Faith and Collapse


detail of painting on wool flannel, 1986
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I saw a photo of Barack Obama yesterday,

In which he looked so weary

And physically curled in on himself.

I am used to seeing him present himself with an uprightness and fortitude.

My politics are energetic.

Certainly not solely..

But significantly.

This used to embarrass me

As my handle on participating in an intellectual discussion regarding such

Is wobbly at best.

I trust my energetic read of a person place or thing

Over any other intelligence available.

This, certainly, does NOT mean I am never wrong.

Because I am.

I am just aware of humans creativity

When it comes to coercion.

When I saw Obama with his collapsed chest

And shoulders curling forward in a protective stance,

I recognized that posture too well.

It demands psychic gymnastics to move through the world

In a disabled body.

I choose to keep the FAITH

That there is purpose,

Hope,

Inherent trust (for me)

That my glorious physical Self

Contains all it needs

To remember it’s Self

In the fullest sense

NO MATTER WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE.

With chronic illness

(And, indeed, with politics)

It is a herculean task

To keep the faith…

I was in a yoga class the other day

And someone came up to me

Saying: “You look so noble sitting there with your straight back.”

Aside from the fact I can physically approach

Few of the postures

The way one might see them laid out in an instruction book,

What she named ‘nobility’ in me

Was really FAITH.

I was choosing FAITH over COLLAPSE.

It would have been so very easy for me to curl into myself

In a slump.

It is not so easy to have faith.

And yet..

Each time I choose it

It seems to get recognized

In ways large and small.

But I keep choosing in this way

Not for the recognition of it.

I choose

Because my choices ARE my politics

And I know something about the sacred nature

Of ALL LIFE

And I can’t bear to let Her down.

And so I keep righting myself

Often in the smallest of ways.

And consider that

My prayer.

Not That Interested In The Fruit


Untitled, 2002, 30″x 7″ x 11″, ceramic
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Summer ends.

We age.

Physical bodies grow tired and weak.

SomeTHING is spent.

We had a currency.

And now there is less of it.

We had the heat and plump greenness of full and long days..

Of white linen blouses.

And suddenly (to us),

We are folding that material and sensual pleasure.

With a bit of grief,

We lay her in the box

Marked “SUMMER CLOTHES”

And close the closet door.

My body is like that.

All the elements are there:

The endless waiting for summer, the luxury of carefree languishing and trusted outcome of pure and sensual pleasure in a body.

I had a physical experience

Of a tuned and shimmering instrument.

Not too very long ago, really.

That currency I spent.

Like a summer in white.

I have grief, surely.

I do.

It’s just that the harvest

I enjoyed

In that girl’s teeming collection of cells

And muscle and dreams

Is no more interesting to me

Than this woman’s

Humility

And reverence

And capacity

To Love.

My basket used to be brimming

With impossibly ripe fruit.

Now,

The basket

Is quite empty.

And yet…

This particular harvest

Is so much sweeter.

Because

NOthing

Has become

THE thing.

Rolling In Coyote


detail of ceramic sculpture
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My dog, Olivia has moments

Of shunning domestication, altogether.

We’ll be on our morning outing;

My wheelchair bedecked with orange safety flag, orange scarf tied behind and me wrapped in an elegant

And orange

Paisley shawl

In order to avoid death-on-the-dirt-road.

You see, where I live is fairly rural.

Wild enough to host a few brave, non-human critters.

(I did see an elk with a macho- looking rack one year..)

In the cover of night

Coyotes stalk their prey

And yip frenetically

As they chew someone’s beloved cat..

I know… It isn’t fair.

But it IS..

When Olivia comes across

An olafactory motherlode

Some satisfied coyote has left behind

In the dirt,

She rolls…

She rolls in utter ecstasy and slight bewilderment.

There is a haunting recognition afoot

Of a genetic link

Between the two.

She WANTS that wildness!

Witnessing this always makes me laugh.

It also has me wonder where I left my own.

Wildness, that is.

Where is that girl?

I have been too busy doing the work

Of keeping myself upright;

Mentally, physically and spiritually,

And I’ve all but forgotten the wild girl.

I miss her.

I have become far too domesticated.

And left that lifeline to ‘other’ unattended too long.

My very physical life as an artist making stuff

Helped me connect to that place.

Now my right hand lies curled awkwardly in my lap.

‘On hold’ as I think of it

Because I can’t bear the thought

My strong and capable limb

Got the ultimate pink slip.

And so.. I see Olivia roll

And my chuckling has a tinge of regret

Amidst the overt pleasure of seeing her so happy.

I roll on in my power chair;

(Is this to be the extent of my own rolling??)

With wantonness

In my chest.

And I just let it be there

Instead of leaving it

By the side of the road.

The Problem With Compassion


“BLUE FACE”, 2001, 14″ x 14″, m/m
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I have had a misconception

About what compassion really is.

We think about Mother Theresa and seriously wonder

Where she finds it in her physical smallness

To be so big?

I think it took us, as a country,

Ten full years to even approach

Climbing over the fence of horror and fear

To reach compassion where 9/11 is concerned.

It was just too big

And we are so very small.

We had to turn away

And wait until we had the capacity to bear it.

The problem with compassion

As I see it

Stems from the mistaken understanding

That in order for me to feel compassion for you

I MUST FEEL IN MY BODY

EXACTLY WHAT YOU FEEL;

I should be feeling so deeply that I cry with you,

Or at the least let my chest curl in on itself

As I let you know your angst over a divorce

Or death of a child

Has been registered over here

And is therefore real.

No. This is not compassion.

With understandings like these, is it any wonder that we turn away

In favor of lighter territory?

When you sit with me

Or see me out and about,

My heart’s desire is only to meet your clear and soft eyes

And be blessed with the ‘take away gift’

Of having been witnessed in some real way.

You see my limp. Yep.. There it is.

You notice my frequent disappearances from my historical ever-presence around town?

Uh huh.. that too.

Do you pity me? Yuk. Please don’t.

That pity may be your own very visceral reaction to what YOU might feel in my situation.

Really, that is probably a dream on your part

As we never can know who we will be in a situation

Until we are there.

Compassion is not ‘work’.

Compassion is the easiest thing you could imagine.

It demands nothing from us

Other than the capacity to WITNESS ANOTHER PERSON.

That’s it…

Just to be still and let someone tell you whatever they have to tell you.

If Mother Theresa were to ‘take on’

All the angst and sadness

Of those she tends,

She would have used herself up long ago.

She sits.

She listens.

She makes it known she has ‘seen’ the other

And that they are NOT ‘other’

But instead: not separate.

Compassion doesn’t even need a word or any sound what-so-ever.

Could be just a gentle and knowing look

Or a wave from a neighbor.

Compassion takes nothing from us.

But it has the capacity

To give us back our humanity.

No work involved.

We Are So Beautiful And Terrible…


“FACE”, 1997, 12″ x 5″, ceramic
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We are so beautiful and terrible,

Broken and resilient,

Inspired and bored.

We are full of wrath one moment

Only to wipe a tear from a child the next.

I know light

And I know shadow.

How could it be

That we hold all of these things

Right next to one another

In our hearts?

In my wider moments

I love all of it.

Because if I don’t

I know I am armoring-up my heart once again..

(Something like: “You can have my attention because you feel good but if you don’t- leave me alone..”)

That hardness is now becoming intolerable.

This is one of my favorite photographers.

His ‘eye’ helps me make room for it all, somehow..

Practicality Is The Antidote To Emotionality


UNTITLED, 1986, 5′ x 5′, pigment on wool flannel
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I know there are people in my life absolutely ecstatic

Over the appearance of the word: ‘PRACTICAL’

In my vocabulary.

Fact is: We, humans have leanings toward particular

Ways of being.

I have been an artist longer than I can remember.

My primary tool in this vocation has been

Access to the watery and indistinct nesting grounds

Where inspiration lives.

My current path in life demands I pick up other kinds of brushes and paint.

My desire is not to displace my emotions

In favor of something ‘better’ or more effectual.

No.

The root of the word PRACTICAL is ‘PRACTICE’.

It has to do with ACTION in the ‘real-time’ world

As opposed to the theoretical.

Living in partnership with chronic illness

Demands we give our precious emotional lives a rest

And enlist the support of the practice involved

In carving out the logistics of a new kind of life.

A very good girlfriend (an artist in the practicality realm)

Helped me, yesterday

With a fabulous tip:

She wanted me to tell her THREE THINGS

That were causing me pressure in my life this week.

I said:

1. No energy to do the dishes.
2. My dog has a barking issue.
3. The woman that grocery shops for me told me she would not be here but I forgot.

Just the action of saying the things relieved me.

But she stepped in and gifted me with some housecleaning!

And I asked another friend if she’d shop for me and she said yes.

I called a dog trainer.

PRESTO!!

Pressure vanished.

It was THRILLING, I tell you…

The alleviation of my previous interior machinations

Left me feeling

GRATEFUL, NOT ALONE, CONNECTED, RELIEVED, HAPPY, LIGHT.

I think this THREE THINGS CAUSING ME PRESSURE admission

Could be used in anyone’s life at any time.

Ask your lover, child, friend:

WHAT THREE THINGS ARE ADDING PRESSURE TO YOUR LIFE THIS WEEK?

And see if you can do something about it

Even if it is just to listen.

I’m here to tell you

This is a fine, fine paintbrush to have at the ready

As we all make new lives for ourselves.

Clemency


detail of monoprint
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I have what I consider a strange habit.

I look to my eyes in the mirror probably 10 – 20 times per day.

What is the need to keep checking?

It really is not a vanity thing

But more of a temperature reading:

Does how I feel physically, emotionally and spiritually

Match up with what I see in my reflection?

My quest for authenticity

Helped me find this tool.

“I feel GOOD!” and after a brief gander at my eyes, sometimes I see the hardness there and the worry.

A lifetime of hyper-vigilance

Has taught me the difference

Between smooth and gleaming waters

And the rugged chop of an unknown sea creature

Barreling it’s way to the surface to sound.

My nervous system is stuck in overdrive

And God is the only force

Which seems to actually calm me.

I worry about getting to the next wall to hold on to.

Taking too much time to get dressed and being late for an appointment.

Unanswered phone calls. Wrapping a large wedding gift; (no wrapping paper, no card in the house, no strength to get them) and delivering it in a timely manner.

Bills unpaid.

Dishes in the sink.

Not wanting to eat when I SHOULD be eating..(I tend toward gauntness and am willing myself to eat more often and just MORE).

Are you bored yet?

I am.

I had to look up the definition of the word: CLEMENCY.

It means mercy. And leniency.

Mercy and leniency and mildness.

Yes, I know the word is usually used in association with crimes and misdemeanors..

Yet, in my book, a sin is only that which acts against our natural state of perfection and well-being.

Working my way through the ancient propensity

To live inside this ever-present nervous static

Is another exhaustion!

I know it’s there.

I am altogether sure it is not my natural state.

I am acutely aware that I needed the skill in my family of origin

And that it likely saved me.

Today, I do not need the thing

And yet.. I continually see it there behind my eyes when I look.

I can hate the static and demand it’s departure and blame it for all my woes.

But that sounds like what the general population

Does with any energy that stands in the way of what they want.

God is my last ‘go-to.’

For me, MS stands for ‘my static’

And of course, I WANT IT GONE!

These days I am practicing small gestures

Like a pause or a metaphorical hand smoothing my hair with the tenderness of a good mother.

Or drinking the air on my morning roll ’round the neighborhood with Olivia

And finding it fine as wine.

My nerves are so scarred and taut with anticipation of the worst

That they need mercy

And leniency

And forgiveness

And appreciation.

For here I AM still…

A courageous and continually curious woman in love with Life.

And that, dear readers, is a high accomplishment, indeed.

The Elevator Is Stuck


UNTITLED, 1999, 20″ – 25″ x 3″ (varies), ceramic, steel
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I was brought up in the suburbs of Detroit.

I never learned how to be a neighbor

Because I didn’t have to.

We lived in ‘auto-executive-manicured-lawn-land’

And I took cues from my parents as they slid

Conveniently behind trees

At the sight of another human

In order not to connect.

I realized that I now know exactly how to gather my TRIBE.

I know what a tribe is

And I know who is in mine.

The startling recognition of tribal members

Can come in an instant

Or after years of tending a relationship.

These are people

I would still be curious about;

Spiritually, emotionally or mentally fed by

Even after spending a week with them

Stuck in a tiny elevator.

These are people I remain ever interested in.

Could never know all there is to know.

Believe me, my tribe is quite small.

How does one gather a tribe?

For me.. I notice how my body feels when in the company of a person; defended? safe? electric? familiar? open? wary?

Then, over time, I gauge the distance between their heart and mine;

How far have we moved together?

Are they friends with their own shadow so I can trust them with mine?

Can they see the largest part of me and remind me of her when I forget?

If I tell them my truth about something, can I count on the intent to give a thoughtful reply or will I get a ‘reaction’ we may never recover from?

Do they know their own worth and share it generously with me and others?

Is an intimate sense of the sacred in all Life of value to them?

Can I cry and laugh with abandon in their company without reservation?

Is there a distinct feeling of luxury in their company? Gratitude?

Very, very occasionally someone will appear

Who I recognize instantly

As a part of my clan.

A meeting such as this

Has the feeling of ‘everything of significance known’

And all that’s left to do is enjoy the theater of the thing.

My tribe includes humans, yes.

But also a dog and a particular tree I adore which is very alive to me.

(Did I just lose you?)

I’ll offer no apology.

If the elevator should become stuck

I’ll have no regrets, what so ever…

Frailty Quotient


“LOWE INSTALLATION”, 2007, 56″ x 72″, earth, ceramic
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I have been thinking about the word: FRAILTY recently.

We tend to use it for the elderly and infirm.

It’s use marks a serious decline.

The ‘backstory’ of using the word

Carries visceral sensations of curling inward

Out of fear and desire not to hang with the concept too long.

We think it might be catching

And so we give it lip service

And move on to a heated tennis match or a rugged workout at the gym

To assuage the possibility

It could be us someday.

If you did not know me

The label: ‘FRAIL’ might be your first choice.

My physical balance is very compromised.

I walk with a walker and hold onto walls when navigating without it.

Long distances require the support of a wheelchair.

And there are too many pills on my countertop.

If you ask me to describe myself

FRAILTY would never be a part of our conversation.

I would say that my physicality is extremely compromised, yes.

But that admission covers only one part of me.

Am I spiritually frail? No.

Am I mentally frail?. No.

Emotionally frail? I’d have to say I am one of the most emotionally healthy people I know.

Yesterday, I went to a wedding.

I knew there would be too much ground to cover for me just using my walker.

If I wanted to go, I’d have to use my wheelchair

But I had never been out in a very public place with it where I’d have to negotiate a crowd.

I’m not really that great at driving the thing

As it is so acutely sensitive to any tiny move of the joystick.

I went to the gorgeous wedding.

I went solo.

I did what it took to make the evening work

Which meant arriving into the assembled crowd as a single woman in a wheelchair decorated with one rose

And having people adjust themselves to the height difference by stooping.

There were curbs to negotiate

And I asked strong men to help me.

And they did.

I found a place to sit for the reception

But how would I manage the buffet?

I asked for help, again.

All this I did and kept my center close to me and alive enough

To participate authentically in the evening.

When push comes to shove

And we are asked to enter unfamiliar waters,

These times are a good litmus test for

The ‘FRAILTY QUOTIENT.”

Can I do it?

Can I do it without losing mySelf?

I see that I am so very able.

And when that is the case..

Everyone wins.

The Smallest Thing


“TREE OF LIFE”, 1999, 30″ x 18″ x 3″, ceramic
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The other day, I was just BEING

As I tend to do

Because my physicality

Prohibits any fussing around

With pretense

Or trying to be cool.

I has been HOT here this summer.

Recently, I accepted an invitation to lunch from two neighbors who have interested me for awhile.

I drove there and come to find the way to the house is all gravel and there are stairs too

And I am already wilting from the heat.

I use this ‘adventure’ to practice educating people how to be with me

As I know there is always a conundrum as to whether to assist; ‘Will she take offense?’ “Does she want to do it herself?’

The thing is that in new situations I have to figure out on the spot what I need.

That day, I needed a strong arm, bent at the elbow

Offered to me to help pull me up the steps.

I needed to sit down once as my hosts took pleasure in telling me stories of their fruit trees and wisteria (spectacular!)

I almost let myself slip into embarrassment at the awkwardness

Of my apparent physical frailty.

But I didn’t.

I did not go there because I felt safe enough to just BE with these two people.

That, right there, told me a good deal about them.

I settled into a soft chair under an umbrella and the three of us shared a gorgeous and lovingly prepared meal.

I didn’t even have to act like ‘a weird food person’ with all my dietary restrictions

As the table was filled with pure and healthy sumptuousness.

I felt so happy,

Easy in my body and grateful for the inspiring and charged conversation.

I was smiling.

Which I tend to do quite often.

It is a small thing.

In my past, I used smiling as a cover;

Shadowy corners of my being needed tending.

And I had not given them their due.

These days, my smile is genuine.

It has a clear and present energy to it.

There are many, many variations of the thing.

I use it to make sure people know I have ‘seen’ them

And their very beingness has made a difference to me.

I use it to let people know they matter.

I do it because it feels so good.

I have voluntary and involuntary ones..

It seems a very small thing

And yet, I see it’s reach is farther than I realize.. Read here:

Be sure to check out the Charlie Chaplin video at the end.