Sunday, May 24, 2015

In the shoes of a student...

My College Grad Photo

There is little I remember about my time as a college student other than feeling complete and utter chaos and fatigue. With a full-time diploma program, three part-time jobs, one co-op job and a terminally-ill parent, I simply put one foot in front of the other until I found myself crossing the stage to receive my diploma. I know my experience was not unique.

Now, years later, as the editor of a burgeoning student blog for a university community, I have noticed some trends in the posts over the past year. If I were a student today (I graduated 33 years ago, so feel free to picture me as an eccentric Yoda-like sage right now), these would be the top 5 subjects of discussion that I would want to share with you as prospective students, current students, families and high school counsellors. This is my "in the shoes of a student" list:
  1. Stress: University is the most stressful thing many students have done in their lives so far, learning skills such as: work/life balance, multi-tasking, communicating needs and prioritizing. We have to learn that this is our education and, for the most part, we are the ones responsible for its success or failure based on the choices we make along the way. 
  2. Food: fuel. If I do not fuel my body with the appropriate comestibles, I will wither and get sick. Healthy food, in regular portions, is essential to my academic success. Treats, occasionally, are necessary to my emotional success. Feed a student and you will receive eternal gratitude.
  3. Preparation: ...before uni, during uni and after uni will make my life easier. a) High school counsellors: When you care and help us with our decision-making and university preparation, our paths are easier.
    b) Parents: Although we may rail against you every step of the way, it's important that you care and that you remind us about what we need to do and, once you teach us, let go (a little) and let us make our own mistakes so we can learn.
    c) Me: Use the resources available. They are there for me and will make it easier to succeed.
  4. Involvement: the school community. Find your people. Do at least one thing that has nothing to do with your classes and grades. Help someone else. Play a sport. Join a club. Plant a garden. Dance. This will enrich your experience and make your education unique. The "life" part of school will be what you remember the most.
  5. Work: a paid job, in a co-op program, in a work study program or as a volunteer. It will give you the opportunity to put to practice what you have learned in the classroom. I don't mean just the actual book-learning part, I mean the part where you have a difficult conversation with a colleague - like the kind you may have with your roommate or project partner. It will give you the chance to make a presentation to your boss or colleague using all the cool tools you have used for your class presentations. It's a chance to practice for your career post-graduation, to make connections, make some money and make a resume. Please don't worry about taking more than four years to finish your degree because that is very common.
There you have it. It may not be the same as your list, but having edited 155 student blog posts this year, I feel I learned a thing or two.

Would I ever go back to the student life now that I am closer to retirement than I am to school or career planning? Yes, I would - I would go back for the fun of it, for the pure enjoyment of learning, to share ideas and make new friends - definitely, yes. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 24, 2015

Looking back - elementary school
Circa 1969 or 1970

Sunday, May 17, 2015


As we walk through life, we encounter all manner of love. Love never disappears. As energy, love only changes shape. 

Each breath of love echoes through our hearts with each beat for as long as our journey continues. Know this and know that you are not alone. We are one world, one life and our hearts beat the rhythm of that song throughout time.

I hope this short poem reminds you of this today and that you feel the universal love, today and always.

For those of you in Nepal trying to recover from the earthquake and aftershocks, and those of you around the world, struggling to survive on little to nothing, please know that there are thousands of us around the globe who know of your plight and are sending resources (financial and physical), love and prayers to you. 

Things green
a place unseen
a home to lay your hat
and love.

Springtime Sunday
a bird song
a heart beat 
rhythm and a tune.

Now I understand 
the love that never left me
in each beat, we meet
as one.

Things green 
a place unseen 
a home to lay your hat
and love. 
-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 17, 2015
All images are the property of Gillian Cornwall

Please do what you can to help those recovering from the earthquake in Nepal. Until May 25, 2015 the Canadian government will match donations to the Nepal Region Earthquake Fund through Red Cross Canada.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers and Our Other Mother Mothers

My Mother, EA Jay c. 1943-44
Photographer unknown

One thing we all have in common (among the many things we all have in common), is that every single one of us, all living things, have had a mother who brought us forth into this world. Those lucky enough, were raised by them in loving, caring, supportive homes by women (and men) who taught them how to be kind, loving, supportive people in turn. 

Today, I want to talk about another kind of mother: the other mother. There are so many of you out there: stepmothers, godmothers, foster mothers and women who just stepped up to love and care for us when those of us who lost our birth mothers along the way needed a mother's love to get through something, or to support us, or congratulate us on our successes and comfort us in our losses. Today, I salute you and thank you for all you have given - selflessly and without asking for anything in return.

I had a second mum when I lived on Salt Spring Island. Her name is Jay and she cared for me when I was a bit lost. She housed me, fed me and showed me the unconditional love that only a mother can. I am grateful to you, Jay. Thank you for reminding me about unconditional love and about giving because you can. I did some healing in your care and in your home. I am eternally grateful. Also, I had the most amazing godmother, Mary Woodburn, who taught me so much about unconditional love and freedom of spirit. I am a much better person for the love of these two women and for many others along the way who taught me the lessons that a mother teaches.

So, to all of you out there who have been a mother to someone, for a day or for a lifetime, I salute you and thank you for giving that very particular kind of love. Please know that you have made the world a kinder, safer and more peaceful place because of your actions. My gratitude to each of you for caring for the children of the great mother, Earth, who I celebrate on this day for her love and sustenance of all of us. Please be kind to her and care for her now and always so that she may continue to love and provide for generations to come.

For those of you who have recently lost your mothers, my heart goes out to you in your loss. Talk to her today anyway - tell her what is in your heart and go out and give love to another. This will help to heal the pain in your heart. 

To my mother, Eunice Audrey Jay, thank you for my life and for caring for me. I learned so much from you, from the lessons of your life and your love of the arts and culture. I wish I had known you longer. I have learned from your strength. I send you love and I wish you eternal peace and joy.

Here is a link to some ideas to think beyond our own mother's today: 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 10, 2015

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Funny/Not Funny

Have you seen this fish?
If you do, do not approach him.
He may be finned and dangerous.
There is also a great likelihood that he is tanked...

Humour is a funny thing.... As some of you may know, I worked as a stand-up comic for about four years at the turn of the century. Right of the bat, I need to let you know that this does not mean, nor did it ever mean, that I told jokes. I talked about this and that in a way that made people laugh. The stories were generally about my own experiences and the foibles of my being a human animal amidst a bunch of other human animals plodding our way through life. I don't know any jokes and never tell any.

My big goal, was to have people be able to laugh at elements of life that are commonly contentious in a way that may set them to thinking and, perhaps, have them consider a point of view outside of their own. 

I was able to touch on subjects such as: LGBT* lifestyle and gay marriage, our use of natural resources at the expense of the planet, the casual way we approach air travel and visiting cultures outside of our own. 

It was an interesting part-time career for me - I still had a full-time job - being an entertainer is not exactly lucrative in the early days. I learned a lot. I made a lot of mistakes and still think about them to this day. It's hard when you are on stage and all eyes are on you. People are paying attention (in most places) and they expect to be entertained. So when you forget your material in a moment of either ill-preparedness or after bantering with a heckler (part of the biz), it is really easy to go off the rails and pick on something ...anything. That's the thing with humour, whether you are being paid to do it or if you are joking around with friends: it is so easy to hurt someone with poorly thought out words. 

As a comedian, I approached the art with a great deal of writing, rehearsing and trial and error, but, generally, I was practiced and ready to work. When we are "joking" with friends, it is all too easy to go for the low blow, particularly if we are dealt one first and fall, helplessly into a retaliation mind-set. 

All I'm asking is that we exercise caution in our humour. Try not to be too self-deprecating. Do not make jokes at the expense of another person - their race, culture, sex, sexual orientation, age, weight.... The list goes on. I know, I know, you may be thinking, "Come on! It's just kidding around. Everybody should know when we are just joking. Why does everything have to be so PC?" The thing is, we are highly sensitive, delicate beings - all of us - and, above all else, we deserve care and kindness. We don't know what another person has experienced in a day when we decide to poke a little fun at them. Be careful with one another. 

There are many laughs to be had without unkindness. ...My apologies and gratitude to the fishy in the picture above. I confess I used his image and poked fun at him without his consent. I am truly grateful to him and hope he is doing well in his tank on Maui. I wanted to set him free, but I wasn't sure if he was even from there and, I admit, I did not want to be arrested. I am a bit of a non-starter when it comes to activities that can result in my imprisonment.

I wish you a happy day with joy and laughter along your way. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 3, 2015

Look, it's Nemo!
"Keep swimming, keep swimming..."~Dory

Me - doing a show in another stunning location...
Photographer unknown, circa 1999 or 2000.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Signs of Life

 Gore Park, Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

Signs of life
in every sense -
to hear, to see,
to feel and taste
- the scent upon 
the ocean breeze

 Gore Park, Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

the beating heart
in the earth
below our feet

Gore Park, Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

she pushes love
through loamy skin
as camas and as clover born 

Gore Park, Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

for bees to buzz
and propagate the species

Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

each wave upon 
the pebbled shores
is yours

 Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

your blood
coursing and caressing

Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

through Spring,
for life, life
in every bird song

 Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

a call to the duty 
of your life,

Brentwood Bay, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. April 25, 2015

through space,
through time
- from your heart
to mine

-Gillian Cornwall, c. April 26, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Perspective - Creating the Positive Picnic Basket

Picnic Basket
Charmaine's Past and Present
Fort St, Victoria.
G. Cornwall, 2012.

Life doesn't always feel like a picnic but if you are prepared to have one anyway, looking for the positive in every situation, life does become more simple. 

The unexpected turns of life, the potholes on our path, the barriers of our own creation, can be our demise or our opportunity to shift our thinking and our way of travelling through life - for what are we without these challenges. 

Stillness may bring us peace, opportunity to rest for a time, but in the long run we must shift in order to grow. Even as my bus driver takes a wrong turn causing delay, there must be opportunity. I see it as extra time to write on my way to work and, as one of the elders on campus once said, "You're not late unless everyone has already gone home."

It is not the perceived errors in our life that define us, rather the way in which we mitigate them. How do we face change or loss? Is there loss if nothing is held tightly? Like all things, like thermodynamics, we will move to where there is space for us to be. This is how we grow and learn and gain perspective.

Do not fear the fall. Prepare yourself for it by living a life of gratitude, in peace, accepting that change will come and that all is well. Accept each breathe as a blessing in which to be present, an opportunity to live and to love with an open heart and an open mind.

A poem on perspective:

I elevate
I reach
beyond that which I believe
the land of exploration
the sensation
the bold and brave new world.

I search
for another way of being
something more freeing
with more meaning
where a hand reaches out 
for another hand.

For if we truly work together 
there is enough for everyone.

If I take away desire
-for stuff brings strife-
and focus on the stuff of life
If I let love be my fire
and make true
the path between me and you,
then I elevate,
I reach
beyond that which the world believes.

If I live a life of gratitude,
not servitude,
If I feed the world 
with my soul, my light
then I will know
what it means to live free, to live right.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. July 7, 2013.
Re-posted here: April 19, 2015.

Big Island - Parker Ranch
c. Gillian Cornwall
Oil Pastel on Paper, 2007.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chat with a tree today.

Western Red Cedar by Gillian Cornwall, c.2005
Oil Pastel on Paper $900.00
22" x 30"

If you have a chance, go to a forest today and breathe deeply. Feel the life, the peace, the perfect gift of nature. Restore your soul with the elements that really matter in this moment - life, love, and peace. I'm re-posting this from last year because it feels like a good time for it. I hope it brightens your day. 

A naive poem follows. It is meant to carry you to a peaceful place, a remembrance of how it works when we stop and listen to all of life and that we are one, inextricably connected.

The Western Red Cedar

I'm a western red cedar 
thuja plicata
green perfect plaits 
well-organized leaves

'tree of life' 
for the next thousand years 
I will reach for the sky

My limbs droop downward 
in peaceful repose
while birds fly and sing 
from my tip to my toes

I spread my feet wide
for fear I may fall
though I suppose the fact is
I'll outlive you all

I live in a forest 
you may never find 
It's a place tucked away
on the outside of time

Far down below me 
'mid the moss and the ferns
One day I shall lay there 
my death bed I'll earn

As trees came before me
may I feed many more
In the depths of the rich 
thick, lush forest floor

Do not forget me 
I bring you your air
for the breathe of the forest 
Is the life we all share

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 4, 2014
Re-post, April 12, 2015

Cedar by the Lake
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2011