20 September 2015

Political Love And The Blog: Finding Our True Brothers And Sisters

Political Live

Lately and with some surprise and confusion and intensity, I've been exploring the boundaries of a new idea, the idea of civic and political love. Our leaders seem to currently define political interaction as something that is angry, outraged, judgmental. Empathy and civility and understanding are now unacceptable in our public system.

There are no mistakes or disagreements, just unforgiveable outrages, conspiracies and lies. Every misstep is an indictment, a crime, an investigation, a bitter argument. Our precious media too often spawns hatred and argument, not light and truth. This reminds me of the conflicts in the animal world, where every injured, dead, sick animal is a testament to cruelty and abuse.

Hundreds of New Yorkers are run down or killed in collisions every month of every year, but if a New York Carriage Horse trips and falls, or a dog is left alone in a car,  or a water tank freezes in a cold winter day on a farm, it is a scandal that rages on with great consequence. Sometimes, with animals, with people, it seems to me we are losing the ability to accept life as a journey of suffering, surprises, joys and troubles – and defeats. Life is not always easy and painless, grace is our ability to live with troubles as well as the triumphs.

In recent months, and mostly through my quite surprising blog, I am discovering a new reality for myself. I am seeing a better and wiser and less angry and cynical way to look at the world. This has brought me some peace and much praise – the blog is growing very rapidly. It has also brought me much criticism. Some people greatly resent the idea that they ought not judge other people and bruise them so harshly from afar. Outrage is an addiction, not a belief system, the Internet an eager transmitter of the disease. Nobody likes giving up the power of a judge's robe, online or off.

But the blog has revealed another value system, it has become an occasional, if powerful tool for good, or at least good as I define it. It has become something I never imagined or considered when I started it in 2007 in the  midst of great personal turmoil, misery and depression. I think the blog saved my life in many ways, and is now expanding and enriching it, and sometimes enriching the lives of others. An unexpected gift.

In the past year or so, the blog has helped focus national attention on the controversy surrounding the New York Carriage Horses. It brought considerable support, attention and discussion to the story in much of the rest of the country. I would not claim to be in any way responsible for the collapse of the ban – the carriage trade did that for themselves – but the blog and it's readers helped sustain the morale of the drivers and focus their arguments on the great injustice being done to them.  It gave them some words they needed to hear.

And you all brought some considerable pressure on the politicians of New York City, you changed a lot of minds, and you were heard.

Beyond that, the blog helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for our very deserving farrier Ken Norman, who had both knees replaced just before New Years on the eve of a brutally cold winter. It helped George Forss, the brilliant photographer, raise the money necessary to publish a collection of his photographs, "The Way We Were." It helped Joshua Rockwood, a farmer,  raise money for his legal defense fund (he was arrested, unjustly I believe, and charged with animal cruelty during the harsh winter of this year) and for new water tanks and shelters.

It helped Blue Star Equiculture, the draft horse sanctuary in Massachusetts,  raise money for a blind horse they were adopting.

All told, the blog has raised more than $125,000 in the past year. The money went directly from you to them, none of it passed through me, a new gift of the same new technology that so often separates us from our common humanity. This isn't the point or the purpose of my blog, it is not something that ought to be done every day, or even often. It is a gift of the blog, not the point of it.

And this week, the blog raised money to help an  Oklahoma animal lover  named Nancy Gallimore rescue a work horse named Asher (now Big Paul) from the slaughterhouse.

These were good causes, important things, to me part of a new awakening, a new direction as a writer, and also as a human being. I believe the blog has worked in some cases to support the care for nature and the care for human beings. We have the earth as our common mother and this is what makes us brother and sisters, I realize. This is what makes us family, for all of our differences and quarrels. We rise above ourselves to reach out to one another in ways that have never before been possible.

My blog now receives millions of visits a year, and I wish to thank those of you who helped pay me for the work and for the maintenance of the blog through your voluntary subscriptions. They support my work, they have made all of this possible. I never thought the blog would ever be used in this way.

The love of family is random and gratuitous, and has been difficult and elusive for me. It can never be a means of repaying others for what they have done for us or might do for us. We love the sun, the wind, the clouds, the birds and fields, the animals,  even though we cannot control them, even though our contacts are fleeting and sometimes distant.

For me, often cynical, angry and disconnected in my life, this new way of using a blog – this work must be occasional and particular – has helped me to regain, and now, deepen the conviction that we need one another, and that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the earth. I think many of us have grown weary of the argument and anger and righteous judgement that swirls all around us.

I think we have had enough of hatred and conflict and the cynical mockery of goodness, spirituality,  and authenticity. Enough of selfish political leaders who fan the awful flames of anger and hatred and journalists who sell anger, not facts. Our sick earth begs us to overcome the fact that our connections to one another are being corroded and trampled when we most need to be together. When we even use our love of animals to batter each other, then violence and brutality and division seem inevitable.

These new uses of the blog are showing me that love can be civic and political as well as personal. A new idea of love for me.  It can make itself felt in every action that we take. It means being civil to one another, we live in a common home, we have a shared identity.  I hope for a leader who will lift us up in this new way.

I was quite shocked to discover that love and anger are choices for me, not destinies or fated things out of my control. I never knew I had a choice, they are decisions, I make them every day. We can go one way, or we can go the other. When I wrote sympathetically this week about the young and hard-working horse kill buyer – they buy the horses that go to slaughter at auction – I shocked myself and angered many other people.

How dare I empathize with the life of this young father and husband?  He is not human, he does not deserve compassion or consideration. Like the carriage drivers, he was not to be considered a human being, but something less than that, something so immoral and without value that he need not be treated with respect or dignity.

But it was my choice, and I did come to see him as a human being, and  it was a good choice for me, it feels very good to do good and shed hatred. And it is a big choice, it taught me that I am evolving, embracing this new idea of political love, not as a Pollyanna living in simple-minded fantasy, but as a hard-headed realist who is coming very slowly to understand that we will stand together and learn to live with one another, or we will perish together in a whirlwind of greed and anger and fear and judgement.

If I have to go, I'd rather go this way.

Posted in General

Dog In The Meadow: Late Afternoon

Late Afternoon

Late Afternoon

I encourage Fate to roam the meadows near our farm. She loves it, and runs freely there, chasing after chipmunks and mice and rabbits. She never goes too far, she never runs off, she is in it for the chase, not the kill. And she does not do it anywhere else, so it does not become obsessive, as can happen with border collies.

They say border collies are the dogs most closely linked genetically to wolves, and I see this clearly when Fate heads out into the meadow, and melts into it, invisible out there, popping up from time to time, then exploding out of the meadow and back onto the road near us. She always seems to know where we are. I feel the meadow is important to Fate, Red has never set foot on it, but Fate seems drawn sometimes to running free and exploring. I think it is good for her, and a beautiful thing to see.

We can't really let dogs live their natural lives in our crowded and anxious and sometimes dangerous world, but it is a pleasure to let them live their natural lives whenever possible. I've come to love our meadow, and I love Fate exploring it so joyously.

Posted in General

Record Breaker: Jack’s Outback, Main Street

Record Breaker

Record Breaker

Jack Metzger has an amazing Cornucopia of antiques, signs, lams, folk art and sculptures on his shop, which sits at the heart of Main Street. Most days, you can find his big dog Luke dozing on the porch. Every month or so I drive by with my camera, looking to see what is new. Outback Jack's is a window on the world, past and present, symbols of where we have been and where we are. Jack scours the land, visiting farms and old houses and estate sales, he has a genius for picking out icons that touch us and remind us of the true nature of life.

He knows what everybody likes, and sometimes he shows up with stuff I have not been able to resist. Lately, I'm not buying great old stuff, our house is small and so is the budget. But sometimes I can't resist, and then, Jack is a dangerous man to be around.

I am disciplined about rarely going in there, because I always want to buy something (like that "Record Breaker" sign). Like some antique dealers, Jack sometimes likes to haggle, and he is fun to haggle with. If he gets his hook in, the odds are you will bring something home. It is always fun to hear his stories and negotiate with  him. He is a great friend to George Forss, whose gallery and darkroom is right next door. Jack is a generous man.

Every book I have written upstate is written on an old farm desk Jack sold me, and he always has rich stories about what he sells to bring it to life. His steps are a snapshot into my world, a peek into a simpler and evocative past.

Posted in General

George Forss: Genius Against All Odds

Genius Against All Odds

Genius Against All Odds

The story of George Forss is the story of genius thriving against all odds. He was born into a poor family in the Bronx, his father was gone when he was very young, his mother could not care for him and he was raised in a Staten Island orphanage, his brother was nearly destroyed by extreme schizophrenia.

George started taking photos when he was very young and after he became an agoraphobic and stayed in his mother's apartment for seven. He sold his photos on the streets of Manhattan, dodging the police and asking $5 a picture. He was discovered there by the famous photographer David Douglas Duncan, who brought him to his editors at Time Magazine. George became one of the most celebrated urban landscape photographers in the world, he was acclaimed by the most famous photographers in the world, his work was praised in Time Magazine, by the BBC, he was on the Today Show.

He moved to Cambridge New York in the late 80's, he opened an art gallery here, he is well known and much beloved. He has a blog, writes books, take brilliant photos, I am so lucky and proud to have him as a friend. He also sells some print versions of his amazing photographs, check them out. I just bought one for $40.

Posted in General

Visiting With George

Visit To George

Visit To George

We went over to the Ginofor Gallery to see George and his partner, the artist Donna Wyndbrandt. George looks great and is great, he is planning to take portraits at the Bedlam Farm Open House in just a few weeks (Columbus Day Weekend). George is doing well, busy with a dozen projects, selling his new book "The Way We Were," taking beautiful photographs. He and Donna live a life of pure and dedicated creativity, they are always an inspiration for me and for Maria.

He is planning a new schedule of films for his George Forss Theater Of The Arts. I haven't seen George for a few weeks, I miss him, it was good to hang out in the gallery for awhile.

Posted in General