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The Follower of Dreams

©S. M. Gallagher 2016

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


  1. "We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it..."
    "Alcoholics Anonymous" p 83

    Girl, you have LIVED LIFE...much more than most of us. (So have I!) But I would not change one decision, choice (Well, maybe a choice word here and there--grin!) of the so-called past, because it is how I got here. Shers, your work here is appreciated, bloggers who read you here are, too!

    1. What a wonderful friendship I've made with you here, Steve. You simply delight my soul with each of your happy posts - and I so admire you for what you've gone through, your courage and accomplishments.
      I would love so much to hear someday your violin playing on one of your future posts...YouTube maybe?

  2. Shers, the story of your life is beautiful and exciting. I have also lived a roller-coaster type of life, particularly in my teens, but also my twenties, thirties and even fifties. An old friend describes me as "non continuous" and this is, I believe, the main difference between you and me. You are steadier and more determined; you respect your commitments whereas I am more volatile.
    However, we're both dreamers and I want to make one of your dreams come true: your hero Thor Heyerdahl lived in Colla Micheri, a fabulous hamlet close to where I live, and his ashes are interred in the mausoleum he built on the hilltop overlooking the sea. WHEN you come to visit us, I'll take you up there, so your eyes will see the places he loved.
    Thanks for the moving account of your life, darling, and sweet dreams, always.

    1. Oh my gosh, Dani, this is unbelievable! I'm not sure why I've all my life had such a strong link to Thor Heyerdahl and his adventures, but what you write here excites me to no end. YES - I would love, love, love to make this climb with you. WOW

  3. Now that I've met you both, what a pleasure to read your AB, Shers, and your comments, Daniela...xxxj

  4. What a nice overview of your life. You sure packed a lot in.


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