The Open House
The Tin Man (Ed Gulley's creation) is out in front of our farmhouse ready to greet visitors this Saturday to our eighth annual Open House. Next year, we're planning one Open House, also in October, an important change, one that reflects the changes in our lives, and in my case, a deeply personal evolution.
The Open House may be the most deeply personal thing I do every year, and the fact that Maria and I do it together gives it even more meaning, I'll try to explain the import of it for me. I first thought of an Open House eight years ago, and my idea was a celebration of Maria's evolving life as an artist.
Maria and I had fallen in love while encouraging the creativity in one another, and in other people. That was the point, that was the idea, the seed of the Open Houses. The Open Houses are about a number of things, but the major one for me is us. It is about us, and our love for one another and our commitment to one another. It is a celebration of us.
At the time of the first Open Houses, HBO's movie about my move upstate (Jeff Bridges played me, if you can believe it) had recently been filmed, and there was a steady stream of starstruck people by Bedlam Farm, then in the hamlet of Hebron, N.Y. I was, for a few months, a rock star, people asking me for autographs, driving by day and night, sending me gifts and paintings in the mail.
The first Open House was also held soon after Simon the rescue donkey came to our farm, and he was also a star, drawing hundreds of people. Maria found a half-dozen artists and she and they showed their work in the beautiful old Pig Barn, which she had helped restore before we were together. It was overwhelming, about 1,500 came we actually had to hire security to control the throngs.
My life – our life – changed rapidly after that. The great recession hit, publishing changed, I was no longer a star, and people stopped driving by or asking me for my autograph. My books were no longer New York Times Bestsellers, and the reporters stopped calling me, the editors stopped inviting me to New York, or even speaking with me.
I had become committed to my blog, my new creative focal point, and people in the other world, my long-time publishing world, didn't get it and didn't like it. Once again, I was an outlier, a renegade.
Divorce had left me without any savings, as divorces will do. I had broken down, and finally got serious about getting help and getting well. Talk about change.
Maria and I realized that we could no longer afford the first farm – people were stunned when we put it up for sale – and we bought a smaller second farm, this one.
To the surprise of everyone, especially us and our bank and our realtor, we were not able to sell the first Bedlam Farm, not for four years. We fought for as long as we could, but the cost of maintaining both properties made things so much worse. We ended up selling it for a fraction of what we thought it was worth. The money went to the bank.
On top of everything else, this led us into debt and eventually we filed for bankruptcy.
We thought we would lose the second farm as well, the one we live in now. We were within a hair of being homeless.
But we didn't lose the farm, we worked things out with our bank and paid off our debts, and I changed further. I took full responsibility for my finances, something I had always shuttled off on others, and while we still don't have much money, we manage it much better. And we are very happy.
I wouldn't change a minute of those years, this is best time of my life. I am not a star anymore, but life has never been better for me, or more meaningful.
The Open Houses were a fixed point, something we didn't abandon, something that anchored us. We drew so much strength and sustenance from the good people who travel great distances all year to meet us, see Maria's art, watch me work with the dogs, and support us and our work. The Open Houses brought both of us into direct contact with my book and our blog readers,and Maria's art customers. We made many powerful connections that have sustained and inspired us.
How barren it might have been if we stopped sharing our lives and opening them up.
The Open Houses were our mirror on the world, a chance to open ourselves up and share our lives. Many people thought we were nuts to invite strangers onto our farm, we believed we were just getting sane, especially me.
Human beings are human beings, and it seems that whenever three or more people gather for any purpose, there is conflict.
There was more trouble to come to the Open House, the politics and division that so often plagued people came here also, and there was deep and ugly conflict involving myself and members of a creative group I had started.
I was quite oblivious to the dynamics and politics unfolding, and many of them had no idea what the Open House was about and didn't much care. Maria saw this trouble coming to the group long before I did, and warned me about it. I didn't listen.
My fault, it was hurtful and made me doubt the value of the Open Houses. I had invited something that did not belong, and it was destructive and hurtful. And I had no one to blame but myself. Maybe I didn't get as much help as I should have. For a year or two, I began to lose heart in the Open House idea.
Maria saved the day, and many more. Her strength and spirit emerged steadily, year by year. Artistically, her confidence had soared, she loved curating and selling art as well as producing it, and it showed. The Open Houses were saner, and still busy but not overwhelming. There was none of the star stuff, and Maria quickly became as much of a draw as me or Simon or the dogs. She has a lot of charisma and good energy.
Her own growing ideas about her own work, the art show, and the wonderful community of artists she had gathered began to take over and become the true ethos of the Open Houses, the idea in the first place. The celebration of art and creativity grew and grew, many hundreds of people come to our Open Houses now.
I love to show Red and the dogs off and many people bring books for me to sign, which affirms my life as an author. People come from all over the country to tell me how much this blog means to them, and I doubt they can possibly know how much that means to me.
In addition, Maria's art now includes a celebration of women, we called it women rising. She want to India in February to teach women there how to make her potholders, and those potholders are here, on sale at the Open House. She has a box of "pussy hats" conceived during the Women's March, proceeds going to the work of the Army Of Good. Her belly dancing group is coming, and I love seeing them dance. They are all about women being comfortable with who they are.
It took a few years, but the original purpose of our Open Houses have re-asserted themselves. The farmer/artist Ed Gulley, co-author of the increasingly famous Bejosh Farm Journal, is a perfect symbol for the Open House idea, an affirmation of the artist in all of us, and our commitment to encouragement.
Ed has let me keep the Tin Man here – I pay him $50 a month – he is now the symbol of the Bedlam Farm Open House. The sheep herding has changed, along with much else. It isn't just Red but Red and Fate and Gus, and they are quite a crew.
The art is amazingly beautiful and affordable, lots of people do their Christmas shopping here for very original art they can actually afford.
I'm selling some of my photos also, for the first time in several years. A week after the Open House, Maria and I set off for a week in New Mexico, something we have long wanted to do. I will, of course, blog from there. So will she.
The Army of Good is coming, also Saturday. The Risse refugee kids will be here, singing. So will a van full of Mansion residents. They are both our honored guests.
For this weekend, our eighth Open House, I am just as excited about this one as I was about the first one.
Maria will sell her art, the belly dancers will dance at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jim McRae and his crew will shear the sheep around 2 p.m., I'll be conducting sheep herding demos all day, and this one is different – I can talk about the story of Gus, as well as the stories of Red and Fate.
I will answer questions about the dogs, my life and my work.
Mary Kellogg and Jackie Thorne will read their poetry and Ed Gulley will gas on about milk prices and the life of the farmer. I'll talk about my blog and books.
If you're looking for good food, check out the Round House Cafe, newly re-opened on the ground floor of Hubbard Hall on Main Street. Shelby Blanchette will be conducting donkey tours for those who want to meet Lulu and Fanny (bring carrots.)
Connie Brooks, also on Main Street, will be happy to meet you and show you what a beautiful independent book store in a small town looks like. And Heather has some beautiful beads and trinkets in Over The Moon.
I can't wait. That's the story. Two days to go.