Sunday, October 30, 2016


 Glass Half Full 
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2008

One-downmanship: The art or practice of being or appearing to be at a disadvantage (Oxford Dictionary)

I thought I had coined this phrase so I was surprised to see it in the Oxford Dictionary. Once again, proof that I have a limited capacity for original thought. That aside, one-downmanship is the subject of today's article.

Why do we do it, people, why? 

Here are some of the reasons I think may be the cause:

1.  We don't want people to think we are doing well because they will stop paying attention to us and stop offering us kindness and comfort because, sadly, we don't tend to do that for one another when things are going well.

2.  We don't want people to think we are doing well because they will try to take away that which we possess, be it joy or good fortune. 

3. Habit. 

4. Any form of shame and guilt built in culture and religion.

5. A result of the "Busy as a Badge of Honour" malarkey we feed one another as a rich society where we believe the busier we say we are, the more valuable and important we must be.

6.  Additionally, if we do not appear to be busy or wrung out, we could be let go from our jobs because we do not appear to be driving ourselves into a furor in competition for the almighty dollar.  

7.  A desire to appear as disadvantaged or more disadvantaged than another as a rationalization to take up inordinate space, time and energy of others.

8.  All of the above = FEAR.

One-downmanship stems from a place of fear and a lack of acceptance of wealth of spirit, health and overall fortune. In some ways,It seems to have become unacceptable to be doing well; yet, often the reaction of others is positive if we say we are fine and disadvantageous or negative if we say we are not. Again, the person asking was likely hoping for a simple, "Fine thanks" or nothing at all as the question of well-being was merely a platitude. No-one has time or energy to hear another sad story. 

Are we so inundated with the ruinous lives of strangers that we have no time to listen to those of us in our actual day to day lives? Have we lost our compassion as a result of over-stimulus courtesy of the world wide web? Do the trials and tribulations of those closest to us feel meaningless in the face of Syria, Afghanistan, or any other place of desperate need brought to us as the most horrific story from media?

If each of us is screaming, are any of us heard?

Sometimes it appears to me that those with the most advantage in life (from an economic have and have-not perspective) are competing with those who are truly disadvantaged on multiple levels in order to keep the wealth that they have. You know, "I'm not really doing as well as it appears I am doing, because..."

It's sad. 

Sometimes, we are just not seen in our difficulty. We do not feel heard or acknowledged for old hurts that have left us physically, emotionally or intellectually disabled in some way. The only means by which we can continue to seek remediation for the wrong done is to ensure that no one sees us having a good day. 

How do we find our way out of this state?

Practice, that's how. Look for wee joys in life and stand in the peace of those moments. Accept that you are worthy of well-being. 

If you feel guilty for having an easier life than another, use that energy to quietly do something for that person - perhaps without even letting them know. I find that giving to another when I am in hardship is one surefire way to lighten my footprint on this earth and brighten my path. 

You needn't flip to the far side by becoming the reigning champion of one-upmanship, but allow yourself to feel good, rested and content when you do feel so. Restore and give of yourself as you are able to do so with good heart. 

Someone once said that we owe our greatest debt to joy. ...We certainly do not owe it to misery.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. October 30, 2016

This week's post is dedicated to one of the best people 
I have the good fortune of knowing 
- who makes me a better, kinder, more honest me: Tams.
You lift me up and I am grateful.

Fernwood, bench wisdom
G. Cornwall, February 2012

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Inside the cave
Shark Cove - Lana'i, Hawaii
Ink Drawing by Gillian Cornwall
4"x 6" - $50

...And my soul said, "Let there be art"
...And behold, there was art.

It was everywhere. Nature made it and I translated her beauty through my perception. My very being spoke through my hand and heart and rendered words into poetry, fiction, non-fiction, pen and ink, oil pastel, watercolour pencil drawings and three dimensional sculpture. I was moved to sing and to dance and to play an instrument. I sought out the places where the greatest of all of these pursuits were housed and I sat among friends and made crafts. 

All of it - I wanted all of it. I do it because I must in order to be whole and alive. 

When I was young, I had no external push to create; although, I was exceedingly fortunate in my exposure to the arts,including: consumption of the culinary arts from all over the world to ballet and symphony, popular music concerts, art galleries and education in the arts. It was clearly stated that it would not have been a course by which to achieve employment - my parents said so. I was raised to obey. Now, I sit here, without a permanent job at 54 as a result of lay off and I am still writing, drawing, singing and dancing and laughing at myself for my stint as a stand up comedian.

The point is, I likely could have made a career of it - I loved it enough and worked hard enough at it, but, no, I was told I must take on a career to support myself. Wise advise on the one hand while lacking in support of my abilities and passion on the other. 

This week, my brilliant cousin pointed me in the direction of this article, The Third Self,  by Mary Oliver on the Brain Pickings blog by Maria Popova - winner in the blogger category at the 7th annual Shorty Awards.

In her essay, Mary Oliver states:

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

When I read this, I thought to myself, "You bloody idiot, Gillian. Why did you believe anyone? Why did you not just go to school for it and do it?"

While I let my counselor help me with those questions now, I will say, indeed, I did give it power and time. Would the amount of time ever have felt like enough? I doubt it. The point is, I have improved, I have studied, I have read, I have performed. Hell, I have even sold my art and published a few bits of writing. What does success look like? There is also my blog. I am damn proud of the engagement I have with all of you over the years. There is my novel which is now in its second draft and must be handed over to someone to read at some point ...particularly, if I would like to have it published ...and I would very much like to have it published.

I create because I don't know how to not create. I would not be me if I did not create. We all create. Each of us does it in small ways daily, even if those creations never reach fruition on page or into voice - our imaginations are unstoppable - percolating and pumping - completely out of our control. 

To each person who participates in the arts through reading books, going to the ballet or concerts, attending gallery openings and purchasing the works of artists of all kinds: You are essential to the equation of growth in the lives of both the artist and yourself. Creation is meant to elicit response - from boos and balks to cheers and bravas. I grow as an artist by attending the arts of others, from reading books and attending performance and shows. 

I keep saying, "The point is..." and you are probably wondering, "Really, what is your bloody point?"

Soooo, the point is:

Creation is essential.
Do it.

Allow yourself the beauty and pleasure of a doodle or a line of verse. Do it for you because no-one will create what you have created. Do it because it feels good. Rip it up after if you need to do so. Take a photo today on your way to get groceries or on your way home from work. Stop. Look. Listen. Smell. Touch. Feel yourself in a moment and see what comes to you. 

The rarity of stopping has dulled our senses to the beauty of the heaven in which we live. For a moment, put down your phone and look around. Rest and feel. In the brilliant words of Nana Veary, "Seek to enjoy; not to possess." Time will speed as you age. Do not let your youth slip away unnoticed. 

Presence is the first step in creation. The universal flow of energy, when allowed to pass through you without impediment, will lead your imagination to lands beyond your day to day world. This is how creators create. At least, it is the way in which I begin to create. Sometimes, I have no idea from where the work has had its well-spring. I look down at the page of my novel and think, "Wow - who thought of this?" The same can occur when I am in the zone with a drawing. It's magic; yet, as simple as a breath - which is also quite magical when you think about it. 

Allow the magic of your very existence take you on unfathomable adventures. This is your life to create. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. October 23, 2016

North Shore of Maui and West Maui Mountains
Oil pastel and mineral oil on watercolour paper 
Approx. 8"x 10" - $100
Rendered by Gillian Cornwall

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Spare Change?

The Golden Heart
G. Cornwall, c. 2015

Change? I have a great deal of it and I would have been pleased to have been spared most of it lately. I am not talking post-pub pocket shrapnel here, folks. I mean change, as in: change of job, change of life, change of, well, it feels like just about everything and, like it says in Dylan Thomas' villanelle, "Do not go gentle into that good night", I have not been gentle through much of this life-quake since it began.

The "change of life" aka menopause, came before my change of employment status. I was not fond of having a period - that part is two thumbs up in my books. I am fond of the autonomy I feel as a whole human - I need no-one to complete me.

I am not fond of growing a beard or the incessant hot flashes and sweats which make me look like a junkie coming off of heroin at the most inopportune times, such as business meetings. I am not fond of the near forty pounds I gained nor the horrific effects of gravity. I am not fond of the physical pain and weakness I am fighting off to the best of my ability. I really dislike the way some people do not talk about women's health issues, such as menopause, because some men maybe offended by us having female bodies that bleed and change and do not serve them. 

Women. We do it all. We work, raise our children and serve our families: parents, grandparents, siblings and children. The expectation remains that we will do it all with a certain gentility, obedience and gratitude for our place in the world. We are not expected to stop, rest, be celebrated or revered as the bringers of life and the hand that holds as our kin go, or do not go, gently into that good night...

In April of this year, I was laid off from my position after twenty years of service. I am fifty-four years old.

I have been working since I was about fourteen years old. I was glad of it as it got me out of a household that was, at times, worn and hostile. I started working full-time at nineteen and, with the exception of a couple of bouts of severe illness - once with agoraphobia and once with ulcers and food poisoning at the same time (I would not wish any of these on my most bitter foes) - I have been working ever since. 

Being laid off is as though someone has torn off my front door. My job, my living, is the only thing that gives me a sense of safety from the world outside, from the next assault, the next aggression, the next shaming based on the simple fact of my existence, my identity. It's all I can focus on. My health has been impacted, as well as my lifestyle and my relationships. 

Growing up lesbian was not good for me. This country (and many around the world) allow the abominable oppression, persecution and abuse to happen legally. There has been no apology from my government. No-one cares enough to do anything about the thousands and thousands of lives that were damaged and destroyed by an absence of inclusion in basic human rights for lesbians and gays. Where is the acknowledgement and where are the supports for those who cleared the path for change at the expense of their own comfort and safety? When might I receive my restitution? 

I am aware of the privilege of my race and my economic standing when compared to the world overall or compared to anyone who has been pushed under because of their difference from the white, patriarchal, colonialist monster.  

I am grateful to all of those who have held me up and stood by me to the best of their ability throughout the periods of hardship in my life. I am grateful for each moment of joy and laughter and inclusion I have experienced. I am grateful for the work I have right now and the people with whom I am working - for the huge opportunity I have to learn and do well. 

I am apologetic to those who have stood by me and listened and struggled alongside me, particularly to those of you who have born witness to my fear as so much of my sense of safety blew away in a gust of wind. I'm sorry you saw the worst of me and I hope you will not carry it. 

I am hopeful that I will have more life in which to do better, to share in ways that pull the threads of our lives together to make strong and beautiful cloth. I do hope that the light of truth will shine in social media, when all is not rosy and perfect, as it serves to let others know that they are not alone. We all have good times and bad and we have some sprinkles of light in the darkness and people blocking our light out of their own fear at times. 

To everyone, try to stay here as long as you can for the world is a heaven for us if we look for one star, a point of light in the darkness we all feel at times. Find solace in a leaf dancing earthward from the safety of its branch and think of yourself so. Let your dance across this earth light the way for your brothers and sisters. This concept of good or bad, it can be a matter of perspective. 

Change? It's all we have. It's the only consistent thing. So spare your change; share your change, however it appears to you. Together we are stronger. 

Thanks for reading. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. October 16, 2016

G. Cornwall, c. 2013

Sunday, October 09, 2016


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. I am posting this again because I think it useful for each of us. I re-read it and it offers me many sentient reminders about how I go about my life with others. 

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 they 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. October 9, 2016
Re-posted from c. July 19, 2015


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

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Simple Ways

 Greenfields, near Stow on the Wold, UK
Gillian Cornwall, September, 2015.

It's as simple as the way a line of trees, or a stone wall, separates two fields along a rolling, verdant landscape where, midway up a rise, the line is accentuated by a perfectly shaped English oak caught in one's sites for a perfect moment as one rolls past on the train, delighting in a field dotted with a hundred head of sheep, white clouds of wool upon verdant pasture. 

The scene is redolent of our centuries old, British wool industry, steeped in tradition (and urine - read on); back to medieval times, when it was big business. The wool business was in place long before the industrial revolution and machinery that toiled with people controlling the machinery, instead of people toiling directly - like the poor Fuller whose job it was to place the wool in a barrel of stale urine and to spend all day trampling on the wool to produce softer cloth. Not fresh pee, mind you, it had to be stale.... who figured that out?... A reminder of harder, but more simple times when need equaled make, find, do or do without. When I say simpler, it is not that I think the life of someone who trampled urine-soaked wool all day was easy, rather that the line between need and resource was less convoluted.

Perhaps this is what it is all about for me: a reminder of a time when our struggles were focused on the basic needs of living.

After a month back in my ancestral home of England last year, I came back to this place, this Canada, this land which was stolen by my European ancestors, this land on which I have lived my life. I have worked here and made it my home. Six months ago I was laid off from what I thought was a secure job of twenty years. 

For a long time I have been focusing on the way I live my life and how I can make it easier and better but that breed of ease has changed these past six months. It has been replaced with thoughts of bridging the gap between need and attainment with fewer conductors and referees in the way and more certain footing while working to keep my ship afloat. I must focus again on the toil and the desired result: keeping a door between me and the bedlam of society.

Above all, I wish for time and simplicity: the right to stop and enjoy the beauty of the earth - to nurture it so it is not destroyed through greed and a perceived shorter path to simplicity for those who wield the most money and the most perceived power - razing all that stands in their way as they stuff the fruits of the world down their insatiable, selfish gobs.

I have been without a safe home in my distant past. It was embarrassing and hard and I kept it hidden from my friends for quite some time. I am too past my prime to deal with that nonsense again.

I cope with the fear of being homeless through memories of my homeland: the simple line between two fields, two fields that have remained the same since anyone can remember - something preserved, that I hope won't change with a gust of the wind or the swipe of a power-hungry, selfish, fear-filled, political ogre ... Because that bad experience would "Trump" most of the others... Couldn't help myself there - sorry. 

I miss those fields and the villages, where people still know one another and maybe even care for one another. I know I am creating an unrealistic picture in my mind, but it is what I need to do right now. I need to believe that somewhere on this earth, we are doing better at stopping to care for one another and light the way for one another when darkness prevails. 

Mostly, I miss my cousin and I am eternally grateful to her for the loving care she gave me while with her. She restored my health and my faith in the loving care we can share with one another. I have never in my life been so safe or well taken care of as I was with her for that month. It healed me and restored me. I hope she gives me opportunity to give that gift to her one day! 

The thing is, if we all care for one another - it could be okay. If I, if all of us, could just let go of our fear in the guise of safety, if we rediscover and trust our instincts, we may learn to do as well as the wild creatures of the Earth who have retained their instinct, their connection to the universe, without question or thought. They simply know - because they allow themselves to do so. They are directly involved in the equation of their needs as it relates to their fulfillment - individually and as groups. The only thing that has tampered with their well-being is humanity.

We humans have lost the plot and unless we start to pay attention from our hearts, from our very cellular network that connects us to all, well, quite frankly, we are hopping into the toilet and reaching for the flush. Does a flush trump a Trump?

Have a great week. I send you love and peaceful wishes for simplicity. Thanks for taking the time and patience to read this through the flu haze in which it was written....

Gillian Cornwall, c. October 2, 2016

Dedicated to my cousin, in gratitude and admiration.
I love you, Kaz!

Sheep - Wigginton, Herts, UK
Gillian Cornwall, c. October 2015