house, my organization would seek to publish innovative written work and art-focused games. There is not a large market for art games right now, especially not for experiences that are art first and game second. I would like to develop this market. By seeking out the voices of marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQ community, I will use games to prompt social change, and by focusing on the audience experience, I will highlight games as an artistic medium. I will be able to bring together my main values as an artist: immersion, intersection, and inclusivity, and I might just be able to pay the bills while I do it.


I don’t know where my timeline falls exactly, but I know where I am going. Whether my studio is in the suburbs of Massachusetts (down the street from my best friend) back home in Connecticut (a bus ride away from my parents), in the heart of Seattle, or Burlington, or somewhere I’ve never been before, some things in this dream are constant. My studio serves good coffee, and I will come home every evening to Kieran, my partner, and all nineteen of our foster dogs.


Nineteen is a bit much, but I highly doubt there will be less than three dogs in our home at any given time, after we both establish career paths. Rather than children, I will be raising rescue dogs. My heart sings when I remember that I have a partner who wants the same. He is the foundation of this dream. Yes, this dream, my dream about myself and what I will one day achieve, is based around him. Not because love is all-important and all-powerful, but because he is the one who showed me that my lifetime might be worth seeing through to the end.


The chapters of my life thus far are something like this: “Fairies and Fiction,” “Early Depression,” “Trauma,” and “Burlington: Part One.” The Burlington chapter is very quickly nearing its end, but the remaining pages are blank. Following this chapter is a stack of notebooks, as there isn’t even a first draft yet. I don’t know where the chapters “Grad School” and “Vancouver” live, and I haven’t decided if I want to do an online degree, or get another degree at all. I have an outline for the “Studio Manager” chapter, but I know that “Business Training” probably should come before. Poetry publications will appear like footnotes, not an afterthought, but a constant, small reminder.

I’ll shuffle the loose pages around some more. I have time to write this all down.


contact

       doubledogdev@mdecapua.com |  linkedin.com/in/mdecapua

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