On the Eve of 30 – Marianne Vander Dussen

On the Eve of 30

Before I delve in, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you. If you're reading this blog, than you've probably helped support me in some way, shape or form. Perhaps you like my Facebook page, or you've been to one of my classes. Perhaps you've even purchased one of my paintings. Regardless of what form your support has taken...thank you, from the bottom of my heart. 

Hello, is this thing on?!

I bet you forgot I even HAD a blog, considering the radio silence on this thing since March. For awhile, I really wasn't sure what to do with my blog; what could I really offer my readers that was of value?! After all, you're spending precious moments of time reading this thing, so it had better be worth your while. 

While I was in Europe, I had a eureka moment about writing, and why I should take it up again: I'm a storyteller. It's what I do. It's what I wrote my Master of Education thesis on. Painting, art, making spaces beautiful - all of that will be umbrellaed under the theme of "my life," because that's practically all I do anyways. 

There's been a topic that's been marinating in my mind for the past few months. I'm turning 30 in November this year, which for many is (supposedly) a time of crisis. It's a time when you realize that you're actually aging; it's strange, but until the past year, I too was convinced I was going to be young forever. The tipping point was a fateful trip to the dentist shortly after my wedding that resulted in a root canal and a crown. Turns out that three decades of biting, clenching and grinding has taken a toll on my teeth, and they're exhibiting major signs of wear and tear. Even if I thought that I was immune to the sands of time, it turns out that my teeth aren't. 

But once I'd dealt with the Great Tooth Crisis of 2017, I was able to reflect, take stock on who I am now, and how I got here. And friends, I am authentically grateful for my life, and I can tell you now that I am THRILLED to be turning 30. I've never been healthier, happier, or more deeply satisfied. But to understand why, I decided to roll back the clock and show you a glimpse into how I got from there to here. 

The Last Ten Years

Marianne Vander Dussen - My life as an actor
My life as an actor

This is a photo of me ten years ago, acting in a minor role in the Queen's University Drama Department production of Unity: 1918. I majored in Drama at Queen's, and was highly involved in the department. I thought I was in love with theatre, and that if I hustled when I left Kingston to go to Toronto, that eventually I'd be able to work my way into either the Shaw or Stratford Festival, two of the most prestigious repertory theatre companies in Canada. 


It turns out that when I wasn't immersed in the insulated university theatre world, and finally lived out my dream to move to the Big Smoke, my desire to act in and direct shows just vanished. It was replaced by a more pressing need: the need to eat. The need to have a place to live. So I could either take the actor's route - become a server at a restaurant, audition, maybe land a show but probably not, repeat - or I could try and find a "real" job and hopefully find happiness elsewhere.

I took option B, and worked in real estate administration for the next four years.

Of course, having a Real Person Job didn't guarantee financial stability. During my brief career as a real estate administrator, I worked as the sole assistant to top producers in Rosedale and the Bridle Path. They made millions; I struggled to pay for both my used car and my tiny apartment. Eventually, I was able to get a pay increase that allowed me to sleep at night, but barely.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Life in my 20's

Many people use their twenties in the big city to go out, party, and have a good time. I didn't have the money to do that, and wasn't willing to go into debt just to live a lifestyle I couldn't afford. So instead, I had my friends over for fancy dinner parties. Here I am, hosting a group of (also broke) young twenty-somethings, eating on the floor of my basement bachelor apartment. The wine in our glasses was a SPLURGE. 

Sure, I was young, optimistic, hardworking, ambitious, and "living my dream" by becoming a Torontonian. I loved Toronto (at the time). I loved the vibe of the city, the subways, the constant carousel of new festivals and activities. But I always felt like I had my nose pressed up against the glass; I could see the excitement and joy of living in the big city, but was severely impeded by my income. Real estate, even back in 2011, was skyrocketing out of control. Just buying a one bedroom condo would set me back at least $300,000. Instead of feeling grateful for my tiny 300 sqft apartment, I started to feel embarrassed by it.

I had always been an excellent academic student, which I assumed would be equated with success in the real world. But there I was, 23 years old, struggling, and finally understanding that the odds were stacked against me in Toronto. Sure, there was more "opportunity" in Toronto, in the sense that there were more jobs readily available. But there wasn't authentic opportunity, the chance to discover who I was and what I wanted, because I was too busy trying to survive. 

The North Bay Chapter

In 2013, I moved to North Bay to attend the Schulich School of Education. I never left. 

All too often, I hear that young people aren't coming to North Bay, that we're all leaving for the big city in droves. Perhaps it's my hopeless optimism, or perhaps it's the fact that I'm friends with a group of big city expats, but I have not found this to be the case. Real estate is affordable. Nature is abundant. Relationships are meaningful. And opportunity is EVERYWHERE, if you just have the courage to look for it (and many are).

Marianne Vander Dussen - Sunset over North Bay

In the past four years, I've completed two degrees (B.Ed and M.Ed), bought a house, bought a car, got married, and started my own business. I've been teaching art since July 2016, and in that short time I have taught several thousand people how to paint. This year, I have sold every single painting I've made, except for one. Just like with any small business, there have been ups and downs; the nature of my work means a lot of evenings and weekends, and when you're by yourself painting for hours and hours every day, there's a lot of loneliness and boredom.

But the highs are amazing. Being present during the reception for my first ever exhibition with Arlie Hoffman was incredible. For the first time, I got to listen to how people reacted to my work. Sometimes they knew I was there, sometimes they didn't, but some of the comments I heard made me want to float all the way home.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Artist with Arlie Hoffman  

This is 30

Whenever I visit friends in Southern Ontario, I'm struck by the big city obsession with remaining youthful and slim. I've lost track of the number of conversations I've listened to that revolve around dieting. Several years ago I was even told that "you shouldn't tell people you're 27, I never would have believed that you're that old!" That old. At 27. Ugh. 

There are wrinkles on my face (subtle, but deepening), and grey in my hair (hidden by highlights). But there is confidence in my voice. There is strength in my body. Most importantly, there is peace in my mind. I embrace my age and the gifts of experience that have accompanied it. It takes effort to cultivate peace; I spend a lot of my time in the studio listening to podcasts that teach me to be a braver entrepreneur and a more loving person. It's work, but it's worthwhile.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Artist's Studio My studio = my world

I love North Bay. I love to make art and teach painting. I love my house and my incredible husband. And I love that I'm entering my 30s. I know some people may read this and scoff, "30?! You're just a baby, of course you love your thirties, you're not even old." But the point I'm trying to make is that as I age, I am choosing to see the beauty of the gifts I've been given, rather than focusing on how I'm no longer 22. Looking backwards, I don't have any regrets. I've chosen to follow my bliss and have wound up here - healthy, happy, doing what I love - and am so fortunate to be able to work with people to help them discover their inner artist. 

So thanks for sticking with me through this as I stumble along the path to becoming a full-time, professional artist. Thank you for painting with me, laughing with me, and giving me a chance. It's a privilege to live and work in this amazing community, and I'm so excited for what the next decade holds. Here's to you, North Bay...thank you for being my home.

Marianne Vander Dussen - Photo of North Bay

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