Sunday, August 30, 2015

Homeward Bound

Edward Henry and Charlotte Ann - The Great Grandparents Cornwall
Circa late 1800s - Photographer Unknown

This is something I originally wrote a year and a half ago. Now, my trip back to the UK after 33 years absence has become a reality. In a couple of weeks, I'll be on my way.

The older I get, the more I seem to be "pining for the old country". I was made in England ;-) and born in Canada. My parents came over to Canada on the boat for the second time when Chris, the eldest, was 12, Bruce was 9 and Philip was one. I travelled as a stowaway inside my mother and I am determined that this is why I love the ocean, waves and surfing. 

One night on the crossing aboard the RMS Empress of Canada, the Atlantic was so rocky that my mother and Chris were the only two guests in the dining room along with a few service staff that were not ill with sea-sickness. My mother was very proud of that. I remember her being all chuffed up with it when she regaled us with the tale. 

We went back to England frequently as children. My parents travelled back on business with the parent company of Airflow Developments in High Wycombe, for whom they provided a Canadian branch in our hometown of Richmond Hill, Ontario - we usually made a family vacation of it. We went back to visit relatives and friends of my parents and to explore their favourite vacation spots. There were places that, even as a child, blew my mind. Among them were the grandeur, history and tradition of both the University of Oxford and Cambridge University, the size and wonder of Stonehenge - standing below one of the great upright monoliths in awe, St Paul's Cathedral and the Whispering Gallery, the  rolling countryside of the Cotswolds and meeting the siblings of my mum's wartime love on their farm near Stow on the Wold and feeling the love and intensity of loss between them and my mum. Lyme Regis and the Alexandra Hotel, where we met another family with kids and my brother and I fell for the same girl - tragically and, of course, she fell for him... I remember excavating fossils along the Jurassic Coast and getting quite embarrassingly stuck up on the cliffs. How sweet my eldest brother was to take Philip and I out on a mackerel fishing boat with our lines and wooden spools. Poor Chris loathed the look and feel of live fish!

I remember the sights and smells. They are ingrained in the fibre of my being. Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire - being able to finally be old enough to venture out on my own and browse through the shops on the high street. My cousin, Karen, is my closest relation. We are daughters of sisters, women warriors and survivors. I have not seen her for 33 years. I have not been back and, now, every fibre in my being is being pulled back with a magnetic force I have never previously experienced. I need to go. I need to see my people. I need to walk the places of my childhood. I need to take a trip across the pond to the Guidel Communal Cemetery in Brittany near the Gulf of Morbihan where there lies a marker for my mother's wartime love, Richard, shot down in the second world war. 

I remember,vividly,standing on the grounds of Biggin Hill Fighter Station, listening to my mum tell us the story of a German plane being shot down and crashing into the base, the air raid siren going off and because of her exhaustion, she stayed in her barracks bed until the windows imploded with the explosion. She showed us the scar above her eyebrow where the glass from the window had just missed her eye. I will never forget these things. I tell them here and hope my brother has told his children - lest we forget.

I remember the Tower of LondonWestminster CathedralBuckingham Palace - waving to the queen as she returned from the race track. I remember how mum nearly had me convinced that Kensington Gardens belonged to her family but I just couldn't wrap my head around why they would leave if that were true! I remember cruising down the Thames, thinking of all that has passed over and through that historic river. I remember my mum losing her watch after "setting it right by Big Ben" - irony...

I am attached to this country and my body has begun to call me home. I have had to scrimp and save and now I know I will return to her soon.I will see the green patchwork of farmer's fields and walk the paths of some of the greatest writers ever known. I will cry for family gone, to whom I never was able to say my goodbyes. I will walk and walk through the streets of London and breathe deeply in the arms of remaining family. I will know that I am from this land. I am of these people and I am one with England through my bloodline and the soil and ocean that surrounds this faraway island. I will see the new friends I have met through the wonder of Twitter and we will sit and talk story over tea. 

I will see you soon, England (and, hopefully Ireland and France!) I carry you with me always. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 18, 2014.
Edited and re-published,  August 30, 2015.


My mum and my eldest brother, Chris
Circa 1949
It would have been Chris's 65th birthday tomorrow, August 31
RIP Chris Cornwall

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ocean Heir



Pacifica
Gillian Cornwall, c. August 2015

Rising from the Salish Sea
Heir apparent to her island throne
Kelp and sand dollars adorn her 
She knows no ways but those of nature born
No pretense
No sense of hate
No desire to subjugate
Her only need, to be
To inhale and exhale deeply
Sufficient space to breathe
To allow herself to leave
To fall and rise again
Not a fish to be lured to net
Nor a wildcat morphed to pet
She wove fibres from the land
In colours of the sea
And the spectrum of life
Wrapped 'round wrists 
Of those she loves
Do not cast a shadow on her 
She may fly 
And return at will.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. August 23, 2015

Mount Baker from Willows Beach
Gillian Cornwall, c. July 2015

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Camaraderie and joie de vivre

Indigent Smurf, Goes by name "Papa"
Gillian Cornwall, c August 15, 2015

How does it happen - the change from fine to not fine? How do we lose our ability to commit - socially, financially, with friends, or with lovers? When did the fear roll in like a weighty summer storm, our personal barometric pressure rising and falling throughout the day without warning or comprehension of the cause. When did we stop going to visit each other at home or say "yes" to a simple dinner invitation? When did we lose our ability to commit and begin to favour couch and Netflix over the company of friends and loved ones? When did we become too "busy" for one another? Are we afraid our homes are not fine enough to share with friends if we lack the granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances (thank you, HGTV)? Why don't you come over to my not-so-styling,1970's apartment building so we can discuss it over a glass of wine or a cup of tea?

There is no purpose in looking to me for the answers. This week, I haven't the answers - just more questions. I will speculate along with the best of them but I can't make any facts stick. My first speculation leans to perceived time available and fear - fear of commitment to anything or anyone. Maybe it's too much choice so we wait and wait for the best option until all the options have passed us by and we go back to our Netflix and Facebook. 

Maybe it's just me and this is just self-serving tripe; however, it is harder to get people to commit to a coffee date (no, I don't mean a "date-date," just a get together), lunch, brunch, dinner, walk, trip to Tahiti - anything really.... This isn't a judgement piece either, because while I am frustrated by it, I do it as well - often. I worry that I won't have the money, the energy or the time when the time comes to join / participate or I feel anxious about the tasks I have set for myself in my own life and I don't think I've time to stop to be with the people I want to get to know or the people I love. 

Weird. I never used to be this way. Is it a symptom of ageing? I hope not... I don't want to be a "fuddy-duddy." I think just writing "fuddy-duddy" kind of makes me one and now I've gone and done it twice! 

I wonder how much of it has to do with SNS (social network service) usage. One study by Daria Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health from 2011 certainly indicates a negative correlation with people who spend more time in SNS and spend less time socializing IRL (in real life). This being said, I have a group of wonderful friends who use SNS to facilitate their IRL experiences - to meet for coffee, meals and activities - and I love these folks. I want more of this. The strange thing is I don't see them that often because they have more expendable income for socializing because they are, for the most part, in couples. Again - not judging, just saying that I think it makes it easier. 

I do some things alone. I take myself on walks, I go shopping and I take myself to events but it would be awfully nice to do more things with a friend. At times, I wonder if new female acquaintances are concerned that I am "asking them out" so they say they are busy to avoid a potential awkward refusal of a request for a date. If any of you are doing this, it's okay. If I am interested in you as more than a friend, I will tell you and then you can say, "no thanks" and we can just carry on with our friendship. 

I do get invited to large group social events by friends or through Meetup but I can find large group activities difficult as I am somewhat Introverted. I prefer socializing one-on-one or in small groups as I am distracted at events with large numbers of people. It renders me, well, out of focus - I can't concentrate on one person in the hum of voices. 

I am speculating. I don't know why I engage in social blocking behaviours. Maybe SNS leave me engaged and tired in one regard, but dissatisfied with the lack of actual physical presence in another. I do believe we need to be actually "with" one another at times. It's why I am flying half way around the world next month. I need to be "with" my UK friends and family. I need to look into the eyes of my relations for something that cannot be gleaned through Facebook. Don't get me wrong; I am eternally grateful for the social platforms with which I engage my community but I need more. I want them to lead me to your doors, to be present, to offer you my friendship and camaraderie. I don't care what your house is like or if you have things. I want to share stories with you, laugh with you, hold you when you are sad and alone and celebrate you in your successes. I want you to hear me cheer for you and pass you a cup of tea to comfort you. 

Perhaps there are a multitude of reasons for our increasing social anxiety, depression and disengagement from physical engagement with folks. Certainly being fifty, single, gay and less wealthy than some of my peers doesn't help, but I believe there are other reasons based on our tech age at play. Fear is at play. Anxiety is at epidemic levels in our society. Cultures outside of mainstream North American society seem to be suffering less with this ....so, what is it? Do we have so much that we have seized up like an overtaxed mule with the burden of our wealth?

I hope I see you soon to discuss it. In the meantime, open the curtains. Look outside. Smile at a stranger on the street. Go meet someone for coffee. Draw a picture. Write a poem. Let's make sure we still can reach out beyond the comfort of the keyboard and see, smell, touch, hear and taste the world outside, with love and kindness. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. August 16, 2015

This post is dedicated to the amazing group of individuals with whom I shared the weekend on Protection Island in August of 2015, with particular props to John and Sara - y'all stretch my heart. xo

 ...or let go
Gillian Cornwall, c August 2015

Peace, halfway
Gillian Cornwall, c. August 2015

 Friends
Gillian Cornwall, c August 2015

wade in the water
Gillian Cornwall, c. August 2015

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Gender Free

 Me - 2014

My head is raw
from popping up 
through taped down boxes
like a cat 
I find a gap
and push

Boxes labelled
male
female
gay
rabble-rouser
troublemaker

I pop through
your Jack, your Jill in the Box
keeping me still in the box
'til you've wound me so tight
I take flight

No matter what you need to hear
I'm still coming out queer
past your fear 
If you need a different label
call me able 
to be what I need to be

My friend Sheila sees no danger 
She calls me "Earth Angel"
and I tend to agree
because I want to be free
and I'll gravitate 
away from hate 

Life is all about labels
and the fables
you've been told
since you were one day old
in pink or blue
not what's true for you

tucked in your bed 
with a kiss on your head
clothes laid out
pants for prince
dress for princess
but what you feel in your heart
no one cares less

I've been railing on gender subjugation
with friends and relations across every nation
dreaming of a time
when my life will be mine
when I can rest without fear
and just be me...

Gender free

-Gillian Cornwall, c. August 9, 2015

Blossoming
Gillian Cornwall, c. Spring, 2015

Sunday, August 02, 2015

What is the Art of Life?

Life, bursting forth
Brentwood Bay, Vancouver Island
Gillian Cornwall, c. June 2015.

You may wonder why my blog is entitled, "The Art of Life.

My goal is to create a place where I review events and experiences (my own and others) through a lens that sparks thought and opportunity for conversation. I try to select topics that may provide us with some common threads and an opportunity to weave those threads into strong social fabric - the fabric of our lives and our relationships with one another.

I want this to be a place where we question ourselves and our histories, a place where we allow one another to reinvent ourselves based on individual and collective experience. I want this space to be like a safe house, a place to come and go at will. I hope that you will come by to visit often. I hope this will be a place where you can express and exchange your thoughts, ideas and your worries, with me and with one another, as you choose, within a culture of kindness.

The Rose comes into bud
Gillian Cornwall, c. June 2015
Where are we in our lives, if we do not have safe spaces in which to question, learn and grow? Where are we if we do not feel safe to experience the gift of the emotions we have been given? Let love guide us in this space. Let us breathe through our fears and expand with light.

I am grateful to all of you who spend time and energy in this space. I have been blessed to get to know some of you outside of the realm of this blog and you are a source of great love, light and learning to me. 

When I think about energy, as I do often, and I read the work of today's scientists as they look at factors such as physical cosmology, quantum physics and thermodynamics, I become more and more convinced of the relativity of our imprint and the expansion capacity of our energy. Who we are and how we behave in our lives does matter, both individually and collectively. This is the art of life. If each of us are seen as a unique colour, then together we create the ultimate rainbow, the most exquisitely detailed picture, or the blanket of many threads that keeps us together, warm and protected. 

Physicists and cosmologists have recently come to believe that the universe is, in fact, expanding and that the expansion is accelerating. Whatever is causing this universal acceleration has been named 'dark energy' but its origins are not yet known. Is it possible that as our comprehension expands, so does the universe itself? I am not a scientist, but I am an explorer of ideas, of possibility.

In August, it will be 3 years since my brother died. I feel him with me. The likelihood is, I always will. His life was essential to the person I am. He was a teacher, a protector and a friend. His life expanded my own and, thus, I believe his life impacts all of those who are impacted by mine. This is the ripple effect of energy. This is why I have renamed this space, "The Art of Life."

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives and thank you for being a part of mine. My gratitude for this opportunity is boundless. I hope we will be able to share our thoughts and ideas here for a long time. With every wish for joy and peace.


-Gillian Cornwall, c. July 30, 2015
Edited from the original post, August 17, 2014

In the cooling afternoon light
Gillian Cornwall, c. June 2015



Sunday, July 26, 2015

Flow

Buddha, Hawaii 2006
Gillian Cornwall. c. 2012

Let love flow through you. 
Do not attempt to hold it for questioning.
All will be well.

Walk the path of love rather than the path of fear.
Give what you have to give freely, without expectation.
Make way for those you love to follow their paths without impeding their journeys.

Hold up a light for them when they are in their darkest hours.
Hold up a mirror when they need to see their beautiful reflections more clearly.

Love freely.
This is a good job.
This is a good life.
This is a beautiful life. 

All is well.
Blessings to all.
Love to all.
Love and blessings gratefully received.

-Gillian Cornwall, revised July 26, 2015.
Original text: August 25, 2011.

Mount Baker From Willows Beach
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2011

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Empathy

Life is a Ride
Gillian Cornwall, c. Spring 2015

Empathy - I have been thinking about how we behave on a daily basis in our personal and professional lives. 

Leaders and colleagues may have a void of empathy for those around them. In a professional environment, this lack of understanding can have disastrous results, not the least of which is the alienation of a team and their emotional divorce from an organization. This can be the first crumbling brick between working groups, friends, institutions, teams or businesses.

Everyone can benefit from coaching in the process of empathetic engagement. Primarily, it takes desire to learn how to acknowledge the problems or difficulties of a friend or colleague. It takes development of emotional intelligence. It requires a comprehension of your own emotional issues and learning how to express them in the best ways and at the best times. Packing your emotional stinginess into your lunch kit everyday into a sarcasm sandwich may not be the best option.

Certainly, it is unwise to climb into the crevasse with someone when then are trapped in the dark without a visible means of escape. If you are both in there, how will you be able to help the other out? Who will hold up the light to show the path and point out some options for footholds?

It is essential to first acknowledge that the person is in a crevasse and that you are aware that they may be uncomfortable, hurt and afraid in there. If you skip this step and proceed to, "Hey, at least the crevasse wasn't bottomless!" or "Don't worry, you'll get out." and walk away, it becomes entirely apparent to the person within the crevasse that you wish you had never come across the discomforting scenario of finding them in the first place. It appears that coming across them in this state of distress is an embarrassing inconvenience and that their predicament has been engineered to inconvenience you on what would have been an otherwise enjoyable day. "Crevasse person" should have quietly withered away to nothing without disturbing you. Obviously, this is not the way to assist with 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 a situation, it is still essential to acknowledge its existence with the person. Once you have made your acknowledgement, if you are uncertain in how to direct the person, you can tell them you will get back to them with resources (give details, such as date, time and format) and make sure you follow-up! Be real and be true. 

If you are in a position of empowerment, entitlement or leadership, your position makes your time no more or no less valuable than that of the person in the predicament. The amount of money you are paid to do your job is irrelevant in this scenario. Time taken to work together on problem-solving is an investment in any relationship, organization or group. Remember that the people with whom you work are your colleagues, fellow humans, all worthy of 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 those you have been asked to lead.

If you do not know, find out before the next scenario arises.

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

Once you have held up that light and helped guide the person from the crevasse, set a time to follow-up and talk about the experience. This will involve listening and it may involve redirection to other resources. Keep your judgements to yourself and be clear about the time frame and methodologies you have with which to assist. Be empathetic and kind. The people with whom we work are the employer's "human resource." Think about these two words carefully. Think about them together and separately. Think about their meanings and implications. Be honest - both with yourself and with the person 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 judgement nor personal need. You needn't carry the trauma of others, but hold up the lantern and let folks know you are willing, as a fellow human, to offer light and guidance as each of us makes our way out of the crevasse we find ourselves in from time to time.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. July 19, 2015 
edited and re-posted from June 22, 2014

Resources:

The following articles, books and scripts have been helpful to me on my journey towards empathy and along my path towards emotional and social intelligence.







T-Shirt painted for VSAC event
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2013