5 things I learned as a small-town art student

5 things I learned as a small-town art student

Hello reader! I’m starting my blog up from scratch, but for my first post, I’m going to look back a bit at a blog post I made on April 28, 2014 for a school assignment. Writing this piece let me look back on the place I grew up—and as much as I often didn’t like it there, it did help to mould me into the person I am today.

This week, I officially started the second year of my BA in Professional Communications at Royal Roads. I’m in Victoria (the sky is blue, the grass is green, and the sun is shining… sometimes) to complete my final residency. A big part of my three weeks here will be focused on video production, but we’re also completing a course on intercultural communication.

Royal Roads 2014

I found out during a group research project last year that when you’re studying culture, it’s a good idea to start by exploring where everyone in the group is coming from, culture and identity-wise. For one thing, it will keep you from making embarrassing (and potentially hurtful) assumptions about your groupmates. It also helps you check your own assumptions about the culture that you’re going to be studying. In the spirit of learning a bit more about myself and my family—and in the spirit of completing all my assignments—I started on fleshing out a cultural autobiography.

I grew up in a small-town in Saskatchewan of about 1,100 people. It’s predominantly Catholic (we weren’t), relatively conservative (we aren’t) and last time I checked, didn’t teach any art classes beyond grade 9. My mom, meanwhile, taught dance classes. She grew up in a small town nearby, and when I was growing up, her mom was the minister for a United Church in a nearby city. As far as heritage goes, my mom’s side of the family is Scottish if you look far enough back.

On my dad’s side, I’m a second generation immigrant. This makes it brilliant when teachers ask you to think about how your family arrived in Canada, and the answer is “on a plane.” For the record, high school teachers do consider this answer to be invalid.

Painting, Age 13

My dad’s family moved from the Netherlands when he was 12 or so. His parents owned a local motel, and shortly after I was born, his dad helped him buy a local apartment building. As such, my parents had a fairly steady income from tenants until they sold the building when I was a teenager and began building luxury homes. My dad, and his dad, were also doing construction work long before I came around, and as far as I know, his family was quietly atheist during this time.

I remember my upbringing as being relatively entrepreneurial, which made me want to run my own business at an early age, and I took a lot of my values and beliefs from my parents.

When I talked to my mom about the lessons she and my dad taught me growing up, though, she said that she’d be sure to tell a childhood friend that they managed to teach me something in between all the NASCAR races and house parties.


1. Not everyone sees the world the same way you do.

In elementary school, we started the day by lining up at our desks, singing the national anthem, and saying the Lord’s Prayer.

Once, before I started identifying as an atheist, my mom told me “It’s OK for us, but could you imagine being a family that was Buddhist, or another religion? How uncomfortable would it be? That’s not fair.”

2. Words are powerful.

When I was 14, a friend of mine spread rumours that I was a lesbian. Upset, I talked to my mom about it, and these were her words: “You know that’s not actually an insult, right?”

That really stuck with me. I think that even if I hadn’t started identifying as bisexual (quietly, until I went to college), I would have been outraged at the way that LGBTQ issues were treated where I grew up.

3. You can do anything, but you’ll have to put the hard work in to get there.

When I started high school, I firmly decided that I was going to fulfill my dream to be a writer or an artist. I brought home an essay that I wrote at school, explaining why I didn’t want to take on a “safe” career. My parents were behind me 100%.

I was really lucky. Not just to have parents that supported me, but to be able to commit resources to the project that was my driving purpose during most of my teenage years. Sure, not every teenager would have been able to do what I did—but very few people had the opportunities that I did, either.

4. Education is really important. To you, personally.

My brain is analytical enough to ruin pop culture for everyone around me, and addicted to reading enough that I apparently read the whole school library by the time I graduated. My parents were pretty sure I was going to university—although neither of them had—but I’m sure they would have supported me had my decision been different, too.

5. You can choose the people in your life.

We largely opted out of local politics, which included keeping my brother and I out of French immersion. Small town politics can be painful, and sometimes it’s easier to step aside, let people run their own world and stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve.

This became more positive in time: “Surround yourself with people who make you a better person. Today, the people I play D&D with, tweet with, volunteer with and generally hang out with are all amazing people accomplishing amazing things and making the world around them a better place.

That means that I can focus on making the world a better place, too.