Tree of Life

My surprise is when I walk into my University Writing for New Forms of Media class and Ross Laird has set paint on the tables. Yes, we are painting in a University class and most of us aren’t art majors, but our objective is to get in touch with our creative side, to find meaning beyond the distinct lines of ink on paper. The goal is not to paint a detailed scenery or landscape, but to brush emotion onto a blank canvas. This isn’t an exercise created for fine arts students, every one participates, even the artistically impaired. Being creative doesn’t only mean playing an instrument, building sculptures, or writing an award-winning novel. Creativity applies to the structure of a business, to advertisements, to a new product, building a website, or just about anything else you can think of. My idea of creativity is getting in touch with my emotional side, allowing those emotions to flow from me and produce a combination of mediums in my writing I would not normally think of.

What appears as a tree in my painting stands for so much more. In the swipe of brush strokes I get to thinking about my outlook on life and how much it has changed over the past two years. Previously I would get caught up in the negative aspects of my life, deeply unsatisfied with my lack of accomplishments. I am always looking at the things I haven’t achieved. However, I learnt that this particular outlook is only going to drive me down further. Life is a tree. The cliché for the tree of life shouldn’t be chopped up to a literary metaphor and overlooked so quickly. On one side of my painting there is a red weeping willow, the strokes pulling you back down towards the ground. On the opposite side is a living tree, its branches stretching upwards towards the sky. It’s no coincidence the colour green represents inspiration and creativity.

Most of us would like to chill out on the right side of the painting. Sometimes we do, our life takes a positive turn and we are enthralled by our career, friends, family, or hobbies. Then sometimes something less positive happens in our life and we ask ourselves, ‘Why can’t everything in our life just go well for once?’ My experience in my studies at University have been a positive experience for me. Creative writing: my classes, my individual projects, my poetry readings, have taken off faster than I expected. This leaves me smiling when I go to bed. However, sometimes my social life, my relationships, the cost of school can get me down. Before I would allow these negative aspects and heartbreaks to make everything in my life seem unfair or disappointing. Well, the truth is there will always be negative and positive aspects to our life. We have to choose what direction we are going to focus our attention. As we climb higher, our roots get deeper. The question here is which side of the tree are you going to climb?

Identity, what?

Lately I’ve been thinking about my identity, who I am. I used to believe it was an easy question to answer. I was a ballet dancer and so I that is who I am. Too many people mistake what they do and their titles; doctor, lawyer, supervisor, with who they are. I lived and breathed dance and spent five or more hours a day in the studio. When I improved in dance, pointed my foot stronger or lifted my leg higher, I was also improving myself. I started to associated my dance ability with how special I was. When I had to quit dance I lost all self-confidence. Not only did I lose one of my greatest passions, but I lost myself. Afterwards I tried so many career paths and hobbies, I needed to know where I belonged. It was a couple years before I started to piece together who I was and found another passion: writing.

Our identity isn’t made up of one thing, but many. Most of us come to associate who we are not only by what we do, but where we come from, how we dress, our family, and even the small things such as tattoos, piercings, hairstyles, how we talk, etc. Recently I’ve been working on a personal essay for my non-fiction class tackling this topic. I find that lots of us cookie-cut ourselves and mistake a larger cultural identity or family identity with our own individual identity. Often times we also appear to be someone we are not, or maybe it’s simply that we are a lot of things? Even where we grow up becomes a part of our identity. For example, it seems that a lot of British Columbians feel vulnerable when they visit Alberta because they are used to the mountains acting as a shield or another form of protection. Albertans, as I’ve been told, feel restricted in British Columbia. Alberta has a flat landscape of farmland as opposed to the two or three mountain ranges one crosses when driving the Trans-Canada Highway in B.C.

For a while I dyed my hair every possible colour, even rainbow. This happened after I quit dance and needed to find a way to make myself feel like I had something special. You can call it what you want. For a while it worked: I dyed my hair every two months and enjoyed all my friends reactions when they didn’t recognize me. But this was only a facade, an external version of who I am. I’m not going to tell you that this was just a faze which didn’t matter at the end of the day because even though I just have brown hair with no extra colour at the moment, I still feel self-expression is a big part of who I am. Creativity is pushed forward in many ways. We are all creative, but we simply find it through different interests. Colouring my hair was just a way to express my artistic side and share it with the people I meet in my day to day life.

Without stepping too much on my personal essay in the works, our identity is like a puzzle. We all have different nuances that make up who we are, but until we fit them together it’s hard to answer the question: who are you?

For me, at this moment in my life, I can say, “I am Marlow and I’m still in the making.”

What Do You Know?

I was just taking a breather from my endless pile of homework by watching a few episodes of the first season of Once Upon a Time. For a moment I was able to live in a fairytale, but was struck by one line the main character, Emma, said to Snow White: if something doesn’t feel right it’s because it is generally wrong.

This wisdom felt like something I should have already understood in my life. However, sometimes as individuals with different thoughts and feelings, we can come to live certain lessons without actually being able to place a finger on what we are learning. For instance, the times when we take a bite of hot food, fight to swallow it, and repeat. We know that it hurts, but we do it again anyways. When we are in the centre of an issue we often get lost in it. It’s the cliché: blinded by love. However, from a distance, situations and relationships can look so much different, almost revolutionary.

I was just in a relationship that felt so right on the surface. We connected instantly and shared some pretty amazing moments. We went from playing golf to swing dance, painting his apartment to poetry festivals, and weekends in the wild to nights out on the town. As great as it was, I remained very guarded. Something about the beginning of our relationship didn’t feel quite right. When Brian and I met I was dating another man, at least I thought I was. Whenever we went out we were either a couple or just friends, but never both at the same time. However, Brian swept me off my feet and showed me that he wanted me. I never had the chance to figure out exactly where I was with this other man, nor end it on any understanding or clean note. Well, just as fast as Brian and I started, we ended.

After I heard this line: if something doesn’t feel right it’s because it is generally wrong, this whole situation became so clear, as did many others. Pay attention to how you are truly feeling and your intuition. Don’t lie to yourself. Instead, ask yourself, does this feel right to me? Not only in your relationships, but look at every facet of your life: your social life, your job, your career path, and even your hobbies. And I ask you (as I was asked in one of my writing classes), what do you know?



*Names have been changed in this article

The Roaring Twenties

We’ve all been through itHighschool. A place where we discover our first crush, our first love, or experience our first kiss, first no-parents party, or maybe take a swig from our first Bacardi Breezer. We just went through puberty and suddenly we want to share a cone with the cutest guy in school (or most gorgeous girl). We let go of the days we take to one-skate roller blading or riding a skateboard on our stomachs down the steepest hill in town. It’s one of the biggest changes most people go through in their life time, but we’ve heard it all before. From The Importance of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (which they are now producing a movie), to the evolution of vampire escapist literature, to teen angst websites; there’s not much that hasn’t been said. Now I’m not here to discredit Highschool. I’ve had just as many life changing, exciting, growing, and devastating experiences as any one else, but what about University?

We say our teens is the time we get to know ourselves, and although the process never ends as my mother likes to tell me, our twenties is often overlooked. University and the following few years is when we truly begin to see deeper into our being, soul, or inner self. We all call it something different, but we all experience it. Sometimes we can rationalize the choices we make like why we broke up with a particular boyfriend or girlfriend and sometimes it’s like a time bomb with no count down. It blows up in our face. What we planned turns out to be the exact opposite of what actually happens. Either way, we are left to deal with the bigger issues that influence our impulses and impressions.

I’ve been a University student for two years and in that time I’ve dealt with anxiety, had my first one night stand (and certainly not the only one), been in a polygamous relationship, published my first poem, found what I believed to be love and made some of the closest friends I’ll ever have, went through numerous breakups, started my own online literary and art journal with my friend Taryn Pearcey called Misfit Lit, and hiked up the side of a mountain to spend the weekend in the wild (my influence being Alexander Supertramp). I’ve traveled to Russia, Australia (where I lived for a year) and stayed on my father’s property in a little place called Beaton. The closest town is forty minutes away and has a population of twenty people.

Many of our experiences are completely new or come at us for different reasons than expected, but they all shed light on the person we wish to be. We hear it from our parents: even if a relationship ends we learn something new about ourselves. Our twenties is when most of us first move out of our parents house, work our way through University or find a better job, and finally lose that hated school night curfew. Suddenly our choices are made fully by ourselves and we are responsible for the consequences, be them good (and rewarding yourself for a job well done) or bad (left to pick up the pieces). It can be scary or exhilarating, maybe a little of both?

Whether the experiences are big or small, these pieces become a part of our make up of who we are, not who we appear to be, but how we identify ourselves.