I have never been one to believe in “signs”. The whole saying everything happens for a reason is just complete shit if you ask me. I have always believed that we have control over majority of the things that happen in life and the way we deal with those. It might be blunt,but really do be like that sometimes.
There only has been one circumstance in my life that I have truly taken a step back.
It all started in the dreadful years of high school. Junior year especially, that awkward in between stage where you keep getting asked what you want to do with your life and then suddenly remember that you are only 17 and people are asking you to decide that. You think that question goes away after you pick a school and career path, but sadly that big question still runs through my mind constantly.
I made the decision to go the creative career path pretty early in my high school years. Being a part of advanced studio art classes since freshman year, I always had passion for the arts. The trick was to turn it into a practical lifestyle (again, I still have no idea what I am doing most times). However, an art degree was decided, and the school was the million-dollar question.
Believe it or not, Columbia College Chicago (where I attend now) was my last choice. I mean dead last. Throughout high school I strived to get into the top art schools in New York City, Pratt Institute of Art and Parsons School of Design. Worked my butt off all through high school creating pieces and showing my work for exposure. The hard work did pay off, I got accepted to all the colleges I applied to. I was beyond excited. Booked a plane ticket to New York City with my mom and was ready to see where I was going to start my life.
We arrive in the airport and I immediately felt like a little girl in a candy shop. Eyes lighting up and an uncontrollable soft smile permanently residing on my face as the uber driver drove us to our hotel in Brooklyn. This was where my life was going to start. This was it. Exploring out to a place in Dumbo for pizza that night, the trip to my new home was off to a wonderful start. Two college tours the next day and a set lunch meeting with the volleyball coach from Pratt, it was finally all coming together.
Parsons was first. Right on 5th avenue, the buildings alone were spectacular. The resources were fantastic, but something seemed off. I felt no connection. With all that hype, it felt like I walked into a glass wall thinking it wasn’t there. Needless to say, my mom and I dipped out of the tour half way through and went to HU kitchen to eat for lunch (which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND).
Feeling down, my mom assured me that I have to go with my gut feeling. So immediately, my mind told me I was going to Pratt (typical Ally right there). The whole time thinking I liked Pratt better before even seeing it.
The Pratt tour came and the volleyball coach gave us a private tour of the campus, I was adamant that I would declare my acceptance to Pratt and join his team. Volleyball was a huge part of my life since 5th grade, this seemed like the easy option. However, for some reason I knew choosing the school based on that was just playing it safe. Let’s be honest, I am not going pro. So, what am I going to do by playing competitive volleyball rather than putting all that time and effort into my art and the start of my creative career? Exactly.
Needless to say, my mom and I went back to the hotel before dinner. I sat on the bed just starring at the ceiling, I felt lost. I knew what I wanted but had no idea how to get there. A constant knot in my stomach decided to join me as I lie on my back in distress. My mom told me to not check Columbia off my list just yet, we will schedule a tour when we get back and reweigh our options. Stubborn like usual, I reluctantly agreed.
The best part of the Columbia tour, was skipping school. With a pained look on my face as we drove down to the city, I already decided that I was not going to like it. My mom (what a saint she is for putting up with me), kept telling me to have an open mind and that I will know if I can see myself there, just to be patient. Me? Patient? Ha.
Going off on a little side story here.
My love for photography began in high school. I picked up a camera for the first time as we were traveling aboard and loved absolutely everything about it. After we returned, my mom told me to email the pictures I took to my Great Uncle Steve. Living in North Carolina, we became pen pals just like that. Emailing back and forth for the next three years. I would send him my new projects and he would send me his. At the end of my sophomore year, he told me to expect a package soon. Confused, thinking it was just another class Uncle Steve gag gifts he sends to my papa, I just played along.
I got home from volleyball practice one night to a box that could fit a dishwasher. Inside was the camera I still use to this day. Along with several different lens, filters, compact flashes, and self-typed and put together binders of instructions on how to use each of the things inside. I was beside myself. This was the exact moment that I was physically holding the thing that can control and help create my future.
My Great Uncle was an incredible man. Veteran of the Vietnam War and the wittiest person you would ever meet, his impact on my life, including others was remarkable.
He would send me videos of himself explaining different things and as he found things that he did not use anymore he would send them my way. He always said “you will have more use for this than I will”.
One of the last packages I received was a piece of art work from an artist he went to grade school with, Darryll Schiff. It was this beautiful colorful signed piece of work that he gifted me.
Unfortunately, fighting in the Vietnam War affected his life in ways I could not imagine. My Uncle Steve took his life in 2016.
To this day I keep a journal of all the emails we sent back and forth to each other. I continue to be inspired everyday by his words and the guidance he provided me. He was not just a Great Uncle, but a great man.
Looping back to the car ride, I still have a resting face that clearly shows how enthused I am to visit Columbia. We arrive in the parking garage of 777 South State Street and park on the highest level.
I open up the car door and there it is.
Darryll Schiff’s exact photograph that my uncle has sent to me right before he passed.
You know those times where you feel something physically and emotionally at the same time? That feeling does not come often for me. But standing there outside on Columbia’s campus, in a random parking garage, that was how I was welcomed. Tingles ran up my spine and I could feel them wrap around to make my heart sink a little lower that day.
Needless to say, that day only got better. The campus was great, and I finally felt like I could see myself kickstarting my future at Columbia.
Again, I have never felt like the universe tells me signs. But something like that, was out of my hands. It was a feeling that I can never recreate.
He remains to be such an influential person in not only my creative career, but just who I am as a person.
Here are two of the most resonating things he said to me.
“Don’t be afraid to go places where others avoid, look for the obscure.
Don’t let “rules” limit you. Let your heart guide your eye on life and always look for the humanism in your subjects. Even the bleakest image can tell an amazing story.”
As a continuing reminder and sincere dedication to him, I teamed up with CaseApp to customize my own laptop skin with one of my favorite quotes.
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