Why Story Circles?

TIME TO REGISTER! Some circles start next week!

Dear Friends,

The two most common questions I’m asked about my offerings are: What are the Story Circles? and Aren’t they just another class? Workshops and individual sessions are understandable —- But a story circle? Do you sit around and tell stories?

Well, no. But in a different sense, yes: when a few people get together around around topics worth talking about, stories about peoples’ lives tend to get told. These are the kinds of stories I make space for, create a container to hold, and invite reflection on in the circles I call together. Small groups that afford a relaxed, yet meaningful series of discussions on a particular topic that also offer self-reflection and respectful dialogue are rare in these times. It also seems to be something that many people long for — especially when there’s no gimmick involved (I’m not trying to sell you a $2000 program or involve you in a multi-marketing business), when personal disclosure is absolutely not obligatory, though allowed and often invited, and when we live lives that are filled with superficial obligation and a disappearing sense of civil discussion. Many of us long to meet eye to eye over a warm drink and talk about things close our hearts. Experimenting with a new skill or two in creative expression is also a delight, especially when there’s no pressure to perform and inexperience is welcomed.

I’ve had 40-plus years of passion around asking what makes life worth living, what brings joy, how we can explore the depth dimensions of life. I studied theology for 8 years plus earned a master’s in education, taught from pre-school to university, in informal groups for children and adults, and mentored individuals in self-education. I’ve worked in public organizations and in advocacy, and helped women and men heal from trauma, especially sexual violence, through six years as head of a Sexual Assault Center and more years as a counsellor, and studied in person with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes for more than a decade (Jungian psychotherapist and author of best-selling Women Who Run with the Wolves). I’ve also seen many of my ambitious hopes dissolved by chronic pain and several long-term health struggles, and know those middle of the night questions far too intimately.

One of the things that makes life worth living for me is making authentic connections with others when exploring together “deep and real” questions. I encourage myself and others to explore the ways that humans throughout the centuries have tended to reach those depth dimensions in life: through creativity, through informal yet expressive words of poetry and life stories, through dreams, reading, and reflection. These kinds of conversations don’t tend to “just happen”, so I use the skills I’ve developed in facilitation and education to provide a container and simple structure to allow these kinds of conversations to unfold. My experience as a counsellor allows me to hold that balance between authentic discussion and too-much too-fast disclosure, so that everyone feels respect, containment, and their own sovereignty.

Every fall I offer several opportunities for that kind of conversation to unfold in various Story Circles which meet once per month from September to June. We meet in my home studio, so the size of each group is limited to 8 maximum. This year the various topics include Poetry, Dreamwork, Life Stories (memoir), and Interspiritual Explorations. (I also offer individual sessions, in person or online.)

If this kind of conversation pulls to you, please check out my brochure https://catcharissage.com/2019/08/14/2019-2020-offerings/, or contact me at catcharissage@gmail.com. What a great new exploration to begin on this New Moon as the fall new school year begins!

With much love and many blessings,

Cat

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2019-2020 Offerings

Cat Charissage

Soulwork and Intentional Creativity

Offerings for September 2019 to June 2020 

 Story Circles and Workshops

catcharissage@gmail.com  

Story Circles are small groups of 4 – 8 persons who meet monthly to learn, discuss, and do personal writing on various topics such as Poetry, Memoir, Dreams, Spirituality, etc.  Once people have had a chance to sample the group, the circle is closed to new members in November and I ask for a reasonable commitment to attend the groups through til June. Previous circles have formed great friendships and explored the deep and real questions in life.  I facilitate these circles with respect, confidentiality, and humor.

Drop in “Open Circle”:  come when you can, no commitment to the whole series needed.  Topics will be announced monthly and will include optional simple art processes.  To be informed of topics, please send me your email address.

We meet in my home studio in Lethbridge, northside.

Please consider joining us!  Questions? Contact me.

Poetry Circle: 1st Wed. of the month, 7 – 9:30 p.m.   Join other enthusiasts where we introduce the poets or poetry we love.  One member presents on one poet or set of poems each month, formulating 3 questions to help the rest of us lay our own lives down alongside the poetry for deeper understanding and enjoyment.  We write in response to the questions, then share what we wish to in response. Starting Wednesday, Sept. 4, 7 p.m.  $200 for 10 months

Life Story Circle: Last Wed. of the month, 7 – 9:30 p.m.  Using the book Writing from Life, by Susan Wittig Albert, (book is out of print; I will copy the chapters for each participant), we will write about the themes of our women’s lives and share what we choose each month from our writing.  Writing will be done both in the circle and as “homework” (optional) through the month. Starting Wednesday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.  $200 for 10 months

Dream Circle: 1st Wed. of the month, 1:30 – 4 p.m.  Exploring my dreams has been the most insightful, rich practice I’ve known besides journal writing.  We will tap the wisdom of our sleeping selves by opening up what our dreams are telling us, and asking of us.  Bring typed copies of a dream; each meeting we will explore the dream of at least two members. Don’t remember your dreams?  Techniques for dream recall will be taught, as well as several different proven methods to work with our dreams, including from Carl Jung,  Jeremy Taylor, Bonnie Buckner, Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Starting Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1:30 p.m. $200 for 10 months

The Deep and Real Life:  Interspiritual Explorations, 1st Sundays of the month starting October 6, 1:30 – 4 p.m.  Using Huston Smith’s book, The Illustrated World Religions: A Guide to our Wisdom Traditions, we will examine the original inspiration for each of the major religious traditions of the world with the intent to discover what unites spiritual inquiry among peoples and explore what different traditions may offer us in our own personal depth practices.  This is not a history of religions course (all/most traditions have histories of abuse and intolerance, which while acknowledged, we will not be focussing on), but a look at the spiritual aspects of life and how humans have expressed these depth dimensions.  This “The Deep and Real Life” is a series of groups on deepening our own spiritual selves by examining what people throughout history have offered as legacy. Last year we studied Christian mystics; next year we will look at old traditions and indigenous earth based spiritualities.   Starting Sunday, October 6, 1:30 p.m. $200 for 10 months

(drop in) Open Circles:  last Sat. of the month, 1:30 – 4 p.m.  Open Circles  are low-key afternoons of discussions on various topics in Soulwork and Creativity, and/or simple art explorations.  All supplies provided. About a week prior to the Open Circle, I send out the topic and invite people to RSVP. These are perfect for a stimulating and relaxing afternoon getaway, to explore a new art medium without investing a lot of money or mess, or to introduce a new friend to the kinds of work that I do without commitment to a whole course.  Please send me your email address to be notified of the topics.  By donation (value of $45; pay what you can or barter).

ART WORKSHOP:  Painting Your Inner Guide (for complete Beginners as well as experienced painters)  Saturday, November 2, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Paint the image of your inner wise person.  Get to know them through guided imagery, journalling, and intuition. Write their letter or poem to you.  We work with acrylic paint on 11 x 16 in. canvases. $85, all supplies includedPOETRY WORKSHOP OFFERED IN SPRING 2020!

COST:  I offer these circles out my commitment to community and desire to work with seekers and thinkers in the Depth Dimensions of life.   They are also the culmination of my life’s work in the world, years of study and practice, degrees in theology and education,  more than 40 years’ experience, and 10 years of summer study with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I charge only nominal fees; however, if you are not abundant in cash, what is your abundance?    I am open to bartering, or pay what you can. If you can offer more, I accept with gratitude. Notice that the Open Circles are by donation. Workshops have separate individual costs.  

OWL Poetry One Year Anniversary

Poetree by Cat Charissage, photo by Teri Petz (c) a.r.r. 2019

Hello Dear Friends,

One year ago on another hot day in July, the open mic poetry reading at the Owl Acoustic Lounge here in Lethbridge was opened by Teri Petz, organizer and host. She had been inspired to start an open mic night after 10 months of a Poetry Circle that I had facilitated in my home the previous year. After we stopped for a summer break, she felt the dearth of poetry in her life keenly, and I got a phone call one day, “What do you think of an open mic night?” And the rest is history (herstory!)

Over 100 different poets have read throughout the year, with 20 – 24 poets most evenings. Who knew there were this many people who wrote poetry in Lethbridge??? It’s been a full house for months now, and last Thursday was practically standing room only. It was a joyful celebration. Steve, the manager at the Owl, donated and served both a chocolate cake and a vanilla cake, bringing plateful after plateful of slices to each one of us. I have been so grateful to the openheartedness of all who have stood up there and read their poetry — many for the very first time in public.

So in honor of the anniversary, I put together a “Poetree”, painting of a tree with bare branches, whose leaves were left on all the tables with an invitation for people to write out what they love about poetry or about OWL Poetry. Then they taped their leaves to the tree, making a beautiful full tree. (The photo here is of the bare branches b/c I don’t yet have a photo of the fully leafed tree —- the double sided tape didn’t work as well as I had hoped it would, and I’m in the process of gluing those leaves down —- 2 hours today, with only about 1/2 done so far!)

I also wrote a poem dedicated to the OWL Poets, which I was able to read to them all:

Carry on, fellow poets!

I see you here on stage

voice quivering but soul shining.

I hear your heart’s words of

joy, or pain, memories or anger.

I know the nervousness of reading your poetry 

first time in public.

I know how bright that light is onstage,

this microphone scary with its loudness.

Wow — my voice, really?

Yes, really!  

Your voice, you, heart and soul visible

right here, now.

So filled with gratitude,

I bow to all the poets here.

I may never have met 

most of you if you hadn’t dared

to stand here naked and 

tell us what it’s like to be you:

People full of mystery and surprise,

Listening to you inspires me to 

see strangers with more curiosity and hope.

So, what’s it like for you?

Tell me what troubles you,

delights you, fills you with wonder.

From despair to random kindnesses,

from sex to spirituality,

I hear from you how many ways there are

to live a life, a good life.

And I’m grateful to you 

ordinary , beautiful people,

so extraordinary in soul shining out,

lanterns to those of us lost or frightened.

You belong here, as do I, 

and we’ve all made a space

inviting others to belong to this adventure called life,

this experiment in telling it like it is.

Carry on, fellow poets!

Let us carry on!

——————————–

Filled with gratitude, I wish you all a happy New Moon, this last day of July,

Cat

The Nest of What’s Next

Hello dear friends,

Though it’s a day after the New Moon, a sincere New Moon greeting to all of you! What new idea, project, poem, painting, relationship, surprise will be coming to you this month?

Here is a new poem to go with a painting that I’d finished a couple of months ago. The painting started with a whirling and an expansion that reminded me of the Big Bang of creation, which then morphed into a closed eyed angel with a different kind of sight. No, not eyes on the back of her head, but in the invisible wings that we all carry.

Much love and many blessings,

Cat

The Closed Eyed Angel, acrylic on canvas, (c) Cat Charissage a.r.r. 2019
The Nest of What’s Next
Cat Charissage   June, 2019

What am I not seeing?
What have I not yet woven into the
nest of what’s next?

I remember pregnancy’s ninth month,
the weariness, the anticipation.
The nest of my bodymind ready to bring forth
what’s next.
Yet I couldn’t see my child’s face,
couldn’t know what next would be asked of me.

Bringing a new human into the world
in continuity with ancestral pasts, is like
bringing into form what wants, needs to happen next
in continuuity with my past,
with all I’ve suffered, with all that’s been enlightening.
I yearn to see what yet is not.

Can the closed eyed angel see?
Messenger from the beyond of today, remind me
I do not weave nests alone
anymore than I wove my son alone.
Be with me in the weariness and anticipation,
be with me in the blindness.
May I see.
May I see.
May I see . . . 
at least may I see 
the next step.

June New Moon 2019

doodles, acrylic on watercolor paper, Cat Charissage, (c) 2018 a.r.r.

Dear Friends,

The New Moon isn’t until Monday, but I’m ready to take off to the Heart of the Wounded Healer training with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, outside of Denver, Colorado. Feeling so grateful to be able to go, this being year 4 in a 5 year series of trainings.

The past couple of months have held some great possibilities, a few wonderful invitations, and plenty of new options for the future. Part of me is saying “What? Who, me?”, while another part is saying “Yes! Thank you! I’ve worked for so long; I’m so grateful for the recognition!” It’s the constant back and forth that I think many of us tell ourselves when good fortune visits. “Do I deserve this?” vs “Hell, yes! It’s time!”

“Am I special? Especially talented, especially gifted, especially something?” vs. “Who do I think I am? I’m just another person among a whole lot of other people.” The ongoing conflict between being prideful and being disempowered.

What I want is genuine humility, which is not an effacing of self nor grovelling in the dirt (though the word does come from humus, earth). It is not inflation of self, nor deflation. It means being who I truly am, presenting who I am without embellishment, without hiding, being in touch with the ground of my being, as genuine as I can muster.

On this issue, which has agonized me off and on for many years, I finally received some dream wisdom: I dreampt of a green dress I owned — the color of green that is the beautiful shade of spring leaves. Then in the dream I saw a glorious field of sunflowers. Yellow/gold against spring green. And I had it! Sunflowers and roses are my most favorite of flowers, and sometimes I think of my face as the big round face of a sunflower. Have you ever seen a sunflower that isn’t beautiful, and glorious? One that doesn’t make you smile, even just a little?

So yes, I am a sunflower: special, and beautiful, unique and talented. AND, I’m in a field, a world, of millions of sunflowers. Each special, and beautiful, unique and talented.

You, too! So nice being in the field together! We each have so much to offer, individually, and together. May we bring this richness into this needful world.


Happy days to you,

Cat

photo by Teri Petz, http://www.worksofbeauty.ca

Cat

New Moon May 2019

— Cat Charissage (c) a.r.r. 2019, acrylic on canvas

Hello dear friends,

My painting above was the result of some playing around, starting with a whirlwind of colors which then had an unusual angel come to visit. I’ve not decided whether I’m done with it or not.

It’s May, and it just snowed here in Lethbridge. Sigh. I have laryngitis or some sort of throat/chest infection — the weather feels like sympathetic resonance. So I don’t have much to share today, except the painting experiment above and the following poem. May this new moon initiate new beginnings, and better health for myself and all else who need it!

With much love and many blessings,

Cat

Trinities

—  Cat Charissage, April 2019

Proton, Electron, Neutron.

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Creator, Sustainer, Destroyer.

Good, Evil, Ordinary.

Blessing, Cursing, Observing.

The All-Vulnerable, The All-Embracing, The All-Given.

Outpouring, Infilling, Holding.

Father, Mother, Child.


We think in trinities.

We describe reality as we experience it, in trinities.

And, in 1945, in the soul land of enchanted New Mexico,

the test site of another trinity —

Soul, Defense, Destruction —

was named The Trinity Site,

where we caught clear sight of one particular reality.

Some may have seen

Testing, Destruction, Ending the War.

I say I saw

Threat, Destruction, Death.

Or Power, Threat, Annihilation.


The explosive power is not IN the Proton, the Neutron, or the Electron, but

In the INTERACTION of Proton, Neutron, Electron.

Power is not in Me, or You, or in the Other,

But in the interaction of Me, and You, and Another.


Almost 75 years after the first nuclear explosion,

Supposed to have brought peace in our time,

We live with Fear, Hatred, and Instability.


What if. . .

we had a testing site

in a most beautiful soul land —

here would do,

or the center of any of our hearts —

where we gather

the brightest of the brightest

Aspirations, Creativity, and Skills

to Explore, Test, and Disseminate

The explosive power of the interaction of

Hope, Love, Life —

of Me, You, and Another.

What if?

Seasonal Transitions and Busy Times

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Hello dear friends,

Many things are shifting right now.  Many good things are ending, and many good things are in process of becoming.  Much of the time, we can point to all sorts of things going wrong in our lives, but right now I want to focus on a few joys.  (I’ll spare you the rotator cuff woes and the challenges of cortisone and spring migraines . . . )

The books in the photos above have all been really important to me lately, even though I’ve finished only The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.  I’ve had the privilege of discussing this book weekly with a great group of friends since January, including my dear spouse (yes, this is what we do for a date!)  In this time of elections, I strongly recommend taking a dive into this book if you’ve ever had the thought about someone “You’re such a smart, good person —- why are you so deluded in your politics?”  It REALLY helps one understand how we make moral decisions about politics and religion, and why good people can have such different ideas.  It also offers strategies as to how to talk and listen to others in ways that are constructive, respectful, and that even have the potential to change people’s minds.

Devotions by Mary Oliver arrived this week, and I’m so looking forward to this last compilation of poetry from one of my most favorite writers.  Wild Mercy is hot off the press.  I’ve read several of Mirabai Starr’s books, and can’t wait to explore women mystics, especially some I’m not yet familiar with.  Doesn’t it have a great cover?  Christian McEwan’s World Enough and Time is wonderful in helping one to have the attitudes of “enoughness” and “spaciousness” (my word for the year) in a world which is moving too fast and seemingly asking way too much of us each day.

For the past two months, especially, I’ve felt quite busy, overly so.  I’ve been balancing okay on the surfboard of my days, but very much been hanging on by my toes in the wild ride.  Many good things came up this year, and it was too hard to make a decision on what to cut out so I did all of them (which isn’t a great way to live a life, but a great way to have an exciting season!)  I audited two university courses, one on Classical Islamic Thought, the other on Sufism (Islamic mysticism).  I’ve always been interested in how we humans live out our spiritualities, and never before had the opportunity to learn about Islam, in person, from a scholar I respect.  There’s been the book group on The Righteous Mind, my own Story Circles (small groups on different topics which I facilitate), and a huge influx of opportunities for reading my poetry in public (which means the stimulation of writing more poetry).  I also supported my painting teacher, Shiloh Sophia, in her online course with the Shift Network on “The Dance of the Critic and the Muse”.

But now that several of these projects have finished, I have freed up 18 1/2 hours in my weekly schedule (including the driving time getting to these opportunities).  I am SO EXCITED to transition to other great things to do, like rest and read!

Are things shifting for you in your days?  Is it time to assess how you invest (not necessarily “spend”) your time?  I’ve found that though we so often say we HAVE to do it all, we usually do have more choices than are immediately obvious.  Choose, to the extent possible, how you invest your days, for of course this is how we spend our lives.

With much love and many blessings,

Cat

Calling All Angels

Calling all angels

“Calling All Angels”  acrylic on canvas, (c) Cat Charissage, 2019, a.r.r.

Hello Dear Friends,

Today feels like a hinge:  the weather here has just broken from a very long very cold snap to something that maybe feels like spring might be possible; it’s the New Moon today;  and it’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which is the 40 day preparation time for Easter in the Christian calendar.

Today I offer you a recent poem that also inspired the painting above.  I think most of us have had the feelings I’m trying to describe in the poem.

May your month go as well as possible, with new possibilities everywhere you look!

With much love and many blessings,

Cat

Calling All Angels

— Cat Charissage (c) 2019

 

At 2 a.m. old fears come to visit:

coulda, shoulda, mighta, oughta. . . .

and then old wounds join in to sing harmony.

Scar tissue may be strong, but it sure can ache. . . .

 

At 2 a.m., before I’m totally drowned by

fear, memory, pain,

I yell out my prayers:

sometimes they’re addressed

“To Whom It May Concern,”

other times, “Anyone out there?!?”

But last night I started with

“Calling all angels. . .

Calling all angels. . .

Help?!

Now would be a good time to show up!

Calling all angels!”

 

And I see, in my mind’s eye,

A flock of ravens alighting in the trees.

At 2 a.m. they are nearly invisible. . .

In fact, I’m not sure they’re there at all. . .

I mean, ravens don’t fly in flocks

at 2 a.m.

 

And ravens aren’t angels, either. . . .

Usually. . . .

 

So what do I want?

A white dove hovering over my head?

What it if needs to poop?  Right there and then?

Face it, don’t you ever wonder about those kinds of things too?

I mean, life’s like that sometimes, right?

 

But I’m particularly partial to ravens.

Discovering the wisdom of my First Nations neighbors

who call raven Trickster,

trickster who brings light,

the light of consciousness,

the light of wisdom,

the light to see.

What an apt reminder of what we really need,

What an apt reminder of God. . .

 

How many white doves have you seen lately?

But how many ravens, or their crow cousins, have you seen?

I like that:  God amongst us, crows everywhere,

Ravens amongst us, God everywhere

Black as a night with no moon,

The black of night dreams, of pure possibility.

Possibility amongst us, possibility everywhere?

 

But in my vision after calling all angels,

It’s full moon lunacy,

the ravens alighting in the trees.

Not one raven, but many, plenty, more than enough.

Ravens reflecting pure gold,  pure treasure.

 

Wait —- ravens aren’t golden.

They’re probably not there.

Maybe the trees are just winter bare,

The gold I saw just trickery

conjured by hopeful despair. . .

Probably.

 

Ah, but, maybe they are there

holding possibilities,

bringing light,

bringing plenty, bringing more than enough.

 

Maybe the angels did come to call,

answering, with possibilities from the fertile dark,

my plea

“Calling all angels!”

 

Guess who showed up at the window of my study today!

20190208_14402920190208_14411020190208_144109

20190208_144105There were a total of seven of them; you can see some of the others in the yard of the house across the street.

Many of you know that I have a “thing” about deer, and have written poetry about them.  Today was a day when I had to make a big decision, and soon after I’d made the decision, the deer showed up.  I’ve NEVER seen deer in my front yard before, much less looking in through the window at me.  Perhaps he was curious about the deer skull and antlers in the window.  The skull with antlers was a gift from my hiker in-laws, who had found it in the coulees around here.  When they found it, bees had built a hive in the skull cavity.  Bees and deer —- ah, the symbolisms multiply!

A wonderful afternoon.

 

Dinosaur in my living room, sunshine in my heart

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photo credit: Teri Petz, http://www.worksofbeauty.ca

Hello dear friends, on this cold day on traditional Blackfoot territory, on the New Moon just two days after Imbolc, Candlemas, feast day of St. Brigid, and Ground Hog Day!  An auspicious time, for sure.

Today I offer you my most recent poem.  I hope it adds to your wonder at our weird, marvelous, suffering world:

Dinosaur in My Living Room, Sunshine in My Heart

Have you ever realized that everything,

and I mean EVERYTHING

in the universe is the same set of elements

mixed together in a myriad of ways,

breaking down, coming together in new combinations,

moving together and apart, in some bizarre cosmic dance?

 

As someone who doesn’t like my food touching on the plate,

that’s not immediately an attractive thought.

I hear my mother (and now my spouse, and

increasingly, my son) saying

“Don’t worry about it.  It all get mixed up in your stomach anyway.”

And visions of supper thrown into a blender dance in my head.

Yuck.

 

But I digress. . .

 

Think of it:

At the Big Bang (don’t you just love those

serious scientific names that physicists use?)

at the Big Bang, everything,

all of material reality,

every atom that is,

is compacted together  (like my supper in the blender. . . . )

 

And then,

at the self-appointed moment,

or at a word from the gods,

what has been squished, the singularity,

dislocates into movement and pattern.

and to make a long story short,

here we are!

 

I saw it yesterday in my living room:

I saw the atoms and molecules,

sand (that is, silicon chips)

and dinosaurs (the plastic made from oil made from decayed carbon life forms)

all coming together, creating THIS computer on

the stool next to dear spouse’s favorite chair.

 

Dinosaurs re-formed so that I can not only touch them, now,

but reach into the internet to learn about them.

 

And those dinosaurs were formed from the plants, the other animals,

the dirt they ate,

and the plants grew not only from soil

filled with little bugs, stones, and metals,

but from the sunshine itself

nourishing the plant through photosynthesis.

 

This Chromebook holds the water of millions of years of rainclouds

nourishing the plants nourishing the animals that decayed,

making the oil that makes the plastic of the black lid of the computer.

 

And someday, if we’re lucky,

future humans will salvage the elements of this computer

out of recycling centers or landfills

to make those flying cars we were all promised

in the visions of the future —- just like the Jetsons!

Maybe. . .

 

Yesterday, I saw the sunlight pour into my living room

illuminating the trees within the couch frame

and the dinosaurs and sheep

in the nylon and wool upholstery.

 

Then I thought of the air I breathe,

how the very molecules now circulating in me

might have circulated in the breath of those dear dinosaurs

now in the computer and the cushions.

Atoms that I breathe in may have been breathed in

by Jesus, by the Buddha,

by Jack the Ripper, by Genghis Khan. . . .

 

No, I don’t live in a cosmic blender

But in a cosmic dance

creating, destroying,

coming together, falling apart.

Recombining in new forms

that so easily hide

the dinosaur in my living room

and the sunshine in my heart.

— Cat Charissage, (c) 2019, a.r.r.