I’ve learned so much from Vyana about slowing down, living intentionally, parenting consciously and gender-neutrally, and redefining success. Vyana (and their beautiful family) embody the art of simple creative living, and I always find myself inspired by them and how they are choosing to move through this world. I hope you enjoy this interview with Vyana, and the first in our rebranded Smoke Stories!
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your work, and where we can find you?
I'm a queer multidisciplinary artist and parent. I currently live in Ojai, a small valley community outside of Los Angeles, with my husband, Daren, and 1-year-old baby, Daelu. I often get questions from people about how I can be queer if I'm married to a cisgender, heterosexual man, so I'd love to share a bit about that.
Queer is an umbrella term. I identify as queer both as it related to my gender (non-binary) and sexuality (pansexual). My identity is unchanged by my partner. Regardless of who I'm with, I am who I am. In the same way that changing clothes doesn't change who you are, my partner doesn't change who I am.
In regards to gender, my experience of it is fluid and varies in intensity. Somedays I feel quite femme, some days I feel completely neutral (agender). My preferred pronouns are they/them, and I'm also comfortable with she/her.
As an artist, the common thread through my work is color and the source of that color. In my non-digital work, be it fiber art, painting, or cooking, I source color from nature. There's something that feels very human about that. Whenever I'm working with earth pigments, I feel like I've stepped into a time portal – something similar to the way I felt while giving birth actually. I'm endlessly fascinated by the way color speaks to and through us, and the way we can use it to share our stories without language.
Where were you in life ten years ago, and did you ever see yourself where you are now?
Ten years ago I had just returned from my first non-school related trip to Europe. I had my first job as a professional baker, I drank excessively and did a lot of drugs. I was really lonely even though I was constantly surrounded by people, and felt severely depressed, even though I projected a 'life of the party' attitude.
I think the main thing that has changed in the last ten years is the way I value myself and my time. I always wanted to travel often, study often, have a child, have a committed longterm partner, own a business, be in charge of my time and creativity, and connect with people in a meaningful way. From that perspective, my life looks a lot like what I had hoped for ten years ago.
I still work with having Complex-PTSD from prolonged childhood abuse and depression. I value my life in a completely different way, which has made my approach to processing these aspects of my life far from what I could have envisioned.
Where do you derive strength? What gives you the fortitude to keep going when the going gets tough?
I actually can't remember a time when I didn't feel a strong internal will. Even through drug addictions, eating disorders, and depression, I've always felt a strong sense of will. I'm not sure where it comes from. My sense is that this is how I hardwired myself at an early age as a means of survival. Growing in the conditions of abuse I was raised in, it's difficult to draw lines between what I did as a means of protection and survival and what is a natural characteristic of my personality.
Sometimes these days (through the haze of parenthood related sleep-deprivation) that will wavers more than it ever has. Whenever I feel shaken, I turn towards my creativity. Making something just for myself is a mirror I can always rely on to see myself clearly.
What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, and how did you overcome that challenge?
One year ago I almost died from a mysterious septic blood infection. I had an eight-day old newborn and honestly, it's still difficult to fully comprehend what it was like to touch life and death so close to each other. The recovery has and continues to be life-altering. My physical, mental, and emotional capacity is dramatically different in a way that has completely stripped me bare.
As a way to process what happened and begin rebuilding my world (now with a whole new body), I wrote and self-published The Redefining Success Journal. I'm so proud of this journal, not just because it's something that people want to purchase, but because it's something people are emotionally connecting with. What was born out of my most vulnerable and tender self is now a shining beacon guiding me and others forward. I really can't put into words how incredible that feels!
What comes to mind when you imagine your favorite scent?
The Redwoods in Northern California. My husband and I lived in San Francisco for almost five years, and we have so many memories in Golden Gate Park. Smelling the redwoods feels like home, especially when they're slightly damp from fog. Wow, that smell transports me! I feel like I really grew up and became responsible for myself living in that city. Smelling damp, foggy, redwoods will always feel like a cocktail of growth, innocence, and accountability in the most comforting way.
Self-care: What is one non-negotiable self-care ritual that you try to regularly attend to?
Rest, which is mostly sleep and water these days. I operate under a 'less but better' mentality and prioritize easy, accessible rituals over anything complex. Without adequate rest everything falls apart. During postpartum, as I was recovering from being sick, I had to learn how to define rest on my own terms (an activity you can find in The Redefining Success Journal.) That exercise continues to help me through the most physically under-resourced days. Being honest about my need to rest is the best way I can take care of myself right now.
What is your favorite Smoke product?
Night Cloud Eau de Parfum