5 September 2015

Having A Life, Not A Job. Sacred Space.

Day Jobs And Death

Day Jobs And Death

A lot of students have come to me – I have taught on and off for a long time – and asked "what do I want to do?" Others come to me or write to me and say "how can I do what I want to do?"  They are the ones who succeed. So many people, especially younger ones,  quote parents, spouses,  friends, or "wise" aunts and uncles who tell them they can pursue their dreams, but make sure they have a day job. Make sure they take promotions, think about money, worry about being secure.

Parents and spouses kill far more books and works of art than critics or recessions. It is almost impossible to choose a creative life without encouragement from someone close, without being believed in.  A loving parent or nervous husband can kill a lifetime of dreams in a single sentence.

In all honesty, there must have been hundreds of people, students and creatives, the young and the old, who have taken that day job, I believe almost every parent in the world is conditioned to urge it upon them. I often hear of their regrets.  I don't  believe a single one of them has fulfilled their dreams, they all have more money than I do, or than the writers and artists and dancers do.

If you stay with your dreams, I always told every single one of them, then something will happen. I often referred them to a quote by Joseph Campbell about pursuing your dreams: "you may not have a job," he wrote, "but you will have a life, and it will be interesting."

The creative life is almost always difficult, the lives of writers, artists, dancers, singers are often  heartbreaking. In our world, these lives are tougher than ever. There are rarely any jobs in their fields, so people need to get a job to live and pay the rent. It may or may not be connected to their art, your dreams. They might teach writing or dance,  their art might be their work, their employment might  be their job.

At some point, they will be asked to choose between your art and their job, they might be offered a promotion, or a raise, or a transfer to a different city, or a challenging new assignment with a former boss. Campbell warned his students not to take the promotion. So did I. Don't accept anything, he said, that piles more on you more than what you must do to keep a roof over your head or food on the table. It will be the unraveling of their dreams. When asked, I tell parents never to suggest a day job, it is the end of learning how to do what one really wants to do.

That is hard advice, easy to give, especially for somebody who has made that choice, who is secure, who has a home and food on the table. Life intervenes in so many ways – marriage, relationships, kids. Campbell could not have foreseen a New York City where one-bedroom apartments can cost $4,000 a month, and where a third of the condominiums in many neighborhoods are bought by billionaires and millionaires from all over the world who never set foot in them.

But I know what Campbell means, he speaks a kind of truth. Life is sacred, creativity for artists is sacred space. If you follow the creative spark, follow your bliss,  you may not have a job, you may not have money or security, but you will have a life.

"The artist must build a structure, not in the way of being of service to society," he wrote, "but in the way of discovering the dynamism of the interior."

I would rather die and leave the world than give up my writing and photography to make all of the money I wish I had and could leave to Maria. I am comforted by the certainty that she feels the same way. We both lost our lives in a certain way, we both know there are far worse things than having little money in the bank, than not being as secure as we are all told every single day we must be to live in a fearful America.

An artist (a writer, any creative) is one who finishes his or her work, rather than simply says they wish to do it. Artists finish their paintings, writers finish their pieces, blogs or books.

The creative adventure is always reckless, always a risk, often a sacrifice, always fraught with peril and uncertainty. Any writer, any artist, begins with the same questions: Will I Make Money? Am I Wasting Time? Is My Work Good? Will Anyone Care What I Write Or Create?

At some point, I put those questions aside, I get the writing done, I push the critic a side, I just write and write. This is my work, my life, I know now that the day job is almost always fatal to dreams, the day job is a job, it is not a life.

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Peaceable Kingdom

Peaceable Kingdom

Peaceable Kingdom

I was done with sheepherding and came out the gate. I was startled by the scene, it was a Peaceable Kingdom for sure.  Chloe was  eating leaves, Maria was on the ground talking to Lulu, Fanny was flirting with Red, as she often does, and Fate was sitting by the water tank.

A remarkable collection of sweet and loving and interesting animals, all of them living in harmony with one another. This is what I want, this is what I came here for, this is what I have. I cherish it every day and am privileged to share it.

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Days Of Rest: What We Do Here

What We Do Here

What We Do Here

I promised myself to take Maria to Florence one day, for a vacation in a wonderful place where she can drown in all of her very beloved art. I'm not sure when that will be. It has been four or five years since we have had a real vacation, but I have mastered the art of the short and sweet vacation. We have a wonderful relationship with two or three beautiful old inns who e-mail us when they have a lot of empty rooms and offer us $300 or $400 rooms for $100.

Sometimes we end up in New York City, where my daughter Emma lives, most often in Vermont, where we are headed Sunday.

It's a neat way to vacation, the trips are very short and very sweet.

This all has a kind of sweet guerilla, resourceful feel to it. I feel we are getting a way with something.

We grabbed a room in Central Vermont for three nights beginning Sunday through Wednesday morning. It is a good thing to do, we are both exhausted. I know I am. I have been working every day for a long time, writing a lot, and some of it has been intense – Blue Star Equiculture, The New York Carriage Horses, Joshua Rockwood, the farm, the animals, the dogs, my own complex and evolutionary life.

My recovery from open heart surgery has also been exhilarating and draining. I am more emotional than I think sometimes. I feel it right now. I work so continuously I sometimes forget to stop and see the bigger picture, trips are good for that.

I work  hard on the blog, I write on it every day, usually more than once.  I am taking photos all the time, or working on my book, or training Fate. Or walking with Maria. When I am away, I give the blog a breather – for both of our sakes – and concentrate on thinking, resting, reading, Maria and re-charging.

I always ask myself, what is the blog for? A good person named Cindy McCoy posted a message for me recently, she explained what she came to the blog for, and this re-charged and re-focused me even before the vacation.

"I come here for peace, introspection, like mindedness, escape from materialism, and wonderful words and photos. Thanks for these things, Jon." Thank you, Cindy, these are the things I seek in my own life, the things I search and struggle for, the things I write about, the things I hope my photographs capture." Good of you to put them in words.

So I am off with Maria for a few days of rest, I'll leave the computing stuff here, take my camera and I phone, reading the new Alice Hoffman novel, The Marriage Of Opposites, maybe I'll find a new mystery in the funky little mystery bookstore in Brattleboro, Vt., one of the few remaining in the country. I won't be blogging or looking at Facebook.

I want to listen to a lot of music – especially  Van Morrison. I want to sleep late, walk for miles with Maria, buy a new pair of jeans and a new shirt. Both blue. Training Fate is a hoot, it is also tiring. I don't think she needs a break from work, but I think I do.

I will buy Maria some new socks, maybe a strange necklace.

I will return thinking of piece, introspection, an escape from anger and materialism and the best words and photos I can find. I re-dedicate myself to those things, and to creativity. Thanks for coming along with me on this great trip, see you in a few days.

In the meantime, I should mention subscriptions to the blog. They matter, and thanks for them.

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Video: Red, Fate: Getting Stronger

Getting Stronger

Getting Stronger

Had a lesson this morning, the purpose was to help Fate get a bit stronger. The lesson felt chaotic and confused to me, but then I saw it was working better than I had planned. Fate is getting the walk-up, moving straight into the sheep, she is beginning to give them some eye, to get stronger and more assured. Come and see for yourself, another video. What lessons are really like sometimes, Red was, as always, a great help.

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Fate: Enemies At The Gate. The Boundary Wars. Again.

Knocked Up

Knocked Up

Well, I suppose I ought to  be better prepared, but in this case, I was not. Another one of those episodic social media boundary battles.

Yesterday, I wrote a little tone poem to Fate and her joy of the meadow, one of those innocuous things that I love to write and some people love to read, it could hardly, in m mind, have been less controversial. I worry sometimes that social media is turning many of us into outrage and anger addicts.

This, of course, is America now, and almost everything is controversial, especially when it involves writing openly on Facebook about a life with animals. Or, for that matter, a life with anything. This is what comes from a "left" and "right" world, and from technology that makes it almost a virtue to be intrusive and rude.

In the piece, called "Making A Joyful Noise," I mentioned that Fate was getting spayed next month. I didn't say a word about it, I didn't explain it or rationalize it. I believe people should make up their own minds about things, I believe spaying and neutering is a good thing in general for many reasons.

The noise was anything but joyful. Chris and about a dozen other people immediately posted messages suggesting that spaying was not healthy for females. It was wrong, should be delayed, or not done at all. Several have been on Facebook too long, they thought it yet another veterinary scheme to make money. Several considered it a kind of abuse, another reason dogs should not be owned by human.

I responded in my usual charming and gracious fashion to such advice by saying I was not interested in anyone's opinions about spaying Fate beyond my breeder, vet, wife and dog. It was not anyone's business, I would not discuss it with strangers on Facebook. Having written a dozen or so books about animals, I have read quite a bit about neutering and spaying, talked to many vets and biologists and academics and researchers and trainers and breeders – as many or more, I am sure, as the people messaging me – and I am quite at ease with having Fate spayed in a month or so.

I know some people who have chosen not to spay and neuter their dogs, they have facilities and knowledge to make it work. I would not dream of telling them to do anything else, or presuming to know better than they do what to do with their dogs.

I pointed out in my Facebook replies that it is easier to be a Navy Seal than a vet in America these days, and people who go to school for six years to study animal health and who know me and my dogs have a lot of sway with me. People sitting behind screens in their living rooms with no knowledge of me, my dog or my world but happy to tell me what to do,  do not carry a lot of weight with me.  It isn't that I don't take advice or want it, it's that I'm careful where I get it, I don't want it from strangers online, if that makes any sense (it does not to many people.)

My idea that such a decision was my business and that I didn't need to have it with strangers on social media touched off the usual outrage and fury: this is by now, an almost weekly ritual in my life. I am always surprised how angry some people get when I tell them I am not interested in their advice. I always do it straightforwardly, without insult or personal attack. It is rarely taken well.

Chris was one of the first posters on Facebook:  "You can't have it both ways; if you put it on Facebook, a social network, it's an implicit invitation for comment. I didn't see any comments that rose to the caliber of your snarky rudeness, Mr Katz, only people who were offering information. If you didn't want the subject discussed, you shouldn't have mentioned it. You encourage others to care about Fate, then blow a gasket when they offer a mild suggestion for her betterment. Goodbye, Mr Katz. I've been reading you for 20 years and today were my first comments. I'll take your advice and get lost, very far away."

I don't know what "implicit invitation" means, I am not aware of any online or social media or Facebook policy that says writing about my life on a social network is a de-facto invitation for people to tell me what to do. That is not my policy, I relish being independent, I worship the Thoreau idea that I must make my own mistakes and learn from them. Thoreau would be standing right with me on this question, he would weep at the idea that a social connection meant the loss of his own right to his choices and decisions, to his privacy and reasoning. He shared his year on Walden Pond too, he did not turn the experience over to others.

I told Chris she didn't need to get lost far away, but she did need to get lost, it was better for both of us. And I quite sincerely wished her luck. Twenty years is a long time to listen to me, I hope she finds happiness elsewhere. Urging me to not to spay Fate is not a mild suggestion, it is a very big one, for her, for us.

I call this the you-asked-for-it -if-you-are-honest school of thought. If you mention something openly online, it means you give up any title to privacy, dignity, respect or independence, especially if you are a public person. In that case,  you have no rights at all.  Only the people intruding on your life have rights. This is the same reasoning that suggests that women who wear make-up or attractive dresses to parties are asking to be sexually assaulted.

We love to judge other people and tell them what to do, we hate being told we cannot.  Nobody likes to give up power. And on Facebook, we rarely are told that we cannot be rude. The consequence of Chris's thinking is that people are learning not to be honest on social networks, not to share their lives, not to be authentic. In a curious way, this is why so many people like the creepy Donald Trump. He does speak his mind. And he is, in fact, asking for it, he loves catching Hell.

My Facebook Page is my home online, I expected to be treated there the same way I would be treated in my house, the people there are my guests, and in many cases, come to be my friends. Friends don't tell other friends what to do if their advice is not wanted.

I maintain that I have rights and readers have rights, and I can and do have it both ways. Chris aside, my Facebook comments are usually very civilized and interesting. Many people disagree with me every day, as you can see for yourself, they are quite welcome. I do not give away my life by sharing it, I share it as Harper Lee shared her words in "To Kill A Mockingbird," or any writer does in any book.

You get to keep the book, not to own the person who wrote it. The blog is my book. Four million people read it every year, it is working for me.

As usual, there is the ghost here of the deepening conflict between people who have pets and people who animals. If you live in the country, the idea of having a working dog who runs free, works outside, walks in the woods remain unspayed is one thing, having a pet in a house or a kennel remain intact is another. I have a friend who does not neuter or spay her border collies, I believe she is irresponsible, putting her poorly-trained dogs at great risk in a number of different ways, from attracting aggressive dogs to having unwanted offspring without any kind of responsible control or breeding. I don't believe her when she says she wants them to stay natural, I believe she can't bear to inflict any kind of discomfort on them or separate from them for even one night.

But still, it is her choice, no matter what she believes, it is not for me to tell her what to do.

If you live in the country, you know that all kinds of dogs come running around an unspayed female, and the female herself often loses control. I can just imagine the two Rottweiler-Shepherd mixes who live down the road when Fate goes into heat, they would come right through or through our fence, not to mention the farm dogs up the road. A lot of bad ass country dogs and coyotes around here, I think I will not take Chris's advice and subject Fate to that. Or me.

I got a great message on my Facebook Page from a kindred spirit named Liz Owen, I immediately offered to friend her, she has been there and walked the walk. She read the messages on my Facebook Page too, and she is welcome there.

"No one has a clue when it comes to an un-neutered dog in the country," she posted. "Talk about the enemy at the gate. Every male dog in the surrounding counties that has the ability to reproduce will make it to your door if she goes into heat. Don't ask me how I know. It wasn't fun."

No, it wouldn't be. Liz accepted my Friend request. We are friends.  I hope she is with me for the next 20 years. It turned out to be a good deal.

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