The Gift

When the email arrived carrying a link to ‘The Gift’ I wasn’t really expecting it.

Sure, when Ian Hanchet (the gift giver) commented on my poem “If I Could...” he wrote, “I was inspired to immediately pick up my guitar and melody flowed from me. I recorded it on my phone, but I need to become more acquainted with the rhythms of your poem so that I may do each phrase justice. Too bad my life just got super busy. Maybe Next week I can return to this work of wonder.” When I read his words I thought, ‘how lovely’ and promptly wrote back to thank him and to let him know how excited I was he liked the poem that much.

And then, I let it go.

Yesterday, Ian emailed to say he’d finished the song and included the audio link.

I cried as I listened to it. Not just because Ian is a talented musician with the kind of voice that makes me feel like I am sipping an after-midnight scotch in a moody, crowded jazz bar somewhere along a dimly lit side-street in Soho only those who ‘know’ can get to after going down a flight of stairs leading to a deep red door that opens into the mystical world of late-night jazz, but also because in his gift I received something beautiful and precious — The gift of being seen.

I wrote back to Ian after listening to what he calls, ‘our song’ – which in and of itself feels like a rare gem to be treasured always – and told him how special his gift is.

Ian’s gift also carried me back in memory to another gift of a song I received years ago from my dear friend, artist, musician, writer Max C.

In 2014, when I changed the name of this blog to Dare Boldly, Max had read my declaration of identity and felt inspired to send me a piece of music he’d written to accompany it. He asked me to record my voice reading the declaration and then, he put it to his music.

Like Ian’s gift, Max made me feel ‘seen’.

I hadn’t forgotten about Max’s gift, though I hadn’t thought of it in a long while. What I had forgotten, however, was my declaration of identity – it’s the one I share at the top of this post.

Full circle.

That’s what Ian’s gift brings me. Full circle back to remembering – I am the song. My song.

What a powerful and liberating gift. To remember…

We are each ‘the song’ of our life.

We are each, The Song Maker. The Song Singer. The Song.

Let us always sing outloud. Let us each sing of truth, beauty, kindness, hospitality, generosity of spirit, Love.

Let us sing each other awake in a world we create together of beauty, awe and wonder.

Thank you Ian for your gift of many gifts.

I revel in gratitude.

___________

PS — along with being a musician, singer/song-writer, poet, Ian is an amazing writer, deep thinker, music historian and generous human being. You can find him on his blog, Vignettes and Bagatelles.

Click HERE to listen to ‘our song’ If I Could Give You My Heart.

What I Want.

What I Want.
 ©2021  Louise Gallagher
 
 I want to live in wonder
 to see the world 
 fresh
 as a new born 
 slippery wet and squirming
 from the birth canal
 falling 
 into arms of love
 holding me 
 safely
 wrapped in swaddling cloth
 sewn with velvety silken
 streams of laughter and joy
 flowing all around me.
 
 I want to live in the awe
 of life 
 unfolding
 right here, right now
 in this moment
 giving birth 
 to possibilities awakening
 within the unfathomable beauty
 of the world
 pounding through my veins
 pumping 
 my heart
 full 
 of the mystery of this morning
 reincarnating itself
 within the dark
 of night passing through
 star lit skies
 and moonbeams streaming
 into day
 bursting 
 at the seams
 of my anticipation 
 of the wonder
 of it all 
  
 when I open my eyes, wide
 and stretch my arms even wider
 to that place 
 where my heart
 breaks
 wide 
 open
 to catch falling
 stars
 rain drops
 and tears
 
 I want to scream
 above the howls
 of wolves on full moon nights
 and wind swept mountain tops
 don’t you dare 
 cry 
 for me Argentina
 
 there are
 no tears needed
 to wash away
 this wonder 
 of living
 beyond the limitations
 of my fear
 unravelling
 in the fullness
 of every courageous step
 I take 
 to drive me
 far from that place where I believe 
 fear
 will keep me safe
 from feeling 
 the slings and arrows of fate
 
 there is no arrow 
    that can pierce my heart
 when my heart is open
 
 there is no riptide 
    that can pull me under
 when my arms are open wide
 
 and there is no wind
 that can blow me over
 when I stand strong
 
 strong enough to hold on
 to only love 
 
 because I know
 there is nothing to fear
 but fear itself 
 
 and I am born to be
 wild
 wild 
 beautiful 
 free.
  
 I am born
 born to be free
 to cry and laugh and say
 I love you because
 I love you is my battle cry
 my morning song
 my heart's delight
 and nothing can stop me
 singing

 I am fearless 
 and fierce enough 
 to let life
 get the best
 of me
 because that 
 that is what I want
 to live 
 in the endless wonder
 of being me. 

January Flowers

Here on the prairies at the eastern foot of the Canadian Rockies, January days are full of harsh winter light in a cloudless blue sky.

The land is grey on black on white. Leafless trees stand stark. Barren gardens lie silently waiting for spring beneath a blanket of snow. Prairie grasses rustle dry and brittle in the crisp winter air.

It is there, amidst the frozen landscape lying dormant beneath a January sun, I paint, my palette loaded with all the colours of the rainbow.

Playing with colour distracts my mind from world events and disheartening news of death counts and violence, changes in governments and travel restrictions and weather-forecasters’ foreboding messages of a Polar Vortex about to descend.

It is there, on the palette, I am reminded that my power lies not in my ability to change the whole world but to create beauty in my own. In that act of creation, I set in motion a ripple of beauty flowing within me and out into the world all around me.

It is there I remember that the power of art to awaken nascent possibilities for humanity to find peace, love, joy, together, is not transitory. It is always present.

To awaken it, to be present within and to it, I must keep my attention on the things I want to grow stronger in my life.

Let my attention be on creating joy, love, harmony.

Let my attention be on sharing peace and love with all the world around me.

Namaste

___________________________

I have been feeling unsettled. Discordant notes of anxiety burble up into my consciousness, creating ripples of unease within my peace of mind.

Much of my unease is initiated because I keep returning to newsfeeds that do little to create confidence in humankind’s ability to create better. I tell myself I must stop only to catch myself awhile later falling down the rabbit hole of yet another story about some political, environmental, economic or pandemic related story dragging me into the darkness.

I turn away, come back to the palette and begin again.

Practice they say makes perfect.

I am feeling very practiced at dragging myself out of the darkness, though I am getting tired of the dance!

Yesterday, I desperately needed the distraction of working on small things to help bring myself back into the present moment unfolding right in front of me.

I am grateful for my art practice. Grateful for my beautiful studio where I can find my balance again amidst the noise of the world around me.

How do you find your balance? What do you do to distract yourself from the world ‘out there’ so that you can find peace, harmony and joy within?

Learn and Grow.

When my first article was published in my mid-30s, I didn’t believe I’d ever be ‘a writer’. At least not out there in the ‘real’ world. And then, my first feature article was published in a magazine and there I was, a ‘real’ writer. (OK. In my defence, I don’t think being published makes you any more or less a writer – but getting paid to write did help my writer’s confidence!)

When I started painting in my mid-40’s I didn’t know I could, especially since most of my life I’d told myself I had no artistic ability. And then, I picked up a paintbrush, dabbed it into a pot of paint, smeared it on a canvas and fell in love with visual-storytelling.

In my 60s now, I still want to learn new things to fall in love with.

Like video-making.

Using the tools at hand, my art, my words, my smartphone and laptop, I have been playing with creating videos of my artwork, both process and finished product.

Recently, I created a mini-movie of one of the mini-art journals I made in a series I’m working on, A Book of Seasons.

While creating it, I learned many things. Like, lighting is everything when filming a mini-art journal and because I’m not all that comfortable with my recorded voice my discomfort makes my voice sound ‘fake’. Learning to become comfortable with how I sound when recorded is a constant journey of practice and… learning to love myself without fearing I will be judged harshly by others. Because, my discomfort with how I sound is not founded on what I think, it’s based on what I fear others will think.

Good learning. Good growth opportunity.

See, even before I became a published writer, I worried others wouldn’t like my words, which meant they wouldn’t like me. And needing people to like me was not healthy for me. It meant I was measuring my worth on what other people thought of what I was doing and saying instead of being comfortable with myself and authentic in how I am in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s lovely if people like me – it’s just not healthy when the need for others to like me overshadows my being authentic and real, honest and true to my values, principles and beliefs – and my creative expressions.

Which brings me back to creating videos.

I’ve been having fun.

And as my friend Rod Winkler likes to remind me, having fun is important! So is not taking myself too seriously, a trap I can fall into when I’m learning something new.

Like the painting above. Yesterday, I decided to stretch myself and paint something almost realistic. I don’t tend to paint realism. I’d like to believe it’s because I prefer the abstract but the ‘honest truth’ (that’s such a contradictory expression isn’t it?). I think it’s because I’m afraid whatever I paint won’t look ‘real’ so I don’t do it.

Looking at my painting of the vase of lilies I can see how I can improve on the flowers. I can also see how I need to celebrate what I created.

It’s the yin-yan of learning/doing something new.

I want to do it perfect the first time knowing it takes practice and repetition to learn something new and grow my expertise as well as my knowledge base.

See, I don’t lose what I already know when I paint ‘realism’. I simply expand my skillset and my capacity to see the world in different lights.

Learn and grow.

It is my mantra for this year. It is the perfect accompaniment to my word for 2021 – “UNFURL”.

To unfurl, I must grow. To grow, I must learn to be comfortable with the imperfect nature of life, and learning something new so that I can keep growing.

Keep learning. Keep growing.

____________________________

And… this is the video I created of my A Book of Seasons mini-art journal.

What If Trees Can Talk

When the leaves fell and winter came, the trees did not stand naked against the sky and cry for mercy. They called to one another, as trees do, urging each other to stand together. Together, their leafless limbs called out, we can weather Arctic storms and Polar chills. Together, we are strong.

And snow fell and covered the earth in its virgin blanket and the sun beamed and the moon sang a song of the seasons turning, turning as the earth spun and the stars pricked holes into the dark of night so they too could watch the storms of winter pass through.

And the trees stood strong, together. They whispered amongst their kin, ‘Dig deep. Dig deep’. And they thrust their roots ever deeper into the frozen ground as the storms howled and snow fell and their sap ran slower, slower but always enough to carry the breath of life flowing inside their weathered trunks.

And the winds blew and the seasons changed and spring arrived with its beguiling invitation to blossom and flourish.

And tiny seeds poked their heads out of the earth and the sun welcomed them with its golden beams full of warmth and growing light. And buds appeared on the trees’ many branches and slowly, ever so slowly beneath spring’s warm kisses, they blossomed and flourished.

When winter came the naked trees did not cry out for mercy. They stood together and weathered the storms and when spring came, as is their nature, they blossomed and flourished again.

_______________________

About the artwork:

I have been exploring creating stamps. What fun! I carved the large leaf stamp, printed it with black ink onto a very sheer piece of pale pink rice paper. After creating the background, I affixed it to my journal page and then painted it with acrylic ink.

I also collaged in a piece of woven white rice paper and a pansy I had dried at the end of summer.

I love exploring, ‘what if’s’…

The ‘what if’ for this journal page was, “What if trees can talk?” According to Robin Wall Kimmerer author of Braiding Sweetgrass, they can. I like that belief.

The photo is of two stamps I’ve carved.

UNFURL

“Unfurl”. My word for 2021.

un·furl
/ˌənˈfərl/

Learn to pronounce

verb
past tense: unfurled; past participle: unfurled
make or become spread out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind.
"a man was unfurling a sail"

It arrived quietly on a gentle wave full of self-compassion flowing with possibility, desire, anticipation.

Yes. My heart said. I see you. I feel you. I know you. You mean something to me.

It felt hopeful. Full of spreading wings and dreams unfolding on flights of fancy as I leapt into unknown skies and dove into creative seas yet to be explored.

“Let your sparkle out.” was the tagline that appeared to go with my word.

I sprinkled gold and silver glitter dust onto the still wet canvas.

It was fun. Expressive. Concrete with dollops of whimsy.

I wanted my painting to represent the unfurling of unlimited creative expression, freedom from self-criticism and fear of ‘looking ridiculous’. I wanted it to be a statement of my fearless pursuit of living embodied in the present moment, passionate, alive, unlimited.

And then Washington happened and I felt the weightiness and the precision of that word cut deep into my body.

Can you unfurl compassion amidst the fear, the horror, the confusion you feel watching these events, the word seemed to be asking as I poured paint onto the canvas.

Can you hold those who dissent in the same space as those who are in accord with your truth?

I had to stop and breathe into that one.

Could I?

Could I let go of seeing the perpetrators of yesterday’s events through the lens of right and wrong and hold all who participated in the same space of compassion as those who were tormented by their assault?

I didn’t want to.

And a tiny voice from deep within my belly rose up and whispered into my heart, “It would take a miracle.”

And that’s when truth shimmered like the sparkling dust on my painting.

Perhaps, yesterday’s events were the miracle.

Yes. What happened was horrific. And for one woman and those who know and love her, tragically final. Her death could have been avoided. The events of yesterday could have been redirected.

But it wasn’t. And they weren’t.

It is impossible to change the events that lead to yesterday.

It is possible to change what happens next.

Violence does not create harmony. It does not open the door to peaceful coexistence.

But, in the horror of all that transpired yesterday, there were those who have stayed silent who spoke up. There were those who had acquiesced to the subversion of due process through their sitting on the sidelines, who stood up and held themselves accountable.

Can I see the miracle in that?

I am struggling to be in this space of compassion. To simply hold myself accountable to breathing without my mind tearing into words of condemnation of all those would tear apart a country I love as my neighbour.

I struggle yet know, to be a voice of calm, to be a space of compassion, anger, criticism, calling people names, deriding their politics does not create the more of what I want to have in the world.

It does not create peace. Harmony. Joy. Dignity. Equality. Love.

And so, I allow myself to unfurl in compassion.

I breathe into the miracle that appeared within the words of those who had once stridently spoken out against due process as they stood down and held up their hand in accord.

I breathe into the miracle of unity that appeared within the discord.

And with each breath, compassion unfurls and my heart opens up.

I do not believe violence is the answer. Meeting violence with violence isn’t either.

I believe we, the people of this planet we all call our home, have the power to find answers that celebrate and nurture and promote our humanity. We have the power to bring light to the darkness, and peace to every heart.

And I believe, it starts with a miracle.

And so, I hold onto the miracle and let my heart unfurl in the possibility of more.

Namaste.

Between Each Breath

Between Each Breath
 ©2021 Louise Gallagher 
 
Between each breath
 there is a stillness
 within the stillness
 there is the space
 to breathe
 deeply
 into the beauty
 of all that is present
 in this moment
 embodied
 in all you are
 when you breathe
 within the stillness
between each breath. 

Beaumont the Sheepadoodle and I have a new routine. Instead of taking him outside every morning via the lower deck, I put my longest coat on over my pyjamas, don my boots and hat and gloves to ward off the chill of these winter mornings. I drape his harness over Beaumont’s head and attach the retractable leash and off we go into the darkness that is still morning this first week of January.

We walk out of our cul de sac, turn right onto the street that leads from the top of the hill down to the main road and, at the corner where it meets the main road, we turn right again and walk along the well-litpath leading to the pedestrian bridge over the river.

There is a spot about halfway across where someone has affixed a red plastic wreath. Inside it is a photo. It is of a man smiling. His smile is frozen in time. His body lost to the rushing waters some months ago when he leapt from the bridge and disappeared.

Every morning since I began this new routine just before Christmas Day, I stand below the wreath, close my eyes and take a breath. A deep one.

Beaumont sniffs in the snow that covers the pathway, pulling on the leash as long as I let him. And then he stops and stands watching me. Patiently waiting. As if he knows this is a moment of reverence.

I listen to the river. Its flow is fast and furious in the winter. The ice island keeps growing larger between the two buttresses sunk deep into the water to support the bridgedeck. Between the buttresses, where an ice island has formed in the centre of the river, the flow is blocked, forcing it to either side. It pushes and shoves its way through the narrower waterway, slipping off the ice where it grows outward from the shore towards the centre and from the centre of the river out. Ice locked.

I stand, eyes closed, heart open, breath stirring deep in my belly and listen to the river. I stand and say a silent prayer for this man for whom life became too great a burden.

I stand and say a prayer for all those who will today let go of the burden of their lives and fall into the everlasting.

I stand and say a prayer for all those fighting to cling to life with every breath they take and for those who stand by their bedsides giving aid and comfort. They are standing in for the ones who cannot be there. They carry their pain.

I stand and say a prayer for this world. So hurting. So bruised and battered. Battle weary. For the leafless trees standing sentinel in the dark along the river banks. For the geese honking and flapping their wings somewhere out on the ice island. And for the river and the ice and the mountains and the sands, the oceans and the seas. I stand and say a prayer.

I stand and say a prayer for those who are sick or for whom the separation of these days sits like a heavy cloak upon their shoulders, bending their backs.

I stand and say a prayer for those who are struggling, who are feeling lost and alone. Frightened or confused by these days of solitude.

And then, I bring my prayers back home to my heart.

I stand and say a silent prayer for those close to me and far away, I stand and say a prayer for my mother and my father and brother, his wife, my family members who are gone and my cousin who lost the battle to Covid and all those who will lose the battle today.

I stand in the stillness between each breath and say a prayer.

My mother taught me the power of prayer.

It is teaching me how to be present in the grace of stillness.

I am grateful.

Let Love Do The Rest

 Let Love Do The Rest
 ©2020 Louise Gallagher 
 
 Sometimes, when I sit and watch the river flow past
 a piece of flotsam will suddenly appear
 floating along its surface bobbing and weaving
 as it passes by. 
 I sit and watch it float past 
 until it is carried away 
 by the water’s constant current
 to a deep and distant sea.
  
 Sometimes, when that happens, 
 a slice of something from the past 
 will come untethered 
 from the banks of my memory
 and get caught in the current of my thoughts
 like a dark and foreboding limb of a tree
 torn from the river’s banks
 floating just beneath the surface.
  
 Ripped from its roots
 this something that has laid dormant
 in a dark corner of my mind
 will weave and bob and contort itself
 calling for my attention
 as if, now free of my memory bank
 it deserves to have its way with me.
  
 Lost in its struggle to gain possession of my attention 
 I can become absorbed by its writhing contortions 
 and lose all sense of direction
 as my peace of mind is drowned out
 by the cacophony of its insistence
 I let it pull me through the narrow rapids
 of its discord.
  
 I must choose...
  
 To throw myself into the chaos of its turbulent waters
 in the hope that once it has had its way
 it will return to the depths
 of my memory bank
 and lie dormant once again
 or 
 throw myself into a river of self-compassion 
 and let Love do the rest. 
  
 In love, the memory floats 
 like a piece of flotsam
 bobbing along the surface of the river
 carrying it away
 to a deep and distant sea. 
  
  

Blessed are we in this circle of love.

In my dream, someone, a young woman who used to work with me I think, asks, “How old are you anyway?”

I reply, not without some trepidation, “Sixty-seven.”

The young woman looks surprised. By the look on her face I think she’s going to say something like, “Wow. You don’t look it at all! I’d have put you 15 years younger.”

Instead, she says, “Wow. That’s old.”

Fortunately, I woke up before I did anything I might regret.

When my mother was 67 I remember thinking she was old. So I suppose it’s only fair that my dream reflect my judgements of my mother.

And then, of course, I want to justify why I thought she was old. How her tendency to cry, “Woe is me!” shadowed the light and kept her tethered to the darkness. How her ability to see accidents waiting to happen kept her from seeing the miracles falling all around.

I want to prove how, at sixty-seven, I am not like her. At all.

I don’t know if it is because it is just the melancholy that pervades this Christmas season or because my mother loved Christmas, but she has been on my mind and heart. A lot.

The other day, while on a Zoom call with a friend, I was telling them how my mother loved this season of joy. They asked, “Do you find you miss her more now that it’s Christmas?”

It was a powerful question.

Even when we lived an ocean apart, I never felt like I was ‘missing’ my mother. We never had that kind of relationship. She was not the person I called if I needed advice about life or love or career. Nor was she the first person I thought to call with good news.

I told my friend. “Even though I know regret serves no useful purpose and I know my dream of having that kind of relationship with her was just a dream, what I am feeling most is the regret that for much of her life with me, my mother felt my judgements harshly.

It wasn’t intentional. It was just the way we were together. I always felt she wanted me to live life by her rules, her way. And even though now, I can see her way was founded on love and her desire to protect me, I felt smothered by what I thought were her limitations and fears, not love. I wanted to fly free. By the very act of spreading my wings, I was saying to my mother, your way isn’t good enough for me.

It was a continual dance of life between us. My mother wanting to keep me safe on her terms. Me wanting to experience life on my terms.

And as I finish typing that sentence I glance up and see the beauty of the world outside my window.

The sky is streaked in rose and golden hues of morning. A flock of Canada Geese are floating past on the fast-moving river, their bodies turned backwards, drifting with the current. A squirrel is bounding up a tree trunk and a chickadee flits and frolics in the bush outside my window.

The world is alive with beauty.

And just like that, the sun breaks through and I remember what is true and real in this moment. The memories of my relationship with my mother are just that. Memories. They are only kept alive in my thoughts.

And I can change my thoughts.

Regret. Sadness. Sorrow. They are fleeting.

Love. Joy. Gratitude. They are enduring.

‘Tis the season. It is different this year. Quieter. Yet, no matter the times, what never changes, what endures always is Love.

This Christmas, I shall hold the Love close and let regret float away like the geese on the river. Sometimes, as it drifts off into that quiet place where memories that do not serve me well go to rest in peace, regret turns back to look at me as if to say, ‘Give me another chance.”

And I smile and wave and turn my back and return home to the one truth that cannot be changed. Can never be denied.

My mother is the miracle of life that gave birth to the miracle of me.

I am grateful for this miracle.

I am blessed by this act of love that endures and ripples out in waves of possibility and hope and joy and beauty through the lives of my daughters and my grandchildren.

Blessed are we in this circle of Love my mother created.