Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Follower of Dreams

©S. M. Gallagher 2014

Shall I start by saying that I have always been a follower of dreams, my pilgrimage beginning by a rainy day window? We long for what we don’t have; and, for me in my eleventh year on this planet earth, it was always a yearning for adventure that beckoned, alluring and unreachable. It was, alas, for a different age than my minor years. But I oh so wanted to board Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki and sail with him and his crew in their ‘Ra’ expedition to Easter Island. I knew all about it, of course, having just read the wondrous tale in my mother’s condensed version of the Reader’s Digest. Only years later would I be able to actualize this dream – somewhat – as in 2010 I visited the Norwegian museum where all the Heyerdahl boats, rafts and sundries are stored, well-preserved and treasured by a culture that venerates its explorers. 

Growing up, I quenched my thirst for adventure in stories written by my own hand and books printed by others. I suppose it’s the former, and maybe influences of the latter, that brought me to the stage where I could act out my daydreams and fantasies. Yet I was always the shy performer, turning to drug and drink when I got older to combat my horrific stage fright. After suffering the problems that come with substance abuse, I eventually gave it all up and decided to exercise my brain more academically. I don’t know if this was a mistake or a blessing, as academics tend to be pedants – both highly interesting and unwittingly dull – not to mention born grammarians who dot every ‘I’, cross all their ‘T’s’ and mind their ‘P’s’ and ‘Q’s’. Yet I had married, in the meantime, and began raising a family while rationalising that my toned down behaviour was good for the boys, if nothing else.


The dreams persisted as addictions dissipated, and my first plan of return was to study medicine, a subject I found fascinating. Yet I was no admitted scholar of maths and science and would limit my focus to nursing or nutrition, which I knew quite a lot about as a practising vegetarian. Yet a persuasive professor saved me from my plight; or, was it he who cursed me? Anyway, he cajoled me into the humanities where I obtained degrees in linguistics and secondary education. And while applying myself at school I generated income by bagging groceries and part-time modelling assignments, something I’d done in my youth. Though the glamour shoots soothed a waning ego, they also left me feeling hungry all the time. So they did not last the year before I ate donuts again - yum. I also got back into music, composing Christian songs before returning to raunchy renaissance. I had faith but I was just not saintly enough to frequent circles of the ‘perpetually nice’ too long before gagging. Only in the leaving did I feel I could breathe again and be, well, normal but not without some guilt that comes, not with spirituality, but with the institutionalised sense of wrong doing that is often mistaken for faith.

 Returning to school, I realised limitations I’d had with my
initial medical training. In looking back, a lot of it had to do with my dropping out of school early on when others were learning basics like periodic tables and calculations of protons and neutrons. Giving myself time and perhaps a refresher course could have resolved any feelings of inadequacy and doubt about being on the right degree tract. My qualms about basic education ran deep, however; especially considering how children are often taught early on. In my own case, I was tested while changing schools at the age of twelve and found to be one who would these days be brought into a gifted and talented programme. Back then I was only separated from classmates and given a slide rule to solve difficult math equations with. I was completely uninterested and ditched class whenever I could, meeting a fellow renegade by a water fountain and discussing with her more important things like the latest top ten song list on the radio. Our instructor was none too pleased when he found us, and neither were we with him. I believe that children come to school excited and motivated to learn. At some point, their passions are tempered, even dulled and turned off. Only in alternative education have I observed young people still keen on learning in school. And this is what I pursued with my first degree into graduate school: how to teach youth and keep them both excited about and engaged in the subjects they are learning. I still remember the title of my master’s thesis: ‘How to Build Foundations for Castles in the Air”, in which I discussed a need for holistically based learning without taking the ‘baby out with the bathwater’, so to speak. 

My second degree upped me to the college level, as I never
did find a permanent position in the school of my choice simply because it was a great learning environment that no other instructor wanted to leave. But leave I did, ending up teaching at a local community college, four- and six-year colleges. As my children grew older and my personal relationship split apart I ended up teaching overseas, whereby satisfying my wanderlust. 

I had fun teaching the year as a visiting professor to the University of Moscow in Russia during an economic crisis, and old lessons learnt as a teen runaway surviving on meaner streets came back into play. Though Russia was an initial culture shock, I soon grew to love the rugged land and its diverse population of peasants, intellectuals and artisans. After Russia I immigrated to the Netherlands, not being able to feel totally at home again in the States during the President Bush years. 

I also loved the two years I taught in Beijing, China, both before and after the 2006 Olympics. And because my grandfather was Irish, I spent as much time as I could getting to know the land of his father and forefathers, even working two summers for a language institute based in Dublin. What came out of this experience was an appreciation of a people whose love of music and storytelling I identified with, but whose superstitions and culpability rooted in the doctrines and dogmas of Catholicism I did not. 

These days I stick closer to home, my wanderlust appeased after travelling all over the United States, China and most of Europe. I only want to visit friends in Italy, a land whose food, art and culture I love and have yet physically experienced. I gave up performing long ago and only teach part-time and do freelance exam work for the British Council here in the Netherlands. I have written six books to date: one that is not my story but based on experiences growing up in America’s counter-culture; another that is derived from personal observations of the Russian culture about a young girl whose expatriate father has gone missing; a 3-part mystery series first set in Ireland and based on my travels; and, the last, a collection of short stories, songs & poems and travelogues. 

I’ve had a decent life with some regrets, as do we all. Yet if asked what I would do over again I could not even begin to surmise what I would change. Knowing what I know now, living the colourful life I have lived, which includes my precious children, their partners and grandchildren, how could I fathom one change of heart or deliberate act in alternate space? My only regret is not living closer to my children and my grandchild overseas. I miss old friends too, yes; some have already passed on, others have retired, and still others like me have a ways to go yet. 

If I were to leave off with a thought to carry me for the rest of my days it would simply be my own personal quote: A generation forgetting its laughter is enslaved to its own foolish despair. We're here but for a moment. Selah.

But what I really want engraved on my tombstone is cited from Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’: "My mother cried – but then a star danced and under that was I born." 

Aisling Books

Raised by a Flyboy Father

©Shers Gallagher 2014
...who could not sit still.
Over miles with him
we 'rode or bust'
to this and that highway
and some other byway
that stretched across
the Great Divide. 
He settled in the end,
back to where he started.
And I like him,
having been raised in motion,
could not sit still.
Over miles alone
I trekked
across lava rock that glistened
like jagged points of death
and Steppes that went nowhere
until they sank into the sun.
Only then,
like my father,
did I arrive with a yearning 
to come back home.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Tír na nÓg...a tale told in celebration of Saint Patrick's Day

 retold by storyteller: Shers Gallagher ©2014 
Long, long ago, in a time you could barely even think of, as it existed beyond the stars, was a land that those of Irish ancestry call Tír na nÓg – or Land of Eternal Youth. Like the Avalon of the English, it was a place beyond the edges of the map in the northwest sound.
Yet, not even the hardiest of seafarers could reach it unless they were willing to gamble an arduous voyage; or, better yet, be given safe passage by one of its elven folk. But that never happened…unless you happened to be lucky like Oisín, the handsome son of Finn McCool and his deer goddess wife. In fact, the name Oisín means ‘little deer’. And the young son of this legendary hero and goddess wife grew up to be extremely handsome. Tír na nÓg is a place of eternal youth and beauty where sickness and death do not exist. Only music, strength, life and all pleasurable pursuits come together here. Happiness lasts forever, and no one ever goes hungry or thirsty. It is the Celtic version of the Norsk Valhalla. And to get to Tír na nÓg the adventurer needs a guide.

Oisín was out hunting with his father Finn one day when Niamh, a fairy princess from the NW, happened to be in the neighbourhood and meandered onto their path. It just took one glimpse of the fair and handsome son to cause Niamh to fall hopelessly in love, and she flirted and teased. When that didn’t work, she flat out begged Oisín to come home with her. She too was beautiful to him. Yet, he hesitated with all kinds of thoughts of the here and now. It was only when his father gripped him arm, whispering that only a fool would pass up such an offer that he agreed. So, the two young people travelled off on magical horses that were able to not only tread but gallop through water.  They arrived on the breath of the wind where the Blessed Realm received them. And there Oisín was offered a life that appeared pleasantly short but was indeed indefinitely prolonged.

As it often happens, homesickness eventually set in and Oisín longed to return to his native land. He could not believe his ears when he heard from a shoemaking elf that one hundred years had passed since he’d been gone. To him it had seemed as only one. After much coaxing and cajoling, Niamh promised to take him back only if he would ride with her and remain seated on her magical horse. She warned him twice and then again not to even touch ground. If he did so, the weight of all those years would descend upon him in a flash. Oisín was no fool. He heeded his beloved’s advice till a pack of youth struggling to lift a huge stone blocking the path of a gateway asked his assistance. Being an agile rider and thinking he could aid them from atop his horse, Oisín readily agreed. He bent and lowered himself just as his foot got tangled in the stirrup and caused him to fall. Upon impact, he withered instantly into an old man.

The Catholic aside was that Oisín was able to tell Saint Patrick his story and be blessed before dying. Whether this is true or not, one thing is for sure: the life of the once handsome son of the hero McCool and deer goddess came to a swift and sad end.
Aisling Books

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Apartment to Let - Mag 207

©Shers Gallagher 2014
Who lives in places of squalor once made popular by Bohemians and beat poets?
Now I only think of druggies and prostitutes, as well as Sherlock Holmes.
The character of Holmes liked living in the midst of his personal hobby,
solving crimes like chess games:
no passion just strategy and reason.
Criminals are the black knaves and sometimes bishops, I think.
The royals end the game.
The victims, too many victims,
are always dispensable game pieces.
I thought of this, not of Sherlock and dark horses,
but of pawns
as I flew over the sprawling yet uniformed houses
that line up in rows and cul-de-sac formations.
There are too many to count and too many to care
to be individual anymore.
Yet sometimes there is hope,

just a little hope among the railings and rafters.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Running Wild and Free - in celebration of the New Year - Year of the Horse

© Shers Gallagher 2014

Running wild in an era held by airtime bandits,
I have ridden the pulse of the world
and returned to face my native soil,
a land made richer than the rest.
Peeling off skin in real time leaves scars,
and I have stored up travelling lines between my brows,
those silent creases of my journeying
that no cream can soften.
Stars and stripes are hammered into layers of homespun illusion
hanging upon the rack of my world.

I have run with horses that have left me rootless,
but no more.
As I now withstand the killer weeds
and poisoned vines that choke up truth,
which I can spit out like acid rain
that drops heavy from the sky.
I've only to wash my face
and let go of all the pretty pictures
that have deluded me,
resembling no more than the slow vehicles
that move against a hot summer’s day,
steaming engines of platitudes I no longer miss.

My father has died and I have raised another,
and a new child is born to supplant lost souls.
It seems we cancel each other out
in all our scheming and screaming.
But I turn to the dialogue of prayer,
which is enough to give away,
to let go and dissipate  
into another new generation’s dreaming.
And I embed my fading mark
as a lingering afterthought to help others grow.
I am gladdened by change
and the loving the ones who will not remember me,
the soil of my offspring.
Still, it saddens me,
the one who has tasted freedoms
its sweetness now on another’s breath
who will soon yearn as I did to run wild and free. 


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Occupancy - Mag 197

by Sherry Gallagher 2013

I feed them from my rolled down window

because it is too cold to do otherwise
and I have the notion to relieve myself 
of half the cheese occupying my bread 
- nothing more.

These gulls are known as sea rats, 
pests of sea and strand;
and, for that matter, 
so are the seals.
But who has labelled them such?
Only sailors staking a claim 
- occupying as well.

How dare the audacity, wouldn't you say?
To lay claim to common space.
And that is truly all 
- nothing more. 

Aisling Books
Mag 197

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Lilac and Musk

© Shers Gallagher November 2013

Her scent is lilac and musk 
and as purposefully lingering 
as a Parisian city on display. 
Hers is a happy soul,
an English waltz in a world of entangled Frenchness
which goes no further than a simple love of dance
led away from all the rumbas of despair.

As clouds diminish over Montmartre
she does not struggle with the stars
that perform for shadows of lightning 
and echoes of thundered applause.

It is enough, she thinks, to simply play.

Aisling Books