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24 October 2014

Recovery Journal: Red And Carol. “You Are A Farmer, Jon.”

Carol and Red

Carol and Red

I suppose it can be a lonely and disconnecting thing to have major surgery, I am in a community of sorts, of disparate people, most of them quite unlike me, yet there is a deepening sense of community about us, we root for one another, share the good and bad news of our healing, and of our lives. I have become friends with Carol, the wife of a farmer, they have a small family farm, she had her heart surgery a couple of months before me and we both approach it in much the same way, without much dread or "negativity," as Carol puts it. She has read some of my books, we talk animal talk – she has an imperious goat named Sadie, unruly roosters and hens, cows, six dogs.

She paid me a high compliment today, she finished reading "Saving Simon" and she said "you are a farmer, Jon, I know you say you are not, but you are." I was surprised – she is a very real farmer, along with her husband Ed – and I asked her what she meant.

"You have learned when to let go and not to let go," she said, and I realized she was talking about animals, not about crops. Farmers taught me that, there is no such thing as a no-kill farm, farms are not rescue facilities or zoos. Carol told me about a rooster she loved who suddenly and for no reason attacked her and her grandson, a farmer's grandchild, said, "grandma, why don't you just eat him?" I just can't she told him, so she gave him to her son who has a fenced-in chicken area.

Farmers learn to let go when they have to let go, their survival depends on it, so does almost any farm.

Carol got some good medical news today, she might have gotten some very bad news and we were all worried about it. I called her this morning at home and she had just gotten the good news, and I brought some non-heart healthy cookies over from the Round House to celebrate. Carol is advising me on my play, "Discarded Men: The Last Days Of A Dairy Farm," she says she will come if it is performed at Hubbard Hall in January.

I was pleased by Carol's compliment, but I am not, of course, a farmer, I have never claimed to be one, I could not survive one week as a farmer, I am a writer with a farm, and there is a big difference. Carol's rehab is very different from mine, she often comes to rehab fresh off a tractor where she has been all day cutting down corn stalks and mashing them up for sileage.

There was a palpable relief in cardiac rehab, there is a closeness that comes from surgery and recovery, we understand each other in a very powerful and particular way. I suppose there is a loneliness to recovering from open heart surgery, I am not yet really sure how to talk about it or if to talk about it. In cardiac rehab, I don' really have to.

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Red At The Gate, Waiting To Work

Red At The Gate: Ready To Work

Red At The Gate: Ready To Work

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20 October 2014

Roger And Red

Roger And Red

Roger And Red

Roger is an inspiration to me, he was the first person I saw in cardiac rehab. He actually graduated from the first phase of the program and comes to use the machines several times a week. He has a very severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, he uses two braces to walk and it is no small thing for him to lie down on the floor. Today, he slid onto the floor and over to Red before his workout, then got himself back to one of the machines and pulled himself up. He is ferocious on the machines, he pushes himself every day to work hard and do better, he has shown me how to do the same thing.

Roger works through much pain, it does not stop him, it seems to inspire him.

Red visits the people in cardiac rehab – I am warned constantly not to try and come in without him – and then settles himself on the couch, where I have told him to stay through the work session. He does stay there and he has become a touch point for the people in rehab. Whey they move from one machine to another, they come over to him, lean down if they can, and pet him and talk to him. Each of the nurses comes to check on him, talk to him, pet him, and then scrub their hands with antibiotic soap.

When people leave, they pause to say goodbye to him, they ask me questions about him, wonder at him, smile at him. He transforms the experience of cardiac rehab, it was a powerful thing to see Roger get down on the floor with him and talk to him, my refurbished heart sped up.

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Standoff: Red And Liam

Standoff

Standoff

A working dog's life is made of many stories and dramas, some large and some small. Life is never static, it challenges the dog to make decisions, choices, his or her mind grows almost every day. Few dogs in America get to make decisions, it is hard for many of them to grow and evolve. Red decided to be still while Liam challenged him, it was a good decision. After a minute or two Liam went back to the flock. He was testing Red, but he didn't go over the line. If he did, he would have gotten his nose nipped.

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19 October 2014

“Saving Simon” And The “Orphans Book Tour”: To Be “Disappeared.”

To Be "Disappeared"

To Be "Disappeared"

I have always disliked whining, and intensely so. I told my daughter once that she could have just about anything she wanted if she never whined, and she go a lot of good stuff and never has. When I had my surgery this summer, the first thing I told Maria was to smack me in the head if I ever whined about it, and I think I have not. I have made it a point not to whine about the radical changes in publishing that nearly overwhelmed me as a writer, caused my royalties and much of my income to vanish, and threatened my career. I have not whined about the struggle to sell the first Bedlam Farm, and hope I never do.

I dislike struggle stories, I do not mourn things that are gone, but celebrate things that are here. So I guess I was wholly unprepared to respond to my realization that my new book, "Saving Simon," had been orphaned by my publisher after I decided to switch to another publishing  house. They did not budget one dollar or schedule a single appearance that I did not more or less arrange by myself. My book tour, which has averaged about a month in duration over the last 20 years or so, was four hours long.

I read an interview with a writer talking about the bitter struggle between Amazon and the Hachette Publishing Co. Amazon is making it harder for readers to buy the books of Hachette authors, and Ursula Le Guin, a great writer, said she felt as if her book had been "disappeared," a term coined by South American mothers to describe the disappearance of their sons in dictatorial regimes. In one country, the mothers gathered in front of government builders every day for years to demand news of their sons, many of whom had been murdered and tortured.

I am a big boy, and I knew when I switched publishers – and the editor who had worked on "Saving Simon" left as well – that my book would not get much attention or support. I did not know how little, I supposed I was in denial. I do not compare my book or my life to the tragedies of the mothers of South America, yet Le Guin's use of the word struck deeply into my healing heart.

Books are personal things for me, they take years, are important and to have one "disappeared" – it is a very good term in many ways, as long as we keep it in perspective. I am working to patch together my own book tour, but I do not kid myself into thinking I can do much to save the fate of my book. I am selling a lot of copies through Battenkill Books (518 677-2515) and am planning to sell a lot more by Christmas. We are giving lots of good stuff away to people who buy the book from Connie Brooks – signed photo notecards, some free Fromm Family dog good coupons, potholders and photos as well as notecards. The first 2,000 buyers get a signed photo notecard of Simon, other incentives are offered as the supplies last. I sign and personalize every book bought at Battenkill.

My book is important to me. I got some wonderful reviews and the early responses have been more than gratifying. I don't wish to whine about my book, but I do wish to fight for it, and I do believe it is wrong to "disappear" a book contracted in good faith. I am glad I spoke up about it, not only for me but for the many writers who vanish in this way and do not have blogs on which they can make some noise about it. Every book deserves to live and make it's own way through the galaxy. Publishers should not distribute books they are not willing to support.  Everybody deserves a chance to know what books are available to them.

I have a big ego, and it is smaller now that it was a few months ago. I suppose that is a healthy thing in many ways. It is a tough thing for a writer to be "disappeared," it feels as if my identity has been washed away along with my work. It is my job to make sure that feeling does not last long, but I don't lie about it either.

I want to finish my next book, I am so eager to get to my new publisher. But Random House, my life-long publisher, deserves much gratitude from me, they have providing me the means to be a writer for three decades. And they have done a wonderful job editing and publishing my books. "Saving Simon" is an anomaly, and I want to remember that as I move on. If they are not grateful for my work any longer, I am grateful for theirs.

Some people there have expressed disappointment with me for writing about this so frankly, I do not regret it. I learned the hard way to stand in my truth and to try to live without complaint and lament. Sometimes the two overlap. In many ways, my books are my children, they are my identity. I owe them life and good faith, they have nothing going for them but me. Thanks for the support so many of you have given me, my book tour will begin shortly and will on until I drop or the world is sick of me, whichever comes first.

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