31 October 2014

Kaci Hickox: Compassion For the Afraid. With The 20 Per Cent.

By: Jon Katz
Compassion For The Afraid

Compassion For The Afraid

A Maine court today ordered Kaci Hickox to stay at least three feet from other people and out of public places for now, and an ABC News poll reported that 80 per cent of Americans believe everyone coming back from West Africa ought to be subject to some kind of quarantine. Hickox has so far not responded to my invitation to come down here and have lunch at the Round House Cafe, I suspect she is getting a lot of e-mail.

The Washington Post also reported that the story has now been absorbed by a truly lethal disease in America, the idea that every issue and story must be seen through the prism of the "left" or the "right." Kaci Hickox, says the media, is now the darling of the "left," and she is intensely disliked by the "right." Critic Alan Bloom calls this the shrinking of the American Mind, it is a good term for it. Nurse Wilcox was even attacked by Rush Limbaugh on his radio program yesterday, this is what you get for going to Africa to help people and sticking up for what you believe your rights to be.

You must be on the left or the right, thus either side can attack you for daring to think or speak.

I am increasingly befuddled by what it means to be on the "left" or the "right." In New York city, people on the "left" happily defame and destroy the rights of the carriage trade workers in the name of animal rights and progressivism. Elsewhere, people on the "right" applaud big government for intruding on medicine and science and forcing Kaci Wilcox to stay in her house when she isn't sick. Do these terms have any real meaning any longer?

This is perhaps the most interesting story I can recall, it has caught my imagination, and that of many others. I identify with Kaci Hickox who seems clearly to not be a threat to anyone, but is up against a Tsunami of election eve politics and the kind of fear and argument that cable news and social media spreads so efficiently and quickly.

Her case is heading for the courts, where it belongs, but it calls us to understand what compassion is, the importance of facts and truth, and the truly horrible mess that politics and media have both become in America. Every day, we are challenged to be grounded, human, reasoned and compassionate. Every day it is harder, I look at the e-mail and Facebook messages and just shake my head at the anger and disconnection that seem to deepen every day.

Still, a great story is a great story, and I was a reporter long enough to love one. This story reminds me in some ways of Clarence Darrow's great standoff against ignorance in the Scopes Monkey Trial, when he defended a school teacher for daring to teach the Theory of Evolution in a Tennessee scool. Darrow squared off against William Jennings Bryan. Darrow won, there was no cable news then, some people actually thought for themselves.

When I read that 80 per cent of Americans believe people returning from West Africa ought to be quarantined, I guess my first response was certainty that I am on the right side, and so is Kaci Hickox.  It is never wrong, in my mind, to stand on the other side of the mob.  I have never known a mob to be right. It is good to show compassion for the afraid, something else to pander to them. That's why I'm writing about this.

Kaci Hickox is a hero to me. I also understand that it is just and fair to be compassionate for the afraid, it is the job of leaders and journalists to tell people the truth, to soothe, educate and reassure, to take charge and be responsible. When that system fails, as it has, we are left with Facebook and Twitter, and whatever else Facebook and Twitter might do, fostering reason and the truth is not among it's achievements.

Most of all, I remind myself to feel compassion for the real victims of the Ebola epidemic, not Kaci Hickox or the people sitting behind their computers sending angry messages out into the ether. That would be the people in West Africa, who so desperately need the Kaci Wilcoxes of the world to return and help them. Americans don't seem to care that every single day that Kaci Wilcox is held against her will, they are making that less likely for that to happen. What sane health worker wouldn't think long and hard about going through what she is going through?  In a few weeks, Kaci Wilcox will be fine, back at school, back at work. She says she will return to West Africa as soon as she can.

The people of West Africa will be less fortunate, I rarely seem them mentioned on Facebook.

If there are any heroes to this sad story for me, is the doctors and nurses willing to step out of their lives and risk their lives for others. They are also the only real hope of ending this epidemic, Americans are not the ones who need to worry the most. Panic is the most infectious disease in the world, political opportunism and a lazy and irresponsible media close behind.

If you read history, you know that we are rarely afraid of the right things. I would be happy (and safe) for Kaci Hickox to come to the Round House for lunch, to stand within three feet of me, happy to have her living next door, thrilled to have her over for dinner. I'd be delighted to give her a hug.  I might even get a button that says, "I'm with the 20 per cent." Definitely where I belong.

Posted in General
30 October 2014

Magic On Main Street. Open Mike Night At The Round House

By: Jon Katz
Open Mike Night At The Round  House

Open Mike Night At The Round House

A few years ago, I would not have been caught dead an open mic night, it was just not a place where authors – especially New York Times Bestselling authors- needed to go or wanted to go. It was a place for wannabes and amateurs. I felt snobbish about open mike nights. My friend Scott Carrino, who co-owns the Round House Cafe with his wife Lisa, started open mike nights a year ago at his cafe, and Maria and I started going, she loved the idea, I was reluctant. I never expected to perform there. People read poetry, played music, sang songs. I liked it, there was a lot of energy there, but I never saw myself performing there.

Then one night I decided to read a poem, and then another. I loved some of the music, it was sometimes erratic, sometimes wonderful. People read poetry that I thought was impressive, first-class. Sometimes high school kids showed up giggling. My friend Scott can be emotional about some things, but has a sort of Zen attitude about Open Mike night, singer Deena Chappell hosts the event, people who want to perform put their names on a sign-up sheet. Sometimes it is a bit lonely up there for Deena.

But I love to go, I go almost every time it happens, usually once a month.

Tonight, I stopped by to have a sandwich and listen to some of the music, Maria was off at yoga class. I meant to leave right away, I had a lot of work to do. It was a bit tense at first, few people showed up and nobody signed up to perform. Deena was nervous, she faced singing for two hours by herself. She did three songs, talked Scott into singing three songs, we all thought the evening would turn into a fiasco. But then, something magical happened, something unique to my wonderful small town.

We all realized at the same time that we had to help Deena and Scott. We all headed for home to get our stuff and contribute. Scott never asked us to, he never does, he just cooks in the kitchen and comes out and beams, he trusts it will work out. It did.

A man went home to get his poems, another went home to get his guitar, I ran home to get my play, and in a few minutes, the sign-up sheet was full and the evening flipped, and it had happened spontaneously. The poetry was terrific, the music was beautiful, I read two scenes from my play, "The Last Day At Maple View Farm." I dragooned Deena and Scott into reading some of the parts in the play – she did the farmer's wife, Scott read the lines from his so, I read the farmer's part.

It was exciting for me, I got to hear the words spoken out loud for the first time, and to watch the reaction on people's faces. They were into it, the words sounded right, Deena and Scott did a good job. The evening had flipped in an almost magical way, a spontaneous way, a small town and community way. "This is amazing," said one man as we left, "it started out as a catastrophe and then everybody ran home and got their stuff and it turned into one of the best open mike nights ever. I love this town."

Me too, I love living in this small town, there is real connection here, it is so special in such a disconnected world. Scott and Lisa have created the kind of place they always dreamed of creating, a place of connection and community as well as a place to get good food. I loved reading my play, it really came alive to me tonight. I'm getting excited about it.

Posted in General

Falling In Love: With A Nurse

By: Jon Katz
Falling In Love With A Nurse

Falling In Love With A Nurse

I've always tried to be open here, so I will come right out and say I have a crush on Kaci Hickox, the nurse who went to Africa to help Ebola victims and who is chewing up one governor after another right up and down the East Coast. She is compassionate, articulate, brave and charismatic.

My advice to these foolish governors is to not stand in the doorway if Kaci wants to come out, they will be lying on their butts in the dust. Today, facing yet another quarantine by yet another politician running for office in yet another state, this very strong and admirable woman took an hour long bicycle ride with her boy friend, as a convoy of state troopers followed along to make sure she didn't exchange any bodily fluids with anyone up there on the border with Canada.

I read of this ride this morning – Kaci has gotten me back into the news this week. It is the most famous ride since Paul Revere took his and it was a fairly convincing effort to show she didn't really need to be locked up until November 10, she is quite strong and healthy, despite the firm conviction of at least three governors and many private citizens that she is a grave threat to public health. On her ride, the supposedly quarantined Kaci avoided other people, stayed out of public places, and didn't spit or bleed on anything. Her lawyers say they will go to court if the state insists she stay inside, despite the fact there is no evidence she is sick.

For me, she invoked a time in America where people who stood on principle were admired, not skewered on Facebook, where the free and the brave sit on their widening butts and send nasty messages out into the world to demean people who actually do things besides type.

I wrote about Nurse Hickox the other day and had the great pleasure of chasing some of the ill-tempered and mean-spirited off of my page. It felt great. They were calling Kaci names, I told them they were polluting my space, I was not running for mayor, this was not Fox News or MSNBC, they could be respectful or get lost. With much harrumphing, many did. I should say many good people remained to disagree with my admiration for Kaci Hickox in a respectful way.

They were very welcome to stay.

I confessed to Maria this afternoon that I was in love with Kaci Hickox, and I was a bit nervous telling her. Maria seems very sweet and quiet to people, but she is half Sicilian and at times, can be jealous.  She once accused me in a paranoic fever of having girlfriends online and e-mailing them. She was a bit wild-eyed, but this passed.

Maria has told me in graphic and chilling terms what she would do to me if I so much as looked admiringly at another woman, I told her I am an old man, I always behave myself, no one is exactly lining up to be with me,  but she is convinced I love women and sometimes wish to have secret and loving dialogues with them. I do not,  I am innocent, although I did e-mail Kaci this morning and invite her to come down and have lunch with me at the Round House Cafe. I told her we'll make room for the troopers and the reporters and lawyers too.

Maria took it with grace. "I don't blame you," she said, "she's pretty great. We'll just have to work things out."

I guess I was a bit surprised, I was expecting more of a reaction. I'm not sure this is sincere, she once told me she would stab me with a kitchen knife if I had an affair. And she just came into the house from her studio, muttering "you talked to your girlfriend yet? Somebody has to feed the dogs!"  So far, Kaci hasn't exactly rushed to accept my offer, but she is very busy today, the governor of Maine has promised to bend her to his will using the "full weight and force of the law." So far, Kaci Hickox has gone through the full weight and force of politicians like a bullet through cottage cheese. Bet on her. She says she is heading back to West Africa as soon as she can get there.

I do love strong woman, I married one, and perhaps because of my recent heart surgery, I have come to admire and respect health care workers as well. They are caring, hard-working and underpaid, they do amazing and difficult things, work hard and often risk their lives and well-being. The great hope of dealing with the Ebola outbreak according to anyone who knows anything about medicine (that excludes governors)  is for many people like Kaci Hickox to go there and help. How short-sighted and shabby to subject her to this, what an awful message to send to other nurses and doctors. If I were the governor of Maine, I would give Kacki Hickox a ticker tape parade right down the middle of the State Capitol, she did not have to go to Africa to risk her life to save others, she does not deserve to be castigated as a selfish whiner by people who think public service is typing on a computer.

I have to say I have surprisingly enjoyed my hopefully brief foray into the boiling cesspool that is politics. It has reaffirmed my respect for civility, reminded me that there are good and brave people in the world who will stand up for their principles, even in a world where being principled seems puzzling and shocking ("why," asked an NBC News Anchor of Kaci, "are you so vehement about refusing to be quarantined?," as if that were almost  incomprehensible. "Because," she answered, "It's wrong and not grounded in any science, and I will not submit to having my rights violated in this way."

I think that's where I fall in love.

Kaci, hang in there, you are about to hang another pompous governor out to dry. There are many people in the world who appreciate you, and even though I have a crush on you, I know that we will not happen. Your boyfriend seems nice, if he is smart he will hang onto you for dear life.  Call me or answer my e-mail anyway,  if you get a chance, the Round House makes the best soup. You've already beaten our governor senseless,  and I guarantee you that in my town nobody will run away from you or try and lock you up in a tent for a month.

Posted in General

My First Play: “The Last Day Of Maple View Farm”

By: Jon Katz
My First Play

My First Play

I'm happy to report that I've finished the second draft of my first play, "The Last Day At Maple View Farm." I wrote half a play more than a decade ago, it was performed at a new playwright's workshop in Soho, but I never finished it or tried writing another one. A couple of months ago I had lunch with David Snider, the new director of Hubbard Hall, the beautiful old arts and education center in my town – an old partially restored Opera House is it's centerpiece, part of a campus of old restored buildings. I teach my short story class there.

I'm not sure how it happened, but I told David about this idea I had for a play about the last day of a dairy farm, I've taken a lot of photos of dying dairy farms, and the plight of these small family farms has touched me deeply. I have a lot of friends who are farmers, we seem to get each other, which is strange in some ways, not in others. Farmers are seeing their lives and farms discarded all the time, they have been forgotten by much of the world, especially the politicians, the economists and people who forget where their food comes from. They are the world's greatest animal lovers, and I have come to love and respect many of those I have met.

Moss does not grow anywhere on David, the next thing I knew I was submitting a short outline to him, maybe eight or nine pages of dialogue. He said Hubbard Hall was doing a January festival for mid-winter. He loved my idea, would I mind expanding it to perhaps 40 or more pages? I agreed, it was, of course, harder than I thought and I finished it yesterday and showed it to two farmer friends including Carol Gully, who I met in cardiac rehab, she runs a small dairy farm with her husband Ed. Carol read it and correct some phrasing to make it authentic. She said she and her husband Ed both cried when they read parts of it, I loved that, although I think she was taken aback by my rejoicing over her crying.

Carol is the real deal, if she loved my play and her husband did, this is as good a compliment as I might get. So it's in David's hands now, if he likes it and schedules it I will see my first play (it is very short, no more than 10 or 15 minutes) performed on the wonderful old stage in Hubbard Hall. I love trying new things, stretching myself. I'll keep you posted on the life and fate of this new work, I love the idea of adding "playwright" to my creative credits. Maria read it as well, she cried a bit and said it was "horrible," but she said she didn't mean it was awful, just very sad in parts. She actually cried a lot, so much that I added a new ending so that it would retain it's power but end more hopefully perhaps. I loved writing it.

Posted in General

Genie In The Bottle: Two Out Of Three WIshes.

By: Jon Katz
Genie In The Bottle

Genie In The Bottle

Well, if you talk to big horses every night, I suppose it's only logical to have a genie in  your bottle that speaks to you, perhaps even grants some wishes. Maria got me some incense (not, there is nothing in the bottle but incense) and then she got me a smoking blue bottle to put the burning incense in so the ashes fall to the bottom of the bottle and not on my desk or computer.

I put the bottle up on the windowsill next to a small quilt from Gee's Bend, Alabama, that Maria brought back.

I was sitting at my desk when I thought I saw a face and body appear in the smoke that suddenly came out of the bottle, it was a female, slender, and she said to me, "hey, fella, do you have any wishes for today?"

I said, "look, I don't really believe in you, I've always had an overactive imagination and a tendency to embellish stories, but horses come and visit me every night so perhaps you are real too. I will ask Chief Avrol Looking Horse if I ever see him again. Since you asked, there are some things I want. I'd like to finish my Hubbard Hall play, "Death Of Mapleview Farm" today, I've been working on it for days, I'd like to finish the next chapter of my "Talking To Animals" book, and I'd like to go to dinner with Kaci Hickox, the nurse from Maine who's beating up all these governors."

"Okay," she said, "I'll get back to you. I'll do the best I can, no promises." She told me to rub the bottle three times.

So here it is, mid-afternoon and I've finished my play and sent it off to the director of Hubbard Hall, and I finished my chapter and sent it off to Rosemary Ahern, my freelance editor. I e-mailed Kaci Hickox but have not heard anything back yet. Two out of three. Not bad. I'm liking this new mystical thread.

Posted in General