Living Your Art: My First Week of Fifth Year (and Why It’s Equally Awesome and Scary)

NB: this isn’t just a “look at my cool new courses!” post. It’s also a reflection on committing to your art in public, and on the personal and social stigmas attached to “being an artist” full-time. Because I can never make things simple.

All right kiddos, full disclosure time: I’m an artist of all colours. Illustrator, designer, poet, novelist, musician, fledgling circus artist–the list goes on. In terms of post-secondary education, I was originally going to enter Sheridan’s Animation program when Linguistics caught my eye instead–because I wanted to be able to conlang, to make up fictitious languages for use in my stories. Important to note: from the outside, my academic career does not reflect my passion for art. Especially because linguistics is, really, the science of language. And especially because, in order to fulfill the degree requirements, I’ve taken essentially nothing but LIN courses for my previous four years of university.

Of course, now that I’m in my fifth year and have a whopping nine credits (that translates to one full-year course and one half-year course) left before I fulfill my degree requirements, it turns out I’ve got nearly a full year’s worth of space to take whatever I want.

I’ve spent the past four years of my life as a full-time student trying to scrape out space to do my art. I’m always complaining about never having time to draw or to write or whatnot. So in a stroke of genius, Past Sienna decided to put together a fifth year that would put these two lives together, that would effectively demand space for artistic pursuits because the artistic pursuits are also being graded. Ten points for time/resource management.

Fast forward to the week of September 11-17. The weather’s finally hitting scarf-appropriate degrees in the morning, the keener leaves on the trees are starting to brown at the edges, and I’m commuting to two different campuses from my apartment (which, incidentally, is informally referred to as The Shire.) It’s my first year as a commuter AND my first year attending courses at the Keele campus–that’s a lot of change on top of the aforementioned change in the type of courses I’m taking. But with some 7AM tai chi on the balcony and some homemade couscous packed up for lunch, I jumped into the week ready to see what it had to offer me.

Lo and behold, the Standard Week:

Monday: Modern English (LIN3608) – This was a hilarious start to the week. I showed up at Glendon, we passed out the syllabus and read through it, we discussed things like assignments and their due dates . . . and then we were let go. That’s it. Fifteen minute class. Having skimmed the outline for the Fall semester, I can say with confidence that this is going to be the easiest course in my schedule: its prerequisites are either Structure of English or Intro to Linguistics, and I’ve taken both. In first year.

A sneak peek at me in this class.
A sneak peek at me in this class.

I don’t want to say “bird course,” because for the majority of younger students it likely won’t be easy–but for someone who’s already covered phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, Old English and the history of English, it’s not exactly gonna be a struggle. Wake me up when we’re done talking about The Great Vowel Shift.

Tuesday: Classical Strings for Non-Majors and Majors (MUSI1011) – Now THIS class, I was bouncing up and down about for days beforehand. I bought a violin back in April and have managed to squeeze in between 30-60 minutes of practice a day ever since, even with my hectic summer job. This was also the first time I’d ever come to Keele with the intention of attending a class, and I’ve gotta say, in small doses, a big campus is fun! The wealth of opportunities and clubs and events and Things To Do is overwhelming, but in a good way.

In class, the instructors presented themselves and performed pieces on three of the four instruments we could learn–violin, viola, and cello. Matt Brubeck and Parmela Attariwala are great musicians, with super cool improvisation skills, and it’s clear they have fun playing together. We spent the majority of class going over the course requirements (see also: York doesn’t provide instruments for music classes, so you gotta buy/rent your own!) and determining who would be learning which instrument. Next week we’re supposed to bring our assigned instrument and get right into learning how to play it. WORDS CANNOT DESCRIBE MY EXCITEMENT.

This, however, might explain my reaction to the Accolade East building and all its music majors bustling around with their instruments. Are they rushing or are they dragging?

Wednesday: Intro to Creative Writing (AP EN2600) – This class is split into lecture and tutorial. I made the decision to enroll in the tutorial that takes place three hours after the lecture, because it essentially guarantees me three hours of creative writing time per week (what else am I gonna do from 11:30-2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon at Keele?). The introductory lecture was a) really entertaining, b) very insightful, and c) the largest class I’ve ever been in. (Side note: I’ve noticed that I’m already sticking out as an anomaly in my Keele courses, because I’m outspoken and I engage with the profs as contemporaries rather than as strict authorities. I believe that self-confidence came in large part from Glendon’s social environment, where everyone knows and CARES about each other’s development and wellbeing. The Perks of Being a Glendon Student, #3328: increased self-assurance!)

Michael Helm, the professor who heads the lecture, is as articulate as you’d hope/expect a writer to be. And he also says some really accurate things about art and artists; my favourite quote of the day was “Writers are FREAKISHLY CURIOUS people!” He’s not wrong. We talked about the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction (my opinion: it’s more of a spectrum than a strict dichotomy), we dragged the Da Vinci Code (another amazing quote: “So if you want to sell 70 million copies of something, write like that–because you can basically read it while unconscious.”), and we discussed what it meant to learn how to read with the eyes of a writer. In the tutorial, we wrote two short exercises (depicting an abstract concept–in this case, ‘happiness’–with concrete, sensory details, and a self-introduction in the third person). I was given a 2-page short story to read for next week, and that was that.

writers  stillwriters

Pictured above: expectation.

Thursday: Honours Thesis (Topics in Ojibwe Sociolinguistics) – I’m actually still in the middle of clearing the paperwork with Academic Services, but once it’s filed in the system, I’ll be all set. I’ve already constructed my syllabus with my supervisors–it reads something like this:

The thesis will be composed of two parts: a visual component and a written component. More specifically, I plan to illustrate (in the fashion of a graphic novel) a selected Anishinaabeg aatisookanan (Ojibwe traditional story) in a way that can serve as:

  • A useful and accessible language resource for the Ojibwe-speaking community (the text of the graphic novel will be in both Anishinaabemowin and English);
  • An introduction into Anishinaabeg worldview for non-indigenous people, one which is as genuinely represented as possible; and
  • A commentary on the indispensable nature of Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language) in attempting a serious effort at understanding Anishinaabeg worldview, and with it, a serious effort at reconciliation

The written component will serve as supporting documentation for the art. It will focus on analyzing the artwork itself, in terms of stylistic choices and visual rhetoric, as well as exploring the lessons that non-indigenous people can take away to support the socio-cultural movement towards reconciliation. These essays will be written from a sociolinguistic standpoint, and pay close attention to visual semiotics and issues in translatability, among other topics.

So essentially, my Honours Thesis is a heavily-annotated comic book. HECK YES.

Gonna be listening to a lot of this.

Friday’s a day off, so that’s it. The consensus?

My schedule is wicked cool.

And it’s also terrifying.


Because to be perfectly honest with you, I struggle with the idea of being allowed to be an artist, to identify that as my primary interest and, critically, my primary choice of career. Taking almost a full year of art-themed courses feels like I’m cheating somehow. Like one of these days the Fraud Police are going to show up at my door and tell me that it’s time to go back to my Real People Courses and my Real People Career Options.

I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about why I have this internalized fear of committing openly and publicly to my art. Maybe it’s the result of being the daughter of two amazingly talented artists who gave up possible artistic careers in order to do what they needed to raise their children (really, you should see what my mother can do with a paintbrush, what my father can hear in a song. It’s amazing.)

Maybe it’s the result of spending six years in the Gifted program, which took place in an environment that was highly academic, heavily STEM-focused, and which valued artistic pursuits as noble hobbies but not as legitimate or useful career paths.

Maybe it’s just the general tune of the society I grew up, the all-too-familiar chorus: “okay, but what about a real job?” Maybe it’s all of these things and more.

Whatever it is, I am asking you all for help. We all need support and encouragement, and we all need each other to act as cheering squad while we chase our dreams. So I’m asking for whatever you’ve got to give me. Comment with your own experiences, or throw me some love in the Let’s Chat box, or just send me positive vibes. As the concept of living my art sinks in–as I work to unravel the issues surrounding my capacity to commit fully to my artistic pursuits–I’ll keep you updated.

With love and many musings,


A photo by Tim Arterbury.


2 thoughts on “Living Your Art: My First Week of Fifth Year (and Why It’s Equally Awesome and Scary)

  1. I loved reading this! Also it’s so great that you’re able to take such a creative courseload in your fourth year. And when it comes to your artistic path: GO FOR IT! You have great talent in such a wide variety of things, not utilizing it would deprive the world of your abilities ❤


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