ALAMOSA — Kathy Park of Dreampower Artworks in Alamosa is, in every sense of the word, an artist. Her paintings reveal a view of the world that is both real and surrealistic, familiar yet somehow mysterious. Her extraordinary sculptures seem to just emerge from a block of wood or a slab of stone as if they have been there all along, quietly waiting for a master’s touch to bring them to life.
Art is not something Kathy does; it is who she is and is as intrinsic to her being as the steps she takes or the funny stories she tells or the incredibly huge tomatoes she grows along the wall of her house.
She is very clearly an artist of exquisite talent, yet, there is still more, for Kathy is also a writer – of fiction and non-fiction, of poetry and sometimes raucous limericks, of plays and musings and with three unique yet equally fascinating published titles to her name.
Yet, there is still more, for Kathy is also a mentor and adjunct professor at Adams State University in Extended Studies and the Prison College Program where she teaches, via the U.S. Mail, English 101, English 102 and Creative Writing, primarily to men incarcerated in various prisons across the country.
She is an accomplished horse trainer with several sweet and, of course, occasionally feisty mares in her life. She is half of a partnership with her husband, Henry Woolbert, who is clearly as much a best friend, companion, longtime collaborator and artist as he is her husband of many years.
And yet, there is still more, for Kathy is also a second-degree black belt Aikido instructor with forty years of experience on a journey that is reflected in the very meaning of the word, Aikido, itself.
Ai means harmony. Ki means universal life force. Do means the way or the path.
Those are important and perhaps difficult concepts for many to grasp, let alone understand. But they are especially profound for Kathy Park at this particular time in her life.
“In July of 2019, I was diagnosed with glioblastoma,” she says in her quiet, almost melodic voice that somehow robs the words of the cruelty they would otherwise possess. It seems like a verbal version of those contests that challenge viewers to find “what’s wrong with this picture”. The idea that a woman so embracing of life, so talented at expressing its beauty, so celebratory of all the people and experiences and lessons that life has to offer is actually saying those words seems like a direct affront to everything we want so very much to believe.
Yet none of that changes the fact that it’s true. And equally true – if not equally expected – is that Kathy Park receiving that kind of diagnosis is going to…look a little different…than it might for some others who have also been given such potentially life-changing news.
Admittedly, getting the diagnosis was rough at first, largely due to the aggressive, harsh manner in which the doctor (whom she calls Dr. Doom) told her of what they had found. “He interrupted me every time I spoke,” she recalls. “He pulled his chair right up in my face and said ‘glioblastoma always comes back, always.’ It was like there’s a clipboard they use,” Kathy continues, and the unresolved feelings can be heard in her voice.
“Diagnosis, check. Schedule radiation, check. Schedule a year’s worth of chemo, check. I walked out of the office and said to Henry…what just happened?” She shakes her head and offers her own analysis. “I was being silenced, as a woman and a patient. And it took me a week, but I decided right then – at three o’clock in the morning – no, that’s not how this is going to go. I decided to do it differently. I also decided that doctor needed to take some time off and go fishing. And I want to encourage anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to pay attention to those messages when they get them and to stop it, right then. And if your doctor doesn’t have a sense of humor, find one who does.”
In telling that honest and heartfelt story, Kathy foreshadows how she would then choose to continue to live her life.
And that brings us back to Aikido.
When Kathy speaks of this form of martial arts, her language is completely void of words like “strike” or “hit”. In fact, the underlying philosophy of Aikido is “defend yourself but don’t hurt the attacker”. Someone who is attacking you has offended the balance of the universe, so you simply “take” their balance. Don’t try to stop the hit, direct it away from yourself without hurting the other person but also keeping them off balance and unable to be more powerful than you.
This way of the peaceful “warrior”, so to speak, has governed Kathy’s approach to life for a good deal more than half of the time she’s been alive. Like art, like writing, like teaching and riding horses and growing tomatoes and other healthy things, Aikido is an intrinsic part of who she is, and it is an intrinsic part of how she deals with brain cancer.
“Sensei is a word that means teacher,” she says.
“It’s honorific. It communicates respect for the tradition and respect for the person who is going up through the ranks because getting, for example, a black belt is quite grueling. But sensei can also mean something else. It can also refer to those situations that teach us something we need to learn, something that changes who we are.”
And, with that, she begins to speak of glioblastoma.
“Getting that diagnosis was an instant reality check,” she says. “My life was going in one very clear direction and, suddenly, I was told no, your life is going this other way instead. I could have been very angry. I could have felt cheated. I could have said, ‘Oh, why? Why me?’ But that is not an option. There is no way to move forward when you tie yourself up in resistance. It’s like driving over La Veta Pass with your emergency brake on. How far are you going to get? Not very far,” she says, and she laughs. “No, I have to blend with it. I have to change.”
Kathy envisions wrapping a black belt – a symbol of her proficiency and strength in Aikido – around the glioblastoma. “I tell it that, if I die, it will die, too. So it must not kill me.” She then smiles in her relaxed and peaceful way and speaks of the letter she wrote…to the glioblastoma. “The gist of it was that I said I promoted myself in rank; I haven’t complained, and I’ve taken everything you’ve taught me.” And for this reason only, she calls it sensei glioblastoma – not in gratitude to the disease, of course not, but in gratitude for what the disease has taught her about what is important and what is not, what meaning can be found in life, what joy and what lessons there are to be learned. The importance in practicing “not knowing”, waiting for an “attack” to happen while also being in a state of relaxation.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know life wants to keep moving and it wants to flow through us. I want to be both the vessel and the conduit, so I’m going to try to blend with this and hope I continue to live into my dying. If you practice acceptance, in whatever form, you’ll be able to deal with what comes. Christians do that. And I’m so glad for whatever authority I have, and it works for me to…go with it and make the best of it that I can.”
Meanwhile, Kathy continues with her art that is saving her life, giving her a reason to live. Her art that is both what she does and who she is. And she’s taken off the emergency brake. “It’s not the end of the road.” And then she smiles, and the smile is followed by a laugh.
Kathy Park’s books are available for purchase a https://www.northatlanticbooks.com/bookshop/
Her artwork may also be viewed at https://dreampowerartworks.com/kathy-park-dream-power-artworks/.
If anyone is interested in purchasing a painting or sculpture, Kathy can be emailed at [email protected]