Wednesday, February 3, 2010


My parents’ copy of Sisters in the Wilderness (the biography of early Canadian authors Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill) has been on my bookshelf for around 7 years now. It made it onto the back layer of the top shelf at some point, so it didn’t exactly leap out when I’d go looking for something to read, until a recent re-org brought all my unread books to one place, at eye-level. And, to be honest, I was expecting it to be a bit dull – something that I kind of felt like I should read as a good female Canadian English major, but not something that I was really going to be dying to pick up.

But, after my most recent dose of Twilight, I was ready for something a bit weightier, so I decided to give it a go: and it’s been incredibly interesting. The story of these two sisters touches on everything from survival as pioneer homesteaders, to the challenges facing female authors, to old-world prejudices against uncouth colonials, to the influence of the Orange Order, all the way to spiritualism and table-rapping. And it’s reminded me that good biography is history through the lens of a life. And really, that’s what history is. It isn’t dates or artefacts – it’s the lives of people who, like ourselves, have fractured identities, and make choices based on circumstance and necessity, but nevertheless build things up and tear things down, and in doing so lay the foundation for the world as we know it.

being an artist

Ecclesiax is organizing an art auction to raise money for relief in Haiti (Evening of February 26, for anyone in O-town who’s interested in attending), and I am donating some photography. I think this is a great initiative, but it’s also weird to call myself a visual artist and try to sell my art. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I love taking pictures, because it makes me see what’s around me. And, yes, I like it when my shots work out.

But this is something different. This is me standing up and saying “I take good enough pictures that someone who doesn’t even know me should want to put them on the wall.” And that’s a vulnerable experience – because if nobody does want my photos, it will be hard not to take it personally. I’ve been through this with singing, acting and writing over the years (even this blog carries the same anxieties of “I am assuming I have something worth saying …. Maybe I don’t”): it’s scary to stand up and own my talents, because then they are open to being refuted.

It’s like I am trying to cross some kind of line from amateur to “real” artist. And I know that that’s not the point: the fact that taking pictures makes me see the world through more fine-tuned eyes is reason enough to keep taking pictures, even if nobody wants to buy what I offer to the auction. But it’s still scary to put it out there, to let perfect strangers decide whether the way I have captured what I see is actually interesting or not …