What Is Attractive?

TOTEMS, 1995, 24″-27″, ceramic
An extremely accomplished photographer friend asked me to be her subject and the shoot took place this week.

I so looked forward to this because I respect her as a person and as a talent and was eager to see the ‘me’ she saw through her lens.

She is not about ‘pretty’ as an end in itself. I would say that one of her great talents rests in the ability to capture the real and unpretentious in her subjects and allow the viewer to feel the beauty there; ‘beauty’ meaning the essence of Life with a capital ‘L.’

When she arrived at the house I saw the look in her eye- the laser focus of a creative being searching for her food; some light or composition or thread which moved her to take action.

Interestingly, to me, I just easily let her have a conversation with me as her inner gears were turning while deciding what tack to take for the photo shoot. I had no nervousness about it at all. I trusted her, the experience and nothing about me was working to make sure it was ‘perfect.’ I surrendered because I was too tired to do otherwise and because I hold her in such high regard.

The process of being photographed was so blessedly free of inhibition. She didn’t want smiles and I had few to give.

I sat and looked at the lens wondering what she was seeing, yes, but more resting in the unusual relaxed and state of being I was experiencing and marveling at the absence of anxiety.

When I viewed the photos yesterday there was so much to feel: I hated my hair, I loved my face, the gorgeous light and simplicity of composition. Even though I felt so deeply relaxed in her presence I saw the fear and worry I carry as a consequence of my health concerns. This didn’t look pretty to me at all. Any kind of veneer was decidedly absent.

I have an idea, a story about how I appear to people which is free of straining and struggle. When I look in the mirror it is that Cathy I
see. I see that one because I HAVE to. I am a beauty junkie and the image of myself I have conjured in my mind helps me heal, frankly.

My friend did what she does best- she reveals an essence of someone without the masks we all use to appear in a way that we deem attractive.

I woke up this morning not caring very much about my bad hair in the shoot. What I do care about is that I had an experience of having my photograph taken without anxiety.. that I have a friend with whom I can relax even in such an anxiety-provoking situation, that I have an opportunity to really ‘see’ my self in the beauty of my own present moment through her amazing photographs of me.

My beloved dog was at my side throughout; spread languidly over my knee brace and licking my ‘less-than-fully-functional hand.

Is this not beauty?

Guns and Roses

detail of installation, ceramic, 2008

Humans don’t change until we are affected very personally and get sad, mad or deeply afraid.

We do not shift our actions or thinking in the presence of intelligence or even genius.

If, however, the blood sprays us in the face (Colorado)

Or the ingestion of sugar weakens us to the point of not being able to walk (me and MS)

OR water at last refuses to come out of the spigot (Southwest water crisis)

THEN and only then will we change our behaviors and effect real change.

We think we are so accomplished in the civility realm but we are animals surely and the lizard brain back there rules after all is said and done.

It really boils down to survival instincts.

Unless our very survival is challenged (a spouse leaving because we drink too much or appreciated to little, a grudge we coddled never forgiven because the friend has passed on and we are stuck with the stress)

We’ll just shuffle from one sink hole to the next.

It is human to be this dense and self-serving.

It is also human to stand forward and lead by example; to effect change by shifting ones’ interior and letting the ripple effect have it’s way

Or to use one’s voice and mind in a way in which people are able to listen and forgo their natural defenses to change.

Change is so very hard.

And scary.

And often lonely.

But we must. And surely can.

I honor all those affected personally in the recent Colorado massacre who served to sear our hearts and hopefully help us shift into a higher consciousness.

It is so personal.

So very, very personal.

An Innocent Mouth

“TWO PEOPLE”, 2001, 4 x3′, m/m

Recently, my teacher DANIEL VILLASENOR, who embodies refinement in ways I never even dreamed of spoke of an innocent mouth.

I remember first seeing him on his website and noticing the utter softness of his mouth even in the midst of a very challenging arm balance.

Doesn’t efforting demand grunting, contorting the face, squishing the eyes closed and generally hardening all facial features?

I’m quite sure reaching for and grabbing the hatchback on my car as I effort to pull it closed in the heat benefits a good deal from swearing and tightening and grinding my teeth together.

Levity aside, this is serious business- the allowance for our Selves to feel the ‘work’ of life; of living with illness without the tendency to grip,protect,armor against what feels like the enemy.

When I see this same softness in my own face, the surprise of her infrequent appearance helps me remember that girl-woman who lives between the lines of a life lived.

Without what has become a constant ‘grip’

I lose 10 years and my beingness feels silky; ready for unaffected and genuine engagement with life as she unfolds.

No performance. No pretense.

Here is an antidote to age:

Close your eyes and give your lower jaw to gravity. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Give yourself as much space between your jaws as it wants.

When I lay down the armor purposefully like this I almost feel if I looked in a mirror I’d look stupid..unintelligent.

Thoughts like these tell me how far from a naturally innocent mouth I have moved.

And how easy to reintroduce myself.

The Turning With A Charge

The last post I wrote left me with a residual feeling of something left undone.

I am an observer of life; myself, others, other…

That said- I pay attention to the magnetics which maneuver my mind in particular directions. When those forces affect my soul as well as my mind I take note.

This blog, in it’s very public way, helps me know what is up for me in my journey in partnership with MS.

Often, the landscape isn’t that cool or attractive or PC.

You help keep me honest. Taking a thought/feeling/idea and putting it into form by choosing words to represent it is very different than ruminating privately.

I am well aware that writing about the HIERARCHY OF DISABILITY left some people with a sourness in their pores.

My interest was the fact I turned away on that day from a man.

It was I who lost. I who missed an opportunity. I who felt superior in my relatively unscathed physique.

In thinking about this act of turning away I wondered where else I turn?

My personal avoidances are things like people who drive Hummer cars, scream at their kids or each other, alcoholics, homeless people who look scary, the folks who stand on the nearby street protesting an abortion clinic and the people standing in the median with a sign asking for money with a cute dog lying close by.

Now, as I think about this act of turning I see many shades of grey. I can and do turn judiciously from experiences, people, energetic atmospheres which do not benefit me or my wellbeing.

This kind of turning is distinct from that of which I speak as the action comes without a CHARGE (read: judgement) attached to it.

I have a judgement about the ‘Hummer-man.’ He shouldn’t be taking up that much space, polluting, etc.
INSTA-DISTANCE created. (my own carbon footprint is bigger than I’d like.)

I turned from the disabled man because I felt my own vulnerability too deeply. More INSTA-DISTANCE

Same with the homeless man. Wasn’t too long ago I was in an all-too-precarious home search myself.

And the beggar. I have been there. My clothes were cleaner and I have a better haircut. Yeah- I got a washer in my house and a few dollars in my account but really…. am I so very different than this guy? More distancing.

The abortion clinic protesters are not bad. Different politically than me but not wrong. The distancing feels good, though… reinforces my delusional superiority.

These are only examples I immediately pulled out of my hat as I write this.

God only knows what other turnings happen on subtler levels that keep me separate and supporting this culturally-generated alienation we live and breathe and call it the American Dream.

Freedom, to me, seems like the capacity to see clearly and choose from that place.

Sometimes it is a very messy road to get there, though.