How Have You Designed Your Artist’s Life?

Val-Marie-spur-webVal Marie in the middle of nowhere

On Wednesday I got up in the morning and fed the cat. Then I went outside to add seed to the bird feeders and back into the house to head for the shower. Much later that day, I found the door was unlocked. This means I had left it that way when I came in from feeding the birds. Shower and all.

Usually I’m more careful. I grew up in a city where I learned from the age of childhood to lock from the inside as I walked through the doorway, and in my last location, for a period of 24 years, I could get positively obsessive about checking at night to be sure I hadn’t forgotten. And not without reason. My home was broken into once, when I wasn’t there, and sometimes things happened to people whose homes were broken into when they were there. You couldn’t be too careful.

But here, in the middle of nowhere, many people in and around this tiny village still just don’t bother.

Which is a long way from any way I ever thought I would live.

When I left the city to move here, to the edge of Grasslands National Park, I’d made my home in the same house, in a growing and supportive artistic community, for 24 years. I was well settled there. I had a good job, lots of friends, favourite restaurants and coffee bars and places to shop, and a comfortable routine. All I didn’t have was the time and energy to paint. Things weren’t always like this. When I moved to that city, it was a small, inexpensive, and easy-to-cope-with place. There were lots of artists, and artists could thrive there. We could manage on small jobs and enjoy the work we were put on Earth to do. But 24 years later, the city was bigger and a lot more costly. It was taking me more and more hours every week to earn my living. My art career had all but disappeared. I began to think I needed either to decide I was going to be an artist or decide to stop trying. Trying and failing over and over again hurt too much. Enter Val Marie.

I’d been visiting the area since 2001 when I first came on a self-directed artist’s retreat. I’d never felt at home in a landscape so quickly. In 2003 my friend the painter Catherine Macaulay moved to an acreage just outside the village, so I had a reason to come back two or three times a year and a place to stay when I did. I began to love the way it looks here, to make other friends, and to understand the way the place works. In 2007, my old city had a housing boom, and my house there was suddenly worth real money. A house in Val Marie doesn’t cost nearly as much, and in 2008 one became available, one that I, not the bank, would own. I decided to stop trying and failing to be an artist, and after buying the local house, and renovating, showing, and finally selling the one in Saskatoon, I was here. In a community where people don’t lock doors.

I’ve never looked back. It isn’t that this is perfect. Val Marie is isolated, and doctors and dentists and banks are 120 km/85 mi away over some not very good roads. The village streets are icy in winter and the air is roasting in summer. I’ve discovered that taking yourself out of the action in the city can have the effect of, well, taking you out of the action. Though having discovered it, I’m taking steps to work around it. As I take steps to work around the distance and the ice and the heat.

But I remember the day when the cats and I drove away from our old house for the last time, and I stopped for a coffee-to-go in a 2000-resident town about 115 km/70 mi along. As I left the cats in the car for a few minutes, I whispered, “I’ll be right back. You’ll be fine. We’re safe now.”

We are. Unlocked doors, time to paint, artist’s life.

How are you safe in your artist’s life? Physically, metaphorically, artistically? How have you designed it so it works?

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4 Responses to How Have You Designed Your Artist’s Life?

  1. Marlena March 20, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    Lovely description of a gentle life, Laureen. I believe that artists are the saviors of the small prairie town. I know many artists who have moved to rural areas because they can afford to live there, and the communities have benefited in so many ways from the artists who live there. A mutually satisfying situation.

    I agree that big city life does not feel safe, especially as a woman. I love the cultural networking that the city allows me, though, so the pros and cons are always there. My feeling of safety comes from financial security. I am lucky to have a small pension from a long-term job that now allows me to create art without worrying about money. But for many years it was very tough to work full time, be a single mom, and create & exhibit art. Looking back, I really don’t know how I did it. The energy of youth I guess.

    • Laureen March 20, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

      Marlena, love this description of the pros and cons. And financial safety is one of the best. Especially since the energy of youth belong to youth. Oh, do I know it 🙂

  2. David C Reid March 20, 2016 at 2:50 pm #

    When I lived in Val Marie we always left the door unlocked so if a neighbour needed to use the fence line phone to order parts or needed things it was more convenient than driving to town.

    • Laureen March 20, 2016 at 8:57 pm #

      The third weekend I lived here, when I was just beginning to understand what being safe meant, I was in a conversation with a group of people about not locking doors. One of them said, “I always leave my keys in my truck! What if someone needed to move it?” Thanks for your story!