20 November 2017

Wild Video: Gorgeous Wool For Sale For The Holidays

By: Jon Katz

For my money, Maria's beautiful yarn is a great stocking-stuffer or holiday gift. But make up your own mind. We had a chilly but fun video-session today with the sheep themselves, and a supporting cast of Gus, Red, Fate, Lulu and Fanny.

And of course, Maria, talking lovingly about her sheep and her wool and her yarn.

In the video, Gus licked Lulu on the nose, jumped on her head.
Fate did nothing with enormous enthusiasm, and Red kept everything under control, as usual.

The wool costs $25 a skein plus shipping and there are only a few skeins left. There are also four bumps of roving for $25 each plus shipping. (Earlier, I said the roving was $32, that was an error.)
This is a classic Bedlam Farm/Maria video, come and see for yourself.

For more details, you can read Maria's blog or e-mail her: [email protected]

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Color And Light For Sale As The Dark Days Come

By: Jon Katz

The Bright Days: Sunrise At Lulu's Crossing

As the dark days approach, I am eager in my photography to photograph and present the days of color and light, I am offering this photo for sale for $130, printed on rag paper and signed. It is 8 1/2″ by 12.5″.  If you think you will need some color and light over the next months, this might be a good idea to consider, perhaps for Christmas. Contact Maria – [email protected]

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Speaking Of Connie

By: Jon Katz

Speaking Of Connie

Connie Martell was a powerful woman, her son Mitchell called her a "spitfire," and that was true.

Whenever I asked Connie what I could do for her, she suggested someone else for me to do something for. This one wasn't feeling good and could use a visit from Red, that one was a reader who had no books, this one could use a sweatshirt or a jacket for her walks outside.

Every time I visited, she tried to tell me what I could and couldn't write, and I kept telling her I would write what I wished. It  wasn't really an argument with her, but a way we had of communicating. Maria would sit down and the two would yak until somebody broke it up.

Connie and I had our own way of talking. She told everyone she knew how grateful she was for me and Red and the Army Of Good, but she would never tell me and I would have squirmed if she did.

I had this firm rule for my therapy work – I only visited people inside of the institutions where they were it was not a good idea for me to visit nursing homes and hospitals, I had my own work to do and that would fill up my idea and turn my work into an endless round of driving, it would turn me from a volunteer into a social worker.

I didn't want that, I was a  writer, and a busy one, I didn't want to diminish my own work, and I was aware of the emotional pitfalls of trying to be Mother Teresa.  That was not me, or who I wished to be.

Connie seemed to break all of my rules and upend all of my boundaries. We were very different, she and I, but also similar. We had the same dry sense of humor, the same emotional awkwardness, we were both a lot softer and mushier than we like to let on.

But I had not met anyone like Connie before.

She had no real independence but was fiercely independent. She was in great need of help, but never asked for help, or really got comfortable with it. She seemed gruff and blunt, but had a huge heart and sensitive soul. Although she could barely get up out of her chair, she was quite aware of the world, and reached far beyond her own small space. She insisted on her rights, but had fewer rights every day.

A former nurse who had worked all of her life, she was very conscious of the work of the Mansion staff, and appreciative of it, and they loved her back for that. A person in constant paint, she never complained about it. A knitter who claimed she didn't know much about knitting, she cranked out countless gifts for the people in her universe, and many beyond.

An elderly person nearly crippled with arthritis and bone problems, she made all kinds of things for months.

I rarely attended funeral services for the people Izzy or Lenore or Red and I saw. I didn't have to time for it, and I didn't want to keep draining myself in that way. I wanted to focus on what I could do well and I didn't wish to burn out.

And I worried about the dogs. Of all the things my therapy dogs and I have done, funerals are the most confusing and difficult things for them. They are not sure what to do, or what the work is, or where their people are, yet they always seem to sense the presence of the people they knew. Izzy used to lie next to the caskets of the hospice patients we had visited. Lenore was utterly confused.

Red, an exquisitely sensitive dog, went to one funeral and went right to the grieving family and sat with them. He soaks up sadness and loss, he is wired into the souls of people.

Tonight Maria and Red and I are all going to a memorial service in Connie's hometown, an  hour away. I am not grieving over Connie, I am grateful to be able to talk about her, she  deserves to be remembered.

I am not sad because Connie is precisely where she wanted to be. As she told me more than once, "I've had my turn, now it's time to give somebody else a turn."

And that was not just chatter. She believed it, she said again and again that she was ready to go when God called for her, and that was that. There was no wailing, brooding or deep reflection. She hated drama as much as I do. She lived minute-by-minute, but saw the future clearly.

When it was time, it was time. There was nothing much more to say.

Tomorrow, I am also speaking at another memorial service for Connie, the one at the Mansion in the morning. I think that will be a  hard one for the residents, Red will be busy. He is very good at comforting and consoling. Me, not so much.

I feel it is important for me to write about my time with Connie – in another world, it would have made a great book. I don't want to forget her and she deserves to be remembered.

I am grateful to be at both services, it is where I belong this time, and very happy to speak about what Connie meant to us and to so many others. The Army Of Good came through for here time after time.

There are lots of remarkable people at the Mansion that I have come to know and love. Tomorrow, time to move on and get back within the boundaries that have worked so well for me this far.

Connie was a boundary breaker, in death as in love. She was a powerful symbol of the drama of aging. As her body began to wither, her soul just seemed to get bigger.

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The Dark Days, The Holidays: The Happiness Of Being Sad

By: Jon Katz

Melancholy

"Melancholy is the happiness of being sad." — Victor Hugo

Up here, we call them the dark days or the dying days. The grass, flowers, leaves, much color and light withdrawn, the sunlight is often clouded in haze and mist, the farmers have always struggled in these days, we all need color and light.

In this time, when there is so much conflict and tension and anger, the dark days seem even darker. November is a hard month up here, we are making the transition from months of color and sunshine and light into a different time, a time when the animal and natural world seem to withdraw and rest.

The holidays are upon us, this week is Thanksgiving, a troublesome time for me and for Maria. We are going away for the day, to love one another and express our gratitude for each other and for our lives and work and love.

This coincides with the dark time, the dying time, when we withdraw somewhat into our selves and wait until Spring. For me, the holidays are something to endure, not really to celebrate, we are not drawn to head out on Thanksgiving and look for the best deals at Best Buy. Many people are.

We have found a nice and quiet place to go and have a good dinner. That is exciting for us, it pushes back the melancholy, the happiness of being sad. I think I am also sad about the holidays because year by year, they have been hijacked by giant corporations looking only for money. Increasingly, they are days of greed and money, not of rest or reflection or family.

There is no talk of the poor or the vulnerable on our holidays much now, just of sales and mall opening times.

For me, this is the season of melancholy anyway, the approach of the dread holidays, a time to either drown in the grossest kind of commercialism, or to recall my sad and fractured family.

The holidays were the worst days of the year for my sister and me, a time of pain and anger and disappointment, when we were forced together for days with broken people,  against our will.

Thanksgiving was the time for me to fully grasp – and sometimes drown in –  the dysfunction and cruelty and lovelessness all around me. This was not a time of happiness, but of lies and delusion.

I thought of it as a celebration of hypocrisy, not family. Perhaps it is time for me to get over it.

Maria and I dread family gatherings, to both of us a mask and a hiding place for troubled people. I know that is not true for everyone, but it was true for me. They seem to have nothing to do with me, which is lonely at times.

My sister prefers to spend her holidays with her dogs, there is pure love there, both ways, and no abuse or pretense. I used to feel badly for her, but have come to see her wisdom and honesty.

I am prone to black moods when the light and flowers and colors go, even though it is a good time to work – few distractions, cozy wood stove fires, an inward, perhaps spiritual, time.

I often wondered, as a writer once suggested, if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, and if laughter were really tears. Or if tears were really laughter.

I fight back every year, and am gaining ground. I will visit the Mansion, work to support the refugees and immigrants, feel good by doing good,

I see this week as a Gratitude Week, the corporations and politicians haven't snuffed that idea out quite yet, or turned it to gold. I am immensely grateful for my life, and that will be what this holiday is about for me.

Edgar Allen Poe, the chronicler of melancholy, wrote that he did not work for the pursuit of pleasure, "it has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom." The dark days were something to survive for  him.

But I am closer to Italo Calvino's idea of melancholy, he called it a "sadness that has taken on lightness."

As the color melts away, and the sun hides, and the blackness descends over the landscape, and the snow and cold are coming close, and  trees lay still on the ground, and the animals grow their coats and stay in the barn out of the wind, my mood turns melancholic.

Melancholy are the sounds of November and the night.

There is an aloneness to this time of year, it is said by the farmers that this is a necessary time, for the land to rest, and the animals to turn inward and invisible, for the people who work the land to get inside and tend to things.

This was always a lonely time, in my sometimes troubled life, I would take a deep breath and wait for the holidays, a time of enforced joy and rampant greed, to be over. Too often a time of forced joy, but in reality, often a time of emptiness and nostalgia.

There is a sweetness to melancholy though, it is not the same as depression, and I recall both with some vividness. Melancholy is defined as a time of sadness, quite common over the "holidays," although there is often no specific cause.

The dark days are a time of sadness, but also thoughtfulness, a time to be pensive. Melancholy does not come to cheapen us or bring us down, but to transfigure us and help us appreciate Spring, and the color and light in our own lives.

When nature and the sun hides from us, their emergence is all the more stunning.

These days are a challenge to my conscientious and also my photography, which has shown me the world anew, and brought me to see the color and light of the world.

Emilie Autumn wrote "I am my heart's undertaker. Daily I go and  retrieve its tattered remains, place them delicately into its little coffin, and bury it in the depths of my memory, only to have to do it all again tomorrow."

Perhaps Percy Bysshe Shelly captured it the most eloquently: "An artist is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds."

That is the melancholy time.

 

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19 November 2017

Hellions

By: Jon Katz

Hellions

Gus and Fate never seem to tire of playing with one another, Fate has got the energetic playmate she always wished, I suspect. When it gets crazy, I should "that's enough," and the two skulk quietly away and are quiet. For a few minutes, at least.

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