detail of ceramic sculpture, 2002

I have food issues.

My body is very sensitive to certain things and I try to avoid wheat, dairy, corn, sugar, grains, soy, alcohol and there are probably more I’ve forgotten.

I have experienced myself move into and out of malnutrition as I : 1. Try to eat in a way that supports my healing and 2. Fill up an insistent empty hole in me (both stomach-wise and the psychological kind) by polishing off a dessert or something else known to affect my weakness level.

Back and forth..

Back and forth.

I am hungry.

I feel deprived.

I ate that ganache’ and I’m unable to lift myself out of this chair.

I really have most of the information I need at this point to eat a diet that is fully supportive of my healing but watch myself falling off the wagon just like an alcoholic.




Does this sound like a well-balanced woman? No, it does not.

There’s a little girl in here that is hungry and she wins out sometimes and when she does, I can’t walk.

So, I talk myself into VOTING FOR MYSELF once again…

The big ‘S’ in Self.

And I try to find other ways to take care of the hungry girl in me..

The point is, I’m still trying to find ways to walk away from crackers and relish the access I get to muscular strength.

You’d think it’s a no-brainer..

But I ain’t got it down as yet..

And back I go to the voting booth.


The skies here look a bit like this at dawn.

There are a few wildfires burning close by and the monsoons have made their entry with a suitcase full of cloud formations.

My dog presses close in as thunder wreaks havoc.

And I shut my eyes to smell the sweetness of dampened blacktop and fat sage.

Twice this morning I’ve written what felt like good and solid words here.

And twice their lives were cut short.

It is a sign I need simplicity and spareness as my medicine today.

I will share it with you..

Church Ladies

detail of ceramic sculptures, 1995

My girlfriend has a 10 year old son.

He wanted to go to church.

She, not being ‘organized religion savvy’ looked on the internet for Santa Fe possibilities. (Good techie mom she is..)


Yesterday, I went too.

I usually am really put off by the initial barrage of false-feeling, bug eyed strangers heading in my direction as I walk into a church for the first time.

‘She has done this before’, you say….

Yes. I am drawn to ritual. I like the feeling of singing with others. I do enjoy a bit of faith-en-mass.

Incense, candlelight, humility and hope and mystery seem like good companions sometimes.

Yesterday, I was surprised by sincerity.

No push to join the group.

No one asked for my vitals.

Just a bunch of regular folks setting aside some precious time to come together and turn their hearts toward something other than themselves.

Homage to the ‘larger than us’ we tend to tuck away at the back of the drawer.

I loved sitting with my friend.

We judged people.

(We talked about this later)

And we sang.

My voice was so small. I took note of that.

We all sat in the midst of the tailings of a theater performance the church had put on; painted scenery and make-shift changing rooms and other flotsom from the previous night.

The only real prop added to the actual service was a chalice with a candle and flame in the center.

All the makings of a very human existence were well represented and had a place reserved for them: sorrow, hope, meditation, voice, order, chaos, questions and there were even a few answers.

I was left with the calm and pleasure in my friends company.

And the strangers who I didn’t need to armor myself against.

I liked the whole thing a lot and may go back.

So precious this human journey as we try to make sense of it all.

I feel the need here to tell my version of a church I’d love to attend:

Gospel choir.. very black and sort of wild, the event held in a wood down a secret path somewhere in the high desert at dusk or dawn, rocks and hay bales for chairs, a 10 year old kid next to me and a Native American teenager on the other side. No words read from any book. A chance to speak if moved to do so. Flowers, flowers everywhere. Animals, animals everywhere. Unlikely characters pouring out of the half-dark. And at the center of it all just a simple fire. And the unmistakable presence of the ‘all-that-is.’ And the sound would be one I had never, ever heard before. And everyone I have ever loved or ever wanted to would be there.



untitled, 2003, 11″ x 11″ x 4, m/m

Tomorrow we have a lunar eclipse to look forward to.

I am peripherally interested in astrology and those guys say: “TRUST CHANGE.”

Well, I’m pretty dang tired of change these days, truth be told.

My nights and days are full of giving myself grief over undone life things like messy closets and projects and bills and phone calls and unwashed dishes and dry cleaning needing to be picked up.

Yes, there are meadows dotted with wildflowers and bunnies scattered in the midst of my days.

Sleep used to be a respite but lately, even those realms are tainted.

Oddly, I am finishing up a book proposal and the writing of it is the solace in my life at the moment.

That and a flirty-thing going on.

Sometimes I want to throw in the towel.

But I haven’t the strength to make the toss.

Pathetic but real.

This season of change we are ALL INSIDE is horrible.

And necessary.

And anger-provoking.

And patience-making.

I hate change.

And I need it.

We all need it.

Sometimes, I feel as if my body acts as a little microcosm of the out-in-the-world frustrations of collapse and rebuilding.

I am tired.

So very tired.

But we don’t have a choice.. not a one of us.

We get up and handle the stuff shoveled our way.

Make a neat pile or toss it in a messy heap.

The key seems to be action.

No matter how large or small.

It acts like a ballot put in the voting box of LIFE, I think.

So, today, with this small act of writing my truth, I cast my vote for life.

God, give me the strength to keep moving through my day and participating at a healthy and vibrant level.

And forgive me if I can’t.

Secret Color

When I was living in Boston in the 80’s, I worked as a textile designer for my company called BETES de COULEUR (Beast of Color).

We sold very expensive hand-painted mens and women’s wear.

We didn’t sell too many actually, so the life of the business was short.

But we did do great stuff.

And got oodles of good press.

We made things like this robe from a vast and filthy loft in a bad part of town.

It was a very alive place, that loft.

My partner loved heavy metal music and I learned to tune it out and hunker down in my area focused on color and pattern and dye and brushes and color…

I have always known how to create my own world.

Initially out of necessity and then as I got older, out of necessity again.

This robe is the last remaining piece from our collections.

It hangs in my closet.

I love how it just looks like a fairly plain blue robe until you open it up.

In my own life these days I watch how I am very judicious about when and with whom I show my own colors.

I used to splash them around all over the place.


Invisibility? NO! … SEE ME!

How funny that these days invisibility is not an option as I wobble around town with my walker and wheelchair.

Not really funny but how weird that life has given me what I wanted.

The thing is that I now choose very consciously where and with whom I show my colors.

They are hard won and precious.

There is nothing about me that even resembles splashy these days.

But I am not without the spontaneity of a water balloon toss..

It’s just that it isn’t an everyday event.

You never can tell when the wind might catch the hem of my robe and turn it such that you think you see color but aren’t at all sure that you saw anything at all.

Hectic Heart

untitled, 22″ x 30″, 1992, monoprint

It is scarily hot here.

For too long now.

Yesterday I got caught without any liquids with me and stopped into the golden arches for an iced tea.

They were a beacon of light when I saw them there.. I was beyond thirst and heading into MS heat shutdown fast.

So, I waited in the drive thru but it was lunchtime and too many others were there with me in line.

I felt myself crossing over into ‘borderline-human’ status as the heat worked on me.

I start to hate everyone and my tolerance level hit zero.

Finally, with oversized cup in hand I pull away toward the exit.

There are cars coming and going at an alarming rate; they’ve got a mini window of time for lunch and they NEED it BAD.

And so.. mayhem ensues as each is out for themselves; getting into line FAST!

I’m waiting there at the exit to try to do just that.. EXIT this damn place and get what I need: peace and liquids in me.



I can’t get out of there.

Panic peeks around the corner with a knife in her hand, a very ugly mask and my heartbeat runs too fast.

I call up a smidgeon of humaneness and say a prayer of pure supplication: “Dear God.. Please have someone see that I have to get out of this parking lot immediately and let me go before them. Please let civility be alive and present.”

And there it was… the miracle at McDonalds.. a white (of course) Honda with dark glazed windows paused to let me leave.

Somehow, when angels appear to help, we never seem to get to identify them so a proper thank you can pass between us.

They appear, then they’re gone on their way to help another needy human.

I pulled onto a shady street and drank down my iced tea and felt the slow return of my sanity.

I finally remembered myself and was glad.

And there was peace and a quiet and grateful heart.

Woman Becoming

“WOMAN BECOMING”, 6′ x 45″, m/m

This is likely the most pivotal piece of art I ever created.

I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to create that day and this arrived unbidden.

I was a little afraid..

The process of bringing her to form was tumultuous and other-worldly as I lost touch with time and place and just stepped out of the way.

My intention that day was to create a wedding gift for my husband to be I was to marry in the next few months.

Having set that purpose it was up to me to set all ego based wanting to the side and watch to see what wanted to come forward.

She was so insistent and fierce and vulnerable at the same time.

The piece took my breath away as it was nothing like anything I had ever created before.

My husband loved it and we both enjoyed her company for the years we remained married.

When we divorced he generously asked if I’d like her back.

I look at this photo of her and see the giant red schism running down her middle and the fact she has no discernable legs.

She was so much wiser than I at the time.. the bride- to-be enchanted by endless wooing with fine wine and status gleaned from the attentions of the company president.

I slipped so terrifyingly easily into the ‘serve-your-man’ job description.

I entertained with sparkly dinner tables and took second seat as he attempted to sell his business.

I lost my legs.

Forgive me if it sounds as if I am blaming him.

That, certainly is a seductive road.

But the truth be told, the schism was ‘Cathy created” pure and anything but simple.

How weird is it that now, as I have MS as my companion, I get my legs back?

In reality, each day I seem to lose a bit more muscle strength.

They are untrustable, my legs.

But the ground I’ve covered since way back when!

Now, THAT takes my breath away!

And she was all the wiser, that girl who appeared as the unbidden wedding gift..

All raw and halved and yet-to-be-formed.

Such a gorgeous gift she was. IS.

Her voice still, to this day, sings to me. A whispered reminder.

Authority of Descent

“MAYA”, 1998, 5′ x 3′, m/m

I remember being on vacation once and the sea tossed me hard and long as I scraped the bottom and lost track of the direction I needed to go in to breathe.

I was down there too long and suddenly I realized I no longer needed breath; I was absolutely fine. More than fine.

When I did make it up for air I thought: “Did I breathe underwater? What the hell just happened here?”

I never did answer that question.

I think because the mystery of it all was bigger than the urge to have an answer that was right.

I see now it was a dollop of grace.

One I’ve used repeatedly over the years since.

There are those of us with the draw to dive deep.

No matter what the outcome, we continually go after the pressure that builds and the work it takes to remain conscious as we explore depths unknown to but a few.

Down there we see stuff.

Feel things.

Change to meet the unfamiliar depths.

We resurface different.

Our whole being wraps itself around the challenge of uncharted territory and we push aside the loneliness of each step because we can.

My own proclivity has always been to move toward the deep.

Now, as I have the companionship of a chronic illness it takes me a bit longer to suit up but I continue to dive and be glad of it.

The weight of the illness actually helps me go deeper faster and stay there longer.

Sure, there are hardships to endure and exhaustion; overload of new information, decompression and the constant effort to reacclimate to everyday life as I rejoin the land lovers.

But I still go in. Have to go in. And see what I can effect by doing, thinking, being different.

I think it is worth the effort.

I don’t honestly know how to do it differently.

So should you ever need to know how to breathe underwater, gimme a call and I’ll tell you everything I know.

You’ll likely be disappointed as the stuff I know doesn’t come easy to the telling of it.

But if you close your eyes for a moment you likely can feel a bit of the chill of the deep.

It feels good I’m told, on a hot and humid day.


“THE ROAD”, 1984, 3″ x 5″, pigment on wool flannel

This piece was done years before I ever came to Santa Fe.

And yet, it has all the elements of my life today in the high desert.

Living here as I do with a good number of Native Americans, I wonder at the presence of what have become recurrent symbols in my art over the years.

Since I can remember, circles and spirals and snakes and the grid as well as obvious layering and ladders have populated my art.

These same symbols are key in the Native world as well.

Earth-worshiping people.

Those for whom intelligence gleaned from the swamp and molecular make up of minerals or the elegant sidewinding of reptiles through barely disturbed grass are their hymns.

The circle keeps calling me.

It has been my most reliable companion over the years.

Do you think that pathetic?

The gift of no beginning, no end…. does that not level the pesky grasping of a thousand Christmases?

Yes indeed… there is some finely orchestrated plan I’m in the middle of.

Something somewhere with a monocle gripped over an eye looking over my list and nicking off trials and tests and bundles of grace and ‘”AHA!’s” as I meander down my road, broken and rebuilt so many times.

I’m so damn glad I heard the directions whispered one day way back when to leave everything I knew for sure behind and get my butt out here to New Mexico.

I plopped myself down smack in the middle of the most interesting of spirals.

It never matters if the direction I move is inward or out along it’s path.. the meal I’m served is always fine tuned to my palate.

And still I am hungry.


detail of sculpture

A contemplative life could very well appear as navel gazing.

As my large installation-creating abilities drop away they are being replaced by an inward turn.

My nature has always been such that I wonder and muse and put my attention on systems.

Oftentimes those systems are things like this: how does all the produce sold at a grocery store get from the plot of farmland to the truck to the right road to the warehouse to the packager to the store to the right isle?

Stuff like that.

It is just the way my mind works. Loving the connections hidden from us that get the trains where they should be at the right time, all shiny and ready to take us where we want to go.

I find it intriguing.

These days, going in like I am, I look in directions like these: What actually creates health? What is a rich life? Is this what God feels like? Why do I get this weird feeling when I am with this one person? I feel crummy this morning. Is it something I ate or something I thought or something that belongs to someone else? My heart is wide and open here but protected and armored in this circumstance. Why?

You think about things like these which at the outside seem self indulgent, but as answers start coming clearer, guideposts appear for a thriving existence.

All the dross of a me-centric life starts shifting toward a BE-centric one.

It seems to start out like an endless array of self-centric psyche-diving but somehow along the way it moves into a wide and open place where I start leaving the ME behind.

I feel it beginning to happen and the solace of it keeps me riveted.

My ‘ME’ was/is so damn jam packed with ‘other-than-space’ that the little I’m privy to at the moment is very, very good medicine.

I guess the thing that is getting me here is the call to follow a particular system of thought, being, doing and keep following like a perfect dance partner.. giving myself over to the slight brush of a thigh or a pressure directing me left and moving into a turn and then a titillating pause..

When I think of it like that; as a call to follow rather than an ego based decision to do this or that, I see it is God’s language that is the main event and I am rapt with intrigue at the thing unveiling itself.

The Journey

untitled, 1992, 30″ x 22″, monoprint

I surprise myself sometimes that I still have the core of faith at my center.

I still love this precious life.

And most of the time I want to stick around.

I probably would not be so keen if the whole theater of the thing wasn’t still entertaining.

These days though, I watch from my witness perch and it is too often dark out there.

Out in the world, sure, but closer to home as well.

But is this bad?

I sense it is all part of the plan and my job is to stand for what I stand for, make a good life and handle my own inner violence.

Flip flop..flip flop.. change happens so how shall we hold it?

It embarrasses me that my inner terrain is not more even.

The GREAT DAY of yesterday has slipped into another costume as days are wont to do..

Often, when sense is out of reach, I go here, to Mary Oliver’s work:

The Journey- by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Great Day

detail, textile design

Went gallivanting yesterday.

I called an old friend I hadn’t seen in a few years as his relationship with another woman precluded ours.We had separated on good terms but there seemed no room for me in his life after that so I let it be.

I got gutsy the other day and called him up.

I broke our silence recently and called him. I asked if he still wanted to be my friend.

There are people in life with whom I have formed a secure and satisfying bond and neither distance nor time seems to have any effect.

This friend is one of those gifts; too valuable to toss into the corner with an “Oh, well…”

He told me that yes, indeed, he would like to be my friend.

Interestingly, he is in the process of unweaving his prior relationship but I had no notion of picking up where we left off.. I want him solely as my friend.

When I look to my inner circle these days, safety (physical, emotional, spiritual), an ability to see outside ones self, a good dose of irreverence and the capacity to swim in deep waters are hallmarks of those I keep close to me.

I listen to myself say “feeling safe” over and over in my life. What does that mean?

In the case of yesterday it meant that when he drove my car I trusted his skill.

I felt he kept his eye on me all day in an unobtrusive way, watching out for my well being.

We drove away from Santa Fe and felt the static of the city stayed behind us as we found hidden red dirt roads that looked like good picnic possibilities.

He found a great spot but it was over hill and dale and outside my normal comfort zone of navigating my walker.

I started to go into my default “NO.”

He said, “Just piggyback. Grab hold my neck and I’ll carry you.”

At first, I balked but his offer sounded so normal and without any weirdness attached to it that I said ok.

We sat in this great spot by the river for awhile till the bugs got us and decided to find a better spot.

It was time for me to get up from the ground.

I didn’t know how.

Usually, I have something to push up with but not here.

“I don’t know how to do this, ” I say.

We try a number of different solutions and start laughing.

It all felt so natural (almost) and fun.

I finally made it up and piggybacked to the car while squealing like a schoolgirl.

That whole thing felt safe.

I am so damned uses to the gravity of being CAREFUL and truncating my life in so many ways because of disability.

Yesterday helped me see and feel options.

I certainly DID NOT ‘look good’ as I struggled to get to the picnic place or try to stand up.


I have a new normal.

And I saw it can be fun.

In order for me to settle into my new normal, I will keep those around me I feel I can test untried territory with and risk failure AND success.

I know it’s all an inside job but the company one keeps helps open sticky doors.

Self Portrait

“SEED”, 48″ x 48″, 2004,m/m

Most of my art tends toward self portraiture in the sense that I do my best work when I don’t know what I’m doing.

Rather, instead of DECIDING exactly what I think the piece should be I ALLOW it to emerge and in that way I always learn something about myself by letting the work teach me.

Sometimes this happens immediately as I am completing a piece or it could creep up on me years, even decades later.

Certainly, there are themes that have arisen over the years in varying colors and forms.

This is one such theme; that of striated layers with a seed-like form in various states of gestation.

So much of my work has included layering and a sort of hierarchy evident in the obvious ‘below and above’ the horizontal orientation.

What I have learned over these many years intimately entangled in a tempestuous relationship with a chronic illness is that it is all relative.

The climb and the energy output in trying to reach the summit always held such a gleam.

The physical test and the sweat outpour involved in putting one foot still higher on the ladder when the air was too damn thin.

Now, I can’t lift my leg high enough to clear just one measly rung on the thing.

But, funny enough, I am so much stronger.

Not the physical kind at the moment but the sort of strength inherent in the seed; the force that makes us burn through the rocks and weight of earth and keep doing it until we can’t.

And take a rest to gather ourselves gaining strength from the most mundane of things; reviving ourselves with the slow sensuality of water seeping through the dry ground and the impossibly rich smell of ready earth.

And we press on..

These things are my church. This is where I pray.

The small and weak and silent and threadbare..

How loud they have become to my ears.

And how very satisfying their song.

And I press on…


detail of ceramic sculpture
My dog has tan fur.
It comes out to meet me like
patient medicine.

Slight Obstacle

untitled monoprint, 1990, 22″ x 30″

It seems after a certain amount of time on the planet one would be quite sure that any less-than-fabulous emotion or bump in the road would likely be different an hour from now or tomorrow would find the situation a distant memory…

So then why is it when a new symptom adds itself to my list or I find myself mired in foggy territory do I KNOW THE SITUATION IS PERMANENT??????

I find it utterly ridiculous that I do not know at this point that depression lasts for two days max in my world (mostly) and symptoms are often ghost-like in their arrival and departure.

It is quite unacceptable that I lock down into these states of being leaving all thoughts of possibility and reality checking behind.

MS is scary shit, no doubt about it.

Just pause, Cath, and let the twitching eye have it’s day or the renegade toe curling likely will unfurl tomorrow.

I want so VERY much to remember when the demonic iron gates of hell go up that I am quite sure I saw a faulty join in the grid; easy enough for a girl my size to slither through.

I think I could still make it with a vagrant toe and a hyperactive eye.

Yes, I am quite sure I can.

New Territory

installation untitled, 1991, ceramic, earth, coal

I feel inclined to mention the fact I have felt pretty ‘off’ the last week.

It shows up as less-than-great writing and sort of threadbare thinking.

I could beat myself up for my ‘less-than-perfectness.’

But I’ve done so much of that over the years that it positively bores me.

I know by now that when my life (mind, emotions, connection to God, housekeeping-inner and outer) starts becoming messy it likely means I am in the midst of big change.

And I am.

This territory I am moving into is new to me and negotiating it means making a lot of mistakes as we come to learn each other.

The best I can do is allow the messiness and forgive myself.

And I can.

And I do.


untitled objects, 2000, 7″ x 1″, ceramic

The heat in a life
Wrung me out and I’m hanging
Formless and watching.

The Honey Guides

“HAND”, 1985, 5′ x 44″, pigment on wool flannel


Once upon a time there was a girl who had a secret place.

It was up on a hill covered in long grass.
Sometimes she would snuggle down and make a nest for herself
when her parents were bugging her or if she felt alone.

She never really fit well anywhere.
She was well liked though she belonged to no group.
Her best friends were Nature Spirits.
They would whisper and sing softly in her ear.
Her fledgling heart was always soothed.
As she grew older she returned again and again to her grassy hill
and the Spirits who tended her so long and so well.

One day she noticed that far away across the river, in a little cottage
Smoke was rising from the chimney.
In all these years from her secret spot she had never noticed this before.

She became curious and decided to pack a little bag
And make the long journey to the cottage.
She was cold. Perhaps she could find some warmth by the fire.

She walked for days, for years and a lifetime.
As she finally approached the cottage she heard laughter.
I sounded like a party.

She timidly knocked on the door and all the noise inside stopped.
The door creaked open and in a blaze of light and warmth she saw a table.
It was set with crystal and silvery things.
There were many places set at this table.

From each chair came a welcoming smile from the most radiant people
The girl had ever seen.
She felt warm and tingly inside as she noticed
There was a special place set just for her.
She sat and someone began to speak.

“We are the HONEY GUIDES. We are here to teach you about sweetness
And nurture and family and love.”
“We will hold your hand while you eat and your heart will grow
And you will always know where to go for food.”

And at that- a lovely woman with golden hair
Began to sing a heartbreakingly beautiful song,
A blessing was given and the feast began.

The girl understood that her whole life so far was in preparation for this-
Her seat at the tribal table.
She was no longer alone.

She felt her heart grow wide and wider still.
And she saw it was true what she had been told;
That part of The Journey must be made alone
But for the heart to become ripe and full
One needs a hand to hold.

————Cathy Aten


untitled monoprint, 30″ x 22″, 1991

I wonder how much using our will gets us into a thriving life?

As Americans, we worship the brute power of willing ourselves to tough it out or make it happen or ‘against all odds..GO!’ as in wartime or just getting an ornery kid to school.

I use an inordinate amount of energy WILLING myself toward an existence I see may be larger than my physicality can manage.

I am looking at a lot of ideas I have about participation in the world in what I might call ‘big’ ways; activities that are service oriented and feel inspiring to me.

But the more I put energy into trying to get them off the ground the more I meet up with silence from those that could help me do it.

I asked myself the other day: what if I just STOPPED using my will and segued into ALLOWANCE?

Just waited till I was moved to do?

A giant wave of peace washed over me.

I took that as a confirmation that I am somehow on the right track here.

You’d think if we took the feeding tube of WILL out of our arm we might just collapse from inertia.

But NO!

There is something sweeter behind it, I am seeing.

Something potent and purposeful and wider than the narrow band of will.


Excuse me as I take the faint trace of this trail I see at the edge of a dark wood….

On The Wind

“MARKS”, 1999, 11″ x 11″, m/m

I just spent an hour writing about the oil spill.

And I deleted the whole thing because I let myself start feeling into the weird dampness in the skies of Santa Fe the past couple days…

I was realizing there is much, much more on this wind from the South than we can perceive.

The stuff between the lines is always most potent and that vast territory is holding me hostage.

I am rendered wordless this morning.

I need a new language .

I’ll leave it at that until something makes it’s way to the surface and wants to be said.

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