Hi, I’m Natalia Borecka! I’m a writer, editor, fashion photographer, creative director and print specialist (phiew! that’s a lot!) based in beautiful San Francisco. But originally I’m from a place called Szepietowo, which is about as far from California as it gets, a tiny unpaved Polish village surrounded by dark forests and entirely fueled by coal.

There were no artists in Szepietowo. No one had a camera or an easel in my small village, and most forms of self-expression had been put into hibernation after the second world war. Communism had put a resounding end to “modern luxuries” like art (and chocolate and denim for that matter). Poland was a pretty dreary place back then. And so, we escaped. Leaving our families behind we packed our bags and drove through the mountains into Vienna where we were given refugee status.

In Austria we lived in a large gym-sized room full of strangers, and we weren’t allowed to leave. The room was lined with bunk beds, and piles upon piles of suitcases. We were poor and totally alone but the air around us was full of promise. We knew the road ahead was perilous, but we also knew that it would be an extraordinary adventure.

I didn’t learn to read and write until I was nine years old, and by that time I had lived in half a dozen homes and attended four different schools in three different countries. The stars were perfectly aligned for me to fail. I didn’t have to do anything special to make it happen, I just had to let the natural trajectory of my life continue as it always had. But for some magical reason, I didn’t.

From the moment I got my hands on my first book I spent every waking minute reading. Libraries became my home. In them I realized that everything you need to succeed in life is already inside you – imagination, intuition, creativity, determination, curiosity. I soon realized that books were the cure to just about anything ailing the human heart. I forged sick notes just so I could skip school and spend all day in the library (I’m the nerdiest rebel you’ll ever met).

It’s incredible the kinds of things you could learn on your own – I learned calligraphy and illustration, I learned how to differentiate between a white-tailed deer and an elk, I learned how to use a camera and I learned what it takes to write a really good story. Hemingway taught me how to fight, Dostoyevsky how to forgive, and Sartre made me realize that none of it really mattered anyway. I learned that luck was made of grit, and that happiness could be found in the smallest of places – tucked between the pages of a book, captured in a photograph, weaved into a poem or embossed onto a piece of paper.

Those early years taught me that bookstores were often warmer than classrooms, that kindness was more important than competition, that winning someone over was more rewarding than winning the race, that creativity often heals better than medicine and that hard work will get you just about anywhere you want to go. I pulled myself up by the collar and grew taller despite the lack of sunshine in my life.