Three Guys

alexopening
hand-painted silk
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The following story is a testament to one of the very best things that happened to me all year:

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THREE GUYS

My formative years were spent sliding kamikaze-style back and forth between a happy little stoner gaze out beyond the utter comfort of the company I kept within my male dominated clique and the utter despair of trying to be ok in a fledgling teenage body. There was some very serious weaponry I carried which protected me from harm. I carry it still. I had three guys traveling with me down those winding and gritty roads called youth.

I will turn 60 years old this year. I feel really good, actually. Though my musculature continues to wither under the hungry reign of MS, I’ve got the luxury of all the time in the world to do the hard work of letting go of what no longer serves me and tending that which does. Sometimes it seems I live a narrow life but really, inside me is a swarm of very busy revelations, inspirations and realizations. Enter: THE THREE GUYS.

One was my first love to whom I gifted my virginity and would do it again given the chance. He was deserving on every level. Then there was my second love who saw and shared my fledgling artistic soul; we “got” each other so deeply and skipped around light in the feet for years as I recall. The third was a man who was so fond of the shadows that I could have missed him entirely. But I didn’t. I saw him and longed to love him but I don’t think I was cool enough back then.

This year, 40 years post high school graduation with close to zero communication taking place between us in the interim, something of a miracle took place that proved our connection still very much alive. These guys came up with the idea of a visit, scheduled the time off from their busy doctoring lives, bought a ticket, packed, got on the plane, rented a car and drove to my home, knocked on my door and I opened it to find I was and still am in love with those guys.

I knew it in a second. They walked in with gifts of fine wine and each of us (I could tell) were functioning pretty well like civilized friends greeting one another but under the pseudo-decorum was: “WHAT THE FUCK! THIS FEELS LIKE NO TIME HAS PASSED! WHAT PLANET AM I ON THAT THIS COULD BE POSSIBLE?”

They walked beside my wheelchair with nary any weirdness as we took on the town. We put on our old easiness like a favorite sweater and laughed over photos of nascent teenagers displaying the pain and pleasure of growing up. They wined and dined me, were watchful should my energy lag and happy to continue their evenings adventuring without me. I felt utterly safe, loved, supported, seen and suspended in the intoxicating cocktail that is us.

When the time came for them to leave me we parted on a Santa Fe street corner. I switched direction and wheeled away from them. After a couple seconds I turned back unable to look away. I sat there in my wheelchair as folks made their way past the obstacle that was me. Those guys of mine…

In Praise of Soft Skin

10_Underbelly_2
detail of ceramic sculpture
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In my lifetime as a painter, sculptor and textile designer I learned how to trust what I call “the gathering time.”

For so many years I freaked out if I was not feeling the urge to create.

We creatives are often counseled to “JUST PAINT!” “WRITE EVERY DAY!!”

And I know this is probably such a great idea.

But I never did my life that way.

I gather. I muse. I watch. I listen. I touch. I converse with myself out loud

And when I find myself interesting enough…I act.

This leaves swaths of emptiness and I worry about that; I’m disappointing my readers..I am a dry desert bed and I FREAKIN’ HAVE NOTHING TO SAY!

One of the great take-aways of a non-out-in-the-world-work-life

Is keeping my skin soft.

By that I mean the antithesis of “TOUGHENING UP” or “Cath..you gotta get a thicker skin on ya.”

A soft skin allows me to be moved.

If I keep my skin porous I can feel life, myself, others and have a chance at responding authentically whatever that might be; pretty or ugly.

When I gather (if I’m not worrying about whether I’m performing well enough to be considered a valuable citizen of the world)

Something intriguing slips in and starts laying down bread crumbs for me to follow.

And I got the time to do just that

So I follow those crumbs and eat some along the way and there comes a time when I’m full

And then I WRITE!

So won’t you forgive my dry spells?

Most times there is no need for worry.

I think this part of me is irritating and perhaps irresponsible.

I have the supreme luxury of responding to those bread crumbs when they appear and sometimes they just don’t

And we all go hungry.

Going In

detail of painting

detail of painting

 

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Each morning I wake up and ask myself: “Cathy, who are you today, girlfriend?  The introvert or the extrovert?

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Indeed

2014-04-19 12.53.36

This is a picture of denial.

This is worth watching.

 

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Be Like Water

impermanence

 

Today is Christmas Day.

Holidays seem like a match which can ignite neuroses like parched tinder.

Alone?  Light the match.

Raggedness within relationships?  Walk right over to the bonfire there…

Didn’t get to shower those we love with EXACTLY the right thing?  Toss the match and feel the burn.

To get over myself I set out in my chair for downtown Santa Fe with an experiment:

I made myself like water.

Letting go of all density I liquified myself and eased on down the road just like a river.

I had no agenda of connecting unless invited to.

“Merry Christmas!”  from a handsome couple.

“Merry Christmas”  I say.

I flow around and past family groupings both awkward together and close.

A great dane catches my eye and like an eddy in a stream I spend a few moments there and flow on to Starbucks and wait very energetically contained in the long line of customers merry-making.

A kid is both scared of my wheelchair and enchanted by my feathers.  I take my eyes away so he has the privacy to explore.

On the  way home I practice glowing…just glowing.

The river meanders down the street.

Someone shouts out from a passing car window that I look great.

I have my own perfect Christmas with the remembrance that a shift in perspective is all I need.

 

 

A Soul Feels Its Worth

frailty

 

Santa Fe hosts a thriving Tibetan Buddhist population.

A few weeks ago I became aware of a special event taking place in which a group of traveling monks were in town to create a sacred mandala completed over a full weeks time using tiny grains of colored sand to make a very intricate pattern SEE HERE.

It is a privilege to witness this meditative display of acute focus over time and to know that at the completion of the mandala the entire thing is brushed away as a symbol of impermanence.

I rolled downtown to the event location and found my way blocked as there were no curb cuts allowing my approach to the entry door.

Pausing in my disappointment and preparing to roll on the door of the establishment opened.

Two monks in red ocher robes smiled and proceeded to come quickly over and position themselves to LIFT UP MY 300 LB. CHAIR!!!!

I was freaking out..

“NO!  NO! I AM TOO HEAVY!  YOU WILL HURT YOURSELVES!” I say to the charged air.

They clearly struggled soundlessly and did get the chair lifted over the curb.

I exhaled with too many thank yous and wheeled into the store.

OMG……..  6 steps down to the platform where the mandala was materializing…..

Four MORE monks appeared and soundlessly (again) took up positions around my chair and lifted.

It was a symphony.

A soundless symphony of human compassion, containment, grace and chaotic mind machinations (mine).

They lowered me down to the floor and walked off to keep working on their “world.”

Breathless, I tried to mimic their composure and fake a sense of normality as I rolled over to watch what I had come to see.

I felt caring and unobtrusive eyes on me during my stay.  I was comfortingly shown an easy exit to use whenever I decided to go.

I sat there in my miracle for a long, long time.

Still sitting.

Four Wheel Drive

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detail of painting
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I just got back from an excursion in my wheelchair to the nearby mall.

Went to see Santa actually but I couldn’t get up the stairs to see him so I watched the other kids in their meet n’ greet.

I felt the ever present encroaching gritty ghost of this holiday season; bah-humfuckingbug…. I want what I want: an arm that works, a beloved dog, a total LIFE FIX if truth be told..

I want the people tripping the light fantastic of life in a fully functioning body to be on their knees in gratitude every 5 minutes.

I want my smile to always come from my heart instead of my head.

I want to give, give give and not want, want, want so much.

I want to be ok with wanting.

More than anything I desire peace of mind.

I thought about this on the way home rolling over ice and snow in my trusty 6-wheel ride. “What are the 4 things in my life that give me the ability to plow over treacherous patches in life with the trust I’ll make it through ok?” I asked myself….

CATHY’S 4 (ok..5) WHEEL DRIVE ESSENTIALS

1. HUMOR
All these examples were used today BTW:
Foot slips off footplate of chair as wheeling by very mega cute guy… gotta laugh at the incongruity of wanting to look good and really not.

2. HUMILITY
see above

3. HEADSTRONG
I can do this goddammit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. HOLD IT!!
Going into shame and self criticism over not being able to do what I wanted to do (seeing Santa)(to ask for peace of mind under the tree…).

5. HELP
I graciously acknowledged a young man for holding the door for me and saw his ashen and numb looking face come alive before my eyes at the potency of my gratitude towards him.

Plumage

photo

Cathy's plumage

My good girlfriend, Pam came over the other day to let herself be bossed around.

I had been wanting to switch out my “ROSES” wheelchair costume for a more seasonally appropriate model.

Initially, when I first got my chair I wanted to make it less GIANT- HARDWARE- THING -COMING -DOWN -THE- ROAD.

I settled on roses for the simple reason they make me happy.

Rolling with them for awhile I came to see they acted as a bridge; people would say “I love your roses!” and we’d have a non-disability connection/conversation and both have our quality of lives enhanced.

My roses have opened my life and the lives of others so many times in such miraculous ways that I now pay close attention to how the simple act of rolling around projecting a friendly, approachable, curiosity-sparking vibe from a wheelchair (which can be off- putting in so many ways) can change the world.

No joke.

Disability is isolating.

We are 2 feet lower than most, physically challenged with God knows what and unless one has had disability in ones’ life in some way invokes a knee jerk turn away.

I love people. I need and thrive on connection. My chair outfits are the bridge along with my smile.

The second photo is my fall/winter look. My friend Pam patiently took direction from me as we glued down thousands of feathers (pheasant, marabou, goose, rooster, turkey, grouse) in a pattern which serves both as a visibility asset and a conversation starter.

Most importantly though…the feathers serve me spiritually as a buffer to the inherent heavy and land-locked experiences disability seems to foster.

I have invited friends to send me feathers to add to the collection which gives me the feeling of that essential support and love “at my back” that keeps me alive and rolling.

Getting in my chair now is close to a sacred experience of entering the rarefied atmosphere of the “lightness of being”.

If you come across a feather to help in the “lifting up of Cathy” project I’d love to have your support! How fun!!

mailing address:

CATHY ATEN
369 MONTEZUMA AVE. #273
SANTA FE, NM 87501

Hiding

refine
monoprint. 22×30″
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HIDING

is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Even hiding the truth from ourselves can be a way to come to what we need in our own necessary time. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care.

Hiding done properly is the internal faithful promise for a proper future emergence, as embryos, as children or even as emerging adults in retreat from the names that have caught us and imprisoned us, often in ways where we have been too easily seen and too easily named.

We live in a time of the dissected soul, the immediate disclosure; our thoughts, imaginings and longings exposed to the light too much, too early and too often, our best qualities squeezed too soon into a world already awash with too easily articulated ideas that oppress our sense of self and our sense of others. What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.

Hiding is an act of freedom from the misunderstanding of others, especially in the enclosing world of oppressive secret government and private entities, attempting to name us, to anticipate us, to leave us with no place to hide and grow in ways unmanaged by a creeping necessity for absolute naming, absolute tracking and absolute control. Hiding is a bid for independence, from others, from mistaken ideas we have about our selves, from an oppressive and mistaken wish to keep us completely safe, completely ministered to, and therefore completely managed. Hiding is creative, necessary and beautifully subversive of outside interference and control. Hiding leaves life to itself, to become more of itself. Hiding is the radical independence necessary for our emergence into the light of a proper human future.

Excerpted from ‘HIDING’ From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. © David Whyte:

Tiny Dancer

reframe security

Most of my life I have been trying to make a big splash; attention in my family, expertise in a yoga practice, marrying someone “good for me” (ie: monied businessman), over-giving when something simple would have been appropriate.

My torpid ego was straining for acknowledgement which equaled love in my hungry heart.

These days, I kindof squirm at a whiff of “specialness.”

I both want it and don’t.

If it comes the little girl in me twirls in her tutu and the adult pulls the covers over herself.

It is a conundrum.

I realize so much suffering leaves me if I truly put my attention in ONLY THIS MOMENT and leave the rest to someone/thing else.

I imagine doing a dance on a lily pad.

My dance is for my very own self and no one else.

In real life it looks like:

1. Can’t quite make it to the toilet in time?
choices: cry, laugh, be angry at body malfunction, be gentle with self, be interested in all the choices, pick a dance that makes me feel soft toward myself.

2. Pick up the phone to find an assault from an irate person?
choices: meet her in the madness, get defensive, let her say everything till she’s spent, hang up, breathe and re-enter with patience and compassion.

3. Hate myself for not getting everything done I need to?
choices: get depressed and go to bed, make someone else wrong, isolate, feel embarrassed I can not function like a ‘normal’ person, relax into rest, know the world out there likely isn’t giving one god damn about my little issues and will keep moving even when I can’t, love the luxury of silence and endless time to muse, smile at the fact I have time which everyone else seems to want and need.

I am a tiny dancer.

My life seems far more narrow but really- my landscape is HUGE!

I am gifted with the space to wonder, register, adjust.

This makes me very happy.