20 April 2016

A Message From Diane. In Search Of A Human Connection



"People speak sometimes about the "bestial" cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts., no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel." – Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

This is a parable about life in our times, life in the new world of messaging, the story of me and of a woman named Diane.

Diane sent me this message late last night, I read it just as I was leaving a restaurant where I was having dinner with friends. I rarely answer messages like this, but this one, I thought, deserved a reply. For the next fifteen minutes as we drove from the restaurant to our home, I decided to try a dialogue. To connect with Diane as one human to other. Sometimes it happens, and it is a wonderful thing.

Why bother? Because I believe in civil dialogue and discourse, and I believe writing and creativity is good and hard and honest work and ought to be respected. I do this on behalf of myself and on everyone who seeks to follow their zeal and live their own life. Free speech demands respect and the ability to listen, without it, there is no safe place to think for any of us, no freedom to be who we want to be.

"I often wonder," Diane wrote, "what it is like to not be employed and to just do anything you like everyday and to be able to pontificate on your blog whenever you feel like it. And some people even send you money out of the clear blue sky. But no, I get up every day and labor hard to provide for my family and have done so for 40 plus years. Maybe you can enlighten the rest of us on how we can live life without having to labor so hard."

So I decided to write back to Diane on the off chance that she was really asking a question and wanted an honest answer. It struck me as a cruel and thoughtless note, but I've learned that on this new media, good people often send cruel and thoughtless messages, it is so easy to do.

Once in a great while, a dialogue is opened up, and I feel good about the prospects for humanity. You have to be prepared for disappointment. There is always the possibility of connection, there is always the possibility of rejection. You will lose much more often than you win, but it is a good and important fight, it is worth fighting for respect and compassion. I hope I never weary of it and stop.

Diane, I wrote, thanks for asking, it feels great to be self-employed and to just do almost everything I like everyday and be able to pontificate on my blog whenever I feel it. I think that is a beautiful way to live and I would urge anyone to try and live the life they want, not the one others tell them they ought to have. But I am not responsible for your life, or for the choices you make.

Some people have sent me money, although not out of the clear blue sky, I have twice asked for help in buying cameras and camera equipment so that I can take photographs and share them. I'm sorry to tell you that I have gotten up every day of my life since I was 17 and labored very hard to provide for my family, and have done so for forty plus years.

I cannot tell you how to have a life without hard labor because I have not had one – writing a book is not a simple thing, neither is writing a blog – but I can tell you the way to love your life is to follow your bliss and your heart and your zeal and do not let anyone take any of those things from you.

A good life is not easy, but it is, in many ways, a choice, not a miracle.

Diane, I wrote,  I am sorry you don't consider writing 29 adult books and three children's books work or publishing a blog for eight years work, or  running a farm and taking 50,000 photographs work, but it sure feels like labor to me.

I have some good friends who are nurses, like you, few people work harder than they do.

I said I was sorry she resented my life and sorry she hated hers. I've noticed over the years, and after many hateful messages, that people who sent hateful messages often are outraged when they are challenged. It's like they were the ones receiving the hateful messages, they are always the victims.

Diane was not, alas, one of those rare people who write back and apologize for being rude or thoughtless and say what's really bothering them.
"I do hate it," she replied, "when people are condescending when others express their opinions and feelings."  She said she was a nurse who loved her work.

In other words, she was saying, why would I dare reply to the suggestion that I am lazy, thieving, greedy and shiftless, windbag. After all, I share my life, aren't I asking for it?

I have been writing onlilne a long time, and I have a good sense now of the people who sent messages,  it's a kind of radar, I get about 1,000  a day in various forms and cannot nearly read or acknowledge all of them. Most days, I would never have even seen it. But Diane's message popped right out at  me. She said that she loved her life and did good every day.

I believed her for some reason, but I also believe that nobody who lives a life they love and does good sends total strangers, about whom they know absolutely nothing, hateful messages like that. Something is missing in her life for that to happen. I also do not believe she loves her life, or takes much responsibility for how it turned out. I suspect she would love to do what she wanted most of the time and pontificate on a blog. I love it.

But how she makes her money and how hard she works is none of my business, of course, as my life is none of hers.

I'm familiar with this phenomena. It was something that I wrote, that she didn't have the stomach to tell me about. Some blog post I wrote – perhaps the ones about my primary voting this week – triggered this response. You cannot take it personally. A person who does not know you cannot hate you.

They can just be nasty.

What have I learned from my long campaign for a more civil and respectful Internet:

  • Most people are good. Given the chance, they will do good.
  • It is easy to be thoughtless and cruel on Facebook and e-mail and social media.  It costs nothing and takes seconds. You are often far away from your target, messaging is free and by definition, thoughtless, there are no filters or restraints to monitor what goes from your mind to your fingers in micro-seconds. This is the medium of misinterpretation, missed communications, and disconnection.
  • Hostility is an integral part of the digital experience, we must be silenced or learn to live with it.
  • Our cable news and political culture promotes the idea of argument over conversation, of rage over reason, of cowardice and hiding. If the presidential candidates can do it for months, why can't we do it from the safe confines of our living rooms?

Do not lose heart or become cynical, I tell people.

Diane wrote one angry message, dozens of people sent me lovely ones, talking about my posts, my life, my photos. I acknowledge them also. Hundreds of people sent me $5 and $10 this and last week to help me buy a new camera, something Diane jeered at but which was an extraordinary and quite beautiful experience.

That is the real truth about people, not the damaged psyches who sent angry messages on Facebook. She resents it, I am proud and humbled that anyone would do it. There is that chasm between her life and mine. She finds it incomprehensible, how could she help writing me a note like that?

Diane fled from the brief exchange, as I suspected she would. Since there was no reality or real perception in her message, there was nothing to keep the dialogue going. She could either come to consciousness about what she was doing, or run away. Usually, they run away. And nothing upsets them more than a civil response. For it to work for them, I must be a monster.

I was not able to make a human connection with Diane, I didn't think, and then suddenly, after I wished her a good life and said my wish for her is that she has a good life and never sends another message like that to someone she doesn't know on Facebook or anywhere else.  I promise myself all of the time that I will never send a message like that, and never have. I wish you a good life, I said.

Then (I was still riding in the car home from dinner), another message came in:

"Thanks,I've read 10 of your books."

I was surprised, I replied, as the car neared the farmhouse, and Maria looked at me curiously (I do not read hateful messages to Maria):

"You don't think that's hard work? I've written 29 books."  And then, I tried once more. I asked her what this dialogue was really about, what prompted it. But I could feel the silence, even riding along in my car with my Iphone open and Maria driving.

But Diane was, I think gone. I did not  hear from her again.

Did I make a human connection, did I plant a seed of doubt in her weary mind that this is not the way to talk to other human beings, even anonymously, and over time and space? I don't know. Maybe.

I did feel a connection with her, I like to think that she does do good.

I'm glad I tried.






Posted in General

Inside The Woodshed

Inside The Woodshed

Inside The Woodshed

I crawled into the woodshed with my new Canon 7D monochrome camera and got this shot of the firewood we have stacked so far for the coming winter and the afternoon sun poring through the open window. I am loving my new camera and can't say enough about Dan Llewellyn of maxmax, the wizard who invented the monochrome conversion process. If any of you are considering this, the prices range from $450 to $2,500. It's a new and exciting way to shoot black and white.

Dan is amazing and incredibly helpful. He has been a tremendous help in assisting me to figure out this camera, and has stayed with me. He even wrote me to say he loved the photos I am putting up, how gracious of him.

I'm going to New Jersey to meet him, hopefully soon. This shot is a part of my experimentation, standing in the dark with blinding light on the other side. The camera handled it beautifully. Maxmax is the first (and only one that I know of) company to figure out this process. I had the choice of buying a new converted camera or sending me one of my own. He helped me decide.

Posted in General

Lessons Of Primary Day: Making Your Own Revolution

Making A Revolution

Making A Revolution

I voted yesterday in the New York State Primary, the choice was between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and I voted for Hillary Clinton. I wrote about it yesterday.

"I'm surprised you didn't vote for the commie," messaged Jerry Elkins, a man I have never met who posts an angry message on my Facebook Page once a year and then disappears.

It was an interesting choice for me, and a revealing one. Bernie Sanders is preaching revolution and I  love his message about the immorality of modern American economics and political policy. In very different ways, he and Donald Trump are calling the politicians and economists to account for the many lives they have damaged and shattered.

I appreciate the young (and older) people who are supporting Sanders and the idea of revolution. For much of my life I would have been one of them.  It will, perhaps, take a revolution to get the country straight again.

In a sense, this is the purpose of going to college, and of being young, to follow the heart and the passion before too much reality sets in and begins to wither the soul and the heart. Bless the young, when you are young, everything is possible, when you are older, you learn that some things are possible and some things are not.

I have my own ideas about revolution, and no presidential candidate is really a part of that.

Joseph Campbell wrote that revolutions occur inside of us, not on the streets.

"Revolution doesn't have to do with smashing something," he wrote, "it has to do with bringing something forth. If you spend all your time thinking about that which you are attacking, then you are negatively bound to it. You have to find the zeal in yourself and bring that out."

I have been experiencing a revolution inside of myself these past few years, and it has little to do with aging, although that is a part of it. Revolutions are made for the young, caution is the faith of the older. It seems to me that both are vital, each necessary to keep the world in balance.

There is no need for anyone to apologize for the choices they make in the voting booth, or in their lives. The only one I have to please is the one I see in the mirror each morning. I do not live by the choices of others.

It is the duty of the young to make revolutions, it is the duty of people like me to try and pass along what we know and have seen. Bringing back the elixir, Campbell called out, have some humor, share what I know, pass it along, even if nobody wants to hear it.  No one is asking me for my opinion about revolution, and I don't care to persuade anyone about it. It is a good and noble thing to vote for Bernie Sanders, a big part of me wanted to do it.

He has done a lot of good, his heart seems generous and honest to me.

But the revolution inside of me said something else, it said be careful, move slowly, be thoughtful.

Change is gradual, not instant. Polarized countries do not make the kind of revolutions I care to see. I don't care to demonize Donald Trump or Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders. None of them will bring about the end of the world, even if I don't care to vote for them.

For me,  the decision to vote for Hillary Clinton was never hard. Like the others, she has said and done some dumb and troubling things, and like the others, she has been pilloried and demonized beyond what is civil or rational. I have done a lot of dumb and troubling things as well, and so have you. They are human beings, just like us. She doesn't need to be perfect to be a President. I don't know of one who was.

I think a revolution has begun. Donald Trump started it on one end of the spectrum and Bernie Sanders started it on the other. Both candidates have shown me and others – and stunned the media and political establishments – how many people feel angry and lost in the new economy, and living in rural life, as I do, and in the lost and dying cities of upstate New York, I see it every single day.

Anger is better channeled through political campaigns and governance than in the streets. In the Middle East, all kinds of revolutions started on Facebook and then sputtered and died. The bad guys have Facebook accounts too.

I like the idea of revolutions starting slowly, so we have time to think about them and argue about them and see them grow and evolve. This one is underway. Things are already different.

Hillary is, for me, is in the middle, she is a Middle Person, and I am learning that I am a Middle Person, I live in the middle.

Extremes make me uneasy, in the 60's I covered that revolution, I didn't join it. I wrote about the liberation movements, I wasn't part of them. I was fascinated by the Occupy Movement, I didn't join it. That is who I am. The revolution inside of me is about bringing something forth inside of me. That is my work, my teaching, my writing, my photography, my love. I am a watcher, not a soldier.

A number of my friends were disappointed in my decision to vote for Hillary Clinton, and they made it clear to me. But I was quite comfortable with myself. That is a big part of my own revolution, to be comfortable with myself. I will  not let politics become a dance of hate for me, as it is for so many people – some of them will send me hateful messages tonight for writing this.

But I am quite at peace. I never did waver, and I was not tormented or in pain about it. I don't need to stand with any mob, however well meaning and I see mobs gathering all around these people.

I don't write this push for Hillary Clinton's election or to try to persuade anyone else to vote for her. Not my purpose or my business.

In the age of Facebook, I believe we are all entitled to  make our own decisions, in peace and with respect for one another. I belong to the Church Of Minding Your Own Business, like the Quakers, a dying faith. I believe in a civil communion with one another, even if I rarely see it. That is also part of my revolution. Am I a martyr for civility? I love the idea of it.

Primary day had important lessons for me, and none of them had to do with politics or the political campaign.

At this time in my life, I will continue to make my own revolution, and in our world that is revolutionary. If we all did it, Bernie Sanders would be unnecessary, and Donald Trump would be playing golf every morning at Mar-A-Largo.

That is an important and grounding thing for me to know.

Posted in General

Red Is Hurting

A Hurting Dog

A Hurting Dog

Red is hurting, he is limping badly on his left foreleg and is uncharacteristically still. Border collies almost never lie down if they don't have to, and Red has been lying down all day the last day or so. He's going to the vet in the morning, we have been giving him anti-inflammatories and joint medication.

Our vet, Suzanne Fariello, came by recently to watch him run, she suspects arthritis. Red is nine years old and has been running hard his whole life, from Northern Ireland to Virginia to here, border collies start wearing out around that age. I've been keeping him quiet, he comes out to the sheep every day but no running.

The rest of the day, he just lies by my feet.

He is not a happy dog right now, I'll get him looked at, checked out and feeling better. His most intense working days might be over, we'll see. If so, he has lots of great therapy work to do and a great and love-filled life.

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Barn Light, Sunrise

Barn Light - Sunrise

Barn Light – Sunrise

I got up early to catch the sunrise and see the light tiptoe, slide and peek into the corner of the big old barn. Barns are porous, interactive things, they mix with the natural world. There are birds, worms, mice, rats, nests, dust, pollen, old hay and countless smells. And there is always light. The light always finds a way in.

"Imagine that you are light. All around you – in every corner and on every side – is light. Turn to your right, and you will find shining light; to your left, splendor, a radiant light. Between them, up above, the Presence. Surrounding that, the light of life. Above it all, a crown of light – crowning the aspirations of thought, illumining the paths of imagination, spreading the radiance of virtue. This light  is unfathomable and endless." – from the Kabbalah.

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