Sunday, April 24, 2016


My mother - E.A. Jay - warrior woman
Photographer unknown, likely 1943

One of the many strange symptoms arising from PTSD, and there are many, is the memory of previous traumas re-lived emotionally as though they are occurring again in this moment. One night this past week, I remembered, in full detail, the evening my mother passed away, even though she died 34 years ago in June when I was just 20 years old.

My eldest brother and I had both been visiting her - a rare occurrence as we generally took turns so we needn't be there every night. We had taken her outside to take in the late spring evening air where she likely had a cigarette. We took her to the cafeteria for a yogurt and back up to her room where we waited on the bench outside her room while the nurses readied her for bed before we came in to say goodnight.

Suddenly, one of the nurses came out and spoke calmly yet urgently, "You need to come in now. It's happening." ...Or something to that effect. I remember not understanding her. What was happening? What was all the fuss about? We were just sitting with her and chatting, even though it was difficult to understand her words because the ALS had affected her speech.

Nonetheless, we dutifully followed the nurse back into my mum's private room where I immediately gained understanding of what was happening. There she lay, struggling for breath and speaking words that sounded to me like, "Hold me up. Hold me up." Over and over and over she repeated it and so we did it. Chris and I on either side, we held her in a sitting position in her bed. Wherever she was going, she wasn't wanting to go there lying down. That wouldn't have been her style. 

We come from a long line of warriors. She was tough, my mum, tough but refined as well. Fine clothes, fine wine, a love of the arts. She was something, but that evening, she was my mum and I, her 20 year old daughter. She didn't know I was gay - well, she knew but it hadn't been discussed. It showed in her obvious disappointment in me and my lack of femininity. I felt as though I were a bear in a tutu when forced into a dress.

Chris and I, both gay - 2 children out of 4. That seemed perfect to me but not to her.

That night I felt so much anger, frustration, disbelief and terror as we telephoned overseas to tell her sister and her mother, her niece and nephew, and everyone here - "She is gone."

It was horrifying and right to be there as she passed away. Horrifying, because I was so young and I didn't know what to do or how to be. We'd been caring for her, Chris and I, for two and a half years, but I don't suppose you are never prepared - even for an inevitable death. I felt as though she didn't know me very well nor did she appear to approve of the woman I was becoming, but she did love me fiercely, the child she had brought into this world and it was right for me to be there that night, if for no other reason than that. 

I went off the rails after she died. I developed full-blown agoraphobia and was lucky enough to get into a treatment program at the very hospital in which my mum had spent her last year. It took me years and epic amounts of counselling 
to get myself back on track.

By the mid 1980s, I had already been beaten on the streets of Toronto for looking and being different, been sexually abused as a child, sexually assaulted as a young woman, harassed in my workplaces and shamed in my college - to name a few of the crimes and indignities.

The PTSD has been building as a result of these experiences. I work with good medical professionals and I have worked on and off with the same psychologist in Victoria for the past 20 years - and many before her. Sometimes I've had extended health benefits and sometimes I haven't, but I've paid thousands (not an exaggeration) in order to be a functioning and, at times, exceptional being.

It's so sad to me that all this has been triggered by a method of information sharing. I think we can do better together. We can be kind and careful with people when causing upheaval.

We are delicate beings who want to do well. Let us support each other in doing so. Let us come together in strength, diligence and the desire to care for one another. Let us move away from fear - fear of difficult conversations, fear of trusting one another, fear of everything. Let us bring all of our individual threads together to make strong cloth.

I didn't do this to myself. I have done nothing wrong to be sick like this. I am not a pariah. I deserve love and support and wellness. I am doing everything in my power to be kind and true, strong and well.  I will give these things to myself because I deserve them. I share my story here in the hope that others will feel less alone if undergoing similar experiences and because I want to be seen and heard.

I have had to be very busy while I have been laid off. There is an enormous amount to figure out and do - even answering the enquiries of the kind people who want to know what happened and what I am going to do and how I am and if I have yet done this, that and the other. Please know that I am grateful for the concern and care.

Even without the triggering of the PTSD, the entire situation is stressful and painful. With the PTSD, it has taken every ounce of my energy and strength to get up and get through each day.

I ask myself why I am writing this, sharing such personal stories: probably like everyone, I just want to know, "Can you see me? Can you hear me?" And "Does what I say mean anything to you?"  (paraphrased from Oprah)

I just want you to say "yes" to these three questions and mean it. I want you to acknowledge the path has been difficult and continues to be difficult, that I have survived and often thrived despite significant harms. Acknowledge that at every workplace I have had two jobs: the one I was hired to do and the one of fighting to get to the same starting line as everyone else because of my lack of gender and my sexual orientation. I don't need to hear "Isn't it better now?" and "I can't believe that happened!" Oh, it all happened alright and more - more that I may never mention in a public forum and, yes, it is better now (here anyway), but that does not negate the brutal history and harm done to the lesbian and gay community. 

...But could you just say this anyway: 

"Over the years, you got the short end of the stick. I've made errant assumptions and made thoughtless comments and you have been held back from opportunities because of who you are and people have isolated you because you are a woman who doesn't subscribe to gender assumptions and expectations that do not fit. I acknowledge the harm..."

I could keep going with a script, but I can't. I'm sick of, and sick from, asking for the acknowledgement that I have been treated as "less than." I know you're sick of hearing me ask for it. I just need to find a way around it. This mountain ain't moving in my lifetime. 

I can no longer take the punishments that having a voice around gender and sexual orientation have brought. I just want to do a good job in a quiet space and hope and pray I will be left alone to feel safer in my life than I have before.

It's 2016. This lesbian is stopping her fight. I need and want a quiet and peaceful life. 

I will continue to write and I will continue to post on this blog, but no more about this for now. I am weary and I need to heal.

I'm off to the ocean to watch the waves make sand of rocks upon the shore.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. April 24, 2016

Lana'i, Hawaii
Gillian Cornwall, c. December 2012

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Boadicea, The Warrior Queen - City of Westminster, England
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2015

I am re-posting an edited version of the original. It's timely and I think it is something to which we can all relate and take opportunity to re-shape in our lives. 

So, "Expectations meet Joy and Desire; now could the three of you all try to get along?"

Why the blazes am I heading down this path on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning? Well, I am heading down this path because it came to me and because I believe I can offer some peaceful thoughts on the subject.

It seems to me that expectations are kind of tied up with opinions. We have our own, which may or may not have been influenced by our parents, our history, our spouse, media and so on. We also have the expectations and opinions that come to us quite directly in the now, like missiles.

I've been thinking about the height, depth and breadth of my self-expectations and how often I place them onto others. I am ridiculous for doing this. How many times do I talk about all of us walking our own paths in our own ways? Hypocrisy! Hypocrisy! 

Oh well, I am pleased to discover this about myself. As I continue to unpack it, I realize that my high self-expectations were seeded in my childhood. My understanding of one of my parents was that it was imperative to succeed - that there was no room for accident nor failure. Accident and failure resulted in anger, discipline and those, oh so awful, looks of disappointment. How could I not carry those expectations forward into my adulthood when they were as deep in my being as grain is to oak. The wonderful thing is that when we grow up, if we take the time to look at this stuff, with or without the help of psychology professionals, we get to untie the net and make it into something that fits us now or cast it off entirely. 

We have the opportunity to re-frame expectations as goals - if we wish. We have the capacity to try, to fail, to learn and grow. We have the capacity to acknowledge the same need in those who surround us. I would guess that everyone has felt like a failure in front of someone and, I know from personal experience, it is a wonderful feeling when someone stands by you through your errors and says, "Hey, it's okay. You can do it again. I'm here and I love you whether you succeed this time or whether you need to try again." 

What is horrific is to create expectations of someone and then systematically peel away their tools and set up barriers to their success. If you are in that situation, you are best to trade in your chips and leave the table for a gamble with better odds. Some people aren't able to be direct or clear and will set you up for failure because it is the only path they can handle for themselves. Remember that this is likely not about you; rather, someone's inability to engage safely and kindly in difficult conversations. 

Try to remember, it is the path and not the destination. It is the relationships and the journey that make up the food of our lives. Whenever we reach the end of the road, do we want to be thinking, "Darn it, I wish I had done more - I wish I had at least tried"? Have fun on the journey. Don't worry too much if something breaks or fails. Just learn from it and move on. We are all perfect in our paths as long as we proceed at whatever speed and in whatever way works for us. Unless you are a surgeon ...hmm, maybe get good at it first, really good, and then try. I do not envy them their need for absolute accuracy. I am sure there are other situations and careers to which this applies - automotive brake repair perhaps?

Enjoy the journey as best you can, my peeps. I really don't know if we get another crack at this whole life thing, but I'm not much of a gambler and, lately, my body and soul are far too eroded by those who are filled with fear (including myself at times) pushing me down and holding me down to drown. 

I am resurfacing, slowly, for harm has made me weak, but arise I will, as sure as the sun to another day. There may be clouds; it may be raining, but I am still here and I will continue to rise as long as there is breath in my lungs and a beat in my heart.  Is that not enough to expect of any of us, after all?

-Gillian Cornwall, c. April 17, 2016

Nelson, atop his column, Trafalgar Square, UK
Gillian Cornwall, c. September 2016

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Go or Stay

Hawaiian Wave - Oil Pastel on Paper
approx 8 x 10
Art and Photo by Gillian Cornwall, c. 1988
Available for purchase - contact for price

For the last twenty years I have made a conscious choice to serve my employment community in the jobs I selected as the best course or career path available to me at that organization at those times of hire. I have served on 3 volunteer committees within this same employment community to further the advancement of human rights, diversity, equity, intersectionality and advocacy with the goal of making it a better and safer place for all. I am sure I have had successes and failures on this path - depending on who you ask.

This week I received my layoff notice. My position has been made redundant and my duties absorbed into other positions. 

I am a 54 year old lesbian with no gender identity: I don't buy into the social constructs of gender - I behave akin to my soul and not to societal expectations of a female-bodied person. I wear what pleases me. I do not identify with terms like lady or gentleman, but I do accept she and her as my pronouns because I am proud of and grateful for my female-sexed body (to the best of my assessment anyway, without having had tests done to check for any intersex conditions).

I have no children born of my own anatomy though I have two beautiful young adult children born of a previous partner. I consider them all to be family in addition to my blood relatives. I do not have a degree - I was traumatized during my two year post-secondary experience because of my identity and never got back to school because every day became a testament to survival, processing the loss of my mother to ALS when she was 58 and I was 20,  and paying thousands in counselling fees to improve my state from a life of physical assaults, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, discrimination, harassment and PTSD symptoms such as convulsions and night terrors. Despite all of this, I have worked to make my life and my community better. 

Anyway, that is your backgrounder for this piece. All of it has impacted my financial / employment history and present. 

I have been spending every hour since I was given the layoff notice trying to gather information from a variety of places in order to make an informed decision within a few days. It feels like being told you are worthless and then having to immediately enter a reality show like Survivor mixed with the board game, Risk, with a hint of Dragon's Den....

I have an active brain. When I have choices (and choices are usually good), I spend a considerable amount of time determining the ramifications of each possibility and how it terraces into concurrent and resultant possibilities. This is my life we are talking about here and I need to be able to make informed choices. I don't have room for error. I have been without a safe home and food before and I do not want that to happen again. 

So in the midst of reviewing my options and trying to understand the epic rodeo that is my life at this moment, I went to my home desk drawer to pull out a pad of paper to attempt to write down all of the questions I have for the union, the human resources department and questions around my own needs and desires (because those should factor in here somewhere right?) and to develop a flow chart of potential actions and the ramifications that could arise from them. 

I hadn't used this pad since last year. This is what I had written to myself on the first page on December 8, 2015:

   "There will never be anything as simple as this again. The beauty of now, having spent an evening working on my writing, now, when all that lies ahead is the prospect of quiet sleep and a reasonable sense of well-being. You have a peaceful home, you are loved by an amazing woman and you have a few good friends. This is the stuff of life, true enough.

   You have touched hearts with your writing. You have shared your truth and your love, freely as a gift. You have seen your cousin and walked on England's verdant soil again. You have gone to your homeland and gained a greater understanding of yourself.

   You are free - free to choose, to go or to stay, to engage in the very gift of your life. Do as you will; it is your life to live now."

I sat back with this, in awe. I thought, "What has changed?" I wouldn't have chosen to be laid off, made redundant or had it follow the procedures it did, but even in the course of it I am trying to help the employer, the union and others who follow do better next time. If I can not lay good ground through my example, then what lesson is my life? As I have no assets to speak of, my life example is the only inheritance I can leave to all of you. 

So I look at this piece of paper and I ask myself again, "What has changed since I wrote this?" 

I still have choice - just not the choices for which I had hoped. No one can take my writing away from me nor my voice. I still have the love of that same woman, I still have a peaceful home and I have some very good friends. I miss my cousin, Karen, and I carry her with me everywhere and in all I do. I still have my homeland and I will get there again - one way or another. I still have the beauty of now - the precipice of possibility - and I will go forward with a good heart and an informed mind, on my terms of ethics and good practice and accept what consequences may come from that. What more can I do?

If this happens to you, my advice is to step back if you can. Make sure you have supports and information. Take the situation in bite-sized pieces so you do not choke. Ask your questions and ask them again until you understand. 

I was not laid off for doing anything wrong. There was nothing disciplinary in the action. I have not been fired. There are choices. It is EXTREMELY hard to believe, but this is not a reflection of a person's worth. Each of us is unique and necessary and perfect in the universal flow. Our jobs are not our identities. 

Above all, we are beings of love and light and conduits for all of the universal energy. I tell myself this as much as anyone going through a similar circumstance. Feel sad. Feel loss. Allow yourself the space to integrate this epic change into your being. Ask for what you need. You deserve it! 

For everyone out there who is losing or has lost their livelihood (and there are hundreds of thousands of us worldwide) and struggling to maintain food, shelter and safety for themselves and those they love, my heart is with you. 

I recognize the privilege of my position as a white person in a union in a rich nation. I have taken space to work and commune on the unceded lands of the Coast and Straits Salish people on the site of an old Lekwungen village. My gratitude goes to all the people of these lands, particularly to the elders, for the stories and lessons they have shared that have helped me to walk softly on this territory and on the lands of my ancestors in England. 

As I wrote above, may we all remember: 

We are free - free to choose, to go or to stay, to engage in the very gift of our lives. Do as you will; it is your life to live now.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. April 10, 2016

 Parker Ranch Land, Near Kamuela, Big Island of Hawaii
Oil Pastel on Paper
Approx. 8x10
Photo and art by Gillian Cornwall, c. 2009
Available for purchase - Contact for price

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Tethered to Humanity

Over the Saalish Sea
Gillian Cornwall, September 2015

What balloon string attaches us to the earth?

What tethers us to the rest of humanity and keeps us from fluttering off into the ether? 

What holds us in place?
I turn out the bedroom light. 
My heart holds a dozen butterflies, struggling to haul me away from my mortal coil, 
though I have no desire to depart. 

Hold me here, 
hold me with a touch to prove my being.

Need me, please, just for a moment?

Could there be a soul longing 
to place her hand on my chest, 
to say, please, don't go?

Do we all want to be desired or needed? 
Is it that which deals our self-approval rating? 

Let me be of value. Let me be of use.

There is a place - I've been there - it's a perfection, 
a balance of freedom and responsibility. 

It is the sweet spot of life where we are filled by our giving, 
knowing that our giving fulfills a need in a fellow being. 

We are loved for our capacity to give and to receive 
and we are accepted as part of this human equation. 

May I be within the brackets, at the heart of the math?

- Gillian Cornwall, c. April 3, 2016
Originally written in October, 2015

Heavenly Blues 
Gillian Cornwall, April 2016