Good for Nothing

Several years ago, I volunteered teaching personal development classes at an adult emergency homeless shelter where I worked. One of the processes I used was to invite attendees to think about someone in the world they admired, and then to name the things about that person they most admired. The person could be a famous ‘real-life’ or fictional figure, past or present. Or, someone in their life.

One day, a young man who had been staying at the shelter since being released from prison 6 months previously, shared how the only person he could think of who he admired was his grandfather. “He always treated me nice,” he said. Not like his mother whom, he said, constantly repeated to him what she’d said the day he was born. “This one’s born to be bad.”

At the age of 24, his six months at the shelter were the longest stretch of time since turning 18 that he had not spent in jail. He was determined to keep his stretch going. I want to prove her wrong, he told the class. I want to be a better man.

As part of the exercise, I invited the attendees to write a letter to themselves saying all the positive things they wanted/needed to hear this person they admired say to them. There was no expectation of sharing what they’d written, I told the class. Just that they write out what words they most wanted/needed to hear about how wonderful, kind, intelligent, amazing they were. No negativity, I told him. These are the words that celebrate you. That inspire and applaud you.

The class wrote their letters and when finished, the young man whose mother had predicated he’d turn out bad asked if he could read the letter out loud to everyone. When I asked the class if they wanted to hear it, they all said yes.

When the young man was finished reading his letter out loud, there were a lot of moist eyes in the room, including mine.

This poem is written in honour of that young man and his courageous assertion that he was not going to be his mother’s predictions. That he would do whatever it takes to break the cycle, both of her abuse and his history of getting into trouble. And, it’s written to honour the thousands upon thousands of men and women who enter a shelter’s doors, who like that young come, arrive carrying the burden of a lifetime of being told they are good for nothing, they do not belong, they are not loveable or worthy or wanted.

Words matter. Let us think about our words. Let us use our words to create a better world for everyone.

A Gift of Life
By Louise Gallagher

The first time she saw his face
wrinkled and wet
with the vestiges of its journey 
through the birth canal
visible upon his skin, 
she closed her eyes. Tight.
“You’ll be good for nothing,” she whispered
to her newborn son
as if she could divine his future
by the marks her body had imprinted
upon his skin
through a past
she could never face.
And everyday, as he grew
from toddler to teen to man
she reminded him of his future
adding the back of her hand
across his face, for good measure,
she told him with a laugh
as she lifted a grimy glass of gin
to her lips.

She taught him things no child
should ever learn
gave him a story
he did not deserve
of a desperate future 
where he would always be 
good for nothing.

It was a harsh and brutal story
 no man could carry
without defending himself
against a past
that had branded him at birth
and kept him living his 24 years
as good for nothing.

Twenty-four days out 
of his last incarceration
he declared, Enough.
Enough of living out a past
he’d been born into
and was always told was his
only path to becoming a man.
Enough of being the kind of man
everyone called good for nothing.

On that day
he took his life
into his own hands
but not before
willing his heart and lungs and other organs
to give life to another.
At least that way, he whispered with his final breath
I will be good for something.

When she heard the news
of his demise
his mother laughed 
and lifted her gin,
her fifth or was it sixth of that day,
Good riddance, she said
to the empty room in which she sat
on a threadbare couch
surrounded by discarded bottles
and dirty dishes.
I always said you’d be good for nothing.

And still, his heart beats on
a gift of life 
creating a world of something
better for someone.

She whispered to the sun and the moon and the sea and the trees, “Yes I can!” and the sun and the moon and the sea and the trees gave her wings courage.

And with every whispered, “Yes I can!” her dreams grew brighter and her wings grew stronger.

Heeding the call of her hart’s yarning for companionship on the way, she joined hands with her sisters and together, they created a better world for everyone.

While I do not think that ‘time’ is the healer, I do believe it makes space for healing. As in, my head is feeling better after getting bonked by a mirror a week ago.

I find this part of any healing journey fascinating. Each day there’s an incremental difference until one morning, like today, I wake up and feel like I’ve fallen over the side of ‘will this ever end’ and am now floating in a vast pool of sunlight where ‘this’ is no longer swimming right in front of my face but drifting off with the river’s flow. And though the bruising and cut are still visible, inside, where it matters most, I feel the sunshine bathing my face in its golden glory, the wind whispering sweet nothings through my hair and the cool crisp air of the morning dancing on sparkling rainbows of light on the river of life flowing freely all around me.

It’s a brand new day!

And I feel all new and shiny again.

Yeah!

Which also means, my postponed trip to help my daughter and son-in-love is back on. I’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, bright and early.

I am grateful.

It’s funny how tables, and life, turn. When my daughters were young, my mother was the last person I wanted to come and help me as there was too much angst, too much drama in our relationship to make her ‘help’ a welcome gift.

With my daughter, we have created a relationship where my help is welcome, where my presence is a gift for both of us. My mother’s heart flows full of gratitude for my daughter’s welcome embrace and willingness to constantly grow our relationship in Love.

I am blessed. Grateful and feeling full of the grace of life and love.

I won’t be online much for the next couple of weeks. I wish you a beautiful spring sojourn.

____________________

About the Artwork

This is spread 6 & 7 in my Learning to Fly art journal – as with all the pages, it is in response to my 20 Attitudes and Actions on living the life of your dreams — These pages are a response to Attitudes and Actions No.s 10 &11 –

10. Write down all the reasons you can. Post your list on the mirror, the fridge, somewhere you will see it every day—read it often—and add to it everyday.

11. Tell a friend/mentor what you plan on doing. Ask your friend/mentor to be your accountability buddy.

The Trees Are Not Silent

The Trees Are Not Silent
by Louise Gallagher

The trees are not silent. 
They whisper the stories 
of the wind as it passes 
through their branches 
holding on to the tall 
tales and chronicles 
of life passing by 
as time writes its memories 
into its bark.  

The trees are not silent. 
They shelter birds 
and their nests hidden 
from preying eyes 
that would steal away 
new life reaching  
for food and 
stretching wings 
on outstretched limbs 
gathering courage to take flight.  

The trees are not silent. 
Their roots dig deep 
into the earth 
collecting the stories 
of those who crawl and scamper 
beneath the surface 
digging up the soil 
drawing its rich effluents 
up into their sturdy trunks 
etched with stories 
of who loves who 
and those who no longer do.  

The trees are not silent. 
They are our story gatherers 
Our memory keepers 
Our secret bearers 
Our wisdom holders 
Our connectors into the web 
of nature that binds us all  
to this tapestry of life.  

The trees are not silent. 
Listen deep. 
They have stories to tell.

Awoke – a poem for hope

Awoke

by Louise Gallagher



Unseen

stealthy
like a stream

invisible
to the world above

the earth
weakened
by its waters
flowing underground

permeating my thoughts
with dark forebodings

of what might be

if this tiny 
invisible

to the naked eye
microbe
found its way
under my skin.


This fear
invisible and stealthy

has stalked my thoughts
for a year now

clouding my senses
eating lustfully at my joy
and banishing those I love
from my presence.


It is waning
this fear
lulled to sleep
like sleeping beauty
pricking her finger 
on a needle
jabbed into my arm
protecting me 
from its presence.


It is waning

under the influence
of one jab
of hope
flowing
free
as if kissed

by a prince
awakening beauty
from the spell
that cast her asleep
for a hundred years.

Awoke
I walk 
buoyed up

by a powerful potion
casting
fear 
into the waters 
of life

flowing
free
of fearful thoughts
of what might be
if this tiny 
invisible
to the naked eye
microbe
found its way
under my skin.

Since getting my vaccination a couple of weeks ago, I have been thinking about this fear that has stalked my thoughts like an invisible intruder for the past year.

I can feel it easing, feel the lightness of being present without its presence shadowing my every thought… what if I get it? What if my beloved gets it? Will it be the end of us?

One jab of the needle changed all that.

Now, the knowledge that even if one of us gets it, the likelihood of death or hospitalization is greatly diminished has replaced the fear.

There is hope. There is possibility. There is life.

I am grateful for the thousands upon thousands of researchers, scientists, biologists, epidemiologists, doctors, nurses, lab technicians, pharmaceutical companies and everyone involved in making my ease of mind and breath possible.

Thank you.

The Story of Your Dreams

"You carried the story of your dreams with you when you came into this world. They were written on your heart in the world beyond this place where miracles are birthed in the magic that is real and the mystical that is always present. You carried your dreams with you into life and all that matters now is you become the story of your dreams unfolding."

I wrote the quote above in freefall writing yesterday. It was my first time back in the studio since Monday. Before the fall.

It has a certain poetic drama, doesn’t it? Before the fall.

Like Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. Or the Roman Empire before it fell apart.

Coining it to describe the mirror that fell on my head is me taking great poetic license and an exaggeration. It is obviously not of the same significance but, everything is relative. A small thing in the big picture can be a big thing in our own experience.

Yet, so often we attempt to minimize our experiences. To devalue their impact.

Years ago, when I was spending a lot of time in groups of women healing from experiences of the really painful ‘love (that was actually abuse) gone wrong’ kind, women would often say when someone recounted their story, “I know what you’re going through. Of course, my story isn’t as bad as yours…”

The fact is, every story we tell has value – it isn’t good or bad — it is of value to our experience. And when we tell it in a way that opens doors and windows to our heart, we release ourselves to create a new story. Diminishing our own story limits how wide the doors and windows of our heart can open.

For me, a bump on the head that slows me down is a big thing. It’s a call to wake up and pay attention to my body. To ‘get into my body’, not ‘out of my head and into my body’ but to be all of it, head and body. It is one unit, one being, one ‘thing’. There is no separation. no dividing line that says, “This is your head job. This is your body’s work.” It is all one.

And here’s the thing for me. When my body is hurting, I like to power through by pasting a smile on my face and ‘carrying on’ as if nothing is amiss. I let my mind override whatever my body is feeling as if my mind is in charge.

It’s not.

The body and mind are all and one of the same unit. They are all of me and I need all of me to be present, working as a wholistic being on creating substance to my dreams — the one’s that were written on my heart (and in every strand of my DNA) before I was born.

So… This time, I’m taking a different tack. I’m taking care of all of me, first.

See! It’s never too late to do things differently.

Which is also why I headed into the studio yesterday afternoon – it was R ‘n R.

There is something that happens when I sit down at my worktable and get present to the unknown, the invisible, the muse’s urgings I let appear what is calling itself into being.

In those moments, I know there is no separation between mind and body, heart and soul. I am all present. All in harmony.

And that’s exactly what happened yesterday.

I opened my “Learning to Fly” art journal and found myself exactly where I was, as I was. Present in the flow of all that is when I stop trying to compartmentalize my body from my head and acting as if my body’s trying to play a con job on my mind.

When I get present, my dreams get real.

Accidents Happen

On Monday, the wind blew fierce through the trees where Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I walk.

It was scary.

As we walked, my body bent forward into the wind, I wondered… on days like today, does the wind blow so fierce because the trees want to dance with wild abandon?

Do they plead with the wind as it blows through their branches telling the stories it has gathered on its travels around the world?… “We’re tired of being rooted to the ground,” the trees wail. “Tired of just holding your stories in our branches. We want to live them. Feel them. Dance with them. Come, blow fierce and mighty through our branches. Let us bend and bow, swirl and sway as we devour every drop of wonder you carry in your mighty breath.”

And does the wind, heeding the calling of the trees’ desire to dance wild and free, rise up and howl in delight, as the trees throw all caution to the wind and dance with abandon in the ecstasy of the wind’s breath?

I decided not to throw caution to the wind and shortened our walk. The threat of being hit by a falling tree limb separating itself from the canopy of naked limbs dancing above was high. Prudence was the name of the game.

The next morning, as I got ready for our walk and closed the door of my bedroom closet, it hit me.

Literally. The door hit me in the forehead. It was propelled by our dresser mirror which, since moving into this house three years ago, had not been mounted to the two wooden bars that should/could/would have kept it in place.

We’d known the movers hadn’t reattached it. Didn’t seem like a big deal. It was relatively stable resting on the dresser. Until it wasn’t.

It’s a big mirror. The force of it hitting the door knocked me to the floor. It also resulted in a gash and lump on my forehead as well as a black eye.

Fortunately, I broke its fall. I’m sure my mother would have said (she was extremely superstitious) that breaking a mirror that size would have required more prayers than even she could have managed!

After two days of doing little, I feel a little more normal this morning – though I won’t be driving to Vancouver as planned to help my daughter and family.

This accident could have been easily prevented had the mirror been properly attached.

But then, many accidents can be prevented.

It’s just, sometimes, we don’t take care of the small things which, left to their own devices, can become big things.

Like a mirror falling on my head and giving me a black eye and a scar to remember it by.

Time to refocus, reassess, restore balance.

Time for a time out…. Perhaps, now that the wind has stopped, I’ll go lie in the winter dry grasses under the canopy of filigreed branches that stretch up towards the sky seeking the sun’s warmth.

****************************

I haven’t had the capacity to focus on writing the past couple of days.

However, as April is “National Poetry Month” and this month’s theme is ‘resilience’ I wanted to start the month off right with a poem – my intent is to write a poem a day for the month – I am not committing myself to it. I am allowing myself to simply be present within the intention – body, mind and spirit – allowing it to happen, or not.

I did however, want to honour the wind and trees and their dance…

Wild, the wind blows fierce
Naked limbs dance in delight
Birds seek safe harbor.

And…. this post is also a response to the weekly prompt posted at Eugi’s Causerie.

The prompt is to use the word ‘canopy’ in any of its forms, in a post.

To read more, and to participate — please do check out the blog — it is full of delightfully delicious words and images and ideas to set your mind a wandering and your spirits soaring.

My Sacred Garden

“A dream is a wish calling for its wings.” — Learning to Fly mixed media hand-crafted art journal

On Saturday, I took a four hour workshop with Dr. Minette Riordan, “The Sacred Garden: Spring Cleaning for Your Creative Spirit.”

My Sacred Garden Vision Map

The workshop was enriching, inspiring and very grounding. In our four hours spent writing and creating a circular ‘vision map’ of the Sacred Garden in our world right now, I discovered something really, really important to me.

One of the things Minette does in her workshop is ask really good questions. Like, really good.

Minette’s questions took me right into the core of what’s important to me and what I want to do in the world in this time in my life right now.

I am grateful.

Holding space for voices to find their unique song, beat and path underpins much of my creative expression.

Creating sacred and courageous space for all voices to be heard, honoured and celebrated is part of what I want to do more of in the world.

When the student is ready the teacher appears. When the student is truly ready… The teacher will Disappear.”

Tao Te Ching

That’s how I feel after spending four hours with Minette and the other women in the course. Listening to the conversation, the sharing, being part of the circle really helped me gain clarity.

I was ready. A guide appeared. Creating with her guidance I gained clarity and confidence in what I want to do next in this, the Third Act of my life.

So…. stay tuned! More about that later.

For now, I’m in the fluffing up of my wings, stretching the tendons and muscles, ensuring they are ready to stretch wide and lift me up stage of my Learning to Fly.

Happy Flying!

___________________________

Attitude and Actions No. 7 & 8

  1. Be brave.  Let courage draw you to the edge and passion lift you up
  2. Close your eyes, imagine the feeling of flight – repeat often

Where The Wild Things Fly

From the 2 page spread for No. 7 & 8 of 20 Attitudes and Actions to Help You Live the Life of Your Dreams.

7.       Let courage draw you to the edge and passion lift you up
8.       Close your eyes, imagine the feeling of flight – repeat often

Mother Nature is the most amazing partner. When we invite her to be our mentor, our guide, our co-creator of possibilities, miracles and magic happen all around.

Thanks to Mother Nature and a Bald Eagle yesterday, I played in the field of possibilities of my Learning to Fly list of Attitudes and Actions – and was rewarded with miracles, magic and a whole lot of laughter!

In my studio, I spent much of the afternoon into the evening working on the spread for No. 7 & 8 of my 20 Attitudes and Actions.

  1. Let courage draw you to the edge and passion lift you up
  2. Close your eyes, imagine the feeling of flight – repeat often

Just before taking Beaumont the Sheepadoodle for his late afternoon walk, I made a spaghetti sauce so dinner would be easy. C.C. is engrossed in the hockey season as the teams near making it to the Playoffs. Or not, as the case seems to be he tells me for the Flames, our hometown team.

I was engrossed in creativity. Both, working on items on my list as well as creating in my art journal.

Win/win when dinner is easy and relatively ‘mess-less’. I tell you all that because, it all plays into the miracles and magic of the evening. As we sat at the island eating and chatting, C.C. looked out the window and said, “There’s a Bald Eagle sitting in one of the trees.”

I was so excited, I immediately jumped up from the table, grabbed my phone and raced out onto the deck.

The eagle from our deck.

He was quite a ways away, and there were lots of branches blocking my view.

But I soooo wanted to catch him in his moment of taking flight.

So I waited. And waited. But he seemed quite content sitting on his branch. Have you ever tried to outwait a Bald Eagle? It ain’t easy.

Over dinner, I kept darting out onto the deck to see if I could capture him. After we’d tidied up, I went downstairs to my studio and decided, ‘what the heck’. If the eagle’s still there, I am going to outwait him.

Without bothering to put shoes or coat on, I dashed out the French doors of my studio, onto the back lawn and raced along the fence-line until I was relatively close to the eagle’s perch.

Did I mention we’ve had snow the last couple of days? While most of it is gone the backyard is either covered in snow or wet and soggy. I was wearing Birkenstocks. At least I had socks on! (I know. Such an elegant look. Right?)

Anyways. I waited. And waited some more. And then…. it happened….

You’ll have to watch the short (40sec) video of what happened to find out! It’s at the bottom of this post.

I know. Such a tease.

But I am so very grateful for Mother Nature’s gift of flight.

Absolutely divine!

Oh. And btw… The laughter part of the miracles and magic, that’s at the end of the video. you’ll see. 🙂 C.C. howled when I showed it to him. I hope you do too!

Flight of the Bald Eagle.

Kiri’s Piano — No. 78 #shepersisted

I didn’t intend on painting a #ShePersisted woman yesterday when I walked into my studio. In fact, I had gone into the studio with the intent to tidy up and get some things ready for a course I’m taking on Saturday.

And then… the muse whispered… and I heeded her call… and #78 in the #ShePersisted Series was born.

Last evening, when I showed her to C.C., he commented that he really likes how I do eyes.

I laughed. I do not think I do eyes well at all. In fact, I struggle the most with the eyes. I painted over No. 78’s twice (and am still not happy) I told him.

“I feel like eyes are the mirror of my life,” I told him. “I struggle to get them right and with every struggle, I improve just a little bit and sometimes, to make it easier on myself, I paint them closed and then figure out how that ‘fits’ with the story. Like in life, I work at doing better, at righting wrongs and then some days, I just want to close my eyes and ears and heart and pretend I don’t see the wrongs and there’s nothing I can do.”

And I went on about the struggle and commitment and all that jazz until I ran out of steam. Gently and succinctly, he replied, “I think you’re amazing.”

Gotta love a man who listens and then doesn’t try to fix or argue you into ‘seeing the bigger picture’ or some other perspective. He just listens and when you’ve had your say, he simply affirms you.

And that is the genesis of No. 78.

In everything I’ve read about racism, cultural genocide and other forms of human eradication and ‘othering’ of our differences (I’d like to call them ‘our uniqueness’s’ but as a humankind, we are not there yet) by a dominant culture which also has historically believed it is superior because of the whiteness of its skin and its God, getting out of the way is critical to change.

Giving way, stepping aside, giving up centre stage, letting go of trying to ‘handle’ change for someone else or in ways that make it easier for us to stomach is essential for those who have been racialized and marginalized and subjected to cultural traumas about which, because we who have not experienced them in their skin/faith/shoes, can not truly understand nor comprehend. The deep historical and present impacts of their trauma can only be healed from within both their body of culture and their bodies. Not by ‘us’ telling them what to do, or how to do it or leading the way.

We do not have the answers for another.

We can create space for ‘the other’ to create a path that is reflective and supportive of what they have identified as their needs, their way, their right to make change happen and to lead their own way. And the only way we can do that is to get out of the way, step back, move aside, give way and give space for voices of cultural experience to be heard.

The impetus for No. 78 came from an article I was listening to on the radio about the rise of violence and racism in Canada against people who can be easily identified as of Asian descent. I am both confounded and saddened.

And in my confusion and sadness, I turn to the canvas. To the page. To nature to walk myself through my thoughts and feelings to understanding, harmony, acceptance, compassion, balance.

I’m not there yet.

No. 78 is just one step on a long journey. With each step I learn something more, I expand my compassion, my understanding, my sense of hope that one day we will quit repeating history – at least the bad parts.

And, as I take each step, I remember back to a song by James Keelaghan that speaks so eloquently and compellingly to me. I met James many years ago when he volunteered to perform at a concert I was producing as a fund raiser to support an organization working with street engaged teens. His heart and compassion are big. So is his story-telling.

Ever since meeting James and hearing his music, I always play his My Skies CD as I travel down off the summit of the Coquahalla Pass towards Hope. On that CD is a song that reminds me always that when we target one group we are ripping apart our own hearts and shredding our own humanity.

Below is James Keelaghan performing Kiri’s Piano. The second video is his story about writing and performing that song – it’s well worth the listen.

And I come full circle to Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and its powerful question… “When will we ever learn?”

Exposed

Yesterday, I followed through on my commitment to work on Steps 9 and 10 of my 20 Attitudes and Actions to help you live the life of your dreams.

It worked.

Once I’d printed out the two lists, I had to laugh at myself.

The ‘I can’t list’ – pretty well all lives in my head. The blocks and hurdles imaginary things I tell myself which, through repetition or simply remaining unchallenged, have become limiting beliefs that do not serve me well. And definitely don’t do much towards helping me live the life of my dreams!

And isn’t that what we all want? To live a life where we feel inspired, passionate, engaged. A life that reflects our desires, whatever they are, for love, friendship, comfort, and yes, success.

I realized as I was working on my Can’t and Can lists that defining what ‘success’ looks like to me at this certain age of my life is different than what it looked like at 30, 40, 50. I haven’t spent as much time considering the question, “What does a ‘successful’ life look like to me now that I’m no longer ‘out there in the workforce’ but here, spending time writing, painting, creating. Am I creating ‘things’ or am I creating a life worth living?”

It was a great question to carry with me as I wandered the forest and trails of the park Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I walk in every morning.

I walked through the forest along the river and looked up into the naked branches of the trees, listened to the birds, a woodpecker hammering, chickadees calling and the wind. Always the wind.

I stopped and took photos. Noticed broken bark and branches. Touched crenellated trunks and scarred limbs.  And was reminded of how life is often a journey that leaves us scarred and scared but also beautifully weathered, worn and wise.

When I came home, I played Rod Stewart’s hit, Scarred and Scared. Stewart was one of my dad’s and my brother’s favourites way back when.  Before they left this world a year a half apart. Before we had to learn how to fill in the spaces of their missing with memories and stories of their lives interwoven with ours. In the past. Always in the past.

And then… the poem below wrote itself out as I meditated on life and the joy of my many circles. From art circle creatrixes to writing circle poetresses and family circles and friendship rings and everyone in between. We have all weathered life through days and months and years, words and poetry and actions and colours splashed against the tapestries of our lives coming into full bloom and then, softly, lovingly, gently beginning to fade.

I do not know about ‘the fading years’, as I heard the latter years of life called once. I love the visual imagery of it. The softness and gentleness.

But I don’t know if I want to fade or go out in a great big burst of colour!

And that’s the beauty of life. I don’t have to know. I simply have to live. Every moment. Every colour. Every word and action, every sight and sound the way I want to live them. Now. Fully. Completely. Wholly. In this moment.

Until there are no more moments, no more sights or sounds or even breaths to live.

Perhaps it was the melancholy of the trees, the quiet of the forest, the reading through a course I created several years ago and spent a good part of the day updating that pulled me into the lure of time. Its gathering. Its weaving. It’s meandering course through life. Its unravelling. It’s gathering. It’s weaving….

Whatever the impetus, I am grateful.

________________

NOTE: The course I created and updated is called, “Right Your Heart Out”. It is currently available for free download on my website – I would be incredibly appreciative if you took it for a test run and gave me what feedback you can — feedback is the only way to make it better!

To learn more about this 21 day/lesson course click here – Right Your Heart Out

To dive in without learning more, to just ‘go for it’ click HERE for immediate download.

And… working on updating this course was my diving into Step 12 of the 20 Attitudes and Actions.

Here’s the deal – a marker on my path is having someone download the course… Don’t you want to be a marker of my path forward? I get to surprise myself with a reward if you are! 🙂