I Met You With Space

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untitled, 40×32, m/m
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It has been a few years since I have seen my brother who came to visit this past weekend from Maine.

He is the youngest and I the eldest.

I felt a bit anxious before his arrival because neither of us is the best communicator with one another and there was so very much I didn’t know.

We also had survived a very challenging few years forced to deal with financial decisions tumbling us both like a lapidary machine.

Inward we both retreated to lick our wounds for years.

Befriending my mortality as I have chosen to do brought to my awareness I missed how my brother and I laughed once upon a time.

Would I ever get to do that with him again?

Had he lost all respect for me because my choices have been different than his?

Would I die without knowing that HE KNOWS how much I love him?

I made a conscious decision to empty our playing field before he arrived; swept myself clean of attitude, opinion, doubt and fear.

Space in my heart is what I would and could offer him as my love present.

He walked through the door..looking so very handsome and light!

He had not experienced me in a wheelchair and I asked him if he felt weird.

“Well…it’s different. I was expecting it though.” I loved his truth-telling which he did the whole time he was here.

We rolled around as I introduced him to my coffee spot, favorite people.

He gamely took Emma’s leash as she was dressed in a leopard winter coat. Now THAT takes some testosterone don’tcha know?

We vowed to not participate in family secrets when possible..he bought me dinners and delivered coffee and wanted only to support me in any way he could.

During our visit my heart and body melted any armoring I had taken on due to inaccurate realities I had concocted

And what was left was pure love.

Pure Love..blood Love..genetic sharing recognition love…Love period.

Just Space and Love.

Space.

The freedom of Space.

The gift of Space to Be.

Space to Be Love.

I love you.

My Grandmother’s Closet

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hand-painted silk, 1987
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My grandmother had a fancy dressing room.

Wall to wall closet, built-in vanity with lots of french-style mirrors, inviting drawers and surface area for potions.

Painted a lovely sage green and carpeted in this soothing color

I crept in there barefoot to sit my young self down in the tufted swivel vanity chair

And take a good, long, private look.

I saw a chubby, acned girl. The distance between that little me and her gowns hanging there in the closet was so great it silenced me on all levels.

So…I opened the golden lipstick tube and proceeded to primp.

I painted, slathered and slipped ever-so-carefully into too many yards of crepe de chine in emerald and scarlet and butter yellow trimmed with gold.

I brushed my mousy hair with sterling hair tools and dabbed perfume behind my pink ears from cut crystal bottles.

Dreaming of dances and be-jeweled darlings dipped by suitors while waltzing

I stood there looking….

Taking a tissue I daintily touched up the corners of my dreaming mouth painted red

And stepped away from the mirror.

I closed my eyes to feel the future kisses and fine stationery as I opened invitations finely calligraphed.

Suddenly smelling hamburgers cooking downstairs

I hurriedly took off the gown, pressed it smooth in the closet to avoid detection and washed my face well.

Running down the stairs to hug my grandmother I knew I had forgotten to delete the strong perfume.

But I didn’t care.

I knew she knew.

She knew so much and loved me still.

Excuse me while I go paint my lips…..

Letting Go- again…

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CATERPILLAR, 2004, 12x4x2″,ceramic
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I sold my beautiful car.

A few years ago my sister and brother-in-law gifted me their Honda mini-van as their chicks flew the coop and I desperately needed a vehicle I could outfit with a power wheelchair lift.

This was more than a car to me…more a mobile hug from people that love me.

It kept me free.

For a long time.

One day in a Target parking lot I was attending to putting my chair in the power lift and taking my walker out of the back in order to walk from the back of the car to the drivers seat.

This angular lady in a convertible passed me by and took in the disability theater I was performing and proceeded to give me THE LOOK

Whose subtext was something like: “REALLY??? YOU ARE THIS DISABLED AND YOU ARE STILL DRIVING?? I’M GETTIN’ AWAY FROM YOU FAST.”

Granted this was my subjective interpretation but God speaks in mysterious ways.

The fact is this reaction to me infected my blood had me think long and hard about my driving capabilities.

It was then I chose to stop driving.

Moving from risking my own and other’s lives and remaining what I called “FREE”

To dependancy on my caregiver and friends to cart me around was strangely easy.

Selling my beloved van this week (time lapse about 2 years) was couched in the same ease.

There was no gripping, no tantrum.

Resignation and grief were there..are here.

I guess I’m getting better at living inside “WHAT IS”.

Freedom is still mine with great dial-up van service and my proximity to downtown Santa Fe for chair roll-abouts daily.

The idea of being free seems to have a lot to do with the very action of letting go of what we think we can’t live without

And finding the room left over, previously tightly occupied, has a giant updraft built right in…

Or maybe I’m just fooling myself

Because the reality is too gritty?

Either way- I choose the up-draft thing

Just because I can.

Church Ladies

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Emma and me in church
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I have written before about my personal brat pack from high school and the connection we forged which, for me, has been tempered over the years into the finest alchemical magic imaginable.

The past few days I had a visitation from another pack member, Paul.

He arrived with the gift of a mixed CD he made for me sporting stuff like THE MAMAS AND PAPAS, ROD STEWART and other beloved oldies because that’s what we are.

He knows I love to wake and groove.

At this point my body won’t reliably obey my will so I desperately need the juice, juju and jive to enervate my sloth.

Paul treated me royally in so many ways and I felt my entire self let go into the safety of being looked after and out for.

We tooled around town together so easily. I smiled seeing my buddy with tiny, white, stubborn Emma leading him to and fro.

I feel quite tribal in proximity to my pack members from way back then.

Paul and I stopped into a favorite meditation spot; The Santuario de Guadalupe.

There is something inordinately precious about sharing the experience of prayer or connection with “All That Is” with those we love.

I left the church feeling ‘more.’

Thank you, Paul.

Yesterday

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“THRIVE” installation in private home, ceramic pieces 6″x1/2″,nails, 2008
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Not too very many years ago I woke, showered, made coffee and prepared to enter my studio to make art if the gods were with me.

Yesterday, I woke and did my ablutions then prepared Emma for her walkabout.

Within a half an hour I had met and spoken with two handsome septic system giant hole diggers.

“Good morning” I say.

“Buenas dias” they say in unison.

“Very nice hole you are digging there”.

“Gracias” (big toothy smiles).

Next interaction was with a homeless guy I had admired because his dog is ultra well-mannered and he (the dog) wears sunglasses all the time.

I say: “Your dog is so cool. How did you train him so well? I am trying hard with my dog but frustrated alot.”

“Pretty good for a homeless guy, right?”

“They need love, love, love, kindness.”

That was his distilled dog training session which was pleasantly and decidedly far away from Cesar Milan wisdom.

Emma and I rolled along toward her favorite grassy place.

A little later some guy in a very fancy car yells: “What kind of dog is that? Can you come closer so I can see her?”

I negotiate the curb cut, humans, lamp post,trash bin to get closer.

Traffic is impatiently backing up behind him.

“This is Emma. She’s a maltese w/ some terrier.”

Speaking urgently now: “My dog is an ……(some fancy dog breed I had never heard of).”

“He looks like your dog and I miss him so much I just had to say hi.”

Horns now honking behind him three cars deep.

“Bye bye Emma!! Bye Emma! Bye bye……” he keeps yelling as we move along.

We wheel away and I can’t stop smiling at this direction my life has taken.

I just am enjoying the hell out of it.

Rise or Be With

disabiliy?
detail of ceramic urn, 1985, 20″d x 14″h
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I have pain.

This is new to me.

My coccyx pulses with nervy pins and needle sensations pretty much all day now.

The onset was fast.

Part MS nerve damage and part take-away from sitting in the chair.

MS is just the endless row of doors down the hallway of some friggin’ graduate school I’d rather have skirted entirely

But NOOOOOOO….. I deal w/ one classroom like managing fatigue, exit, then the next doorway sucks me in.

I am very good at rising above stuff.

Not through denial necessarily but by registering the thing and then choosing my attitude which, by now I know is all I can affect anyway.

But these new announcements my body is sending are un-rise-abovable.

So then.. I experiment with just being with it.

(the person who came up with putting “just” in front of “be” feels sort of slappable to me today)

‘Being’ asks for room and lots of it;

Space seems to be my new pain medication.

New facial contortions provoke wrinkles just biding their time for a ticket to my face.

Does grimacing help with the pain?

What happens if I soften instead of stiffen?

Is comfort and ease the holy grail?

How much juju do I use armoring myself against what is?

These are all new questions.

I don’t know.

I just don’t know.

If I had not become an artist my choice would have been Biology.

Everything we do must be done THROUGH the body so now I am afforded the acute attention to my corporeality fired by Spirit..

I will wear my blue velvet alchemist cloak and see what transpires in this fire.

The Frenchman

health
painted wool flannel
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Working for so many years exposed to toxic things in the art world like acetone, printers ink, chemical dye powders and turpentine fumes

Has left my olfactory sense on overload at the slightest whiff of anything.

This is called environmental illness.

It has it’s plusses and minuses.

I worked for a stint in Michigan at a very high-end furniture store called ROCHE BOBOIS.

A french Canadian cutie patootie furniture salesman used to visit the store on occasion.

We flirted.

He wore a mens cologne called EAU SAVAGE.

It made me swoon.

Recently rolling downtown I found myself drafting behind a gentleman dressed well, comfortably striding lankily in front of me.

I smelled that smell…

OMG, I smelled that smell.

Emma was inside her own olfactory ecstasy.

We were two just plain old-brained mammals jettisoned into various time zones past and present

With no eye for any damn thing..just our nose.

Now, the wake of a street person has a bit of a sour note.

Newly cut green grass affects Em and me equally

And silliness ensues.

If I could dig like her I surely would, I tell you.

Fragrances are potent prayers of a sort; dressing as I do with CHANEL #5 applied ritualistically I occasionally imagine Cathy Aten prayer flags wafting gently behind me as I roll..offerings of gratitude and recognition for the gift of Life.

On days I can’t muster more than peaked participation in the Game my fragrance helps me get right.

I guess it all comes down to the right accessories in the end.

High-steppin’

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Emma’s preferred gait is equal to my fifth and highest gear in the chair.

Being that her history is that of a California street dog I just try to keep up with all of her 6 pounds.

Her hind quarters are sturdy and strong, stubborn and decisive.

She is my elder. Ten years is seventy in dog so I try to let her teach me as we roll.

Life is all about food as any good girl knows and Emma tells me this by dancing on two feet with front paws splayed wide to the side.

Her eyes turn up and back into her head when I sing which of course makes me feel like the winner of AMERICA’S GOT TALENT.

Green grass gets a similar swoon. My friend says we look alike; the short and mussy hair and the eyes..curious, vital, streetwise, knowing, slightly guarded but willing.

Her warmth is unobtrusively pressed gently into me at all times in the night. I shift. She finds me.

We are rescuing each other in each moment. We live in the privilege of presence with the conviction there is absolutely no more interesting place we’d rather be.

Morning Rollabout

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My Name is Emma

Charo (1)

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter named me CHARO when I got there last week. I was so tired from running on the streets of California where I hail from.

A nice person on the sidewalk offered me some food and I was beyond hungry so I decided to trust the lady. Her voice was slow and soft as she drove me to this place that was so noisy and scary with too much barking. All of a sudden I was in another car in a crate driving for a long, long time. (Santa Fe exchanges dogs with other shelters. We have an abundance of big dogs and California has many little dogs in their shelters so we trade out)

My teeth were really hurting and I was limp from using up all my courage.

We got to Santa Fe and this guy in a white coat looked so worried when he saw me. I have some years on me and scrounging for food and water on the streets was all I did. My skin and hair looked pretty bad I think.

The white-coat guy said everything would be ok and the next thing I remember is waking up with most of my teeth gone and my female parts altered in some weird way. I was sore.

I started to feel a tiny bit better after awhile. Drank a little water and listened to all the sounds in the room. The white-coat guy kept poking his face in to check me out.

A different and gigantic man came and opened my cage and gently picked me up. He knew all the right words to say, how to hold me and I liked him.

We walked a ways and then he put me in the arms of Cathy.

She bent down to whisper hello in my ear. Then we just sat there together for the longest time. My body felt her respiration slow and drop into a soft place and I relaxed too.

She sang a little song. Her voice wasn’t that good but I thought the effort was nice.

Cathy took me home. She first named me SQUEEZER but that wasn’t my name; too cute. Don’t get me wrong.. I AM cute but there is more to me than that and Cathy saw it. I am a survivor. My step is high and proud; almost regal. I am fast and smart and wise and calm.

My name is EMMA; nothing hard or cute or inventive..The sound arrives like the song Cathy sang to me when we met..

Like a prayer.

Moving From Person To Presence

dad

These are hand-painted silk neckties I did as part of my history working in the fashion industry. 1986.

I worked in a giant, dank, dirty loft in the South End of Boston when it was hard and raw.

I went to work each day and stretched silk on a 5 yard table, mixed dye and dove in.

I have always felt myself more in the process of creating rather than the final product.

This proclivity is still the case and serves me so well as I negotiate disability territories.

If I tend toward end-product thinking: whether I will walk again, regain old stamina or ‘heal’….

The downward spiral of comparison grabs be and takes me down.

If, in fact I stay inside CURIOSITY (hmmm…my physical self is tired and I must lie down and miss the movie I planned to go to– instead of shaming myself about being not-count-on-able I will lie here in gratitude for the honeysuckle seeping in through the window. Clearly, I needed rest instead of stimulation in this moment. How great my body let me know and did not stay silent.)

My end result now IS the moment to moment adventure…not becoming something/someone.

Being still and quiet with what is.

When I look at these neckties from long ago I remember the feel of the thick dye as I painted it onto wood blocks to press into the taut white silk..

The cacophony of co-workers around me playing horrible metal music and smoking, talking fashion, makeup, photography for an upcoming fashion show

Faded to black.

Only I remained…

I don’t remember the check I got when all was said and done.

Healing means something very different than I imagined.

I Love to Swear

stigmata1
detail of hand-painted textile, 1986
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As the lover of words I am..

Swearing with authority is just plain good medicine.

I pity those who choose to deny themselves

The rip-roarin’ juice a confidently chosen “FUCK!” can deliver.

Often, these words are carriers of cultural or religious stains,

Tainting the utterance with a dampness effectively destroying their inherent power.

Most of the time they arrive unconsciously like an involuntary muscle spasm

And we are slightly alarmed at the fierceness that is ours.

My Episcopalian self

Most times stays hidden and curled

But when I swear she immediately pounces

Dressed in her starched and uber-white Sunday best

With some self-flagellating weirdness in her right hand

And offers it up to me.

I used to take the thing with my head lowered in shame.

Now I walk away.

Turning from her with my face hidden

My mouth curls into a slightly diabolical expression

Of intense but slightly dirty pleasure.

My eyes glitter.

I walk on.. straight and solidly contained.

I love the whole damn mess.

Entrainment

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“SELF PORTRAIT” 24×24″,earth.ceramic,clay,bone,gold thread
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Each and every one of us was born perfect.

Then stuff happened.

Either we were blessed with a foundation to move and fly from with no cracks or faulty mortar

Or we lived inherently unsure the floor would hold us standing or falling.

All of us have our own laundry lists of curve balls we were thrown.

My personal list includes alcoholic father, depressed and emotionally challenged mother, perceived responsibility to keep four kids safe as the eldest child, extreme hyper-vigilance affording little rest, covert sexual abuse.

I have always been interested in why I developed MS as my physical constitution is unbelievably strong and always has been.

The metaphor of ones’ own immune system turning inward and attacking it’s self as happens in MS

Is an apt one when you think about it;

Living inside stress 24/7 with no let up would surely entrain the body systems into the ‘flight’ response.

I still don’t really know how to totally relax.

Coffee feels good because the vibe it carries matches the ever-present jittery core in me.

I drink it then hate it immediately afterwards.

I am so used the involuntary disturbed waters of my own frequency that I can mask it well.

The state of high alert is where the core of me resides.

My startle reflex is so high that everyone in my life knows never to stop by unannounced.

I live alone because living with another taxes my already ragged nervous system.

My whole life is crafted around cultivating peace.

I keep editing and editing and editing some more.

Each addition of energy comes with a tether and I must be judicious how I use my newly laundered life-force.

Ever so slowly my nervous system is reclaiming it’s original integrity with the salve of space.

My authentic voice strides proudly from behind thick and torn and over-used muscles I can begin to leave behind.

I am glad I survived. Survive still.

Thrive.

This recent TED talk is so potent in the discoveries of how stress affects us.

Mother’s Day


“TREE OF LIFE”, ceramic
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I did not have children and it was pretty much the best choice I ever made.

Was never drawn to the progeny experience.

Having a man in one’s life you’d like to disappear boundaries with in the heat of love is an element which seems to help usher in baby souls waiting in line for the grand slide into existence.

Lacking that element and the general impetus to give birth physically allowed me the space to do what I feel I was meant to do: use this time to re-acquaint myself with my original intelligence; the one that gets plastered over with the heroin of cultural norms.

I never felt like people looked at me as weird or other for my childlessness. Pity, perhaps at times.

I was the wilt-on-the-vine product of a mother who couldn’t.

My 3 siblings all pulled up their bootstraps and created miraculously healthy and shining families. Truly a miracle in my book.

I chose art and collecting mothers.

The women I found (and still find) to mother away the gaping turbulence of the black holes left in the wake of her absence

Are the folks I celebrate today.

I still feel her loss in the deep of my garden of a belly that never grew what it was created to grow.

But I have loved, I tell you.

No woman is more than me for having been blessed with the love of a child born of her womb.

I have loved.

I LOVE.

There are two abortions in my past and I wonder…

And then I feel my love; for self, Mother Earth, family, chosen family, the little plants I placed in a pot this morning, a dog, every darn one of my multitude of creations, all the choices and experiences which got me to Here. The ALLOWANCE to choose.

I love how I love.

Women I Love

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“The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”

—  Elizabeth Gilbert

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Making My Bed

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painted wool flannel
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I took myself out for lunch the other day.

Rolled to a fave place with my notebook in hand.

Needed to be IN humanity but not OF it.

Ordered a glass of wine mid-day. Never really do this but I needed to get fuzzy.

The world felt too taut.

My lunch arrived and I had a question on my mind: WHAT IS MISSING IN MY LIFE?

In my artist days I’d sit in cafes and somehow, the atmosphere of being surrounded by people helped me float down into less of a “thinking” mode and interesting directions would make themselves available.

On this day I made a list of things I felt were missing in my life. There were 8.

They came fast and urgently. Unbidden really. Just right there.

The last one made me hold my breath:

#8- Forgive my ex-husband.

Now..I have been working hard on forgiveness in the past few years but I didn’t even look in this direction.

He pissed me off for so many reasons..

Evidence of his horribleness was everywhere when I looked.

Gathering evidence and making a case FEELS SO GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OMG…It feels so damn good.

How can I forgive a manipulation like pulling out a pre-nup the night before we wed??? I mean, RIGHT?.

Oh yes, my friends…I was very, very right.

The thing is that I married him with my eyes closed. Now, I’m no dummy. I closed them because he represented security, cache in how my family saw me and how I saw myself as he was president of a publishing company, had all the “stuff” of a pretty life, handsome, we traveled (as much as we could in the 6 months we were together before he asked me to marry him).

I remember the numbing mind-fuck I did to myself as he asked for my hand.

Pathetic unconsciousness stemming from a lifetime of self doubt about my own worthiness;

“You want to marry me? WELL- SURE!!! Someone WANTS ME THIS MUCH!!! Nice ring, BTW..”

And there I was- entering into 4 years of “serve- your- man”…

Not one thing about the failure of our marriage was about HIM. NOT ONE THING.

He was actually a good and generous man.

I must forgive myself for needing what looked like love so desperately.

And I do.

A very, very different kind of “I DO.”

I Love Being an Adult

"BLUE GIRL"  11 x 11"   m/m

“BLUE GIRL” 11 x 11″ m/m

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It is quietly white out there.

The snow rests so comfortably on cars, trees and grasses.

All sound is buffered. Hushed.

I woke and turned languidly in my sheets thinking how ecstatic it felt to not be young and waiting out there in the grey for the mustard yellow school bus.

Every time I see one of those my stomach tenses.

Now- I am free.

I choose my state of mind.

I must keep it interesting as often as possible.

When I remember Mrs. Spencer teaching me history as a young girl

The smell of the room invades my head and I think of her dry, wrinkly dryness

Devoid of passion for much of anything.

I hate history.

My heart turned toward the wetness of Biology and ceramics and paint and Nature;

The depth of anthropology and psychology;

The vast spaciousness of questions instead of fact.

Mrs. Spencer’s dryness lives in me as a leaden barrier to Life.

I feel the creep of urge to be generous and pour whatever Love I have learned

Into the hearts of the young ones all waiting out there in the chill for the bus to come.

Me, My Family and I

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untitled, 6×5′,painting on wool flannel
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I am getting weird. Or perhaps weirder might be closer to true.

I have a number of really good friends who have lived alone for long, long stretches of time.

Occasionally one of us will say: “I haven’t spoken to anyone in too long and I’m getting a little bazaar.”

Something strange can happen in ones’ brain if we go without having to make a normal amount of neural connections.

It feels like those little neural ‘reach’ fibers just give up the ghost and stare at some reality TV show with a BUD LITE in hand.

Case in point: I had some real stressors to deal with this morning and found myself irritable, teary and not coping well.

It had to do with my internet service and I called my sister to ask if she’d help me out.

Believe me- she’s received help calls from me before…..

My internet is a lifeline. Without it I see that I start to panic. Inside my monitor is a world where I create, converse, get inspired, muse, watch, work, laugh, tenderize my heart and generally do what others do maneuvering through a day in the workplace.

I know my situation in life taxes my family in big ways.

I hate that I need.

I hate it.

And it’s not just a one time deal either… my life circumstances are dependent on the generosity of my siblings.

I control my attitude but because of their merciful assistance I have to work far less hard to re-calibrate my well being to get back to ok.

Likely, I might not be here without the solace of their compassion and support.

We didn’t really like each other much growing up as there was too little time beyond just surviving our screwed up family.

I have grown into a depth of love for my sister and brothers no one could sever.

I wonder if we’d have this greatest of gifts if I did not need them so and they were not as tenderhearted and generous as they remain?

Would we all still be strangers?

Is there some other path that could have knit us together?

I hate my situation but I love them.

Life is so weird.

And wonderful.

And very weird.

The Narcissist Fisherman

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NARCISSIST FISHERMAN

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One time-on a date
I was taken flyfishing
For the first time
Ever.
He was a magnet.

There were the perfect shoes;
The pebble-gripping kind.
Anti-slip. One pair. For him.
He was cool.
And distant.

The river was small
With lots of twiggy trees.
He showed me how to cast.
Watched me do it.
Satisfied, he left.

I watched him walk.
So sure of himself
In those shoes.
He rounded the bend.
I saw him hours later.

There was a trout there
In his hand.
“Look at this beauty!”
“Come watch me gut it.”
I slip-slided over to the bank.

I was weary.
Being alone all day
With tangled lines
In gluttonous trees
I was in no mood.

I listened to myself
Dutifully exclaim:
“Wow! Great catch!”
Trout guts dribbled over the rock.
“I’ll have this for breakfast,” he said.

On the way home I thought:
“This is the worst fucking date ever.”
Why didn’t I just stand for myself
And have him take me home
Instead of getting so small and silent?

He needed to be front and center.
My mother was like that too.
Old and familiar energies
Act like heroin:
The rope of attraction
Has a noose at the end.

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– CATHY ATEN 2014

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Turning 60

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detail of installation, ceramic,earth,grasses
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I’m fairly sure I am going a little crazy.

My posts have been so self-deprecating and close to nonsensical on occasion.

I was watching the Golden Globe Awards on TV last night and a favorite celebrity was giving her acceptance speech in which she acknowledged her husband for loving “complicated women.”

I can relate. We’re a handful.

But the “handful” I speak of reminds me of a photograph of what beach sand looks like up close.

Every color, shape, texture, pattern is miraculously revealed upon closer observation.

In a couple weeks I will have my 60th birthday.

Little deaths; physical, emotional and spiritual have become almost daily companions in my landscape.

My consciousness seems to balk at the shift my attention prefers these days- that of my attraction not so much the FORMS Life displays but that underlying force or space between which connects us all.

It is mysterious, ineffable, numinous.

It calls me and I have very little language.

Approaching 60, what connection means to me is shifting. I know Love more intimately at this age and that seems like a fine, fine take-away from what has felt like a complicated life-landscape.

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