5 September 2015

Fate: Enemies At The Gate. The Boundary Wars. Again.

By: Jon Katz
Knocked Up

Knocked Up

Well, I suppose I ought to  be better prepared, but in this case, I was not. Another one of those episodic social media boundary battles.

Yesterday, I wrote a little tone poem to Fate and her joy of the meadow, one of those innocuous things that I love to write and some people love to read, it could hardly, in m mind, have been less controversial. I worry sometimes that social media is turning many of us into outrage and anger addicts.

This, of course, is America now, and almost everything is controversial, especially when it involves writing openly on Facebook about a life with animals. Or, for that matter, a life with anything. This is what comes from a "left" and "right" world, and from technology that makes it almost a virtue to be intrusive and rude.

In the piece, called "Making A Joyful Noise," I mentioned that Fate was getting spayed next month. I didn't say a word about it, I didn't explain it or rationalize it. I believe people should make up their own minds about things, I believe spaying and neutering is a good thing in general for many reasons.

The noise was anything but joyful. Chris and about a dozen other people immediately posted messages suggesting that spaying was not healthy for females. It was wrong, should be delayed, or not done at all. Several have been on Facebook too long, they thought it yet another veterinary scheme to make money. Several considered it a kind of abuse, another reason dogs should not be owned by human.

I responded in my usual charming and gracious fashion to such advice by saying I was not interested in anyone's opinions about spaying Fate beyond my breeder, vet, wife and dog. It was not anyone's business, I would not discuss it with strangers on Facebook. Having written a dozen or so books about animals, I have read quite a bit about neutering and spaying, talked to many vets and biologists and academics and researchers and trainers and breeders – as many or more, I am sure, as the people messaging me – and I am quite at ease with having Fate spayed in a month or so.

I know some people who have chosen not to spay and neuter their dogs, they have facilities and knowledge to make it work. I would not dream of telling them to do anything else, or presuming to know better than they do what to do with their dogs.

I pointed out in my Facebook replies that it is easier to be a Navy Seal than a vet in America these days, and people who go to school for six years to study animal health and who know me and my dogs have a lot of sway with me. People sitting behind screens in their living rooms with no knowledge of me, my dog or my world but happy to tell me what to do,  do not carry a lot of weight with me.  It isn't that I don't take advice or want it, it's that I'm careful where I get it, I don't want it from strangers online, if that makes any sense (it does not to many people.)

My idea that such a decision was my business and that I didn't need to have it with strangers on social media touched off the usual outrage and fury: this is by now, an almost weekly ritual in my life. I am always surprised how angry some people get when I tell them I am not interested in their advice. I always do it straightforwardly, without insult or personal attack. It is rarely taken well.

Chris was one of the first posters on Facebook:  "You can't have it both ways; if you put it on Facebook, a social network, it's an implicit invitation for comment. I didn't see any comments that rose to the caliber of your snarky rudeness, Mr Katz, only people who were offering information. If you didn't want the subject discussed, you shouldn't have mentioned it. You encourage others to care about Fate, then blow a gasket when they offer a mild suggestion for her betterment. Goodbye, Mr Katz. I've been reading you for 20 years and today were my first comments. I'll take your advice and get lost, very far away."

I don't know what "implicit invitation" means, I am not aware of any online or social media or Facebook policy that says writing about my life on a social network is a de-facto invitation for people to tell me what to do. That is not my policy, I relish being independent, I worship the Thoreau idea that I must make my own mistakes and learn from them. Thoreau would be standing right with me on this question, he would weep at the idea that a social connection meant the loss of his own right to his choices and decisions, to his privacy and reasoning. He shared his year on Walden Pond too, he did not turn the experience over to others.

I told Chris she didn't need to get lost far away, but she did need to get lost, it was better for both of us. And I quite sincerely wished her luck. Twenty years is a long time to listen to me, I hope she finds happiness elsewhere. Urging me to not to spay Fate is not a mild suggestion, it is a very big one, for her, for us.

I call this the you-asked-for-it -if-you-are-honest school of thought. If you mention something openly online, it means you give up any title to privacy, dignity, respect or independence, especially if you are a public person. In that case,  you have no rights at all.  Only the people intruding on your life have rights. This is the same reasoning that suggests that women who wear make-up or attractive dresses to parties are asking to be sexually assaulted.

We love to judge other people and tell them what to do, we hate being told we cannot.  Nobody likes to give up power. And on Facebook, we rarely are told that we cannot be rude. The consequence of Chris's thinking is that people are learning not to be honest on social networks, not to share their lives, not to be authentic. In a curious way, this is why so many people like the creepy Donald Trump. He does speak his mind. And he is, in fact, asking for it, he loves catching Hell.

My Facebook Page is my home online, I expected to be treated there the same way I would be treated in my house, the people there are my guests, and in many cases, come to be my friends. Friends don't tell other friends what to do if their advice is not wanted.

I maintain that I have rights and readers have rights, and I can and do have it both ways. Chris aside, my Facebook comments are usually very civilized and interesting. Many people disagree with me every day, as you can see for yourself, they are quite welcome. I do not give away my life by sharing it, I share it as Harper Lee shared her words in "To Kill A Mockingbird," or any writer does in any book.

You get to keep the book, not to own the person who wrote it. The blog is my book. Four million people read it every year, it is working for me.

As usual, there is the ghost here of the deepening conflict between people who have pets and people who animals. If you live in the country, the idea of having a working dog who runs free, works outside, walks in the woods remain unspayed is one thing, having a pet in a house or a kennel remain intact is another. I have a friend who does not neuter or spay her border collies, I believe she is irresponsible, putting her poorly-trained dogs at great risk in a number of different ways, from attracting aggressive dogs to having unwanted offspring without any kind of responsible control or breeding. I don't believe her when she says she wants them to stay natural, I believe she can't bear to inflict any kind of discomfort on them or separate from them for even one night.

But still, it is her choice, no matter what she believes, it is not for me to tell her what to do.

If you live in the country, you know that all kinds of dogs come running around an unspayed female, and the female herself often loses control. I can just imagine the two Rottweiler-Shepherd mixes who live down the road when Fate goes into heat, they would come right through or through our fence, not to mention the farm dogs up the road. A lot of bad ass country dogs and coyotes around here, I think I will not take Chris's advice and subject Fate to that. Or me.

I got a great message on my Facebook Page from a kindred spirit named Liz Owen, I immediately offered to friend her, she has been there and walked the walk. She read the messages on my Facebook Page too, and she is welcome there.

"No one has a clue when it comes to an un-neutered dog in the country," she posted. "Talk about the enemy at the gate. Every male dog in the surrounding counties that has the ability to reproduce will make it to your door if she goes into heat. Don't ask me how I know. It wasn't fun."

No, it wouldn't be. Liz accepted my Friend request. We are friends.  I hope she is with me for the next 20 years. It turned out to be a good deal.

Posted in General

Hanging Out With Donkeys

By: Jon Katz
Hanging Out With Donkeys

Hanging Out With Donkeys

Red was lying in the dirt and Fanny walked over and stood right over him, as if to give him shade. Fate came over to touch noses. The donkeys are sweet creatures, accepting and affectionate. They love Red, they are always careful around him, tolerant of his rushing around. They accept Fate as well, although she probably wouldn't sit still long enough to get shade from a donkeys.

Posted in General
4 September 2015

Patching The Barn: The Engineer As Artist

By: Jon Katz
Patching The Barn

Patching The Barn

Jay Bridge is an artist, he has an artist's way of looking at wood and metal and the things he fixes, he looks at them, thinks about them. Driving home for lunch, he though we ought to replace the wood in the big barn from the top of the windows down. Some of the wood is worn by time, some by the donkeys gnawing on it in winter, when they have nothing else to chew. We bring them toys and pieces of bark and twigs, but this winter was rough, the ground was covered in ice and snow and they could hardly move away from the farm.

Jay suggests that we put a fence up to keep them away and we will do that. I thought there was something evocative about watching Jay cutting and trimming his hemlock, patching the worst holes. We can't handle replacing the side of the barn right now (last year he replaced our front porch, which was rotting away) but perhaps in the Spring.

Things are coming together for the Fall and then, of course, Winter. We have four cords of firewood, we need two or three more to feed our two wood stoves. We are assuming this winter will be hard and cold as well. That seems to be the new pattern. We have about 125 bales of hay in the barn, we can always get more if we need more.

In a few weeks, I'll ask Tyler to come by and start stacking the wood in the shed – we'd like to give it some more time in the sun. Jay will also insulate the pipes in the basement to hopefully forestall another ground freeze like the one that knocked out our frost free water line in February, the same week Joshua Rockwood's water froze on his farm.

In my county, the police don't come and arrest you when winter hits like that, they come by to help if they can. We are lucky to have Jay, he is an intelligent, thoughtful and well-traveled man. He loves what he does, he loves to work with his hands, he loves to work by himself. I felt like I was in an old English village today, watching him work with his wood and saws and cords and measuring tapes.

Posted in General

The Meadow Dog: Making A Joyful Noise

By: Jon Katz
Meadow Dog In August

Meadow Dog In August

Fate is six months old, she will be spayed next month at the Cambridge Valley Vet. She has her puppy moments, but I think of her more as a young dog rather than a puppy. Fate has a joy of life that is infectious and inspiring, I think it is a part of her, I think it will always be a part of her. A smart, intense, aware creature, Fate loves people and she loves life.

Good qualities for me in a dog. Fate's joy is evident everywhere, but nowhere more so than when she vanishes into the meadow, romping through the tall grass, following the squeaks of chipmunks, the rustle of mice, hopping up and down like a rabbit, popping up here and there. I get the sense she loves being invisible in the meadow, loves appearing and disappearing. Not easy to photograph, I never quite know where she is, every now and then I am in the right spot at the right time, and she will come bursting up out of the ground and into the air, only to vanish again.

The colors of the meadow are changing for Fall, browns and yellows and reds, I love our meadow, Fate has enriched it for me even more.

Posted in General

Windowsill Gallery. Taking Responsibility For Community.

By: Jon Katz
Windowsill Gallery: Reflections

Windowsill Gallery: Reflections

Perhaps the most intense emotional experience of the week was the closing of O'Hearn's Pharmacy in my town of Cambridge. Pharmacists, small doctor's offices, florists, all kinds of small businesses close every day in America, there is only one pharmacy left in my county.

I went to my Rite-Aid yesterday to check on my new account there – they bought Bridget's customer list, I believe – it was fine, they were nice, efficient, I got my medicines. Is this the brave new world, or is this another example of the decline of community, individualism and connection.

It's true I didn't feel known at Rite-Aid, but I'm new. I got a flu shot there and was recognized by Nicole, who was a great help to me before I signed up with Bridget and who helped me navigate my confusion over all the diabetes apparatus – the needles, testing machines, strips and  other things I needed to figure out.

We were glad to see each other, she had been so helpful to me, I remembered her well.  I don't think anyone there knows what I do for a living, nor do I get the sense it would matter.

So there she was,  Nicole, taking care of me again.  Warm,smart, helpful. Isn't community what you make of it? If you want it and look for it, can't you find it?  Are connections up to me, can we simply blame the dark forces of the world for taking things away from us, for lamenting our lives, for bitching about change.

We live with bigness now, with phone trees and customer service in far away places, with harried voices on the phone, we hide behind our sparkling galaxy of devices.

I've heard a lot of bitching about change in my town this week, people are quite understandably upset about Bridget. But I am going to see if I can't create my own community at Rite-Aide. I want to stop blaming others for the way I feel, I don't wish to complain about my life, or the world I live.

I got the pills I needed, quickly and efficiently. I don't need to be close friends with everyone who helps me.

One pharmacist wrote me and said – very politely – that the truth of the matter is that small, poorly-staffed and overwhelmed independent pharmacies were simply not built to handle the complexity, volume and cost of the modern health care system. They just don't make economic sense any longer, he said. Like corner groceries, it is just the way economies evolve.

I have no idea if this is true or not. Bridget told me her father used to get a $4.75 for each pharmaceutical transaction that he handled. Today, 25 years later, the fee is 47 cents. The insurance companies have tremendous power, and the big chains have enough volume to make the cheaper fees worth while. Online drugs give consumers a wider range of choices than they used to have before, that is also something new, something that hurts pharmacies.

It's more complex than nostalgia. I am a mid-list book writer, and I don't make much sense to most publishers any longer.  In my last several years at Random House, I'm not sure I actually spoke to anyone there on the phone at all. It was just e-mails, then nothing. Not one person said goodbye to me or spoke to me after more than 30 years of working together.  I just don't earn enough money any longer to pay attention to. Publishing has changed, it isn't personal.

The truth of it is there was no one left there that I knew, or even thought to call and say goodbye.

I was sorry to see the pain and hurt in my town over the closing of O'Hearn's pharmacy. It is strange to say it, but a piece of all of us was shut down as well, that will take some healing and time.  People in small rural agricultural towns know loss, they have been seeing it for generations. As for me, I wish to take responsibility for my own community. I can't blame the chains and corporations for being disconnected and unknown. That is my job, my work, my attitude.

We'll see what I can do.

Posted in General