1 April 2017

Robin’s Pride: First Tooth, Nick Cave

First Tooth

Robin has her first tooth, a landmark event I think, in the life of a child. My phone rang and a Facetime message popped up with Robin staring at me incredulously, as if she had just seen some strange animal walking around. She is tech savvy already and she did give me a good smile.

I am uneasy with Facetime, I have no idea what to say to a gurgling baby. So I said some stupid things, but it was nice to see her smile, it absolutely carries some magic with it.

Tomorrow afternoon, Maria and I have invited Ed and Carol Gulley to go to Mass Moca, a wonderful museum carved out of a giant old mill in North Adams, Mass. We think Ed will especially love the Nick Cave's sculpture exhibit. Ed is a folk artist himself, on a smaller scale. We think it will light him up.

Apart from that, the Gulleys could use a break from work. I'm bringing the camera.

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Peace In A Storm

Peace In A Storm: Wind Chimes In A Storm

The past months have changed my world, and the world of many others. Almost everyone I know, on either side of the political and cultural divide, is struggling to deal with it. Some people are angry, some frightened, some embattled, and others endangered.

A friend asked me today how I was dealing with it, and I said I felt I was finding peace in a storm. She was surprised, disappointed, I think, she said it was for her like living in a nightmare.  She was outraged at the people who are being harmed. Everything she believed was under attack or threatened with radical change. Why wasn't I angrier or more upset at all of the people who were suffering now?

I don't really argue my political beliefs with people, not on Facebook, not in my life. I sensed a real talk with my friend would have led to argument, she was talking, not listening, so I said we would have to talk about it one day down the road.I know I cannot take in the suffering of all of the people in the world, that would destroy me. I have to make choices.

But I did think about it afterwards.

My idea of peace is internal, not external. No President or presidential candidate can bring me peace, not in winning, not in losing. That responsibility is mine I don't cede it to anyone, not the left, not the right, not people on Facebook. There is nothing that I am more  responsible for than for the equilibrium, peace of mind and spirituality I bring to my life.

I covered politics as a reporter for some great newspapers, and I loved doing it, I loved political science and the ugly grinding process of democracy.

I also have very realistic expectations for democracy. It is one wave, then another wave, one tide coming in, another going out. It is never settled or static, most often democracy is a piece of raw meat all the hungry animals are fighting over. When a dog dies, I ask myself, what did I expect? That they would live forever? When an election does not go my way, I ask myself, what did I expect? That everyone would see the world the way I do?

The Trappists believe that everything that hurts or costs them is God's will. I believe that everything that cost me is the way of the fates, a challenge and a gift to me.

Democracy makes a lot of noble noise about itself, and it is, to me, the best form of government yet invented. But it is far from perfect. Democracy is an ugly, grinding, divisive and difficult thing, the founders understood this by making change and the acquisition of power difficult and painful. Nothing is accomplished quickly, easily or without bitter conflict.

What survives triumphs. We tend to romanticize democracy in the same way we romanticize everything, including dogs and animals. It's what we do, we seem to need it.

We have this idea of the rational, thoughtful and well-informed masses speaking up, but the truth is tougher than that. The masses, wrote H.L. Mencken, most often have taken in almost nothing, "they are responsive only to emotions, and their emotions are all elemental – the emotions, indeed of tabby-cats rather than men (and women.)"

Fear is the chief emotion, he wrote, and fear is the tool of the demagogue. The demagogues, said Mencken, are the professors of mob psychology, they make fear the cornerstone of their exact and powerful science. "Politics under democracy," he wrote, "consists almost wholly of the discovery, chase and scotching of bugaboos. The statesman becomes, in the last analysis, a mere witch-hunter, a glorified smeller and snooper."

For me, the past six months have been a gift, and I am wary of saying it, I say it with keen awareness of the fear and anguish to many people are feeling. My side did not win, and I'm not talking about candidates. It is impossible not to see and feel and hear it, without living in a sealed cave.

Compassion and empathy, two of my most sacred values, are on the line, in trouble.

The irony for me is that the November election has been a gift in many ways. I am awakened, patriotic, working to accomplish small acts of good. I am relevant, I am writing and thinking better than I have written and thought in a while, I feel especially alive. Rather than argue, I am using the tools I have to do good, and doing good feels good. It is important that I get up in the morning and do my work. That I tell the story of my farm, but also advocate for the voiceless,  for the embattled farmer, the undocumented agricultural worker, the refugee and the immigrant,  for the elderly in their institutions.

I have raised a lot of money on my blog, something unimaginable to me even a short while ago. My blog, my creative alter ego, is doing good.

I am a proud member of an Army of Good desperate to make a difference. My values have been aroused, I feel very much a patriot, I want to be a champion of liberty.

I get to sometimes make a difference, and what more could any writer want in his humble life?  I am no saint, for sure, but I feel good about myself, I like what the past six months has done for me, even if this period has disturbed and frightened so many others.

I am at peace in the storm, I have my work to do, and I will do it, rather than argue about it. I will listen rather than shout. I will think, rather than argue.

To me, this is not a political issue. This is simply a matter of accepting life, and everything in life is a gift. You give some of the gift to others, if you can.

Thomas Merton wrote that "one should be able to share things with others without bothering too much about how they like it, either, or how they accept it. Assume they will accept it, if they need it. And if they don't need it, why should they accept it? That is their business. Let me accept what is mine and give them all their share, and go my way."

That is surely not the creed of the left or the right, but it is to me, the essence of liberty.

That is my ethos, my moral choice, the way in which I work. I do not care to be labeled, or  need to be agreed with, or loved. I care to be thoughtful and honest and civil. Politicians have no say in that. I care to work hard for the values I have, and if people don't need it, why should they accept it? That is their business. Let me accept what is mine and give them their share, and go on about my business.

I have long believed that my life is not an argument for others, it is a matter of accepting life and accepting me. I hope that is helpful to some. I am, in fact, at peace in the storm. I count my many blessings every day. I wish to live nowhere else.

My eyes are open, I hear the cries of the powerless and the poor and the frightened. I will do everything I can to make a difference, and accept the limits of my life.

No one else can take my peace away from me, even as the storm rages, it is one my most precious possessions.

Posted in General

My Book, My Bookstore

My Book And My Bookstore

Just a few years ago, it was widely predicted that writers like me and bookstores like Battenkill Books were doomed, we were dinosaurs, we would never survive the recession, e-publishing and the effects of social media.

But here we are, at it again, Connie Brooks and I are two small miracles, and happily bound to one another as we navigate the new world.

We have the most wonderful collaboration, and it is a thrill to be gearing up again.

Connie has done the impossible, her beautiful, much-loved independent bookstore is succeeding in this small town in Eastern New York State, right along the Vermont border. Connie is a passionate book lover and smart businessperson. She is all about community and knowing people. She is the perfect symbol for the new independent bookstore owner, these stores are not dead, they are in a renaissance. People do not want them to vanish.

Connie has become central to my life as an author. As book tours and traditional marketing vanishes, Connie and I have set out on an exciting experiment. She sold 1,200 copies of my last book from Battenkill Books, and piled up a gaggle of devoted new customers. People love dealing with her and her staff, and they order books from  her all year.

When a book of mine comes out, I go there for several days and sign and personalize each one. This year, Connie is also throwing in a free and beautiful custom-designed tote-bag with a symbol of a dog, a border collie,and a message that says "sit, stay, read."

We are off again.You can support books, authors,  me,  Bedlam Farm, and independent bookstores by pre-ordering (or ordering) a copy of my new book "Talking To Animals: How We Can Understand Them And They Can Understand Us."

Connie takes Paypal and major credit cards. If you believe that authors, hardcover books and independent bookstores ought stick around this is a way to help. Besides that, I believe the book is compelling and important. We need to understand animals in a new and wiser way if they are to survive. The first reviews agree.

I think this is the most important book I have written full of anecdotes, experience and things for animal lovers to think about.

There are 500 pre-orders already, 500 more tote-bags to give away. And we can order more. If you don't wish to order online, you can call the store at 518 677-2515. Humans are a pleasure to deal with.

You can pre-order "Talking To Animals" and support a wonderful bookstore by going here to take a look. And thanks.

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Your Letters To Christy: “I Could Not Stop Crying. Hug Red.”

"I could not stop crying"

Christy's Internet went down at the Indian River Rehabilitation Center yesterday, I got a message from her this morning. Your letters are having an enormous impact on her morale and determination, I want to share her message with you.

It is powerful and  revealing to look into the struggles of a person caught between old age, illness, and two choices for her life – a nursing home or an assisted care facility – the Mansion. Christy has chosen to fight hard to get back to the Mansion. Your letters are helping her greatly.

She  has some serious medical issues, and a hard struggle ahead of her. She was feeling alone and abandoned.

"I had a very rough night and day. I was feeling so depressed and just did not want to talk or be bothered. Then the mail came. I got about 20 cards and letters. I read each one and i could not stop crying because so many strangers thought of me and sent me such beautiful cards and encouragement. One lady, bless her heart, sent me writing supplies and stamps. The kindness that strangers show to me is just amazing. I always stayed in the background, in my life. I never liked getting attention. It embarrassed me. Today, I felt such warmth and happiness. The cards and letters were all about staying strong and telling me I can do anything.

I wish I could thank each and every one of you. I felt I could make it after reading these letters, I went down to the Rehab Room where I was supposed to be. I know that tomorrow I will think about all my mail as I do whatever PT wants me to do. Hug Red."

I told Christy I would thank all of those who sent letters and hug Red as well. He and I will go see her as soon as the weather clears and she seems to be on solid ground. It is not simple or easy to grow old in America, and I think Christy lost faith in herself somewhere along that difficult way.

I think she is finding her strength again, every day is hard. The doctors say if she wants to, she will be able to return to the Mansion. Thanks so much for contacting her, you can't imagine the effect your letters and cards have on Christy and also on the Mansion residents.

If you wish, you can write Christy, the address is: Christy L., c/o The Indian River Rehabilitation Center, 17 Madison St., Granville, N.Y., 12832.

You can write the Mansion residents c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union St., Cambridge, N.Y. 12816. And thanks. We'll see what love can do.


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