13 August 2017

At The Mansion: Learning To Love Mercy.

Peggie At The Mansion

Like many people, I avoided the institutionalized elderly for much of my life. Young people are terrified of the elderly, I think, they remind them of mortality, something they do not wish to know about so early in life. People used to die at home, but now they die in hospitals and nursing homes. Before World War II, 93 per cent of Americans died at home, now about 17 per cent of Americans die at home.

We have outsourced death to giant pharmaceutical and other medical organizations and institutions for the elderly, most of us don't need to see it or know much of anything about it.  We don't see to see it or experience it, these people are the Invisible Nation, they have vanished from magazines, books, media, TV and movies, music and culture.

Corporations make billions of dollars keeping the elderly alive an on pills and procedures, but the taxpayers are getting tired of paying for it, and there is more and more talk about cutting back on "entitlements," the terms we now use for the programs that keep older people alive.

There is really little national debate about what to do with the advanced elderly, as they get sick, become immobile, require more care. Generally, the way it works is this, I have seen it too many times. People, as the age, become more seriously ill. As they age, they lose almost all control over their lives.

They are shuttled back and forth to nursing homes, hospitals and rehab centers, getting operations and pills as they go. They become less active and lose control of their lives, and eventually, when modern medicine and drug companies and insurance companies have bled them dry, they are permitted to die, or rather they simply expire.

I appreciate working at the Mansion. It has changed me and enriched me.

It seems like an oasis to me, in a way,  the residents, given their circumstances, are cheerful, courteous, and often upbeat. Many of them have an active and sharp sense of humor. People know them and care about them there. They are blessed with a staff of mostly working class and underpaid people who care about them, help them, and love them.

I began my work with the elderly about a decade ago, when I started doing hospice work with two of my dogs, Izzy and Lenore. Lenore didn't make it, she liked the patients' food too much. Izzy was a wonderful therapy dog. I spent a lot of time with the advanced elderly, and I realized that this work was not depressing, although sometimes sad. It was uplifting.

In hospice work, I generally didn't get to know too many people for too long. In the work at the Mansion, I decided to stop going from one institution to another and instead stay put in one place. It was a good decision, I came to know people well and understand better how to help them. They adore Red and have formed powerful attachments to  him.

I often laugh and joke with them, we laugh about memory, pills, and aging.  I find them brave and thoughtful, and of course, why wouldn't they be? They are just people, like you and me. I have resolved to not forget them or let them be forgotten. I find so many people out in the world are eager to know them and read about their lives. I am driven to tell their stories.

As well run as the Mansion is, life is hard for these people. People come and go, get sick and die,  lose their memory, and eventually their health. People disappear and don't return, are much-loved, and then vanish. It takes a toll. Understanding this has been a gift for me, I am coming to terms with mortality and with mercy.

I can't do this work and completely continue to be me. If I had to become a better person to have a better dog, I have to become an even better person to know these people and help them. The spark of life and love is in them, I see it now, they are no longer pale ghosts fading into the sunset.

I am learning to let go of being prickly and detached and judgmental, angry or impatient. I stop, pull back,  take a breath.

What's the catch?

The catch is that there is no catch.

All I have to do is learn to love mercy.

Posted in General

Helping Sandi Bachom, A Brave Journalist And Patriot. A Casualty Of Charlottesville.

Sandi Bachom in Charlottesville Saturday.

Sandi  Bachom is a brave and ferociously honest videographer, journalist and patriot, she went to Charlottesville, Va., yesterday, spending $300 of her own money (she does not have a lot of money) to document  current events like the New York Carriage Horse controversy and yesterday, what is happening to our country in Virginia.

The violence in Charlottesville yesterday was one of the most disturbing and violent experiences in modern American history, made all the more so because so many of our leaders waffled over condemning it. Of course, Sandi Bachom, a friend, was in the thick of it. Where else would she be?

I know her well, she is a hero and inspiration to me, she is passionately committed to truth, reckless with her own safety, and sticking her neck out in the highest traditions both of patriotism and journalism. She has never blinked from danger, she always tells the truth, and she knows what facts are. No one has captured the anger and struggle of the New York Carriage Horse trade better than  Sandi.

Sandi went to Charlottesville to film the protests and counter protests as an accredited member of the media, she was there to work on an ongoing project to document current events.

While filming, she was pepper sprayed by protesters, and she still can't stop coughing, even a day later. She had sewage and urine and ink thrown on her. She was, as she always is, in the middle of the trouble.

She fell while filming and hit her head on the pavement and broke her wrist. She was taken to the emergency room just  minutes before the terrorist drove through the same street, right where she was filming.

Sandi spent $300 – she is by no means wealthy –  to go to where the action was, she was committed to showing what it happening in America, just as she has been committed to telling the truth about the New York Carriage Horses. Anyone who cares about truth  or who loves animals owes her a great debt. Sadly, Sandi  will have medical bills. She broke her glasses. She suffered dental damage. And she broke the camera on her phone, an essential tool for her.

Anyone who wants to send her some monetary support can do so through her PayPal account: Getreel@earthlink.net. Sandi is the real deal, we are all pressured to care for others during this time, Sandi is one of the most deserving people I know of. I sent her money without hesitation. If you are so moved, it would be great to help her. You can send her money on Paypal via Getreel@earthlink.net. I do not have any other address now.

Posted in General

Little Windows: The Rise Of The Humble Potholders

Little Window Potholders

Maria's humble potholders have risen to almost mythic status in the nearly 10 years that she has been making them.  The potholders have changed Maria's life, mine too, I think. They were conceived in the dark days of the Great Recession and both of our struggles to survive as creative people in the midst of a number of traumatic personal crises.

Maria had given up her art, and had almost abandoned any hope of resuming it. Divorce and recession didn't help.

When she sold her first potholder nine years ago, they were $9. Under intense financial and husbandly pressure, Maria reluctantly and gradually raised the to $15, which they cost now, plus shipping. She knows, as I do, that they are worth more but she is adamant about keeping them inexpensive enough so that everyone who wants one can buy them.

This is important to her, and thus to me. She very much wants her art to be accessible, and not out of reach of most people.

Over the years, more and more people have been sending her striking fabrics – like this one – that now shape and grace the potholders. And more and more people have been buying them, it is a kind of club, even a community.

And her fame is spreading. She was invited to India this February to teach some women there to earn a living making potholders and other fiber works people might buy there. For young women in India – Maria went to Kolkata – a trade can mean life or death.

The potholders have become a great symbol to us, although Maria now knows that she can also sell her quilts and hanging pieces and scarves. And she is an artist, even she doesn't doubt it.

The potholders have earned a particular loyalty and a place in both of our hearts. At the time she started making them, Maria never believed anyone would buy anything she made, and for a few months, that was true. It was a scary time for both of us, my publishing life had also fallen apart, the potholders lifted our hopes and spirits. They seem hardy and unpretentious, it was exciting to see  how Maria had turned a potholder into an abstract and graceful art form.

Some are funny, some poignant, some political (remember the Penis potholder?), like the one, are just lovely. Maria's calls this new series "The Little Window" Potholders. If you are interested in one, you can e-mail Maria at maria@fullmoonfiberart.com and see them on her website. They are, of course, $15 plus shipping, and they will probably be $15 plus shipping for a while yet.

And because they are unique and crafted (and signed) and inexpensive, they have, as she hoped, found a place in the homes of all kinds of women all over the country and some of the world. People usually send her photographs of the potholders on their walls or in their kitchens (many people hang them up rather than use them.) They message her often and many have become friends.

I think the potholders saved her artistic career in some ways, at the time she started making them, nobody was buying anything, the nation was terrified about the economy. The potholders gave her strength and confidence to hang in there. She didn't ask me about them, but I tried to support them in every way, I think they are wonderful and unique.

When Maria and I first got together, we started going to crafts fairs in New York and Vermont, setting up tents, hanging on for dear life in the wind, staying dry in the rain and warm in the cold. Mostly we watched people stroll by and not buy quilts, or hanging pieces.

The potholders are woven into Maria's work and life. She has sold nearly all of them, she sometimes gives them away, she has kept a few for herself.

The potholders inspired us to break away from that model and turn to our blogs to sell our work and support our lives. Since then, she has sold every single one that she has made and put on sale. Today, I salute the humble potholder. They gave a very worthy artist the courage to hang on.

Posted in General

Updates: Hastening Back To Life: Jorsein Mayo And The Army Of Good

Hastening Back To Life

When I was young and quite unhappy, I attended a Quaker Meeting In Providence, Rhode Island, and a gentle Friend took me aside – I think I was 13 or 14 and he said that people could try to tear me down and knock me down at any time, but they could never keep me from getting back up.

He also said that the best response to evil was to do good. The more evil, the more good, until someone stops us.

Today, I take that message to heart and offer updates for the Army Of Good and their great works. The news knocks us down sometimes – often – but we just get back to work and hasten back to life.

Today, I introduce you to Jorsein Mayo, who is 13 years old and is from Thailand. He lives in a tough neighborhood in Albany, New York and has some severe learning challenges, his teachers worry that he is falling too far behind, his parents speak no English at all and love him but cannot  really help him.

The staff is RISSE is worried about the dangerous choices troubled kids can make on those streets. And many of the families cannot pay the 4, 888 tuition. They try to keep the kids in school either way, but they are struggling too. They have to pay for supplies and teachers and transportation.

Jorsein is enrolled in the RISSE summer and after school program, where they know him, and he is comfortable, and he can get the tutoring and special work he needs, RISSE's staff is worried about him because when refugee children turn 13, and the federal subsidy that pays for their tuition at RISSE runs out.

I know Jorsein, he is a sweet and generous young man with a ready smile, and I see he does need some help, and urgently.

RISSE has  more than a score of refugee children in that circumstance, they face a shortfall of $73, 320 dollars this Fall to keep these children in their school after they turn 13 where they can keep off the streets,  supervised, and receive the tutoring and special teaching they desperately need, if they are to keep up in our public schools.

RISSE does not boot needy children out of their schools,  but they need help in order to keep teaching them. They are advising me as to which children have the most urgent need.  Jorsein Mayo is the first one they have asked me to help.

The federal government does not provide any support for these children after the age of 13, and the programs that do exist may be severely cut or curtailed by the new administration.  At this age, the need is especially great, because their scores very much affect their future, and some of these kids simply drop out of frustration or failure. They can get lost.

I am not asking for $73,000 or anything like it, I respect your boundaries as well as mine. I think we can help, is all.

That is well beyond the big hearts even of the Army Of Good, but I would like to focus on a few of the children who are the neediest and try to offer several of them some help, so they can stay in school. My philosophy is one at a time, we fill one hole at a time.

Today, I am more dedicated than ever at fighting for some of the values we share. There are two ways to help Jorsein, who is also a member of the RISSE soccer team. You can contribute directly to RISSE on their website through credit cards or paypal. These contributions to RISSE are tax deductible.

Some of you are more comfortable sending me contributions to support these refugee children and the Mansion residents, and I will see that a portion of those donations also goes to Jorsein and some of the other refugee children in great need. I hope to support RISSE in a number of ways, but I am also getting to know the refugees well and wish to support them personally, apart from RISSE. Both are good ways to help.

It costs about $99 a day to pay for RISSE's educational programs, we can't pay for all of these kids, but we can help some, the ones whose educational needs are the neediest. You can also send your contributions directly to me, as some of  you prefer. I am always looking for opportunities to help the Mansion residents and the refugees, young and old. Some of these activities are out of the scope of organizations and institutions – boat rides, clothes, amusement park and museum trips language and music classes,  upcoming books of stories, air conditioners, retreats, trips to the movies, money for special tutoring and scholarships.  

Please mark all contributions to me on your checks or paypal messages depending on your intention: some are for my blog, some are for the Mansion residents, some are for the refugees, some are for me to do as I think best for both. I like having that freedom – things change very rapidly in this work –  and I will use it well and share the results,  but it's up to you. Every penny goes where it is supposed to go, and if for some reason that isn't feasible (death, change, etc.) it will go somewhere similiar.

You can send those donations to me, c/o Jon Katz, P.O.  Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. Out of those funds I am seeking to pay down Devota's loan, to buy all the carving tools Maliwulidi (and some other adult male and female refugees need),   to send some Mansion residents outings like  a boat ride around Lake George (something they have been dreaming about for a long time), to buy ice cream for their outings, household supplies, blankets and silverware, soccer balls, prayer rugs,  parties, birthday celebrations, books, art supplies for Connie, Jane and the residents, to publish a book of their stories (Tales Of The Mansion)  picnic tables for outside on the lawn, purchase soap and shampoo (we have enough) and support the individual needs of the residents – like a Bible CD set and CD player for Art.

We all have to manage our own lives and take care of ourselves first, before we can help others, so I do not expect miracles, or even success every single time. We do the best we can for as long as we can, and today I re-dedicate myself to that work. The more evil I see, the more good I will try to do. Thanks for coming along on this amazing trip.

Posted in General

My Five Steps To Life: Dreaming Of Charlottesville. The Opening Flower

My Five Steps

I have pretty much devoted much of my life these days to staying grounded, trying to do good, trying to use my writing and photos and blog to be creative, to uplift and inspire, daunting tasks for so flawed and humbled a human being. I am no saint, I am not always even very nice.

I do always wish to be better.

But my heart broke a little bit watching the news this morning, and I wanted to share my Five Steps For Dealing With Awful Things. Our idea of old age in America is deceptive, even though my energies are not those of my youth, this is the time of the opening flower for me, the time of fulfillment, the bringing for of what I have prepared myself to bring forth as I approach the next phase of my life, or my death.

I do not see life as a loss, but at as a blooming. Every day brings us a choice: are we standing at the locked gate, or at the open door? Everything we face is one or the other, a gate or a door. I choose the door, light and darkness are not different things, but one thing.

Today, another opportunity to grow. To turn away from anger, hatred, division and self-righteousness.To cleanse ourselves of poison.

That is how I feel about the shocking and awful scenes from Charlottesville, one I never imagined I would ever see in the country that saved me and my family from the very ideas and hatred others are marching for. Such scenes mean different things to different people, we all live on our separate paths.

I am grateful my grandmother and grandfather did not live to see Nazi's parading down an American Main Street, I don't know that they could have survived that. I am thinking of African-Americans and their families watching in great suffering as broken people celebrate slavery and slaughter.

It is never my wish to divide, but I will gladly share the steps I take to stay hopeful and hopefully, helpful. I believe that truth and compassion are stronger than hatred and evil. They might not always prevail, but they will always ultimately prevail, or the world cannot survive. I think it is not the duty of my God to give us perfect lives, only hope.

I first think of the person I most love, and express my gratitude for them. I think of Maria, sleeping so peacefully in bed, of her great heart and loving spirit. I think of my friends, my work, my daughter, and of Red and his healing work, and Fate and her energy, and then of little Gus and of the sunshine he has brought to my life. This softens my heart, and reminds me that life is good.

I think of prayer and contemplation and meditation, the pathway for me away from hatred and anger. I go to my sacred space. There, I turn inward, to my better angels, and think of the ways in which I can be better, more loving. I think of the art of listening, of walking through the door that has appeared. How to be more human? More just. More empathetic. Better than this.

I connect with another human being. This morning, I think I will go see Art at the Mansion Assisted Care Facility and pray with him for healing and comfort to those who were hurt or killed. Art and I are so different, yet that is the point, isn't it? We can sit together and pray together and speak to our own Gods and plea for a better world. The world is a mess. The world has always been a mess. The world is a glorious place.

I create things, I wrote and take pictures that remind myself and some people of the color and light in the world.

I am training myself in the quality of love.  Love is the point, said God in the Kabbalah, said Jesus in Jerusalem.

There is only one way to enter the mystery of the Open Heart, wrote the mystics. You love your God to the extreme, whoever he or she is,  not abandoning devotion for any reason, for any sad or troubling or hateful news. You attend to the demands of your heart and soul, the remainder of your time on the earth is for whatever else you need.

Healing comes from within, not without. First, take care of yourself. You can not save the world, but you can make a joyous noise.

When it comes to weakness or tragedy  – through old age, disease or the hatred of others – we free ourselves from these awful wounds just as a mango or fig or apple releases itself from its bond, and we hasten back to life. Just walk through the door.

Those are my steps this morning, they are the only things I can offer. I don't presume that my own wisdom works for anyone else, I am not a priest. I can just be open about what works for me. Another chance to do good rather than lament evil, I suppose that is the devotion I will not abandon.

So I offer that, and a photo of Gus, which seems to make everyone smile. Today is another door, and I will walk through it.

Posted in General