If there is one term people have used to describe me throughout my life, it is, “Free-spirited.”
My siblings used to tell me that meant I was ‘flighty’. My parents said it meant I needed to, “Stop dreaming and get my feet back on the ground.”
My response? “The Wright brothers didn’t keep their feet on the ground and look what they did!”
That was when my father would remind me of Icarus.
“Birds fly. Humans walk,” he said.
Sighing (to be fair, he might have called it ‘sulking’), I’d begrudgingly plant my feet firmly on the ground and tuck away my dreams in the furthest reaches of my heart. Head down, shoulders slumped, I’d walk the road well-travelled.
But not for long.
I couldn’t resist the urge to fly. And so, we’d go through the cycle again and again until eventually, I grew weary of reaching for the stars and learned to accept ‘the truth’. – The stars are beautiful to look at but life is here on Mother Earth. Keep walking.
August’s Woman is a reminder that ‘the truth’ is not found in the mud at our feet. It lives in the air around us. It soars upon the wind. It flows in the seas and shimmers in the stars because, as August Woman reminds us, we are all born of stardust. We are all born to shine.
Every night, when the moon calls the stars to awaken and shine, it is also calling us to awaken and dream. It is calling us to shine so brightly even the darkest night of the soul cannot mute our brilliance because we know, deep within us, nothing can keep us from lighting up the world when we let the beauty of ‘our truth’ shine bright like the stars from which we are born.
August’s woman is a clarion call to stand in the brilliant light of the magnificence of our truth. She is calling us to cast our dreams with wild abandon upon the darkness so that the dark becomes light and the long and winding road becomes a starlit path guiding us home to our dreams come true amongst the stars here on Mother Earth.
When the ship is going in the wrong direction, you can’t change course without making waves.
You gotta rock the boat to stay off the rocks. Especially if those rocks loom closer and closer.
Holding steady when you’re sailing towards the rocks is not a good plan. You gotta rock the boat to stay off the rocks. You gotta change course.
July Woman is a reminder making waves is not about ‘playing safe’. It’s about creating a safer course for all humanity to find calm waters and safe harbor in all kinds of weather.
She’s the Warrioresses cry to stand up, be heard and to let your courage draw you out of fear. Fear will only drown you in its insistence that rocking the boat will cause you to fall overboard. Courage gives you the confidence to know that falling overboard isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Drowning in apathy, ennui, despair and desperation is.
There was a time when the question, “Who do you think you are?” felt scary. Like I was somehow failing a life test that I didn’t even know I was taking. In those days, I felt I had to behave the way others expected if I was to be accepted into ‘the club’ of incomprehensible rules that were often unwritten but seemed to be somehow intuited by everyone else but me.
Life. Time. Falls. Summits. Fogs and frostbite. Found confidence. Lost fears. Attitude shifts. Perspective gained… Whatever the source, I have stepped out from the shadows of believing other people’s opinions of me matter most.
It was deadly. That worrying about what other people thought of what I was doing, the choices I made, the directions I took. It caused me pain. Confusion. Angst. Dissatisfaction. Uncertainty. Self-doubt.
Now I know the opinion that matters most to me is mine. Just as your opinion of yourself and what you’re doing matters most to you.
I’ve always kind of had a sense that this was important. But conditioning, environment, social constructs play a role in life.
For me, that role was to appear as a people pleaser on the outside all the while feeling defiant and angry on the inside.
Which left me constantly unsettled. And lying. To myself and to others.
A simple example… When asked, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” I’d often say, “I’m easy. I don’t care.”
I didn’t respond that way because I didn’t have a preference. It was because I was too afraid if I said what I preferred or wanted, I’d get shot down or someone would try to change my mind and the angst of what I perceived as displeasing someone by not changing my mind to suit theirs was debilitating.
The lie was in my silence and my non-committal attitude that constantly grated against my desire to be strong and truthful.
I can remember when my liberation from lies and acquiescence for the sake of ‘keeping the peace’ really took form.
It was in a therapy session in my early thirties. To illuminate just how debilitating and dishonest my need to please was, my therapist posed a hypothetical.
“It’s a hot summer’s day,” he said. “You want an ice cream. What flavor do you choose?”
I didn’t have to think about it long. “A lemon gelato.”
“I think you should get a chocolate one. It’s my favourite,” he responded.
“But, I really like lemon and it’s so refreshing.”
“Maybe. But chocolate is so yummy. Don’t tell me you don’t like chocolate. Everyone likes chocolate.”
I hesitated. I wasn’t all that fond of chocolate ice cream but it seemed easier to agree. “Sure I do.”
“Then why not have a chocolate one!”
I sighed. “But ice cream is so full of calories and gelato isn’t as bad.”
He laughed. “But it’s hot out and you deserve a treat, don’t you?”
And on and on it went. My justifying my choice. Him challenging me.
Finally, as I launched into another justification for my choice, he stopped me and said. “Do you see what’s going on here Louise?”
“I want lemon gelato and you think I should have a chocolate ice cream?”
“Bigger than that…”
I looked at him in confusion.
“Who cares what I want or think Louise? It’s your gelato. Your choice.”
And that’s when the truth hit me like a snowball getting the hell out of Dodge.
I spent a lot of time justifying my choices, my thoughts, my decisions, my ideas because I didn’t want people to think… well…. the truth is… I didn’t want people to know I had a mind of my own.
That would have been dangerous. With a mind of my own, I could become an outcast. An outlier. An unwanted.
I am forever grateful for that therapist and his love of chocolate ice cream.
Cultivating my courage to speak up, nurturing ‘the audacity’ to stand true to myself and letting go of worrying about other people’s opinions of me has been a life-long journey.
It gets easier with practice.
And always, the more practiced I become in standing in my truth and staying unattached to the outcome (including the opinion of others), the more I find myself growing wild and free.
As I was walking along the river with Beaumont the Sheepadoodle, she drifted in and out of my mind whispering words of possibility, encouragement, hope.
As I leaned against a tree and rested my cheek against its gnarled trunk, she cast her spell upon the moment, wrapping me in her magic.
And as I sat down at my studio table, she flittered about like a butterfly in search of nectar, until landing on the canvas before me with a deep sigh and joyful exclamation of, “Here I Am!”
Trusting in her colourful presence, I dripped paint and ink and water onto the page and, as always happens when I let go of ‘making it happen’, what was seeking to appear became visible.
The ‘It’s All About The Fuss?’ woman was only a shimmer of an idea when I began.
When I was finished several hours later, my heart felt light, my pulse beat slow and I fell with joy into the creative field where magic and mystery bring me home to myself. Home to that place where I remember, To be the change I want to see in the world – Let it begin with me.
I was reminded this week that, in the ‘real’ world around me, reports are written, ideas are born, recommendations made which, before the ink is even dry, become shelved. Platitudes like, ‘be patient’, ‘change takes time’ ‘we’re doing our best’ are doled out to appease the oppressed instead of the critical dollars and sense and political will to put real and lasting change into the lives of those who need it most. And all the while those in power, those who hold the purse strings and political currency point, with earnest hearts and righteous indignation, at the report as concrete evidence of all they’ve done to make change happen.
Until, 20 years later, someone writes another report that clearly demonstrates how little anything has changed. How little progress has been made.
The ‘It’s All About The Fuss’ #ShePersisted Woman is my rebellion. My line in the sand. It’s my, ‘I’m putting you on notice” declaration of change! Yes. I will make a fuss. Yes. I will keep pushing back until instead of putting your head in the sand and keeping status quo going, you acknowledge how bad it really is.
Status quo only works for those with enough status to take advantage of its benefits and privileges.
Status quo keeps those it disadvantages in ‘their place’. It keeps them hidden in the margins, scrambling to be heard, to be seen, to be known as worthy of more than just the status quo of the limitations that circumscribe their lives.
As long as there are those who insist status quo is not that bad, we must make a fuss.
For those of us who live within its protective privileges and who have awoken to its demeaning limitations to others, must keep making a fuss so that the fuss of those whose lives have been sorely impacted by injustice and inequities in our legal, social and political systems know they are not wrong to insist on change. They are not wrong to demand action.
In a comment on yesterday’s post, Iwona wrote, “The timing of this post is uncanny given the resurgence of news about the RCMP’s class action lawsuits and the release of the special report by former Justice Bastarache on the long standing “mysoginistic, racist and homophobic attitudes” within the RCMP. Equal rights. Equal voice. Equal opportunity. Maybe one day, maybe.”
I wish it were just the RCMP where such attitudes and behaviour persisted.
It happens everywhere. Not always to such a blatant degree as the report found in the RCMP, but throughout our world. As Justice Bastarache says, “The problem is systemic in nature and cannot be corrected solely by punishing a few ‘bad apples.’
We must Rise Up. Speak Out. Act Now.
Many years ago, I worked as a stockbroker. (I know. Seriously? Me?) I only lasted 4 years in the business.
In part, because I was good at longterm portfolio planning. Terrible at day-to-day trading, the bread and butter of the trade.
And also, because I grew weary of the misogynistic attitudes many of the predominately male brokers held, particularly those of ‘the older generation’. Like my VP at the first firm I worked at. He offered to share his ‘book’ with me (a book is a list of client names and contact info – gold to a broker) if I had sex with him. “I can make your life easy. Or make you wish you never set foot in this office,” he tsaid. He went on to inform me that whether I accepted his offer or turned him down, if I told anyone, no one would believe me – “I’m a VP. I make this firm a lot of money,” he said. “You’d just be some little chick looking to either sleep her way to the top or stick it to ‘the man’.”
I stayed silent and left the firm. It felt like my only recourse.
A few years later I was working for a technology company as their Director of Marketing. A counterpart in the US office kept making sexual innuendoes on the phone. My response was to laugh and pretend I didn’t get ‘the message’. I treated it as a joke. Until one night, while we were at a conference together in Dallas, we happened to be the only two people in the elevator at the end of the day. The elevator stopped at his floor first. The doors opened, he turned to me and asked, “So? You coming with me?” And once again, I laughed it off. He turned and walked away. The doors closed and I thought that was the end of it.
He didn’t agree.
The next day, where once he treated me like the golden child of marketing, suddenly, everything I did was crap. And he made no bones about telling everyone how incompetent I was.
Even the president of the company noticed. In a meeting one day he asked me what was up. I told him the truth. His first response was one of disbelief. “You sure he wasn’t just kidding?” Eventually, he shrugged it off as ‘boys will be boys.’ The solution – say nothing. Pretend like it didn’t happen.
I am not alone as the Me Too movement and others so clearly illuminate.
In my response to Iwona, I wrote,
“I get so tired of what some days feels like ‘same old, same old’ misogynistic, racist, homophobic practices all packaged up in some worn-out patriarchal suit. To raise myself up, to find my balance and calm my pounding heart down, I must write and paint it out. It is there, in the creative field that courage draws me out to face my fear that these ‘things’ will never change. They must. And they will if we continue to speak up, act out, and raise our voices above the fray so that those who have been bullied into silence can find their voices again.”
May’s Woman is the reminder I need – Silence is the adversary of change.
Silence allows disbelief and make-believe to overcome truth and reality.
To change the world, to make a difference, we must speak out against the practices, policies, social mores and discriminatory laws that disenfranchise, minimize and segregate people into ‘haves and have nots’, ‘worthy and not-worthy’ of being treated as human beings worthy of dignity, respect, kindness, fairness, equality and justice.
It is just one century-in-time since most women were enfranchised in Canada (Asian Canadians and Indigenous Peoples had to wait a few more decades.)
The roots of patriarchy that kept us ‘in our place’ run centuries deep.
We must keep digging them out with our hands, our feet, our bodies, our voices. We must keep working together and stand up tall for what is right, just and fair, again and again.
And we must not allow our silence to be heard as a vote of confidence for the voices who would tell us to not ‘worry our pretty little heads about the state of the world.”
It is those voices that have created the state of the world.
It is our voices united, calling out for justice, rising up in a song of freedom and equality for all, that will make the difference that will change it for the better and make a difference for everyone.
Over the past 3 years of working with this series, I have created a number of stencils of ‘the women’ that I will occasionally reuse .
The original of this woman is No. 52 – “They said, You can’t always get what you want. She said, it’s time I got what I’ve always deserved. Equal rights. Equal voice. Equal opportunity.”
I reused the stencil to create the painting that appears as the April Woman in this year’s #ShePersisted Calendar. “They said, You need to follow our path. It’s better for us. She followed her own path and encouraged others to do the same. It was better for everyone.”
The significance of using the same figure, just in a different/altered way is important. We are all the same kind of different. Our human nature desires a sense of belonging. To be part of a ‘tribe’ or gang or community – something that lets us know we’re not alone. We’re not outcasts. We are part of something. We matter.
The challenge however is that, when we follow a path because it’s comfortable, we can lose our way and not see that our staying on the path is keeping those who created it, comfortable in their limited view of the worth and value of every human being.
It is then we must decide what path we want to be on. A path that reflects our belief in the magnificence of every being on this planet or one that limits the possibilities of some because they ‘don’t fit in’ or look the same or present as ‘unequal to’ an invisible measure of success or class or faith or humanness we don’t buy into, but in our silence and presence in the group, uphold.
When we decide to heed the inner calling to spread our wings and create a path where everyone is free to travel and find their belonging in their own unique way, we step off the road more travelled and start creating a world of infinite possibility – for everyone.
In that creation, when we carve our way through life guided by our values, principles and belief in the worth of every human being, we become beacons of light encouraging others to do the same.
It doesn’t mean we’re no longer part of ‘the tribe’. It means we are part of the human race where we are, every one of us, free to journey on our own path that is beautiful in its distinctively unique voice, way, style and perspective.
It is then that our differences turn up in living colour. Full of life. Full of possibility. Full of Love.
And in that multi-hued and multi-faceted world, every path is honoured, every voice recognized worthy and every human being on planet earth gets what every being on this planet deserves – Equal rights. Equal voice. Equal opportunity.
A world where everyone of us is worthy of being part this one, beautiful and magnificent human race.
War. Famine. Poverty. Injustice. Discrimination to name a few, including economic and social policies that leave some feeling they are ‘less than’ while others believe they have a right to consider themselves ‘greater than’ because of an inherent bias in what they consider to be their privileged status.
And there is much in this world that I feel I have no power to change or affect.
Yet, when I take care of my own world, when I create better in the emotional, physical and spiritual environment around me, my world changes. And, while it is easy to say, those changes are infinitesimal in the big picture, the ripple effect of millions of small changes can create transformation of a grand scale.
We are all one humanity. One people on this one planet called earth. We are all connected. Through the air we breathe. To the trees and the sky and the water and the animals and the flora. We are all connected.
What we do to eachother and to our planet matters.
But how can I change what others do?
In the simplest of forms, I can’t. I am not that powerful. Nor is it my ‘job’ to change another.
What I do have the power to do is inspire change in the world around me by ensuring how I am, what I do, say, create, share creates better for everyone in the world around me. Holding space for better, my ripple becomes a constant ebbing outward of peace, harmony, joy, Love.
In that rippling effect, the things that annoy me abate, the feelings that keep me playing small diminish and the fear of making waves or being different washes away.
In their place, transformation within my world happens. And if there are millions upon millions of us transforming our own worlds, our collective ripple can become a tsunami of hope, possibility, change leading to transformation on a grand scale.
And never has that been truer than today.
Yes, Covid 19 is running amuck. Yes, there is political, economical and environmental strife everywhere.
And everywhere, there are human beings doing their best, giving their all to create lasting change that will, and must, transform our world for the better.
The March #ShePersisted Woman is a reminder to no longer accept you don’t have the power to change. To never give up on believing transformation is possible.
We just need to keep doing small things with great heart that change our worlds so that ripple by ripple by ripple the entire planet is transformed through each of us creating a better world for everyone and everything on earth.
There is a video circulating on social media of Marta C Gonzalez, who in her prime during the 1960s, was a prima ballerina with the New York Ballet Company. She passed away in 2019 after many years of living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Just before her death, she was given headphones to hear Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which she had performed in 1967.
The body remembers what the heart knows.
In the video, as Ms Gonzalez listens deeply to the music, her hands begin to flutter in her lap and then rise, higher and higher. Gracefully, seemingly effortlessly, she stretches out her arms and they float like angel’s wings through the air around her.
And with each note, she moves through the dance of her younger years from where she sits in the wheelchair that moved her through the world in her final days.
The body remembers. The heart knows.
Yesterday, my daughter Alexis posted a beautiful passage on her social media about this time of waiting. Waiting for Covid to pass. Waiting to see our loved ones again. Waiting to be free to move out into the world without fearing this dreaded virus.
We are all waiting.
How we wait. How we move through these days of rising caseloads and deaths matters. A lot.
It matters because every life on earth matters. A lot.
It matters because we are all connected. And in that connection our survival matters.
It matters that as of this moment when I write this post, 55,514,668 human beings have been taken ill by this virus. 1,335,279 have not survived. I wrote those number 45 minutes ago when I began this post. Those numbers are now – 55,531,335 cases 1,335,467 deaths)
It matters because when we move beyond the confines of our homes, step out of our safe little bubbles into our communities, we are affecting the life of every single person we come in contact with.
We can be carriers of hope or carriers of unwitting illness.
It is our decision.
Yes, we will get through this. And, though there are days when I rail against the limitations, when all I want to do is visit a friend, or have dinner in a restaurant with my beloved or travel west to see my daughter and her family, I know that what I do right now matters.
And how I go through it matters. A lot.
I can rail against the confines of these times, this virus, this life of narrowing options. Or, like Marta Gonzalez, I can allow the music of my heart to be heard and felt and known. I can act with grace. Because, even though my beloved and I have made the decision to once again sequester in solitude at home, grace has not left the house.
And so, just as my daughter teaches in the words she wrote, I call upon patience, kindness, consideration and above all, grace, to move us through these difficult days so that one day, soon I hope, we can all breathe easily again.
And when we do, may our bodies remember what our hearts know. We loved one another and took care of each other in the darkness and the light.
And when these times have passed, as they surely will, may the stories we tell remind us of how, even when grief and fear and sadness and loneliness and uncertainty filled our world, we danced with grace through it all.
And, just in case you haven’t seen it, here is the video of Marta C. Gonzalez dancing Swan Lake. There is a moment at the beginning where her hands begin to move and then collapse onto her lap. When the gentleman kisses her hand with such loving grace, she begins again to dance. So beautiful.
There was a time when my silence caused me pain. When speaking up felt too dangerous, too complicated.
My critter mind kept repeating, “Speaking up makes you a target. Be quiet.”
Fortunately, the critter and I have evolved and while it still likes to have its say, the voice of inner wisdom has the vote that counts.
And that vote is always to support me in living true to who I am. To my values, principles and beliefs.
Which is why the January Woman is such a powerful message for me.
My voice matters. Your voice matters. All our voices matter. Even those I don’t agree with. We all matter.
My job isn’t to teach others how to speak up. It’s to ensure that when I speak, my voice fosters truth, honesty, respect and kindness.
For years, I had a note posted above my desk that read: It’s my responsibility to turn up, pay attention, speak my truth (with loving-kindness) and stay unattached to the outcome.
Not always easy.
Sometimes, I want to scream at the world to stop being so blind, so cruel, so ugly.
Sometimes, I want my voice to matter more.
A few years ago, while doing community engagement work for a not-for-profit that managed housing for individuals exiting homelessness, I faced an angry crowd who had convened a Town Hall to share their opposition to the NFP’s apartment building in their community.
At our first meeting together I was confronted with about sixty people, the majority of whom did not want the people living in the apartment building anywhere near their families, homes, lives.
They screamed and yelled and threw insults while I stood alone at the front of the room.
Whenever I had the chance to speak, I calmly asked people to please not yell. “I can’t hear you when you yell,” I said. “And I really want to hear what you have to say.”
I repeated my request several times over the 2 hour meeting and while I can’t say it was easy, I do know it turned out better than if I’d put up a wall of defences around me, Stood in silence or yelled back or stormed out of the meeting.
My putting up a wall of defences would have prevented me from being present to their fear, confusion, worry, anxiety.
My standing in silence would have meant I was standing in fear which would have added to the fear already present in the room.
My yelling back would have inflamed the situation more as would walking out (though there were moments it was all I wanted to do).
Every voice in that room mattered. Every voice deserved to be heard — and the fact is – I can’t hear people when they’re yelling at me (I don’t think many of us can). My mind shuts down, my body tenses and my heart races as my fear rises up to swallow me whole.
I wasn’t there to stop people from speaking up.
I was there to create space for every voice to be heard. Including mine.
I was there to listen to everything they had to say. To their fears and concerns as well as their ideas on how ‘the problem’ could be fixed.
And while the solution was not what they originally wanted, (move out), over time, through keeping the conversation going, respectful interactions and opening up to possibility, the outcome became something far better than could have been imagined in that original meeting — a community where everyone felt safe. Where differences were accepted and where every voice mattered.
In the past, I have lowered my voice and stayed silent when fear engulfed me.
In the past, I have flung my anger at others like daggers to their heart.
In the past, I have used my voice without conscious choice.
Today, I choose to keep my voice raised to create a more loving and kinder world.
Today, I choose to drop the daggers and instead, fling my words out into the world like a fisherwoman casting a net of silk onto the seas full of the hope that what I cast out will calm turbulent waters and bring back to me tenfold what I send out. Love.
When I started the #ShePersisted Series it was my quiet rebellion, my line in the sand, my statement of Enough. The time has come.
It was inspired by reading about how Senator Elizabeth Warren was treated in the Senate and deciding I had to do something.
My something came through creative expression.
I began with thinking I’d create a painting that stated in visual-storytelling my position.
One painting. That was all I intended to create.
And then, the muse kept visiting and whispering ideas into my head and I kept creating.
It tapered off over the past year, the compelling need to create more within the series. Not because the world had suddenly decided to rid itself of prejudice and inequality and discrimination and a host of other societal woes that keep people in the places that hurt them, that limit their possibilities and stifle their capacity to speak up and be heard.
That hasn’t happened yet.
For whatever reason it tapered off… it’s back.
The purpose to my creative expression.
I have always believed that life is creative by nature. The evolutionary path of our world has been driven by the creative impulse to create better.
In my life, visual and written story-telling has been at the bedrock of my self-expression. It is my pathway to fulfill on my desire to create better. It is my confidence-builder, idea generator and my ballast.
It is my North Star.
There was a time, especially in my 20s, when I tried to ignore my creative-drive. I’d bury it beneath trying to fit in, to be part of the norm, to appear like I was ‘playing the game’ in a way that made me more acceptable to the world around me.
It wasn’t until my 40s when I accidentally picked up a paintbrush and started to paint with my eldest daughter, who at the time was about 15, that I discovered the lie I’d always told myself (I have no artistic ability. I’m a writer not an artist) just wasn’t true.
I am an artist by nature and design. I am happiest when I am telling stories that inspire, not just verbally but in visual mediums too. And, no matter the medium, I want to tell stories that stir the pot. Stories that awaken us and connect us through our shared humanity to all that is magnificent and beautiful about our world.
And here’s what I realize after spending the past few days with the #ShePersisted Series…
It doesn’t matter if we are going through tough economic times, times of social or political change or the times of Covid or any other remarkable times. What matters is what each of us does, every moment of every day, to create better in the world.
And that’s where the #ShePersisted Series brings me to. That place where I am on fire with purpose and intention to stand up and speak up about what matters to me most.
And from where I sit today, surrounded by love and comfort, I must also acknowledge that the world outside my walls is not full of love and comfort for everyone.
And for my grandchildren to have a better world to grow into, I must not stay silent. I must keep standing up.
My grandchildren deserve the kind of world where everyone has the privilege of being seen and known and treated as magnificent human beings.