Every month, we shine a spotlight on one exceptional BCIT student with a unique story to share. What inspires them? What brought them to BCIT? What can we learn from their experiences? It’s amazing what you can find out about the people around you if just ask the right questions.
Caitlin Purvis is a woodworking student at BCIT by day, but singer/songwriter by heart. Her debut EP Wasting Days is on Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, and YouTube; and Caitlin is the recent recipient of a Telus StoryHive grant for 10k to make a music video for the single “Wasting Days.” Having travelled through many parts of the world and experienced various life-changing events, Caitlin’s humanitarian ideas, optimism, and well-rounded perspective on life make her an inspiration to many.
Interview by Nazanin Joorabchian
Photos by Ryan Judd
What made you decide to study woodworking at BCIT?
Well, it was about two years ago when I started dabbling with it. I’d been injured in a car accident which left me with mobility issues and in severe chronic pain. I was consistently bummed that another week had passed and I still couldn’t walk properly or do any of the physical activities I loved. So my doctor suggested that I start doing things that bring me joy. It was also the advice of many, that I try and learn to slow down. On their recommendations, I started working with my hands more than I was used to and I began creating – whether that be in the garden, cooking, taking pottery classes, or with design and wood. I felt pleasure, gratitude, a stillness, and what it was I was after in the first place – joy – when I used my hands.
It was over the course of another year, when I wasn’t just dealing with the injuries from the car accident, but I’d also been diagnosed with cancer, that the real positive changes began to take place. I had a dream, or rather a vision, of where I’d like to be in ten years. Woodworking was a main component of this dream and instantly I knew I had to change my line of work and embark on this new adventure as nothing in me wanted to do anything I had ever done before. It was a deep internal feeling that I still can’t shake.
So, as I was still struggling to progress with woodworking, meaning I still didn’t feel competent or know anything about tools or how to use them safely. I began contacting local designers and woodworkers asking if I could take them for a drink to gain some insight. Some of them were incredibly helpful and one of them let me intern with him for 3 weeks as part of the Women in Trades Training program I’d signed up for. During the months that I embarked on testing the waters of the woodworking industry, I felt more confident each day that this was for me. The smells, the textures, the malleability of wood — I loved it all.
And so here I am, four months into the Joinery Foundation program at BCIT and finally beginning to feel confident on the tools, knowledgeable about their anatomy, more proficient in what I will be able to create as an artist, and absolutely grateful I have the opportunity to take this course.
“The most difficult things in life are always the most beautiful.”
How do you think your time at BCIT has inspired/affected your frame of mind?
I started BCIT a month after I had surgery for cancer, a couple of months after I started the Diane Miller Pilates Teacher Training program at Vancouver Pilates Centre, and at the same time I decided to make a music video. This was way too much to take on, as my hormones since the surgery were still adjusting and this program is way more intensive than I realized. So what I have to say is, the last four months have been up there with the most challenging times of my life.
And believe me, I have led a life full of challenges and trials — lived in remote and extreme environments, and been through physical and emotional traumas — such that one, including myself, would think this course would be a breeze. But it hasn’t been.
That said, the most challenging of times have always made me the most grateful and allowed me to grow the most. Today, I can look back at where I was four months ago and feel a deep sense of accomplishment. I used to stare at a table saw. I would just stare at it. I wouldn’t know where to begin and I was afraid of it. Today I can take that thing apart, I can do rabbets and dados and grooves. I can cut plywood and laminate, do mitre cuts and so forth. It is just amazing. And when I don’t think I’m doing that well, fortunately my dad and brother boost my spirits and tell me that they can’t do what I am doing. BCIT has really pushed me, and I think it pushes most people. I didn’t realize the theory and math components of the course nor did I realize how difficult wood can be to work with. But honestly, the most difficult things in life are always the most beautiful, which leads me to continually think this might be the career I stick with as I’ll never get bored. There is so much to learn! So despite being frustrated on almost a daily basis, I feel really thrilled when I look back at how far I’ve come and know I have 2 more months left to learn!
As a singer and songwriter, where do you draw your inspiration from?
All of the songs on my EP are about relationships, but when I was in university I used to write a lot about urban poverty and conflict in the world. When I write music, it is really about what is happening in my life or what I am involved in or consumed by. I am a humanitarian, and the conflict and struggles occurring in the world greatly sadden me. Music has always been a means for me to express my emotions whether they be about the world or a relationship. All of the songs are quite personal, though they are rarely about one person or one event.
I grew up singing. If I was driving, if I was walking, if was cooking, so long as I was alone, I was constantly singing. Now I’m trying to break past that and not be scared to sing if I’m walking down the street or have someone over that I’m cooking dinner for. In fact, sometimes I’m even humming about in the joinery shop! So I think for me there is just music in my head. It’s full of melodies and music is just part of me. I don’t have a choice to quiet myself and I have chosen not to let fear rule my life, so now I am celebrating my joy for music and singing, almost always, whenever and wherever I please.
How does music make you feel?
You know, music is incredibly healing. It’s like woodworking in that way. When I first got into playing the guitar, it was because I tore my ACL and MCL snowboarding. I was very athletic, and rather than get into a funk, I got a guitar and started taking lessons. Since then, I’ve travelled the world extensively, generally on my own, and there was a lot of loneliness that came into play. Fortunately, I always had my guitar with me on these journeys and it brought me out of sadness. Same thing with a breakup; if I’m sad about it, I write a song and almost instantly feel better. Music helps me conclude relationships or it can represent the joys I’m experiencing in them and in life in general. For me, music is simply a means of creative personal expression and I think, when faced with injury and illness, being able to sing and write music through it helped me to heal. When I was in the most pain I truly struggled to play, but my doctor would always ask, “Are you singing lately?” Sure enough, it was just a matter of time before I was back at it. Now that I feel much more stable, physically, emotionally, psychologically, etc., I just want to grow and expand in all these areas and use all the things I’ve been given: my hands, my mind, my voice, my emotions and so forth, to create beautiful music, beautiful sculpturesque furniture, and to help people, including myself, gain the benefits and beauty of full body movement.
What’s your favourite thing about Pilates? What makes it so special and unique to you?
Pilates helped me walk again. So, evidently it will always hold a place in my heart. But seriously, when Pilates is done correctly, you can teach the body and mind the most efficient and safe manner to operate. For instance, if you fall you won’t injure yourself because your body will know how to respond. Pilates is really gentle on your body, yet you build strength and train the neuromuscular pathways to act in the most efficient way. It’s this whole body workout that is also very mentally stimulating.
When I first started going to Vancouver Pilates Centre it took me a great amount of concentration just to be able to do each exercise, because my whole body was involved in every single exercise. Not to mention, I could hardly move. But with time and patience, positive changes started occurring; [and] they’re still occurring.
You can’t really zone out in Pilates or you won’t do the exercises properly. So again, the challenges associated with Pilates has kept me interested and the fact I have experienced the benefits personally means it’s not something I’m about to give up. Most people that are actively doing Pilates, no matter their age are in great shape. You can do it through pregnancy, to correct scoliosis, on so on. What’s not to love?!
You’ve recently won a grant through the Storyhive contest, and you made your own music video which I have to say, I loved. How did you come up with such a cool idea for the video?
Well, first of all, thank you for watching it! I need to get it out to a wider audience, but have been swamped, so I am really pleased you watched it and enjoyed it. In regards to the cool idea, I’m going to give all the credit to my director and my music video producer, Lucy and Manpreet respectively. The whole thing came about very quickly. I was actually three weeks’ post-surgery and a mutual friend of mine and Lucie’s said to me, “Hey, you should apply for this!” I thought, ‘I’m so tired. How could I possibly swing it?’ But then, in typical Caitlin fashion, I said ‘yes.’ My challenge in life has always been learning to say “no.” This occasion proves I am still learning.
Anyways, I messaged Lucy because she had already used my song, “Wasting Days,” in her short film. We had a nice chat, she said she liked what I was about, loved the song, and hired Manpreet as she knew the film was going to be a lot of work if we were going to do it well. The music video was obviously going to involve boys because the song is kind of joking about my need for help. After all, I wrote it when I was struggling to move physically. I think Manpreet brought up the idea of a dark comedy and Lucy has studied comedy for years and is a real expert, so together, they bounced a lot of ideas back and forth and came up with the Thelma minus Louise inspired road trip with an accidental twist.
I wouldn’t have thought to kill men, truthfully, but it worked out well. I definitely think it’s a music video that’s unique, memorable and I’m grateful to them, the team and actors, those that voted, and so many more. I wish we had more time or more money and all these things to make it even bigger and better, but for 10K I believe my team put together a fabulous music video and I want to give them all the credit for that. They know how grateful I am.
In your music video, there are three guys who are very different, appearance-wise. How would you describe your ideal man?
Oh my goodness! I wasn’t expecting this question. I don’t think I have one. I’ve lived all over the world and generally I have had a boyfriend wherever I’ve lived. Obviously a good looking guy with a nice smile will draw me in. But in the end, I think it really comes down to personality. Those three guys in the music video where awesome and fun and I’m so grateful that they were part of the project. In real life I’ve met phenomenal men, but whether a relationship will last often depends on what stage of life you and they are at, and what both of you are looking for. In the past I wanted someone a lot wilder or supremely intellectual. Now I’m looking for someone who is supportive, understanding, knows himself well, accepts me for the free spirit I am, and so on and so forth. If he can make me laugh, even better! If he loves adventures in nature, amazing! You know, I really just need good positive energy around me. I think the older you get the less you want to waste your time on anything that doesn’t feel real, doesn’t bring joy and happiness, anyone who doesn’t want to see you succeed. You know, I’m just here to be real and do my best and figure one day I’ll meet my match.
“The older you get the less you want to waste your time on anything that doesn’t feel real, doesn’t bring joy and happiness.”
In honor of Canada’s 150th birthday, what is your favourite thing about living in Canada?
The nature. Hands-down. I used to come back from South America and I wouldn’t really enjoy Canada or the Canadian culture because Latinos are so open and vibrant. They’re dancing and singing in the streets. They welcome you into their homes and lives non-stop. Then I came back from Kuwait in the Middle East, where I saw beige all day (as opposed to green trees), where water was constantly wasted, the A/C was always on, and I didn’t agree with many of the political, social or environmental policies the nation had in place. So on the one hand, I moved home to be with my family and friends whom I hadn’t seen much of over the years, and on the other hand, I moved home to be in the nature, to explore the beautiful British Columbia landscape.
In the past, I never felt Canadian, but now I feel 100% Canadian. I’m in love with our country, our environment, the Pacific Northwest and the opportunities we have here. I feel incredibly fortunate I was able to grow up in this region and fortunate as well that I know how amazing it is and am able to take advantage of it. We live in a truly beautiful country.
You did an opening performance for the Riders on the Storm (The Doors tribute band) in Ecuador. What was your most memorable moment from that whole experience?
That whole event! I honestly didn’t believe it was happening. From the moment I looked up and said, “Jim Morrison is dead” and saw all of them standing around me, to the moment they said, “They’re fired, she is hired,” and I thought, ‘I haven’t even said yes yet, my guitar is rusty, I don’t even have endings to my songs;’ to sitting on the stage looking at eight thousand people… it was quite simply, fabulous. I had two lovely friends join me, which is fortunate because otherwise I don’t think people would believe that it actually happened. Anyways, it was surreal. I was flying from Argentina to Ecuador for this Amazonian jungle wedding of another dear friend of mine. This was the last thing one could expect – that someone would hire you to open for a show, a show with such legends. Man oh man. So I don’t know what the most memorable moment was, perhaps staring out at the crowd and realizing this wasn’t a dream, that this was really happening.
Do you have any tips for our readers looking to pursue their dreams?
There’s this thing called doubt and it can get in our way. It challenges us and creates fear. But it’s unnecessary. When doubt enters my mind, I go about shutting it down as best I can. Still, occasionally I catch myself thinking, ‘what are you doing pursuing woodworking, Pilates, and music when you could have a career in something else such as the humanitarian endeavors you were embarking on before?’ But then that vision or dream I had last summer about my future finds its way back into my mind and I am reminded of why I am here. There is something very powerful in me that just doesn’t want to do anything else. And then I think logically and I say, ‘Am I happy? Am I joyful? Does everything I am doing feel good and right?’ The answer to all of this is ‘yes’ and the doubt disappears. So now I’m just trying to trust myself and my environment and to believe that I can live a life of joy and happiness and gratitude rather than one that has me overcome with suffering, sadness, or unsurmountable trials.
I don’t need to chase other’s dreams, be like anyone else, or become ridden with fears about my future. I want to live in the present. I want to have a clean and positive perspective. If something happens and this direction doesn’t work for me, well, good news is I can change it. So yes, for now I will continue doing what makes me feel amazing inside and I will push doubt to the side because I believe we all have an incredibly amount of power within ourselves to direct our lives and be joyful. And I guess this would lead to my advice: start slow and find what brings you joy. It’s so simple and it doesn’t have to be a career, but make time for that joy. This is important. I think we all deserve to be happy and we don’t need to be scared. If something scares you, figure out why and face it. The more you face your fears, the easier the next one will be to confront. And soon, you may feel more empowered than you realized you could and on top of that, you may also be far more joyful than you realized you could be.