Before the end of summer, I received a letter from an editorial at CanvasRebel magazine to interview me a second time. The CanvasRebel series was designed to go beyond the personal story covered last time and to highlight more attention to the artists and creatives in the community. Last year, their team contacted me for an interview featured in VoyageAustin. So I was delighted to partake in another interview and hope you all enjoy the read.
Alright, Nicolette thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Are you happier as a creative? Do you sometimes think about what it would be like to just have a regular job? Can you talk to us about how you think through these emotions?
Yes, I’m happy to be an artist. Do I wish the path were (financially) easier for artists? Yes, of course. I’m an underground artist. Not a celebrity or an icon. Outside corporate, state, publishing, or PR gigs– I’ve worked many “regular” jobs for income: a hotel, a jewelry store, a country club, bars, restaurants, fine dining, cafes, and the list goes on and on. So yeah, I’ve wished that the road was shorter and more manageable for most artists to make a living based on their creative talents. I wish it were easier for artists to thrive in the corporate world and enjoy the same financial security as someone in tech or sales. Some people get lucky with connections or Fate–but most of us have to struggle along the way and work harder to achieve financial goals. Most artists have to invest a lot of time in a series of successes, setbacks and mistakes. And the struggle or the wait isn’t always fun; it can be scary and discouraging. But in the end, hard work always pays off through the ups and downs. So long as you keep going, even when you fail. And learn from each mistake. It’s O.K. to get jaded, but don’t give up. Focus on the positive and rekindle the spark, the light, the drive, and the passion to carry on.
Emotionally, I feel blessed and fulfilled with diverse artistic talents. Thankfully, I discovered my purpose in life early on. The arts help(ed) me express my voice and identity, which gave me self-confidence and self-empowerment. Art is transcendental and can heal us, give us a safe place to display emotions and create magic in what can be a melancholy world. I would be too repressed and lost without writing, singing, and dancing to my love of music. Without art, without the freedom of imagination or daydreaming, I would be a tormented spirit. Therefore, art is essential to me, like sleep, water, nutrients, fitness, money and oxygen.
Nicolette, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
My professional writing career began in 2005 at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). I joined the District, an award-winning student newspaper, and started to get published in my undergraduate program. The Georgia College Press Association Conference awarded an article I wrote for District newspaper 2nd place for Best News Article – Objective Reporting. I was also the first SCAD student ever selected to serve as an Editorial Intern at Savannah Magazine. After graduation, I left Georgia to begin an internship with the Editorial department at Texas Monthly magazine in ATX. Then I was hired as a contract employee to work in their Custom Publishing department for the Texas Tour & Meeting Guide Magazine. I wrote three stories for the Texas Monthly website, which was exciting!
SCAD and Texas Monthly are the launchpads of my professional journey as a writer. First, however, I began my artistic journey in performing arts, tracing back to pre-k to college. Born and raised in Texas and NYC—I’m an artist: writer, dancer, vocalist, thespian & (amateur) photographer. I’ve done a little modeling, too, and was accepted by Barbizon Modeling in the 1990s but declined their offer. As a little girl, I was fortunate to be exposed to a colorful variety of music, artwork, and cultures. A third-generation American, I’m a Latina, Lebanese girl that has always adored theatre arts, dance and music. So, it began with theatre, music/voice classes, choir, and endless dance lessons, year after year. I tried the piano, too, but enjoyed singing and dancing far more than sitting still in one place. Although, I wish I had mastered at least one instrument. Initially, I was accepted to SCAD to study Performing Arts. Halfway through my sophomore year, I switched my major to Writing. I went from a mediocre GPA to qualifying for the Dean’s List five quarters in a row. It showed on paper how much I loved writing! Which was interesting since I am dyslexic.
Internationally published in the United States and Europe, I’ve obtained 110+ publications thus far. For 17 years, I’ve interviewed an extensive list of talent and collaborated with companies, directors, and PR teams from The Hollywood Reporter, National Geographic Channel, Prevention Magazine, HBO Films, SXSW, The David Lynch Foundation, Cine Las Americas, The University of Texas at Austin and more. Presently, my portfolio entails 12 national awards or scholarships, including both individual and group projects. Obtaining two degrees from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), I earned a Master of Arts degree in Arts Administration & a B.F.A. in Writing.
But yeah, I’ve loved performing arts and playing sports for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I was always torn between the arts and athletics. I would bounce back and forth between my two greatest loves. I played many sports, but swimming, volleyball, and dance were my favorites! My first swim team in Kindergarten was the Shavano Sharks, then West Austin Athletics, until my Master’s swim team in college at St. Stephen’s. When I finally had to choose in college, I chose the arts. A decision I do not regret; alas, it was one of the most challenging choices of my young adult life. I am still an athlete—that energy in my heart will never die. But art heals me and gives me a purpose in a way sports cannot. However, dance is a sport, too, not just a form of art. As an adult, I took belly dancing classes with Stacey Lizette and still love to dance with my finger cymbals!
It’s been a wild adventure since I devoted my heart to the arts. One of the most incredible moments of my career was in 2010 when my editors at WideWorld Magazine in London, UK, commissioned me to interview a photographer for National Geographic and a sponsored athlete for The North Face, Jimmy Chin. They flew me to Washington, DC, where I interviewed Chin before attending a banquet at National Geographic headquarters in his honor. In 2019, he won an Oscar for his Documentary, “Free Solo.” It’s amazing! This interview made me internationally published in the US and Europe, a massive step in my career. Plus, I’ve adored Nat Geo since childhood, and this was a dream come true. Mr. Chin was also very kind to me, and I remember that kindness because I was so new to the game and trying not to look or sound like a rookie. Another great day was when I got to interview Greta Gerwig on the red carpet at the Austin Film Festival about her “Lady Bird” film debut. The story was published in The Hollywood Reporter and IMDb.com. I could keep going with happy memories from freelance writing!
In hindsight, my career is diverse and transcends many industries, but the end goal is the arts. Customer service and communications are another big focus in my career as I’ve worked for companies like Nordstrom, Hotel Van Zandt (Kimpton/IHG) and Kendra Scott. I love to transcend industries and learn new skills like event planning, sales, marketing, design, and promotional publicity. I’m a great assistant, too, as I’m very organized and efficient. Alas, some companies see my desire for knowledge and change as flighty, like a butterfly, but I choose to see it: I’m adaptable to environments. I’m intelligent and skilled. And I bring excellence, kindness, and intellect to anything I set my mind to.
Lastly, I enjoy all forms of writing, but my favorite writing genres to create entail arts & entertainment, literary journalism, travel, magical realism, and nonfiction. I’m eager to rekindle my spot on stage or behind the camera! Lately, I’ve been recording music. But I have a lot of goals to achieve in the next ten years, personally and professionally. I’ve been doodling costume ideas for my voice and dance routines. Due to the pandemic and personal reasons, I’ve been quiet for the last few years, and I’m ready for some noise and to meet some new creative talent. It took me a long time to realize that it’s OK to be an introverted writer and an extroverted performing artist.
What’s a lesson you had to unlearn and what’s the backstory?
A good writer can have dyslexia. Unfortunately, there is a stigma: all dyslexic writers are destined to fail due to bad grammar and the inability to read or spell. This is a false narrative I had to rebuke. It took time and still does, considering most of society holds misguided views about dyslexia. And dyslexia doesn’t go away. Thus, my dubious and faulty grammar will follow me all my life. I wrote a story about it called “Dare to Dream with Dyslexia.”
A dyslexic writer is an oxymoron for most. Dyslexia is often associated with incompetence. It took many years, tears, and accolades to believe that I’m a writer. When it came to my writing, my confidence was intermittent and inconsistent for years. One day I felt good and knowledgeable. Another day I felt lousy, often depending on the company I kept. People can enjoy talking over me and correcting my grammar, even when they understand me. Finally, after living with dyslexia my whole life, I sought an Educational Diagnostician for an official diagnosis. I fall into the category of 2E dyslexia, which stands for twice-exceptional. According to the International Dyslexia Association, “Twice-exceptional or 2e is a term used to describe students who are both intellectually gifted (as determined by an accepted standardized assessment) and learning disabled, including students with dyslexia.” Statistics estimate that about 2-5% of the population has this form of dyslexia, maybe higher.
It’s funny because I taught myself the alphabet and how to read when I was three. With the use of Hooked on Phonics and the guidance of my parents: I was fully literate before elementary school. By the time I turned four, I was reading chapter books on my own. I asked my parents to go to the library for fun. The catchy slogan, “Hooked on Phonics worked for me!” is true. So, how can society deem someone like me as lacking intelligence when I taught myself how to read at the age of three? And yet, they do question my abilities. C’est la vie!
Flash forward to adulthood, a story I addressed in detail within my previous VoyageAustin interview. After years of success, suddenly, no company would tell me why I wasn’t selected for writing or editorial work. Each time I came in silver or bronze, I kept asking about each rejection so that I could work on the issue. But I kept getting ghosted, or sent an insincere PR note without explanation. All that time, writing samples I’d submitted to prospective employers for free—writings that took hours, days, or weeks to complete—and the editors or hiring managers didn’t even reply as to why I wasn’t hired—only a generic rejection letter.
I asked myself: Does that seem right to you, Mallow? Do you want to work for a company that asks for free work without the respect of a critique or an honest rejection? The answer is a bonafide, no. Finally, last summer, a hiring manager from a book publishing company told the recruiter to inform me. I was not selected because I made too many grammar errors for hire. Sadly, I’ve heard these words since the seventh grade: your grammar is lacking. Ain’t nothing new. I’m aware that people love to hate on my grammar. I simply didn’t know how to fix it. No one knew I was dyslexic, even me, till my AP English teacher in 11th grade. Until then, I was able to fool the system and myself into believing that I knew grammar.
Last summer, when I read the email from the recruiter about my grammar or lack thereof. For the first time during the interview process, especially since I had nothing to lose, I confessed my secret: I am dyslexic. To much surprise, the recruiter told me that dyslexia is a superpower and nothing to be ashamed of. She advised me to check out Grammarly, which I now pay for and utilize. The recruiter also advised me to be forthright with employers about dyslexia. In private, I cried because I was heard, seen, and acknowledged. And I thanked her for the kindness and professionalism. They asked if I wanted special accommodations, but I declined.
Ultimately, I’m grateful because now I can use Grammarly and overcome these challenges. Finally, I found some peace of mind and ease with Grammarly. Yes, the truth hurts to read. I’ve heard it for far too long. It’s disheartening that my grammar can overshadow my accolades. And it makes me sad for younger generations, the children, because what kind of message does that send out? “Kids, you can be anything you want to be, so long as you don’t have a learning disability.”
Fact: A good writer can have dyslexia. Unlike grammar, a heart and a voice cannot be taught in schools.
How can we best help foster a strong, supportive environment for artists and creatives?
To better support artists, creatives, and a thriving creative ecosystem–we can accept others’ uniqueness and oddities rather than rebuke them. Artists are different. Society often wants everyone to be the same because differences can make us uncomfortable, afraid, or insecure. In the animal world, we have many species, and each is created in its own design. Why does society often expect humans to all be the same? Artists are their own kind of breed. Accept us for who we are. And as we become more accepting of others, we become more accepting of ourselves. Love begets love. This idea of acceptance applies to my fellow artists as well because we need reminders to be open-minded, too.
We can also better support artists and creatives by showing monetary support. Buy a ticket to a movie, go to a live music show or donate to NPR. Share the wealth. Sadly, many corporate environments (outside the arts industries) claim they like to hire artists/creatives but do not and will not. Just like a lot of companies say they don’t discriminate because of age, gender, disability, etc., yet they do. Please be open-minded to change and give us a chance and hire more artists; those who work hard will impress you with our creative thinking, work ethic and visionary ideas. We have far more skills than paintbrushes, music and drawings. Let us showcase your companies!