Art from the margins: The story of an almost midlife crisis

Long ago, in the time before children (B.C.), I had hobbies.

I splotched paint on canvases. I wrote mediocre poetry. I attempted yoga poses. I sang in choirs. I read books that challenged my brain. I played the piano. I volunteered my eager little heart out. I wrote blog posts. I threw my time around like rainbow confetti.

Here’s a self-portrait I painted in 2006(ish). Even though it’s fairly true to life, I look at it now and don’t quite see myself.

In university I bravely explored the edges of the musical universe like Carl friggin Sagan, blissfully lingering in record shops then lying on my bedroom floor listening to obscure albums deep into the night.

In high school, I was the strange, artsy kid. Flipping through sketchbooks from my teenage years is like going on an odyssey through the mind of a deranged addict. I never actually did drugs; I was just that weird. Here are some of my less freakish drawings from the year 2000, or about 20 years B.C.

It’s difficult to reconcile that willfully eccentric young person – her pink hair, scuffed Dr. Martens, pierced brow, and penchant for The Smiths – with the utterly boring (but admittedly reliable and fairly decent) adult I am today.

My transformation started long ago, with my first office gig, but parenthood certainly finished the job. Since April 2017 (when my son was born) most of my unpaid hours have been spent nurturing, feeding, and cleaning. There’s little time for eccentricity or art.

Me, in the most important role.

I love Arthur and Florence so much it makes my heart sore. They’re magnificent little humans. They make me laugh every day. I’m deeply grateful for them. I enjoy being a mother. But here’s a hard little nugget of truth: I’d like my identity to stretch beyond them.

So in August (as I lay awake at 4 a.m. wishing they would stop crying every two hours like an adorable but exhausting pair of dueling banjos) I resolved to have an Artistic Autumn. I would miraculously scrape together the time I needed to go on a creative journeyto see if I could dust off some old parts of myself.

I enrolled in painting classes with the Barrie Art Club. I signed up for a graphic design course at Georgian College. I committed to writing and playing the piano every single day.

Day 1 at the Barrie Art Club. Can you feel my stress?

Was it a midlife crisis? I think crisis is too strong a word. But yeah, probably. Was I going to let that fact stop me? Nope.

To save a few pennies, I asked my maman to unearth old gear from the most remote nooks of her basement. My acrylics had coagulated. My palette knife was rusty. But holding them in my hands felt like hugging old friends.

Was it a midlife crisis? I think crisis is too strong a word. But yeah, probably.

The night of my first physically distanced art class, my palms were damp as I pulled on my backpack and jammed some blank canvases under my armpits. JF is a great parent. I knew the kids were fine, but I felt guilty, nervous, and self-indulgent.

Those feelings intensified as I realized painting wasn’t at all like riding a bike. My eyes had forgotten how to mix colours. I couldn’t remember whether Bs or Hs were the darker pencils. My first piece was truly dreadful. I almost didn’t attend the second class.

Thankfully, I didn’t let cowardice and pride get the better of me. I kept going and even managed to produce a few not totally shameful paintings. I’ve since set up a sort of studio in my basement and am determined to get better.

My graphic design course just ended and I’m delighted to report that I truly enjoyed every messy, imperfect assignment. I’m going to sign up for GD2 soon.

I kind of like this flying pig logo I drew for class.

I haven’t quite succeeded in playing or writing every day, but I often manage to find a quarter of an hour to produce something: a verse, a horrid musical cover (I included some belowyes I know I look exhausted), a sketch, a shadow of an idea.

San Diego Serenade, Tom Waits
These Days, Jackson Browne

Every time I eke out a moment to do something creative—something for myself—I feel totally invigorated.

It means planning naps, neglecting housework, finding a babysitter, or creating a sort of entertaining padded cell for my toddler(s). It’s not easy. But it feels good to squeeze selfish minutes out of my otherwise relatively selfless existence.

I’m creating art from the quieter corners of my life – art from the margins of motherhood.

Here’s a scribbled and rather sad poem I also call “Ode to 2020.”

To be clear, none of what I make is truly good. I know that. But I think the act of creation is therapeutic and valuable. I need it. I extra extra (times a thousand) need it in this strange, virtual era.

As my maternity leave ends, and Artistic Autumn with it, I can honestly say I’ve rediscovered a small but meaningful piece of my being. I’m sharing it with you so you can know me, too.

And now—because all of my blog posts seem to end with advice—I’d like to say that if you ever find yourself mired in the relentlessness of parenting, try picking up a paintbrush, or plucking at guitar strings, or scribbling on the back of a takeout menu. You won’t regret it.

Apocalypse, Cigarettes After Sex

32 gifts

Early winter kicks me in the shins every year. I can’t help feeling glum as the merriness of Christmas fades and I look ahead to three cold, hard, vacationless months. Plus, I’m pretty sad and anxious for the world right now.

I temporarily banished the doldrums this morning, with what’s become a January tradition: listing some of the highlights of the year gone by — one bullet for every year of my life.

In 2016 I…

A view from the side of the road in Slovenia

A view from the side of the road in Slovenia

  • Performed in a band
  • Skated the ice trail at Arrowhead Provincial Park
  • Celebrated my amazing grandfather, Dinis Rebelo
  • Had pancakes at the Wye Marsh Sweetwater Harvest Festival
  • Replaced the ugly mudroom ceiling with handsome beadboard
  • Hugged Odie on his one-year anniversary with us
  • Had my first Thai massage
  • Travelled to the top of 30 Rock to watch the sunset
  • Checked out a California beach

Violet, Joël and Avery at Ocean Beach in San Diego, CA

Violet, Joël and Avery at Ocean Beach in San Diego, CA

  • Learned to throw an axe
  • Got awesome false eyelashes
  • Bought my first king-sized bed
  • Came second in the five family nerd tournament
  • Joined Weight Watchers and lost 15 pounds
  • Attended my 10th Festival du Loup
  • Hosted an epic garage sale on my birthday
  • Started the world’s longest bathroom renovation
  • Went to the ballet
  • Spent time with my avo

Hanging with avo usually looks like this - except add food

Hanging with avo usually looks like this – except add food

  • Attended my first night time santa claus parade
  • Danced with mom, Yève and Elise on international women’s day
  • Got to level 23 in Pokémon Go
  • Powered through a few injuries and illnesses (concussion, poison ivy, an epic battle with a nettle tree)
  • Partied with the Lefaives at JoAnne and Dan’s 40th anniversary party
  • Bought a new mommy mobile – Linda the Forester
  • Greeted many friends’ adorable new babies
  • Drank margaritas the size of my head in Mexico

Some of the gang that travelled to Mexico with us. So cool!

Some of the gang that travelled to Mexico with us. So cool!

  • Started focusing on our little family — quitting several volunteer roles
  • Helped good friends move into their first home

Somehow I forgot to post my list from 2015, but here are those from 2014 and 2013.

As usual, counting my blessings makes me feel a heck of a lot better. 2016 may have been a shit year for the human race, but it was a great one for me. Thanks to everyone who played a part.


Where to start?

So much has happened these past few months, I hardly know where to begin. Serves me right for waiting so long to post! Here’s a poor attempt at a recap.

  1. Sunny Mexico: After Christmas, we stayed in a small town called Puerto Morelos, just south of Cancun. The company, food and locale were increíble!
  2. Three kings: We toasted the magi with our friend Pascal, who I am convinced only recognizes this holiday because of this gorgeous French cake.

    La galette des rois. Probably the most delicious thing I've ever eaten.

    La galette des rois. Probably the most delicious and pretty thing I’ve ever eaten.

  3. Neil visite: My papa was in Canada for a week or so, which meant a visit with plenty of conversation and tea.

    Neil and tea

    Neil and tea

  4. Showered with love: I couldn’t say no to my persuasive aunt JoAnne when she offered to throw me a bridal shower. In the end, all I felt that day was love and gratitude for the amazing women in my family.
  5. Skating trail: Mireille, Patrick, JF and I went to Arrowhead Provincial Park to try the skating trail. Plus, we ran into an old high school friend.
  6. Recycled valentines: Some colleagues and I exchanged valentines of a different kind – second hand items from our homes and wardrobes. I scored lace, records, art and lots of other good loot.
  7. Smoked salmon-flavoured barf: After a fun meal out with friends, I spent over 24 hours vomiting. I will never eat smoked salmon again.
  8. Familying: We spent the February long weekend with JF’s family in Ottawa, which was its usual really really ridiculously cold self. Luckily our hosts were warm and generous.

    A walk through a park in Ottawa

    A walk through a park in Ottawa

  9. Francophone women unite! Local French-speakers gathered for a great concert (check out Cherry Chérie) and meal for International Women’s Day. I was accompanied by some female powerhouses : my maman, sister and mother-in-law.

    Gen and I at the gala

    Gen and I at the gala

  10. A smack in the head: Two weeks ago, I slipped on some ice and fell on my head – quite hard, as it turns out. The doctor told me to take several days off work without TV, books, phones or computers. It was terribly dull.

    I made the best of my sick days and snuggled with Odie

    I made the best of my sick days and snuggled with Odie

  11. Rebelo invasion: I hosted my sisters and cousins for a weekend of games and food. It was kind of like that scene from Home Alone where everyone is rushing around to get to the airport. JF looked like this the whole time.
  12. Hogtown: I visited Toronto twice. There were baby showers, meals out, meals in, and walks downtown. Thanks for the company, friends! Xo

    Jasel, Yishey, Rigden and I trying the selfie stick I got for Christmas <3

    Jasel, Yishey, Rigden and I trying the selfie stick I got for Christmas ❤

  13. Does Georgian have talent? I participated in (and sort of helped with) the Georgian’s Got Talent… or Not benefit concert. I definitely fell in the “or not” category, but enjoyed the whole event thoroughly.

    Two extremely talented Georgian students who performed in the show

    Two extremely talented Georgian students who performed in the show

  14. Wye Marsh? Danielle, Naomi and I went to the Sweetwater Harvest Festival. It was good fun, but I felt I was cheating on a) Tiny Marsh and b) the Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival.

    Danielle and Naomi, and some pancakes

    Danielle and Naomi, and some pancakes

  15. Whispering bells: We keep chipping away at wedding planning. So far my favourite element is the sparkly white knit bow tie my avo made for Odie.

    Odie's bow tie

    Odie’s bow tie

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There was also volunteer work, a friend’s adorable new baby, dog ear infections, breakfast with my grade school bestie, JF’s 30th birthday, Weight Watchers, house renos, and more.

With so many commitments and our wedding less than three months away, 2016 is shaping up to be “pleine a craquer” — full to the point of cracking. But so far, the adventures have been enriching, varied and plentiful.

As I thank baby Jesus for the end of snow and ice, I can only look ahead —to sunshine, tulips and forsythia.

Here's Odie at Tiny Marsh just over a week ago

Here’s Odie at Tiny Marsh just over a week ago

Busy nothings

Life in sleepy Elmvale is ticking along quietly. The garden is now only 80% weeds. Slowly, slowly we are making progress on house projects. Barbecued broccoli is my new favourite food. And there are orange popsicles in the freezer.


The beautiful thing about summertime is that there isn’t anything big and exciting to report. Instead, life is a series of non-events. Here are some recent ones:

Toby turned 100,000 kilometres

Can you believe my little Honda Fit, Tobias, has aged 40,000kms since I got him? I hardly know where the time and distance have gone. JF gifted him to me about this time last year, and my life has been infinitely more mobile since.

Tobias' widgets the other day.

Tobias’ widgets the other day.

I exercised a few times

Confession: my January health revolution never happened. Instead, I gained a remarkable 10 pounds over the winter. So, I’ve given up on self-guided fitness regimes, joined shame-inducing Zumba classes at No Borders Fitness, and started briskly walking with colleagues at lunch. I also do weekly lifts, squats and planks at Swift Fitness, the most sophisticated garage gym I’ve ever seen. And I hate burpees.

My choir put on a show

Le Choeur de la Clé, the francophone community choir I belong to, put on a love-themed concert late May. It was great fun. I even performed in a trio with my lovely cousin Nicole and dear old friend Joël.

My view, every Tuesday night during choir practice

My view, every Tuesday night during choir practice

JF and I went garage sale-ing

As you all know, there is nothing I love more than old or dead people’s cheap stuff — except maybe barbecued broccoli. Toronto garage sales are expensive and infrequent. Their Elmvale counterparts are far more fun and plentiful. Plus they often come with ¢25 cookies baked by little old ladies. My favourite find was the scarred wooden duck/target I purchased for a steep $2. I called him Ferdinand, and he lives on my front porch.

In the words of Fanny Price (movie edition), “Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”


Ode to Cantores

This past Tuesday I attended my before-last practice with Cantores Celestes, a choir based in Bloor West Village that I’ve been singing with for about two years now. I walked into the church late and sweaty — clattering about the pews as I frantically dumped my purse, pulled off my jacket, and assembled my sheet music.

The women of Cantores Celestes, in all their splendour

The amazing women of Cantores Celestes

Finally scurrying up the steps to join the 50 or so women already rehearsing on stage, I paused to take a few restorative breaths and open my ears to the music. Being a mostly punctual person, listening to a piece in progress isn’t something I’d had the opportunity to do much before.

They were singing David McIntyre’s Ave Maria. Which, when you’re actually performing it, kind of sucks. The rhythm is hard and the harmonies aren’t normal. I’m pretty sure I look like Neve Campbell in Scream when I’m singing it. Terrified.

But standing there in front of my fellow choristers, you would never guess any of that. They were producing really lovely, beautifully cohesive, warm music. As Jackie would put it, a fitting ode to the feminine nature of the divine.

I’m not a religious person, but there is something very powerful about a large group of hard-working, smart, strong women just enjoying singing together. Sharing a purpose. And there’s something even more powerful about them celebrating another woman through song.

When they finished the Ave Maria, I took another breath and made my way to my usual spot in the third row, already feeling refreshed and forgetting the cares of the day.

Going to choir practice is kind of like going to the gym: getting there is a slog, but you never regret it. In fact, you leave lighter.

Actually, you know that feeling you get when you rock out in the kitchen with a wooden spoon? Well Cantores is often like that, but to Fauré and with a bunch of friends. We sing every piece — even the Ave Maria — with gusto. Kelly, our Director, puts every inch of her heart behind each concert. Which is why I’m sad that our concert in Perth on June 29 will be my last.

My work friend Tina shared this quote by Anatole France with me on my last day: “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves.” I’m really going to miss this part of my Toronto self.