3 April 2016

The Gulleys: Taking Back Our Voices

Taking Back Our Voices

Taking Back Our Voices

When the big and glutinous corporations realized how much money there was to be made by presenting only bad and frightening news and polarizing the country by presenting every issue as an eternal conflict between two warring ideologies, they damaged our democracy – that is apparent to everyone now except the raging screamers of the "left" and the "right" – and they took away and drowned out the voices of individual people.

Few of us are happy with they way they present the world to us, and many of us still fear to explore and embrace the new tools we have for speaking for ourselves and finding out own identity, not simply parroting in the identity of others.

I am a former journalist and media critic, I studied and taught the history of media for years and wrote about it for places like Wired and Rolling Stone Magazine. I loved that period of my life, but I knew if I kept on writing about the media, I would become as angry and miserable as many of the people I see on cable news every night or sucking at the Washington trough. And I can't blame them. That would have destroyed me and turned me bitter and angry, as too many of the journalists I once worked with have quite inevitably  become.

I think animals saved me and gave me the strength to turn my writing in a different direction.

Good journalism, increasingly struggling to adapt to the corporate onslaught,  is not profitable, like so many other good things in our culture, and cannot be manipulated so easily. Much of it has been pushed aside by the giant corporations that now control our culture, discredited by the ideologues and extremists because it cannot be controlled. Good journalists are the natural enemy of ideologues and extremists.

People would rather blame the media than pay attention to the politicians. It's easier. And increasingly, it's hard to distinguish one from another.

What does that have to do with me now and you, reading this Farm Journal blog? I'm really writing about blogs. There are now more 30 million blogs in America, and they are returning individual voice to the public, long disenfranchised by corporate media. They are as rich, diverse and engaging as the mass media is narrow, suffocating, greedy, and polarizing.

They are a new path for those of us who do not see or hear our voices reflected anywhere in the national dialogue raging on.

For little or no money, we can find our voices and speak out to the world again, something ordinary people have not been able to do for generations, if not centuries, since the time of the pamphleteers and neighborhood printers. We can get our message out.

Blogs are revolutionizing creative and individuality, they may soon transform politics, as caring and thoughtful citizens begin to present alternatives to the truly awful representations of American life now seen on cable and commercial television.

My friends Carol and Ed Gulley are powerful examples of how this new revolution is working.

Food and farming are not issues politicians care to talk about much, they would much prefer to inflame the fears and prejudices of people. But now, the farmers can tell the story themselves. The Gulleys are showing us that.

Tireless, life-long dairy farmers, Ed and Carol felt that small farmers had lost their voice. Six months ago,they never heard of a blog, had no computer, didn't use cell phones. Today they have a new computer, an Iphone 5 and a new blog, and their voice is being heard, they are telling the story of the small farmer every day in a way that the media never would or could – in their own honest voices.

On their blog, others farmers are finding them, so are people who want to know where their food comes from. I believe in time, they will have a substantial audience reading their work.

Today, Carol Gulley wrote on the Bejosh Farm Journal about her understanding that you have to accept the fact that life does not always go your way and you have to learn to move on.  Carol, who has never in her life spoken in public about her own struggles and feelings – she was traumatized by the grievous injuries her son Jeremy suffered in a tractor accident some years ago and has struggled over how to move on – and her she is writing about it on her blog in a beautiful and powerful way.

Ed talks almost every day about the life of the farm, the economics of the farm, the truth of the far and the animals on the farm that they love so much.

In some ways, we and the Gulleys are an unlikely friendship, in any other ways we are very much alike. All four of us are on the same path, we are determined to be creative, find our voices, and tell our stories to the world. Carol and Ed Gulley inspire me. It is frightening to do that, it was frightening for Maria, for me, for Ed and Carol. Fear is a space to cross, and there is great meaning on the other side.

I know so many good and creative people who are paralyzed by their fear of new technology, of this idea of raising our lips to the world, and it is not  my place to push or badger them.  They have to want it for themselves. Carol and Ed Gulley reaffirm for me, and for Maria, the power of our blogs in our lives.

I meet powerful and experienced and accomplished people all the time who blanche and tremble and the very idea of doing what these two exhausted and pressed dairy farmers are finding the time and strength to do. It is a gift every day to read their new and fresh and  honest  writing.

Maria could not possible work as an artist in a small town like Cambridge without her blog, she sells her art to the wider world so she can live here. I doubt I would have survived the turmoil of modern publishing without my blog, both as an anchor and as a way to supplement my shrinking royalties. Beyond that, my writing here has helped me learn and heal, has grounded me in important ways. The blog has taken on a life of its own, it is doing good in different ways.

Put your lips to the world, Mary Oliver said, and just live. I think that is the lesson the Gulleys are learning now, and that is yet another gift to the world. Do not look for their stories on CNN or Fox News or in The New York Times, or on the political blogs of the left and the right, you will not find it there. In the Kabbalah, God said to Abraham, "go to your self, know yourself, fulfill yourself."

That is what the Gulleys are doing,and Maria and I both love and admire them for it. They will teach all of us a great deal before they are done, and tell the people who want to know what it means to be a farmer in oblivious America, and what a farmer's life is really like.

Posted in General

Parable: The Small Things. Maria And The Six Foot Ladder

The Six-Foot Ladder

The Six-Foot Ladder

When Maria and I started seeing each other six or seven years ago, I went shopping in a supermarket and bought her an Asian Pear. Being the country, the cashier asked me if I was making a mistake, she pointed out that I had never bought an Asian Pear before. "It's for my girlfriend," I said proudly.

The cashier beamed, and several women standing in line with me gathered around to praise me and point out their husbands would never think of such a thing. "It's the little things," the woman in front of me advised. "Never forget the little things." I have not and will not.

At the time I got it Sunday afternoon, it did not occur to me that there was a timeless parable wrapped around this humble ladder, or that it would be making its way around the Internet in a few hours and I would receive so many sweet messages from people who think me a romantic.

It is a simple story, really. Most parables are.

Maria was standing on an eight foot ladder trying to repair one of our gutters, which was leaking a small river of water from melting snow onto the porch. I had offered to try to fix this issue, but as usual, gave up after the first round of gibberish from the people at the hardware store and was now standing bewildered nearby in the back yard with a camera hanging off of my neck.

Maria is filled with sudden observations and epiphanies, she is strange and surprising, almost anything can come out of her mouth at any time, usually in rapid-fire and intense delivery.

Her busy and artistic mind is like the inside of one of those kaleidoscopic plastic snow things, it swirls and dips and spins, changing times, tenses, images and moods almost simultaneously. it all makes perfect sense to her, but I find myself stopping, re-winding, focusing, repeating.  What did she say? And I am considered a fast talker if not a fast thinker. Maria is always astonished and sometimes annoyed by my pausing to absorb things, I think she thinks I'm not paying attention.

But mostly, I'm just trying to keep up.

I love her for this stream of ever-changing consciousness, she is never dull or predictable.

And thank God she can put these images and epiphanies into her art, or the top of her head might blow off. This afternoon, she turned at one point to me on the ladder and said "there are two things I missed from my first marriage. One was a green shovel and the other was a six-foot fiberglass ladder. It was the perfect size for me." (Maria, as many of you know, is something of a runt. She has to reach up to open the refrigerator.)

She pointed down low to illustrate for me the size of the ladder, as if I were too dull to grasp it. She has little respect for my mechanical skills.

"I got a green shovel," she pointed out, explaining to me that it was in the barn. "But I still miss the ladder."

I did not think for a second of romance or love, what went through my mind was this: "A six-foot ladder is the only thing she misses from her first marriage. I can fix that, and then she will miss absolutely nothing from her first marriage. I have to do that, if I have to drive to Canada to find one."

I said nothing but "I'll be right back," and she looked at me curiously.  I was on a mission. I knew what I had to do. I think I stunned her a bit, and before she could ask where I was going, which she would normally have demanded to know,  I called for Fate to jump in the car – Fate is up for anything, and I am working to persuade her not to jump on people at the hardware store  – and we took off for town and Ace Hardware.

Bryan and Nancy were there working and they pointed to the ladders propped up against the wall. Fate did not jump on anyone, I am happy to report,  (this is no small thing) and the first ladder I saw was this blue six-foot beauty, shining and leaning and calling out to me, take me home, big-boy.

As usual, Nancy and I wanted to know what I was buying the ladder for, and if Maria knew I was getting it. This has become standard question at the hardware store, I was not permitted to purchase an axe unless Maria was present.  And then she took it  away from me after I almost took my foot off trying to chop wood. My explanation prompted a 15-minute discussion on divorce, trolls (girlfriends of ex-husbands), holiday dinners with family at Easter, and horror stories about ex-spouses from customers and staff.

It is, after all, the country, we all want to hear everyone else's stories.

I hauled the ladder out to the car, drove it back, Fate navigating. When I got home, Maria had fixed the gutter leak and came out.  She was very curious. When she saw the ladder, she beamed and teared up – I was surprised – and went inside to write about it.

She said it was the sweetest thing, praise usually reserved for donkeys and dogs and other animals.

Honestly, I didn't think about buying the ladder, I just knew I had to do it. I would have driven around all day to find it, and the look on her face told me it was well worth it. It is, after all, about the little things.

Now, my wife doesn't have to miss a single thing from her former marriage, and for one night at least, I can do no wrong. Well, maybe for an hour.

Posted in General

Happy Birthday, Round House: Community Is…Heroes

Happy Birthday, Round House

Happy Birthday, Round House

Today was the third anniversary of the Round House Cafe. There was a small celebration – a cake cutting.

Maria and I went there to have brunch and eat some cake with Scott and Lisa Carrino, the co-owners.There is a lot happening at the Round House these days, the cafe was mobbed, its the talk of the town. People want to help.

Yesterday, I got a long e-mail from a long-time local resident. She loves the cafe and donated $25 hard-earned dollars to their fund to help them buy the cafe building, which the landlord has put up for sale. A lot of people from all over the country want to save the Round House and the idea of community.

The fund, a week old, has already raised more than $27,000.

"I gave right away," the woman wrote, "but my son doesn't care to contribute.  He says it's a new cafe where newcomers and "artsy" people go." She loves having a local cafe and wants it to stay. The different points of view speak to community, what it means and how differently people see it, even within a family.

Scott and Lisa are quite vocal about being inclusive, everyone is welcome there, but people have different tastes and different values. There has long been a feeling in our small town, as in many other towns with an influx of new people,  that there are "locals" and "new people." Many of us cross those boundaries – most of our friends are people whose families have been there for generations, and plenty of "locals" eat at the Round House, more all the time.

There are some innate tensions. Newcomers tend to different political views and different tastes in food. Lots of newcomers – especially those from New York City – have a sometimes well-deserved reputation for arrogance and a lack of respect for local realities – like the smell of manure coming from farmers fields.

Some local people earn their living taking care of the homes and problems of newcomers, that is not always a simple relationship.

In recent years, these tensions seem to have faded, there are very few conflicts that amount to much.

But some people don't care to cross those lines and perhaps see the cafe as a bit woo-woo and organic. That is their right, it is diversity that makes community in so many ways. The Round House definitely has an organic, fresh flowers on the table,  very carefully-prepared food, almost urban aura. There is nothing there that is fried or frozen or processed. That is not always typical of country restaurants.

Community does not mean we all speak with one mind, it also means celebrating and acknowledging differences.  I see all kinds of people at the Round House now, new and old. And lots of local kids and singers and musicians come to the cafe's open mike talent nights. It just sometimes takes some time.

Some differences never die. If I lived here for a century, I would not ever be considered a local. But I feel accepted and welcome here, as much or more as any place I have ever lived.  Some of my closest friends are farmers, I love them, and feel loved and accepted by them, even though we are quite different in some ways.

People may differ in some of their views, but there is great tolerance for others and what they do and believe. A number of gay artists and writers moved up here in the 60's and 70's because it was cheaper and more beautiful than urban life. Most all of them say they felt safer and more accepted her than they ever did in New York City.

Some people like me, some people may not. When I lived in the New Jersey suburbs, I felt like an alien, and I was. I have never felt that here, neither has Maria. But I feel this is my home now, and I cherish the sense of community I feel here. When there is trouble, nobody asks where you came from, they just come running.

I told the woman who messaged me that I appreciated her generosity and respect her son's choices. Crowdsourcing is profoundly democratic – nobody has to give if they don't care to give, and their reasons are their own business.

I've always considered Scott and Lisa heroes of a mind.

They are not the Hollywood kind of heroes, they don't stop bullets or fly through space and battle alien invaders. They bleed, they suffer, they make mistakes, they are not without struggle and pain.  They have struggled for years to build and make community here.

They have great powers in their own way. They are devoted to their community, they listen, they love, they accept, they work every day and most of every night to prepare fresh and good and healthy food, they have made their cafe a gathering place for people of all kinds, perhaps most deliberately for those without extended families here, for newcomers, for the elderly, for farmers, and yes, for artists and poets and writers.

They have helped countless local kids, mentored them, offered camps and retreats, classes and workshops, given them jobs. The cafe is staffed by the hard-working children of local people, many of them farm families. Scott and Lisa have always been generous with their gifts to others and respectful of the idea of community. It has not always been easy for them, in fact, it has never been easy for then.

They have never been rich and do not expect to be, they do not have fat retirement accounts waiting to take them to a life of leisure down the road. People come to the roundhouse with their laptops to work. They meet friends and visitors here. People come for a cup of coffee before work. To get out of the cold when they are taking a walk. To take their elderly mothers and fathers out for a sandwich. To get pizza on a Friday night. For a good meal to eat when they have no time to shop or cook. To catch up on local gossip and meet newcomers.  To be in a bright and colorful place.

These are immeasurable things when it comes to community, impossible to value or quantify. They are somewhat heroic to me.  Maria wrote about them today in her own simple and graceful way: Happy Birthday Round House: What Would I Do Without You?

There is a powerful and safe feeling there. The staff is courteous, warm, the food can be trusted, sooner or later half the town streams through, you can figure out what's going on, get the news, hear who is sick, who has passed on, who is new.

It is important to us, and to so many others. The Round House is a focal point and grounding point for our lives. We have lost much community in our town, today an awful lot of us gathered to with the Round House a happy birthday, and many, many more. Thanks to so many of you, I believe community will survive here in Cambridge, the money you are sending  from everywhere will open the door for them to save their cafe.

Community is everywhere, close and far. If you have contributed to the fund to save the Round House Cafe, thanks. If you want to, you can do so by going here. If you choose not to or can't, thanks for reading.

Posted in General

Windowsill Gallery, Cont. Bedroom In Sun

Bedroom In Sun

Bedroom In Sun

Yesterday, I boosted a still life of the bedroom windowsill sill on a cloudy morning. Today the sun came out and I took a closer view. To me, the photograph is rich, it not only captures the vase and flowers and rocks but the feel of an old farmhouse with those old windows, To me, the photo has character.

Posted in General

Snow For The Joy Dog

Snow For The Joy Dog

Snow For The Joy Dog

For the second time since November, snow. About an inch or two, and it comes in Spring. The Joy Dog was ecstatic. She loves every day but has seen little snow. She took to it, even in the fierce wind. Home all day today, we will go to the Round House Cafe this afternoon to celebrate the care's third anniversary.  More later. Money continues to come in from all over the country for the fund to buy their building, which the landlord has put up for sale. So far, just about $27,000, a wonderful and generous outpouring. They  will soon have enough money either for a down payment on the cafe building or another site nearby. Thank again for  your support of community. If we can do it here, you can do it there.

Posted in General