21 April 2017

Friday Afternoon. New Directions. Doing Good.


Fridays are twilight days for me, a hard week of writing and working on the farm. Saturday, preparing for my writing class.  Hopefully, a movie this weekend. Maybe a play, the "Glass Menagerie" at Hubbard Hall. Perhaps on Sunday a trip to the Mansion.If she can receive visitors, I'd like to drive to Indian River Rehab to see Christy on Sunday.

I appreciated this scene yesterday, the best of the farm, the animals grazing already, the grass is still a stubble out there, but turning green.  Fate lying down, Red in the distance, keeping an eye on things. I am lucky to be here, a time for quiet, deep breath, reflection.

My weeks are more hectic than they used to be, more driving to Albany, more stuff to get hold of for the Mansion, my idea of family is extending, more people are entering my life. The political turmoil has been good for me in an odd way, I feel more engaged, more focused, clearer about my own values and my own idea of patriotism.

Ever since the November election, I have seen arguments and tension swirling all around me. The President has become an Orwellian figure, on every screen, every day, all day. There is no such thing as normal news any longer this is a mental challenge for everyone, especially those of us with anxiety, depression, anger, or other mental issues.

Whatever one's politics, the idea of this as the primary and continuing reality of the country seems unhealthy to me, it promotes conflict, fear and division. It makes people tense and angry.

My own response to this has been to set out to find ways of doing good – primarily, the Mansion, the Refugees, the Immigrants, the undocumented agricultural workers from Mexico and other countries, who are living in fear.

I believe it is essential for me and for ground and spiritual people to severely curb their time on social media and electronic devices.

I am happy to say I have not engaged in a single political argument, nor do I identify myself with the left and the right, two institutions devoted to not thinking or compromising. I am staying out of that space, yet my blog has raised tens of thousands of dollars to help people. That keeps me grounded and feeling strong. Maria and the animals are a constant source of love and purpose for me, I am grateful for them.

I am committed not to promoting argument or discord, but to doing concrete good for real people.

I accept that people see the world in different ways, including different ways than me.

And I am committed to writing about the people I see to support,  and showing their images so that this work is transparent and authentic. From art kids to needy kids to trips to the Great Escape to blankets and fans and pots and pants for immigrants, to  help for sick horses to uniforms for the RISSE soccer players, I am happy to have added this new dimension to my work.

The refugee children seem to me a powerful thing for me to embrace and write about. They need a lot of help. I will stay with them.

I will also retain the existing dimension of my writing, my books and blog and photos and posts about life on the farm, life with Maria and the animals here. I

Recently, I have opened up a new channel for people to support my work – one time donations in any amount – and this is giving some people a chance to contribute in small amounts they are comfortable with. I thank you for those and for the voluntary payments, which are supporting my work and the foundation of my blog and photography.

My words and photos, as always remain free, you are welcome to use them in any form you wish. I hope they brighten your days.

I will continue to use the blog in these ways.

My purpose is not to defeat or stymie President Trump, but I will continue to work hard to promote the values that I seem to share with many of my readers. Many of them are supporters of Mr. Trump, they are welcome here. Everyone is welcome here, except people who express themselves in hateful ways, or people who cannot bear to read anything they don't agree with.

Those people will not like it here and will be happier elsewhere, as some have already concluded. On social media, there is no shortage of places for people to hate and argue. This will never be one of them. Thanks so much for sharing this extraordinary journey with me. I am just getting started.

Posted in General

Helping Camilla. What Now?

Helping Camilla

For some weeks now, I've been writing about our effort to help Camilla, who illegally entered the United States more than a decade ago and who is now, like so many undocumented immigrant workers, living in fear and uncertainty.

She came her to provide for her family, who could not find enough work In Mexico to provide for themselves, and at mid-life, she sacrificed everything to work seven days a week, often in grueling physical labor outdoors in summer and winter for little pay to send the money she earns home.

She lives in a tiny trailer with other farm workers, spends nothing on herself.

It would be devastating for her and her family to be forced out of America now, without any path for redemption or security, or even just punishment. And it would be cruel.

For many people – I hear from them every day – this is only just and fair.

Camilla came her illegally, they say, she should leave. Many people think she is a threat and a parasite deserving neither of sympathy or support. "You should not be doing this," one woman messaged me from Montana, adding this is why she voted for the current President.

According to her Facebook page, this woman rescues stray cats whenever she can find them, but not people, and rejects the idea that this is a contradiction. And this is where we are in America now, so angry and divided, compassion and mercy considered almost traitorous.

I feel differently, obviously, and so does Maria. We have twice taken Camilla to lawyers, and she now has legal representation, should she need it. And she might well, there is no path open to her.  Things change, judges issue rulings, Congress passes laws, Presidents change their minds. I told  her not to give up hope, I certainly have not.

But the question remains, how can we help her now? She has a number to call, she knows her rights, she has been given the best available advice. Is the on her own now, or are their further steps to take on her behalf?

I'm uneasy with where the lawyers left it: lay low, be quiet, get lucky. Is this the best our country can do?

Every day in the twilight world of the undocumented, there are reports of raids, arrests, deportations. At grocery stories, in court houses, hospitals and on farms. Their world is shrinking in a cloud of fear, they have stopped going to doctors, emergency rooms, malls, they have stopped reporting abuse and rape and other crimes to the police. They are afraid to drive on major roads, get their cars repaired, visit their doctors for treatment, go to the post office, shop at Wal-Mart or visit their friends or families.

There is nothing for them to return to, no money, jobs, homes.

When I hear the rattle in her car or see the smoke coming out of the exhaust, I fear for Camilla. She might be a traffic stop away from having her live ruined and upended. She has a lover she has lived with for years, and dreads the idea of them being separated. He runs when he sees a police man having coffee in a convenience store.

Since November, I joined the ACLU's Grassroots Resistance Movement, created in part to help organize local efforts to protect people like Camilla, and to communicate with local police departments about their policies and thoughts about how to handle the undocumented when they encounter them, or when ICE agents come looking for them. I am learning about rights, statues, and

I wish to legally help Camilla find a way through this. She is honest about her life and status, she never lies about it, denies responsibility, or asks others to bail her out. It was me who suggested seeing a lawyer. She is prepared to accept responsibility and do what needs to be done to gain some legal status, she has been paying taxes for years.

The ACLU asks us to meet with local police chiefs and ask them about their immigration policies, but I am not sure this is a good idea. There are three different police agencies operating in my area, which is typical in rural areas. State police, county sheriffs, and town and village police.

The state police in New York have said they will not take action against undocumented immigrants they encounter unless the people they stop are wanted for serious crimes. The sheriff and local police have no stated policy, and to my knowledge, no policy at all. Many of these people work on farms, and are essential to the agricultural economy here. The police and the farmers are close, they know each other and work together, their families are often entwined.

In my county we all know undocumented workers, know how important they are to our economy, how hard they work, how little problems they have ever caused. They take jobs local people do not want and do not even apply for and work in sometimes brutish labor. They are central to our agricultural system.

Police here are low key, they do not generally look for trouble beyond the obvious and the normal.  They have no desire to hurt farmers. The chief here is respected and approachable. The immigration police – the ICE – are something else, by all reports, they are being aggressive in unprecedented and unaccountable ways.

If I raise this issue with local chiefs, then they might feel forced to formulate a policy, or seek public discussion. And I might not be pleased with the results. A good friend suggested I let sleeping dogs lie, if they are not aggressively pursuing undocumented immigrants, or raiding farms, then why spark a discussion at all? The ACLU says the reason to let them know people care and are paying attention.

Otherwise, any single officer can do anything he or she wishes to do.

I was a police reporter for some years, I have respect for the police and have always been able to communicate with them. I do know that public attention matters. Like all of us, we behave differently if we know people care about what we do.

I'm not looking for trouble or making any demands, I'd like to let them know that there are people here who are concerned with this issue and would like to talk to them about it in a low-key way. Is such a thing possible in America any longer? I don't really know.

In the meantime, I will go slowly,  think on it and look for ways I can think of to be helpful to Camilla. One way would be to help her get her car fixed before some alert young trooper hears the engine sound her old car makes.

Posted in General

When My Heart Is Wide And Open

When Your Heart Is Wide And Open

Susan M is one of a number – a hundred perhaps, maybe more, I call them The Faithful – people who have been reading me a long time, first through my books, and then through the blog. These people have a kind of hallowed status for me, they have been patiently following my life for more than a decade, sometimes longer, and they write me every now and then to remark on my evolution – or failure – to evolve as a human being.

They see my successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, and are not afraid to comment on any of those things. We are like a close and trusting family, we will never turn our backs on one another, and they have seen it all, poor things. I think there is nothing they could see that would cause me to turn a way, nothing I can do or write that would turn them away from me.

I respect them and listen to them, they have never abandoned me and I will never abandon them. And even thought they are  bounded and thoughtful, I graciously accept their advice and observations and even their intrusions. They have earned them.

Sometimes I can answer them, sometimes not, but they want nothing from me other than to be honest and happy and successful. Even I can't quarrel with that.

I am deeply, and truly touched that these people – their messages are always thoughtful and compassionate – have stayed with me for so long. Today Susan wrote me to thank me for writing about my granddaughter Robin's impending visit, about our undocumented friend Camilla's search for refuge.

"I applaud you and Maria for trying to provide solace and help for Camilla – thank you for yet another thought-provoking and heartfelt post. Your heart is wide open…"  Susan.

I think Susan is right. My heart is wide open these days. I credit Maria for opening it some years ago, the heart surgeons for opening it up quite literally several years ago, and lately, Mr. Trump for opening it wider. I bear no hatred or contempt for the man, I hope he is a successful President for the sake of the country, and that he one day tries to unite us,  but  in the meantime he has challenged me to decide just who I am and who I wish to be.

More than anything, I wish to be a man with a merciful and open heart in a time when so many hearts have turned to stone. Robin has, of course has opened my heart further, but I have no wish to be over the wall or over the top in my love for her, despite the many messages I get telling me that has happened.

It is good just where it is, it really doesn't need to go a lot farther. That has been a good lesson for me in life. Sometimes where you are is precisely where you need to be.

The residents of the Mansion and the refugees and the millions of mostly hard-working  illegal immigrants have touched my heart deepest of all, except for Maria. After all, Robin does not need me as much as Camilla does, she is loved, well cared for and content. The Mansion residents are appreciating some help, and that is the thing about help: it helps.

They have opened my heart and they keep it open. Their love and trust is soul food for me.

One woman wrote me yesterday, she hadn't read the blog for a while, and she told me I had changed, and become a different person. I thanked her for that, but I also told her that I don't believe anyone can ever become a different person. We are not light bulbs that can be unscrewed and replaced.

At times I am better, at times I am worse, I am a work in progress, I hope I will never see myself as being done.

Our souls and spirits are not transferable, they cannot be wiped clean and discarded. I am not a different person, that is not possible, I am the very same person trying to learn and grow, and where possible, change. I don't trust anyone who claims to be a different person, I think all of us can be a better person than we are. That is the miracle of being human, no dog or horse or elephant or squirrel can set out to do that.

Living with Maria, I think my heart will never close again.

I thank you Susan, for your thoughts about my heart, it was good to hear from you again, and I hope you are well. I am grateful for you. I think of my heart as being like a proud and vintage car. A lot of work has been done it, and sometimes, on the road, it runs wide and open.

It's a good feeling for sure, free and uplifting and full of promise.


Posted in General

The Necklace That Called Out To me

The Necklace

I was driving past Main St., past the Valley Artisan's Market, where local artists go to sell their work. The artists staff the shop and wrestle with credit card machines, as artists do.  Artists never seem to fully grasp how the world works, or want to know.

Once or twice a year, I stop there to buy a gift for Maria, usually on a birthday or holiday. Maria always scolds me and tells me not to buy her things, and I always nod solemnly and vow not to do it again.

But I love buying her gifts, it is a gift to me. Maria never buys anything for herself, and sweet people like her – there are so many nasty and angry people in the world – should be showered in gifts all the time, that's my philosophy.

But I wasn't even thinking of a gift yesterday, I was headed to the bank to withdraw some money.

Maria was not herself, she seemed drained from working on a new hanging piece with an elephant and a goddess. She seemed to be elsewhere, as sometimes happens when she is working on something special.

Suddenly, I felt something pulling me to the curb, it was just the oddest sensation. I  felt I needed to go into the Artisan's Market, there was something there waiting for me, something calling to me. It was just an odd feeling.

I am not, as you know, inclined to psychic or mystical moments, at least not very often. But this seemed to be one. I had to go into the shop, it was on the ground floor of Hubbard Hall, the arts complex in the middle of town.

I parked the car and went into the store. There was a gentle elderly man, a painter and artist sitting by the register behind the counter  – the members of the market all took turns – and I remembered  him from a year ago. He sold me a bracelet I bought for Maria on her birthday in 2016.

I was startled when he said, "hello, Jon, welcome back, you must be looking for another present for your wife. Maria, isn't?"

The man must have been in his 80's, he had the friendliest eyes and was so soft-spoken as to be almost whispering.

He stayed seated, reading a book while I said hello, complimented him on his memory. I did remember that we had a long talk about that bracelet, I told him my wife was an artist and had a very powerful and innate sense of style. I often show the gifts to the artists there, and they often tell me what they think.

The man smiled and I walked right over to the right and looked into the display case. I only went to the one case. I only saw one thing.

I saw a necklace unlike any I had seen before. It practically grabbed me by the throat, and said "Maria!" It was startlingly different and original. At first, I thought it was too different, most of us carry this warning system inside of us that is afraid of being conspicuous.  Was it over the top?

Maria has her share of issues and fears, but worrying about being conspicuous is not one of them. I think being an artist is a cure for that.

She cares nothing for what other people think of the way she looks and dresses, she cares about herself and her own sense of identity. Almost every woman in town tells me often how much they admire the way she dresses, but none of them dress anything like her. They tell me they wouldn't dare, and that sometimes seems a sad thing to me.

I asked the man behind the counter if he thought this would be a good gift for an artist. I said it had called out to me, from the street no less, and drew me to it me the minute I came into the shop. There was something powerful about it, I could feel it. I felt she would love it.

"I think she would love it," he said quietly, not at all afraid to offer an opinion about someone he had never seen, but who had been described to him. "You seem to know her very well."

I picked up the necklace, it seem to almost vibrate in my hand, it had energy that was palpable. I turned it over, it was brilliantly imaginative.

It was made from crushed aluminum, bottle caps, a plastic dolphin, shell and pottery shards. "Not only is it not over the top for Maria," I told the artist, "it is Maria." She will yell at me, I told him. "She yelled at you last year," he reminded me, laughing and taking my credit card.

I can't say exactly what called out to me yesterday afternoon. The necklace touches people in a powerful way, Maria has already seen that in just a few hours. Even this morning, when I took this photograph, I felt something strong radiant emanating it, it was  a totem of something I do not yet understand and may never understand. I know it summoned me, and I am glad I heeded the call.

Maria can tell the rest of the story, she wrote about it on her blog yesterday. She had been in a funk, drained, I thought,  from making a wall hanging piece. Some people don't really think of writing or art as work, but I can tell you it is very hard work, I am often exhausted from writing even for a few hours.

She is out of the funk now.

Maria was wary the minute she saw the box, I told her I wanted to welcome her back, she started to yell at me for buying her another gift, but then she stopped.

"Oh, wow," she said. "This is over the top." And she forgot to yell at me, and just put it on.  She said she felt the mojo also. It was very special, she said. Thanks for giving it to me.

Sometimes  you just have to listen to those voices that call you to honor love and emotion, and leave anger and fear and argument behind. She asked me what it cost. None of your business, I said, much less than you might think.

Posted in General