27 August 2014

Walking With Red

Walking With Red

Walking With Red

I walked with Red in the cemetery early this morning, he is a spirit dog, he enters into the spirit of the time, of the moment, he knows my heart and my mind better than I do, he knows where I will walk. He knows where he is needed. This morning, a woman was walking in the cemetery, she came with a purpose. I believe she came to visit the grave of someone she loved, perhaps her husband. Red came up to her – she had stopped a few feet from us – and sat down beside her, he looked her in the eye, and then put his head in her hand, and she sat silently by a gave marker, and stroked Red several times about the head.

I came up quietly to make sure Red was not disturbing her, and to call him away,  but I saw she was crying softly, and Red was comforting her.  I backed away – Red can make these decisions better than I can – and walked on ahead. In a few minutes, Red came up behind me, then took his position ahead of me, as he always does.

I knew he would come when he was ready, when he was done. And then walk ahead of me, and turn and make sure I was all right and was coming along.

Posted in General

Poem: My Better Angel

My Better Angel

My Better Angel

Walking in the cemetery this morning, I ran into my better angel,

she was on a tombstone, in a beautiful carving, holding a small child,

in an eternal embrace. She is so beautiful,

I knew her right away.

Hey, I said, what are you doing here?

Oh, she said, I promised I would hold young Evelyn,

when she left this world, she was just a baby,

I come and go.

How are you?, she asked,

you've had quite the summer.

Yes, I said, I thought I might see you,

in the hospital, I said.

Oh, I was there, she said,

I was the old man whose hand you

held before his surgery,

the one that did not return to the ICU,

I was the nurse with the sore feet,

who took you on your first lap,

hobbling behind you.

I was the girl from the Ukraine,

who spoke no English,

but who wiped the sweat from your brow in the night.

I was the man who cried with you,

he said he was afraid he would never see his son again.

I am the wind at your back,

your will to live,

your need to walk.

I am the hill you come over every morning

without pain in your chest. I am your beating heart,

your better angel.

Come, and sit with me,

and Evelyn,

we will hold hands,

and let the morning sun kiss our faces,

and count our blessings.

Posted in General

Wednesday Sunrise: Dahlia Garden

Wednesday Sunrise: Dahlia Garden

Wednesday Sunrise: Dahlia Garden

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Better Angels: Managing Anger And Pain In The New World


Better Angels

Better Angels

I got a message this morning from Lynn,  she described herself as my oldest reader, a reader of the blog before Maria and I got married. "I joined Facebook so I could post on your site," she wrote, "and you immediately threw me off for unwanted advice. Probably a good thing as it is hard not do do."

Lynn write that she liked my blog better when it was not connected to Facebook. I have never allowed comments on the blog itself, it is a monologue for me, the account of my life, and I didn't care to spend much of my life arguing about it or explaining it and fending off advice and information that I did not ask for or want. Facebook has been very good to me in many ways – I have more than 20,000 likes and it's sharing software has allowed me to reach a much wider audience for my books and my blog than would have been possible without social media.

As Lynn saw, Facebook has a downside as well, I do spent some of my life – not much – arguing about what I write and believe and fending off advice and information that I did not ask for or want. I also get interesting comments and ideas, valued feedback and many links to stories and thoughts I would not otherwise see. I get a lot of new readers for my books and blog as well.

I believe in boundaries, and I am not on Facebook all day, or even much of it. Sometimes the comments are fascinating, sometimes like a runaway train from the dark side.

"It hurts me to see the rudeness that takes place there from both the readers and  you," she wrote. 'Every time you have to tell someone to go somewhere else there is a potential buyer for a book gone." I was tempted to write Lynn back and tell her not to worry about my book sales, but I didn't, I thanked her and tried to explain to her how I felt about my intense and growing interactions with the world. She did not, unfortunately, mention the vast majority of comments I get on Facebook, the nice, supportive and thoughtful ones. I have come to value them more than I might have imagined.

Comments on Facebook – and elsewhere on the Internet – are a challenge for me, and for anyone who hosts a blog or who has ideas that are not necessarily conventional, that do not fit easily into the left or the right boxes of our time. There is no simple way to manage the rudeness, presumption, nastiness and rage that have come to characterize so much of the public space and public discourse in America. I am often thinking about it and learning about it, sometimes I do well, sometimes not.

I love my blog very much, it is my free place to share my life and my ideas, for better or worse. Since there are now about four million visits a year to the blog, I am humbled to see that other people want to hear what I have to say, book sales notwithstanding. (I did tell Lynn that the surest way for a writer to destroy himself was to weigh every word he writes against book sales, I will never do that.) I told people at the beginning that my blog would be open and authentic.

You get the good Jon Katz and you get the bad Jon Katz, but you will get the real one either way. In my mind, I am always looking to improve and understand myself, I have done a lot of work on me, I have a lot of work to do.

It hurts me too, Lynn, to deal with so much anger and hostility regarding my writing, I bet it hurts me more than you. I hate it, it is the cancer of our time, I think, especially online, where people do not have to think very long or hard about what they say and there are no penalties for cruelty and rage. Since I started writing about the New York Carriage horses, I have been getting many more angry and enraged e-mails from new readers. Sometimes it bothers me, sometimes it doesn't. Mostly I ignore it, sometimes I don't.

I never imagined a life where so many people – often righteously and angrily – would be telling me what to write, what to do, what not to write. A great psychological challenge for me, I do not recall liking anyone who tells me what to write.

I have dealt with many things in my emotional life, anger and fear are two of them. I was in some form of therapy for nearly half of my life, and it did me a lot of good. There is help out there, and it helps. I told Lynn that I will never be a saint, never be perfect, never always behave the way I want to behave and wish to behave. I will never give up on doing better, being better, one day perhaps the bad Jon Katz will retire and go play chess on Sanibel Island. That will leave only the good Jon Katz for readers like Lynn to encounter.

Anger is a part of life, in one sense, the comments on my writing have forced me to learn about my own anger, and deal with it. I told Lynn I am much less angry than I used to be, and every time I deal with it, I learn something more about it. I will get there, and when I do, Facebook and the comments will have been a major  reason.

I have better angels around me, I live with one, and they are working on me all of the time, reminding me that true compassion, something I believe in so strongly, only comes when we treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves. How often I fail, but when I succeed, I hear the angels singing for joy, shining their torches on the true path. How wonderful to see that path and walk on it, even briefly.

I liked Lynn's message, it was thoughtful and heartfelt, I wish I could make her happier, but I always tell my students that the writer has only one precious and reliable commodity to bring to every bit of his work: himself.

For better or worse, I can only be me. For a writer, everything is a gift, the tapestry of life, woven around me, and given back to you.

Posted in General

Sunrise, Bedlam Farm

Sunrise Bedlam Farm

Sunrise Bedlam Farm

I love sunrise at the farm, it is such a powerful and uplifting way to begin the day, the sun rises up over the apple tree, and Red goes and gets the sheep out of the pole barn and keeps them by the hay feeder while we shovel the manure out of the barn (or these days, while Maria does). My command to Red is "get the sheep out of the barn," and he takes it from there. He is over his lambing troubles, they mostly flock together and move without trouble.

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