Wise Women Wednesday: Gema Karolina Lane

Nyhavn neighborhood in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Nyhavn neighborhood in Copenhagen, Denmark.

It's Wise Women Wednesday, each week I interview a woman that I believe is inspiring, living abundantly and following her passions.  These are all women who live a life of abundance and bring creativity into the world.

Q.Who are you? What is your background?
A. My name is Gema Karolina Lane. I was born in a small town called Esteli, in the northern mountains of Nicaragua during the Nicaraguan Revolution. My mother was a nurse and my father -- a Sandinista -- fighting against the dictatorship. My parents had a passionate relationship in the midst of a tumultuous political upheaval. My mother was quite a progressive and fiercely independent woman. She named me Gema after praying to the, then popular, Catholic Santa Gemma Galgani to give her a quick birth, which she granted. She named me Karolina after the woman my father had an affair with to forever remind him of his impropriety. My mother fled Nicaragua with her mother and a nine-month-old infant to live in Guatemala City.  In 1989, we immigrated to the US to be reunited with my mother’s brothers.

I spent my formative years in North Carolina. I started out as an undergraduate interested in art history and literature at Salem College, an all women's private school in Winston-Salem. Not fully satisfied with a small, all women’s college, I transferred to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where I eventually majored in Political Science and returned a year later to complete a Masters in Public Affairs.

I then began an interesting and unplanned career working with nonprofits that has spanned from immigration advocacy to cancer survivorship and has taken me from Austin, Texas to now Washington, DC. I have nurtured my creative interests sparingly throughout my career. In the last several years I have focused on traveling, exploring my creative intuition, and giving myself permission to experiment.

Q.What is your work?
A. I work with cancer survivorship research projects. My creative work has included blogging, painting, photography, styling, and renovating our Austin condo. Currently, I’m learning the history of architecture through HarvardEdX. You can take free classes on just about any subject imaginable. I’m taking one called The Architectural Imagination. I’ve also been researching mid-century architects like Phillip Johnson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and George Nelson as well as sustainable designs and practices in South America and Scandinavia.

I see an opportunity to use the built environment as a tool or facilitator to improve quality of life, health, and wellness.

Q. What is one project you are excited to be working on right now?
A. I am working on my own studio space. I feel like I’ve been carrying around so many ideas, and I just need to lay them down somewhere and let them take root. I want to be the one who physically creates my space, so I’ve been painting, sketching, and building the actual workspace. I found an amazing Turkish Kilim rug from RUH, which has amazing corals and blues to help set a desert-like mood. A dear friend gifted me an old Japanese sewing machine, which I plan to use in my new work. I’m inspired by Donald Judd and Georgia O'Keeffe's studio spaces and their postmodern philosophy. I’ve visited Judd’s work in Marfa, Texas and can’t wait to go visit his space in SOHO. There’s also a fascinating exhibit titled, Georgia O’keefe: Living Modern  in Brooklyn right now, featuring her clothing and lifestyle and how she meticulously crafted her public persona. I believe it’ll be in North Carolina soon!  I’ve been dreaming of a space where I can escape to – this is going to sound insane but I want to have a love affair with my work. Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this for creative types. I want to be physically exhausted from creating and I want to surreptitiously sneak away to my favorite space so I can have time to just be.

Favorite items going into the new work space.

Favorite items going into the new work space.

Q. What is one thing you've done recently that's scared you and took courage, but you're glad you did?
A. Moving cross-country to Austin was scary but so worth it! Moving back east was less scary, but I had an amazing support system that made it all possible. And honestly, everything in life is kind of scary. There is no real right or wrong, but eventually, we are left with the consequences of our decisions. I try to keep O’Keeffe’s quote in mind, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Q. What is the work you most want to be doing and are you doing it?  If not why not what's stopping you?
A.This is a tough question because there is so much that I want to be doing. I really want to spend my time contemplating my ideas and letting them lead me. For example, I want to take some significant time off to travel throughout South America and meet local people and speak only in my native language, learn from local artisans about their processes, explore and understand architecture, and connect with my roots again.

Additionally, I want to build my next home using sustainable design methods, and I also have several budding business ideas.

Like most women, I am constantly evaluating where I am and where I want to be. In many ways, I am doing what I want to be doing, which is traveling and freely exploring my interests. My husband and I just returned from a trip to Copenhagen. The Danish attention to craftsmanship, design, style, and functionality is exquisite.  I returned energized to pursue my creative aspirations and to surround myself with people who are just as eager to disrupt the status quo in the hope of engaging with something more meaningful.

The architecture and design in Copenhagen is singular.

The architecture and design in Copenhagen is singular.

Q.What would you tell your high school or college self?
A. Absolutely nothing! Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the experiences that have led me to where I am today.

Q. What's one piece of advice or motto you love and use in your daily life that you would like to share with my sweet readers?
A. I am constantly telling myself to take risks and to embrace challenges and failures. I love Mary Oliver’s poems because they are moving and authentic. One of my favorites, which lives on my fridge, is I Go Down to the Shore;” it’s a piece that inspires you to just get your ass going each day. 

Q. What keeps you creating when you don't feel like it?
A. I try to build in time to relax and peruse other artists’ work or visit a museum. I’m also quite obsessed with Debbie Millman’s podcast, Design Matters, often listening to the same episode twice, so I can write down quotes, take notes, and follow-up on suggested readings.  Having a space that is truly your own is crucial to creating, which is one of the reasons I’m working on an actual studio space.

DC has incredible architecture and so many (free!) museums. I visited the National Cathedral recently and the architectural details are just amazing. 

DC has incredible architecture and so many (free!) museums. I visited the National Cathedral recently and the architectural details are just amazing. 

Q. Anything else you'd like to share?
A. Artist, Rochelle Udell, comments that titles do more to confine than define creative possibilities in a person. We are all more than just daughters, mothers, wives, friends or whatever job title. A dear friend of mine also echoed this sentiment when she said that we are so much more than any given role or position we hold, and that too has stayed with me. Particularly as women get older, we become invisible in our society.  Of course, there is now a unity of women refusing to allow our stories and faces to become invisible. What makes us authentic is being honest with ourselves and others. Our authenticity is validated through our stories, our truths, and our hopes.

Q. What's your favorite yoga pose?
A. Plow pose feels so good on the back!

Q. How do you live a life of abundance?
A. My spirituality and my friends keep me grounded. Additionally, I have a humble family, supportive spouse, and a pillar of wisdom in my mother. And of course, our beagle, Lincoln, is also all we need to fill our hearts with joy.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We can’t wait to explore South America! 

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We can’t wait to explore South America!