Art is Where We Open Up (Or: There is Connection in Art and I Am Determined to Find All of It)

Real, deep, true connection is something I avoided for a long time. I wanted to be untouchable, unattached. Independent and stable and fine on my own. I didn’t want to put all my faith in a few people, because I didn’t want to see them leave and watch all that faith follow them out the door. I stayed away from any relationship that felt like it could be more than surface deep, because that felt like the only way to make sure I’d never get hurt, never have to go through all the things I was so afraid of. Rejection and grief and loneliness.

And then I did go through that. Someone who really mattered left, and I felt the pain and the loss, but my faith stuck around, and it’s been with me ever since. I learned, rather quickly, that connection isn’t just something we crave, but something we need, and that life seems hollow if we choose to go without it. If we continually choose comfort over vulnerability, if we continually choose solid ground over taking risks, we lose that potential for connection. And sometimes, even though it’s an attempt to protect ourselves, sticking to what we know hurts more than letting the familiar go for a few seconds just to see what could happen if we let others see us for who we truly are.

In a lot of ways, moving to Leeds for five months has been an exercise in opening myself up all over again. Walking into every situation with my chest pried a little wider than usual, a bit more of my heart on show for everyone to see. It’s terrifying, doing this over and over again every time I’m greeted by someone or something new. But it’s necessary, and it’s been beautiful spending the past eight weeks finding people who reflect parts of myself back to me. I keep reminding myself how wonderful it is to connect with the world around me, and I also keep remembering all the moments when I felt that kind of connection in a really, deep way.

Concerts always feel like connection. Three years I watched Broken Social Scene play a surprise set at WayHome. It was dusk, and the sky was turning purple around the crowd, and the band started playing ‘Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.’ Everyone began singing along, as if it was second nature, and the entire world seemed to thrum from the force of our voices. There were friends’ arms around my shoulders and a smile on my face and unknown bodies too close to my own, but the moment was perfect, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

There’s The National, who I have seen twice, and who end their sets with ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.’ They play it so slow and soft that you can barely hear the band, but the audience fills in, and everything outside of that moment quiets down, and all that exists is what’s right in front of you. There’s the dance parties I’ve had when members of Local Natives jumped in the crowd. There’s holding onto Florence Welch’s hand, dozens of people swarming her slight figure, all of us singing ‘Raise it Up’ at the top of our lungs. There’s Abby and I spending drives together belting out MUNA and Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift. There’s walking back to my apartment after seeing Wolf Alice, Charlotte and I still in a daze, our voices filling the quiet city as we yelled the lyrics to ‘Beautifully Unconventional.’ Music is a thread that connects so many of my most important experiences.

Then, there are the times when visual art – painting and drawing and sculpting – have been the basis for connection. When I wandered through MoMA and found Frida Kahlo’s Fulang-Chang and I, a portrait of the artist with a pet monkey, a mirror hung next to it, both pieces featuring the same frame. I remember walking up to it, staring at myself in the mirror and at Frida beside me, marvelling at how close I felt to her presence. Part of her being in me, and part of my being in her. When Laura and I saw Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works last week, the two of us standing in beams of light and contemplating our place in the world and looking at each other in awe. When I saw Basquiat’s notebooks at the Brooklyn Museum, pages and pages of his internal thoughts spread across gallery walls, taking in his words and wondering if mine will ever be displayed like that, too.

There’s connection in novels and film and clothing. Connection in how I spent most of high school superglued into a pair of black skinny jeans and a band shirt and a flannel and a denim jacket, creating a uniform that would bring me closer to the people I admired and further from the people I didn’t want to be around. Connection in passing around my copy of Just Kids, loaning it to Charlotte and Katie and my mum and wondering what each one of them found in the pages I hold so close to my heart. Connection in Amy and I seeing Call Me By Your Name together three times, sneaking cupcakes into the movie theatre when she and Katie and I celebrated my twenty-first birthday.

 When I stop to think about it, art was the first form of connection I ever truly understood, the first thing I ever revealed my true self for. I’ve formed connections with songs and books and paintings themselves, and all those things have also been in the background when I’ve made real, physical, human connections. Art is the soundtrack to my form of connection, and it’s what I remember when I think about past relationships and stand-out moments and transformative years.

Art feels like the basis for everything. It’s my favourite way to open up to someone, my favourite way to speak to someone’s soul and have them speak to mine. To have someone you admire or care about put on a song they know you love, or play a band they think you’ll like. To drag someone to an art exhibit, even if they’re reluctant, because you know they’ll get something out of it. To swap books and share articles and copy and paste poems and photos and quotes, using all those forms of expression to communicate secrets and meaning. All of that feels special.

I like forming connections with art and over art because it means you’re talking about or contemplating or experiencing something meaningful. You’re not feeding energy into the bad, venting about awful days or tiny annoyances. The connection is based on things you adore or appreciate, and you can tell by the way eyes light up and voices move faster and bodies seem to spring into action, ready to gesticulate and add emphasis when needed.  I want to hear about what people love, what makes them tick, what they’ll take to the grave, and so often art fits itself into all of those boxes.

I’m writing this because I want to push myself to form connections like this more often than I already do. I want to compliment someone’s band tee or comment on the book they’re carrying around. I want to get wrapped up in conversations about what my friends and acquaintances are inspired by. I want to recognize the art that exists in their bones, whether they’re the one making it or simply appreciating it. I don’t want to subsist on conversations that barely skim the surface of what our lives are about. Art is where the walls come down, where the mind opens up, where the heart starts speaking instead of being stopped by the brain. And it’s at that intersection that I want to get to know all the people who I want to keep close to me for a long time.


The One Where Creativity Got Really Hard

For a long time, creativity came really easy to me. My mind goes about a thousand miles a minute, and I’m used to spending my free time painting and writing and taking on DIY projects that pile up on bookshelves. I have stacks of full notebooks that I can’t bear to throw away, a whole cart full of art supplies, and an awful lot of wall-hangings and painted jackets and embroidered patches that I have put blood, sweat, and tears into. I have always defined myself by my creativity. It’s something that makes me feel powerful and expressive and authentic, and I hang onto it with a vice-like grip for fear of losing it.

Despite that grip, though, sometimes creativity fades away. Before coming to England, I had an idealized vision of the artist I’d be while I’m here. In my mind, I was ready to become someone who writes constantly and carries a sketchbook everywhere and sits down in the middle of random locations just because an idea is weighing on me. And that’s not what happened. In a lot of ways, I’m expanding my horizons and inhaling inspiration with every breath, but that doesn’t mean it’s translating into actual work. I’ve spent a couple weeks feeling pretty stuck, like my words are caught in my throat and nothing will ever bring them out into the world and I’ll exist like this forever, never being able to say what I want to say or do what I want to do.

Because I couldn’t just not do anything about losing this integral part of how I self-identify, I became incredibly committed to examining the creative processes of people I admire. I racked up lists of YouTube videos and podcasts and essays and interviews, all of them somehow connected to the topic of artistic expression. I find it helpful to listen to people I’m influenced by speak truthfully about their own creativity, and with every listen or read-through, I pulled myself a little more out of this hole of negativity. My mantra stopped being “I’m never going to feel creative again,” and started being “Creativity is cyclical and it’ll come back to me when it’s ready.” I stopped leaving my notebooks tucked in the furthest corner of my desk, and I started pulling them open and uncapping a pen and writing just to see what would come out. I feel good again, and even though I know that feeling awful about my artistic abilities is inevitable, at least I have tools in my belt that will help me get over it all over again.

Emma Gannon in Conversation with Greta Gerwig

I adore Greta Gerwig. She is a visionary who speaks into the heart of every girl who has ever felt misplaced or misunderstood, who has ever had the courage to dream of something bigger than what they were handed, who has ever believed in themselves enough to get to that place. As a guest on Emma Gannon’s podcast, Gerwig gets real about her creative process, and I found her honesty refreshing and reassuring. She discusses wasting time and being lazy, affirming that bouts of non-work are part of any creative pursuit and that the long-perpetuated myth of artists that don’t stop working and never feel lost is false with a capital F. She talks boring work and allowing yourself to create something mediocre as long as you’re still working hard and seeing it through. Her perspective is one that is not communicated enough, and it is incredibly empowering to know that someone as talented as she is goes through the same things that I do.

Albert Camus, Create Dangerously

Penguin has just released a series of tiny books containing poems and essays and speeches. They’re packaged into tiny robin’s egg blue tomes, and each one only costs a pound. The last time I was in Waterstones, they had a few dozen spread out across a table, and it took everything in me not to buy every single one of them. I let myself pick out Andy Warhol’s Fame, but I was also drawn to Camus’ Create Dangerously. The guy at the counter told me I had chosen some good ones, and I raced back home so I could get stuck between their pages.

Camus has a lot of ideas about art, most of them centred around the fact that every artist has a duty to challenge the world and to speak up for those who can’t. He says that the artist “is the perpetual advocate of the living creature.” He reminds us that “all greatness, after all, is rooted in risk.” He closes with the powerful idea that “each and every man, on the foundation of his own sufferings and joys, builds for all.” The essay made me look at creativity differently, seeing it as a privilege and a duty rather than something that comes easily to me. It reminded me that art is a conduit for change, a constant risk, but also something that makes life worth living. I need to come back to my creativity over and over and over again, simply because it is my job to do so.

Florence Welch, Monster

About a month ago I read Rookie on Love, the newest collection of work put out by Tavi Gevinson and the team at Rookie Magazine. Ninety-five percent of the draw was the fact that Florence Welch had contributed a piece about creativity, and I knew I needed to own it, whatever it was. The passage is short, a poem with a dozen lines that walks through the monster that is created by our artistic need. Creativity is not a solitary act. We take pieces of ourselves, pieces of others, pieces of experiences, and we use those things to feed our work. And that may seem selfish, but once those moments are shared with us, they become part of who we are.

I think this is especially applicable when it comes to difficult or tender subjects. For a long time I didn’t write about the things that hurt, because I was afraid that the people who hurt me would see it or share it or comment on it. But those are my experiences, and if I want to be authentic, I need to write from reality. One of my favourite quotes is by Anne Lammott, and she says “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Both Welch and Lammott inspire me to be truthful in my art, because that is really the only place we can ever start.

Patti Smith

Patti feels like my compass. Everything I do stems from her and goes back to her, an endless loop of learning and creating and giving back to the woman who gave me so much. She is the source of my intense desire to create something that impacts the world. She is the one who pushes me, over and over again, to believe in who I am and what I can do. She is a voice of change, someone who makes me want to do better and be better, and it is only natural that I turn to her when I feel a lull in my creativity. She has all the answers.

With so many years of artistic experience, it’s not surprising that Smith has a lot to say about creativity. In conversation at the Louisiana Literature Festival in 2012, she shares her firm belief that every one of us has a creative impulse, and every one of us has the right to exercise that impulse. Creativity takes different forms, and some of us feel the need to commit our lives to our artistic practices, but no matter what, we all have the capacity to create. Even when I’m not writing, I can find my artistic self in decorating the space around me, or walking through the world, or making a cup of tea. Existence is an act of creation all on its own.

In another interview, filmed at Cannes Lions in 2011, Smith discusses art as a movement for the people, an act of freedom. We all have the right to participate, to use our voices, to teach ourselves how to play guitar or wield a paintbrush. Creativity is energy, and it exists across the world. It is a practice, something we must work on, something that has to be present in our daily lives if we want it to be of any significant value. Inspiration can be found in anything. Creativity can be sparked by the sea, by a poem, by a film. Our artistic impulses are inextricable from life itself, and it is our job to find them and use them. She ends the clip by saying “Don’t be ashamed, don’t be self-conscious, believe in yourself, and work hard,” which might as well be the golden rule of any act of self-expression.

Finally, Patti’s words are an endless source of comfort and reassurance. Her most recent release, Devotion, is an essay on her own creative process. She discusses how her writing meanders, the long journeys it takes, the ideas and thoughts and inspiration go into it. One of my favourite lines is when she asks: “Why do we write? Of course, the answer writes itself: ‘Because we cannot simply live.’” Creativity makes life worthwhile. It enriches every day. It causes us to notice changes in the colour of the sky, to carry words in our chests until we find the right way to express them, to buy trinkets that we are inexplicably drawn to, only to have them influence a new piece of work. It is simple, daily magic.

What I’ve learned throughout this process of rediscovery is that we could all use a little help. It’s amazing to turn to the people we admire, the ones who have years and years worth of experience, but it’s also good to turn within and see what we can dig up. I’ve taken to physically throwing my phone across the room in order to prevent myself from picking it up whenever something gets hard. I’ve realized that the best way to fix myself is to turn a song up terribly loud and dance until I can feel my blood rushing through me again (If you’re going to do this, I’d recommend ‘Shake It Out’ by Florence + the Machine or ‘I Can’t Quit’ by The Vaccines). I’ve figured out that putting something down on the page, even if it’s awful, is better than leaving it blank. Creativity is cyclical. It changes as I change, and it never looks the same from one day to the next. I’m learning how to ride the waves of it all, to be okay with the highs and the lows. I am physically incapable of letting go of my artistic practice, so I might as well embrace the process and get the heck on with it.

Art Imitates Life: A Little Life

Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully. –Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Packing five months of my life into a couple suitcases was a daunting task. I spent a long time distilling who I am into my favourite band shirts and the pair of jeans that I wear as if they’re glued to my body and the notebooks that I carry around at all times. Worse than all that, though, was deciding which books to bring. I have shelves packed with novels and autobiographies, coffee table books and art history texts. I turn to them for companionship and inspiration and encouragement, and the idea of choosing only a few was a hard one to wrap my head around.

When it came down to it, I knew which ones I needed to have with me. I got the Patti Smith box checked off easily – Just Kids and Devotion and a copy of her 1978 poetry anthology titled Babel, which is something I still can’t believe I own. I piled on You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, a book that everyone who wants to live their best life needs to read. I was missing a novel, though, and although I could have brought my favourite Harry Potter book or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch or The Secret History, I eventually decided on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

This is not an easy book. It’s over 700 pages long. It’s dense and heavy and it sits inside your stomach once you’ve finished it. The first time I read it, I put it down multiple times because the passages were too heartbreaking and the emotions were too strong. The author has said that she wanted to write a novel like ombré cloth, something that starts out light and is pitch black by the end, and that’s what she did.

I brought A Little Life with me because it feels human. It lives and breathes, the lives of Jude and Willem and JB and Malcom intertwining with your own. The lows are really, really low, and the highs, although somewhat mundane, shine through the darkness like jewels. It puts your own hardships into perspective while simultaneously making you realize the value of the tiny, shimmery moments, even when they’re as normal as making eye contact with your best friend across a crowded room or going out for dinner at the same place with the same group of people every week.

The world that this book lives in seems attached to so many other things, and that’s why I’m writing this. There are no other books like it – and believe me, I’ve searched – but it comes up in art pieces and movies and songs. I like when one form of art bleeds into a million other forms of art, and A Little Life does that beautifully.

Visual Art

What drew me to this book in the first place was the cover. It’s a black and white photo by Peter Hujar, and when you relate it to the novel itself, it displays so much pain, reflecting the content of the book back at the reader.  It reminds me a lot of a photography series by Maud Fernhout called What Real Men Cry Like, which is a really beautiful depiction of boys being vulnerable and transparent about their emotions. Another similar piece is Robert Tait Mackenzie’s Four Masks of Facial Expressions, which are plaster casts depicting violent effort, breathlessness, fatigue, and exhaustion. It’s another work of art that depicts emotion exceptionally, just as the cover of the book does.


This connection may be because the film is fresh in my mind or because I am mildly obsessed with it, but I think Call Me By Your Name mirrors A Little Life in more ways than one. Both show the nuances and breadth of human emotion. Both are about connection and vulnerability and how hard it is to put your guard down. Both are not frivolous, but real, when it comes to describing relationships. It’s the last scene of Call Me By Your Name that reminds me of this book. Elio cries in front of the fireplace for nearly four minutes, letting the dam break and his sadness run through him. It’s glorious, and the parallels that can be drawn between he and Jude are numerous.


The very first song that reminded me of A Little Life was ‘All The Sad Young Men’ by Spector. The band does a really good job of communicating both connection and disconnection, and we see a lot of that in Yanagihara’s masterpiece. I eventually added ‘St. Jude’ by Florence + the Machine to the list. In the novel, Jude is named after the patron saint of lost causes, and that is exactly what Florence sings about in the track. Another notable one is ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’ by The National, as Jude spends much of the book distancing himself from others because he believes this will keep them safe. The tracks I’ve included in this playlist are overflowing and emotive and they hold nothing back, much like A Little Life.

Reading this book all over again is proving to be difficult. I pick it up each morning and feel a bit of my heart fall out of my chest and into its pages. I feel for every single character, I understand some of the hardships (though definitely not the biggest ones), and I am so drawn to the lives of these friends that I feel as though I am one of them. Although it’s painful and heart wrenching, it also feels hopeful, and a tiny glimmer of hope is really all that we can ever ask for. That’s what keeps me going.

Side note: I checked my Goodreads page, and I was reading A Little Life at exactly the same time last year as I am this year. Life is cyclical and amazing and I love that my life now is connected to my life then, even in such a small way.

Paint Sounds: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz

Visual art and music are numbers one and two on the list of things I love most in the world. The order changes depending on the day, but the power of a trip to an art gallery or a dance party to my favourite record is undeniable, and both can lift my mood or turn my day around in the blink of an eye. I’m lucky to be able to study both things, and although I deeply understand how they fit together, it is sometimes difficult to put that connection into words that make sense to others. I always want to bring art and music as close together as possible, so I’m drawing parallels between some of my favourite artworks and my favourite songs.

I have been enamoured by creative partnership since the very moment I picked Patti Smith’s Just Kids off a shelf in Indigo, obsessed with her relationship with Robert Mappelthorpe. That duo will certainly be featured in this series, but I’m starting off with Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. The Art Gallery of Ontario staged an O’Keeffe exhibit last summer, and I visited it multiple times, always captivated by the mirror images that can be picked out of her work and his. Their relationship was symbiotic but also spacious, and the pieces created over the course of two distinct careers are magnificent. I’ve narrowed it down to a few of my favourite works, and there’s a song to go along with each one, all of them wrapped up in a playlist called Paint Sounds, which is my feeble attempt at referencing The Beach Boys. As far as I’m concerned, music and art are inextricably intertwined, and I will explore that bond until the day I die.

Alfred Stieglitz, Snapshot – From My Window, New York, 1902 and ‘Step’ by Vampire Weekend

Alfred Stieglitz - Snapshot, From My Window, New York, 1902

While Vampire Weekend is taking a million years to release new music, I’ve resorted to listening to their previous albums quite often. ‘Step’ is one of my favourite tracks, and my brain seems to associate it with grey days spent tucked away in an apartment overlooking the city, much like Stieglitz depicts in this photo. Both are moody and nostalgic, straightforward yet layered, and they complement one another well.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Music: Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918 and ‘Dreams Tonite’ by Alvvays

Georgia O'Keefe - Music- Pink and Blue No. 2, 1918

I adored this song from the very first second I heard it, enchanted by the floaty tempo and the way the instruments seem to swirl around the lyrics. Everything about Alvvays is vivid, and O’Keeffe’s billowing forms match the colour palette evoked by this track. O’Keeffe was intrigued by the idea of transforming aural sensations into visual ones, and although I doubt she was listening to Alvvays when this piece was created, they make a good pair nonetheless.

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe – Hands, 1919 and ‘Dancing Barefoot’ by Patti Smith

Georgia O'Keefe - Hands, Alfred Stieglitz

I had to pull Patti in here somehow, didn’t I? This track gives power to a female force, but also discusses her roots in a male equivalent in a way that represents the connection between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz extremely well. Throughout their partnership they both retained their individual identities, but Stieglitz was let into a part of O’Keeffe not often seen by the rest of the world. He captured photos of her at her most vulnerable, hinting at the intimate entanglement of the two artists. O’Keeffe’s hands were her most important tool, and I love how they are depicted here. On a side note, Patti has also written a poem about O’Keeffe, which can be read here.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Ladder to the Moon, 1958 and ‘Gravity Don’t Pull Me’ By Rostam

Georgia O'Keefe - Ladder to the Moon, 1958

O’Keeffe’s pieces retain elements of the natural world while also opening portals to the mystical, and this painting is a beautiful representation of that. Rostam’s track evokes the weightlessness of O’Keeffe’s work, his use of sound transporting the listener into another realm. Listening to the song while viewing the painting causes them to form a single entity, two different forms of expression merging in time and space.

Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalent, 1930 and ‘Sky Musings’ by Wolf Alice  

Alfred Stieglitz - Equivalent, 1930

This photo is one in a series of works in which Stieglitz focused on the sky, freeing the viewer from defined meaning and creating a sense of abstraction. ‘Sky Musings’ stands in contrast to it, and the hurried, claustrophobic track initially seems to be the antithesis of an expansive sky, although the two are perhaps connected by more than what is seen on the surface. Gazing up at the atmosphere can sometimes evoke feelings of smallness and overwhelm, and Wolf Alice’s lyrics discuss these exact sensations, as well as a desire to disappear into the ether. Stieglitz’s photos are transporting, providing a momentary escape from the bombarding thoughts that come along with life.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Horse’s Skull with White Rose, 1931 and ‘White Light/White Heat’ by The Velvet Underground

Georgia O'Keefe - Horse's Skull with White Rose, 1931

What strikes me about this piece is the duality of its components and the delicate balance that O’Keeffe has managed to strike. The skull, a sure sign of death and decay, is juxtaposed by the roses at its peak, and the white of the main subject contrasts the deep black background. The only song that felt appropriate to pair with it was The Velvet Underground’s ‘White Light/White Heat,’ and although the subject matter doesn’t match, the feelings are there. The track is chaotic but measured, the lyrics demanding deep thought and unwavering attention, just as O’Keeffe’s painting does.

It doesn’t take much to realize how intertwined we are with the world and the life that exists within it. Both art and music are products of a human need to express emotion and experience, as well as a deep desire to leave a mark that will remain long after our physical bodies have gone. O’Keefe and Stieglitz have clearly achieved both those things, as have many of the musicians mentioned. Products of human creation are eternal and often unmissable, but it is sometimes worth training our eyes on them for as long as we can, just to see what secret connections we can find.


Consume Like an Artist

A while ago I read a quote about how a prerequisite to being an artist is the ability to consume. Artists collect things. Fragments of movies, the way the lighting looks in a specific shot, how the sun falls on an actors’ jawline. Corners of paintings or a specific line of graphite in a sketch. The soaring bridge of a song, the bass beat in the melody, the way the singer changes notes. We fall in love with how poets describe city streets and winter mornings, with the aesthetic our heroes project, with intelligent advertising campaigns and album artwork and book covers. All of it is important.

I keep notes of things that really interest me, always carrying around a notebook where I can jot down snippets of overheard conversation or a really good line in a movie. It’s something I refer back to often, and the things that can’t really be held in there are kept in my mind or on my heart. When we come in contact with things that affect us, there really isn’t a choice whether or not you keep it with you. Some of them find ways of burrowing themselves under your skin, stuck to you forever. It’s a nice feeling. All of that collecting means something, and a lot of the best art is made when people combine what they know and what they love and what they can do.

I had a moment at the beginning of the year when I saw La La Land three times in theatres and maybe downloaded it so that I could watch it on a daily basis. I read interviews with the cast, I bought the soundtrack on vinyl, I memorized the lines and tried – and then failed – to insert them into everyday conversation. (For the record, replying “It’s wool” to a comment about your outfit isn’t actually funny and most people don’t get that you’re trying to imitate Ryan Gosling. I wouldn’t recommend it.)

La La Land infiltrated everything I was doing at the time, influencing the art I was making and the things I was writing and the discussions I was having. I hadn’t been so inspired by something in a long time, and it was a nice change to feel so consumed by a form of art that I don’t always connect with so deeply. I eventually settled myself and went on to find inspiration in other forms, but I still like the idea of what we consume in turn being influential to what we make for others to consume. I thought I’d compile a list of things I’ve been loving lately, partly because I think I should share their glory, but also because it’s just nice to talk about what you’re excited by. It’s something I think we should all do more of.


Rostam’s debut album Half-Light is a TRIUMPH. Charlotte and I were driving back from seeing Patti Smith on the day it was released, and I put it on Spotify and we sat listening to it in silence as she drove us home. I remember rock formations and quiet highways and wearing my concert t-shirt from the night before, exhausted but still in disbelief. The album mirrored my own joy, but it also mirrored the bittersweet feeling that came with the fact that the show, the road trip, the forgetting of daily life was over.  When I listen to it I still think about that day and the freedom I felt and the way the songs washed over my skin. I adore every single track, but standouts are “Bike Dream,” “Don’t Let It Get To You,” and “Gwan.” The third one opens with the lyric “Don’t listen to me I only believe in myself,” and the first listen felt life changing.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of solo Beatles albums, which I think came out of a desire to attempt to educate myself. The Plastic Ono Band’s Live Peace in Toronto 1969 is a bit of a hot mess, but I like how chaotic it is. Also, one listen to “Give Peace a Chance” makes me feel like a revolution, and sometimes music should inspire you to do important things like use your voice. RAM is the only Paul McCartney album that’s also attributed to Linda McCartney, and I started listening to this one after I bought a massive book of her photography and became enamored by their relationship. My favourites include “Ram On” and “Heart of the Country.” Last but not least, George Harrison’s All Things Must Past is really required listening at this point. “My Sweet Lord” has been one of my favourite tracks for a long time, but I also love “Wah-Wah” and “What is Life” – and the whole thing, really.


I am fascinated by creative process. It’s intimate to look in on how someone gets from Point A to Point B, how they write a song or take a photo or make it through a months-long retrospective of their work. I’m nosy and I like getting under the surface of things and that means music and art documentaries are right up my street. I’ve watched an awful lot of them, but these are some I keep coming back to.

1. Harry Styles: Behind the Album

I realize I waffle on about him a bit too much, but I watch this at least twice a month and it doesn’t get old. Watching Harry create his first solo album is enthralling, and it was smart to juxtapose the creative process of each track with a performance of the finished song. I tear up watching him happily lip sync the words to “Sign of the Times,” and I get serious outfit envy every time he shows up in another vintage t-shirt or a billowy blouse. It’s also reassuring to hear him talk about the fear he felt when releasing the record, which makes me feel a lot better about my own hesitation when it comes to sharing my work while also motivating me to do it anyway.

2. Marina Abramovic : The Artist is Present

This follows Abramovic as she goes through the steps of her own retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s poignant and emotionally charged and I love watching a female artist in a position of power. The woman is impressive as heck, and this documentary is and incredibly meaningful way to document such a monumental occasion.

3. The Vaccines – I Don’t Even Know You

This is only twenty-four minutes long so I’m not entirely sure whether or not it counts as a film, but they’re my favourite band and I had to include it. The video documents the highs and lows of the band, cutting together short clips of life on the road with past footage of early shows and recording sessions. I think part of me likes it so much because The Vaccines feel so close to me, but I forced Charlotte to watch it and she seemed to enjoy it, too, so it can’t be all bad. If you like scruffy indie band members and a healthy dose of angst interspersed with some nostalgia and milestone-reaching, this one’s for you.

Visual Art

I first set foot into Sandra Meigs’ Room for Mystics a few weeks ago, and I’ve returned twice since then to immerse myself in the environment she’s created on the top floor of the AGO. It is a celebration of joy and of pushing through pain to get to the brighter side of things. The pieces are striking, the accompanying score is trance-inducing and vibration-raising, and the entire thing leaves me in good spirits every time I visit.

Amalia Pica’s ears to speak of is currently being presented at The Power Plant, and it’s another notable exhibit. Touching on the failures of technology and communication, the exhibit raises questions and almost forces visitors to think about what we choose to listen to and how well we communicate with the people who matter to us. It also brings up the acts of listening and communicating as a privilege rather than a birthright, and I think that’s an important topic to consider. We can all be doing better.

Aside from the physical exhibits, I’ve also become completely enamored by Henri Matisse and Egon Schiele. Matisse’s cut-outs and nudes are vibrant and colourful, the kind of thing that confronts your senses in a good way. Schiele’s forms are spidery and romantic, and I like how they feel almost gothic. I can’t get enough.


I’ve plowed through a couple Bukowski anthologies over the past few months, mostly because what he wrote is the complete opposite of what I write. I often find it challenging to wrap my head around his poems, and I like how gritty and ordinary his subjects are. I finished Love Is a Dog From Hell a little while ago, and I’m currently working through Last Night of the Earth Poems. I’d recommend both of them.

I nearly cried when I bought a signed copy of Patti Smith’s newest book, Devotion, at her concert in Central Park. I spend a lot of time pressing my thumb to the indentations left by her pen, and I have definitely considered getting the signature tattooed near my heart. The book itself is a masterpiece, like everything Patti creates, and it sits on my bedside table, reminding me of the allegiance I have to Patti herself and the devotion I have to my own writing.

A bit of an odd one is Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles, which like many French novels, is kind of weird and off-putting. I enjoyed it nonetheless, soaking up its quirks and relishing in the fast pace and the short amount of time it took me to finish it. Another quick read is Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, which made me ask a lot of questions and consider a lot of aspects of my life and ultimately changed the way I view the path I’m on and the person I am.

I could definitely talk about more, but I feel like I’m pouring my lifeblood out onto the Internet and I’m scared that my veins might shrivel up. It’s also probably a good idea to save some of my favourite things for another blogpost in a couple months’ time. I hope you enjoy the things I love as much as I do – or at least pretend you do. (Just kidding. If you don’t, tell me about all the things that are better than the stuff I mentioned. I’d love to hear about them.)

Favourite Toronto Places: The Art Gallery of Ontario

luv a good room full of sculpture

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I talk about my love for Toronto a lot. I still can’t believe that I live in the city and that so many things that I love are so easily within reach. It’s easy to grab milkshakes at Denny’s at midnight on a Friday or to go record shopping or visit the waterfront or one of the many parks. It’s easy to get to concert venues or the ROM or a really great coffee shop. I love all of it, but one of my favourite places in the city by far is the AGO. In fact, it took me next to no time to get myself a membership, and even less time to tell myself that I would spend as much spare time there as I could. It’s an amazing place to have unlimited access to.

Art galleries are something that I could never grow tired of. I love how magical they feel and how they’re a communal place for so many like-minded people to gather and to look and think. I love the varying collections and the special exhibits. Whenever we go on a family vacation, I try and rope everyone into visiting one. It usually works out, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit The Louvre, Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado, the MoMA, The Brooklyn Museum, and so many more. It’s an addiction, if I’m being honest.

I visited the Art Gallery of Ontario last Saturday to take a break from the stress of midterms. It was grey and rainy, and somehow that just enhanced the experience, making it more intimate and moody, which is something I can always go for. I spent a while in their current photography exhibit about nuclear warfare and visited my favourite rooms before settling down on an empty bench. I spent an hour there, going through my art history notes, reviewing for my midterm, and soaking up all the inspiration I could from the artwork that surrounded me. It was stimulating and the soft noises of people passing through provided perfect background noise. It’s now going to be my go-to study space.

One of the main reasons I like to visit the AGO is to simultaneously fill my brain with notes of inspiration and clear my head of anything weighty. Knowing that I can stop in at any time and stand in front of Andy Warhol’s Silver Liz as Cleopatra for half an hour or try and figure out how photographers take such incredible photos makes me very happy. I like seeing how other people look at the art and the people who stop and linger or pass quickly. I envy the girls who have the guts to sit themselves down in front of a certain piece and draw it or draw something inspired by it – although if I can study in there, then maybe next time I’ll bring a sketchbook. People in art galleries show that a love for art isn’t fleeting or temporary, it starts at a young age and it stays until you’re old, and I think that’s perfect.

Obviously the AGO is the most easily accessible art gallery for me, but that doesn’t make it any less wonderful. It’s packed with incredible pieces by incredible artists, from Monet to Warhol to The Group of Seven. There are rooms for every mood, with walls completely covered in paintings and expansive spaces full of Henry Moore sculptures. There’s modern art and contemporary art and hundreds of different styles, so I don’t really see how anyone could be unhappy with it. It’s an incredibly inspiring space.

Aside from their permanent collection, the gallery does a pretty flawless job when it comes to their special exhibits. I went to see the Jean-Michel Basquiat one in April, and I was breathing heavily and tearing up before I even got inside. To see such monumental pieces as well as his work with Andy Warhol was overwhelming in the best way possible. They’ve also hosted works by Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, Patti Smith, Ai WeiWei, and many more. I’m just waiting for a new, really incredible one to pop up.

I try to incorporate creativity into every day. I write a lot and I keep track of words that I like and I recently started keeping a visual journal that allows me to throw together collages and paintings and doodles and paragraphs of my thoughts. Inspiration doesn’t always come easily, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make the creative juices flow. I put on my favourite records or get some fresh air or look through magazines to come up with an inspiration board, but creative spaces are also a huge part of facilitating inspiration, and the AGO can always breathe new life into me. With all of its aspects, it is most definitely a place that inspires me in an instant. I can tell you right now that I’ll be spending a lot of time there over the coming months.

Nuit Blanche: Top Five Exhibits

This year marked my second ever Nuit Blanche experience. The event showcases installations by hundreds of incredibly talented international artists over the course of twelve hours from dusk ‘til dawn. The city gets crowded with drunkards and tourists and by the end of the night you’re so exhausted you feel like you could sleep for a thousand years, but there’s nothing quite like being in the middle of Toronto at 3 A.M. with your best friends surrounded by art. And who doesn’t love a visit to Denny’s and a walk back home just as the sun rises?

Saturday was a bit of a marathon. I spent a couple hours last week looking through every single exhibit, picking out which ones seemed most interesting, and grouping them by location. I came up with a master plan. What didn’t seem like a lot at first turned into nine hours of walking and subway rides and sore feet, but it was worth it. We saw seventeen or eighteen exhibits from all over the city, and I loved almost all of them. From short films to photography exhibits to outdoor installations, it’s hard to narrow them all down to my top five. But here we are:


  1. There Is No Away, 2015 – Sean Martindale in collaboration with J.P. King

Obviously global warming is a huge issue. It’s one that’s been on my radar for a long time – I feel physical pain when buying plastic water bottles and being in places with no recycling system is quite awful. This art installation combined physical waste, from plastic bags to cans to cardboard, with typography and film in order to create an extremely impactful exhibit. The artist plays with the idea that although we say we’re throwing things away, there isn’t really an “away.” Things go to dumps and stay there for thousands of years or get dumped into oceans and ecosystems just to continue polluting our Earth. Giant words above blocks of trash read: “EVERYTHING MUST GO SOMEWHERE.” The piece was thought-provoking and relevant to one of the biggest problems of our time, making it incredibly striking and allowing it to resonate completely with (most of) the audience.


  1. Beaufort 12: Black Cloud, 2007 – Carlos Amorales

There is something both beautiful and terrifying about swarms of moths. Their wings, their flight, is captivating and enthralling, but when the insects are grouped together, their sheer force can seem overwhelming. This installation showcased thirty thousand paper moths clinging to the walls of a gallery. They concentrated in corners and were drawn to the lights, much like the real life insects. The sharp contrast of fluttery black wings on flat, white walls just added to the power of the exhibit. Light and dark, life and death, night and day, are just a few of the parallels that can be drawn from the piece. The idea is simple, but when translated into a tangible thing, it is incredibly thought-provoking and all-consuming.


  1. refugees run the seas…, 2014 – Francisco Fernandos Granados

This was the very last exhibit we saw. Exhausted and longing for food, I don’t think any of us felt like we could muster up the energy to see any more art. And then, walking out of the park, there was a billboard lit up across the street that stated simply: “refugees run the seas cause we own our own votes.” I had been dying to see this installation, but had completely forgotten about it until it was right in front of me. And with what little spark was left in me, my excitement returned and I rushed across the street to take a photo. I found the piece undeniably powerful. An altered line from Wyclef Jean’s part in “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira, the statement resonated with me in ways that I can’t explain. In light of what is currently occurring with Syrian refugees, I couldn’t help but be affected by a plain blue billboard littered with dull white text. The sentence feels like a dream that’s been said aloud, a longing for a world where refugees are treated like citizens. Right now, that seems pretty far off, but this piece gave me a little bit of hope.


  1. Shoes That Line The Lane, 2015 – Cyril Williams

Shoes tied together by their laces and thrown haphazardly over telephone lines have always fascinated me. Every time I see one, all I really want to do is strip my feet of my Converse and toss them above me in hopes that they’ll wind around the wires and stay there for as long as they can. This exhibit took those dreams to an entirely new level – a dozen wires hung tightly in the air with hundreds of pairs of shoes strung onto them. Soccer cleats from the day one scored their first goal, ballet slippers, shoes that worked on a farm, sneakers that have walked many places and a pair scribbled with a Ferris Bueller quote. There was even a pair that a woman had apparently worn when meeting John Lennon just weeks before his assassination. Every pair told a story. Every pair had been donated to the artists and would be donated to someone else when the exhibit came to an end. Clothing has always inspired me, and this escalated every emotion I’ve ever attached to a garment. I loved it. A lot.


  1. Les Bosquets, 2015 – JR

I love film. Short films are especially wonderful because all its importance is packed into a few minutes – every emotion is heightened; every action is more deliberate, every second is worth more. This piece was all of that and more. Inspired by one of the artist’s close friends, the film tells a tale of the 2005 Paris bombings through ballet and photography and cinematography. The story is heartbreaking and tear-worthy and so beautiful that I don’t think any of these words could do it the slightest bit of justice. It’s carefully choreographed and filmed, every frame is striking and intense and perfect. It was one of our first exhibits of the night, and I walked away from it feeling pretty well torn apart. The film also had two projections and a larger installation to go along with it, and the connection of every single puzzle piece just escalated the experience. It was absolutely incredible.

Nuit Blanche combines so many of my favourite things. Give me a bunch of art and the middle of the night and the city and breakfast and the sunrise and I couldn’t be happier. I loved almost every moment of the night, minus the agonizing walk to get food and the peak points of exhaustion. We made the most out of everything, from getting separated on the subway to walking all the way to an exhibit just to find out it had been cancelled. It was a wonderful experience. I’ll be doing it every year until I get to a point I absolutely hate it – although I’m not sure that that’s likely to happen.