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Striking a Balance Between Art and Motorcycle Maintenance

She had developed an interest in photography, and after high school was accepted to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), one of the oldest American art schools and the only independent one that is publicly funded. But the summer before her first year, a former girlfriend became pregnant and wouldn’t be able to care for the child, so Ms. Shia volunteered to take responsibility for the baby, a boy named Audai.
“I wanted to be a documentary war photographer, and you can’t do that with a baby,” she said. “And so I was kind of confused at what I was going to do with my career.”
She continued repairing bikes throughout college, doggedly honing her abilities and, when stumped, cold-calling skilled mechanics. She attended classes full time, arranging with professors to arrive late or leave early to care for Audai, and relying on family for backup child care.
“One time, she had to bring Audai to school, and so she paid one of the girls in the photo lab to watch him for a little bit in the hallway,” said Gretchen Devine, 31, Ms. Shia’s partner of 11 years and a classmate from MassArt.
“I came out of the darkroom and saw Audai, who was like 4 months old, playing in a cardboard box, and he was the cutest little kid you could ever imagine,” Ms. Devine said. “So I sat down and started playing with him, and J. came out in the hallway. She’ll identify that moment as when she decided to try to get together. That was kind of it. But I met the kid first, technically.”



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