24 May 2018

Letting Go: The Liberation Of Lonely And Broken Men

By: Jon Katz

The Liberation Of Men

It is an uncomfortable time for me to be a man. Every day, we learn of new predations, mostly committed by men – violence against women, abuse of children, poaching, war, the destruction of the environment, our deeply troubled civic and political structures, violent crime, wars and genocide and civil war, raging cruelty online, conspiracy theories and rage.

At times I feel men are destroying both our democracy and our world. I know I am generalizing – there are many good men, and many cruel women – but the larger picture becomes clearer to me all the time. Men are broken and bleeding.

And don't be fooled. As awful and cruel and violent as they can be, it is no fun to be a man who hurts people, lives in greed, seeks power and domination. They are lonely and broken. There is no peace or freedom inside of them. They get no joy from what they do, only delusion.

Grounded and content people do not harm or dominate other people.

Perhaps because I am one, I feel great empathy and even pity for men, and dream of our liberation, something I have personally tried to experience in recent years. I seek to be less of a man, not more.

My life lesson has been to let go of power, not fight for it. To respect the intuition and compassion of women, and support it.

To recognize my powerlessness and accept it.

We men confuse bravado and bluster with strength, and we are taught from our earliest days to oppress others who have less  status than we do.

We create a dishonest pecking order and pride of cynicism and sense of superiority that is false and hurtful.

We oppress racial minorities, people of different identity, the gay, the transgender, and women. We despoil the earth, despoil our environment,  and slaughter the animals of the wild.

We practice the persecution and oppression of the poor and vulnerable and call it greatness, even justice.

In the absence of real achievements towards improving the safety and security of our world, we practice cruelty and call it progress.

We make little positive progress in the world, we create division to boost our own self-esteem. We obsess with winning, not with doing good.

Men's liberation is much more difficult than women's liberation, writes the philosopher Richard Rohr in  his book From Wild Man To Wise Man.

"Women know they are oppressed, and that in itself is the beginning of liberation," Rohr writes. "Women know the games men play, whereas we men do not even recognize the system as a set of games. Even when we do recognize it, we believe that's simply the way the world is, the way life has to be." We rig the systems of the world, then defend them as moral.

In my life, I did learn that I was the oppressed as well the oppressor.

I did see that I had less power and achievement than I thought, and wanted even less.  In my solitude, I did see that I was not really powerful, not superior and not awake to my own liberation.

I am humble about power when I see what most men have done with it, I feel shame and despair sometimes about being a man.

I simply cannot come to understand some of the things I am learning other men who say they are ethical and educated do to women every day, and I have seen a lot of hard things in my life, I am not naive.

In my marriage, I have learned to cede power. I am not the decision maker, I am not the King, I do not dictate our agenda. I have assumed a different role. I am the nurturer, I am the shopper, I am the cook.  I like it, it is liberating. I support the work of my wife every day, insofar as I can.

Yesterday, a big man in a truck came to the door to ask if he could come onto our property and cut down the vegetation around some trees threatening power lines.

He asked me to show him our property line and I walked with him a few feet wondering where it was and what I should permit him to do. The door to the farmhouse opened and Maria came out.

She walks in those woods every day and knows every tree, and sometimes stops to kiss and touch them.

Here was the man with the big saw coming to cut down our trees and the woman who stops to see trees and love them will tell him what he can't and can't do. Unlike him or his company, she cares about the trees and their fate.

She walked right past me without a word and spoke to the big man. He seemed to forget that I was there, he could sense this was the person whose permission he needed.

I stopped walking and watched the two of them head towards the pasture to look at the trees. I was not upset. I was relieved. I wanted to get back to my writing.

No one noticed I wasn't there, or turned back to invite me to come along.

I knew the role of the man where I grew up was to talk to this big man and walk with him to the woods and pat him on the back and joke with him, and make tough and smart decisions about the trees while his wife stayed behind.

Such things were not for her to decide.

When the two came back out of the woods, Maria came up to me and said "I'm sorry, did I take that all away from you?" Yes, I said, you did, and I appreciate it. I don't know about those trees, I didn't know what to say, I didn't want to make those decisions.

I was relieved, liberated of the pressure to know all the answers and make all the decisions. I don't know much about too many things, I could use all the help I can get.

I was pleased to have a strong partner who knows more things than I do and is not the least bit anxious about walking into the woods with a huge man and his chainsaw and telling him what he could and couldn't do. To watch out for the  trees. A parable, I thought, for male liberation.

Do less, not more, shed power, don't seek more of it.

I think the path for liberation for me isn't to keep power, but to let it go. We men are not really in charge, as the news reminds us every day, we are just beginning to see that, some of us. We cannot control the world, or make it safe, let alone manage our own lives.  And we certainly can no longer control women. We have failed in our power.

I believe that women will do better than men have done, show more empathy, care about the earth, speak in gentler ways and listen more sincerely. They might just save the world.

It is only in solitude and humility, I learned, that my inner freedom as a man could grow.

In those years alone on the first Bedlam Farm, I learned to find my lonely place, and go there to learn how to change my life. A life without a lonely place, that is a life without a quiet center or a place to reflect, can so easily become destructive, as we learn every day.

The men I see on television or sent to Washington don't seem to have lonely place, they are just lonely. And angry. And their world is beginning to crumble, even if they can't see it yet.

In his book about the need for wiser men, Rohr quotes from one of Jesus's most provocative and ignored statements: "It is harder for a rich man to know what i am talking about, than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle."

Most men don't get it and can't get it, at least not yet. The will. That is the task of a liberation movement for men.

I learned that I could never liberate myself from all of this male power and anger until I understood that I needed liberation from being a man.

I am still working on it.


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23 May 2018

Doing Good: Posting The Boundaries Of My Life

By: Jon Katz

Doing Good. Fate In The Mist, In Her Beloved Swamp

Almost every day now, I get thoughtful and valuable messages from people all over the country who wish to help the refugees or the Mansion residents. I am grateful for them, I thank you for them.

But I can't do any of them.

Today's ideas were that i form a non-profit 501C; that we create a business collective to help the refugee women start their own businesses, that I show the refugees how to use library service, set up some national chapters of the Army Of Good, get free library cards and programs, that we connect the refugees to refugee pen pals in every part of the country, form a housing community for them to find good places to live, form my own refugee support group, or offer rewards to people who  hire them, and seek out homes in which they can vacation.

These are all good and interesting ideas, the best use of social medial.

I will see they get into the right hands, but those are not my hands. It is an American tendency to do more, grow bigger. I am learning to move in the opposite direction.

I also want to be honest and I  explain why I can't and won't try to carry out these suggestions.

First of all, the work of the Army Of Good depends almost entirely, I think, on drawing and observing boundaries around the work that Ali and I are doing.

He and I talk about this almost every day. I am not a social worker, I am a writer, and he is a van driver.

I have not been trained as a social worker, and don't wish to be a social worker. It is a very particular skill.

The refugees we are helping are in desperate straits. Most are new here, can't speak English, don't have cars or money for food and  rent, and often, no real place to live. They are mostly trying to survive, the first task of the refugee in a strange, and in our case, sometimes hostile world.

My job is to meet these people, write about them and hopefully inspire or persuade people to help me help them.

What  we want is to  stabilize them so that they can start to build a new life. If they need help, we steer them to the people who can provide it, we can't do that for them, there are too many and we are too few.

But this is not what I do for a living.

I publish a blog every day and am working on my umpteenth book, to be published sometime next year. I work hard on the blog, and taking photographs for the blog. Books take a lot of time and  hard work, so does my blog.

I also work working  with the refugees and Mansion residents, this takes up about half of my work time now, and I drive to Albany several times a week.

For this program to continue working, and it is working, thanks to you, I have to be iron-sharp about the boundaries of what I can do and what I can't do.

Ali and I generally function as  Inside and Outside Team, we are getting to be as precise as a military operation.

Ali finds the refugees in the most need of help – he knows everyone in this community. I meet them, get to know them, tell the story, raise the money to help them. Many of these good people are traumatized, their stories are sometimes very hard to get out into the open.

It has been hard and difficult work.

I don't speak Arabic and it will take time for many of the refugees to trust me or even quite understand me. Many refugee women are frightened of even talking to men, let along sitting with them on sofas, and it takes time and patience to break through those barriers.

I learned early on that I do not get along well with bureaucracies and can't bear office politics. I told the people at RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center,  that I would raise  money for them, but that they had to leave me alone, I had to have the freedom to do this the way i wished and needed to do it, and believe that it will work.

My idea was – is – to humanize the refugees, not treat them as a political issues, but as human beings. To show they are no danger to us, no threat. So our help is focused on individuals, not institutions. Our money goes to people, in full public view. They must be willing to be photographed, or we can't help them. People must see where their money goes, and to whom.

This is, understandably, a hard idea for non-profit managers to grasp.

There was, as usual, the person or two at RISSE that I make uncomfortable, an old and familiar story for me.

It wasn't more than a few days before they were  telling me how to collect the money, where it should go, how much insurance they wanted me to have, to give the money to them, not the refugees directly, to focus less on the soccer team,  to not function out of the city, to not buy pizza or pay for movies, or visit the Mansion residents, or advertise for tutors.

I'm surprised they left me alone as long as they did. I just freaked some of them out, as I am known to do. We bought our own van. We try to help RISSE all the time, we do our own work in our own way. Thanks for supporting the RISSE Amazon Wish List, I hope your support continues, you have done a miraculous thing, transformed this urgently needed school.  Keep it up, please, if you can.

I can't say enough about the wonderful people who work with RISSE, and the great work that they do. They deserve support.

I'm not cut out to work for corporations or institutions, it took me painful years to see that.  One board meeting of the Women's Work Collective would send me into rehab.

This is a process that evolves and changes. I believe I've found an effectivel way to make contact with the people who need help the  most, to raise the money they need to steady themselves, to get it to them quickly and without bureaucratic process. It works.

That is just what I set out do in the first place.

We move fast and do good. But one reason it works is that we keep it small and  focused. We don't get deeply involved. I think of the Batman, who sweeps in, and just as suddenly, flies out. We don't overreach or overpromise. We don't work miracles, just small acts of great kindness.

It isn't in my DNA, as Oprah would say,  to organize groups of people.

I can e-mail Saad's address to the good and loving teachers who to organize Pen Pals, but that's it. I can't help organize a women's business collective, or research library privileges, and  I won't start a 501 C so that I can do hundreds of hours of paperwork a year and bow to a Board Of Directors.

I don't want to burnout either, I've done that before, it doesn't help anyone. In hospice, Izzy and I had five people die in a single week. I needed to see a social worker after that.

Those  small donations add up and are precious. The refugees know they have to make it on their own, they are working hard at it. They don't need or want to engage too much with me, like adolescent kids, they need to be free and feel free and stand on their own. Sometimes we can help them do that. Sometimes they become friends, most often, they move on.

It is in the nature of people to always expand, do more, add new things. If it works here, let's do it everywhere.

That is not my nature, we have a focus and a formula and it is working and we will hone it and polish it and keep it small. My nature now is to do fewer things, keep them small, and do them well

We choose the people we help carefully, we can't help all of the people all of the time, we can help a few people some of the time, and for a very finite period fo time. The Army Of Good has a big heart, but as a rule, the people in it are not wealthy.

So many of the donations we receive – from all over the country now –   come in envelopes stuffed with $5, $10 and $20 bills and notes saying "I wish I could do more."

Our work is routinely supported by people who can donate more, $500 or $300 even $1,000. Thank you, without you we could do a lot less. They take us to new places.

I won't allow myself to tire of this work, and I don't wish to  waste anyone's money, or run out of the relatively small amounts of money in the special fund for the refugees am Mansion  residents.

There is close to $3,500 in the refugee fund  today and most of it will be gone by the end of the week after we put down security deposits for Hawah and Omranaso.

Our rule is simple. We do the best we can for as long as we can. We help people in extremis, in emergencies, in despair. That is the boundary.

In a more just world, these would be and once were the acts and functions of government: to admit refugees, welcome them, and support them until they could stand on their own two  feet. We  have become a Darwinian country, suspicious of outsiders, contemptuous of the poor, and indifferent to the needy and the vulnerable. We seem to blame them for needing help, as if it were a moral failure.

The role of our government in the life of the refugee is noticeable for its absence and retreat from these people.

Thank you so much for helping me carry out this work, it seems to me it is the least we can do, and not enough, never enough. And thanks for sending me your ideas. Perhaps they will one day see the light of day.

We welcome your help, it makes all of this work possible. You can send your contributions to the Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, [email protected] Please mark the donations for "refugees."

Today, off to Albany to see if we can get Mawah into her new apartment and begin her new life in earnest.

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New Bedlam Farm Caps In The Works

By: Jon Katz

Two Caps

In a galaxy long ago and far away, I had tens of thousands of dollars in the bank, my books were flying out of bookstores, networks and journalists were begging to come up to Bedlam Farm and interview me, I got scores of lovely  reviews, I launched my books on the most prestigious NPR book-loving shows, I toured the country in big black cards with attentive escorts, who made sure I ate well, and got everywhere I needed to go.

I gave readings in the country's best bookstores to standing room only crowds. It was a dream, I think in many ways, a good one and a bad one. I flew too close to the sun, as we all know, but not before I ordered about 60 Bedlam Farm caps, one black with white lettering, one green with black lettering and a graphic design symbol of Izzy, then the reigning dog star and border collie on the farm.

I gave some of the caps away, and we sold some at our Open Houses, but after the fall, I felt uneasy with the idea, it seemed too self-centered and  self-promotional to me. It just made me queasy, i was not looking for attention.

I've healed and grown and changed somewhat and people ask me fairly often if I would think of ordering some caps again. My world is different now, it seems like a good idea, and so I messaged Sara Kelly, who designed the Army Of Good Bumper Stickers.

Maria wears the blue one sometimes, I wear the green one sometimes, they are nice caps, all cotton, and I see them at our Open Houses once in awhile, but not often. I hear they have become collectors items, I aspire to that myself. It just feels good to put the caps out there.

I asked Kelly to design a blue (Navy) hat and green one, like those above. The Navy hat will only have lettering, the olive hat will have an image or one or two donkeys, I decided not to go with a dog this time.

When I put sheep on my business cards, some people were disappointed. They wanted Red.

The farm and the blog are more than that, I think, although dogs are the soul of the enterprise.

I just don't want to be defined only in that way.

Sara is working at her design, and one difference between then and now is that Maria will sell the caps on her etsy page, it will be simple to buy them. I'm going to order a small number of caps, because I'm not as delusional as I was then, or as wealthy, and see what happens.

I asked Sara for classy, cotton hats. When she sends me a proof, I'll share it with you, of course.

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Red And His Sheep. Out To Pasture

By: Jon Katz

Red And His Sheep

This morning, Red moves the sheep into on of the rear pastures. We've  started rotational grazing. This image never gets old for me.

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Conversely, The Iconic Sneaker

By: Jon Katz


I wore Converse All-Stars when I was a kid, I think many kids did. Soon after we got married, I got Maria a pair and she wears them often in warm weather.

I saw this sneaker  sitting in the sun the other day, and it was, to me a symbol of  youth, athleticism, even sexuality, all things Maria possesses in my mind. I like it as a still shot. I call it the Iconic Sneaker.

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