Catching up with Kirsten Carlson: The Creative Rollercoaster

Kirsten with her husband and their newest family member, Groot. April 2020

Crafting this follow-up guest post on MilspoFAN was a stellar way to reflect on my creative journey and share some enthusiasm for a hopeful future. Fate bought me a ticket for a two-year-long rollercoaster ride with the crazy pandemic-loop-de-loop that we’re all on, thrown in for free.

I celebrated my 50th birthday right after the September 2018 interview. I had a stable income from two jobs (a first since 2005) which was important for long-term living in Hawaii. After retiring from the Army, my husband became a contractor for the US Marines, which meant no military moves. And, I could paddle via a canal to the ocean from our backyard for a dose of salty sea on my SUP or outrigger canoe. Life was pretty dreamy.

But, within the span of six months my life hit some abrupt twists and turns. Perimenopause (or what I like to call Second Puberty) began in earnest following my birthday. Weight gain, PMS-zilla and brain fog became constant companions and my skin revolted as if I were a teenager again. I lost my mentor and boss when the Director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), Dr. Ruth Gates, passed away unexpectedly at 56. She had hired me as the Science Communications Manager earlier in the year and her death deeply impacted not only me, but the entire community of coral reef scientists worldwide. And then, my husband informed me that he’d found an excellent job in Germany as a Department of the Army civilian. I’d committed to being in Hawaii, to finding a way to make it work. Turns out, Hawaii was breaking us financially. My body felt possessed. I’d lost an ocean hero. And, I was not ready to leave my muse, the Pacific Ocean. I was devastated physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I held on for the wild ride that ensued in 2019 and embraced my favorite quote as a mantra: No matter where you go, there you are. It’s attributed to Confucius, but I first fell in love with it when I heard it from Buckaroo Bonzai in the 1984 movie starring Peter Weller.

Things have smoothed out significantly. It’s been a year since the move halfway around the world from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the Black Forest. We lived in Germany once before and found a place less than a mile from our old neighborhood in Leonberg near Stuttgart, Germany. I’ve reconnected with many friends and favorite hangouts. In all my years as a military spouse, I’ve never been ready to leave a place when the PCS orders commanded it, so I’m grateful to have another opportunity to live overseas and explore Europe. I’m reinventing my relationship with food and fitness to harmonize my hormones after finding ways to connect online with other women that are 50+ and rocking their midlife transition (I’m happy to share resources). And, since welcoming a new family member named Groot, my average for steps keeps going up and up and up.

I continue to find ways to connect with the beauty and wonder of nature and share what inspires me. The creativity has continued amidst the ups and downs of my amusement park life. It’s important amidst the failures to take note of the successes, here are some highlights.

• January 2019, I wrote and illustrated a magazine article about drawing underwater in Antarctica, published in MUSE magazine (for ages 9-14).

“Drawing Under Ice” Muse Article Artwork, 2019

• March 2019, I curated an exhibit in Hawaii for scientists and artists called SymbioSEAS. It was well-received by both the art and science community and there are plans to continue the theme into the future.

• December 2019, Luminous Finds Her Aura was published; a fun deep-sea adventure for children’s chapter book illuminated with my artwork throughout.

• October 2019, I went sketching on SCUBA in the Indian Ocean, in the Maldives. I’m one ocean away from completing my quest to dive all Seven Seas (Arctic, Antarctic, North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South and Indian Ocean).

•  September 2020, I’ve just secured a gallery-studio space in an 800-year-old town to develop two different ocean-themed sci-art shows that I’ll be sharing via my blog ARTSYFiSHY. I would love to hear from other artists creating art shows during this pandemic (

• Next month, in October 2020 I’m launching FATHOM ANTARCTiCA, my passion project showcasing the breathtaking beauty and wonder of the seventh continent’s undersea world. Through innovative mashups of science and art, I’m dreaming up ways to connect audiences of all ages with this remote and remarkable marine ecosystem. Join the quest if you are adventurous in spirit and want to explore Antarctic sea life but are shivering at the thought of diving under the ice into freezing cold water. You can sneak a peek ahead of the official announcement at:

• I finally have a Patreon account! It took three years, but I found the motivation I needed with FATHOM ANTARCTiCA. I’m going to be spending much of my creative time on all things Antarctic in the near future. I’m most excited about creating patches for the different patron tiers: Plankton Patron, Penguin Patron, Pycnogonid Patron, Polar Patron, Dive Tender, and Dive Buddy.

Once the pandemic is over, I have plans to visit Hawaii to teach classes as an underwater artist (Are you a diver interested in learning to sketch underwater? Contact me).

After two years I’ve happily disembarked from this rollercoaster and am going with the flow. Does anyone know where the entrance to the log flume ride is?

Photo by: David R. Tribble

Photo Attribution:

Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) This image was made by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble) Email the author: David R. Tribble Also see my personal gallery at Google Photos / CC BY-SA

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