26 March 2015

At The Gym: Talk Of Aging And Love

Talk Of Aging And Love

Talk Of Aging And Love

I am very fond of my gym, I go there to workout but I have some surprisingly interesting conversations there. Today, I talked of old age and love – sex, really – with a young man I will call Jack, who was on the treadmill next to mine.


Red draws people, and we sometimes get to talking, although normally noone bothers anyone while they are on the machines. Jack had something on his mind, we have talked before, he is in his 20's and works for the town highway department. His mother has read some of my books, he recognized me when he saw me. And he always spends a few minutes with Red.

I talk with the single mothers who come in with their children because they have nowhere else for them to go, and the divorced men who miss their dogs and the high school athletes trying out for sports teams, and people recovering from surgeries.  We compare notes. There are some older men working out in the gym, but I am thinking I am one of the oldest men in the gym – there might be one more older than me. I walk on the treadmill, everybody else runs. I do not lift weights.

They explain the machines to me when I get confused. I was no better at machines when I was young.

At cardiac rehab, I was the young stud, the athlete, here everyone mostly runs circles around me, I feel slow even though I do well. But everyone is very nice to me, they open doors for me and tie my shoelaces when they come undone and I don't notice. They try to get me to wear sweatpants and sweatshirts, but I don't, I work out in my jeans and blue shirt. And they are crazy about Red.


On the machine next to me, Jack talked of his 80-year-old grandfather, who has congestive heart failure and recently was moved to a nursing home. His grandfather, perhaps slipping into dementia, talks of love and sometimes, of sex, and Jack is visiting him often – they are close – and trying to understand what he is saying and feeling. He kept looking at me and looked uneasy. But he was trying to get at something.

"Jack," I said after a few minutes, "are you trying to ask me about older people and love. About sex?"

Jack blushed a bit, and said  yes, he was curious, he wasn't prying or getting personal, he just wanted to know how to talk to his grandfather. About love, even at his age. The nurses said his grandfather had a girlfriend in the next room at the nursing home. The old man claimed to be in love. Everyone laughed about it, joked about how cute it was. Like it wasn't real love.

Jack didn't know about sex, didn't really want to know. I imagined it was a tough conversation for him to start.

"Listen," I said, "I don't know your grandfather, but i can tell  you this as an older man. We do have sex, we do love, we do make love. As often as possible. We like it, and as importantly, we need it. It is life itself." Jack was listening.

Unfortunately, I said, the popular culture has abandoned older people, we are a demographic nobody wants, we don't have as many buying years as the prized 18-36 aged group, the group every advertiser except the AARP wants to reach. we have pretty much vanished from movies and TV shows and magazines, the hot cable shows are not interested in us, there are no books that portray us as anything but doddering old mummies.

"Sometimes," said Jack, "my grandfather talks about sex, about having sex and making love. I do not know what to say."

Well, I said, I'm not 80 yet, I'm not even 70, I am just beginning to be old in many ways. I had a loveless life for a long time, and I think it was one of the reasons I nearly gave up on life. It's important for people your age to know, i said, when they look ahead, that they can make love until they die, your grandfather is not too old to love. And it is not a joke. And I am not too old to love. I can't make love like a 20-year-old, but I can surely make love. Lots of studies say older people are good lovers, we are patient and sensitive and empathetic. I make love as often as possible, it is so important to me, to my spirituality, to my connection with my wife, to my soul and heart. To my identity as a strong and valuable human being.

Don't let anybody tell you that older people can't find love and make love, they can.

I imagine it seems creepy to young people to think about older people making love, it was creepy to me when I was younger. But it would be good for you to get over that if you can.

But if you are asking me about your grandfather, I said,  I would say to encourage him to find love and have love and get love whenever and wherever he can, in whatever way he can. And don't laugh at  him or roll your eyes, treat him with respect and let him keep his dignity. That would be a great gift to him. He is just as entitled to love as you are and it is perhaps even more important to him now. It is not cute, that is patronizing. I learned in hospice work not to patronize older people, it is an insult to them.  I will promise you, I said,  I will be looking for love and making love until they pull a sheet over my head, there is always a way to do it.

I will never live a loveless life again.

Jack nodded, he took it all in. He didn't say much. He ran hard on  his treadmill and I walked quickly on mine – level 10, speed 3.0 for 40 minutes. I didn't see his levels. Afterward, we got out paper towels and disinfectant spray and wiped down our machines. Jack petted Red and shook my hand and thanked me. He said he knew what to say to his grandfather now, but I didn't ask him what that would be.

It was a sweet thing to have this conversation in a gym with an open and earnest  young man, he just wanted to do right by his grandfather. In my small town, people talk to each other, and the young do talk to the old. Sometimes, they even listen.

I never expected to be talking about aging and love in a small gym in my small town.  I might not see Jack again for a long time, and when we meet, I doubt he will mention this conversation or bring the subject  up again. Maybe I will ask how his grandfather is doing. Maybe not, I will know by his manner.

Life is like that, it has it's own program, it is not really interested in ours.

Posted in General

At The Round House, Red and Scott Catch Up

Red And Scott

Red And Scott

At The Round House, a powerful sense of connection and community. I realized I can tell stories on open mike night,

I am a story-teller. Red and Scott are very connected, before Open Mike Night we visited, Scott and Red caught up.

One of the many things i love about Scott Carrino is that he loves what he does, but every week he wants to do something else –

write, sing, teach. He is good at running a cafe, he would be good at all of the others as well.

Posted in General

At The Round House Open Mike Night



At the Round House Open Mike Night,

Maddie played the flute,

Scott sang some songs,

A prophet wandered in and talked of peace,

Deena Sang,

the band played, I don't know all the names  and spellings of all the others

who sang and played, I will learn them in time,

I told the story of Joshua Rockwood and his farm,

we had pizza and tapioca pudding,

we love Open Mike Night

Posted in General

Community And Empathy. Love Is What Endures.

Community And Empathy

Community And Empathy

There is so much anger and hatred and violence in our world, they tell us every day that this is the true story of humanity, that community and empathy are gone. I have thought so myself, I have written about it, I am not immune to what I am told is true.

But every day I see that is is not true. People are good, given the chance. New technology divides people, it also unites people. When people are in trouble, they help. When people are attacked, the brave rush to their defense. Community exists everywhere, it is simply not considered to be news, it does not burn, explode or maim. We have to trust it and look for it and accept it.  We seek what does not  hate or wound. When I started writing about the Joshua Lockwood story, I thought it was about the collapse of community and empathy, I went to see him and found out that is just the opposite. It is the rebirth and affirmation of community and empathy.

It is so easy for people sitting behind their computer screens to hate and judge, it is so much harder when you talk to people, know their hearts, recognize their common humanity and look them in the eye and know them as fellow pilgrims on the same path. This is what I saw in Glenville New York these past two nights, not a travesty, but an awakening, an affirmation, a community. And so much empathy.

Truly, the animals call us to a new awakening, to open our eyes and understand what it really means to be a human being, there is so much promise and so many pure hearts and souls. I believe this is the awakening the horses are bringing about, what they are calling us to see and feel. We don't have to destroy the earth and pummel one another, we can be better and do better.

How happy I am to be wrong, to learn and grow and to understand that hate and anger are poisons that corrode the human spirit, of those who practice them and those who are the target. Life is sacred, life is good. As God says in the Kabbalah, love is the point, love is what endures.

Posted in General

Writer’s Life: On Being Banned. Life On The Manure Pile

Writer's Life: On Being Banned

Writer's Life: On Being Banned

I suppose it was inevitable that someone would try to ban me. In the past year I've been writing about the New York Carriage Horses, the elephants in the circus and the sad story of Joshua Lockwood, a young farmer raided by the animal police. I've never had more response to anything I've ever written, or more praise or criticism.

Finally, the discussion we need to have about the future of animals in our world may be starting to get underway, and we can thank the horses for that, and I get to play a small role in it. It all began for me last year when they called out to me to help them as they made their last stand in New York in our greedy and  unknowing world against a Superstorm of haters and know-nothings.

And the horses are prevailing, they are making their last stand a good one.

I am inspired by the role of manure in the lives of animals, and perhaps the lives of people. The sheep love our manure pile, we may have to keep it. It has given them a lookout to consider the world. We all live on a manure pile.

When I started writing about the carriage horses, no one bothered to ban me, which hurt my feelings a bit. A lot of other people in the struggle have been banned many times. What was wrong with me?

In our world,  we are learning to hate the people we disagree with. It is not surprising that someone would get around to banning me, I have to confess I was a bit flattered and humbled. It is about time I got some recognition, and now I can claim – at least in my own mind – to join the ranks of some of the best writers in the world. Getting banned might seem an awful thing to some, but it has a special place in the life and imagination of writers.

Banning someone is quite different from disagreeing with them, as the New York Carriage Trade has learned. To be banned is to be dehumanized, to become something less than human, to become a non-person unworthy of respect, or even of survival. Dehumanization is the the first step towards destruction.

I'm not sure it will work. If you want to harm a writer, the best way to do it is to ignore them, it makes them crazy. I hate it more than anything. And I have been there, believe me. I like attention, just like a dog. There is no such thing as bad attention for a writer.

And my banners may not know that getting banned is a ticket to writer glory. Writers have always done well when they are banned, just consider this very partial list: David Guterson, Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Philip Roth, Judy Blume, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Irving, Laurie Halse Anderson, Toni Morrison. Madeleine L'Engle. In America, being controversial is much more important than being talented, and when you are banned, people come running to see what the sirens and crowds are all about.

Some of them even buy books.

Every writer who has ever been banned has sold more books and jacked up his or her speaking fees.

How proud I would be to get on this list, and have it written in my obituary that I was banned on Facebook.  Mark Twain was banned in many places – he had a gift for provoking people, something I can relate to. When he was banned by a southern library he wrote that "nobody attaches weight to the freaks of the Charlton Library. But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me."

After he wrote that, he got banned from even more places. He was delighted, Huckleberry Finn became a best seller. Perhaps the people on this site would consider banning some of my books as well.

I love Alice Walker's wonderful response when The Color Purple got banned. "…literature," she wrote, "is help for humans. It is medicine of the highest order. In a more aware culture, writers would be considered priests." Or maybe devils, as one of my banners  suggested on her new page. If men could be good witches, I would like to be one. Then they could burn me alive and they would build statues of me on college lawns.  As it is, I am closer to being a deranged prophet, standing on the hilltop, yelling into the wind. But to be banned means someone is actually listening! Good Lord, it is about time.

If my banners asked me, I would have offered them some tips about the best ways to ban a writer, their effort is not entirely smart or modern. They put up a Facebook Page with this title: "Ban Jon Katz From Writing About Animals!" and they predicted I would try and shut it down. But why would I ever want to do that? I am happy to have a whole Facebook Page devoted to my ideas and to banning me, it is not the first and I hope it will not be the last.

But there were missteps. They should have asked me for help, I would have offered it.

Here are my own best tips for banning a writer:

1. Be specific and realistic. I mean, honestly, how could  you ban a writer from writing about animals? You would have to get to everyone on Facebook or Twitter, every bookstore, library or reader in the nation. My blog alone gets nearly four million visits a year.  It isn't a practical goal. Think smaller. You will do better with smaller targets. Politicians and bureaucrats hate controversy, try banning the writer the way they tried to ban Twain. General goals fail. Hitler and  Stalin and Franco and Mao burned books, but that only made martyrs out of the writers, they  became better known than ever.

One of my good friends gave a reading at a bookstore and they tried to ban him. The store was mobbed, he sold out.

Better to ban my books or my blog than to ban me, it isn't practical, except for creating manure piles, if you are into that.

2. Attention is oxygen. As I mentioned, the worst fate for a writer is to be ignored. Most writers are crazy, they would happily set themselves on fire rather than not be read or noticed. If  you are banned, you matter.

3. Don't slur women or Native-American religions, as this banning effort does. We live in sensitive times, and there are mobs of people on Facebook and Twitter who might come after you when you ridicule indigenous peoples or women or call their beliefs "BS."  Remember Facebook is overwhelmingly female, attacking my wife will only upset wives, sisters and feminists, as it should. My beliefs are not hers, don't trivialize women. Your movement is almost entirely female. I'd be careful about that. If you keep on slurring Native-Americans, Facebook will eventually ban you.

4. I'm sorry, I don't mean to further offend. But the title sort of sucks. I mean most people on Facebook don't even know who Jon Katz is, though I might loom large to you and your friends. You have to come up with something snappy like: "Stop  Horse Abuse." Then, you will draw more visitors and perhaps even get a lot of money, maybe a mayor will sign up. Believe me, it works.

5. I do want to say one good word about the person who created the page. When she first e-mailed me more than a year ago, she called me a "liar and a whore." I wasn't sure what she was talking about, and am still not sure. But her writing has really improved, I am glad to see it. Whole paragraphs and fewer exclamation points, capital letters and nasty names. Well….fewer exclamation points.

So that's it, I'm trying to be helpful. Like Mark Twain, one of my heroes, I also appreciate the the deep and unconscious irony of banning me while thousands of factory farms within a few hundred miles from me torture and confine and slaughter tens of millions of chickens, pigs, cows and sheep in the most horrendous and cruel of circumstances, and the page doesn't even mention it. If you are banning me in the name of loving animals, you might at least mention one or try and save one in your page. Or urge people to do that, in between banning me. You are sure to get some people on your site, don't be discouraged, it is, in some ways, a perfect fit for some people on Facebook.

I wish you well. It is high time I experienced this rite of passage. Maybe I have finally joined the ranks of hallowed writers and martyrs. Maybe not.  If you are successful and I do get banned from writing about animals, I will then be immortal and will be sure to come back and haunt you (in a good way). Perhaps I will stand on the manure pile and shout my ideas out to the people. We are thinking of putting grass on it (which would surely grow) and keeping it for the sheep.

I think that's it for now. I learned of this page banning me from a good friend who was upset by it – outraged actually – and wrote me to tell me about it early in the morning. She wanted to tell me that she had posted a message in defense of me. It didn't really work.

She was banned instantly.


Posted in General