Creating Beauty: the gateway to possibility

I love to cook and entertain. Fortunately, my beloved enjoys entertaining almost as much as I do and finds my desire to ‘create beauty’ umm… amusing/admirable/adorable… Yeah. That’s it.

Anyway, I do love to create a beautiful experience for everyone who comes to our home. To have the table look as good as I hope the food tastes.

This is why I spend a lot (read that – an inordinate amount) of time creating placecards for each guest and a unique look for the table-setting along with a menu that is inspiring and intriguing, as well as appetizing and fulfilling.

It pleases my creative heart and soothes my yearning to create beauty in the world.

I tell you this because I believe the world needs more beauty.

I believe that the only way to offset the ugly out there, is to create beauty, in here.

It doesn’t mean I’m ignoring the ugly in the world. It’s hard to ignore when newsfeeds are full of graphic accountings of humanity’s ability to destroy one another and the planet we depend upon for our very breath.

But there is little I can do about the bigger world beyond my own sphere of influence. And so, I do my best to ensure my sphere (some might call it a bubble) is as devoid of conflict, strife and hard edges as it can be.

That also doesn’t mean I cannot be prone to being edgie at times or behaving badly. It does mean that when I do miss a step or fall down in my behaviour, I do my best to get accountable and take responsibility for my missteps by cleaning up my act whenever I can.

And sometimes (read that most times) cleaning up my acting out requires I come back into integrity with my own self, inside me.

It means getting authentic inside so that who I am in the world is aligned with who I want to be in every aspect of my life.

When I used to coach at Choices, I remember every Sunday evening at the end of the five-day training, I’d think about how I am in ‘the room’ and ask myself, “Is how I am in the world outside this room aligned with how I am in this room?”

Often, I’d find gaps in my behaviour, in how I was presenting myself out there that were not aligned.

See, in a sacred space like the Choices room where hearts are broken open to the power of love and possibility (Discovery Seminars now that Choices no longer operates in Alberta) it is easy to be authentic. Not only is the room a safe space, it is a brave space – a space where no matter your human condition, you know without equivocation, you are loved, lovable, Love in action.

In the big world out there, it doesn’t always feel safe, and being brave can feel not only scary but dangerous.

How do you stand up to a bully when that bully has a gun?

How do you speak truth when truth-speaking could cost you your life or your family’s freedom?

And how do you create beauty when everything and everyone around you feels shrouded in the darkness of anger, fear and hopelessness?

I don’t have answers for the world ‘out there’. I do, however, now that what I create in here will ripple onward, out into the world in ways I can’t imagine.

And for that ripple to be filled with beauty, wonder and awe, I must release droplets of beauty, wonder and awe into the world around me with everything I do.

We live in times that feel unprecedentedly uncertain, at times confusing, at times nullifying and frightening.

I don’t know if what I feel today is worse than what my parents and their cohorts felt during WW2, or when I was a child and the Bay of Pigs was unfolding and we children were practicing hiding under our desks at school in case of an atom bomb going off. But, what I do know is, like my mother who wanted only to create beauty and peace in her world, I am doing my best to walk in her footsteps and do the same.

It is only the steps I am taking that can fill in the gaps between fear, hopelessness and possibility.

Sometimes, knowing I am imbuing each of my steps with beauty is all I need to bring myself back into integrity.

Namaste

PS. It was my youngest daughter’s 35th birthday yesterday. To celebrate her, we held a dinner on Sunday night for family and friends. These are some of the photos. (thank you @ChristieeJames for the photos!)

And PPS. I used to avoid making cakes. I’m learning to love it! She wanted a “sprinkle cake’ – read that – Confetti Cake. I loved how it turned out!

Feeling the Friday Frolics

I begin, as I often do, without a clue as to what I am going to write. Trusting in the process, I let the words flow knowing, they will. They always do when I get out of my head and into my heart.

And my heart is saying, it’s Friday. Let’s enjoy a Friday Frolic,

And, because I met with my writing circle last night, I thought I’d share a poem I crafted. It’s one of those “I’m not sure where that came from but it’s fun!”

Which really does make for the best kind of writing experience. To just let go and let flow! Words. Images. Thoughts. Ideas.

The poem was inspired by a poem by Paige Lewis, I’m Not Faking My Astonishment, Honest, Every time we meet in the circle, our amazing guide, Ali Grimshaw, of the blog, Battery Flashlights, reads us a poem to trigger our creative responses.

Here’s what happened for me when I let “I’m Not Faking My Astonishment, Honest.” lead me into writing without knowing where my pen was going.

Thank you to my writing circle guides. You constantly inspire and excite me to keep on turning up, writing and exploring life through words and images..

I Don’t Know Where I’m Going
©2023 Louise Gallagher 

I took a trip
but didn’t know where I was going
and found myself lost 
planning
how to get somewhere
I didn’t know
because I didn’t know
I wanted to go there.

Confused, I phoned a friend
but they hadn’t planned on my calling
while I was on my trip to nowhere
and were not home
so didn’t answer
leaving me even more confused
about where I wanted to plan to go.

Lost in planning how to get somewhere
I didn’t know where I was going
I gave up on getting anywhere
and stayed where I was
until I could think of 
a better plan.

.

“Finding You’re Not Missing A Thing” music video release!

It is 7:30am. I have been awake since 5. Completed my NYTimes puzzles – not my best Wordle performance but hey! I got it in 5 so I’m happy. Taken Beaumont the Sheepadoodle for his first morning saunter. (On an aside, I love those dark early morning hours where only the sound of the rushing waters of the river accompanies us as we stroll along the back fenceline of our property.) I’ve meditated for 20 minutes, written my morning pages in my journal, made a dozen lemon cranberry scones, cleaned the kitchen, and am now sipping on my latter in the glow of the candle on my desk.

Saturday mornings are made for this.

And now, I’m writing a post for my blog. This is a deviation from the norm. I don’t usually post on Saturdays but…

Stepping away from the norm keeps things fresh.

And, the reason to step away this morning is very simple and compelling –

In August, I wrote about playing singer/songwriter Laura Hickli’s mom in her upcoming music video release

Well, it’s here! Released yesterday, the music video of “Finding You’re Not Missing a Thing” was released yesterday.

It is sublimely thought-provoking and moving. It is a deeply personal reflection of Laura’s journey to finding herself — and her voice – in the big, wide, world of possibility that exists for everyone when we step away from what we know and dive deep into what makes every human on this planet so divinely miraculous.

I hope you watch and listen and feel inspired to share. (It’s easy to do from the YouTube link – just copy and paste into your own feed. 🙂 ) It’s really, really good for an artist to have their creations shared broadly. Building her audience is critical to her career – see! You’ll be making a difference by contributing to the growth of an artist’s career! Win/Win!

Alive. Breathing. Awakening. Here.

Morning sleeps in night’s dark embrace.

The river flows. Light glistens on its dancing surface. A car’s headlights cross in staccato bursts between the trusses of the bridge.

Ludovico Einaudi’s piano floats through the air on delicate notes of harmony.

Candlelight illuminates my desk. Coffee steam rises through its golden glow.

Beaumont the Sheepadoodle sleeps at my feet. He snuffles and gives a muffled bark. I wonder what he’s dreaming.

I sit at my desk, face bathed in candlelight and computer screen, typing and watching the river flow, the bridge lights glistening on its surface. I give a silent prayer of thanks to Miss Komininski, my grade 10 typing teacher. I do not need to look at the keys. My fingertips have travelled their well-worn path for decades.

These are the early morning hours I cherish.

These are the times I savour. They bring me harmony, peace, calm.

Not stolen. Not won. Present.

Memory stirs, pulling me from the here and now into a moment long ago when I walked in a courtyard at a monastary in a small town outside of Koln, Germany.

It is the early morning hours. I am the sole student representative from my school. I am participating in a week-long experiential program to learn how to act as a peer advocate against the looming war on drugs the adults in my world predict is coming.

The training program is filled with a mix of 30 students, educators and psychologists from American and Canadian schools in Europe.

I have no idea why I was chosen to represent my school, but in those dark not yet dawn hours of the morning that day, the ‘why’ didn’t matter.

I was there.

Walking in the mist-filled air listening to the monks chant morning Vespers. Feeling the cool moistness of pre-dawn caress my face. Hearing the quiet shuffling of my footsteps against the cobblestone pathway.

I was there in that moment. Alive. Breathing. Walking. There.

Another memory.

A still lake. Midnight. Black, star-littered sky above. Dark waters silent beneath the canoe in which I sit, motionless, paddle resting across my knees.

Mountain lake, waters so clear it’s as if the reflected stars are shining up from the depths below its surface.

I want to reach into the cool waters and pluck a star. Up. There is no falling. Only shining and it is shining for all its worth, lighting up the darkness above.

Some mornings are made for this. For strolling quietly through memory’s lanes, remembering.

Mystical. Magical. Mysterious. Pulling me into remembering the there and then that resonates so deeply with this here and now where I sit typing without looking at the keys.

Alive. Breathing. Awakening. Here.

Wishing you a day of wonder.

Namaste

It’s time to begin again.

Sometime ago, in an art journalling class I was teaching, a woman who journaled a lot but had never painted before, bemoaned the fact her page was ‘crap’.

“What if you were to reframe how you judge your effort?” I asked. “What if instead of saying, ‘it’s crap’, you celebrated yourself for being willing to even try something new you’ve never done before?”

I’d like to say she had this amazing AHA! moment. That suddenly she lit up and said, “That’s it! I need to let go of condemning myself for trying and celebrate the fact I am trying!”

I’d like to say, thus began her love affair with art journaling.

Fact is, she soldiered on, mumbling under her breath for the rest of the class until the end of that session when she stood up, ripped the page out of her journal and tore it up.

“See., I was right. I am not an artist,” she said as she left the studio ceremonially dropping the scraps of her art journal page in the big black garbage can by the door.

Fact is, before I started painting in my 40s, I too believed I wasn’t an artist.

The voices in my head liked to repeat how once, in my 20s, a guy I was dating had given me some oil paints and, after I’d produced my first ‘masterpiece’ informed me I should probably stick to writing. “At least you have a chance of being good at that,” he said.

I dumped the guy but, the fact is, he was right. He was also wrong. I had a lifetime of writing against which to build my proficiency and talent. Of course I wasn’t going to be great at painting.

Heck! It was my first time.

But, like that woman in my class, I had created one painting, with zero training, and chose to let that be my truth – until that day in my mid-40s when I picked up a paintbrush and began again.

And kept going. Again and again and again.

Today, I create pieces I love. Albeit, some more than others and some, well let’s just say their many layers inform the whole of their beauty.

Today, I know that the beginning of anything is just the invitation to keep going to create again and again.

I am in an art show in June. Other than creating place cards for Christmas dinner and memory bowls for my sisters, I haven’t been in my studio for awhile.

It’s time to begin again.

Taking the first step matters – so do all the others

In file folders on my laptop, I have a number of projects I’ve started, and never finished.

In my studio, on shelves and in drawers, tucked into drawing pads and sketchbooks, I have a number of projects I’ve started, and never finished.

Pithy words about ‘starting’ abound. We talk about one door closing and another opening, about the journey of a thousand steps beginning with one. About how to begin anything you must take the first step.

And all of that is true. Taking that first step is important. The next step and the next are also important because, the fact remains, without follow-through, you will never cross the finish line.

When I stop to survey my started/not finished accumulations against my completed projects, I find there exists a delicate tension between the two.

I could look at the ‘started/not finished as an example of my failures, my lack of discipline, commitment, staying power.

OR…

I could see them as stepping stones that taught me invaluable lessons along the way.

Sure, I sentenced some of them to the pile of forgotten flotsam that crowds cupboards and drawers, but, each of them helped improve my techniques, my abilities, my capacity to create, AND my understanding of myself.

Each piece of forgotten flotsam adds value to the whole. And the whole picture, actually the whole truth, is… the projects I have completed are the ones where my follow-through was motivated by my passion to cross the finish line.

But, here’s the thing.

The reason I don’t cross the finish line on some projects isn’t that I don’t have the discipline or willpower to not ‘give upl.

The reasons I don’t cross the finish line on some projects are more a complex psychological dance with internal messaging about my self-worth than a ‘this art isn’t good’ kind of decision-making process.

Finishing a project is exciting. Fun. Self-rewarding and satisfying.

Not finishing is an opportunity to grow my self-awareness, to strengthen my commitment to me and my journey, and to learn and grow through every step of that journey.

And, isn’t that what life is all about? Learning from this journey that grows in value with every step we take.

Namaste.

Keep Going.

Awhile ago, at a Christmas cocktail party, a fellow artist and I were speaking about art-making and the things we’ve learned through both writing and art-making.

Like me, she’s written a blog for several years but recently quit as she wasn’t ‘getting anything out of it’, she said.

I thought about her response and my own experience of blog writing and suddenly, like fireworks lighting up the sky on New Year’s eve, felt this crystal clear thought burst into brilliant light within my mind. “Writing a blog every day has taught me to always trust in the process,” I said. “And making art has taught me to always keep going. To not give into self-doubt or criticism. To trust that if I’m not happy with it, it’s because it’s not done with me yet.”

The Memory Bowls I created for both my sisters this Christmas were an opportunity to lean into what art-making has taught me.

As I layered paper and medium and then painted the bowls gold I kept hearing the voice in my head hissing, “This is ridiculous. It’s going to be a disaster. Quit while you’re ahead.”

I’d never made a ‘memory bowl’ before and was making up the process as I went along. I wanted to give in. To heed that hissing voice but, the muse kept whispering back, “Push through. Keep going.”

I don’t think it’s wise to ignore the muse, so that’s what I did. I kept going, layering and painting and collaging in pieces of memory to create two bowls that tell the story of our parent’s lives.

My middle sister told me she’s going to keep it in her bedroom for her jewelry. My eldest sister wants to put it on a stand for show.

Regardless of how they display or use the bowls, I am grateful for the reminder that, while in life we can’t see what tomorrow may bring, or what will happen next, when we remain committed to the journey, when we stay the course and keep pushing through, we create space for magic, wonder, awe and beauty to appear.

As 2022 slips away and a new year bursts open upon the horizon, magic, mystery and wonder shimmer in the darkness of the unkown the future holds.

There will be trials and tribulations. There will be trauma and grief. And in the midst of it all, no matter how dark the night, or rough the road, magic, wonder, mystery, possibility and above all, LOVE, will also be present. In the midst of darkness, love whispers, “keep going”. In the depths of despair, hope chants, “keep going” and in the dimness of day becoming night, possibility calls out, “keep going”.

2022 art-making taught me to ‘keep going’. What is a lesson you learned in 2022?

I wish you all a beautiful and loving New Year.

These are some photos and a video of one of the memory bowls I made.

Gratitude. The shortest distance between two hearts.

I am sitting at my desk. Later than normal morning for me. But it’s the week between Christmas and New Years. A week where time seeps gracefully into the back seat of life unfurling in that liminal space between one year’s ending and a new one being born.

A week to breathe and be present.

To ease into each day without checking off lists and rushing towards a deadline where that jolly ole’ big guy in a red suit comes swooshing down chimneys all over the world to the delight of little girls and boys.

That week when pundits offer up reflections of the year past, and gurus provide sublimely simple (yet hard to attain) counsel on how help even the most recalcitrant of acolytes can set and keep New Year’s resolutions.

That week.

Amidst the clamour and the clatter, the stillness and the spaces between, I sit at my desk contemplating the misty view outside my window while inside, the scent of the cinnamon candle I received for Christmas fills the air with sweet aroma.

In front of me, the journal I gifted myself for Christmas sits waiting. I have made a commitment to write in it once a day, 365 days, like in a row as DK would say, for the next year.

I began early. My gratitude list for 2022.

At the top, a reconnection with a young woman very close to my heart. Life happenings. A horrific tragedy. Misunderstandings. Moving far away all took a toll on this relationship.

In 2022, she reached out and we are once again connected.

This is what tops my gratitude list for 2022.

The loss of my dear friend Andrew is also there. Not his leaving this world, but his legacy of friendship, loyalty, love. They are at the top of my list.

My beloved too. It’s been a challenging year for his health in particular. We are moving through it all. Not always with grace. But we are doing our best. As my niece said to me on an early morning call this morning, “You have to give them A for effort. That’s what matters most.”

She’s right. Perfection is just a state of mind that keeps me seeking something I cannot have or achieve – which ultimately will always leave me feeling dissatisfied/disgruntled with my life!

The fact is, my beloved will seldom remember to put the toilet paper roll with the paper coming off the top — but he will always replace the empty one. And while I know that sounds petty on my part, it is letting go of my need to have it one way (ok My Way) that creates space for both of us to revel in the field of gratitude without needing perfection as our benchmark.

And reveling without expectation of reward or outcome opens the portal to living in life’s field of joy every day.

Hope your day is full of joy and wonder, awe and mystery.

A Solstice Prayer

A Solstice Prayer
by Louise Gallagher
On this long dark night ending

dawn waits

pregnant with the promised shift

of the earth turning

on its axis

beginning again 

the journey

from darkness into light.



On this long dark night ending

may your heart hear

the earth tuning in

to the beat of your heart 

calling you back

into the light spreading out

across a distant horizon

awakening you

to the dreams that lay 

dormant in the darkness.

My OpEd in the Calgary Herald Today

This week, I submitted a piece to the OpEd page in the Calgary Herald, and it’s in the paper today.

I’m pasting in the copy below.

It’s all about aging bravely – yet here’s the thing. When the editor said he was sending over a photographer, I demurred. “Hey! I’m almost 69. I don’t do photos.”

“Ha! Where’s that bravery now?” he queried back.

“In the face of a camera lens, bravery runs to the hills,” I joked (kind of).

Alas, there are a few grains of truth in that comment. Vanity clings like a barnacle to a whale. No matter how much I ‘grow up’ – or grow older it’s a constant freeloader gnawing away at my self-esteem!

Anyway, Darren the photographer, was charming. He showed me the photo he was going to use to make sure I was happy with it — and for those who wonder what on earth am I working on, they’re paper mache bowls for the Christmas dinner table. (the OpEd editor thought they were giant eggs! 🙂 )

OPINION: For baby boomers still working, you have nothing to fear but your own insecurities

Author of the article:

Louise Gallagher

Publishing date:

Nov 25, 2022  •  1 hour ago  •  3 minute read

 Join the conversation

Louise Gallagher, at her home studio, realized the only thing holding her back as a baby boomer in a return to the working world was her own biases and insecurities.
Louise Gallagher, at her home studio, realized the only thing holding her back as a baby boomer in a return to the working world was her own biases and insecurities. PHOTO BY DARREN MAKOWICHUK /Postmedia

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, have played a significant role in shaping Canadian society. Aged 55 to 74 now, boomers continue to impact society through the Great Retirement. Record numbers of boomers are leaving the workforce, causing employment shortages in Canada.

In 2019, a few months shy of my 66th birthday and after almost 20 years in leadership positions in Calgary’s homeless-serving sector, I was ready to embrace the Great Retirement.

The first six months of what I called “my reinvention” were great. Lots of time visiting with my toddler grandson in Vancouver, volunteering, time in my art studio creating and sharing my love of creative expression in art shows and art-journaling classes. 

Life was good. And then, my husband was diagnosed with COPD, my 97-year-old mother took her last breath just before COVID-19 hit and the world shut down.

Lockdowns kept me busy in my art studio and kitchen, while video calls kept me connected. By the end of the second autumn of COVID’s rampage, however, I realized something was missing. I felt aimless and lost, constantly pondering my purpose.

Was it time to go back to work? 

I made a plan: Dust off my resume. Contact colleagues in the not-for-profit sector about contract work. Get the word out I was in the market.

The plan had one drawback. The idea of re-entering the workforce after a two-year hiatus at the “ripe old” age of almost 68, caused me to break out in a sweat. I was afraid.

Afraid of what, I wondered? Rejection? Being laughed out of a boardroom for suggesting I still had value?

Fortunately, a former co-worker, now CEO of Prospect Human Services, an employment services not-for-profit, called one day and asked if I knew anyone interested in a contract role in my areas of expertise. I quickly recommended myself. Within a month, I was working from home three days a week, learning a new sector, team and organization.

Problem was, though I was energized and excited about the work, my unconscious biases around aging were tripping me up. 

We live in a world where ageism is prevalent; it’s seen in the absence of older people in the media we consume, from models in fashion magazines to movie leads. We idolize youth.

Our internal age biases are more subtle. We use terms like “having a senior moment” when we misplace our keys, even though we’ve habitually lost our keys. We make jokes about older people and talk about aging as a nasty business not for sissies. 

Re-entering the workforce in my late 60s, I discovered I held biases and fears about being older, not because my workplace didn’t welcome me, it did. My unease was because I was uncomfortable in my aging skin.

Even though there was no evidence I’d lost my ability to contribute to the execution of an organization’s strategic plan, when I first re-entered the workforce, I worried that anything I did that revealed my lack of sector knowledge would be chalked up to my age, not the fact I was on a steep learning curve.

The average age of the organization is 41. Scanning 120-150 faces on all-staff video calls, I didn’t see a lot of faces fitting the baby boomer profile. I worried about fitting in.

Competency issues followed. I worried I’d never remember, let alone learn, all the data and information I needed to do my job, including, making a difference — to anyone.

On the job I’ve learned, I had nothing to fear but my insecurities, and their value is insignificant compared to the knowledge and experience I’ve accrued over 40 years of building my career. Those 40 years have provided me with a lifetime of wisdom to draw on that informs and enriches all my interactions; whether at the boardroom table offering cogent ideas on what works and doesn’t work to build the organization’s public reputation or in the staff cafeteria cleaning up after myself.

I turn 69 in a couple of weeks. Before I returned to the workforce, I’d never have said the number out loud.

Now, it no longer scares me — because returning to the workforce has taught me it’s time to grow up and stop treating age as a dirty little secret. It’s time to accept age is an asset that increases in value with every breath we take.

Louise Gallagher is a Calgary writer, artist, story-teller, the director of communications for Prospect Human Services and a volunteer board member of THIRD ACTion Film Fest.