21 October 2014

Friendship, Chapter Two: Opening Up. Here Comes Tai Chi

By: Jon Katz
Friendship, Chapter Two

Friendship, Chapter Two

I spent the afternoon Tuesday with two of the men I am closest two in the world, Red and Scott Carrino. It is time, I reluctantly admit, for the next chapter in our friendship, me and Scott. Two years ago, just after Scott opened the Round House Cafe, we began to talk. Scott very much wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to explore a method of movement and spirituality that would help my physical and mental health. So he and I entered in a compact, I would teach writing to him, he would teach me Tai Chi, the ancient Chinese spiritual practice of movement and meditation. Scott is a Tai Chi master teacher, I have written 27 books. It seems like a good arrangement.

In those two years, there was much chatter, bullshit, friendship, little teaching of any kind, hardly any Tai Chi, hardly any writing. We had a good time. We met at his farm, Pompanuck, and mine. We sat outside and talked, made maple syrup, sat with donkeys, had coffee in the cafe, went to dinner. If we didn't teach much to each other, we bonded  and one of the rarest things among men, a true friendship, began to flourish. I was kind of relieved that we weren't doing Tai Chi, I didn't think I would like it.

Perhaps we needed to learn to know and trust one another before we could learn from one another. That took awhile, we both have good reasons to mistrust people.

This fall, Scott became more serious about his writing, he has really opened up, publishing on the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm on Facebook and sharing some of his music and song lyrics. I can't say I had much to do with it, but the process of our talking helped to open him up, as it did me.

I kept telling him he didn't need to worry so much about what other people thought of his work, he needed to think about what he thought of it. Like so many people, he had shut down his writing because he thought it was no good and no one would want to read it. Writing, I said, is an internal, not an external experience, it is not about grammar and sentence structure, it is about feeling and authenticity. Writers write, first and foremost. It is not about what others think, it is about what we think. He is now seeing this for himself.

This week, Scott said it was time we honored the other side of the bargain, it was time for me to seriously consider Tai Chi and try and learn it. We had a serious talk about it today. It would be good for me, he said, as I have grown older, he  has noticed I am walking more stiffly, my range of motion could be enhanced and improved. It was good for peacefulness centering, there was nothing better for my heart after surgery, he said, than to make walking and movement easier, for me to be more balanced and centered. I felt awkward, I have never been athletic, always lived in my head.

It occurred to me, I told him today, that he was talking about Tai Chi to me the same way I was talking about writing to him. It didn't matter how it looked to others, it mattered how it felt. It was, perhaps, yet another thing I needed to open myself up to. It was internal, not external. If was about feeling, not athletics. It could help me open up my body in the same way Scott's writing has helped him open up his emotions and creativity – he is a song writer and a regular writer.

I saw that perhaps there was a place where our teachings to one another could meet, between my lessons and his. So I had my first real lesson today, it was an hour long, I learned three movements I will practice every day this week. For the past decade, I have undertaken a process of opening up. In my life, my marriage, my work, my photography, my spirituality and sense of self. I am doing all kinds of things I was never open to, and I believe the process of staying open – of keeping my mind from closing, I call that the first death, has  saved my soul and enriched my life.

I am resistant to Tai Chi, I'm not sure why, I have a hard time seeing myself doing it. It requires yet more willingness to be vulnerable and change, and I sometimes think if I were any more vulnerable, I'd split like an overripe melon. All the more reason to try.

For me, getting older is not about shutting down and closing my mind to new experience, it is not about squawking about the old days and bitching about young people, taxes and the cost of things. It is, in part, about opening up to things I never could do or was willing to do. Making friends. Finding intimacy. Meditating. Talking to horses. Spirit Dogs. Taking photographs. Entering cardiac rehab. Finding good friends. Finding love.  Being authentic.  Learning Tai Chi.

I'll let you know how it goes.

 

Posted in General

Spirit Of Simon, Blog Power: “Saving Simon” Goes To 2nd Printing

By: Jon Katz
"Saving Simon"

"Saving Simon"

Simon is still braying, my book "Saving Simon" is resisting being orphaned, today it went into a second printing of 3,500 more copies. Two things alone are pushing this mouth, word-of-mouth and the blog (and people's love of Connie Brook's bookstore, Battenkill Books, which is closing in on 1,000 copies sold.) I am proud of this, I have never had a book given so little support and attention by a publisher (I am switching publishers, I am responsible, this is just reality).

I'm heading to libraries, indy bookstores and next year, a whole week in Iowa, among other places,  to promote "Saving Simon." But it is the mostly blog that is pushing book sales, and I am excited about that and proud of it. And I thank you. With the Christmas season coming up, this is the perfect Christmas book, or so I believe. It is also getting the nicest reviews. I intend to keep the book alive.

I am always uncomfortable promoting my stuff too much on the blog, but I am not going to quit on this book or abandon it any more than Simon quit on living. I am calling it the Orphans Book Tour. I am shooting for 2,000 copies sold through Battenkill Books, my local bookstore. Connie ships anywhere in the world and takes Paypal, and every one of the first 2,000 buyers at Battenkill will receive a free signed photo postcard and a book that is signed and personalized (I receive the right to edit personalization requests, some are windy and strange).

You can order the book from your independent bookstore or anywhere online and if you choose Battenkill, you can order it online.You can also call the store at 518 677-2515.

People who buy the books from Battenkill are also eligible to win Fromm Family Food coupons for dog or cat food, notecards, photos and some of Maria's famous potholders. The Orphans Book tour is just getting underway, I think this is a book that is tough and hardy, just like the donkey that inspired it.

Thanks for helping this writer and this book survive the new and sharky waters of corporate publishing, I appreciate it, we are just getting started. Next up, third printing.

Posted in General

Morning Walk

By: Jon Katz
Morning Walk

Morning Walk

Posted in General

The Spaces In Between

By: Jon Katz
Spaces In Between

Spaces In Between: Jake And Deb

I dream of Jake and Deb sometimes, the two white lambs who spoke of purity and connection. And of life and death. I wrote a few days ago about this curious thing that was happening to me since my heart surgery in July. I find myself slow to get out of cars and out of chairs, I am one of those people who is always racing from one place to another, physically and mentally, my life is full, I am a chaos man, I am rarely still. Now,  I will sit and stare out of the car window for a minute or two before opening the door. Or before getting out of a chair.

I though it might be a physical thing, something to do with a healing heart, but I see that physically, I am stronger than I have been in many years, walking miles, lifting and carrying things, running on treadmills and pumping away on bikes. It is something else.

I was startled to get a bunch of e-mail and other messages from people who said the same thing has happened to them since surgery, or when someone they love has died, or when they have remembered a trauma or painful thing. Maria said it was a "Space In Between," and this phrase caught in my mind.

It is a transition, a marker, the boundary between one thing and another. The space between the rocks of a stone wall, between notes of music, between verses of a poem, between the chapter of a book, or one photograph or painting or another, between an act of creativity and life, between love and loss and yes, life and death, the space between Jake and Deb, between pulling Jake out of a womb and then having to shoot him as he lay suffering and dying.

I think of the spaces between fear and strength, of uncertainty and clarity, of yearning and creativity.

My life has changed. Jake and Deb spoke to me, the horses speak to me, my heart speaks to me now, we have found one another after all of these years.  My heart beats differently now, it opens me to feeling and emotion, to the difference between one thing and another. Spaces define the things they separate, surround and bound. The message is clear to me now, spaces are precious and important, just as beautiful as the things they make possible and define.

This is a spiritual message, a creative message as a gift. I was good at rushing from one thing to another, in need of considering them, defining them, savoring the things that fill up my life. It is a gift, every time, an opening. I think of coming home, of leaving, of shopping, of writing, taking a photograph, going to cardiac rehab, leaving Maria, finding her again. Writing on my blog.

I have discovered something, the spaces in between my life. They are important to me. And how wonderful to discover that such a new and curious thing, something I might never have even considered or mentioned, is also part of the universal experience that connects those of us who life has opened up, and opens us up again and again.

Posted in General
20 October 2014

Round Two: Liam Oversteps

By: Jon Katz
Liam Oversteps

Liam Oversteps

Red and Liam have been in a bit of a test of wills lately, Liam is feeling his ram oats. He overdid it this afternoon, he looked around and found himself separated from the flock, with Red right between him and them. The sheep stared like they were at the World Series, and Liam got increasingly uncomfortable when Red turned and noticed him. He gave Liam the eye, a withering look that could melt steel and Liam stood his ground for a few seconds, then broke for the rest of the sheep. I suspect he learned something from it, I had the feeling Red had had enough.

Posted in General