7 August 2017

The Devota Fund, Climbing, Climbing

The Devota Fund, Climbing, Climbing

Yesterday, we raised nearly $3,000 for the fund to help Devota Nyiraneza pay off a $10,000 loan for her son's college studies that she mistakenly thought was a financial aid package (this, according to consumer groups, is a very common mistake  by American students as well, it is easier to do that it should be).

Devota accepts trouble with grace, she has been through much worse. She walked across Central Africa in 1994 to escape the Rwandan genocide. She walked about 2,500 miles and it took her nearly a year to get to the U.N. Refugee camp in Cameroon. She carried her 3 month old daughter on her back all the way.

She works two jobs, one helping the disabled for Catholic Charities, the other mopping floors at the Albany Medical Center.

All along the route refugees were pursued, slaughtered and  raped,  Devota was assaulted four times and gave birth to four children as a result, she kept and raised each of them in the refugee camps and  her in America. She is a U.S.Citizen working two jobs to pay off her loan and care for her children.

I'm going to count the money over the next day or two, but I believe we are past the $5,000 mark. I hope to reach $10,000 before we are done, but whatever we raise will be a great help.

There was a check for $1,000 yesterday and one for $500 today – thank you – and envelopes with $2, $5, $10 and checks for $25 and $50. The small donations matter, they are inspiring and wonderful. Thank you. People are affected by her story, and are just giving what they can give. That's what makes the Army of Good so beautiful.

Yesterday was the biggest total of donations for Devota for any single day, if this keeps up for a few days, we'll either hit the goal or be close. I'm going to see  Devota on Thursday, I'll ask her if she wants to wait for the full amount or get what we have raised until then. I will keep the fund going for a week or so, we'll see what we see.

Her story has touched many people deeply, as it touched me.

I'll also be seeing Mawulidi Diodone Majaliwa, who is from Congo Kinshasa, on Thursday.He spent 20 years in a refugee camp. He was a wood-carver but he had to leave his tools from his grandfather back in Africa when he came to America last November. I'm bringing him  a small wood carving kit and enough money – at least $400 – to buy the larger tools that he needs. I have enough money on hand for that.

I hope to encourage him to explore putting up a blog so he can sell his beautiful carvings. He will need some help for that, but that's a ways off.

If you wish to donate to   the refugee/Mansion fund, you can send a donation to my post office box, Jon Katz, P.O.  Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 212816 or send a donation via Paypal, ID jon@bedlamfarm.com. And thank you.

Posted in General

Portrait: Gus, The Edward G. Robinson Of Dogs

Portrait: The Edward G. Robinson Of Dogs

People tell me they think Gus is adorable, but they don't live with him. He looks to me like Edward G. Robinson, or a Bat-dog about to fly off. He is not stuffed animal. He tortures Red, steal's Fate's bones, is inexhaustible, will eat anything not locked away, is willful and determined.

At the Mansion, he is just a doll, a cuddle bug. Around the house, he is a holy terror, I call him the Bat Dog, those ears swivel like radar receptors, they miss nothing. Today he was inside the pasture gate, and I was outside. He game over and stared at me until I let  him out, and then he jumped on me making that strange war-like sound he makes and tried to  grab my camera strap. This did not go well, but I managed to escape and he held still long enough for me to take his portrait.

I think he does look like Edward G. Robinson.

Posted in General

The Modem Terror: Learning About Anxiety, Recovering Every Day

I Get To Recover Every Day

I am fortunate to have suffered from crippling anxiety and depression for most of my life, unlike people with other chronic illnesses, I get to recover every day. I understand that people with mental illness are generally never completely free of it, but I am here to tell you that with a lot of work and focus, you can get to a very good place.

Panic has generally left me for more fertile grounds, but i had a dose of it today when I had to shut down my hardy modem and replace it with a new one, and throw my work and much of my life on the mercy of a giant corporation that pretends to care about me, but I know cannot really. They are, by definition, merciless.

Maria took charge and helped me take apart the old modem and install the activate the new one right after lunch. I kept trying to put it off, she eventually stomped her feet and said, "let's do it now." It seemed like a good deal, Spectrum is lowering my bill substantially and giving me faster Internet, part of their takeover of the old and now devoured Time Warner Cable company.

But I was  terrified about it, it kept me up for days, and I could barely come into my office to deal with. I've been in every kind of accepted treatment there is, and some that are not accepted – analysis, talking therapy, psychoanalysis, Shamonic healing, spiritual healing, Homeopathic and Holistic healing, and perhaps  a half-dozen more.

My anxiety was devastating to me, my family, my work, people who worked for me, with me, friends. It blocked or damaged or destroyed every thing I loved and wanted to do with my life.In the world I grew up in, mental illness carried great shame. My parents hid it and no one ever spoke of it. Much later, I came to know every one saw it. Shame on them.

Finally, at age 61, I confronted it directly, decided I would rather die that continue to hide from it, I entered an intense kind of dynamic social therapy, explored visualization and meditation, abandoned the medications I had become addicted to, and gave over my life to healing.

I was fortunate, and I did heal. Last night, and for reasons I can't fathom, the idea of disconnecting this modem, my literal and spiritual connection to my work, my community, my blog and photography, my writing and books simply terrified me. When the modem was connected, I called up Spectrum because it was supposed to be working in a few minutes and did not.

I was disconnected from one, then, another,  Internet support person (isn't this all familiar to us all?), then discovered that I had the modem hooked up a router than I once needed to run the computers in our house, but did not need any longer. The new modems have one built in.

My computer suddenly came online, although there was a host of mysterious software glitches and errors. Maria could not get online with her computer, yet I realized that I had learned a lot about my anxiety once more. Once gain, I saw that I must never run from it, but towards it. The anxiety itself, for all the pain it causes, cannot kill or maim me. Only the fear of it.

I knew Maria was strong and competent, I left her on the phone and went out and did chores and errands while she talked to the Internet Support group. She was not anxious.

We had finally found one who was able to stay on the phone – and he gave her a new password we forget to ask about to get onto the new Wi-Fi network. A few minutes when I got home, she was online.

Spectrum told the truth.

My new modem does work, my bill will be lower, and my Internet is as fast as Internet can be. I was offline for three hours. As usual in our lives with modern technology and gargantuan corporations, things did not go smoothly or quite as promised, but I got there. There was, of course nothing to be terrified about, that was my illness speaking, I could  see it in the daylight but not at night.

What have I learned about anxiety that I can share? First off, there is help, and it helps. It might take a long time and lots of hard work, but there is gold at the end of the rainbow, this kind of panic attack is very rare for me now. Mostly, I live in peace and find my strength and truth every day of my life.

Secondly, I do not run from my fear, I run towards it. There is nothing worse than hiding from it.

Mental illness is common, there is  no shame to it, about 47.3 million Americans are anxious, depressed, or bipolar. There is no magic wand for it, but unlike cancer or chronic heart disease, you get the chance to recover some every day. I woke up trembling and in an awful sweat, and when Maria asked what was wrong, I could not talk about it, just like the old days, from the time I was four years old. I never could talk about it, so nobody ever could help me.

But a part of me recognized it was not about something that was real, and a part of me did not. That part is getting weaker every day.

I am in a good place tonight, tired and drained, but at peace. It will take a day or two to move completely past it, it was upsetting but not that big a deal. I am exhausted from it. I get to recover every day. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is my birthday. Wednesday Maria is taking me to the race track and then out to see a play.

I am glad I got the new modem is here,, I am happy it is working. One of the good things about my illness is that I have an  almost autistic compulsion to write, create and photograph.  That may well be the reason I have panic attacks when that is threatened or shut down.

I hope the creating part of it never heals.

Posted in General

Pre-Order “Tales From The Mansion”

More than 50 copies sold

Battenkill Books reports that more than 50 copies of "Tales From The Mansion" have already  been pre-ordered through the bookstore, my local independent bookstore. You can pre-order the book here, Battenkill takes Paypal and major credit cards, you can also call the store at 518 677 2515.

The book is 38 pages long, and contains 15 short stories written by the residents of the Mansion, a Medicaid Assisted Care Facility in Cambridge, N.Y. The stories are touching, funny, surprising, the result of a writing workshop I conducted earlier this year. The book also contains 10 of my photos, taken at a reading of the short stories in July.

The book was compiled by Julie Smith, the Activities Director, and me. The first printing will be 200 copies, and half of those books will be distributed free to the Mansion residents and members of their families. It is an exciting and important project for me, these are people living on the edge of life, and they sometimes feel abandoned and discarded. Their stories are important.

"Tales From The Mansion" costs $10. All proceeds will go to support weekly outings for the Mansion residents. You can pre-order the book here, there are about 50 copies left in the first printing. People who pre-order the book will also receive a free Tote-Bag promoting literacy and independent bookstores (and dogs.)

I will be happy to sign copies of the book if people want that. Thanks. You can order the book here.

Posted in General

The Modem Terror

Modem Terror

I was treated for chronic anxiety for 30 years, and became a valium addict in the process.

My panic attacks were so severe and debilitating, they often derailed my life. My anxiety is mostly gone, echoes of the past, a show more than a presence. I rarely have panic attacks any longer but I had a severe one in the middle of  last night.

I am surprised to tell you that the panic attack was a modem terror, an odd thing to have me sweating and sleepless and shivering at 2 o'clock in the morning.

I got a new modem in the mail from my new Internet Service Provider, Spectrum (which bought Time-Warner). Spectrum is owned by AT&T and pretty soon, one company – Amazon probably – will own all of it. The company contacted me recently  to tell me that there was a new pricing system, and get this: my Internet signal would be strengthened, my bill lowered as part of their new pricing plan.

All I had to do was receive my new model, install it myself, call the company to activate it. It would be simple. I agreed to this plan, but it  unsettled me from the first. Big corporations don't just lower rates and give away improved service, do they? And the cardinal lesson I have learned about new technology is that usually when companies assure me things are simple, that is a sure sign that catastrophe looms just around the corner.

I started to have images in my head, and dreams at night about disconnecting my modem, installing the one, and finding my work and creative life shut down – no sending of chapters to my editor, no blog, no posting photos about Gus, the Mansion the Refugees, so much of my life frozen while some giant company told me a technician would get to my farm in a few days.

For my work and writing, three days is a lifetime.

I have been dealing with technology, and well, ever since I bought my first Apple computer more than 30 years ago. Steve Jobs helped enable my creative work from writing to photography. I have not had a true panic attack in some years, and why now, and why over this?

Somehow, the threat of losing my working modem has terrified me, Maria is urging me to try to install it today, but frankly, I'm just too frightened, even terrified, I'm embarrassed to say to try it, especially with my birthday coming up on Tuesday (we're going to the track on Wednesday, this is my birthday gift).

I have this image in my head of the modem not working, wading through the Spectrum phone tree, arguing for a technician to come in one day rather than three. And my entire creative life, for which I have worked so hard, and is so precious to me, is shut down. And Maria's too, my Wi-Fi is her Wi-Fi, the one modem serves both of us.

So she couldn't sell her art, and I couldn't write. Yoiks.

And this for a company giving me better Internet service for less money Am I delusional? Regressing? Suffering from Tech PTSD? Past ghosts looming up?  I know I am mentally ill, and perhaps need to be reminded that people like me are never fully cured, we just learn how to cope well. The beast is always lurking in there, it was just sleeping and waiting for a new modem to arrive.

I think one of the great lies of our time is "oh, this should be simple and work fine." It does not happen that way a lot more than it does happen. It is almost never simple and quite off works quite poorly.

I think the vulnerability has come from the fact that the blog and the work on it seems more urgent than before. In addition to the stories about my life and animals, there is the work of the Army Of Good, for the refugees and the Mansion. But I must not succumb to that kind of panic or loss of perspective.

The world will survive, and perhaps even be improved, if I am quiet for a couple of days until a tech person arrives.

And what about the possibility that the modem will actually work, that I'll plug all of the right things into the right holes and the modem will be activated quickly and I'll have a better Internet service for less money?

It's possible, isn't it, even if I don't quite believe it? Maria is urging me to do this today, and I think she is right. I learned the long and hard way that the best approach to panic is to confront it and look it right in the eye. I want to move forward, not fall backward.

I'm going to close my eyes and do it this afternoon. One thing I learned is that is much more frightening to hide your fears than to confront them and bring them out into the open.

So this afternoon, I'll disconnect the old modem and install the new modem and try to  have it activated over the phone. I will either be right here posting tonight or offline for a day or so until someone from Spectrum gets here. Either way I think the world will still be revolving around the sun when it's all settled.

But do me a favor, and pray for me, just in case.

Posted in General