Throughout my childhood I was never a person who liked to take risks, preferring to stay within my comfort zone. Two years ago I had never left the country without my parents. However, despite the unfamiliarity, I decided to embark upon a journey to a foreign place where I did not speak the language and knew almost nothing of the culture. I was apprehensive about visiting a strange place, but decided to open myself up to the experience of visiting a new country.
During my school trip to Cuba I visited local schools, where our class shared musical performances and donated school supplies. At one of the schools we had the choice of either working collaboratively on a mural or participating in a language exchange. Although I spoke no Spanish, I chose to take part in the language exchange and found that, in fact, this allowed me to make new friends.
I watched students draw pictures of birds, using a large poster at the front of the classroom for reference, and it was exciting to see the differences in common wildlife in Cuba, versus back home in Canada. Every school we visited was rich in musical and artistic talent. Most of the students were very young and often poor, but they were passionate and entirely absorbed by their activities. I began to see how music and art can help people cope with hardship.
Returning home, possibly with my head still full of the beautiful colours and artwork of Cuba, I agreed to act as Writer in Residence for a summer program hosted by my local art gallery. This was a great challenge, as I was obligated to take part in all the workshops and artist talks in order to understand the program. I have little direct experience with sketching or sculpting, and was not sure how I would fit in. To my surprise, the talks were very interesting, and I found myself looking forward to experimenting with new activities.
We were commissioned to create a final project to showcase our development over the course of the program. I wrote and published a short story to demonstrate my creative writing skills, and, in this multimedia setting, the role of the fiction writer was further clarified for me. While the stories I write do not always centre on serious (or particularly harrowing) topics, writing about socially or culturally significant events is very important to me. I strongly believe that the exploration of issues through journalism can help to foster a more cohesive society. While writing a piece for my personal blog, I incorporated a call to action in hopes that my readers will contact local representatives about issues of environmental sustainability.
I have come to realize that two greatly different genres, fiction and editorial writing, can sometimes serve overlapping purposes for both readers and writers. Most fictional stories within the literary canon, and even beyond, serve to demonstrate a universal truth. This is also true of most editorial works. While many stories aim to demonstrate the truth in interesting and creative ways, many journalistic pieces aim to uncover truth in an accessible way. Both are, like all artistic activities, imperative to the human pursuit of self-fulfillment.
I was also inspired by some of the modern works we studied to create an interactive piece for the show. Compiling a list of memories and lessons our group learned in this program, I created paper fortune tellers that guests could take home as mementos of the exhibit. Afterwards, I found that one of these fortune tellers had been left behind, re-folded and transformed into a tiny paper crane. I was surprised to discover that someone had flipped the original intention of the interaction, offering another level of possible interpretation of the art in our exhibit.
It seems to me that the importance of art is increasingly reflected in how it prompts and reflects changes in society. We admire art from previous periods, and there is much to be learned from these time capsules. However, modern art continues to connect with audiences in impactful ways. It is not only the art itself that matters, but also the viewer’s reaction. Art should not be just a luxury for the wealthy but a pleasure and a resource for everyone.
I continue to find opportunities to facilitate the KAIROS Blanket Exercise for the teachers and administrators of my school. This exercise involves participants standing on blankets, representing the lands of Indigenous peoples, that then begin to gradually diminish over time. Being in the privileged position of attending an independent school with an International Baccalaureate program has reinforced my belief in the need to break down social and economic barriers. We must make an effort to connect with members of our wider community in order to learn and grow as a society.
I work a part-time job at my downtown library. This job is important to me both because of my love of books and because I am able to learn more about the important role libraries play in local communities. Libraries are an important community resource that make many contributions beyond retrieving information. As many denser urban areas have seen an increase in homelessness rates, the libraries have continuously become more important as a form of community connection and cultural and social sustenance.
There have been numerous cities in the United States where homeless people have grown to place more trust in the public library system than other providers of support. This phenomenon is taking place in Canada too, as the library branch where I work has offered support to many members of Nanaimo’s homeless population. According to Petra Schulz of the Edmonton-based group Moms Stop the Harm, many issues that critics raise are related to homelessness and poverty rather than the supervised-injection sites, and it makes no sense to consider reducing services in the middle of an overdose crisis. While it is excellent that local libraries are able to provide shelter for many people, the library is not equipped for this responsibility. We must devote our attention to developing local resources that will provide shelter and support for homeless people and allow local libraries to fulfill their intended purpose.
Many of these disparate experiences are connected by my long-lasting love of language and story-telling. Although I have always been keen to explore these ideas, I found myself learning valuable lessons and often being pushed out of my comfort zone as I took on new challenges. Many writers are told to write about what they know. Although this is, in many ways, sound advice. I believe that it encourages a certain level of closed thinking. Whereas, the International Baccalaureate promotes comprehensive thinking, that encompasses a wide range of values and beliefs.
Since first taking the risk two years ago to open myself up to another culture, I find my interest in meeting people from different backgrounds has continued to grow. Now I want to learn more and write more about different countries and people from different backgrounds than mine. Through participating in the International Baccalaureate program, I have learned to approach solving local issues from an empathetic, critical, and forward thinking perspective. In this new decade I believe it is vitally important for all of us to move outside of our comfort zone and become responsible global citizens.
Charlotte Taylor is a writer hoping to gain extra writing practice. She has written a number of short stories, one of which, Calm Before the Storm, won first prize in the 2019 Islands Short Fiction Contest. Her story, Tomorrow, was accepted for publication in the Ariadne Literary Journal run by the Independent Schools Association of BC. She has also written two plays, her first, Contrapasso, was performed at the North Island Regional Drama Festival and won an Award of Excellence for Playwriting and Directing. If you would like, you can read more of her work at: charlottetaylor.work.