Sunday, October 04, 2015

of here, from there

Canadian Embassy - Trafalgar Square
Gillian Cornwall, c. September, 2015

I came back to England after 32 years away. I came to see my family, to follow the path of my mother before, during and post-war, and to find my own place on this land - the land of my people for generations. I have been told that on my maternal grandma's side, the Jay's were French and that we are related to the author and playwright, Daphne du Maurier.

On my father's side, we hail from England for a number of generations. Before that, it is said we are Spanish.

Basically, I am of European descent. I am of this place but from Canada. My parents moved to Canada for the second time, to stay, when my mum was 3 months pregnant with me. I was raised in Canada in the days of the original six hockey teams. It was a time in which kids played outside all weekend as soon as the chores were done. We rode bikes through neighbourhoods and into the countryside. we knew not to talk to strangers but it didn't stop us from doing anything or going anywhere. I grew up with summer camp, cottages and canoeing. I went to middle class schools with a mediocre education that was supplemented by my parents love for the classics. We knew of the great European artists and writers because of our parents, not because of our national culture and education. My cousin is brilliant in her knowledge of European artists and writers - I am abysmal by comparison in that I have either forgotten or I never knew. I do know my Canadian artists and writers somewhat...

What I am getting at is that I remain divided between my past and my present and between where I am of and where I am from. Maybe I am the best of both worlds with a great deal more to learn and share from my dual heritage. I must remember to tread lightly on both lands and listen more than speak - with my heart as open as my eyes and ears.

"To see the world in a grain of sand
and a heaven in a wildflower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand 
and eternity in an hour." 

-William Blake, "To see a world..."
(on Blake's stone in St Paul's Cathedral)

-Gillian Cornwall, c. October 4, 2015

On the Thames heading toward Tower Bridge
Gillian Cornwall, c. September, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Me and Sheila Jeffries at Glastonbury Abbey
Photographer - really friendly but name unknown...
September 2015.

One of the greatest things that has happened in my lifetime is the ability to connect with people around the world via social media.

On this trip to the UK, Sheila and I created the opportunity to connect. I have "known" Sheila through Twitter for approximately 3 years and one of my main goals on this trip was to be able to meet her in person. 

It would be natural to be somewhat nervous with one another when meeting in our physical embodiment for the first time but we were quite at ease. For my part, it is not hard to be at ease with Sheila as, aside from being a brilliant writer and visual artist, she is one of the kindest, most sincere, people I have ever met. 

Please take a few moments to enjoy her website for information on her books and the projects she has undertaken in her life to date - not the least of which is planting an entire forest with her husband, Ted, in Cornwall in the south of England. 

Also, I was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to visit two wonderful twitter / blog friends in West Cork: April Danann @DanannSpl4ces and Trich Deeney @TrichDee. Sadly, this adventure will need to wait for my next visit, but I am eternally grateful that they welcome me to their land and their lives. 

Before coming here, I planned the trip with my cousin through Facebook Messenger and after 32 years of physical distance (though our hearts and souls are never separated), we have developed a wonderfully comfortable way of being with one another in person. 

Without social media, it would be far more difficult to be in contact and maintain relationships with my friends overseas and my family.

I feel these are fine examples of our lives being what we make of them. There is no question that people do use social media to spew vitriolic, unkind hate speak because of anger and fear, but there are as many examples of acts of loving kindness through this form. Find these people, the ones sharing their love and kindness, and share with them. Let the warmth radiate through time and space. This will create a beautiful example and legacy. I am astounded by the potential of these powerful tools of technology when they are used for well-being.

Use your social media powers for good. Use them to put forth your thoughts with as much truth and kindness as you are able. Let your ripple effect embrace others with loving kindness. Even when you disagree, try to express your opinion from a place of love and kindness. 

I find it wonderful to use these tools to come together across the world. I have met many of the people I know back in Victoria, British Columbia through social media. I use it to maintain relationships I have built with those I cannot see often because of distance or heavy travel schedules. I love to use it when I am travelling - to share my experiences with my circles. 

I know it can be used frivolously and it can be a massive time suck, but I feel it is up to me to manage that possibility.

Anyway, nothing earth-shattering or brilliant here - just my gratitude for the potential and a reminder of the gifts many of us have at our fingertips and the possibility to do good through sharing through these tools - tools which many people do not have because of poverty and accessibility. 

I am aware of the privilege of having the devices used to share with people in this way and hope that we can get technology into the hands of those who do not have it for, perhaps, through connection we can balance the scales a bit, share what we have with others and open our hearts to the ways and means of distant friends.

I am grateful to each of you who read these posts and to each of you who choose to reach out through social media with a good heart, with love and kindness. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met some of you in person, on this journey and others, and I look forward to the many relationships ahead as each one teaches me and enriches me on my path. May I be fortunate enough to bring as much to you.

In gratitude,

-Gillian Cornwall, c. September 27, 2015

Big Ben - Reminder that there is time,
time to reach out to one another with a good heart
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 25, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bridging the Gap

Sunny Afternoon - Karen's garden
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015

There are 7,6165 km (4,734.741 miles) between the city of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and Tring, Hertfordshire, UK. No matter the technology and tools at our grasp, it's a long distance. 

This is the distance I have travelled to reach the home of my cousin with whom I have felt a closeness beyond description for most of my adult life. There are so many miles but only a few years in age between Karen and I. We grew up in the same era but in a completely different area of the globe.

My cousin, Karen, at Waddesdon Manor
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015

I have come back on a kind of pilgrimage, to retrace the steps of my family, to reconnect with my beloved cousin, to walk the path of my ancestors and, perhaps, to gain an understanding of what I hold as nature and what of nurture in my make up. 

My cousin and I are daughters of sisters. One sister, Marjorie, remained in England with her husband, Edward, and raised her two children, my cousins, Nick and Karen. One sister, my mother, Eunice, emigrated to Canada with her husband, Brian after having two of their children, my brothers, Chris and Bruce, in England. My parents moved to Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada and had my youngest brother, Philip, in 1960. They moved back to England when Philip was still a babe in arms. When Phil was about a year old, they came to Canada again on the ocean liner, The Empress of Canada. Six months later, my mum gave birth to me, the fourth and last child, who was made in England and born in Canada. 

During my childhood, we travelled back to England several times - my parents having their parents and siblings here and the parent company of the business they eventually opened in Richmond Hill. We have always remained connected to this land. 

My mum's ashes are here, at Harrow on the Hill. See my article on my mum and F/O. Richard N. Foster, to gain insight into part of the reason I came back to England now. I want to further explore who my mum was before she was my mum - when she was stationed at Biggin Hill Fighter Station during the Second World War. I want to stand where she stood, to walk in her footsteps. My grandma and my Auntie Marjorie were laid to rest here.

The Church Spire at Harrow on the Hill
Dated 1047
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015

Part of my heart and soul are here, in the air, the soil and the people of this land. This is my first time back here in 32 years - since we brought my mum's ashes back from Canada. Like I said, it's a long way from my Victoria home. 

I'm sure this is all more than enough family history for you. What I really want to touch on is that despite the discomforts that travel unto itself can bring (right now my back is exploding in pain spasms) and the difficulty in adjusting to a new place - the differences in water, jet lag and ways of being and doing, there is greater comfort in being here with my cousin, Karen. I have longed for years to be back with my blood, my kin. There is nothing that can take the place of this relationship in my life. She and her daughter, Tess, are the only other women in my direct family line with whom I have an attachment. My cousin, Nick, has two daughters but I have not seen them since they were tiny. 

It means so much to me to be here and that Karen has welcomed me into her home. We are already saying the same thing at the same time. We eat the same types of foods. We are both strong advocates for human rights. We are different from each other as well. She knows more about our family history on the Jay side and I have this wonderful opportunity to learn from her. She is incredibly strong - physically and intellectually, with a phenomenal and admirable emotional intelligence. She has shown an enormous capacity to deal with difficult situations. I love her to the moon and back and admire her for all she has done in her life and for all she teaches me through the example of her life.
 My temporary home - Wigginton, near Tring
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015

I am grateful to be here, to have created this opportunity to walk in the path of my ancestors. There is so much to do and so many kind people who are inviting me into their lives and homes here. I wish I had the strength, ability and time to do it all! 

If there is something like this in your life that you have wanted to do, then do your best to find a way. I set aside a bit of money every month. I sold things I no longer needed nor wanted - books, jewelry, collectibles. I went into a bit more debt because I thought, if not now, then when? Also, I know I am privileged to take this journey. I am getting older and my body is weaker (trying to make it stronger!). We have this life and these people. Every day is a gift of possibility. Embrace it. Do what you can and go after your dreams and desires. 

I am so happy to be here in the midst of this adventure with the most beautiful woman - learning, growing, laughing and sharing with incredible people. 

This is The Art of Life.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. September 20, 2015

Me - Waddesdon Manor
Photo Credit - Karen Jay, c. September 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

In Stillness and In Motion

Gillian Cornwall, c. July 2015

Breathing, balancing on the edge of a new day, before sleep takes my hand to guide me into the dreamscape. I am the hawk, in perfect repose within the arc of two currents. My wings are spread and I hold my own while the wind blows. With a fractional tilt, I glide into a new airstream. 

Sky Diver, Oak Bay Tea Party
Gillian Cornwall, c, July 2015

From that moment of stillness, before the start of the journey, I see above me, below me, through me and around me. Whether held on the current or gliding through time, I have recognized my freedom to move through my life, just as my pen glides across the page - the motion, the words, as unique and fresh as the molten lava flowing from Hawaii - creating more world, more life, with each exhalation to the whole. 

The Big Island of Hawaii
Gillian Cornwall, c November 2006

We are blessed in our lives with the gift of life itself - a promise, a chance to do well, to pay attention, to give and to receive. May the gift of being always be enough. May we be grateful for our lives, in stillness and in motion, through tears and laughter, through joy and pain. May we love freely and without holding. 

With gratitude and love to each of you for taking the time to read my words and share your stories. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. September 13, 2015

Gliding through the currents
Garden of the Gods, Lana'i, Hawaii

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Hurt, Fear and Moving Forward

Rainbow Crosswalk
Gillian Cornwall, c. June 2015

It's me. My Voice. One Voice. 

I won't say it's "just" me because none of us are "just" anything. I am one who has stood, at times alone and at times with many, through 35 years, or more, of advocacy and activism. I say "or more" because even when I was a child I had to fight for a space to be myself rather than the person who others wanted me to be. At school, at camp, at home, at work, at play - for most of my life I have had to expend an uncommon amount of energy vying for space to be myself instead of just being and doing in the realm of what someone else sees as "normal" or fitting in. It has set me back in career and financial resource and continues to set me back. Over time, I have been labelled as a trouble maker more than a change maker. Rest assured, I would love to live without the "trouble." I'm bloody tired.

On a Thursday afternoon this past June, within the stretch of three hours, I went from a) listening to a few members of the LGBT* campus community calling me a perpetuator of violence when I spoke and cut the ribbon at a campus pride crosswalk opening to b) listening to the sound a raisin makes when you squeeze it at a mindful meditation workshop. The juxtaposition of these two events in such a short space of time does not only appeal to my sense of irony but also to my sense of how we traverse difficult encounters.

Until this post, I have not responded publicly or directly to these community members to let them know I will not carry the label they yelled at me that day. I am not "perpetuating violence." I am putting down their label: "perpetuator of violence." It does not fit who I am nor the path I have travelled.

The folks using this term indicated that painting a rainbow crosswalk on our campus is dangerous because it will lead community into the false assumption that the campus is safe for members of the LGBT* community when there is still work to be done and spaces on campus that are not safe for some. They feel the crosswalk gives a false sense of safety and will potentially leave LGBT* community members more open to acts of unexpected violence than if it were not there. For my part, I do not think that this is the case. I do not feel a rainbow crosswalk anywhere means I am safe or not safe. I don't think it reasonable to think that lines on a road could prevent violence, hate or subjugation of a people. I do think it marks an intent of advocacy, hope, and a recognition of some hard-fought battles surrounding issues of equity and work toward diversity.

There are quotes from the crosswalk protesters in this Martlet article.

It has taken me months to consider my response. I have been afraid to speak because I felt afraid, silenced and unheard by the protesters and I have been afraid of the response I might receive from them. I feel they made assumptions about me and my beliefs without knowing me, asking me or listening to what I had to say. I am tired of being afraid. I was not asked to participate in the interview or article produced by The Martlet newspaper. My speech and video of the speech are available in my blog article, Walking the Path of PRIDE.

I would like to point out that not only am I a staff member at my school, but I have been a student (non-credit), a step-parent, a volunteer and a teacher. I am a multi-faceted person and I do my best to listen, learn and help others in my community daily.

While it has been over 3 decades, I remember being 20. I remember how hurt I was and how angry that no one recognized that hurt. I remember that, sometimes, the only way I could express that fear, hurt and anger was to yell or to act out - repeating aspects of the violence to which I had been victim throughout my young life. When young voices are silenced by their families, their elementary schools, high schools and communities, they can disappear from us forever or, at times, strike out hard and fast.

I have experienced both silence and acting out in anger. I was silenced for years. Obviously, I still am at times. It's cumulative. It builds up. It erodes us. I have faced beatings while people walked by doing nothing to stop it, some staying to watch or to cheer the queer bashers. I have been sexually harassed and not spoken up because my experience was laughed at, negated, or I was told: "Oh, you know how people can be. I'm sure they didn't mean any harm." I've been pushed down and punished for the times I have stood up and spoken up. It has cost me jobs though I don't think I could ever prove it. I have been verbally, physically, sexually and emotionally abused because of my gender and sexual orientation. I certainly know that the work is not over. I am still doing the work everyday. I have been doing the work for my whole life and I will continue to do the work because I have seen the difference it makes and the cost is secondary to the path I hope to have cleared for those who come after me. I honour and respect those who forged a path ahead of me. I honour and respect myself, though, at times, that too is eroded.

We must listen to our children, celebrate their difference, their questions, their fears and their hopes and dreams. 
We cannot expect our children to be what we want them to be, what we perceive as right for them to be, or even what we perceive to be their easiest path.

For our university students, I believe we can teach skills some may never have had the opportunity to learn in their childhoods. We can teach ways of love over ways of fear and acts of kindness over acts of aggression. For if we do not make space for this in the education of our young people, who will? I believe in protest but I do not believe in unkindness or thoughtlessness as a way of bringing people together to affect positive change. I do not wish to shame anyone or say anyone should not be heard. I did everything I could to create a space for the protesters to speak on that day and they did speak. They had time at the microphone. I only knew of their desire to speak an hour before the ceremony and then made every effort to seek them out and listen to what they had to say.

I was asked to speak at the event to represent the Positive Space Network on campus - a visible network of students, faculty, staff and alumni who are working to make the University of Victoria a more welcoming and inclusive space for people of all genders and sexualities. I had the support of the PSN to speak at this event and I am proud to have done so.

We must continue to teach the history of activism, not just in Canada but worldwide, so we hear and understand the voices raised before ours, with ours and those that will follow. So much has been done toward equity, diversity and inclusion and so much remains to be done. To most people with whom I have spoken, this campus rainbow crosswalk represents that journey:
  • the difficult path so many have walked to date in order to make it better for those who have followed, 
  • where we stand individually and together in this moment, and 
  • the long view ahead at what must be accomplished. 
The work ahead must be done by everyone - equity and activism can no longer be relegated to the marginalized groups affected. We must stand together as a community and support equity and diversity with solid goals and financial and human resource. I believe in the work I do and will keep doing all I can with positive intent - despite my missteps, errors, failings and through the dissent.

Personally, I was saddened and hurt by some of the behaviour and words during that protest, by the meanness of some of it, because it has been a very long path for some of us, a lifetime's difficult journey. To be negated and to know that some of the LGBT* community activists and advocates who were there felt negated or shamed - that's unkind.

The issues mentioned at the microphone by one of the protesters were valid and many of their concerns, such as a university policy on gender, are issues I, too, have been raising since another Canadian college came out with an excellent policy.

It was the protesters lack of knowledge of who I am and the lack of knowledge of the histories of the people who were there that was inconsiderate and subsequently harmful. I feel they engaged in the very assumptions against which they rail. Not to be seen as valuable to, or worthy and knowledgeable of, the LGBT* community I have served for my entire adult life was harmful to me because I do see you, I do hear you and what you have to say has always meant something to me.

Let us light the path for one another, offer words of kindness and support to those who are on their way and let us think before we say someone is perpetuating violence without knowing the work, history and beliefs of those at whom we are yelling. I am pleased that the event has brought greater attention to LGBT* issues on campus, but I am not comfortable with the means by which it has happened.

If you are at a public institution, remember, as school starts for the fall term, it is not something separate from you, you are that place. Whether you are staff, faculty, student, alumni or larger community, it is yours. We have chosen to be part of a community and, within it, we have rights AND responsibilities. We need to know our policies and work together to change them when they no longer serve us well. We are our schools, our governments and our communities. I hope we can all learn together, within a culture of kindness and respect, to manifest change and inclusion. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. September 6, 2015.

(Note: Apologies for the portion of text in lighter grey, 
it's a default from posting on the mobile application...)

Self Portrait
Gillian Cornwall, c. June 2015

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

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