4 March 2015

Posted: Into The Whirlwind, The Black Dog

Sweet Funk

Sweet Funk

I had the most awful dreams last night, I woke up sweating and shaking, went downstairs so as not to awaken Maria and sat by the fire with Flo. I felt myself slipping into a hole, the dark place. Into the Whirlwind, I call it, after the great memoir of the same name. The novelist Robertson Davies, who suffered terribly from depression, used to say the Black Dog came to visit him from time to time. He sounded flip about it, but I could tell from his writing that it wasn't.

Anxiety was usually my poison, not depression, but the Black Dog nearly ate me alive at the other farm, and every now and then, he comes to pay me a visit. The visits are short, there is too much stuff in my life going on to dwell in dark places. It was a tough winter, for sure, we lost Simon, Lenore and Frieda within a few weeks of one another.

We are dealing with some financial realities, we are facing them squarely. A few years ago, I was visited at once by a bunch of different storms,  by divorce, the recession, a farm we have not been able to sell, and the revolutionary changes facing publishing. We have been working hard to deal with all of these things, but we are doing well. For someone who had plenty of money since he was 20, it has been a change.

We are dealing with all of these things together, we will not quit until they are all resolved. This is a new circumstance for me, I have not trusted many people or been close to many. Maria and I are so much a couple, it is hard to imagine tackling all of this without her. I tried for years to deal with them all by myself.  We are dealing with them ourselves, we are not seeking help or asking for any.  I want to be a whole human being, Maria does as well, we mean to take care of ourselves. That is the point, really.

But I can't help but get discouraged sometimes, and wonder what my life is really worth, in America we learn to measure success by money, not love or satisfaction or meaning.

I do not wish to measure my life by money, I decided when these crises hit that I would forego all of the money I was supposed to have, let go of the money I had saved, live a different kind of life in exchange for love and creativity. I do not regret it, not for a second. But it gets me down once in awhile, there are some difficult moments. I am beginning to get older, I am beginning to feel older.

Joseph Campbell says this can be a gentle and loving part of life, I feel that. You finally know something, even though it is often too late to use it. And if you can't use it, you can share it with those who wish to listen. I suppose when the Black Dog comes I feel vulnerable, I feel a spiritual fatigue. There are a lot of miserable and angry people out there, anger is infectious sometimes.

Every day the Google ads – devilish things, they know everything about me – pop up asking me if I have saved enough money for retirement, or have enough to tide me through life's many ups and downs.

I do not, I wish they would leave me alone. I've met a lot of people in hospice work who had saved up a lot of money and ended up giving it all to the government or a nursing home. I'll take a different path. Aging is not about surrendering life for me, it is about appreciating it in a new and loving and wiser way.

Some of you may recall that this blog nearly saved my life a few years back – along with a wonderful therapist in Saratoga. When I was falling apart and mired in depression, I wrote a short paper book about it called "Out Of The Shadows." I wanted to help other people. The book sold out, it is out of print and I don't wish to print any more, I get requests for it almost every day. That is not how I wish to define myself, I have moved on from that painful time.

It was not that long ago. I have worked hard and come far, in many ways, the blog is a record of that journey, something to record my life honestly and leave a record behind.

I was shattered when my life fell apart, and Maria  helped me put the pieces back together. I have no doubt that I would not be alive today if I had not met her.  I remember that I was terrified to tell my tough therapist about Maria, I had made so many bad decisions and was such a mess, and she never let me  get away with a thing.  I was sure she would tell me that the relationship was a bad idea. Maria is younger than I am, and we were both emerging from shocking and painful divorces. Not a good time for new relationships.

She sensed that I was holding something back, I finally told her the truth, that I was falling in love with Maria. She smiled and nodded, and said "I fully support your relationship with Maria, it sounds nourishing and very healthy. That's why you moved up here, to find her. That is what you have been looking for. " it was the beginning of my return to life, I knew I would be all right after that, the world became lighter and brighter. And I got the girl, the best ending for any story.

These days, I am rarely either anxious or depressed, but I have learned that it is not only a bad thing when the Black Dog comes. It can be cleansing and nourishing and beautiful and lonely, all at the same time. Red and I went to the gym, it was peaceful and quiet, we were the only ones there. I read a novel – "My Sunshine Away" by M.O. Walsh – on my Iphone as I biked, I listened to Leonard Cohen sing "Amen" and "Come Healing."

I have often been lonely in my life, it is, in many ways, a comforting and healing state for me. Sometimes I need it.

I closed my eyes and listened to the heat come on in the drafty gym. I biked for 30 minutes, then walked on the treadmill for another 45 minutes. I was tired and sore, but all of those things – Red, the novel, the music, the workout – make me feel better in bits and pieces. I know how to do that now. The Black Dog rarely stays around too long these days, he mostly just wanders through my life a bit. I don't push him away or resent him, he is a part of me and a part of what it means to be a human being.

I came home and peeked at Maria's studio, it was all lit up, we texted each other and she was happy, she had been helpful to a friend – nothing makes her happier – and sold out all of the wonderful Crow potholders she made yesterday. People gobbled them up, I knew she was busy finishing them. I put my earbuds on and listened to Sheryl Crow and made a white clam pizza – multi-grain dough (warmed at 475) with Ricotta cheese, tomato, spinach and white clams on tomato sauce (w/garlic.) The crust was just right, the pizza was delicious.

When it was done, I texted her and we sat in the dining room by candlelight and caught up on the day. And of course, I needed to write about this on my blog, my living memoir, my great work. Just like I wrote about it when I thought it would kill me. Tonight, I know it won't.

Tonight, we'll watch "House of Cards" for the first time on an Ipad and eat some cheese popcorn, now my only vice. We've gotten rid of our cable tv. I had a funny feeling and looked outside at our snow-filled world and I thought I saw the Black Dog rushing down one of the paths we dug in the snow, it was just a flash,  he does not seem to want to come into the house. Perhaps he knows Flo will hiss at him and swat him across the nose.

Posted in General

Mount Frieda

Mt. Frieda

Mt. Frieda

The piles of snow around the farmhouse keep growing, we are thinking of snowshoeing across the yard and into the pasture, there are sections of the fence we could perhaps walk over. Red patrols the path, looking for work, hoping we'll go to the gate. I think we may plant a flag on the tallest hill, call it Mount Frieda in honor of her.

Posted in General

Wind And Fury

Wind And Fury

Wind And Fury

Another wild night at the farm, gusty winds blow all of our paths away, we had to dig them out again this morning, Red is starting to work on new trails to get to the sheep. There are rumors that this will be the last storm of the winter, nobody is betting on it.

Posted in General

Horse Whispers. For Animal Lovers, Our Concord and Lexington, An Awakening

Horse Whispers

Horse Whispers

The effort to ban the New York Carriage Horses is, in my mind, the most significant development affecting animals and people that I can recall, perhaps in my lifetime. It began as just another mindless campaign against working animals and the people who live with them and love them, but because it was in New York City, so grand a stage, it has become something much larger.

I was in New York City last week, and the proponents of the movement to ban the carriage horses are stunned at the ferocity and effectiveness of the opposition. The mayor is working hard to pressure members of the City Council to vote for his ban, but he is meeting enormous resistance. Public opposition to the ban – now at 62 per cent – has remained steady, despite a ferocious and increasingly hysterical and lavishly-funded campaign to shut down the carriage trade.

To date, this long and cruel and very expensive campaign against the horses has gone nowhere. All of the city's fractious newspapers are opposed, as are unions, working people, businesspeople, the Chamber Of Commerce and the very powerful Central Park Conservancy. The ugly vintage electric cars that are supposed to replace the horses – animal rights groups spent more than $500,000 to design a prototype – have become a talk show joke.

There is, to me, the sense of an awakening. The people seeking to ban the horses will fail, I believe – if anything gets the horses, it will be real estate development – and animal lovers all over the country are waking up to the very real prospect that domesticated animals will soon disappear from our midst unless they organize and lobby and fight back. And they are. The carriage trade has lawyered up and is ready to go to court if they have to.

In Santa Monica, Calif., a beloved children's pony ride operator named Tawni Angel is suing protesters who falsely accused her of animal abuse for defamation. She is asking the city council to reinstate her pony rides.  A judge says her case has merit, it is going to trial. In the Midwest, the S.P.C.A. was forced by a judge to pay nearly $10 million to Ringling Brothers Circus when it was discovered they had paid witnesses to say the circus elephants were abused. it was the end of a 14-year legal battle.

The horses have whispered to many of us, reminded us of their long and mystical connection with human beings, and their great work on our behalf.  They plead with us to listen to them, pay attention to them, speak for them.

They have reminded us of the sanctity of work for working animals, it is the farthest thing from abuse and cruelty. They have called to the people who know horses to speak for them, rather than disconnected ideologues who seem to have no understanding of animals at all.

This new social movement is gaining steam every day, it has so far blunted this assault against the horses – waged by a mayor, a millionaire, the real estate community,  and a large and vocal media machine – and fought it to a standstill. We see that we need a better understanding of animals in our world, we see that the task is to keep them among us, not to drive them away.

We seek a dialogue about the future of animals in our world that is conducted with a respect for truth, dignity, facts and compassion. Animals are being abused and exploited, their very rights used as a screen to batter and persecute innocent human beings. It is not progressive to take the horses out of their safe stables, and deprive the hundreds of people who work with them of their way of life and sustenance.

We seek to live with the animals we choose in freedom and safety as long as we care for them well and give them what they need. That right is in danger. The horses, as well and carefully treated as any animals in the world, are in great peril because people who know nothing about them are demanding to speak for their rights and welfare. It is wrong, it cannot stand.

We seek a wiser and more mystical understanding of animals, we seek every possible way to keep them among us and in our lives.

I met a woman in my local bookstore recently who said she had been buying books online, or for pennies until she realized one day that there would soon be no bookstores or new authors if she didn't support them. So she and others have given the bookstore it's best year ever.

This is the new paradigm. Once we see what we are losing, we rally to keep it.

Extremism in the name of loving animals is no virtue, and we see that the animals who have shared the world with us for all of recorded history are vanishing, never to be seen again on the earth. The horses have called our attention to this perversion of morality, this grossly inverted way of looking at animals that ruins and endangers their lives in order to save them from a good and safe life. New York City, famous for not agreeing on anything, have heeded the call of the horses, listened to their whispers and joined together to tell their mayor they want the horses to say, they love them, need them and appreciate them.

That they are being ignored and bypassed is an outrage, but their message is so strong even this fractious city has embraced it.

For people who love animals, this is our Lexington and Concord, our call to awakening, our call to arms. The horses have told us that it is not too late. People everywhere are donating money, sending messages, signing petitions to keep the horses in New York.

It is, it seems to me, the first major struggle in a long and complex fight.

So the ban against them has to fail. And it will. It is a struggle long overdue, it has just begun, the horses are our soldiers and our conscience.

Posted in General