Arts and lifestyle writer and editor
Welcome to this week’s edition of Sifting, shifting, and lifting . . . a weekly column in which I ask clever, curious, compassionate people my three favourite questions.
Today, I am introducing you to Rachel Gallaher, who I met several years ago at Hedgebrook. (I meet a lot of good people there, including last week’s guest, Dr. Kristy Leissle.) Rachel has logged a lot of hours (and air miles) researching, writing, and editing for high-end magazines. She also is a wildly gifted creative writer and I hope to see her books gracing bookshop shelves one day soon.
Ready? Meet Rachel.
Rachel Gallaher is an arts and lifestyle writer and editor living in Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in the following publications: City Arts, Seattle Bride, Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Kinfolk, Surface, Seattle Times, Alaska Airlines' Beyond, University of Washington magazine, and the award-winning GRAY (where she is currently Deputy Editor). She is also a major theatre and dance critic in Seattle, writing hundreds of reviews of local, national, and international performing arts companies.
In 2008 Rachel won the Nature of Words Rising Star Creative Writing Competition in the ages 19-25 Fiction category for her story "The Circus." She has received scholarships to retreats through the prestigious Hedgebrook organization, and has two poems published in the 2008 and 2009 editions of the University of Washington's InterSECTIONS interdisciplinary journal. She is also a recipient of the 2015 Folio Magazine 30 Under 30 Award and received the Honorable Mention award in the Arts & Entertainment category of the Society for Features Journalism 2020 Excellence in Features awards for her 2019 cover story “A Modern Medici.”
Rachel’s story “Voice of Resistance,” won the first-place prize in the Society of Professional Journalists Region 10 Excellence in Journalism contest in the category of Magazines: Arts & Culture.
What issue engages your head, heart, and hands now?
Autumn is always an interesting, transitional time for me. It’s my favourite season, but it can also leave me feeling down and tired as the days get shorter and darkness comes earlier each week. I am turning 35 next month, and in some ways, it feels like I am ‘behind’ many of my peers who are married, own houses, and having children—all of those things that are ‘expected’ by the time you reach this age. In other ways, I know that I am achieving great things and fortunate to have a career doing what I love (writing).
I have been thinking a lot about what I call the head/heart divide: knowing something intellectually (how dangerous it is to start playing the comparison game when we’re all living in this patriarchal, success-focused societal framework that doesn’t serve a lot of people anyway) and feeling something emotionally (envy that I haven’t hit these so-called landmarks). Jealousy is something that people don’t talk about a lot—it’s framed as a shameful or childish trait. But it’s there on the gamut ofemotions that everyone feels, right next to sadness or joy—and it’s just as valid of an emotion (as long as it doesn’t lead to destructive, vindictive, or dangerous behavior). It’s okay to take time to sit with it and process it rather than just flagging it as ‘bad’ and trying to push it away. I’ve been trying to dig further into my experiences with jealousy through writing, journaling, and having conversations around it. I haven’t had any major revelations yet, but I am convinced that having discussions around things that scare us or experiences that we feel alone in is incredibly important. It can remind us that we’re part of something greater than ourselves and that even though we might feel it at times, that we are, in fact, never alone.
I know that I am right where I am supposed to be in life, but also that comparison is only human—learning to be gentle and forgiving with myself in those moments is the greatest gift I can give myself.
Friends, like Rachel, I believe it is important to talk (or write) about ‘things that scare us or experiences that we feel alone.’ I’d love to hear your thoughts. (But first, read on.)
What artists or works of art have had a profound impact on how you see the world and your place in it?
During university, I was obsessed with the Russian greats (Tolstoy, Nabokov, Dostoyevsky), and I will always credit them with inspiring within me a true, deep love of literature and complicated, layered storylines. Nabokov knows how to stir up emotion in his readers—I’m a fairly stoic reader, but there is a scene in Pnin where an object that is very important to the main character is broken, and I always tear up when I read that scene. Nabokov is also the master of symbols. Once you learn more about him you realize that when squirrels or butterflies (or any number of items) appear in his work, that it means something deeper than just being a descriptive detail.
I didn’t pick up Elena Ferrante’s work until I was in my mid-30s but reading My Brilliant Friend (and the three books that follow it to make up her Neapolitan Quartet) was a revelation. Never had I come across such a rich and vivid, and most importantly, accurate, depiction of female friendship in all its ebbs and flows, the highs and lows—the competition and support. It was that feeling of, ‘here it is, this, this is what I’ve experienced, and other people are experiencing it too!’ The gorgeous poetry of her prose, the deep layers of emotion and psychological exploration—it truly is a must-read work that is relatable in so many ways.
Lastly, journalist Ariel Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, is a book for the precocious, motivated girls out there who have been told they are ‘too much’ or ‘too ambitious’ or ‘too threatening.’ Levy, who was working at The New Yorker by the time she was in her 30s, built an unconventional life and charged forward with her passions and convictions—and was forced to watch as it all came crumbling down around her. Her ensuing resilience is inspiring, and her deep dive into her own life to investigate the women who ‘want it all’ is as relevant today as it has always been.
Friends, have you read any of these books. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
There are so many good organizations working to transform our world through compassionate action. Who would you like to lift up?
So many people adopted pets during the pandemic, and now as they transition back into their busy lives, return to the office, etc., quite a few animals are being ‘returned’ or given up as people realize how much work it is to add a pet to a non-quarantine lifestyle.
I would like to lift up the Washington Area Humane Society, which has a no-kill shelter, regular adoptions, a fostering program, and low-cost veterinary services including spaying and neutering. The organization takes in more than 1,000 animals (and investigates more than 300 abuse cases) each year and it is 100% funded by private contributions and donations—any little bit helps. From cats and dogs to rabbits and guinea pigs, all animals are smart, emotionally intelligent, and just want to be loved (and love you back!). It’s traumatizing and confusing for them to be shuffled around from place to place throughout their lives.
The good folks at WAHS (and other no-kill shelters in the area) do all they can to comfort, protect, and rehome these little guys. I would encourage anyone who wants a pet to first think if they can really take in a pet (do they have the time, money, energy, space, patience), and if so, to consider adoption as their first source. Fostering a dog or cat for a few weeks is also a good option and can give you an idea of what it might be like to make a permanent four-legged addition to your home.
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