Cynthia Viola Photography


We're Moving to St. Augustine, FLORIDA!

PersonalCynthia Viola8 Comments
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing
— Helen Keller
Cynthia and A.J. Viola

If you've been hanging around us recently or following our stories on Instagram or Facebook, you might have noticed we've been a little cryptic about some big adventures and life changes in the not-too-distant future. I'm not sure how exactly to say this, but, we're moving! To Florida! 

Woah. I know. So many questions.

Why Florida?

If you followed our family through the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, you know that he dealt a devastating blow to the family restaurant, Viola's Pasta and Seafood in St. Augustine. In the months that followed the whole family and surrounding community came together to get her back on her feet, but that plus the 20 years of general restauranting took it's toll on A.J.'s parents. The restaurant is their baby and they're not ready to give it up, but they need to take a step back, and A.J. volunteered to help them run Viola's to make sure the family business stays afloat and his parents can get the rest they deserve after years of building. 

What does that mean for BREW Coffee Bar?

You probably already know that A.J. co-owns BREW with Mike. They built it from scratch 3 years ago and have seen it become a thriving space in our community. A.J. will be leaving BREW, Mike and his wife Cindy will take it over entirely and they will run BREW with the help of its capable and awesome managers and employees. We're super sad to let it go, but don't see how A.J. can continue to run it while in Florida. It's been a grand adventure, but we both thrive in newness and change so we're glad to leave her in good hands and excited for the next new thing. 

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.
— Joseph Campbell
NC Wedding Photography

What does this mean for Art and Photography?

Well, lots of things! Because my entire family is in North Carolina, I will be flying back to NC once every six weeks to visit.

It means the schedule will be a little crazy and I'll have to keep my clients informed anytime I plan to be here, but I thrive in chaos and honestly don't think it'll be that much different from how often I travel now. If you'd like to keep up with when I'll be in the area, you can follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook and turn on your notifications. 

If you'd like an email or text notification as well, let me know and I'll add you to a list. When I fly in, it will be to Charlotte and from there I will either drive to Raleigh, Boone or Lumberton as needed to visit and accept photo shoots. 

Just like it works now, if you're able to book me while I'm already here, there will be no travel fee. If you need me to travel on a specific date when I'm not already planning to be here, I'm more than willing, the travel will just now include a plane ticket (or two, if it's a wedding).

What about already booked portrait sessions and weddings?

I will honor every session already booked for the rest of the year by staying in Raleigh through December. There are just too many already on the schedule for it to make sense for me to move before then. A.J. will move at the end of July but he will fly back for the weddings he is already booked to shoot with me. We will both also fly back for the weddings we already have scheduled for 2018. 

What about your paintings?

I will be trying to sell all of my current paintings before I leave. They will be half price as I'd like to not have to transport them. If you're interested just let me know and you can come see what's available.  And as always you can get prints of any of the pieces and some photography at Society 6. 

How long will we be in Florida?

That is yet to be determined. Life is ever changing and we're willing to go where the winds blow us. It may be five or twenty, either way we'll keep you updated along the way.

I suppose this will begin the next chapter of the Book. Can't wait to see what the next page's story has to say! 

Cynthia and A.J. Viola
To dare - is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare - is to lose oneself
— Soren Kierkegaard

Commitment & Responsibility

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Surrendering is the free-falling backwards into the unknown and trusting that the universe will catch you.
— Jen Sincero

Over the past few weeks I've made some posts more on the personal side. Sharing a bit of mine and A.J.'s infertility story as well as a portion of the book I'm writing about my childhood and meeting my brothers for the first time as an adult. (Caroline also - persevered through her story in this space).

I expected people to respond with surprise and encouragement; what I didn't expect was the outpouring of words like bravery and courage. 

I'm sure a bit of it extends from being an ENFP personality type, but sharing any and every part of my story has always been an essential part of who I am. You'd be hard pressed to know me for more than an hour before hearing some snippet about my brothers. A.J. used to tease that I play poker with my cards faced outward and several friends insist that I'm approximately 100% of the time too trusting and a bit naive when I meet new people. I know they're just concerned I'm going to get hurt one day, and I'm sure I will...I have. 

From my point of view though, sharing our story is what helps us connect with other human beings. I don't do well when I keep information and secrets bottled up inside. They feel like a poison. Sharing them dilutes their power over me and opens others up to be healed from their own story. When we find commonality in our stories, we no longer have to feel alone. 

Cynthia Viola Photographer

Personally, my biggest fears stem from 2 little words: responsibility and commitment. If you can attach the word adventure to it; I'm fearless. (Bring on the parachutes, wet suits, open road and backpacks!!) If people are involved; I'm ecstatic. (Give me quiet one-on-one conversations, a stage to perform spoken word to an arena full of strangers or a brand new family I never knew existed!!) But responsibility and commitment? Makes my stomach flip over on top of itself. 

I was scared of getting married when I first met A.J. He actually broke up with me for a month when we first started dating because I wasn't ready for a "committed relationship." He wasn't interested in the dating game and I wasn't interested in marriage at 19 years old.

I'm scared of big purchases like a home. (What if we need a new roof or HVAC, what if a tree falls through it, what if the market collapses, what if we go bankrupt??)  

I was not excited about owning a dog. (Who's going to walk it, who's going to feed it, what if it gets loose, how will we travel, what if it doesn't get along well with others, how will we host guests, what if guests are allergic??)

Mention the word baby and I start to hyperventilate.

We all have stories that have led us to our current fears and insecurities, we also have stories that lead us to our greatest joys. I don't know what it is that makes you feel weak, insecure, shameful or unworthy, but I guarantee you there is another human being in the world who has experienced nearly the exact same trauma. That should not diminish your trauma but help you find commonality with another soul and find strength to move forward.

I always want to offer a space, both physically and online to share stories and do life together. If you need help just getting some thoughts out of your head, I'm always willing to be a listening ear. I love people and find so much joy and strength in their stories. Don't hesitate to call, write or drop in. Love you guys. 


An Excerpt from the Book.

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Embrace the detours
— Kevin Charboneau

This post will be a bit more on the personal end. I've mentioned in a few previous posts that I've written a book about my journey thus far, particularly the part about discovering and meeting my brothers for the first time. Several friends have asked if I'm going to publish it or if they can read it, and I don't exactly know the answer.

If it were only my story I would have published it three years ago. I literally started and finished the whole thing about a month after meeting them and have just tweaked a few updates in the time since. Fortunately and unfortunately this story is not just my own and there are some less than pleasant pieces that involve other people's choices and I need them to be ready to share it with the world first. So that's where I'm at with that. 

That said, I thought it might be fun to put a few excerpts from it in this space. 

A Continental Shift: The Adventure of Writing a New Story

By: Cynthia Viola

An Excerpt from Chapter One

I grew up the beloved only child of Lynn and Larry Jackson in the small, mountain town of Boone, North Carolina. We moved around a lot, but my fondest memories come from the home I first knew. Complete with three 250 pound hogs, acres and acres of forests to draw out the adventurer, a swing made out of an old Jeep seat that would send me fifty feet in the air and a giant waterfall that never failed to produce the best salamanders.

Boone is growing now due to the popularity of Appalachian State University, but at the time, it was the quintessential small mountain town. Boone was like that little town you’d see on a postcard bought in a gas station of a picturesque little village covered in snow with happy people waving happily to their neighbor as they shovel snow and make gingerbread houses.  

It’s a town where people don’t necessarily know each other’s names...but they always offer a welcoming smile as if they do. Where people actually let you go first in the grocery line because you have fewer items than they do, where hospitality in any home is expected...not in a forced way, but as a simple fact of life, and where families set deep roots, rarely ever moving away.

I didn’t really notice it then, but I was primarily raised by my father.

My mom worked nights and weekends, so she was asleep when I woke up and went to school, and she was gone when my dad brought me home and put me to bed. She was also gone when my dad would wake me up at 2:30am to go “run the wrecker” for some poor soul who’d sent their car over one of the mountain edges. I didn’t notice it was late or that dad was tirelessly working two jobs to make ends meet. I just knew that it was a blast getting to ride in the Jeep in the middle of the night and watch all the bright lights as he pulled them out of the ditch.

Perhaps because I was an only child raised by a father who did the best he could, perhaps because some inner gene or strand of DNA gave me a rebellious scrappyness, but I was always a tomboy, and often alone. My weekends usually consisted of mountain bikes, four wheelers, salamanders and adventures. ...

When I was nine my mom gave birth to the most beloved baby brother anyone ever set eyes on. I finally had someone to play with. A boy who would understand that when you attach a parachute laden G.I. Joe to the ceiling fan and rocket launch him across the room at the highest speed the fan would send him, glorious things happen. A boy who would understand that only a tree house in the tallest tree in the forest would adequately satisfy our desire for adventure and bit of danger.

Apparently in that year certain pesticides were used on the Christmas tree farms that surrounded our little town. They also blanketed the acres of land surrounding our tiny single wide trailer on the side of the mountain. It was not uncommon for those pesticides to seep into the groundwater and into wells. As you can imagine, this is not a drink that is suggested for developing babies.

Cody was born with a hole in his heart the size of a golf ball. After much debate about the possibility of a baboon’s heart and years of complications, my parents finally decided to take him off life support. As the family passed him around the room in his final moments, it fell to me to be holding him as he breathed his last. I’m told that should have affected me more than it did at the time, but I think I was aware that it was best for his elder sister to take on that responsibility, my parents didn’t need the extra weight on them.

Dad was strong...he knew he needed to be for me. But then, that’s how he always was: strong for me. Strong when he swept hundreds of yellow jackets off of me and our dog, Sheba with his bare hands after we stepped on a hidden hive. Strong when he carried me in one arm and eight bags of groceries in the other up the side of our mountain in two feet of snow when our car got stuck at the bottom. Strong when Cody died. Strong when he discovered it wasn’t his DNA that produced the greatest joy of his life, this daddy’s girl, his ‘Bumble Bee,’ as he would affectionately call me later in life when I got too busy to spend time with him. He’s the strongest man I’ve ever known. 

10 Things You Might Not Know About Me

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Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted.
One moment.
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
— Eminem
Cynthia Viola Swimming with Dolphins

I will be the first to admit that one of the best ways to describe myself is just a hot mess. I definitely do not have it all together but I give each day my best effort. Here are a few details that make me who I am.

I am an open book. Seriously, ask me anything. My ex-husband used to say I hold my poker cards facing out. There is not a topic under the sun or a hardship I've faced that I'm unwilling to talk about especially if I think it will help someone else brave through their own story.

Speaking of story, I'm a sucker for them. I love grand tales of epic proportion where the hero faces a dragon on the outside and demons within. I also love it when those same epic battles are realized in the lives of regular people, and we are drawn closer as the human race because of them. 

My favorite personal story is how I discovered I had 3 baby brothers and met them just a couple years ago. Being an only child for 29 years teaches you how to take care of yourself, how to be alone, how to have a conversation with adults, that you don't need anyone else, that it's you against the world... Being an eldest of 4 teaches you how to let go of yourself and anything you've ever wanted if it will help them in even the smallest way. It brings out a visceral need that cannot even be described, but being close to them is the only thing that satiates it. I *might* have even written a book about the experience. It'll be a while before the world's ready for it though :)

Cynthia Viola's Brothers

I'll try anything once. I love mountain biking, ultimate frisbee, paddle boarding, new roller coasters, and open mic poetry nights. On any given day you might see me kayaking or shooting hoops with some neighborhood kids, baking cookies or painting. I want to do it all. 

My favorite food group is chocolate, but I'm otherwise quite healthy. (think Paleo) I'm also partial to bourbon and the occasional cigar. Calisthenics are my preferred workout style (muscle ups, I'm coming for ya!) but I've found great community and unique challenges in Crossfit and am committing to their routines for this season. 

My favorite movie is District 9 due to the fact that it wrecked me. (I was working with refugee families at my first viewing and the parallel blew me away). For fun, I also love anything by Baz Luhrmann for his artistic style and Quinten Tarantino  for his sheer audacity. Music is usually dependent on my mood but you'll find Incubus,  Eminem or Shawn Mendes in nearly every playlist. Though I'm recently digging The Avett Brothers and Meghan Trainor as well.

Letty girl is my baby with my ex-husband, and sadly due to my extensive traveling she must stay with him but that doesn’t mean I love her any less. She goes zero to 100 in about three seconds when she gets excited (kinda like her momma) but is the BIGGEST snuggle bug the rest of the time. She was a rescue from the pound and is a Blue Pit in case you were wondering. :)

Cynthia Viola's Pitt Bull

I frequently have to remind myself to be a business professional. To get the work done first and play later. I do not love fancy clothes, struggle with details and technicalities, loathe to my very core the idea of being put in a figurative box, and want nothing more than to have my only concern be loving people well - to be amazed by the incredible stories others have to share. This probably has something to do with being an ENFP and Enneagram 7.

In high school I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol. I passed my tests quickly, and became an officer taking me to Leadership Training School and eventually I became the Cadet Squadron Commander. I loved it so much. I loved drill and PT, I loved the aerospace education, I soaked in everything my mentors gave me. I was accepted to the Air Force Academy and started logging hours to get my pilot's license. Alas, the journey from that path to the one I eventually found myself on was a long one that requires way more than a paragraph in a blog post, so I'll save it for when we have coffee. :)

Through it all I've learned to walk through life with my eyes wide open and hands held out - ready to catch whatever may fall out of the sky. Sometimes I end up catching bad things, but the vast amount of good that finds it way to me will forever surpass the bad. I'm extremely optimistic and can usually see the good in situations and in people. My littlest brother thinks I epitomize the character Joy in Inside Out and well, I think that's just perfect. :) I may be a little naive and some would say too trusting but I believe people hold this amazing ability to be extraordinary - to go above and beyond - to shine like a star - if only someone will believe in them and give them permission to do so. I will gladly be that person every time.


Being OK with Failure

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Success—in paddle boarding and in life—is simply the ability to stand after each fall, learn from mistakes, and willing yourself to get better.
— Jasmine Star

Failure is not a word many people like to talk about. Myself included. 

It screams broken dreams and skinned knees and last chances.

Failure is like the monster hiding at the bottom of the lake threatening to drag you down, but you hope if you just ignore him, maybe you'll never have to face him. The problem with that theory is you will definitely have to face him, and if you find yourself looking him right in the eye unprepared he will, in fact, pull you under. 

My dad always told me if I fell off the horse I had to get right back on, that same day, that same minute. We were never riding horses when he said this so I was a little confused at first but when I wrecked my first bike and scraped my elbows, he didn't even blink when I looked up at him with my big, green, pouty eyes begging to quit, "Nope," he said, "You get right back on there." 

When I stalled the car over and over learning my first manual transmission and in anger was ready to give up, "Nope," he grinned, "It's time to try hills next."

Owning your own business is no different. I didn't go to school for accounting or business or even photography so I have had my fair share of days staring down that monster. From not realizing I needed to keep a separate business account (until my second year), failing to have a back up SD card on a shoot when one corrupted forcing me to reschedule the shoot, to actually being fired from a wedding a few years back when a couple didn't just love their engagement photos. 

All of these moments and hundreds more I don't have space to write about, were enough to drag me down, but I feel like becoming friends with that lake monster almost 30 years ago prepared me to swim around comfortably with him today. He catches me off guard sometimes and it takes me longer to catch my breath but I've learned to watch for him and when I see him coming we begin a dance. With each routine my muscles grown stronger and my wit gets sharper. 

If I hadn't gotten back on the bike, I wouldn't know the joy of a 230 mile ride to the coast with my love last year, or the exhilaration of racing full speed over roots and rocks down a mountain bike trail. If I'd given up on the manual I wouldn't appreciate the power always at your fingertips or know the satisfaction of winning a drag race. If I had let the failure monster take me down without a fight I'd be miserable - working my way from one bartending job to the next.

Stephen McCranie once said, "The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried." If it requires thousands and thousands of failures to become a master, then bring on the thousands more yet to come.

I invite you to join me on the journey of failure. It will be hard fought with skinned knees and bruised egos, but well worth the mastery on the other side. 

CAMstellation Raleigh 2016

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The artist never entirely knows — We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark
— Agnes de Mille
"Leap Into Fear" | 24"x36" | Mixed Media

"Leap Into Fear" | 24"x36" | Mixed Media

As an artist and a business owner, I've had to make some difficult decisions. Probably the least of which is forcing myself to dress like a "professional" when I'd rather wear jeans and a tee shirt every where I go. I tried to take the stance of #theartistwearswhatshewants (favorite hashtag ever, thank you Amaris) for years but I suppose being an adult is more important... Alas, bring on the heels, and feel free to tease me like my brother Daniel who says I look like a little kid playing dress up. #jerkface #notreallyloveyou ;)

More importantly, as much as I love being a creative, it can cause dilemmas when you enjoy creating in many different mediums. I've been painting for as long as I can remember, I enjoy writing poetry and performing spoken word, I've written a memoir that I'm scared to death to publish, I dabbled in all forms of music for years and of course there's photography - my ultimate love. 

Taken via iPhone pano at the artist's reception for  CAMstellation . 

Taken via iPhone pano at the artist's reception for CAMstellation

So how do you choose? I'm not sure how it works for everyone else but I suppose ultimately my love of people has won out for me. All the forms I listed entail a bit of isolation during practice/building/editing/creating/considering/dreaming...even performing, but the only one that really allows consistent interaction with people, is photography. If I'm isolated for too long I get cray...just ask A.J. I need people and love being a part of their lives. 

ALLLL that to say, I still dabble in the other arts from time to time. Currently this piece is up at CAM Raleigh with their exhibit celebrating the creatives in the community. (come to either August's or September's First Friday to see it!) 

Taken via iPhone pano at  Creative Mornings RDU ...amazing group, you should totally check it out. 

Taken via iPhone pano at Creative Mornings RDU...amazing group, you should totally check it out. 

It's titled "Leap Into Fear" because when I painted it, A.J. was talking about launching a second location of his coffee bar (among other crazy family things going on at the time). The first shop was probably the hardest thing we've ever survived as a couple, I wasn't sure we could survive a second. After a total breakdown I just threw all the emotions on the canvas and decided to let go. We love each other enough to believe in the other's dreams and we've built enough trust to know we'll both do our best to work through the muck. 

Six months after opening, we couldn't be better. In my experience, the wings don't form until after you jump. I suppose it's more exciting that way anyway. I believe this leap has prepared us for the next, whatever that may be. What's the scariest leap you've ever taken?