22 May 2017

This Weekend: Robin, RISSE Soccer Team Come To Bedlam

Saturday In Bedlam

This will be a big weekend at Bedlam Farm. My daughter Emma and Robin, my granddaughter are coming Thursday, staying over the weekend, and the RISSE soccer team – refugee and immigrant children from all over the world – will be coming Saturday.

I'm making no plans for Emma and Robin, other than that they relax and maybe go to pizza night at the new Round House and take a stroll down Main Street sometime. I think they both need to rest and experience some donkeys, sheep and affectionate dogs and barn cats.

I haven't seen Robin in months, she has changed quite a bit. She talks a bit, stands up and seems game for almost anything, she has already been all over New York City. I've got a car seat, high chair, crib, baby monitor, eco-friendly diapers and wipes, bananas, cheerios and fruit. Got some toys as well.

I have this feeling she will love the donkeys, but we'll see. She can love whatever she wishes, or none of it. I think Emma could use some help and some rest. I'd love for her to leave refreshed and ready again for the big city.

Saturday afternoon, the RISSE (refugee and immigrant support center of Albany) soccer team, 16 players strong,  will arrive in a van around 1 p.m.

Ali (Ahmad Abdullah Mohammed), their teacher and driver and coach, will be shepherding them all. My plan is for them to see Red and Fate work the sheep, meet the donkeys, see Maria's studio. We have a healer friend who might make it to talk to them about stress and movement.

After an  hour or so, we'll head over to Pompanuck Farm where they eat some fresh, healthy and gourmet pizza from Scott and Lisa Carrino and the Round House, they are donating some of the cost to the kids, and thanks. The kids will eat and then ride down the big hill to Bejosh Farm where Ed and Carol Gulley will meet them with cows and ice cream and talk about how a dairy farm works.

Ed is memorable, they will not soon forget him. I'll be taking photos.

Many of these kids grew up in refugee camps, and few of them have been outside of Albany much since they got here. This visit is something of a dry run, in July and August, another 90 kids will come, one group at a time, on Tuesdays and Thursdays through July and August.

This will be a test of timing and practicality and to see what they like and enjoy the most. I hope it will be a special time for them, it will certainly be a special time for us. How great to have my daughter and granddaughter here as well, Emma is eager to participate and help out. I have this feeling the kids will love Robin and vice versa.

This trip will be at no cost to RISSE or the kids, and Scott and I will work out an arrangement for the pizza for Saturday and for the summer. He is eager to help, and he and Lisa have very big hearts.  I am very pleased that people in our town are eager to meet them and show what it means to have a community, and also show them that we do not believe they have come to harm us in any way.

If there's time, I'd love to take them into the book store, but the schedule is already tight..

I'm excited, I hope they feel as welcome as they are and get a look at the true spirit of America, we are a land of big hearts, open spaces generous hearts.

(Tomorrow, I'm going a talk and reading at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y., from 6 to 8 p.m. I'm leaving Red, he's still recovering.)

Posted in General

One Great Thing About Being Old. Everything Is Of The Moment.

Life Is Of The Moment

I am at peace with growing older. An editor once warned me never to write too much about getting older, younger people and book buyers will not want to know anything about it. Fortunately, I have not found that to be true. My readers range from the 20's to the 70's and I am happy to have them all.

I have often tried to explain to my younger friends the liberating aspect of growing older, but I sense they don't grasp it or perhaps, buy it. It was Joseph Campbell who put it well: "One great thing about growing old is that nothing is going to lead to anything. Everything is of the moment.”

This is profoundly true for me. I have one thing to lose, and it is enormous – my love for and with Maria. I have nothing to fear in the past and nothing I do or write or photograph will lead to much of anything in the future. I am not Grandma Moses, I do not expect to get discovered in the coming years and vault to fame and riches.

Only I will confess that it was only in the past year or so that I really came to believe this is so, that I let go of those other kinds of dreams.

A part of being public in America these days is being loved, a part is being attacked. Like night and day, one now goes with the other. There is something schizophrenic about it, there is something challenging and grounding about it, once you see its inevitability.

I am finally learning what it means to be free. I have nothing much to lose, nothing much to gain. I can think as I wish. I have nothing to fear from anyone, nothing to want from anyone. Nothing is going to lead to anything but now.

Earlier this morning, I wrote about my gnawing sense that America is suddenly for sale, including some of its most elemental parts and values and pieces. It was only a few seconds before somebody wrote to say I was "sickening." I replied, I thanked  her for her thoughtful comments.

That is where we are in America. It is "sickening" to think out loud.

The truth is, the privilege of my lifetime is being who I am, and I am just beginning to know who I am and accept it. I have no interests in joining the pundit class, they are doing enough hard on their own. But I do think of what precisely the role of the artist is in troubled times.

Toni Morrison wrote a famous manifesto about this some years ago, she said troubles times are "precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." It is critical, she wrote, not to surrender to malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge, even wisdom. The same is true for writing and art.

I believe in truth and I believe in words and feelings, and I think all of those things heal. In a world where ideas can barely live before they are smothered in anger and need, I think my role is to remind people that there is light and color in the world. Not to lecture, but to speak when something is on my mind.

And that it is okay to think for oneself and to give voice to your thoughts.

When something is on my mind, and I do not speak, then I am no longer free, and that is a kind of death, a malevolence all of its own. When I become afraid to speak, then I am gone.

My friends often tell me – Maria, too – that I am one of those people who will get hauled out of bed at night and shot when dictators rule. That seems a little dramatic to me, my writing falls far short of revolutionary or threatening.  It is difficult to imagine that anyone will find me that important.

But it is true that writers and artists are the first to go. Take Red to a nearby sheep farm and throw him over the fence.

But that all seems dark and somewhat hysterical to me, we are not there yet, we are far from there, and unlike many of the people I know, I do not think we are not drifting towards Armageddon but instead heading for one of the great political conflicts in the history of our country.

I wish for a leader who emerges who rises above division and ideology and truly cares about people, the vulnerable as well as the rich, the content and the left behind, and who is committed to finding common and healing ground rather than dividing and angering us.

History tells me that there is such a man or woman out there, and he or she will not be a slave of the left or the right, but a true servant of the people, and warrior for the voiceless and the young.

I write for today. The future does not belong to me, I have had my time, and my life is in the moment. The young will have their revolution, they always do. They are the future.

I do believe I will see her.

She is coming through, I can hear her song. Hallelujah.

Posted in General

Is My Country For Sale? Keeping Down The Rabble…

Is My Country For Sale?

I try not to watch the news too often, but I also feel I should try to keep up, and I looked in my phone this morning to see some of the festivities in Saudi Arabia, the Gold Swords and opulent palaces and mountains of fresh flowers and fruit, flown in from all over the earth.

I was startled by what I was seeing, in a country where some people are terrified of losing their health care and others are terrified to drive down a road if there is a police care ther, the barons and rulers and arms makers  of the earth are holding feasts and celebrations with Golden Swords, glowing orbs, dancing soldier and mountains of lobster and fish and beef that would have shamed Maria Antoinette.

It was the kind of gala that cost her her head, but was being presented to us as  the arrival of a new world order. If you read some history, it will look very much like the old one, before revolutionaries in France and America had a new idea called liberty.

I felt cut off from myself, disconnected from my country, and I had this recurring idea, it kept flashing through my mind, that our country and everything in it is now for sale.

And the rich Kings and Princes and Saudis and fawning and bowing American leaders were in a buying and deal-making mood, it was gleefully announced that the Kingdom would soon be investing in billions of dollars worth of American infrastructure in exchange for being permitted to buy hundreds of billions of dollars in bombs, jet fighter planes and the newest tanks.

And all of this in the name of  a new kind of harmony and peace. It  was some sort of over-the-top Devil's Feast it seemed to me, it has about as much to do with working people or peace and harmony as me as diving off the Australian reefs in a yacht.

Everytime I look at the news, I see that something new is for sale, another deal in the making  – the media, health care, national parks, prisons, seats in Congress, schools big banks, immigrants and refugees, the environment and the earth itself,  tax reform, oil and gas reserves,  cabinet positions.

My country is having a giant yard sale, the biggest in the modern world. We are selling everything we are to the deepest pockets and nastiest people on the planet. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is sacred.

What, I wonder, happened to working people anyway?

They have never, in my lifetime, been more beleaguered, underpaid, discouraged, or broke. They seem broken and disoriented to me, cheering on the very people who are grinding them into the dirt.

After watching the almost grotesquely opulent ceremonies in Saudi Arabia, one of the world's most repressive and cruel countries, I saw a piece in the New York Times called "Alone on the Open Road: Truckers Feel Like 'Throwaway People."

I remember when trucking was  valued middle-class work that paid well and brought hard-working people into the middle class. Now it is a brutish and miserable profession that pays little, has awful working conditions, no benefits,  an 80 per cent annual turnover, and is hated by the people doing it and the people they serve. It's worth reading this piece.  Look what they've done to work, I thought, destroying yet another kind of valued labor for more money.

And look at what have they done to working class.

Have working people been so ground into the dirt that they can no longer tell friends from enemies or organize to better their lives? We live in a country where fast food workers and Wal-Mart employees apply for welfare and food stamps to live (while the family that owns Wal-Mart now owns 40 per cent of the nation's wealth?)

Where Amazon warehouse workers have GPS devices attached to their legs so that their bosses will know if they pause to rest or go to the bathroom?

Look at how they rail and tremble at even the mention of socialism?  Could it possibly be as bad as life in an Amazon warehouse?

Wait until they encounter the Communists again, they are practically begging for them to return.

I took out my dog-eared copy of Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles Of Concentration Of Wealth And Power, by Naom Chomsky, a wise and honest teacher.

I opened to page 107, the chapter was called Keep The Rabble In Line, and there, Chomsky was writing about what I was reading about,  the brutal war against organized labor, which he calls "the one barrier to this vicious cycle going on, which leads to corporate tyranny."

A major reason for the concentrated, almost fanatic attack on unions and organized labor is that they are a democratizing force, Chomsky writes. They provide a barrier that defends workers' rights, but also popular rights generally. This interferes with the prerogatives and power of the corporations and those who own and manage our society, and who now collect all but a fraction of the wealth.

If you have also been watching the news,  you may also see that we are now living in a Corporate Nation. Every legislation, appointment, government agency is for them.

And who really speaks for the working class? The right? The left?

"I should say," writes Chomsky, "that anti-union sentiment in the United States is so strong that the fundamental core of labor rights – the basic principle in the International Labor Organization, which is the right of free association, hence the right to form unions – has never been ratified by the United States. In 1978, the head of the United Auto Workers said that "business is waging a one-sided class war against the working class." Then, more than 60 per cent of working people belonged to unions, and the middle class thrived.

A generation later, the war is over.

By now, less than 7 per cent of private sector workers have unions.

Today, the working class is suffering epidemic poverty, suicide, drug addiction, shorter life spans, depression and declining wages. No wonder. There is no middle-class left for them to get to.

Like the truck drivers and fast food workers and Amazon warehouse employees, they have become the new "Throwaway People," the people left behind and who cannot get ahead, victims of a culture that celebrates the idea that good business means getting as wealthy as possible and forgetting about everybody else.

The mountains of lobster and wine and the mountains of caviar and prime steak flown in and served with our President's favorite ketchup in the desert last night turned my stomach a bit. The corporate journalists could hardly contain themselves, this was, they gushed, so presidential.

What, I wondered was the message for me? Of course, I realized. There is no message for me.

I remember when it was our values that we sold and promoted, not just our money and workers.

Posted in General

Bald Eagle In The Maple: Visitor And Mother. Selflessness.

Eagle And Mother

We started getting calls and e-mails this morning reporting that a big and beautiful Bald Eagle was nesting at the very top of one of our big old Maple trees. We went out to look and we saw him (or her) sitting proudly up there. We also saw a wren or swallow mom trying to protect her nest.

She kept coming closer to the eagle, dive-bombing him and trying to lure him away from her nest. Her mate kept cropping up on the other side harassing him and trying to distract him. It was nice to see the eagle, even more inspiring to see the dedication of these two small birds, the eagle could have killed either one of them in a flash.

We also noticed that the chickens were hiding  under the roost, they didn't come out until he left. Nature is the greatest show, it offers up endless lessons and stories and parables. I thought this wren the bravest creature, she went right over the eagle's head five or six times, happy, even eager to sacrifice herself for her young.

The mothers in nature are among the most selfless creatures on the earth.

Posted in General

All Clear: Red’s Fine.

Red Gets The All Clear

Red got the all clear from Dr. Suzanne Fariello this morning at the Cambridge Veterinary Service this morning, she said he looked great, had a great pulse and heartbeat and was doing beautifully. He has no fever, and is eating heartily. He remains on antibiotics for the next tree weeks and she recommended rest and light work for awhile.

We've dropped all of the other meds.

"He's good to go," she said, sweet words, given that I thought we were losing him just about a week ago.

Dr. Fariello said his energy was still a bit low. We thanked her and I agreed to begin a series of preventative and maintenance treatments – acupuncture,  massage. Dr. Fariello has become more and more interested in Chinese veterinary medicine, including acupuncture. I am becoming an admirer of this occasional approach as well.

I thought she did a wonderful job treating Red, the severity of his four tick-borne infections was surprising and unnerving, but she quickly and systematically ruled out things like cancer, kidney and liver disease and focused on the tick-borne infections. He started eating again, his fever broke, and he looks great.

I'm keeping him on light work for another week or so, but will resume our visits to the Mansion two or three times a week, starting today.  It's important to the residents, it's important to him. There are lots of ways to heal.

I am grateful to all of the love and support Red and Maria and I received last week, for all of my grumbling about social media, it made a difference. It was comforting and grounding.

I'm sorry to be putting off the amateur veterinarians, I know they were trying to be helpful, but the way my mind works is that I need to focus on one true vet and trust him or her, and not fill my head with other people's ideas and experiences. Boundaries, boundaries.

I think that worked for Red. Maria was wonderfully wise and supportive, Dr. Farliello was steady and thoughtful and strong. It all worked as it was supposed to work, and Red is bouncing  back wonderfully. I am lucky and grateful and glad that I shared the experience.


Posted in General