This month I am doing something I’ve never done before. I’m submitting to a writer’s competition.
The non-fiction piece I’m submitting is about doing something one night I never imagined doing. Ever. It’s also something I’d never do again.
But, the voice of self-empowerment and self-expression within me keeps urging, “Get out there and strut your stuff Louise!”
So that’s what I’m doing, writing about a night I stood on the street, strutting my stuff. Literally.
It’s December 8, the night before my 44th birthday.
After six months of working with a group of street-engaged teens and two vice police officers, I have chosen this night to do the thing I never in my life imagined doing – Stand on the street posing as a prostitute, negotiating with johns for sex.
I recognize my use of nouns is not politically correct in this day and age – but at the time I stood on the street, it was the vernacular.
Anyway, on this particular night, I am terrified. Like, shaking in my boots terrified. Not for me six-inch spikes. I didn’t own any and I doubt that night I could have approached the john’s who stopped to pick me up if I’d been wearing them.
Nope. Rather than spiked heels that also served girls on the street as weapons, I’d pulled out of my closet a pair of cowboy boots I’d painted gold. Calgary chic.
I didn’t need a weapon, anyway. Deep in the shadows further down the street, on either side of me, two police officers in unmarked cars watched over me. My guardian angels.
I was dressed for the night, though I did keep my borrowed fur coat tightly clutched at my neck to hide my scanty outfit. And I wasn’t carrying anything in my hands, not even a tube of bright red lipstick. I was already wearing it, though I soon realized I should have brought it. I was quickly chewing it, along with all the skin, off my lips.
But I’d wanted my hands free – in case I needed to make a run for it (another reason for not wearing spikes) — and I didn’t need the lipstick to write the license plate of john’s cars I got into on a telephone pole as many of the other girls did, in case a date went bad and they didn’t come back. I was not to get into a car. Never. Ever.
It was the hard and fast rule of my two guardian angels. Do Not Get In The Car.
And this is the story I’ve been writing with the intention of entering it into a competition.
I’ve still got twenty days to submit and there’s a part of me that just wants to send it off… right now. Almost as if, the pain of writing out this story is greater than my desire to enter the competition with a story I’ve honed into as close to perfection as I can get it.
I want it over.
Perhaps it’s why I always read the last chapter of a book first.
If I know the outcome I can take my time savouring the story.
Except, the outcome for me isn’t the competition, it’s the ‘getting the story entered’.
If I just send it off now, I won’t have to worry I’ll back out and not send it along or somehow, accidentally (Ha!) miss the deadline.
Which is also why I’m writing about it here. To expose the secret of my insecurities and weaken their grip. Secrets lose their power to do harm when we dare to tell the truth about the fierce beauty of our human condition.
This month I am doing something I’ve never done before — actually, never had the courage to do before… entering a writer’s competition.
I am fascinated by the fact the story I’ve chosen to enter is about something which, before that night, I’d never imagined doing.
And here I am doing something I’ve always imagined doing and never did.
When my daughters were little, I loved to write stories just for them.
One such story was about a lobster named Louis (my father’s name) who liked his shell so much he did not want to have to change. One day he decided to run away thinking that would prevent the inevitable.
As we all know, if it’s inevitable, it can’t be prevented and some things in nature are… our nature.
For Louis, running away resulted in a series of misadventures that almost got him trapped in a lobster cage (it looked safe!) until finally, he fell asleep behind a rock only to awake to discover his shell had deserted him.
Embarrassed by his shell-less body, he dug a hole in the ocean floor and buried himself in the sand.
Of course, in his shell-less/defenseless state, it was the best thing he could do. Looking out at the darkness around him, he discovered another pair of eyes looking back at him — it was a lady lobster named Sue who was also hiding beneath the sand.
The long and short of it… They fell in love with the sound of each other’s voice and the words of comfort they shared (not quite that mushily in the story ’cause Louis was scared and Sue was wise and witty…)
Anyway, what Louis learned is what the story was all about — no matter where you go, or what you do, or how you look, or how deep the hole you’ve dug for yourself…. being yourself is the only way to be, ’cause being yourself is where Love will always find you.
Louis’ story drifted into my mind in the early morning hours as I lay soaking in the bath, the light of a candle flickering and classical music playing softly in the background.
I’d awoken with a dream in which I was chasing a butterfly through a field of wildflowers and fell over the edge of a cliff to land in a bed of roses.
I’d awoken at 4 from a dream where I was angry and couldn’t remember about what. As I wasn’t getting back to sleep I decided to have a bath.
It does makes sense that I was thinking about anger. I’d been speaking with someone about anger earlier in the day. They asked me, “How do you get over anger?”
You don’t, I reply. You go through it.
Anger in the moment can be a powerful force for change (as long as we express it appropriately), I said. Anger many years later is a sign of something deeper. Have you considered seeing a therapist?
I’m not broken, they exclaimed.
And that was when it struck me — as a society we sometimes hold a collective view that seeing a therapist is a sign of what is wrong with us.
For me, seeing a therapist is about acknowledging things that aren’t working for me anymore and seeking help to find my way through. It’s about getting right within myself so that I can walk through the world doing the right things to create a better place.
You cannot heal or change what you do not acknowledge.
Therapy is the opportunity to heal those things that no longer work for you.
For years after my brother died, I carried this unsettling anger about his choices and the things he’d done. Holding onto it wasn’t making my world a more peaceful, loving place today. It was holding me stuck in the past.
Anger needs to be released and the best way to do that is to let it flow into the Love that is always there. And sometimes, we need a guide to help us find our path.
Like Louis and Sue who shared the darkness and found their way home to themselves — ’cause that’s where Love will always find us, no matter how far we run.
I love it when I open my laptop on a Monday morning and discover somewhere between getting ready for a dinner party and my early morning scribblings, my keyboard shows remnants of last nights culinary endeavours.
In this case, a couple of drops of herb-infused olive oil and a basil leaf from the Phyllo Tomato pie I made as a first course lay in a solidified puddle at the edge of my mouse pad.
I keep my laptop on the counter when I’m cooking. Long ago, with the advent of online recipes, I mostly stopped using hardcopy. I still love to browse through a lusciously designed cookbook full of artfully lit photographs and mouth-watering recipes. But online is so much more convenient.
I do think though that I may want to keep my laptop a little further away from the action. Though their four-legged brethren might enjoy a basil leaf soaked in garlic, rosemary and thyme-infused olive oil, I don’t think it’s good for mouse-pad’s digestive track.
Covid has changed so much.
B.C. (before covid), holding a dinner party was an almost every-weekend event in our home. We both love to entertain and I love to set a beautiful table.
With Covid’s arrival it’s become a much rare and momentous occasion, along with a lot of deliberations about the pros and cons and who’s.
After C.C.’s bout in hospital, a slow recovery and the fact connection is good for his soul, as well as health, we decided to hold a small gathering with two other special couples.
While the enjoyment of setting the table, planning the menu and cooking the meal remains the same, we no longer view a potential guest list through the lens of how many couples should we invite? 4? 6? And we don’t deliberate as much about ‘will this be a good mix of people?’. Now, our deliberations focus on other considerations like, “How big is their bubble?” “Are they vaccinated?”
Even the menu takes Covid into consideration. Shared plates have gone the way of a virus-free world and I’ve had to increase my supply of appetizer plates, small forks and knives (not all that big a hardship. I LUV pretty dishes!) so that everyone gets their own fork and cutting knife for the charcuterie.
Even the welcoming at the door has changed. When guests arrive they most still come baring a bottle of wine or a gift for the house. They also step through the door with the declaration, “We took the test! Negative!”
And hugs? Even with a negative test I’m hesitant.
Perhaps that is the greatest change of all… the constant, worry-riddled inner mind chatter of… “Is it safe?”
And yes, we could forgo all form of entertaining, but somehow, that feels like Covid has won.
Life comes with risks. It’s all in how we measure both the risk and our tolerance along with our need for social connection.
And being with good friends. Laughing and telling stories on one another, sharing a meal around a candlelit table — ah yes. These are the happenings that make life so rich and memories so deep.
We were six for dinner last night. Old friends. Family.
We laughed and giggled. We teased one another as only those who share long histories together do. Some of the stories told were probably repeats from dinner’s past.
And it didn’t matter.
We were gathered around a table savouring the connections we crave so much.
Take that you miserable virus! You may have forced us to change a lot of things in our lives, but the one thing you will never change is the joy we feel when we are all connected.
About the artwork
I also spent time in the studio this weekend working on another piece for my #SheDaresBoldly series.
Waaaay too much fun!
And the quote…. may we all never compromise our truth!
When I became a mother I worried that I would pass on ‘the worst’ of me to my daughters. I wanted to come into motherhood clean. A fresh slate. New born like them.
But life and children and pretty well everything, doesn’t work that way. The new is built on what was learned from the old. Some good. Some not so good. Some not even wanted, though it seems to come into the new anyway.
And being a mother definitely doesn’t come with a rule book from our mothers and their mothers before them. It doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee that says, ‘Do these 10 things and you’ll never worry or fear or cry for your children. And if it doesn’t work in 25 years, here’s our moneyback guarantee. You can give your children back and we’ll give you back your tearless days and fearless nights and worry-free hopes and dreams…”
Nope, it definitely doesn’t work that way. Being a mother (a parent for that matter- but I’m a mother so use what fits best for me) is about worry and fear and tears. Oh sure, there’s the joy and the love and the sense of wonder at these miraculous beings who fill the world with such light, and promise. But there’s all the rest too.
Because, there’s always the worry and the fear. The tears. Oh yes. The tears. They fall like a rain in autumn. Full of questions… Will it or won’t it freeze? Will it or won’t it turn to snow? And full of premonitions and worries of winter yet to come. Will my child be safe crossing the street? Will they remember the love I feel for them after I lose my temper? Will they know they are miracles when I keep shutting off the light?
Being a mother means knowing the things about me I never wanted anyone else to see, or have, or know, could become part of these miraculous beings whom we love with every fibre of our beings and who are at risk of taking on these things we never intended or wanted for them to be share in.
Sometimes, I don’t even see what in me has become something in them I never wanted them to know or have or be until it’s too late. Until they say or do something and I wonder, where did they get that? Even when I know, they got it from me. And while I smile when I see them carrying what I think to be the best of me, I have had to learn to love the not so best in me through their eyes for to love them fully, I must love all of me, and all of my mother and all of my mother’s mothers before me.
Because being a mother is not a cake-walk, but it has been for me the greatest gift I’ve ever received. In becoming a mother, I have had to see what is not my best and learn to love myself as I am so that I can love my daughters in all their beauty, complexity, tears and fears, joys and failures, and let them go in Love to be their own true selves.
Perhaps it is that my youngest daughter is about to turn 33 or my grandson 4, or that I received a beautiful message from a stranger, a woman who is about to have her first child and who, after reading many of my posts, wrote to voice some of her fears for her unborn child… whatever the source of these thoughts, this poem is what appeared:
A Poem For My Daughtersby Louise Gallagher
I want them back
those things I gave
that I never meant to give you
They weren't meant for you
and never really worked for me
to begin with
I wanted more
I wanted only
without all the messy pieces.
I wanted only beauty
truth, love, happiness
not those things you took
that I didn't mean to give
that keep holding you
from being you
They were me
those messy pieces
I had to work through
to get to be me
and though some of them
they were never meant for you
Please give them back
and I promise you something
I can't actually promise
but really want to,
if you give them back
you'll be free
without the bits of me
that don't fit well
for either of us.
I am always amazed at how easy it is to not see the impact of ‘the stress’ I’m carrying on my body until after I’ve turned a corner and found a new perspective. From the luxury of looking back, I can see how much all that I was carrying, unbeknownst to myself, was weighing me down and clouding my vision!
It’s how I feel today.
C.C. came home from hospital yesterday and suddenly, I felt lighter, freer, more optimistic and…. less stressed.
I’m pretty sure if I’d taken a before and after photo of myself, my face would have told the whole story.
I look back on these past two years under Covid’s thrall and wonder how long will it take the world to let go of the fear and uncertainty of these times.
And do we actually know how challenging these times are on psyches?
For example, this week I made the difficult decision to postpone the art journalling workshops I was to have taught at Kensington Art Supplies this month and next. My beloved’s health, Omicron and the stress I was feeling just thinking about walking amidst a group of strangers for 3 hours not fully confident every one of them was ‘Covid-free’ was almost debilitating.
When I sent off my email to the store to say I had to postpone, I felt an immediate sense of relief. When I got an email back that was full of compassion and understanding, I felt even more relief.
I dislike feeling like I’m letting people down or that I’m not following through on my commitments. Yet, my mental health and my beloved’s health are my priority. I know it was the right decision — it doesn’t mean it was an easy one to make.
And maybe that’s the thing. No matter how much I know it’s the right thing, I don’t know how it will impact others — and that’s what I was worrying about.
And so, I smile, raise my arms and throw my arms up in the air and exclaim, “How fascinating!”
I was worried about what others would think.
An old habit.
One I didn’t know was still hanging around, messing with my peace of mind until I came face to face with my own hubris!
We don’t know, until we do.
And sometimes, we discover what we don’t know is actually what we’ve known all along. We are so very human and so very fascinating in all our human conditions.
Old habits die hard. Sometimes, they don’t actually die, they just go underground waiting until an opportune moment to test the foundational strength of our commitment to being true to ourselves.
I didn’t know some of the stress I was carrying had more to do with other people’s opinions of me until I chose to do the right thing and discovered it was an old acquaintance causing me my distress.
In that knowing, I am once again free to travel lightly and joyfully on this road of life.
I can also be confident that I will probably meet up with this acquaintance again (he has deep roots) and when I do, I will have another opportunity to grow through that encounter.
And truly, isn’t that the most fascinating thing ever?
And PS — having C.C. home lifts a whole boatload of stress off my shoulders! Who knew I could carry so much? 🙂
I don’t know if it was hearing from my beloved that he could possibly be home from hospital today but if not, for sure Tuesday, or, if it’s I finally decided to stop avoiding my studio and dive into creative presence, but this morning I awoke, mentally alert, my list of ‘To Do’s running through my mind and ‘the how’ of how I was going to get at ’em in full swing.
Either way, I feel like what I imagine a bear does after a long winter hibernation – awake and eager to get living again!
Like, the world is not weighing on my shoulders but moving with me, holding me tenderly in its flow, or as my friend John M. calls it, PLOW (Power. Harmony. Love. Order. Wisdom.).
The fact is, it took a lot of mind talk, or rather quieting of some disturbing mind-chatter to get me into my studio yesterday.
The “I’m too tired. What’s the point? I don’t feel like it. I think the muse went to Mexico and deserted me to this Arctic Vortex as penance for some unknown sins,” dialogue was getting tiring!
Finally yesterday, I remembered ‘avoidance strengthens fear’ and realized I was avoiding what I know calms me, centers me and brings me peace, not because it was the right thing to do but rather, because I was walking with that ole’ soundrel, FEAR and letting him hold court over my doing the things I know are good and healing for me.
Once I acknowledged that my fear had nothing to do with creating and everything to do with my husband’s being in hospital with pneumonia and me giving into a weird internalized message that ‘if he is suffering I should too’, which is some relic of a childhood Catholicism steeped in guilt or perhaps the media or maybe the fact I gave up sugar on December 26th and was not yet off its artificial high. Regardless of why I wasn’t spending time in my studio when my world felt so shaky and unsafe, the ‘not doing’ was unhealthy for me. And, as C.C. is coming home for sure by tomorrow, maybe even today, I definitely need to be my most healthy self!
So, I threw out my avoidance, which immediately weakened my fear and I began to create.
What a gift.
To simply be present with the muse (she didn’t really go to Mexico and desert me — though I’m sure if you’re in Mexico and open to her exhortations to create you’ll find her there too!).
In being present I felt the cobwebs of doubt and worry and the tendrils of my “What if” fears dissipate and fade as I threw colour and texture and shapes and forms onto the canvas and danced.
And I mean… danced.
Like really danced.
I spun and twirled and swayed and twisted and leaped and let the music guide my body as I gave up my resistance and fell, with joyful abandon, into the art of being alive.
Such a gift.
And today, C.C. might be home and if not, the Dr. has said for sure tomorrow!
Yup! Colour me excited! What a gift.
And P.S. — writing it all out over the past few days has helped keep me grounded, as have all your beautiful words of support and wisdom. And while intellectually I know I’m not alone, your presence helped my heart remember, I’m not.
When C.C. calls to tell me I can’t come visit him, I cry.
I don’t know if these are tears of disappointment or relief. Maybe both.
My fear of taking Covid to him every time I walk through the hospital doors struggles against my desire to be there with him.
I think fear is clouding my thoughts, my vision, my being present.
I let the tears fall.
Sometimes, a good cry is the best medicine.
Unfortunately, the fact his ward is in lockdown because Covid is present doesn’t do much for my fear. But, when a nurse calls later to tell me about the lockdown and I thank her and tell her how grateful I am for their care of my beloved and how sorry I am they have to also endure Covid on the ward, she replies. “It’s okay. It’s happened before. We have good protocols.”
I tell her I wish there was something I could do and she replies, “Your understanding is all we need. We really appreciate people not getting angry about the lockdown.”
And I wonder, in the face of all the other things they’ve had to experience and endure these last two years, how often do they also have to deal with people’s anger?
Probably too often.
Which is when I realized how important it is to deal with my own stuff… BEFORE I deal with other people.
Dumping my angst, my anger, my frustrations, anything that makes someone else’s journey harder, on them doesn’t create ‘the more’ of what I want to create in the world — harmony, joy, peace, unity, community. Love.
And so, I let the tears wash away my angst and go back to chanting my mantra, “I walk in beauty now. Beauty lies before me. Beauty lies above me, below and behind me.”
C.C. is improving, though he had a setback yesterday in his oxygen levels, we’re hoping today they are righted and he is still on track to make his way home, to me (and Beaumont the Sheepadoodle)… to safety… to love… today.
And I smile when I see the word ‘safety’. While he is ‘safe’ there I know at home, now that his pneumonia is under control he will not only get well faster, he will most definitely be safer from this microbe that insists on appearing in all the wrong places.
Much gratitude for this morning, this day, the river that still flows in the spaces where ice is not covering its surface. The lights upon the bridge that cast brilliant ripples on the river’s flow and the warmth of our home wrapping me up in a welcoming blanket of safety and joy.
I awoke this morning with gratitude filling my heart as I thought of all the beautiful comments and love I received yesterday.
It is hard to describe how your words and support fill my heart, lessening fear and worry and lighting up my day.
And so… I wrote this for all of you.
From Me to You
If I have but one prayer
let it be, Thank You.
Thank you for the sunrises
the clear skies and grey days.
Thank you for the moments
that fill my heart with joy
and the ones that push it to breaking
to all the beauty that surrounds me.
Thank you for the easy roads
and rough trails.
Thank you for the calm waters
and stormy seas.
Thank you for the love and laughter,
the pain, the sorrow and tears.
Thank you for all of it
for all of it is held
within the sacred nature
of this wondrous life
full of unfathomable mysteries
and inexplicable tragedies,
ripe with breath-taking moments of awe
and back-breaking moments of grief.
Thank you for all of it
for all of it is a gift
and within all of it
Love beats its steady tattoo
calling me to rise up
and dance and sing
and twirl about
and shout out loud,
I am grateful for each breath,
each moment of this life
and all who walk alongside me
and make the hard places softer
and the easy times more thrilling
and the worries and dark times lighter
and the joys and laughter brighter.
It is a conundrum I carry with me. It infiltrates my thoughts, creeping into every crevice creating ripples of fear that billow around my mind like smoke from a chimney, causing my breath to catch and me to gasp for air.
Which is where the conundrum lies.
Each breath is fear-laden yet, to dissipate fear, I must breathe. Slowly. Deeply. Steadily.
And I don’t want to. Breathe. At least not here, in a hospital where the air fellow humans have expelled could be laden with unwanted guests. Not in this place where my beloved has been resting and healing since New Year’s Day when a winter cold had turned to pneumonia necessitating medical intervention.
My mind scurries around ‘What if…?’ with the slithery adeptness of a fish moving through water.
What if that molecule of air I cannot see is rife with poisonous particles? What if my next breath draws in unwanted viral content eager to attach to my airways, its only mission to spread through my lungs?
What if…? I get infected and don’t know it and give it C.C. and… What if?
I imagine holding my breath. A long time. Like a looonnnnng time. And, even though I know it’s impossible and that in that one breath the undesirable is possible anyway, I catch myself standing outside the sliding doors of the hospital taking a deep, deep breath.
I hold it for as long as I can and exhale.
And take another, letting the power of breathing calm my jagged fears, soothe my worried mind.
And I walk in. Mask in place. Sanitizing my hands at every possible station. Keeping my distance from everyone I meet. As I step onto the elevator and use my elbow to press the button for his floor, I keep my mind busy with thoughts of well-being, chanting silently to myself words I learned years ago in a meditation class, “I walk in beauty now. Beauty lies before me. Beauty lives above me, behind and below me.”
And I walk into my husband’s room, calm of mind, gentle of heart, letting the smile behind my maskt be visible in my eyes. I greet him with a kiss blown from a safe distance and sit down at the edge of his bed for a leisurely visit.
Perhaps my fearless presence will remind this pernicious bacterial visitor who has taken up residence in C.C.s lungs that only love is welcome here.
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