Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hello, Trouble

The Wave
Oil Pastel on Paper 
Approx. 8" x 10"
By Gillian E. Cornwall - c. 1988

"Hello, Trouble!" "Here comes trouble!"

I am greeted in this way, on average, 3 times a week at work and elsewhere and it tends to frustrate me. I think those using the term, use it in a cajoling or endearing way and by no means intend for it to be harmful. I think some see me as different from most women of my age and do not know how to interact with me because of it. I suppose I could be honoured that people are imbuing me with such great power - that I have the capacity to create trouble and, potentially, leave chaos in my wake. 

Then, I think of the term, "trouble the water". I was reminded of it last week, during a meeting, when a colleague used the term. I liked it and have had it roiling in my mind since. There is an African American spiritual song, with Christian biblical implications, and it goes as such:

"Wade in the water,
Wade in the water children
Wade in the water
Don't you know that
God's gonna trouble the water
Don't you know that
God's gonna trouble the water"

I believe the phrase arises from this biblical reference: 

John 5:4 - "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had."

So, perhaps someone who is referred to as "trouble", challenges, allows for cleansing, healing and forward motion. I could go with that.... I certainly know some earth angels who trouble the waters in their quest to share peace and love. 

Unfortunately, the folks using the term "trouble", in reference to me, do not consider the workplace implications of being seen by those in authority as "trouble". Talk about a career stopper. So, have I been trouble over the years? Have I stirred the waters? I suppose so. Why? I have not been appreciative of anti-racial slurs. I didn't like hearing the term "homo" or "I think you are in the wrong washroom" and, from straight women with whom I have worked in the past,  "I know you'd like to be closer to me right now" or, having a woman flash her breasts at me (thinking I would enjoy it!) and make lurid comments speculating on my lifestyle. I haven't enjoyed being treated as "other" by both males and females based on my sexual and gender orientation and I certainly wouldn't enjoy being passed over for employment opportunities because of being thought of as "trouble". Do I know definitively that this has happened? No. How could I know? How would I prove such a thing?

So, if I am trouble, is it because you have named me so rather than because I have set out to be so? Have I set out to stir the waters rather than acquiesce to the silence in order to remain safer? Do I have to run twice as fast as everyone else just to keep up? These questions are all worthy of consideration.

Do I have to worry about posting this? Will it make it worse for me? I know some of you are thinking, "Oh, here she goes again! We are so tired of hearing about it..." I am tired too - way too tired to be trouble. I just want to go home and watch Masterpiece Theatre and have a nice cup of tea. Can I afford to stop pointing at the elephant in the room? We are all equal now - right? No harm, no foul? ....hmm. What do you think?

"Hello kind person." "Hello champion for human rights and equity!" 

Please don't let your fear be my trouble anymore. 

With love, kindness and the continuing quest for peace.

-Gillian Cornwall, July 20, 2014

Heart on a Telephone Pole
-spreading love down the line
Photo: Gillian Cornwall, c. 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014


The Clematis
c. Gillian Cornwall - May, 2014's a virtue right? patience? 

Once again I think I fall short of virtue. I can't even type the word without typing 'virture' instead." Morally good behaviour or character" - that's the definition of virtue but let's get back to patience before mine wears thin.

Patient: Google dictionary says: able to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious" 

It's official - I'm not always patient. 

So when do we go from being patient to being hoodwinked? There have been times in my life when I believe I am being patient but, really, I am allowing myself to be victim to the lack of willingness of another person to try or even acknowledge that their incapacity to grow or change is eroding the life of another.

Our patience is put on trial in all aspects of our world - at work, at school, at home. The fact is, our patience is not a stationary border around us, rather a fluid line depending on with whom we are dealing and what we believe to be at stake.

I follow The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz in all areas of my life but as I face new challenges, I find I need to reintegrate these principles. For those of you not familiar with these agreements, they are with oneself, and they go as follows:

1. Be impeccable with your word (think before you speak and remember that words, once spoken, cannot be unsaid)

2. Don't take things personally (most of what people do has nothing to do with you and everything to do with themselves)

3. Don't make assumptions (we all play tapes in our heads and have specific ones that we haul out when someone says or doesn't say (or do) something that hurts us - ASK! It's the only way to determine a person's intent. They won't always tell you but it puts the onus back on them to own their words, feelings and behaviours)

4. Do your best (Some days your best will be amazing and, well, other days it won't be...and that's okay. Welcome to the human race.)

So 'what the blazes does this have to do with patience?' you ask. Well, really, for me, these agreements put the work and decisions back on me. I can be as patient or as impatient as I choose in each circumstance and it will be on me to deal with the consequences of my choices. I would like to learn to err on the side of more patience than may be needed or warranted but, unfortunately, sometimes I lose it before I get to the 'more' place.... 

I am a fast thinker, a problem solver and a solution maker. I find it difficult to work with slow processors and those who don't vocalize their process, rather blurt their conclusions once reached. I'm certain my way irritates the heck out of some people. I am not very true to my 'stiff upper lip' cultural roots in this regard. I think part of the reason is that I was silenced and ridiculed by some keys folks in my childhood and now, I won't have it. Unfortunately, this has meant that I release my entire process to the world and they can find themselves taken down a highway to hell and back with me until I come to a conclusion which is far less dramatic and simple than the process warranted. Why anyone puts up with me, at times, I don't know. I guess I have some redeeming factors. 

So what is it I'm trying to say? The thing is, this life is a journey and there is no perfect ending or solution, so walk your paths and hold your heads up. Pay attention. Listen and watch along the way. Try to be kind and, yes, try to be patient, but be true to yourself as well. Watch. Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat. Enjoy yourself as much as you can along the way. 

For those of you who have felt victim to impatience - mine or another person's - I am sorry. We are all works in progress. I wish each of us joy, peace, love, light and kindness. I wish us the kind of self-actualization that makes us glow, that connects us to the greater universal energy. Once we find a way to walk our paths interconnected, we will realize our eternal impact and, hopefully, live a life of goodness, wealth of spirit and joy in our connection to life's eternal energy - the one constant to which we can offer a nod and a smile. Here's to energy!

-Gillian Cornwall, c. July 13, 2014.

Waikiki Sunset
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2006

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Over the Rainbow

It's Pride week in Victoria, BC. Today is the last day of events culminating in the traditional (seems funny to use that word here) parade and festival attended by thousands and thousands in our community and beyond. It's a grey sky morning and I am hoping, for the sake of the organizers, volunteers and all those attending for the 30th time or the first, that the rains will remain at bay and all will go well. 

Today, I look back over the years to the first Pride parade I attended at 20 years of age. I didn't go when I was 19, afraid that someone (mostly my mother) would see me and my life would be over. By 20, I worked up the nerve to attend though I remember being terrified that someone would do something: jeer at me, throw something, laugh and point, or that we might have been arrested or caught in a battle. Not an unrealistic fear, as it turns out. I have been beaten and jeered at and harassed for who I love throughout the 32 years I have been out of the closet. I still deal with ridiculous comments and both clandestine and open discrimination. I don't remember enjoying Pride with considerably less fear until the last five or ten years. It seems to me that there has been a shift in our country, that something has changed and more people, not just LGBT community members, started coming to the events in greater numbers. 

Has there been a shift in the humanity of the people of Canada? I believe so. I believe that the greatest difference is in people's hearts. Human rights issues are now more commonly considered to be issues of all people. Infringements on the rights of all peoples are the responsibility of all peoples. We are not free until we are all free. Make it your responsibility to read about the history of LGBT rights in Canada and around the world. Realize that there are people imprisoned or killed in many nations around the globe for who they are and who they love. Make it your business to pay attention and respond. Love belongs everywhere. Remember those who have fought and the price they have paid.

Today before I go out and celebrate, before I enjoy the parade and laugh and cheer with friends, I remember all of those who have gone before me - all of those who fought, who paid with their lives or their freedom and all of those who continue to do so. I know that we must remain diligent; we cannot rest until we are all free. 

Pride is not a "gay thing". Pride is for everyone: a time to hold our heads up high and shout out: "I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses... I am good... I am strong ... I am worthy, ...I belong." -Gloria Gaynor 

We are all in the spectrum of the rainbow and perhaps it is over the rainbow and on the other side of it that we will look back and see ourselves as one, perfect in our difference and vital in our desire to love and live with kind kindness in our hearts. We ARE family.

Happy Pride to everyone. To those of you around the world who read this and run the risk of jail, torture or death because of who you are and who you love, to those of you who must hide and fear for your lives, know that you are not alone and that I, and so many others, raise our voices for you and will take action for justice. We are not free until you are free. 

In light, love and respect,

-Gillian Cornwall, c. July 6, 2014.

A "few" folks join in with the 2012 parade in Victoria, BC!

I dedicate this post to the beautiful, hard fought life of my brother, 
Christopher John Cornwall ~ RIP

Please take a few moments to check out the following organizations:

Human Rights Campaign:

Victoria Pride Society:

You Can Play Project:

Human Rights Watch:

United Nations - Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

LGBT History in Canada:

If you have more links of interests or comments, please send them in comments.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Take Me to the Forest

PKOLS - Saanich, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

Take me to PKOLS after a summer rain to wander amid the forest of Douglas fir, big leaf maple, western red cedar, Pacific dogwood and yew. Douglas Creek winds deep through the valley below in the place where the faeries reside under giant mushrooms, bouncing on fern fronds and dangling their slim faerie legs from the white fungus outcroppings of these mighty rain forest giants. 

Take me where the trees whisper stories of those who rose from the land, for I am a visitor here on the lands of the WSANEC peoples and I am grateful to share the wealth of this place with all of the life of the the land and sea provided by our universal mother. 

When I lose my connection, when my path grows dark, it is to this forest I return. This is where I remember to breathe deeply - Douglas Creek reminding me of how it all flows, sometimes with less, sometimes with more. I remember how blessed I am when I press my palm to the mossy trunk of the mighty cedar and scan her connection from earth to sky. I walk the beach below, placing my hands in the water, knowing my intention can travel the globe this way as I send love to all, thanking the perfect Salish Sea for carrying my wishes beyond my reach. 

Douglas Creek - PKOLS
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

The sound of the sea, the cry of the gull, the waving flag of the big leaf maple, the scent of cedar and fir, senses heightened to the truth: we have all we need. Unpack your fear and anger here. Lay yourself out on the pebbles and sand surrounded by ribbons of bull kelp and eelgrass, crab and seastar. The sea otters and seals will watch over you. Let the tide wash you clean and be grateful to the great mother for listening and stroking your fears away. Give thanks and a promise that you will care for her and the life she provides for your sustenance - spiritual, physical and mental. Say hello to all those who have come before you and those who have passed. Thank them for the beautiful lessons of their lives and learn to be free of the chains of fear and loss. 

This place, this land, this forest - I am so grateful for all I have, for every breath, for my life. Take me to the forest, to the sea, so I might wash myself clean and give thanks.

I dedicate this post to Zack Downey and the Downey family. Tania, Wayne and Brooklyn have lost a son and a brother way too soon. I will not forget Zack's bravery and his dedication to life and the love of his friends, family and team mates.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 29, 2014

The Salish Sea from the Saanich shore
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

The Beach
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Empathy in Difficult Situations...
Gillian Cornwall - c. 2010

Empathy - I have been thinking about how we act on a day to day basis in our personal lives but in the workplace as well. Leaders and colleagues can appear to have a void of empathy for those with whom they work. This lack of understanding can have some disastrous results, not the least of which is the alienation of the team and their emotional divorce from the organization. This can be the first crumbling brick in the demise of an institution or business.

All leaders can benefit from coaching in the process of empathetic engagement. It takes desire, primarily, to learn how to acknowledge the problems or difficulties of a colleague. It takes development of emotional intelligence. It takes dealing with your own issues first and not packing your emotional stinginess in your lunch kit everyday and hauling it into the office. 

Certainly, it is unwise to get right in the depths of the pit with others when they are down. If you are both in there, then how will one of you guide the other out? Who will hold up the light to show the path? 

It is essential to acknowledge the fact that the person is in the pit and that you are aware that they might be uncomfortable or afraid in there. If you skip this step and go right to, "Hey, at least the pit wasn't bottomless!" or "Don't worry, you'll get out." and walk away, it becomes entirely apparent to the person in the pit that you do not want to know they are in there at all. In fact, you are entirely dismayed or indignant that they have been so thoughtless in sharing their predicament. "Pit person" should have quietly withered away to nothing without disturbing you. Obviously, in this context, this is NOT the way to go about recovery and healing. 

Once you have acknowledged the situation, as an effective leader, you can offer direct assistance if you are able - this too is a form of empathy. If you are out of your league with an issue, it is still essential to acknowledge its existence with the person. Once you have acknowledged, if you are uncertain in how to direct the person, you can tell them you will get back to them (give a time and date) with resources and make sure you follow up! Be real and be true. Your position makes your time no more or no less important than that of your colleagues. The amount of money you are paid to do your job is irrelevant in this scenario. Time taken to work together is an investment beyond measure. Remember that the people with whom you work are your colleagues, fellow humans, all deserving of basic respect. They are not "your employees", rather they are employed by the organization and you have been hired to lead them.

Know your responsibilities as a leader. 

Know the resources of your organization. 

Know the rights and benefits of your team.

If you don't know, find out now before the next scenario arises. 

Do not make assumptions about the person's experience or feelings based on your own history.

Once you have held up that light and helped guide the person from the pit, set a time to follow up and talk about it. This may involve listening and it may involve redirection to other resources. Keep your judgments to yourself and be clear about the time frame and methodologies you have in which to assist. Be empathetic and kind. The people with whom we work are our employer's 'human resource'. Think about these two words carefully. Think about them together and separately and their meaning and implications. Be honest - both with yourself and the person with whom you are engaging. 

It is not your responsibility to "fix" whatever is happening with the person. It is unlikely they need nor want "fixing". As Oprah said on her last show, "...every single person you will ever meet shares the common desire. They want to know: 'Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?..."

Try it. See people. Hear them. Acknowledge what they have said to you and let it flow through you without judgment or personal need. You needn't carry it but hold up that lantern and let folks know you are willing, as a fellow human being, to offer light and guidance as each of us makes our way down our own individual paths. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 22, 2014


The following articles, books and scripts have been of great help to me on my journey to being more empathetic along my path for emotional and social intelligence:

Gillian Cornwall, c. 2006

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

The Cornwalls - circa 1964
Photographer Unknown

Ah, the joy of family photos -particularly those with small kids. I do not look happy. I can't recall this moment but I recall the feeling. 

There is Chris in the back left - he was a great brother and a dutiful son. I miss him. My dad was probably trying to make some kind of joke to get us all to be happy and laughing. Phil, my youngest brother on the bottom left was probably being imaginative and pretending he was launching us all into space or something.... My mum was likely being very proper and trying to simply get a nice family photo for our wall. As I said, I was probably sitting there bawling because, Bruce, my middle brother to my left in the picture was likely bugging me in some way or I was just cranky and tired. Who knows but, valiant effort photographer, valiant effort. 

Now that I am 52, I think back on my past in a different light than I did in my twenties and thirties and forties. Gad, I am aging -but it's better than the alternative! I still feel like the wild child I was at 19 ...some days.

Anyway, I think of my family life as a child differently now. Not just because I have had years and thousands and thousands of dollars of counselling but also because distance from my own childhood loans a different light to it all. My family life was tempestuous and brutal at times. Bad s--t happened. My dad and mum had issues that they both brought into the relationship long before we were twinkles in their eyes. They were folks with difficult pasts and little resource to resolve their own childhood traumas. I wish they had found the kind of amazing counselling that I managed to find for myself along the way. I would like to believe they did their best - even if some days their best was less than optimal. 

My father was abusive in different ways throughout his life. He grew up at the hands of an abuser and so the cycle carried on through him. I do not mean to say he was awful all the time. This is where, now, the child Gillian has healed (though the scars ache some days). I can remember the good stuff too. My dad was the guy who drove me to soccer every week and stayed silent to my mum after I was kicked in the teeth or dinged my head off the goal post. He knew I could tough it out and he didn't want her to stop me from playing. He saw my potential in sports and arts and supported my efforts and abilities. He didn't seem to want me to be a different person than who I was (and who I still am in many ways).

He was the one who supported me when I wanted the drum set for Christmas - though my mum put the kibosh on that one. Apparently drums weren't a ladylike choice of instrument in the sixties... He drove us all over North America on family vacations. He bought us treats. He got to be the good guy when my mum was mad at us. 

He did his best despite the errors he made in raising us on our paths to adulthood. I can't say that I've totally let it go because I know our potential as adults was impacted by the abuse. It takes something away from a person and it takes a very long time, if ever, to restore that sense of self-pride and ability. For many victims of abuse, you never get it back fully. You simply learn to be an advocate for goodness and understanding. You educate. You watch for it in younger folks and help them along their paths if you can. You show your scars and explain the road you have travelled. You use the lesson of your parents lives as your greatest inheritance. This is how the cycle is broken. This is how you learn to understand and, perhaps, forgive. You needn't forget. Remember your path. Remember the road you have travelled. Remember the good and the bad in the people who raised you. Allow yourself the time and the space required to heal. Forgive, if you can. 

The pain carried and doled out by others is not yours to carry forward through time. It's okay to put it down. You deserve to be joyful. If you have good memories of people who did bad things, that's okay. There are acts of kindness in each life. If you have not yet dealt with parental issues or abuse, please get help for yourself. You deserve to be unburdened and to find a life of joy. There are many resources available and your path is your path. You do not need to follow a prescribed path to wellness. Be kind and gentle with yourself. 

I wish I could travel back through time, to England, to the houses of my grandparents or their parents before them and provide a healing energy on those homes. I wish I could unravel that painful history and give my parents a better life. I'm grateful for the life they have given me and the opportunity to sit here today, to write this piece and share it with you. I hope they can see from beyond and know that I am sorry for their pain, that I understand and that I am well. 

Love heals. I breathe in the healing love of the world and return it to the world with my own breath exhaled. We are one. We are connected and together, we have all we need to heal and live well. 

On this Father's Day, I remember the guy who did his best and let him know, in the great beyond, that I am well. I am strong. I am grateful for my life. Thanks Dad.

-Gillian Cornwall, c.June 15, 2014

Summer in Ontario 
at one of the many lake resorts we were lucky enough to visit
Me, Phil and our Dad
circa 1966.

If you are being hurt by someone, there are resources to help you:



Kids Help Phone:




Sunday, June 08, 2014

Real Food

Hand-picked from Alberta's Farm
Gillian Cornwall, c December 2008

Okay, so first I should explain this picture I guess. It makes me laugh every time I look at it. I won't even start with the Hawaii wallpaper mural behind me but under the sunshine yellow Arborite table (circa 1970), my feet are still caked with red mud from the fields of my friend Alberta's farm on the island of Lana'i in Hawaii. This was a great day. My partner at the time, being far more bold than I, pulled into the drive of Alberta's farm unannounced and we waited until Alberta showed up. I asked if we could come to see the farm one day and she said, "Sure, come by tomorrow and I'll show you around." 

Well, I thought this was pretty cool as I had watched this land progress with an abundance of produce and row upon row of banana trees and I wanted to see how things were going. Lana'i* used to be owned by Dole and all of the arable land was used to grow pineapple. The community revolved around the production of pineapple. People got up to the siren in the morning and worked the fields until the siren sounded again to end the day. 

We arrived at the farm the following morning - thinking we would just take a look around in our shorts and flip flops and maybe buy some fresh stuff before heading to the beach. I was staying for a month in a guest house in town so we were doing a lot of our own cooking and this was a great opportunity to eat local produce and learn about local growing practices.

Before we knew it we were helping to plant lettuce. We are not talking little tiny back garden rows - rather fifty foot long rows ...many of them. The soil was wet and lush and, where the hose had leaked, the ground was ankle deep in mud. It had been a ridiculously long time since I had felt that slippery squelch of mud on my feet - probably since I worked on a farm on Salt Spring Island, BC and amid the sheep, horses and chickens, I also kept a 40 foot by 80 foot garden. 

We helped plant for a couple of hours and then Alberta showed us around the incredible Eden that she and her husband have created. Here are some photos from their creation and the place from which we collected our bounty for the rest of our vacation meals.

 Yup. That's an avocado TREE!

Alberta picking us some lemons 

 banana flower 

 Alberta had a number of types of bananas growing

You have not had papaya until you have had one straight from the tree with a squeeze of fresh lime!  

 No small undertaking - years of labour and love

 Walking with Alberta through the banana grove

 Alberta under the avocado tree with her special avocado retrieval tool
I was obsessed with this tree. 

The Avocado Pear, hanging beautiful and full

Spinach, picked by Alberta as part of our "pay"

Amazing. I was reminded of this yesterday when Jodi and I went strawberry picking in Saanich. With the warm sun on our backs and a blessing to the earth, I bent to my task with the casual ease that comes with knowing you do not have to do this for a living. I ate no more than two ...okay three ....while we picked, my hands stained red by the sun-warmed, juice packed fruit. I watched the fuzzy bumble bees pollinate the surrounding flowers and wondered if I would come across Peter Rabbit, curled up, sleeping in the sun, full of the garden bounty! It was a perfect, sunlit, blue sky day on the Saanich peninsula just as that day had been in Hawaii. 

There is nothing on this earth like growing and harvesting your own food. Nothing will ever taste better and little will bring more satisfaction. I feel so blessed to live in a land that provides such incredible food (and wine!) and while we can produce little in our balcony garden, I am pleased to be able to have the herbs and odd tomato plant growing.

Remember those who farm for us while we toil behind desks throughout our days. Pay homage to the land that feeds us. It bears greater significance to our livelihood than our computers. Love that land; give back to it; be kind to it. 

I wrote this poem some time ago:

For every house we live in
For every school we raise in which to learn
For all the buildings in which we toil
Let us not forget the land on which they stand

For it is the land that is our true home
The land is the teacher of all we need to know
The land is the provider of all we need to grow
Let us not forget the land.

Saanich - by Michell's Farm
c. Gillian Cornwall

*To learn more about the culture and heritage of Lana'i, please visit: 

Gillian Cornwall, c. June 8, 2014