Author

Sarah Thomson

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MAY WE HAVE THE COURAGE TO CHANGE

Change. Why do so many people fear it? When I was in my teens I hoped for change, in my 20s I counted on it and now, in my late 30s with two children and a loving husband, I shudder, just a little, before opening my eyes to see which direction it will take me.

I’ve always believed that life is about navigating through change with honour and facing adversity and opportunity with courage.

And today change is at the very root of the debate on global warming.

There are two opposing scientific theories to global warming. In one camp are the scientists who believe that C02 levels are contributing to global warming. Quite simply put, C02 traps the sun’s rays in the atmosphere, which causes the earth to warm up. This view is advanced in Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth. Temperature and C02 graphs, created from ice core samples, are linked, showing that they rise and fall together. The problem is that the ice core samples demonstrate that C02 increases actually follow temperature increases – at times they even lag 200 to 400 years behind temperature increases. Despite this, Gore insists that man-made increases in C02 will contribute significantly to global warming.

In the other camp are the scientists who disagree and believe that solar flares have far more impact on global warming. Solar flares create a wind that deflects cosmic rays from entering the Earth’s atmosphere where they meet water vapour and form clouds. More solar activity creates more of this solar wind and leads to less cloud formation. Without as much cloud cover, the Earth’s surface heats up. They conclude that humans actually have little to do with global warming. This view is reflected in the movie The Great Global Warming Swindle. The problem with this view is that the data for solar activity doesn’t go back very far and it seems relatively unreliable.

But while both camps believe that the Earth is warming, the most important issue is: Can we do anything about it?
What interests me is how the “climate crisis” looks through the eyes of the economists.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a report Sir Nicholas Stern released in 2006. The report supports the belief that C02 is causing global warming and it looks at what needs to be done to adapt to climate change: This is the part that matters most. Ignoring the fact that the Earth is warming will eventually damage economic growth no matter what the cause. The report insists that: “Adaptation to climate change – taking steps to build resilience and minimize costs – is essential.”

And it also looks at the need to develop new forms of energy technology. The report suggests that “Action on climate change will also create significant business opportunities as new markets are created in low-carbon energy technologies and other low-carbon goods and services.”

A home-grown green industry propelled by political activists who have turned one theory on climate change into a political ideology might be the beginning of a huge economic shift, or it could simply be the development of a new industry. Obviously, the “huge economic shift” is what people fear most. An environmental mandate in Canada could hinder our ability to compete on a global level, but then too it could also create so much economic activity here that it strengthens us globally.

The energy industry has the most to gain and, I suppose, the most to lose from the environmental movement. Both oil and uranium are finite resources, but long before they run out, the prices will go up, as is happening now. Over the years, as supplies diminish and prices increase, alternative sources of energy will become more and more viable and eventually oil and uranium will run out. It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but may happen in my children’s lifetime; which means that the seeds for alternative energy need to be planted now so that my children can enjoy the same quality of life that I have today.

The one fact that I am sure of is that the Earth is warming and – even if this wasn’t caused by C02 – there will be serious repercussion. Instead of arguing over the cause, it’s time to stand up and face the future.

Sarah Thomson’s views on global warming are constantly changing.

MOTIVATED MEDIA MOGULS

When I think of what motivates me, I think of my husband, my children, and my desire to do something significant with my life. Motivation is defined as “having the desire and willingness to do something.” It can come from others who inspire you, but in the end I believe it comes from within. I’m motivated to make this newspaper into the best publication in Canada, but when I ask myself why, it comes down to some very personal reasons.

Tonight I am watching the news of the Conrad Black trial. Two weeks ago I shared a drink with him in his study. He is the only person in Canada who has started a national newspaper; the only one who knows and understands the hurdles I face. What I learned over the evening is that he has one of the keenest minds I’ve ever come across, and he doesn’t shy away from using it. We discussed the media industry; we discussed his latest book on Nixon (soon to be released); and we discussed lawyers, architects, and leaders of the land who are critical of him, but have their own skeletons.

What touched me most, aside from his amazing vocabulary, was his willingness to pass on what he has learned. I think what motivates him is the desire to matter, to do something significant with his life, to leave his mark on history.

I too want to do something that makes a difference. Real failure is to live a life that doesn’t contribute to the world. No one would dispute that the media has a lot of power over public opinion, and I hope to use whatever influence we garner with this newspaper to inspire women to be all they can be. I believe that women are causing huge changes in society; more focus is now placed on issues that women feel strongly about. If I can help push that momentum forward, help get women’s views to the forefront of the decision-making process, I think I will have achieved something with my life.

As my children grow I realize how much they learn from me. My two-year-old now walks around repeating everything I say – the bad and the good. I must set an example, teach them to give back to the world, as my parents taught me. But what motivates me to do this is my own mortality. The only way I will live on is in passing my values, ideas, and knowledge to my children.

Motivation – It comes from a deep awareness and understanding of our own mortality.

*****

This issue marks the first issue that we will distribute through our new pink newspaper street boxes. The boxes allow us to reach many more women than ever before. They put us out on the streets where newspapers compete side by side. It will be interesting to see how many more readers we attract through them.

I encourage you to enter our pink box launch contest atwww.womenspost.ca. Simply click on the pink newspaper box on our website. We have a number of great prizes and you’ll get a chance to win tickets to our exclusive launch party at the end of March. Join me with over 150 key media celebrities, columnists, and some of the most accomplished women in the country.

ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP

Growing up on a farm taught me to see the world as a treasure – a gift to be treated with great care and respect. It was there that I learned to appreciate the fragile quality in the beauty of nature. And it was there that I first looked at a drop of dew on a blade of grass, and listened for the individual voice of a cricket on a hot summer night.

Over the years my concern for the environment has grown stronger. My last few editorials on global warming have generated numerous letters from both the left and the right. The left felt I needed to be more extreme in stating there was an actual crisis. While Conservatives didn’t feel that I spoke enough about the economy and the issue we now face in trying to meet the Kyoto targets. But the issue is more complex than simply stating that the Liberals procrastinated for so long that reaching Kyoto targets is impossible.

Energy is a cost and businesses know this. When the price of energy went up, companies looked at becoming more efficient. Consumption has gone down but there is still a lot of room for improvement.

The true issue at hand is leadership. If Steven Harper is serious about the environment than he has to do more then just complain about the previous government. He’s had over a year to work on this. He needs to turn the environment issue away from focusing on impossible targets and create attainable ones. Any good business leader knows that without targets no-thing gets done. But when it comes to the environment, lea-dership has to come from all sectors.

Harper is not a fool; he knows the same business leaders I do and they aren’t evil, scheming, men wanting to destroy the world. Many of them care very much about the environment. The most important thing that the business leaders I’ve spoken with want is action – they want policies designed to address the environment, policies that create a level playing field in their industries.

The second issue around the climate crisis is strategic, it involves risk analysis. What is the best means to reduce emissions? Will legislation to reduce emissions actually be as effective dollar for dollar as investing in energy efficiency? This is where I believe the business community needs to take the lead; this is where trial and error will happen. When it comes to change, government always lags behind and business always seems to take the lead. Take the example of Dofasco – not only have they cleaned up their emissions, but they have exceeded Kyoto targets.

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) has formed a group of lead a task force to achieve a national consensus on the reduction of greenhouse gases. This may be the quickest route to at least trying to meet some of our Kyoto commitments.

ONTARIO HYDRO: SIMPLY SHOCKING

Former Hydro One CEO Tom Parkinson’s alleged business expense transgressions and his resulting ouster may have made great political fodder for the government and opposition parties at Queen’s Park and the media who cover the pink palace, but it did nothing to resolve one of the most serious challenges facing our province and its communities – the lack of sustainable hydro-electric power.
Parkinson may be gone, but the lack of a made-in-Ontario power generation solution persists, with little or no thoughtful debate underway in the legislature to resolve it and no significant infrastructure investments on the horizon to sustain it.

All Parkinson’s dismissal did was validate recent criticism leveled by Hydro watchers that when it comes to developing and executing a plan that sustains Ontario’s most important economic development asset – available, reliable and affordable hydro-electric, power – Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Minister of Energy, Dwight Duncan, aren’t up to the job.

To give credit where it’s due, former Premier Mike Harris acknowledged this and developed a plan to privatize the utility, thus keeping it out of reach of the pol-iticians and bureaucrats at Queen’s Park. While Harris had the right idea, the crown-corporation-to-private-entity handoff was mishandled.

As a result, the new hydro organizations are neither fish nor fowl. They are subjected almost daily to inconsistent direction from Queen’s Park on everything from rates, future generation tech-nologies, infrastructure investments and the make-up of the various boards of directors.

I had the privilege to serve three years on the board of a local hydro utility. Based on my experiences at that level and what I was exposed to at a provincial level, I can assure you that few if any politicians or bureaucrats at Queen’s Park are qualified to manage what is easily the most financially and operationally sophisticated entity in the province. Ontario’s hydro generation service deserves – and requires – professional management that operates outside of the influence of the Government of Ontario.

Parkinson was removed because he was becoming increasingly and openly critical of political interference by McGuinty and Duncan, both of whom would prefer that Ontario’s energy service revert back to a classic Crown Cor-poration. As Parkinson told Energy Probe’s Tom Adams in an illuminating piece Adams authored for the National Post last Dec. 21, “Hydro One is too complex, too valuable and too important to the Ontario economy to be in government hands. Career politicians and me-diocre ex-CEOs are not up to the complex challenge of running companies like these. The price of chronic government interference is enormous.”

The price of that interference is as follows: long-term debt approaching $30 billion, consumer rates that don’t yet represent the true cost of hydro generation but are high nonetheless, and the lack of a hydro generation direction for the future – or a made-in-Ontario backup plan in the event of the failure today of one or more generating stations.

The combination of high debt load and below-cost rates makes it difficult, if not impossible, for Ontario Hydro’s successor organizations to build a sustainable energy infrastructure program for the future. In my view, there are no options other than to retrace steps taken towards privatization by the Harris government and properly implement that original plan. Ontario needs private sector management – and investment – to achieve sustainable, made-in-Ontario hydro-electric generation.

Don’t expect resolution of either the governance question or the future generation strategy until after October, 2007, when Ontarians go to the polls to elect a new government. Until then, let’s hope these are the only hydro matters that remain shrouded in darkness.

John B. Challinor is a communications expert and former city councilor.

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

Grant Whatmough: May 24, 1921 – Sept. 14, 1999

It has been seven years since my father died and as I look at his picture beside my desk I think of all he gave me — the innocence of childhood, the safety of it, and the desire to live life as fully as possible.

When I was a girl I would run through the fields with my arms outstretched like wings. The tall grass scratched at my bare legs, almost reaching my arms, but it offered a soft cushion with every fall and a great place to hide from my twin brother. I used to dream of flying. Of swooping over the fields like the barn swallows. I used to climb trees and watch the tall grass roll like waves in the wind.

One of my favourite songs isHome by Nathan Wiley. The first line goes “When I was a boy I had everything, I had silver and gold.” The song evokes images of his past, falling asleep in the back seat of the car, dreaming of ships he will sail. It reminds me of what home felt like to me as a child — a safe place to think, dream, learn, and set out from. That childhood innocence I once had is something I can only go back to in my dreams, a place where responsibility and worry don’t enter.

Tonight, as I type away at my desk I remember the evenings I had as a child. There were times when my parents had company and I would sneak out of my bed to listen to them talk. They spoke about philosophy, art, politics, love, and life. I remember wishing I would grow up faster so that I could understand more about what they discussed. Life seemed to be just out of reach.

Many of my childhood memories are beautiful and sometimes I wonder if my senses were more finely tuned then. I remember being in bed with my window open and trying to pick out a single voice in a chorus of 1000 frogs (spring peepers) that filled the night air. Their voices seemed to create a magical symphony.

I remember running along paths in the dark with nothing but a sparkler to light our way and reaching the crest of a hill to turn and see the sparks from a huge bonfire we had spent months preparing rise until they merged with the stars in the sky above.

I remember evenings when my parents sat out on the lawn to watch the sun set and I, in turn, watched them from my bedroom window. They held hands and sat out there well after the light faded and darkness filled the night with stars.

I still recall my first skate on a cold winter’s night, the smoothness of the ice and the stillness of the night broken only by a dog’s bark from miles away. The star-filled sky stretched over the fields, enveloping them in its silence. I glided over the ice, floating, flying above and amid the night, part of it and grounded completely in it. The beauty in that moment struck me like never before, but as soon as I took notice it was gone.

My twin brother and I swam in a neighbour’s pond. We explored the nearby swamp and choked on cigarettes made from dried leaves and weeds. We rode horses from the neighbouring church camp, sneaked into their gospel hall and sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight over their public address system. We flour-bombed their prayer wagon. We grew. I remember the fear and exhilaration that came from swaying in the upper branches of a tall tree on the crest of a hill, as an August thunderstorm rolled, clashing and bursting over the fields, toward us.

The innocence of my childhood left long ago. I know about loss and the feeling of emptiness in the pit of your stomach that has a way of growing into you, and becoming part of you. I know that happiness can come and go. This knowledge is something I’d never experienced as a child; its price was my innocence. I remember how much I craved being older, I wanted to be free to do anything and to learn as much as I could. And you know, I still crave learning despite the cost.

My childhood home was my Eden. I will never go back because I would never voluntarily give up the knowledge I have gained. But, if I live long enough, my knowledge and my memories might slowly begin to melt away and someday I may indeed regain the innocence I’ve lost. Life is, if you live long enough, one big circle.

THE SADNESS OF SEPTEMBER

This morning the lake is calm and still; there isn’t a boat in sight. The sun seems to be melting away the mist. It rises up in wisps where the bays and inlets are still in shadows. A loon in the distance has a lonely call that seems to echo over the lake.

The summer is over, gone before I had a chance to truly settle into it. September has arrived in the quiet way it usually does, its long shadows creeping over the afternoons and cool nights filling the morning air with dampness.

I had a dream last night that I was visiting September as if it were a neighbour that I’d lost touch with. We went through some old memories, the ending of summer vacation and beginning of school. Days when I’d sit in the classroom beside an open window and listen to the geese flying high above, honking as they left for the south.

I remembered the day in September that my father died. It was a warm sunny day. I woke up just before the sun rose. My father’s hospital room looked out over Lake Ontario. I watched the wisps of clouds high in the sky change from grey to pink followed by the flash of light as the first ray of sun broke the horizon. I remember when he lost consciousness a few hours later, and feeling that he was suddenly gone from the room. I remember the nurse calling “code blue” and the doctors running into his room. I remember leaving the hospital with all the weight of worry gone, feeling light but horribly empty as well. I remember the sunshine, warm on my face, and the butterflies that seemed to fill my mother’s garden that day. I remember my tears stinging like never before.

I remembered another day in September when the twin towers fell. Again it was a warm sunny day. A day that seemed to exude life although it would soon reek with death. I remember driving over to drop the newspaper pages to our copy editor and hearing the news on the radio. We turned on his television and watched the horror on CNN. I remember the awful scenes and the terrible feeling that nothing would ever be the same again.

In my dream I grew angry at September for taking life away, but then it encouraged me to remember the day in September that I was married. The day started out cool and overcast. The lake was cold and the power was out all over Muskoka. Greg and I jumped in the frigid lake to wash and bath before getting dressed for our wedding. It was cool, but by noon the sun was shining. The clouds had blown away and the power was finally working. I remember sitting on the dock with Greg and watching a butterfly flutter about looking for the last flowers of summer. I remember the boat ride to our ceremony, and trying to contain my joy at seeing everyone I loved gathered there to celebrate with us. That day in September was one of the best days of my life.

I woke up from my dream to the sound of my six-month-old son crying from his crib. I picked him up and the two of us looked out over the still lake, watching the mist rise in the bay on the far shore. The clouds turned pink and sunlight touched the tips of the trees across from us, tingeing their dark green branches with a touch of gold.

September marks the end of summer. It is a month that reminds me of endings, but it also reminds me that with every end there is a beginning.

CHANGE

We did it. Finally, we are the magazine I envisioned six years ago. This change from newspaper to magazine format will help us define ourselves more clearly as the publication that businesswomen rely on for information, thought-provoking content, recommendations, and a sense of unity with other women. It all goes back to the days when sending letters and the quality of the paper you chose reflected the importance of the recipient.

From mothers to lawyers, presidents and CEOs of companies, our readers are some of the most intelligent women I’ve ever met. At times I wonder if we are good enough. Do we challenge readers enough? We discuss news and ideas that get me thinking, but then I’ve always doubted my own intellectual level and my abilities. My father used to say that is what made me smarter than most, and I’ve noticed that most smart women question themselves; actually they question everything, especially in this day and age. That is why I think there is a need for a magazine that can provide smart women with the intellectual stimulation they want.

When I look back at the many lessons learned through my career as a publisher, perhaps the most important came from the presidents and CEOs I’ve had the great fortune to meet. They taught me to give ideas and time freely to those wanting to learn, to pay it forward, so to speak. And when I think of all those who have given me both their time and ideas without asking anything in return, I know I still have a huge debt to repay.

Change is the only absolute in life. I can count on it, I can fear it, or I can navigate through it using the guide of morality my parents passed down to me. But there is good and bad that can come with any change, and I wonder sometimes if my ability to deal with it has more to do with my physiology than my attitude. Do I have a “happy” gene that doesn’t allow me to get depressed? I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt depression the way some of my friends have experienced it. I tend to find good in almost every change, which can be terribly annoying to some, especially when the stakes are high.

My husband trusts that I will make this magazine work, but he’s worried about the change. It is a big investment — the cost of production has more than doubled with this new format, and he worries that the income we generate from subscription and advertising sales won’t come in quickly enough. I worry too. But I won’t let the worry stand in the way of my belief that people appreciate quality and that women will support us with subscriptions (see subscription form on this page ;-). I know that advertisers value the intelligent community of women we have earned.

Our latest Courage to Lead event focused on marketing to women and was an incredible success. We had a panel of experts that included Tony Chapman, CEO of Capital C; Alison Leung, marketing manager for Dove, Unilever Canada; and Cheryl Smith, national VP, consumer and trade marketing, Parmalat Canada. The sense of unity among the women in the room, the shared desire for an intimate discussion, reflected what Women’s Post magazine is all about. The evening had an energy that comes when intelligent ideas are united with minds that want to learn and grow. I mingled with our guests and each group I spoke with had intelligent women connecting, sharing ideas, or offering recommendations. Alison Leung came to me at the end of the night and said that she finally understood what Women’s Post is all about. I don’t think she knew how much her words meant to me, and how such words can work to inspire. It’s amazing how few words it takes — words said at the right time, in the right place — to inspire someone. That is my goal for Women’s Post: To inspire women to be all they can be through words, ideas, and connection.

Sarah Thomson can be reach at publisher@womenspost.ca.

THE CLOCK TICKS

Have you ever stopped and listened to the sound of a fire crackling? The fire in the hearth is almost out, but the embers still glow. My clock chimes the hour, its sound is deep; it generates feelings of reverence and wisdom whenever I hear it. The steady ticking changes the feel of the room, slowing down time, breaking it into seconds you can almost touch. My husband gave me the clock as a birthday present a few years ago.

Last night I lay with my head on Greg’s chest, listening to his heart beat. Its rhythm steady and soothing. I thought of it pumping life into every vein and muscle in his body. The sound of a heart beating is so vital and intimate, yet its stopping is a silence like no other.

Certain sounds seem to have an endless quality. Like waves breaking on a beach, or the roar of a waterfall. Even the din of traffic from a far-off highway has that ceaseless quality. As if they will continue long after I am gone.

Like words, certain sounds bring about certain moods in me. The sound of a trickling stream causes a feeling of peace deep down. But sometimes it’s the lack of sound that creates this. I remember walking along a city street last winter in the middle of a snow storm. The snow spread itself like a blanket over the noise of the city. As the snow fell, the blanket became thicker and heavier. The crunch of snow under my step was the only sound I could hear in the stillness of the falling snow.

Then there are sounds that, for me, signify the beginning of something. The sound of birds rising at dawn and heralding the new day. A car engine turning over, or a steam whistle in the distance. There are other sounds that signify the ending of something. Like “Taps” played on a single trumpet at a soldier’s funeral; or the squealing of brakes followed by the tearing of metal.

For me, sounds not only measure time but space. They seem to go along with the places I have lived. Each home has a host of distinct sounds that make it unique. The apple farm where I grew up had some sounds I will always remember. A dog barking across the fields from miles away on a cold, star-filled night. Or the sound of frogs in the marsh filling the summer night with their calls. Like a thousand voices all trying to be heard. It was the first crowd I experienced. And it was there, on the farm, that I first heard the quiet rustle of poplar leaves sounding like tiny bits of tin foil tapping gently together. And cicadas buzzing on a hot August day.

There are certain sounds that I associate with living in Toronto. A lawn mower cutting grass and kids playing in sprinklers. Then there are sounds that I associate with our cottage. They seem so far away. The loon calling for his mate to join him every evening. The lap of water against the dock and the boats jostling in the boathouse. The sound of our paddles dipping into a still lake. The call of an owl echoing through the woods. All these sounds I associate with a certain time and place.
Today I hear the sound of the city bus as it speeds past our house. It’s becoming a familiar sound. It reminds me that the world out there is turning. That life is going by. The sound gives me an anxious feeling, suggesting there is so little time and so much to do. And as I listen, I’m drawn back to the sound of my clock ticking. Each second is gone, each minute goes by. When I’m old and grey and about to take my last breath, I hope I can hear at least one sound ― the sound of another heart beating.

THIS AIN’T THE GREAT DEPRESSION

The fire crackles and spits, warming up the cottage. As our boys build Lego castles on the floor, I surf the Web to find out what latest economic developments are shaking up the world. The turmoil in the markets seems so far from my everyday life, but its impact hits directly home as we watch our assets bounce up and down like a yo-yo. Watching as fortunes disappear tends to worry even the most cautious of people.

I can’t believe how many possible solutions are being thrown at the markets. The British government announces it will buy up shares in the country’s banks, asking for firm commitments that support lending to small businesses and home buyers. Other European countries announce they will work together to guarantee bank debt, and the U.S. announces its plan to buy up bad debt. The economists seem to be trying everything they can to stop this market meltdown, but the problem is more than an economic one. At this point, trust in the entire economic system needs to be restored. And trust isn’t something that can be achieved overnight.

When I was 11 years old, my family lost our farm to a bank foreclosure because housing prices fell and interest rates skyrocketed. I’ve always had a strong sense of how powerful the banks can be, and I’ve always had a slight fear of them. Now, as I watch the U.S. feds bail out the banks (the same institutions that encouraged people to mortgage themselves to the hilt), my hope is that the governments get more involved, take ownership, force the banks to extend credit to small businesses, and become more accountable for their actions. That is the only solution that will restore trust in the banking system.

As I read about women who have excelled at what they do (page 18), I’m reassured. The business world is filled with smart, tenacious women. It’s a far different place from the world of the Great Depression, the worst and longest economic collapse in the history of the industrial world. From the stock market crash in 1929 until the worst point in 1933, more than one-quarter of Americans were unemployed. But today, with women in the workforce, with increased innovation and globalization, there are more opportunities to fall back on than ever before. There is also much more government intervention than there was in 1929. The issue is the same for a lot of people. Do I move forward, building my company in my usual optimistic manner? Or do I slow down, and proceed with caution? I wish I had the choice, but alas, every fibre in me is programmed to “fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.” (Kipling)

I welcomed our new VP of Advertising, Colleen McNarry-Wilson last week, and I have a feeling she’ll do a much better job than I did in her role. She is already inspiring our team to be the best they can be. It is hard giving over the reins, and it will take me some time to get accustomed to not picking up the phone and asking clients to advertise with us. I have formed some great relationships over the years, but now I will have time to develop those relationships, to listen to what our customers need, and to build Women’s Post into a media company that fulfills all those needs.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

EARTH, BLOOD, AND THE SPACE IN BETWEEN

Mother Earth is the name I’ve given her. She hangs on the wall of an artist’s studio, painted in clay reds and earth browns. I can’t get her out of my head. So regal and silent — She is a mother holding life at her breast, strong and alone. It captures what being a woman is about. Something in the painting talks to me.

The painting, done by Philippe Garel, hangs in the studio of Paul Duval, an art critic, artist and author of more than 20 books on various artists. I met him in his Toronto studio today and was both inspired and awed by a man who combines his passion for art with a gift for great conversation.

Paul welcomed me at his door, a little surprised at the car seat I held with my sleeping 10-month-old son. He exclaimed “Oh, you’ve brought me a Christmas present.”

We spoke of artists, of their contributions to civilization. We spoke of the Sistine Chapel — of the hand of God meeting the hand of Man and the tension in the small space between them. We spoke of buildings and the need for a museum created just for the city of Toronto. We spoke of the Royal Ontario Museum, and its disgraceful attempt to grab cash by charging admission to children. I doubt very much that the people who have donated to the museum want them to limit entry to children who can afford it.

Duval’s studio is one big open room with huge north-facing windows and a small kitchen tucked in under a loft filled with books. Art hangs from the walls, and ceramics and wood carvings are tucked into every nook.

His ceramic collection alone took my breath away — until I noticed the painting of the woman, hanging on the south wall of his studio, so warm it seemed to heat the room. And now as I sit and try to recall her, my mind becomes murky. I feel a need to see it again. My husband asks if I can see it from the street outside Mr. Duval’s studio, I respond that I could if I had a ladder. My husband thinks that might be a little too much like stalking.

Why is this painting haunting me? I remember my father defining what he thought made something art. For him a work of art had to instantiate a universal idea or thought — this was the only basis for true art. Anything else wasn’t art. My father particularly disliked works created with a political message, as well as works of self expression. He believed they distracted people from understanding the power, and importance, of art. The more I learn about art the more right his views seem.

When I think of the works of art that I have had the good fortune to see, it is difficult to find words to describe them. It is as if the art itself has a presence in the room it is in, it whispers in your ear, or moves ever so slightly so that you turn and look at it fully.

This painting seems to speak to me in a language I know deep inside. The woman is me, but not just me. She is a mother, protective and thoughtful. I want to make the painting fit into my life. I want to connect it to the things that give my life meaning. But an inner voice (which sounds a bit like my father) whispers…“Art can teach you how to navigate through your life. Art isn’t about how it fits into your life, or how it matches your décor. It is more than that. Instead think of it as something that inspires you to learn and understand the universal truths that matter to humanity — those universals are depicted in true art.”