I am becoming. An Autobiography --- by Danielle Lopez-Cecetaite '21

By the time you are reading this, I must edit this biography. I am no longer who I was when I wrote this. Not in biological or epigenetic age, not in attitude, not with the same perspective, not with the same gut microbe population. This text is dated.

Danielle has lived her life in flux. She is the product of two opposites, the seed of a Lithuanian mother and a Colombian father. Danielle arrived during the summer heat of 2000 in Florida, where she was born between seasons, cultures, and millennia. Her ears listened to a combination of Lithuanian, Spanish, and English throughout her life. Like the enigmatic character Kaspar Hauser, in her favorite film, La Leggenda di Kaspar Hauser [The Legend of Kaspar Hauser], Danielle felt like the time and space around her was entirely undefined. Just being here is surreal.
"The idea of entering upon a life of my own intoxicated me," states Simone de Beauvoir in her autobiography, Memories of a Dutiful Daughter. It is a statement that reverberates with Danielle, yet she never overlooks the large and microscopic family and community embedded within her story. It goes without a doubt that she even thinks about the bacteria that live in her gut; she knows that, like all other individuals living beings, microbes are incorporated within an infinite, interwoven feedback loop and evolutionary narrative. Undeniably, among Danielle’s chief passions are research and observation.
Danielle considers the projects she works on almost like children, which are exciting, require attention and knowledge, and a calmed and composed presence (unless there is something that calls for a more severe or joyful approach). She has worked as a research assistant for over two years for Professor Bernd Bucher PhD, who teaches International Relations at Franklin University Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland. He taught her introductory course to International Relations in which they traveled to Vienna, Austria. The experience-based learning included visits to and interaction with members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and the United Nations. With Bucher, the class participated in a workshop on making classic Viennese apple strudel at a strudel show at Schönbrunn Palace, the primary summer residence of the Habsburg rulers, that, for Danielle, demonstrated the importance of gastrodiplomacy. Her contribution to the collaborative research has recently been acknowledged in a paper published in the leading academic journal International Theory. One could always look deeper into it by clicking on the link; however, in brief, it is about football and international practice theory, an unexpected match to be sure. 
"Our reality is not independent of our exploration of it. All identities are formed via intra-action," states Karen Barad, author of Meeting the Universe Halfway. Danelle finds the in-between and contrasts to be the most informative by pulling her out of comfort zones where things are sure and determined. At Camera F, an art residency and experimental open-space based in Lugano, Switzerland, various forms of intervention such as research, performance, photography, and public engagement are used to discover new sensations and critique the frames used to perceive various contexts, particularly where the public meets the private realms. Danielle collaborates with Swiss photographer Matteo Fieni, the atelier’s director who has precise intuition and selfless dedication for creation and information flow. The result of their synergy was a blog that was part of a project called ‘Privacy Free Zone’ that investigates the relationship between the law and the right of expression, in particular artistic expression. It is a formally protected right that is often forgotten or ignored, which she believes merits its discussion. 

Danielle is currently working with Fieni on the publication of an art book called ‘Barcode Scenario’ which is a collection of photographic studies from 2016 to present about the perceived consciousness of the self and technological unconscious, thus looking through the lens of the camera itself at the nature in which it works. By looking into a practice or behavior, Danielle learns new ways of looking out and perceiving. 
Silence and stillness are often unintentionally disregarded. Danielle trained her observation skills by going to museums from a young age with her mother. The museums were a place to train, almost as a gym would be. There she practiced seeing detail, variation of hues and color intensities, patterns of people in space, and an appreciation of beauty. However, art was always of interest for Danielle, as she went to a primary school that emphasized the arts such as theatre, music, and studio art. At the time, she was exhibited at the Mainsail Art Festival in a tent for young artists. This was just part of the process for Danielle, she enjoyed the trials of the creative process that derive from still regard and contemplation. 

Some years later, Danielle began working at the Salvador Dali Museum in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. As one of her first work experiences, it offered her a tranquil environment that promoted surreal learning through the harmonization of art, science, and architecture. The museum’s location on the waterfront of the downtown area had a garden that integrated imported rocks and fauna from Dali’s hometown of Cadaques, Spain. This hurricane-proof building was constructed with 18-inch thick concrete and 1062 glass triangles that created an “Enigma” architectural structure that felt like a strong, idyllic castle around her. The museum received international guests throughout the year which Danielle welcomed and guided through the museum as part of her role in guest relations and as a junior docent. Danielle witnessed the complexity and importance of the minut components of life there. The spiral concrete staircase leading the gallery was a reflection of Dali’s obsession with spirals, the Fibonacci sequence, the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, and the very foundations of life we walk upon. 

Like breathing, everyone is constantly imparted with information and learning. However, we can all do it better the more we consciously practice. Learning is a muscle that has to be kept active and sense the information that it receives. Danielle has played the violin for 14 years, enjoying it most of the time but sometimes having dreaded practicing. When she picked up her first violin, it was a tissue box attached to a wooden stick, like those used to stir the paint, which simulated a 1/8 size violin. She grew up and her need for a larger violin did, too; her mother cries tears of laughter and remembrance of seeing the tiny size of this first violin. Now she only has the chance to play and practice when she returns to Florida because insuring her now full-sized violin for international travel would be equivalent to buying a pre-used car. Even though she does not practice much at this point in her life, the sound of the violin still perks her ears and reminds her of the practice she will continue in her life. Her brain’s neurons have created the paths and been reorganized by the years of practice so that they continue to respond to the familiar stimuli of Chopin. 
Danielle remembers attending numerous orchestra concerts growing up. During those late-night soirees, she sometimes fell asleep but was then woken up by the sound of a drum in the percussion section or by the rounds of applause at the end of a concerto. She feels this arousal even now when standing in an unfamiliar context that provides new information and sensory stimulation. In 2017, Danielle did a medical internship in Kathmandu, Nepal about 161 km from Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. She gained practice and hands-on experience by working alongside doctors at local hospitals and rehabilitation centers. During the summer of 2016, she was based in Córdoba, Argentina investigating human rights abuses, particularly those of the Dirty War of 1976-1983 that have a lasting weight, and took part in out-of-office fieldwork and community immersion to foster relationships that would enable awareness and legal confrontation of injustices. Human rights have a foot in every conversation and have an immense influence on every human's daily life. There is no defined path; however, Danielle is willing to listen to others, reconsider her own opinion, navigate these situations accordingly. 

Knowledge comes from experience, and experience derives from engagement in environments where situations are unfolding. It has led her to be a beekeeper in Les Gras, France in the summer of 2019 in order to understand the creation of beehives and maintenance of conditions for the flourishment of the colony. Every day a tray of honeycomb was laid out in the kitchen so Danielle and other volunteer beekeepers around the world could take out a spoon and glide it along the comb, enjoying the fresh honey and having a spike of insulin before heading outside into the field. Less sweet, but just as rewarding, was working as a lifeguard at the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. During the summer, it was less lifeguarding and more monitoring storm clusters and lightning strikes that were approaching in order to protect young summer camp children and elderly water aerobics guests. Whatever the task calls for, Danielle was ready with her whistle and a smile. 

In 2019, she collaborated with Nespresso as a team leader at TEDxLugano, which was quite exciting because Danielle had enjoyed drinking coffee - black, no milk, no sugar. She has since quit coffee and picked up kefir, a fermented beverage such as tibicos (ie water kefir) that she makes at home. Every day like a pet, she greets it and then has to feed it. Unlike a pet, it eats about a cup of sugar. The kefir grains metabolize sugar to produce a drink filled with readily available probiotics and an abundance of bioavailable and digestible nutrients. This has been part of her recent pursuit into fermentation, health, and performance optimization. During the summer of 2021, Danielle took a class in the Fundamentals of Neuroscience by Harvard University where she learned about the complex structures of the human brain and the bi-directional communication it has with our gut (i.e. the second brain of the human body) through the gut-brain axis. Whether it is coffee or kefir, what we consume impacts our mood or behavior. Danielle has self experimented with both and is currently sticking with kefir. 

Fermentation is an intimate process. Some fermenters suggest talking to the cabbage when massaging it in preparation for kimchi, and others suggest never fermenting in a bad mood since it affects microorganisms themselves and thus the final taste. Danielle takes care of her ferments by feeding sugar (ie glucose) for her kefir and kombucha to grow and monitoring the temperature of her koji (Aspergillus oryzae) when making amazake ("sweet sake"). Sometimes a rush of fear comes to her when she hears bubbling noises emerging from her kitchen at night, afraid that she filled her 5L glass jar with too much kimchi that if not attended to it would burst. But by taking care of them and listening to their needs, her ferments in turn take care of her. For Danielle, fermentation is a reciprocal relationship. Fermentation, like life, is a complex network of minut parts remodeling themselves based on the surrounding environment. It is a hyperdimensional practice where many living components work together in an entangled life, looking over each other, healing, and belonging together. 
This is a shared life where her story is the accumulation of bewitching stories and coincidences. It has been cured and enriched by teachers, especially those that engaged with her when she was a shy student unwilling to say over a word in primary school at times, by mentors, motivators, the ma’ams, the cosmos for the times her frequency has matched with another’s, and to the fictional characters such as Lisbeth Salander that she see as shadows walking alongside herself. 

This story lacks merit without acknowledging her mother and father without whom she would never have this opportunity in life. And for who she dedicates all her work. And to Gabriel, her older brother, with whom she does not talk to enough, but should. They make an unstoppable team.

Currently, Danielle is studying International Economics with an Emphasis in Political Economy as well as Art History at Franklin University Switzerland. When she is not engaged in experiential/experimental research and revision she can be found on a dérive around town or under a tree in the park, basking in the sun, thanking Ra the ancient Egyptian deity of the sun. 

In December 2021, Danielle will be graduating from Franklin. She plans to breathe fresh air, run on a new morning path, explore unfamiliar spaces, and remember that we are all just like Kaspar Hauser. We have landed unexpectedly on this land and we might as well confront it, even if it is through explosive dancing as it was for Kaspar. I look forward to it. 
Remember that this text is already dated. I am becoming.

From me to you,  


Una persona jugando wii

Descripción generada automáticamente con confianza media
Image Credits: Matteo Fieni © 2021 Camera F

This article is part of an assortment of student-written journalistic pieces from Fall ‘21 semester’s “Issues of Journalism” course with Professor Elettra Fiumi
Learn more on this exciting project here.


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