The Structure of Values

patchwork blanket handpainted, 1990, wool flannel

patchwork blanket handpainted, 1990, wool flannel

I am using my diagnosis of PPMS+ to move me from previously unconscious places in myself toward authentic living.

This manner of healing has proven to provide more positive results than any pill or injection the medical field has offered as yet.

The theme these days seems to be values.

What I am noticing is the fact I have taken on so many familial and cultural values that do not seem to match up well with my own.

I have tried to BE GOOD, BELONG, BECOME.

Is it any wonder my body is behaving in confused and weakened ways and is attacking itself in autoimmunity?

Lately, I feel a chasm between the island I am leaving behind populated by the characters and sets and costumes and missives revered by one species,

And the whispered promise of the sage on the beach slightly beyond my reach, singing me home.

I guess I’ve awhile yet to weather the ocean swells with parched lips and the company of manta rays..

The truth of it is: this place of BETWEEN is raw but not without solace.

As I lean over the side of my small but sturdy boat I see the glimmer below of the white sand and the clear turquoise water that tell me soon I can leave this craft behind and trust that when I jump out of the boat, my feet will find solid ground.

And I will move forward in whatever manner my body will allow.

But I know my breath will reach down into my stomach,

Without the constant catch it now has in my chest.

We Shall Overcome. Or Not.

"SUMMIT", 1996, 14" x 14" x 4", m/m

"SUMMIT", 1996, 14" x 14" x 4", m/m

I watched this great film about the explorer ERNEST SHACKELTON.

It’s one of those fabulous IMAX films meant to be seen in a cavernous half-round giant theater.

But the effect on me just watching it in my living room was enough to set me straight for a long while.

The guy was an honorable explorer.

He wanted to do the Antarctic.

Posted an ad saying he wanted volunteers to explore unknown lands. Frostbite likely. Return uncertain.

Something like 2000 guys responded.

He chose a few and left.

Their ship was caught in an icy sea for months.

He left in a little boat with two other guys and somehow navigated through hurricanes and such and reached the ONLY little whaling village within thousands of miles.

The boat broke down all the way across the island from where the people were.

These guys then hiked w/ nails from the boat attached to their shoes across frigid godforsaken land till the actually reached their destination.

And everybody was saved.

Now why did I insist on telling you all that?

Because, if you are like me, self pity makes a place at the table whether we like it or not.

Watch this film and remember what we are capable of..

Steep yourself in the miracle of human perseverance.

Or just watch the pretty ice.

She Eats

"ROCK", 30" x 30", 1996, m/m

"ROCK", 30" x 30", 1996, m/m

Maya Angelou, who is a heroine of mine, shows someone the door in her home if she thinks they are practicing false modesty.

I have always remembered reading that as it so goes against what I was taught.

We were always encouraged to lead with humility and never play any kind of ‘one-upsmanship.’

As I think about this, it’s more than likely a girl-thing.

I bring this up as I noticed that yesterday, sitting at a gorgeous Thanksgiving table, I hesitated to eat the last bite.

Somewhere along the line it was suggested by my parents that it was good manners to leave the last bite of food on your plate.

I wondered, yesterday, at that custom.

WHY would it be good to leave the last bite?

I decided that it signified that we were not too needy.

We had plenty! We were blessed! We were not hungry enough to have to scrape the plate.

Well, yesterday I found myself among old and new friends I felt safe with and LO and BEHOLD!.. when asked if I wanted more of anything, I said EVERYTHING!!!

I actually laughed and blushed at the gaul of it..

The woman seated next to me says: “Modest girl..” out of the corner of her mouth…

I ate two full plates of the most divine food you could imagine.

I reveled in the hedonistic pleasure of being hungry and eating without shame or care.

I see that I have an undernourished part of me that continually behaves with cultural expectations plastered onto me as a child.

A continual ‘taking a few steps back’ so everyone gets their due.

Only then can I satisfy myself.  And by that time there is likely not enough .

Today, realizing that bit of history which does nothing to allow a thriving existence, I PUT IT DOWN.

Funny, these historical madnesses we follow with foggy unconsciousness until we’ve enough of ‘the real girl’ available to make a different choice altogether.

SHE EATS!!!!!!!!!

Thanksgiving

"UNTITLED", 2000, 11" x 11" x 4", m/m

"UNTITLED", 2000, 11" x 11" x 4", m/m

I keep thinking about my sister telling me recently that she saw me as resilient.

And how that one bit of reflection has meant so much to me.

I have always cared deeply about making my life some sort of contribution to others.

Taking care to acknowledge people along my path when they move me in their beauty or magnificent ordinariness, even.

This Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for the gift of my existence.

I am going to spend the day and hopefully beyond steeped in the richness, both grand and gritty, of BEING.

I’m not going to ‘make nice’ and wax on about beautiful sunsets and accomplishments in life.

For this day, I am grateful for the mystery and unpredictability and sorrow and forgiveness and brokenness and peace and the very tidal approach and retreat of life itself.

I woke up this morning and the tide was out.

As I write this post, it creeps back in.

I AM resilient, as my sister says..

Because I am in love with the movement of life.

When I can put myself aside as the central and most interesting character, the rhythm of the thing intoxicates me.

And I move…

We

"ONE BLUE SQUARE", 5' x 5', 1991, m/m

"ONE BLUE SQUARE", 5' x 5', 1991, m/m

I am spending my mornings in silence.

No radio and I don’t have TV.

I leave the CD’s in their sleeve and stretch for awhile.

When I eventually get here, to the computer, I’ve often got the thread of something that wants said.

But today… I’m sitting here just looking out the window at all the homes down the hill.

They all have lives just like me; full to the brim with angst and beauty and satisfaction and not.

Their worlds all revolve around the central character- themselves.

The drama gets intense I’m sure, as it does for me.

I’m pretty sure there are a lot of dogs out there rolling over to have their stomach rubbed as mine does.

When the holidays roll in, I usually have these thoughts of belonging to the vastness of the human race and being intrigued by our similarities and differences,

AND..

feeling somewhat like an alien peeping Tomasita peeking into windows filled with the theater of families being together in easy and festive ways.

But my experience is made all the richer in this season we are entering by lending one eye toward the joy in seeing humans be together, love one another, appreciate the OTHER..

..and lend the other eye toward the SILENCE which seems to be the template that everything else springs from..

It makes me feel very whole and connected to keep my attention in both places, oddly enough.

Push

push

This sculpture is 5′ tall.

I created it by slowly building up the walls in clay and using my thumb to press from the inside of the piece outwards and stopped pushing just as the clay was about to break through.

Something about this process was really satisfying as I did it.

Most of my attention was on the interior of the piece as I worked.

I wasn’t caring too much about the exterior.

The action of coming from the inside and pressing the clay almost to the breaking point left a really lively and raw surface I like very much.

The shape made it’s own way.

It seems uncontrolled and I like that, too.

I kept this piece for my own collection because I thought it had something to teach me.

Something about not caring too much about outer presentation and centering my attention on the ‘inside job.’

The innocent kind of beauty that seems to happen when I concentrate on my own container and keep my attention out of other peoples’ business is the kind of beauty I want more of.

Musical Chairs

hand-painted upholstery fabric, wool flannel, 1984

hand-painted upholstery fabric, wool flannel, 1984

During my recent trip to Colorado, I was diagnosed with late stage LYMES DISEASE.

I’ll write more about this later but it was a bit of a thing to wrap my arms around.

After some musing about this new development, I have a few thoughts:

Multiple Sclerosis seems really to be a ‘catch-all’ diagnosis for a bunch of chronic neurological expressions that fall into similar groups; lesions discovered on the brain and spinal cord, either progressive or episodic spasms, weakness, fatigue, eye symptoms, bowl and bladder changes etc, etc…

When I visited the MAYO Clinic a few months back after many thousands of dollars of diagnostics, what they left me with was one sentence: “You have PRIMARY PROGRESSIVE MS and we have nothing to help you.”

In this post today, I wanted to open the floodgates a bit; my own and ours collectively.

What does one do? Who do we trust? Where do we go to collect information regarding our well-being when there clearly is some sort of epidemic presenting itself looking like MS and Parkinson’s and Lyme’s and Lupus and all the other autoimmune illnesses popping their heads up faster than we can name them?

I don’t have all the answers to be sure.

I have questions.

All this confusion surrounding diagnosis and treatment possibilities is soulfully stressful and financially taxing.

It all keeps pointing me back inside myself.

I want so much to BELIEVE those who have spent their lives in the quest for KNOWING.

But I am unwilling to lay my life down in unquestioning acquiescence when there is so very much uncertainty on the wind.

We are all so good at posing with all our cool cowboy gear; guns and chaps and big hats at mysterious tilts and arms crossed as we defiantly say: I KNOW!

I, myself, DONT know.

And that right there, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’ve got for today.

Birds

silk neckties, handpainted, 1980

silk neckties, handpainted, 1980

“AS YOU PROCEED THROUGH LIFE, FOLLOWING YOUR OWN PATH, BIRDS WILL SHIT ON YOU.

DON’T BOTHER TO BRUSH IT OFF.”

-Joseph Campbell

I was thinking about my father the other day. He had a corporate job at General Motors.

He was an alcoholic.

Didn’t really know how to parent that well.

I don’t really know too many things that I’m sure he loved.. (He died when he was 51).

Nature was a solace to him. Working with his hands creating things in his workshop.

He tried so hard to be something he wasn’t.

And drank away the sorrow and confusion and disappointment.

I get it but what a waste.

That whole 50’s thing of the American Dream.

It seems we’re ALL over that one but what’s next for us?

These days I feel like I have zero energy to dust myself off after those birds have shit on me.

It would mean doing the laundry and folding it and walking into the closet and grabbing hangars and hanging clothes back up and picking out new and clean ones that go together that don’t have buttons or ties and don’t look too worn or out-of-date and sitting down on the bed and picking my right leg up with two hands to put the sock on but dropping the leg and picking it up…

You get the idea..

The point of this being that I have a weird preference in my mind and feel grateful for the hard work it takes me just to barely function in a way that lets me make some sort of authentic contribution like this blog.

The key word here is AUTHENTIC.

Yes, the birds shit on me like everyone else on the planet.

I guess the difference is that what I carry left by the birds is visible to everyone I come in contact with.

Do I long for the luxury and elan of a stretch limo to whisk me away in it’s sleek blackness and drop me surreptitiously backstage so I don’t dirty my Armani gown in greasy puddles left after a rain?

Funny… no I don’t.

I love my life because I haven’t the energy anymore to go after ANYTHING that is not authentic to me.

It’s a new girl on the block.

Perfectly imperfect.

I wrote that and my insides go: “YEAH, right…..”

The real girl is a work in progress but I think she’s headed in the right direction.

Extreme Kindness

untitled, 2001, ceramic, 5" x 2"

untitled, 2001, ceramic, 5" x 2"

In my support group the other day people were ranting about various tales of the unconsciousness and often downright cruelty they had experienced as disabled people.

Thankfully, that has not been my experience but I know that being confronted with raw disability face to face triggers able-bodied people in many ways.

In our culture there are not too many places where people can feel really SAFE helping a person less fortunate.

We see the scariness of homeless people in their life-weary vacant faces, filth and disconnect.

There are veterans peaceably holding cardboard signs blessing us and asking for our help.

Because humans are the most untrustable species on our planet, we shy away from extending our hand to those less fortunate in fear of something weird happening in the exchange.

It is easier; more sanitized to send a check to a favorite charity.

As I make my way through my days, I see the utter pleasure and relief in people’s faces and demeanor as I look them in the eye, smile and say thank you for the kindness of an opened door or a watchful eye as I maneuver a wet floor.

I see that people WANT TO HELP.

It seems to bring a particular pleasure and palpable relief for someone to see me with my walker; someone not scary looking.. in fact, quite like them! The softness and extreme kindness offered is a treasured gift for us both and not soon forgotten.

Such a little thing, this kindness connection. Clearly it takes the openness to extend it AND to receive.

Fallout

textile design, silk, 1986

textile design, silk, 1986

My entire night last night was a battle in my sleep.

It seemed that everything I’ve left undone, said I would do and didn’t, disappointment I caused in a friend or family was up for review.

I was keenly aware that people probably feel they have to walk on eggshells around me.

They might feel there’s no room to be angry with me or make their true feelings known because I have MS and they think that should be enough and don’t want to load me up with more stress.

It’s something I have felt with others so I’m just aware the possibility exists here, with me.

I could easily go into shame about all the life left undone here.

In fact, I almost titled this post SHAME but thought better.

Living alone like I do has it’s positive points to be sure.

But it also contains the danger of leading a secret life.

I don’t have a partner to hold me accountable.

If I am too tired to do the dishes, I often don’t.. only to be ‘found out’ by an unexpected visitor.

My life has an odd flow to it.

I am often so tired that I don’t / can’t care about the life I’ve left undone.

That is a state I would wish on no one.

I awoke this morning wanting to make amends to all the friends and family who are on the other side of this illness and have to deal with broken promises, irritability, non-count-on-able me.

I am so very sorry for the fallout.

What Do You Do?

"THE WAY", 6' x 5',  1997, m/m

"THE WAY", 6' x 5', 1997, m/m

My support group met yesterday.

I so admire these people.

They are gorgeous ‘warriors-in-life’.

I asked them to share what practical (or not) things did they do on days when they are too tired or sad or frustrated or angry or weak or WHATEVER to perhaps get back closer to center and reengage with the world? (Or even take a shower)

It was such an honest and human conversation.

“I stay in bed until it passes, however long it takes.”

“I give myself anything I want.. I mean ANYTHING. Films all day, sleep, whatever. ”

“I keep phones all over the house especially on the floor in case I fall.”

“I have a few good friends who can deal with my changes.”

“I keep myself REALLY hydrated and take trace minerals which seem to help.”

“If I find I am getting really frustrated trying to transfer into the shower or some other task, I STOP. I breathe and realize the stress I am causing myself is not helping me. I relax and try again.”

“I spend quality time with my dog.”

“I take care of the little person in me who is freaking out and try to calm her down.”

“If I fall in a place when I am alone and can’t get up, I call 911. I ALWAYS have my cell phone near me. ALWAYS.”

These are the voices of heros.

We are no different than anyone else except our challenges are VERY close to home and are guests who never leave.

And this relentless knocking on our door is the thing that makes it very necessary to pull in, sit/lie down and regroup.

And unless we do the rest/pause thing as a part of our normal day; ‘IT’ will do it for us.

Holidays

untitled, monoprint, 22" x 30", 1995

untitled, monoprint, 22" x 30", 1995

Each year as the holidays approach, I am keenly aware I host two Cathy’s in me.

One is eager to decorate and celebrate the season with friends and fragrance and white lights and sumptuous food and singing Christmas carols by myself in the car.

The other girl is pretty monastic or pagan or someone OTHER than the above.

Last night I fell asleep dreaming of a private holiday season spent in beauty but silently and softly just NOTICING the season instead of adding any further hoopla to it.

Silence and space are my greatest healing agents these days.

But then there’s that OTHER girl who wants to ride around with friends and look at lights and spend time wrapping packages with love and opening the door to my neighbors as they present me with homemade cookies and fudge in a pretty tin.

The Native American dances are on the wind.

I think this year, I will keep Nature VERY close as they have done.

Reduce the center-splitting temptation to fill in EVERY empty place with SOMEthing.

And let the season invite me as it will.

No future thinking.. just allowing the magic to whisper.

And making sure I leave space to hear.

New Moon

untitled, detail, ceramic

untitled, detail, ceramic

Tonight is the new moon.

I like tuning into it’s location in the sky.

I began a practice last month at the full moon where I wrote down each thing, belief, symptom, any upset at all that I wanted to leave behind.

I wrote it down and tore up the paper into little bits.

I pulled out a vegetable steamer (so glamorous) and went out into the deep night and burned it all.

Gave it all to her.

Since that night a few weeks ago, I’ve felt lighter. And good.

I like the ritual.

Tonight I’ll try to find a more appropriate container for the calling in of anything and everything I can think of that would help me thrive.

It’s good to get this out of my head and let it go..

Urban shamanism..

The rituals of the innocent and wanton in us.

Do I have some sort of cloak to wear?

I do believe it will have to be me and my walker and big down jacket and leopard leg brace with shoes that won’t close.

I somehow think she’ll not care a bit but be glad for the attention.

Art Therapy

gone

go

One day, way back in 1979 or so, I did these two drawings in 20 minutes (both).

The task I set for myself was to try ANYTHING to move myself from depression to.. somewhere else…

I had fire in me that day.

I picked ungainly tools of over-the-top-red and a thick, oily black crayon.

I let myself be taken.

I made marks.

I did not collapse away from the fierceness in me.

I didn’t use tears as an escape.

After that, I was spent.

But peaceful.

A peace dripped on me like honey.

I got a new sheet of paper and wondered: “What is here behind that last drawing?”

The second piece you see here is what came.

VERY delicate. Almost invisible.

But not.

A fence, broken.

A creature with sure outlines and direction.

Eyes open.

Going.

My handprints in gold. All over the place.

Hope.

I remember hearing Ram Dass, a wonderful teacher/spiritual seeker saying that in all the years of his attention toward BECOMING something more than he was yesterday, he STILL has every single one of his neuroses…

They are smaller, less apt to act out but STILL THERE..

EVERY DAMN ONE OF THEM.

I thought that was so funny and true..

Today, this Cathy might not have chosen such a thick black crayon to make her marks and the magical creature would probably have more defined lines.

But essentially, the same woman is out here making her marks.

Elegant, tentative, brave, compassionate, afraid..

It is all me.

And I love her.

Taking Care

'WHITE PEOPLE', detail, 2002, ceramic, size varies

'WHITE PEOPLE', detail, 2002, ceramic, size varies

Three girls traveling…

My good friend, Keek, Olivia the dog, and me.

My friend could give a course in how to take good care of someone you love.

She drove. Read the map as my eyes were not cooperating. Walked the dog. Got groceries. Walked the dog. Drove. Got out to get gas and wash the windshield. She didn’t check the oil because we couldn’t get the hood of the car opened. Walked the dog. Arranged to have our room changed because the one we were given was disturbingly depressing. Nothing obvious but just not right. She asked no questions and just did it. (These are precious girlfriend gifts to one another.. the not asking the reasons for things..) She walked the dog. at night when Olivia wanted to leave Keek’s bed and come to mine, Keek got up and lifted her up onto my bed because it was too high to jump.

And during my various appointments she asked questions I needed to ask but was too preoccupied to remember.

Friendship is not an altogether glittery affair to say the least.

One day I woke up irritable and teary and craving alone time to recharge.

I sent her away to meander the city and Olivia and I quietly talked to one another and meditated and reclaimed lost parts of ourselves.

I told Keek I needed two hours.

She gave me four.

I really think the greatest gift I receive sometimes is SPACE.                         ROOM to be.

No questions asked.

Just the silent understanding of my need for that.

No judgement. No taking it personally. Just the simple open-handed gift of ROOM TO BE.

I learned alot on this trip about how to be a better friend.

I needed help.

I asked.

She said yes.

It was rich and good all the way around.

Now we are tired and recovering in order to reenter our own private worlds.

And life goes on but I have a few more pieces of gold jingling in my treasure chest.

Thresholds

"PASSAGE", 5' x 5',  1990, m/m

"PASSAGE", 5' x 5', 1990, m/m

I’m back from my meanderings amongst the steely white Colorado peaks.

The 14,000 foot granite backdrops to the metropolis of Colorado Springs were ever-present reminders that Nature is STILL bigger than us no matter how hard we try to out-do her.

I was struck by the homogeneous palette that seemed to be used by both the architects and city planners.

When did we get so afraid to step off the assembly line of life?

But I digress…

The purpose for my visit was to see a physicist.

At this point in the process of sharing living quarters with what has become a very unwelcome guest in my body, I am hard-pressed to trust anyone or anything more than my intuition and the realities of undeniable results gleaned from treatments I am called to work with.

That is a long sentence but a very important one.

In Colorado I got undeniable results.

The world of MS is shadowy at best; steeped in ‘maybes’ and ‘probably’ and ‘there’s just nothing we can do to help you’.

Each person affected by physical illness has their own road.

I am finding that upon return from my trip, I am not ready or able to bring the experience up to the kind of consciousness it takes to share it with anyone.

I am going to take my time to gestate in the waters of new information and new physical realities and just be soft and respectful of myself until I get the inner go ahead.

As we all know, change is the only constant and instead of ripping through the web of protection and going after the comfort of shared experience, I will wait.

Road Trip

"TENT ROCKS",  5'x4', 1992, pigment on wool flannel

"TENT ROCKS", 5'x4', 1992, pigment on wool flannel

I am on my way up to Colorado tomorrow and as I don’t yet have a laptop, this will be my last post for a week until next Friday.

Feels so good to think about seeing different scenery other than my normal fare.

Ain’t nothing better than a girls’ road trip.

“That looks interesting..”

“OK..let’s stop and check it out.”

No worries about ‘ losing time ‘ or getting ‘off schedule’..

IN THE MOMENT TRAVEL (with purpose of course)… Or not, as the case may be.

That, I think, is exactly what Henry Ford had in mind.

SUCH a luxury! This society of ‘lovers of the open road..’

I dare say we’ll not have the option open to us too much longer as our energy resources dwindle and shift.

So I’ll just savor every moment and remember to say thank you for this delectable bit of FREEDOM!

Back soon…….

Uninvited Guest

"GENESIS",  30" x 4" x 22", 2007, ceramic,steel,wood

"GENESIS", 30" x 4" x 22", 2007, ceramic,steel,wood

Late into last night, I was reading contentedly.

My left eye began to tremble involuntarily and create a sense of borderline vertigo.

I closed my eyes to rest but when I opened them, the shaking was still there.

In all the years of dealing with MS, my eyes have never been affected. I took weird pride in that fact.

OPTIC NEURITIS is a very common symptom associated with this disease.

It occurs when the protective coating of the optic nerve is affected.

It’s really just ONE MORE THING on my plate.

Am I up to it?

I was reading a favorite blog called WHEELCHAIR KAMIKAZE in which he wrote so gorgeously about the mental gymnastics associated with disability.

I urge you to read it.

When I did, I felt profoundly compassionate toward the brave man who chose to let us see the shadow side of what happens as a highly intelligent and fully functional human being slowly loses things he took for granted.

What takes the place of those precious things he/I am losing?

We have to make a new life.

And not just us.. the very visibly disabled ones..

Our entire culture and world is being brought to it’s knees.

It’s on a much larger scale so it isn’t as apparent to us.

But look around..

We are ALL being asked to make a new life… Face the fact what we depended on to be there often isn’t anymore.

And so… HOW do we change? Segue into a new and thriving life after the scenery has been changed and the furniture rearranged?

These are questions that interest me very much.

Questions with hard won answers but what else is one to do, I ask you?

The Long Road

"INSCRIPTION", 40" x 60", 1994, m/m

"INSCRIPTION", 40" x 60", 1994, m/m

Often, when I put extreme effort out there and don’t get the results I expect, I get mad at God.

I’m such a slave to immediacy just like the rest of us here in ‘American dreamland.’

Maybe the results I pray for just aren’t in my best interest.

Or perhaps the timing is other than my desires of the moment.

I keep practicing softening my heart to include intelligence other than what I know.

It helps me to remember that humans are not top dog after all though the ‘self-initiation’ is thrilling to think about.

Actually, any SECURITY I attract in my life is generated through ALLOWING the mystery and OTHER to whisper in my ear and guide my actions.

I don’t know much.

And somehow.. knowing that feels very satisfying, indeed.

The Gift

textile design detail, 1991, pigment on wool flannel

textile design detail, 1991, pigment on wool flannel

QUOTE FROM MARTHA GRAHAM, dancer

“There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.

There is only a queer,divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.

The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is;

nor how valuable it is;

nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.

You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU”

—–Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

This was obviously written about creativity but works just as well when thinking about healing.

****** I will be off line for a few days while my computer is being fixed*************

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