The Cortes Portraits: Emilie Wapnick

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Winter on Cortes Island is dark. With only two street lights in “downtown” Manson’s, we don’t even have the illusion of extended daylight. Between that and the never ending coastal rain, it feels like you’ve been dropped into an inky calligraphy pot. But the darkness of winter also invites me to slow down, and lets me hibernate in my own particular way. I love when there is nothing to do except to pick up a novel and disappear into it. Or, like tonight, slide my pawn across the table on an adventure to discover whodunit.


I’m not quite sure who began our winter board game club here on Cortes. We meet on a mostly impromptu basis, when cabin fever starts to rear its head. Tonight, I offered to host, even though I’m an introvert and I don’t actually own any board games. Now I find myself accused of murder by my neighbour Emilie Wapnick. Emilie is a proper Clue enthusiast. She is also kind of a big deal.


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Like me, Emilie has multiple creative pursuits. Unlike me, she’s been featured in numerous publications, including The New York Times and Forbes. If you want to be everything, Emilie is your woman. In fact, she encourages it. Emilie’s been talking “multipotentiality” since 2010, seven years before the release of her award-winning book How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up.

Before I met Emilie, I believed that I had one true calling: photography. But truth be told, I bounced around specializations a lot. It made me incredibly uneasy. Surely I couldn’t be a Lifestyle Photographer, Portrait Photographer, Photo Stylist, Blog Writer, and Content Creator at the same time, right? And I should certainly stop dabbling in watercolour and quit my nine-to-five as a Communications Coordinator if I want to be successful in any of the above. I need to focus on just one. But first, I had to pick which one.

Six minutes into Emilie’s TedXBend talk “Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling,” I realized how wrong I was. I also realized I wasn’t alone. To date, Emilie’s talk has been translated into thirty-seven languages and viewed by over six million people; Multipotentialites, whose superpower is their many interests.


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Emilie’s journey started with Puttylike, a home for multi-passionates who live dynamic, multifaceted lives. Online membership to the Puttytribe is so popular, there is a waitlist to join. It’s a bit odd sitting across from someone whose book you can casually pick up at Chapters. Someone who started a movement to help people thrive, exactly as they are. But it’s also pretty amazing. Especially, if Emilie’s wife Valerie is serving up homemade salted-caramels, or smoked pear kefir ice cream, or marinated tofu so delicious you’ll turn down turkey on Christmas Eve (true story).

With their two little dogs, Gorse and Grendel, Emilie and Valerie are my kind of people. Their authenticity is magnetic and expansive. After just a year living on Cortes Island, they threw a potluck that required four long tables to fit all their friends. During the party, the house overflowed with laughter, stories, and sweet potatoes. It was truly delightful to be a part of.


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A few weeks prior, mine was the only car in the driveway, as I picked Emilie up for our portrait session. We drove ten minutes, and past two street lights, to the lake. Hague Lake is a tourist hub in the summer. But in late autumn, it’s quiet. Even the sandy shore, where sunbathers and sandcastles usually sprawl, has been reclaimed by the cool fresh water. I try not to fall in while positioning Emilie on a piece of driftwood. The afternoon’s bright sun is a welcome change. But it’s also an added challenge for photography, especially on unsure footing.

Emilie pauses, apologizing for her nervous smile. It’s endearing, just like her bright yellow, reindeer-patterned sweater (a score from the island’s free store). Emilie is charismatic, whether on paper, or on stage front of a thousand people. It makes her incredibly photogenic. When you put me in front of a camera, you have to drag a smile out of me, teeth first. But her smile feels genuine, casual, and somehow still intimate.


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I encourage her to keep smiling as we head up the trail, weaving through salal and forest ferns. There is one last location I want to try before we head home, it’s east along the shoreline, within the rocky bluff. Emilie passes her sweater to me, and descends to a ledge along the water’s edge.

Below me on the ridge, Emilie stands under the dappled light of an overhanging arbutus. The denim blue of her collar shirt echoes the deep blue of the lake in the distance. It’s just as I had hoped. Emilie, an inspiring leader who managed to integrate all of her passions into one amazing life and the little island she’s come to call home, fused within a single frame.


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