The Song of Your Heart is Always Brave

Spread 6 – left hand page – Listen to Your Heart – The song of your heart is always brave.

Have you ever noticed how, when fear awakens, so do the voices in your head?

That’s my experience. As I get closer to doing something I’ve been avoiding or putting off, or doing something that’s new and/or different or requires me to step outside my comfort zone, or at least the lizard brain’s comfort zone, the cacophony of sound emanating from the dark recesses of my grey matter get louder and louder.

Intoxicated with the lizard brain’s negative feedback, I begin to tell myself it’s right. I shouldn’t… – Do whatever it is I’m attempting. Step outside my comfort zone. Talk to someone I think could really give me guidance on a project [as in, ask for help]. Submit my work to a magazine. Create that Art Journalling 101 course…

Working in my “Learning to Fly” art journal has been an awakening and an inspiration to keep on going, keep on digging in, keep on stepping out, reaching beyond my comfort zone, looking at all the things (lies) I tell myself I risk losing if I do… x, y, z.

it’s also been a great wake-up call.

As in, the only thinking that’s stinking around here is mine!

And I smile as I type that. I might sound like I’m being hard on myself – it’s actually a loving form of tough love – I’m being real and honest with my fears — as I wrote on Spread No. 6 of the journal – “Fear is the voice of doubt and confusion that would have you believe you don’t deserve to live your dreams.”

I also think I’m suffering from Covid-brain Weary Syndrome.

You know, the falling into lazy patterns of thinking without even realizing I’ve been doing it.

No one can deny, this has been a long year. And there is still more to come before we can step out of our front doors and into the world without fearing this invisible microbe’s attack. As the world has hunkered down, so too have I in some ways.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been very creative and given birth to lots of creative expressions. The challenge is, I’ve not done much with my body of work. I’ve just kind of floated from project to project like a sleep-walker drifting through the silence of the night.

To wake myself up I have to get out of my feelings and into my body, my whole body, where I know, beyond doubt deep, deep within my entire being, that I am more powerful than I could ever imagine, more creative than I could ever express and more fearless than I could ever envision.

We all are.

More than we imagine.

Think about it. Our imaginings take place in our minds. Our minds are constructs of our habitual thoughts.

If our thoughts are limiting, so too will be our expressions of ourselves.

Living under the thrall of Covid has limited all our lives in so many ways, it makes sense that some of our thoughts could evolve into more limiting than freeing.

Which is also why birds appear throughout my Learning to Fly journal.

I don’t know where they’re leading, I don’t know where this journal is going (it’s all part of the adventure) what I do know is… if I do nothing, nothing will happen other than what already is. I must follow the flight of the birds where ever they lead. They carry my dreams.

To pursue my vision of creating inspiring and compelling work that ignites the creativity and passion in others, I must pursue pathways to getting my work out there.

And so… the adventure continues.

Going back to my 20 Attitudes and Actions to live the life of my dreams, today I commit to working on No.s 9 and 10.

What about you? What do you commit to doing today to move you one step closer to a dream you want to transform into your reality?

I hope you share your thoughts. I’d love to be your accountability buddy!

_________________

No. 6 – Attitudes and Actions — “Don’t let fear muddle-up your thinking. Even when you think you can’t, tell yourself you can. – Listen to your heart.”

Learning to Fly – Attitudes and Actions

Yesterday, I promised to share my 20 Attitudes and Actions to help you make your dreams come true.

What I’m discovering as I keep working in my Learning to Fly art journal is that the Attitudes and Actions are fluid things — there’s no given order to doing them, though some are best to do early in the game — like No.s 19 & 20.

I’ve already planted my seed — parsley. It’s in a pot in which I’ve been nursing a bunch of Basil throughout the winter. I love the symbolism of nursing a difficult to grow (in this clime) indoors plant, like Basil, which I’ve kept alive now since last summer with the new growth intermingled.

Doing my “Acceptance Speech” is something I learned from my eldest daughter when she was a little girl and continually practiced her Academy Award’s speech. Gratitude was at the top of her list when accepting her award.

An attitude of gratitude is vital. Along with courage it underpins everything. Employ it often. Feed it love and appreciation. Live it daily.

_______________________

I worked on the next spread in my journal yesterday — after my vaccination! I was soooo excited about getting my vaccination I got there two hours early (I had written the time down wrong when I’d phoned to make our appointments.) Fortunately, they didn’t insist I go home and come back — and C.C. could use my appointment which was earlier than his! So much gratitude! For the pharmacists and everyone at the pharmacy organizing and administering the vaccines. The researchers and scientists developing the vaccines. The manufacturers and government ensuring we have access to such life-giving/life-saving elements. The people all around me who are following the guidelines and taking good care of themselves and all of us with every action they take to curb the spread.

My worktable

When I got home, I went into the study to tidy it up — it can get real messy when I’m immersed in a project – and instead of tidying up, I fell into the muse’s embrace and created.

“Even birds must step out on a limb to test their wings. Go out on a limb and test your dreams.”

Learning to fly

Learning to Fly

I love heights. I know. I know. There are many who don’t. But I do.

I love to stand high above looking out and over the world. Buildings. Mountains. Even on the bridge looking into the river below. The higher. The better.

And here’s the deal. My challenge is, when I am standing on high, I truly believe I can fly. That I can just open my arms wide, release myself to gravity’s thrall and leap.

It’s not that I believe I have wings waiting to unfurl, it’s more a feeling that somehow, through alchemy and magic, my body will be transformed into a beautiful, light as air, ‘thing’ of majestic, airborne wonder.

I didn’t say it made sense. I only said I believe it’s true.

I have not tested my premise. Ever.

Though I have been tempted.

When I used to climb mountains it was always my challenge – to stay grounded at the edge of the peak and not let go and leap. Though there was one time on a descent that began with a 2ft wide ridge walk with a 3,000 ft drop straight down on one side and about a 1,000-foot drop on the other. That day, about halfway to the point where we would be rappelling down the mountainside, I wished there was a helicopter that would come and pick me up so I wouldn’t have to leap a one-foot gap in the rock and land four feet below.

Fear made me forget I could fly or even jump as if it was a gap in the sidewalk. I had to let go of my fear

Which is the impetus for the art journal I’m creating, Learning to Fly.

In life, flying is not about heights or wings. It’s about overcoming fears that keep us tethered to our comfort zones, to dreamless-sleep-walking through our days and spiritless wanderings through time, feeding ourselves on inertia.

I have some big dreams. Had them for awhile. And still, I hesitate. I act on them. One tentative step at a time. And then, I hesitate. Holding back. Jerking forward.

No one is holding me back. Except me.

So…. I decided to focus on the things I can do, need to do, must do to unfurl my dreams.

The “Learning to Fly” art journal is my Declaration of Independence. My Magna Carta. My Holy Grail of Getting Sh*t Done.

So…. here we go….

_______________________

About the Journal:

Using various papers from watercolour to mixed media to newsprint and scraps from junk mail, I gessoed and painted backgrounds to create a 40-page journal with cover. I then bound it all together into a book. (Below is a 19 second flip through of the painted and bound journal before I painted the cover and the first 4 spreads)

As well, I’ve created a list of 20 ‘actions and attitudes’ on the theme of “Learning to Fly”. For each one, I’m writing a one-line quote and using that action or attitude as the inspiration for the spread.

Over the past few days, I painted the cover (birds in a tree in gold), the title page and worked on the first 4 spreads:

  1. Take the longview. Even a bird needs time to grow into its wings.
  2. It’s a long and winding road. Every step makes a difference. Keep going.
  3. Wherever you grow, let your heart grow wild and free.
  4. Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

Colour me excited, but I feel the energy flowing, I feel my heart pounding as I work on this journal.

And, as I step through each of the 20 Action and Attitude steps I’ve created, I feel myself expanding my wings.

I won’t be jumping off mountain tops but I will be diving into making dreams come true and soaring on the wings of creative expression!

I hope you join me on the journey — I’ll be sharing my 20 Actions and Attitudes tomororw.

Today… I’ve got a dream come true to fulfill. C.C. and I are getting our first vaccinations. I’m trying not to make it a ‘big deal’.

But… it is! 🙂

Counting Stars (a story)

Counting Stars      
A whimsical tale by Louise Gallagher 

Once upon a time there was a little boy who dreamt of one day flying amongst the stars.

Every night he would climb out his bedroom window and crawl up onto the roof of the house he shared with his mother and father in a small town where it was said, “coal mining was the destiny written on the stars of all how lived there”.

While the world slept below him, the little boy would lie on his back and gaze up into the nighttime sky, counting all the stars and memorizing their positions. His dreams were filled with thoughts of leaving the coal dust behind and one day flying to the moon, of soaring amongst the celestial beauty above.

One night, his mother came to his room and found him missing from his bed. Not knowing he was on the roof, she became frantic. She screamed and called out for her husband. They looked all over the house and in the yard and couldn’t find their son.

They called the police. They called their neighbours. A search party was organized.

Meanwhile, the little boy lay on the roof, lost in wonder, gazing at the stars above. He didn’t hear their frantic calls. Didn’t know that they were searching for him. He knew only that he was safe amongst the wonder of the nighttime sky dreaming of one day building a spaceship and flying beyond his wildest imaginings of life here on earth into the vastness of the universe.

As he always did after an hour of counting stars, the little boy climbed quietly back down from the roof into his bedroom. But this night, he found his mother sitting on his bed, clutching his teddy bear.

Tears streamed down her face. Her body shook with sobs.

The little boy saw his mother and did not understand why she was crying. He ran to her, touched her arm and asked, “Mummy, what’s wrong?”

The mother, stunned to hear her son’s voice, opened her eyes and saw him standing before her. Relief washed over her. He was safe. She grabbed him and clung to him tightly. As she held him in her arms, she called out to her husband who was downstairs talking to the police. “He’s here. He’s here!” she cried out.

Everyone raced up the stairs. The little boy heard the pounding of their footsteps, felt the tremor of the floor as they entered the room.

His father burst through the door first, strode over to him and angrily demanded, “Where were you? Don’t you know you frightened your mother to death?”

The little boy was confused. Who were all these people? Why were the police there? Why were they all standing in front of him, arms crossed against their chests?

In a tiny voice he replied, “I was on the roof.” He hesitated and then whispered tentatively. “Counting stars.”

His father was angry. “You’re a bad boy,” he yelled. “How dare you cause such terror in our hearts. You will never go on the roof again.”

The little boy stood his ground. “I’m going to be an astronaut. I’m going to fly amongst the stars.”

The father shouted back. “Quit your foolish dreaming. You can’t eat stardust. You will be a coal miner, just like me. Just like my father before me.”

And so, a dream was lost. The father put bars on the boy’s window. The boy put his dream of one day being an astronaut away.

Years passed. The little boy became a man. He worked in the coalmine. Just like his father. He had a wife. A little cottage and a family of his own. A son and a daughter.

Like his father, he was stern. Distant. Uncompromising. Like his father, he loved his wife and children but never told them. When asked if he had dreams, he would reply, “Dreaming doesn’t put food on the table. Dreams are as impossible as flying amongst the stars. You can’t eat stardust.”

They were happy, in a strict kind of way. There was food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads. No one spoke of love. No one spoke of the stars above or their dreams. No one dared dream. Dreams, like stardust, don’t feed hungry bellies.

One night, the father walked past his son’s room on his way to bed. Out of the corner of his eye, through the open door, he saw the tiny figure of his son about to step out the bedroom window. Fearful that his son might be hurt, he raced across the room and grabbed his son just as he was about to slip over the sill and onto the roof.

“What are you doing?” he bellowed as he pulled his son back into the safety of the room.

The little boy, not used to being held in his father’s arms, burrowed into his chest, snuggled his head against his shoulder and whispered, “Counting stars.”

The father stood still. He felt his son’s heart beating against his chest. Felt the softness of his arms around his neck. With his son in his arms, he looked out the bedroom window to the darkness of night. Stars glittered in the sky above. The world slept below.

“Counting stars.” he whispered. And then he repeated it. “Counting stars.”

The little boy nodded his head. “I do it every night,” he said proudly. “One day I’m going to be an astronaut. I’m going to build a spaceship and fly to the moon!”

“No you’re not,” the father began and stopped. As he reached out to close the window, he caught a glimpse of himself holding his son in the reflection of the glass. His eyes misted up at the sight of the tiny figure held in his massive arms.

As his father held him close to the open window, the boy squirmed in his arms and leaned his body out the window and pointed up towards the star-studded sky. “Look dad!” he exclaimed. “A comet.”

The father looked up into the stars above as a streak of light soared across the ink black sky. He closed his eyes and took a breath. When he opened them, he looked down into his son’s eyes and saw the starry wonder of his dream reflected back at him.

His heart softened. He smiled. And pushed the window open. “I don’t want you to get hurt son. It’s okay to go on the roof at night as long as you promise to take me with you.”

The boy’s blue eyes opened wide. “Really?” he asked in a tiny whisper. “You’ll go with me?”

Holding his son safely in his arms, the father stepped through the window onto the roof.

“When I was a little boy, I used to climb out my bedroom window so I could count stars,” he said. He looked up into the night sky. “I forgot how many stars there are,” he whispered clutching his son tightly in his arms. “Can you tell me how many you’ve counted?”

The boy pointed up and started to count. “Two thousand and twenty-three. Two thousand and twenty-four. Two….” and his father’s voice joined in. “thousand and twenty-five…”

Together, father and son lay on their backs on the roof gazing up at the blanket of night spread out above them.

And the stars shone brighter than they had ever shone before.

_______________________________

Mark, of Musings and Other Writings, and a frequent commenter here on my blog (not to mention the person who inspired me to start blogging way back in March 2007) is celebrating the first day of his 19th year of continuous, daily blogging today.

In responding to his post this morning, I went back to my first blog, Recover Your Joy, to see what day in 2007 I’d actually begun. (It was March 10, which means I’m in my 14th year of being ‘a blogger’). As I was scrolling through the 1,677 posts, I came across a story I wrote around this time in 2009 (March 23rd to be exact).

Last night, just before bed, C.C. and I stood outside staring up at the night sky. It was strewn with stars hanging around a crescent moon. And then, this morning, as I was scrolling through the 1,677 posts, I came across a story I wrote around this time in 2009 (March 23rd to be exact) about a little boy who counted stars who became a man who had forgotten how, until his little son taught him.

It seemed like a sign… so I’m sharing it here today.

Have a beautiful, grace-filled weekend, and I hope you take time to count stars. I know I will.

These are the moments – #ShePersisted – No 77

There are moments when the mundane feels so heavy, the woes so full of dark clouds gathering and the worries so close in, that I forget I have room to breathe. To move. To do. To be. To change.

In those close-in to the darkness moments, it’s easy to forget that I am part of something bigger than just these woes and worries illuminating my flaws with their 1,000 watt klieg-worthy glaring light. Or their words spewing out from TV newscasters mouths or plumping up Twitter threads full of bile or just cluttering up my day with their insistence I pay attention to all that is wrong with me and the world today. 

In those moments of forgetting all the room around me for other things to take up the space of woe and worry, I will tell myself, there’s nothing I can do. I am too flawed. Too tired. Too lost to change anything.

It is in those moments I must remind myself that I can breathe. Not just your everyday, ordinary take a gulp of air and keep on going kind of breath, but a deep, sinking into my toes, filling me from the bottoms up kind of breath that soothes and replenishes, nurtures and reminds me to Stop-Breathe-Listen-See-Feel-Be-Here-Now-I am the Breath of Life – kind of breath.

In that breath where I find myself breathing in the exquisite beauty of all there is Here-Now -in that breath empty of the flotsam of life swimming around in a sea of news and forgettable TV shows I watch only because I’ve forgotten I’m part of something so much bigger, so much greater, so much more mysterious, magical and mystical than this everyday life I tell myself is my burden I gotta keep trudging through, on and on and on, I am reminded – life is a gift. A beautiful, exquisite, priceless gift. Mysterious, magical, mystical, 4th of July fireworks exploding, rollercoaster-fast heart-pounding fierce, breathless kind of gift wrapped up in the miracle of life.

In that breath I am reminded, I Am Alive.

What a beautiful gift. To be alive. To be. Here. Now.

These are the moments to savour.

These are the moments to remember. To grab onto and never let go. To remind myself, I have power over me. I have power in me. I have power. To change. To get accountable. To not be ‘my flaws’ but to see my flaws as part of my beautiful, exquisite human magnificence.

And in those moments I get to choose.

To make excuses for how I am or celebrate who I am, right now, in all my human contradictions, complexities, curves and straight lines adding up to one amazing being who has the power to stand up, speak up, and take action to create change that matters. Change that could just save my own life from being my excuse for not living it truly, madly, deeply in love with all I am and all I do and all I have in this moment, right now.

These are the moments to live. Always.

And to remember to Breathe.

Breathe it all in

and Begin Again.

Breath by life-giving breath to stop making excuses for myself and start living fully accountable for this life that is so precious, so divinely orchestrated, so…. mine.

Breaking Rules

The day she discovered her wings is the day her dreams took flight. 11 x 14″ mixed media on canvas board

There is a painting hanging in our bedroom that I created several years ago, in our old home, in my old studio.

And still, it speaks to me.

Of breaking free. Breaking out. Breaking up the constraints I arbitrarily place on myself about what makes good art, good poetry, good writing.

Things like, ‘The Rule of Thirds”. Never use black. Always use a good reference to paint from. The rule of ‘don’t end a sentence with a preposition’. Don’t begin a sentence with ‘because’, ‘and’, ‘but’.

They are just rules.

And rules are made to be broken. Right?

Yesterday, as I walked along the river with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and felt the warm ‘it’s almost spring’ sunshine on my face and watched chunks of ice float down the river and listened to birds twittering in the trees as Beau chased after the ball and I navigated the almost clear of ice pathway, my mind was full of thoughts of the painting I was working on and its message that was not yet clear.

And suddenly, like the sun breaking through a cloud, a thought skipped into view and landed with a resounding plop on my heart. “The day she discovered her wings is the day her dreams took flight.”

Yes! That’s what the painting’s about, my happy heart sang as it did a dance of gratitude for the muse’s tending of my creative expression.

When I returned to my studio and put the final touches on the painting, I wrote the quote along the lefthand side.

Done.

And the muse kept dancing.

After dinner, I finished tidying up my studio, came back upstairs, chatted with my beloved for awhile and took my journal and self to bed.

And the muse kept dancing.

The painting may have been ‘done’ but its creative expression wasn’t.

There’s no rule about writing a poem to go with a painting? Right?

Oh well. If there is, I’ve broken it more times than I can count! I like that breaking of rules.

She Was Born To Fly
by Louise Gallagher

She wandered through her days
like a leaf tossed by the wind
aimless, directionless, weightless
her heart aching
and her feet leaden
tethered 
to some invisible thread
of memory
caught
in the veil
of yesterdays
lying 
in the darkness
of believing
she did not know
how to fly.

It’s not true.
You are born to fly,
a voice deep within
whispered
in those moments
when her attention
grew weary
of the world beyond
the pale
of all she could not see
in the here and now
leaving her exposed
to the exquisite mystery
of her life.

She didn’t believe it
the idea of flight seemed too
impossible
the mystery too deep.
She had feet,
not wings
she whispered back,
closing the door on chance
as she turned back into certainty.

But then, one day when
she least expected it
she felt the urging
to stretch 
beyond the realm
of her imagination
and on that day
she discovered
her wings
hiding 
beneath the layers of life
hammering at her
to stay tethered
to threads of memory
keeping her tied
to life’s heavy toll.

It was that day
she discovered she was born
to fly
and her dreams 
were too.

He Gave Her Words

He Gave Her Words – mixed media on canvas paper 9 x 12″

Yesterday, when I stepped into the sheltering welcome of my studio, the muse whispered a tantalizing thought “He gave her words.”

Curious, I followed her lead.

I tore a page from an old book I keep on hand for just such occasions. I pulled out my GelliPad (a rubbery mat used for mono printing) and laid some colour down. Using the round end of a paintbrush, I drew a vase and flowers, laid the book page down and pulled a print.

The words on the page showed through. Cool. I kept going.

Pulled out a piece of deli paper, laid some more paint down (mostly darks), made more marks and pulled another print.

On the canvas paper page of my art journal, I collaged strips of paper from an old dictionary onto the page. The words defined on the torn strips all had to do with flowers. I collaged the deli paper printed page and then the printed book page onto the background and set to work creating a cohesiveness to the piece with paint pens, markers and fingerpainting – I had decided, somewhere in the process, that I wouldn’t use any brushes on this page. So I didn’t.

When I was finished, I placed my hands on the page, took a breath, closed my eyes and asked, “What words do you yearn to release?”

And the poem below came into being.

I am sharing my ‘process’ because it is, in so many ways, a reflection of life. We start with a desire to live life as best we can. We set goals. Follow dreams. Discover and use our talents. We gain knowledge. Expertise. Experiences. We layer on wounds. Scars. Cracks. They form the stories we tell ourselves about why or how we can or can’t do something. Those stories, made up of all the words we use to tell them to ourselves, again and again, create pathways, ruts, habits. Sometimes, we question their existence. Often, we accept them as natural limitations.

And then, one day, if we’re lucky or if we’ve hit such a devastating patch we cannot fathom how we will go on, we have no other choice but to start questioning the stories we’ve told ourselves about how we got to this dark and foreboding place. In our questioning, we start to unravel the words that formed those limiting beliefs that trapped us in believing this, this place where we feel so lost and alone and hopeless, is really all there is. Isn’t there more?

And then, if we’re really, really quiet, if we’re really, really still, we hear that voice deep within calling us to awaken. To open our eyes and heart and arms to the infinite mystery of who we are when we stop questioning our right to live wild and free and outrageously ourselves.

That’s when we begin the journey back to our truth. To the stories we tell ourselves, not of our limitations but of our limitless capacity to live wild and free and outrageously ourselves.

Yesterday, I stepped into the studio and the muse whispered, “He gave her words.”

I did not question, “What does that mean?”

I did not ask myself, “How on earth am I going to create something around ‘that’.”

Instead, I dove in. I let my intuition, my inner knowing guide me, unquestioning, into the creative expression of the muse’s invitation. I allowed ‘whatever yearns to appear’ to appear as I expressed myself without limiting my expression of my intuition by listening to all I tell myself I know about words and making sense of them or art and all I know about making it happen.

I stepped into the studio yesterday. I let go of ‘knowing’ and allowed myself to be present to the process of unveiling the mystery of what was seeking to be revealed.

And in the end, isn’t that what life is? A journey of exploration? A great mystery to be revealed with every step we take in its unfolding? Wild and free and outrageously ourselves.

He Gave Her Words
by Louise Gallagher

He gave her words
ripe and plump
full 
of plundered promises
plucked
from the strings
of memory
playing a melody
he vowed would never die
with the turning of each season.

He gave her flowers
colourful and bright
full
of tomorrows
never-ending
cast upon indolent days
spent languishing
beneath a summer sun
burning
hot against her skin.

He gave her promises
vanishing
like flowers 
wilting
beneath autumn’s kisses
bleeding colours 
dry
fallen
upon the frozen ground
of winter’s ice-cold breath.

He gave her words.
She gave her heart.

His words faded.
Plucked dry.

Her heart beats.
Fierce and free
of his words.

What Tears May Come

“What Tears May Come” – mixed media on canvas paper – 11 x 14″

“Sometimes, the only way to experience the journey fully

is to learn what the journey has to teach you.”

Lately, I feel like I’ve been swimming in a sea of Hope. Angst. Curiosity. Confusion. Sorrow… An alphabet soup of emotions that flow full of these times when my beloved and I wait to receive our first vaccination in 10 days mixed with the wonderment of what that could mean… How will things change? Will they change? Will I be different? Will the world feel safe?

I have learned a lot, grown a lot, experienced a lot throughout this past year of sequestered solitude. All of it is, as Ram Dass called it, “grist for the mill”.

Over the past two days, awash in that sea of alphabet emotions, I worked on the painting above. I had actually started it many months ago and set it aside – or at least the background part which had a heart on it which I really liked but wasn’t sure if I wanted to do more with it.

The background was in a pile I keep for those moments when I want to explore but have no clear starting point or idea of what I want to do. When I pulled it out, I set it beside an alcohol ink background that was waiting to be cut up and made into bookmarks.

“Ha! Why not sew flowers on the alcohol ink background, cut them up and collage them onto the other background?” a voice inside whispered. I’m not sure if it was the muse or the critter testing my resolve to let go of thinking some pieces I’d created were ‘precious’ or the inner voice of wisdom urging me to just be present in the process.

And then the voice said, “And while you’re at it, why not cut the heart out of the original background so you can affix it over the flowers?”

Whoever it was, I decided to heed them. I cut out the heart (Ouch. That was not easy!) I pulled out my sewing machine and got to work sewing flower shapes onto the Yupo paper (it’s a synthetic paper used with alcohol inks).

I liked the look of the flowers and began affixing them to the background with a gel medium.

And that’s when the yucky-messy ‘oh no what have I done’ happened.

See. Alcohol ink is not permanent unless you spray it with a fixative. I hadn’t done that. Suddenly the colours and patterns I’d liked so much began to bleed and blend and fade and mix and just get kind of all yucky. Okay. A lot yucky.

I wanted to throw the whole thing out but I’m also very stubborn.

So I kept digging in.

Two days later the piece is a testament to so much of what the past year has taught me.

Stay present in the process. Be here now. Be patient. Be curious. Be persistent. Let go of expectations. Let go of perfection. Don’t give up. Dive in. Keep going.

Teachings from the studio during a global pandemic

And then….

When I opened my laptop to work on the quote, I also stumbled across a poem I’d started awhile ago that I’d set aside. (Does anyone else have umpteen WORD documents left opened on their computer? Hmmm… I do and it’s always a lovely surprise to discover what I’ve started and not finished – okay so maybe ‘lovely’ isn’t the word but I’m going with it)

Anyway, I wrote the quote onto the painting and then started working on the poem that also represents so much of what this past year has taught me.

Don’t give up.

Dive in.

Keep going.

What Tears May Come
©2021 Louise Gallagher

There are moments when
the tears I fear
to shed
wallow in the spaces
behind all that I cannot see
in the world beyond my front door
as I sit feeling
trapped
inside
eyes closed
to hold back
the tears
I dare not release
for fear they will flow like the river
never ending.

In those moments
I must swallow
hard
the lump
of fear
jammed up against
the worry
pounding at the roots
of my angst
squaring off
against
thoughts threatening
to riot
amidst the litany
of all that has happened
all that has gone on
all that is lost and discarded
and missing
in these days
of being cut off
from the way things were
before,
before the pandemic
rolled in
and declared its presence
known
on the other side
of front doors
slammed shut
against its entry.

In those moments
I must remind myself
that one year is but a moment
in time’s great expanse
spanning all of life
with its threads of wonder
and awe and beauty
unfolding
whether I sit behind
closed doors
or walk the forest paths
alone
along the river
waiting for the time
when it is safe
to open the front door
and let go of fear.

Perhaps, as the river flows
and the seasons change
and this tiny microbe loses
its power over hearts
and lungs
my tears will flow free
falling
without fear
of never ending.

My Mother’s Many Gifts

Her prayers were known in the whispers of time. They are the memories that bind us. The love that holds us. The gift that lives on. — from My Mother’s Prayers – altered book art journal

Growing up, I was never particularly fond of the name Louise, though I did like its meaning, “Famous Warrior”. Named after my father, Louis, I felt trapped between my mother’s desire I be ‘a good girl’ and my father’s wish I be the second son he’d wanted.

I wanted to be Natasha. As in, a Russian Princess with black hair and piercing blue eyes and alabaster skin who wore rustling silk gowns and always got her way, and when she didn’t, threw tantrums and stomped her tiny slippered feet with impunity.

Or Rebekah. Grandmother to Joseph.  In the photos of her in the big, red-leather-bound book with the words, The Catholic Bible embossed in gold on the front that sat in a dominant place in our living room, Rebekah had black hair and dark eyes, like me. She looked beautiful, like I imagined my father’s mother to be. I never met my father’s mother, but she too was Jewish, which seemed exotic to my childlike mind. We seldom spoke of her. She divorced my grandfather when he was a child. The story my father told was that she didn’t want him so sent him away from London, England to boarding school in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, when he was eight, while his sister stayed to live with her in London. Many years later I would learn that wasn’t the full story, but it was the story we grew up with.

I loved the story of Rebekah in the bible. How she cemented her place in history, used her feminine wiles and wits to create a dynasty and a place in history for her favourite son. In a house where my sisters and I used to joke about our brother that, “the sun rose and set on the son”, I liked how Rebekah knew exactly what she wanted and was committed to do what she needed to get it.

Rebekah’s path did not sit well with my mother. Women don’t behave like that she’d insist whenever I’d ask to read Rebekah’s story. It’s not ladylike to be so domineering, she’d say, before turning to a page she preferred we read.

Looking back, I can understand why my mother insisted we read only the stories that extolled the virtues she deemed to be ladylike. I wanted to be the things she did not admire in women. Independent, strong, willful even, like Rebekah, but was often told I was petulant and demanding, bratty even, like Natasha, my Russian wanna-be namesake.

For many years, I got lost somewhere between the pages of that red-bound-leather bible and the confusing messages of the world around me. “Be smart, but not too smart. Boys don’t like smart girls.” “Dream big, but not too big. Boys don’t like girls whose dreams are bigger than theirs.” “Be outspoken, but not too outspoken. Boys don’t like loud-mouthed girls.”

For my mother, there was never a question that being like Mary was the goal of every woman. Nor was there any question in her mind that I would ever attain such grace. I was just too flawed and imperfect to ever get there.

I didn’t particularly want to, ‘get there’. Yet still, I tried. And constantly failed. It felt like a set-up. By God. The Bible. The stories of men who dominated its volumes and its unrealistic expectations of women’s virtues. Society and its double standards. My body that, no matter how hard I wished it wouldn’t, kept turning into a body men desired.

I have long since come to terms with my name and nature and femininity. Time, and a whole lot of therapy, have given me perspective. But, as I began to write this piece I went back and read the stories of Rebekah and was transported back to those childhood days when my mother would take down the red-leather-bound bible from its perch and open it to a story she wanted to read.

In that memory I am reminded of the sacred nature of those moments. Of sitting close to my beautiful mother listening to her soft lilting voice, her hands fluttering in the air between us as she read the stories that meant so much to her. Of how each turn of a page revealed yet another stunning painting of a Biblical scene in living colour.

Sometimes, she’d read a story from one of the four Book of Saints that accompanied the red leather-bound bible.

The ones about the women saints, those who defied the odds, who did great things with great courage and even greater spirit ignited my imagination. I wouldn’t realize it then, but those are the stories that birthed the feminist in me.

I wanted to be like those saints. Not the pious part. That just wasn’t my gig. But the strong, committed, overcoming challenges and standing up to unrighteousness and corruption and wrong-doing in the world… now that part grabbed my dreams of who I wanted to be in the world. The challenge was always to find my path without having to be the ‘good little Catholic girl’ my mother dreamt I’d become.

It would take me many years, and buckets full of life experience, to find my own way.

And while as a child, I’d often rather have been out playing in the backyard, today, I am thankful for those times when I sat beside my mother as she read stories from the big red-leather-bound bible on her lap. I didn’t know it then, but in those quiet moments she was giving me many gifts. A love of beauty, of story, of art, of possibilities. And the courage to use my voice and gifts to create a better world today.

Namaste

__________________

About the Art: After our mother passed away at 97 years of age last February 25th, I brought home the stack of prayer cards she used every night to say her prayers. For several months, I worked on an altered book art journal, incorporating her prayer cards into each page. The 2-page spread above is from the printed copy of the finished book which I created of the altered book art journal (I wanted to give both my sisters a copy so needed to have it printed). The 3 faces are my grandmother, mother and me. If you’d like to view the print-copy of the book, you can see it here.

For me, the book stands as a testament to the power of art to heal hearts and the past while inspiring beauty in the present day and awakening courage to create a more loving tomorrow.

Strong of back. Soft of heart. #shepersisted No 75

No. 75 #ShePersisted Series – They said, you gotta be strong like us to change the world. She said, being strong like you won’t change the world for the better. We all need to be strong of back, soft of heart to create a better world together.

It is something I find fascinating about this dance with the muse I enter into every time I step into my studio, or sit at my desk, or go for a walk, or lie in the bath… OK. Maybe that should read, this dance with the muse I live everyday.

I don’t ask for her presence. She just is. There. Here. Everywhere. Within and all around me.

I also don’t ‘ask’ for ‘the words’ for the #shepersisted series to come. They simply appear. Sometimes, they come without need of editing. Sometimes, they form as a sentiment calling to be expressed, asking me to massage the words into deeper meaning. To find that meaning, I often have to go through the journey of creating the visual message first.

And then, there are days like yesterday when the words appear before I even enter the studio. They arrive in my mind, full of fleshy substance, carrying with them a deep compelling desire to be brought into visual being.

On those days, like yesterday, there is nothing I can do to dissuade or convince the muse I have other things to do.

I must heed her urgings. I must create.

And here’s the thing. While I don’t intentionally ask for or summon up the words, there is an intentionality to the creation of the artwork.

For example, beneath the layers of paint, the foundational background of No. 75 was created by using a rubber mat, the kind you put in the bottom of a sink to protect dishes. It’s all flowers and butterflies. To begin, I placed it on the blank white page and sprayed purple ink over it. When lifted, the page was covered in white flowers and butterflies between purple splotches.

The use of a kitchen sink mat is intentional.

It signifies that moniker I keep grating against yet still succumb to thinking is mine to take care of. That ubiquitous thing called…’women’s work’.

Yeah. I know. Division of labour and all that but the fact remains, while advances have been made over the past 40 years, women continue to do the majority of unpaid household work and continue to spend more time at it than men. Even more significant, COVID has caused many of women’s advancements to be lost, pushing women out of the workfoce, back into the home.

From kitchen mat to boardroom table, women continue to face obstacles that impede their rights, their opportunities, their independence, their health, wealth and well-being.

For me, the #shepersisted Series is my personal statement of ‘ENOUGH’.

Enough of playing by the rules. Of being, polite not forthright, assertive not aggressive, ladylike not badass girl-power running wild at the frontlines of making change happen now.

Seriously. Do men ever get told it’s not ‘manlike’ to ask for what they want? To be assertive, yes. Aggressive no. (watch for a yet to be created No. 76 on that one!)

The muse is not done with the #ShePersisted Series.

Neither am I.

But then, I’m not done with changing the world either.

How about you?

Have you had enough? No matter your gender identification, are you willing to stand up, give voice and make change happen for everyone?

None of us can do it alone. But together? We are a mighty voice. A powerful force. An unstoppable collective.

#choosetochallenge #speakupforinclusion #weareallinthistogether #strongtogether #womensvoicesmatter #girlpower