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“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.” – Joseph Campbell
28 July 2016

Inspiration Corner

By: Jon Katz
Inspiration Corner

Inspiration Corner

I call it inspiration corner, and it seems beautiful and peaceful to me. There is my statue of the Madonna, a symbol of nurturing to me, and the smaller  statue of a cherub, unrelated but somehow fitting, a symbol of family. There is the strange swan I got from Jack Metzger and some summer flowers from our garden on the windowsill in the afternoon light. I love seeing this corner, it inspires me and grounds me. I can't really say why, it just inspires my creativity.

Posted in General

The Trump Thing: Spawns Of Humanity, Gifts Of Awareness

By: Jon Katz
Spawns Of Humanity

Spawns Of Humanity

I never imagined at any point in my adult life that I would be thinking of Donald Trump, talking about Donald Trump, paying a bit of attention to one thing Donald Trump ever said.  I never imagined Donald Trump, with his fancy golf courses and big hotels and gaudy apartment towers would have a single thing to do with me or my life.

I am not a particularly political person, I do not hate those who disagree with me, I am not accept the noxious idea the left or the right, I do  not argue my political views with strangers online or friends in person. I do not have to be a conservative or liberal to be an American.

But in the mysterious and wonderful and puzzling ways of the world, Donald Trump seems to have worked himself into the popular imagination, he is exciting many people, terrifying many others.  He is in my lead and in my head, looming over me like a Macy's Parade Float, like one of those giant green spirits in Ghostbusters. It is the time of Trump.

It is not possible to ignore or dismiss him. I wondered aloud to Maria the other day if I could be close friends with a person who was going to vote for Donald Trump and who shared his values, some of which I consider to be hateful and destructive to our democracy and tragically insensitive to the feelings of people.

I do understand that he speaks – sometimes brilliantly – to an alienated and suffering and abandoned culture which is crying out for attention and support. They want and desperately need change, and have come to believe he is their best and only chance of getting some.

I learned the other night that I can be good friends with someone who supports Donald Trump, I think Trump is, in many ways, a gift, a spawn of humanity, a call to awareness. We have to decide who we are and who we wish to be. Most of us can go about our business and leave politics to those who are drawn to it, we can stay completely out of it and live our loves. Maybe we can't any more.

I had dinner with a good friend the other night, a man I have come to admire, even love.  Of course, Donald Trump, a name I don't think I mentioned or took seriously in memory before this year, came up. My friend said I can't wait to vote, I wish it was tomorrow, I can't wait to vote for  Trump.

I was surprised, I felt a rush of disappointment, a flash of anger. I took a breath and suppressed both.

Wow, I thought, this is my chance to see what I am made of, it is really true, as I have been preaching, that I can accept disagreement and accept it, even though it is utterly apart from my own feelings. I didn't wish to argue, I wished to understand.

In all honesty, accepting Trump is a powerful issue for me, many of us know hardship and struggle but people who come from Jewish refugee stock, who are African-American, Muslim or gay and trans people in the 20th century have a visceral appreciation of hatred and demagoguery that is not abstract, it is all too real and not that far away. Many fears are  exaggerated, even exploited, and many dreams come true. But so do many nightmares.

I was reading just last night about the fact that it was illegal for women to wear pants in public in many states until the 1970's, and older women were moved to tears by Hilary Clinton's pantsuits. I do not define my Jewishness by the holocaust, there have been many holocausts in the world since ours, and the world must move forward, nobody has a patent on suffering.

I know how hard many farmers struggle to survive and sink in our world, nobody seems to care a thing about them.

For me, Trumpism is not a political difference but a nightmare coming true. It transcends left and right for me, or conservative and liberal. It approaches my idea of genuine evil.  Still, I have no right to disrespect the views of others, not if I wish my own to be respected. The things I fear and hate are the things I have to work to understand.

I asked my friend what was important to him in terms of politics, he mentioned concern over climate change and water was one issue, and universal health care was another. I asked him if he knew that Donald Trump thought climate change a hoax and opposed universal health care. He said he didn't know, and he knew Trump was a "dumbass" in some ways, but he thought the system desperately needed change, and he didn't think anyone but Trump would truly bring about change.

My friend is one of the most tolerant people I know, he judges no one and minds his own business. He is no hater.

He also said he worried about the Second Amendment being taken away, he is a gun owner and lover.

I told my friend I wasn't trying to argue with him, I was just trying to understand why some people vote against their own self-interest, why he would vote for someone who doesn't share any of their goals and values, except this concern about the Second Amendment (which, as far as I know, no one is proposing repealing.) I did understand his feelings about change and frustration, it was useful and helpful to me to hear it.

In this convention week it seems the whole world is talking about Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton and the choice America is going to have to make about what kind of country it wants to be, as President Obama suggested in his speech.

I respect my friend, he is a good man, a gifted man, a man searching thoughtfully for his place in the world. For me, Donald Trump is a gift in many ways, he challenges me to think about politics for the first time in many years, to recognize the suffering of people in a different way. To understand who I am and who I want to be.

Trump forces me to think about what it means to be a human. To note hate people who think differently. To not promote hate and fear.

I stopped talking about politics at dinner, it was very comfortable and easy for us, we are good friends, and I didn't want it to get uncomfortable or hurtful. I don't want to be one of the haters and ragers, they are suddenly everywhere, unleashed by the forces of darkness like in some horror movie.

Donald Trump is forcing me to decide what humanity is.

I didn't ask the next question I was thinking about, I don't like to talk about politics for more than a few minutes in America, at times it reminds me about what I have read about Europe in the 20's and 30's, where people were so polarized and frightened they didn't dare speak about their political views. My grandmother often told me it was a great risk in the Russian she grew up in. She warned me never to speak of politics, even in America.

My friend has grandchildren that he loves very much, and I am about to be a grandfather, and for the first time in my life, I am thinking about the world my granddaughter will be living in. I don't want her to live in a  Trump world, not simply for the sake of change, as an experiment in shaking up a system. corrupted by money and dysfunction. There are other ways to do that, as Bernie Sanders and Trump himself have already demonstrated.

I don't want her to grow up terrified of her own country, of turning against needy refugees seeking freedom and safety like her great-grandmother did.

I don't want her live under a King who is the "only one." Wasn't that what our revolution was about?

Most of us come from places where they did that. As soon as I can I want to take her in her stroller, put her on a subway train and take her to the statue of liberty, where my grandmother took me when I was five or six years old. It was the first thing she saw in America, the statue, and it was the first thing I saw in New York.

She took me there on a train and bought me a postcard I still have somewhere in some drawer, where it says "give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses yearning to be free."

That is the dream I want my granddaughter to know and have, to put in her young head, a gift I wish to give her. The good side, the generous side of us. I want her to know it is there.

I am grateful to Donald Trump today for helping me to find my own compass, my own humanity, for forcing me to think about who I am and what I want my country to be, grandiose thoughts I always thought were above me. I am grateful he helped me cross a milestone, and prove to myself that I can be friends with someone who disagrees with me strongly, there was no hate or hurt in our talk. That is something.

I am confident that people will do the right thing, I believe they are good, and in their own way, wise. In our world, it is no small thing to keep a friendship going across such a difference. It seems healing to me, a step on the road back.

Posted in General

The Connection Cactus. Small Miracles Of Rebirth

By: Jon Katz
The Connection Cactus

The Connection Cactus

I have so little connection to my own past. I moved about 20 times, abandoned my family in some ways to move to the country. I have no friends I have known longer than a year years My sister is the only person I ever speak to from my original family, my daughter the only connection to the life I lived for a generation.

I am in touch with none of the hundreds of good people I worked with in more than a dozen different jobs. Disturbed, angry and frightened, I tore through so much of my life, always able to get a good job, move up, make money and then run. It was a long time before I realized the person I was running from was me, the person I was angry at was me. I was a genius at seeming well but being sick and broken inside.

Nobody could see it from the outside, including me, at least for awhile.

In the past six or seven years, I have been rebuilding my life. I got help, faced the truth, undertook to do the hard, hard work of recovery and rebirth. You cannot become someone other than yourself, but you can certainly be a better, happier and healthier self.  I faced the truth, found life, heard the very hard news about me from good and tough and professional helpers. I broke my heart a million times, and the hearts of many others. I turned to the creativity inside of me for salvation to a wonderful woman for trust and companionship.

I was not well, I was determined to get better. This is work that will never be done, never be over. It is not up to others to be responsible for the life that is mine,  or to be blamed for it, it is up to me. It is the mission and purpose of the rest of my life. Fate has given me a partner to help me on this journey, and life has given me the opportunity.

The goal of my life is to be whole, to do good, to be authentic, to be creative, to love well and live simply.

This morning, Maria reminded me of the cactus sitting on the porch. I had forgotten it, of course, I have always forgotten things I can't see right in front of me. But it is so important to me in different ways. The cactus in the middle is from the cabin found when I first came to upstate New York about 16 years ago. It was in the cabin on Colfax Mountain where I wrote "Running To The Mountain."

I don't care much for cactus plants, they seem ugly to me and out of place in the country, but I cared lovingly for this one, and brought it from my cabin to the farm in Hebron, watered it from time to time, kept it near the sun. For all of the years  I had the plant in the cabin or in Hebron, my cactus plant never grow, not an inch. Since we moved to our current home together, the plant has doubled in size – the section on top is all new, since we came here.

What explanation for that can there possible be? Can plants sense people, and respond to them. I feel as if my unloved cactus – it is loved now – is cheering me on, growing with me.

The taller cactus on the right is Maria's, she bought it when she was in high school. The two small cactus plants in front were in our farmhouse, they were owned by Florence Walrath, about the only thing that wasn't sold off or removed. These cactus plants were jammed into a small old white pot, which now holds a different plant in our dining room windowsill. Maria saved them, she cut them up, gave them space and light.

I didn't even notice that she had done it, I never thought about these plants. I am so conditioned to shedding the past.

I was very much struck by her intuitive decision to bring these three things together, put them in one pot. They have all thrived. In the summer, they get to take in the sun out on the porch. In the winter, they come inside and sit by the windows. Small miracles, all three.

These are the only three things that connect me, Maria and Florence Walrath, that tie us both to one another, that tie me to my past, to one another, to the present and to the future.I don't own a single thing from the house I lived in in Montclair, New Jersey for nearly 25 years, where my daughter grew up and I began to write, not even my grandmother's dining room table, or the Chagall print my mother gave me on my first wedding day. I couldn't bear to take any of it with me, I didn't ask for one thing when I got divorced, I don't know what happened to it or where it is.

Perhaps I needed to shed my past to get my life back.

The past is too painful for me, except for my daughter,  my life began after those things when I came to awareness and faced the wrenching tasks of seeking authenticity and healing myself.

The Connection Cactus is here for a reason, it reminds me who I have been, where I have been, and where I am and wish to be. I am just beginning to grasp the power of the natural world, the magical helpers – animals, trees, plants, flowers, light, my dogs – that have guided me and helped to save me.

I will not forget the Community Cactus again. Perhaps it will end up one day in my granddaughter's house, she may wonder about the strange  man she heard so many stories about but never really got to know.

Posted in General

Maria In The Three Sisters Garden

By: Jon Katz
In The Three Sisters Garden

In The Three Sisters Garden

Every morning, a delightful new tradition/chore for us, we go and inspect the Three Sisters Garden growing next to the farmhouse. Today we found string beans and peas to harvest, they were delicious. The corn stalks are shooting up sprouting tassels, the squash are sprouting yellow leaves, the cucumbers are growing in the back and we have two pumpkins well along.

Maria hops around in the garden checking the growth of the vegetables. It is a wonderful experience to eat the food you grow.  We are eating a zucchini from the garden today.

Three Sisters Gardens have special meanings, they were developed by Native-American women many years ago to grow squash, beans and corn – enough healthy food for people to live on. The Native-Americans brought this tradition to the early settlers from Europe and these gardens became a feminist symbol of women's support for one another.

This garden has a lot of good in it and we can hardly believe its growth, even since yesterday. We plan a bigger Three Sisters next year.

Posted in General

Portrait: Soul Of A Human

By: Jon Katz
Portrait: Soul Of A Human

Portrait: Soul Of A Human

I've been trying to take a portrait of Cassandra Conety for some months now, and I had some great full-face shots of her – she is going in my portrait show, "Cambridge People," at the Round House Cafe,  in September, but I was troubled about it. Cassandra has a great and expressive face, but it didn't say much about who she was.

Some portraits are simply close-ups of someone's face, and those are fine.

But when I can, I want the picture to show something about them.

I get a little twitchy when some of the photos don't really show a bit about the life of the subject, where they work, what's around them, what they are about. When that happens, I got back again an again until we figure it out.

I don't know a lot about her life,  I only see her at the vets – she is a tech at the Cambridge Valley Veterinary Service, where I often go with my dogs.I know she is a country girl, she loves the outdoors, and loves goats and dogs.

And when I think of her, I think of her soft and easy and calming way with animals. All of my dogs love her, and they barely seem to notice they are getting stuck with needles or poked and prodded in sensitive places. Fate comes tearing into the vet office, looking everywhere for her.

Red has been doing massage and laser work with Cassandra, and I have known her for years now, she has seen a lot of my ups and downs. She inspires trust and affection, in animals and people, she is unusual. How do I capture this? Yesterday I brought Red in for his laser treatments, and I asked if we could put him up on the operating table, Red is calm and stoic, I knew he would stay there.

That would give me a better angle than I had when the treatments were done on the floor, it was hard to get a perspective down there So we put him up on the table, and then I turned on the operating room overhead lights, throwing some light on Cassandra's and on Red. There, I thought, I had it, the photograph shows Cassandra, her environment, her gentle, thoughtful way of treating animals, and the trust and connection between her and Red.

The surgery room adds a touch of drama to the photo.

Digital photography is fast and impulsive, but portraits challenge you to slow down and actually think about what you are doing. I like this photo and the hard-nosed curator thinks it ought to go into the show. Portrait photography is defined in many ways, I consider the effort to capture the soul of a human being.

Posted in General