12 October 2017

Shelley And Kirby: Getting Gussed. Final Prep

Getting Gussed

Shelby and Kirby came over this afternoon for their final prep hour with the dogs. They came into the farmhouse, fed the three dogs, made Fate and Gus sit and stay for their food, fed the barn cats, checked on the chickens, checked the water bucket by the side of the barn, exercised the dogs in the side pasture, threw balls and toys for them.

The dogs are besides themselves when they see Shelby and Kirby, although Gus goes off to look for me if he doesn't see me. I think Red is the only one who will notice that I am gone. Afterwards we talked and laugh for a bit. Shelby is a fine photographer, she showed me some of her Iphone photos, Kirby is a sales manager at a classy Manchester clothing outlet.

They are self-described "good people," snobs, I think, when I told them we should all have dinner at the Bog, they seemed to pale a bit. We'll get them there.

They are both genuine dog lovers and Gus, needing no invitation, jumped up into Kirby's arms, crawled up his chest, showered him with kisses. Gus will be fine when we are gone, and so will Fate, as long as she gets to run around with sheep.

On Sunday, we are outta here.

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Portrait Of A Farm Girl

Portrait Of A Farm Sitter

We met Shelby Blanchette a few months ago, she came to the farm to help her grandfather,  Dr. Jack Kittell, a vet who came to give the donkeys their shots. Maria and I were both impressed, she clearly loved animals and had a confidence and professionalism about her.

Our long-time dog-sitter was gone, and we needed someone we really trusted to watch the farm while we were away. On a hunch I called  her up and she said she was game, she worked with her boyfriend Kirby, and between the two of them, they could handle watching the farm while we were gone.

She grew up on a farm and is not the least bit uncomfortable on one.

We agreed that every Thursday until we left, she could come to the farmhouse, feed and exercise the dogs and get to know them. It was a good idea. The dogs go nuts when they see Shelby and Kirby, they both seem to talk dog.

In these weeks, I have come to know and admire Shelby and Kirby, they are conscientious, thorough, loving and professional. They will get the mail, clean up the yard, take care of the house, exercise the dogs, give carrots to the donkeys, check on the sheep, decide when and if we need to go to hay, and get the dogs to the vet if there is a problem.

They are also shy about promoting themselves. When I asked them how much they charged, they refused to say, replying I should decide. This is one reason I love living in the country, you don't hear that from people in the city.

I will be very generous. Kirby is a sweatheart also, he manages an outlet in Manchester, Vt. and has wonderful theories about selling clothes.

I feel close to them, and like them very much. I can see why they are so attached to one another.

They are interesting and very kind. This is a gift, because when I leave the farm Sunday, I will not worry about the dogs for a minute. That is a wonderful way to go on vacation and be on vacation. I will not be calling to check on the dogs either, if there is a problem, I will hear about it soon enough.

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The Dao Of Vacation: Pilgrimage To New Mexico

The Dao Of Vacation

A frustrated teacher told me once that I think too much. "And rarely," she complained, "about what I ask you to think about." I took it as a compliment, which only frustrated her more, I don't think she meant it as a compliment.

Maria and I are leaving Sunday evening for our first real vacation together as a couple. Every time I say this, I get a huffy e-mail from one busybody or another  reminding me that she and i went to Disney World for a vacation during our winter from Hell four or five years ago.

One of the most fascinating aspects of my life is that there are so many people out there who know more about it than I do, and who keep meticulous track of me. I am humbled and puzzled. There are so many things dancing around in my head that I have always forgotten, as long as I can remember,  what I did a week ago, let alone what I did years ago.

I've always assumed if I was in school now, I'd be on pills from the first day.

And I guess I don't really have to think about where I went years ago, since there are people out there willing to do it for me.

I don't think I know enough about anyone in the world to tell them where they went on vacation four years ago, but this is one of the great things about writing:  the only thing worse than being ignored is being  read closely.

We did go to Disney world for four or five days, right after my open heart surgery, for reasons I don't wish to try to recall, it was not the right vacation for us. Disney World, alas, is no longer for me, and Maria never liked it in the first place.

New Mexico is a real vacation for us, and something beyond that.

We're going for eight days, the longest we've ever gone anywhere together and the longest we have ever been away from our animals. Maria lived there once, and I spent hours with her looking over places to stay, restaurants, churches, ancient caves,  museums, b & b's, AirnB's.

We have a long list of things we want to see, starting with Georgia O'Keeffe's famous ranch and studio. And I know we will be seeing a lot of museums.  I will be blogging once or twice a day from there, putting up some photos, so will Maria with her spanking new Iphone camera.

We are getting an awful lot of advice from people about what we should see and where we should go, and that is sweet, but we like to figure these things out for ourselves.

The Dao of vacation for me is very personal and individual.

Uncharacteristically, i have been planning and saving for this vacation for months.

The room is already paid for, we cashed in our big fat piggy bank and have been squirreling money into a special bank account for months. This is shockingly unlike me, but the trip is almost all paid for, we just need to have enough for gas and meals and perhaps a gift or two.

What someone else liked or found interesting has nothing much to do with me, or with Maria. Online, we sometimes lose our sense of individuality because we know everything everyone else is doing.

We love to read on vacations, rest, talk, walk,  soak up some silence, be completely there for one another, our lives are so full of distractions and work. I imagine we will be meditating while staring out at the nearby mountains. I might so search for the grave of D.H. Lawrence.

Managing technology is always a challenge for us on vacations. I can't turn off the Iphone because I would have 2,000 messages when I got back, and so I need to keep  up.  Some people need to text me, I need to text some of them back. I'm using Maria's laptop and my Iphone and Ipad.

I intend to turn them off during the day and check in once at night and once in the morning. That's what I usually do. As a traveler with two chronic diseases, I need to take a few hours to sort through all my pills, and carefully fill the traveling medicine kit I use, one bag for pills for each day, a cold bag for my insulin and medications that have to be refrigerated.

And a small container to keep my pills while I'm flying around, on the way there and back. I also carry a silver pill case for the heart, if it should act up.

Maria and I talk a lot about the vacation – we are both very tired and drained – and we both see it as a pilgrimage in a way. New Mexico is one of the places where the artists went, it a beacon for  creatives, and a monument to creativity in some ways.

We want the trip to have a spiritual dimension beyond sightseeing. We want to see and feel what the early artists saw and felt, we want to step out of ourselves and feel peaceful and refreshed.

I have never  had a better year, never had a harder year. The Mansion, the refugees, my photographs,  a book, the blog, the dogs,   the farm, the Army of Good, two Open Houses. Sometimes I think I need to pack some dry ice on the top of my head to cool it down.

We will be tourists, of course, but we want to see and feel more than that. The places everyone goes are not usually the most interesting places for me to go.

Maria was profoundly affected by the landscape when she lived there, she is eager to show it to me, and I am eager to see it. We will  head out some days to certain places, other to go blindly in search of something beautiful and inspiring.

There is, as is obvious, a profound spirituality in Maria's person and her work, and a deep connection to landscape and nature. I love seeing things for the first time. I love changing and growing.

I gave a lot of thought to a book choice, and I am taking a huge and heavy and a so far quite wonderful and much praised book, "Thoreau," by Laura Dassow Walls. I hope to haul it onto the plane, we will be connecting with our New Mexico flight in Minneapolis. It is 665 pages, it weights more than my big  fat camera.

Dassow sees Thoreau as a man of great moral principle, considering the ethics of his life and work at every step. It is a beautiful and surprising and wonderfully written biography, I wasn't sure there was more to learn about Thoreau, but there is a ton that is new in this work.

Maria and I both have Kindles, but we just never use them, the habit of reading a book does not, it seems, die as quickly as everyone thought.

The trip is like other things in my life.

I do well when I think things through, not when I don't. We almost went to Maine, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just had no interest in going to Maine. Neither did Maria.

This trip is something Maria has wanted for a long time, and now, I want it too. I wish we could go right now, but we are very blessed to have a young couple, Shelby and Kirby, who will take care of the dogs and the farm while we are gone.

They have been coming to the farmhouse once a week for a month now, and the dogs love them very much, fickle as they are,  and rush outside to play and go see the sheep with them.

We could not do better. Every dog should be cared for by these people.

So, we hope for a vacation that is more than a rest, sights that are deeper than sightseeing, privacy that is beyond the reach of Facebook and Twitter. I think I'm take my black and white camera, New Mexico feels like a black and white place to me, at least from afar.

Like a pilgrimage.

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The Watchful Eye

The Watchful Eye

I admire the way Red keeps a watchful eye on the sheep without disturbing them or moving them unnecessarily. He likes to stay about 50 or 60 feet away, close enough to keep control, far enough to avoid spooking them.

Red and the sheep are very comfortable with one another now, they move together like a ballet, each understanding what the other wants, and I never tire of watching Red do his work. He has the watchful eye.

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Harvey Weinstein. A Tale Of Predators And Hypocrites.

Compassion And Harvey Weinstein

"As witnesses not of our intentions, but of our conduct, we can be true or false, and the hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten the core."  – Hannah Arendt.

Why is it, I wondered this morning, that I feel no compassion or empathy for Harvey Weinstein?

Why am I  unable to stand in his shoes, the very definition of empathy? Empathy is important to me, it represents the highest human aspiration.

I think one reason is that is hard for me to even imagine doing what he did to all of those women, victims not only of a sexual predator but an abuser of power and a betrayer of the very idea of good causes.

While it's nice to get Donald Trump out of my head for a few days,  my head doesn't really get a rest, either way.

I write a lot about compassion and empathy, it is a theme not only of my writing but of my life.  I resist the impulse to judge other people, I do not tell other people what to do or  how to feel.

I hate mobs, even in a righteous cause. They are inherently evil. In a sense, our social media is one frightening, even monstrous mob. You needn't do good, you can just tweet about being good.

I believe than in our vengeful culture, we often fail to treat the sick, we prefer to punish them instead, as if that will cure evil doing by people who have no idea what good or evil is.

As sickening as the things Mr. Weinstein is accused of doing are to me and others, it is almost equally repulsive for me to see a human life dismantled and discarded in this public, brutal,  and nearly hysterical way. That is not justice.

He has done great harm to many people in so many different ways. He is, I think, going to face a life sentence of one kind of another from which there is no release of ultimate forgiveness.

Perhaps I feel little for him because of my visceral hatred of hypocrisy and hypocrites.

Arendt makes the very powerful point that for all of his evil, Hitler was no hypocrite.

He never bore false witness to himself, he believed what he said and he did what he said he would do.

That is why I wear an Antifa bracelet every day, because Hitler taught my family and me that people like that keep their promises. Hypocrites bear false promise.

We have a new kind of cultural super- villain on the block now on America – Bill Cosby, Roger Aisles, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton  –  serial criminals and abusers of women, and no doubt many more waiting to be revealed. I hope their time is coming.

I have not been able to muster much compassion or empathy for any of these men, who saw vulnerable women as just another kind of prey to hunt and exploit and frighten and bully.

I think the answer lies in the fact that I agree with Hannah Arendt – I can feel compassion for anyone but the hypocrite, these men are rotten to the core.

All three of these men wrapped themselves in righteousness and marketed and profited from the idea of decency and family and justice, and all three were the worst kind of predators, feeding on the helplessness, vulnerability and yearnings of women who could not protect themselves, and were sexual fodder for the creepiest and lowest of men.

Empathy is in enough trouble in our country without a leading philanthropist like Weinstein betraying the very idea of compassion and justice.

This is a confusing issue for me, and I have not sorted it out.

Why can't I  feel compassion for Harvey Weinstein as he is very publicly humiliated, exposed and torn to pieces, and has tumbled so fast and furiously,  now pursued by mobs of enraged and sometimes self-righteous former friends and followers.

Doesn't this make me a hypocrite too, piling on with almost everyone else?  Clarence Darrow, one of my early heroes, argued that the most despised are the ones we need to show the most compassion for. And he did, he defended the indefensible, the murderers and the terrorists of his time.

There are no Clarence Darrows around in our time.

I write about empathy every other week.

Is compassion only for nice people that we like, and who do no wrong? That seems a thin and watery gruel to me. It makes me a hypocrite too, I think.

The sickness of our country is revealed every day in the endless and ritualistic antagonism and blindness of the left and the right, each accusing the other of being opportunistic and hypocritical in their righteousness. Every tragedy is just another weapon in the arsenal of the endless argument, the argument no one can ever win.

But that is not the message of Mr. Weinstein, that he is another pawn of the left or the right. We need to move past those people to get anywhere and leave them to their raging on Facebook.

If we are morally awake and thinking, then all of these repulsive men badly need to be condemned and removed from power, not just for their own wrongdoings, but as a message to the many other people and their victims.

If this went on for so long and so visibly in  Hollywood, just imagine how many other Weinsteins and Ailes and Cosby's are hiding behind their lawyers and publicists now, hiding in their closets and waiting for the villagers with their torches to head for their castles.

Everyone in Hollywood says they knew off-the-record, but everyone on Twitter and Facebook says they never knew. This story is shrouded in hypocrisy.  Even I knew, living on a farm in upstate New York. Weinstein was an arrogant pig in public, too.

I hate mobs as much as I hate hypocrites, and to me, Harvey Weinstein is one of the sickest and most troubled public people I have ever come across or read about. I can hardly bear to listen to those pleading and bullying tapes. Perhaps I will feel differently in a while, when the mobs move on.

And I would like to read and know much more about what makes a man like that, with so much money and power and access, do those kinds of things?

I hope what he did is one day seen as a sickness as well as a monstrous crime. He must be sick to do what he did. And don't the sick deserve some compassion, even in our society, where so many hearts have turned to stone?

I  hope he gets the help he says he wants and needs. I hope it helps him, as I was helped when I was sick in a very different way and on a very different scale. I hope he has one friend left who has not abandoned and betrayed him.

And I hope one day that he is well enough to get a second chance to do something creative or good, as he very often did.

I guess that is as far as I can do. I guess it is far enough for me now.


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