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“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.” – Joseph Campbell
9 October 2015

“Teaching Free Motion Sewing.” Another Class?

By: Jon Katz
Teaching Free Motion Sewing

Teaching Free Motion Sewing

Maria did something at the Creativity Conference Friday that she doesn't like to do – teach her art. She did a workshop on "Free Motion Sewing," it was well attended – the audience gathered eagerly and raptly around her –  and she did it well, everybody watched closely and had questions.

But the truth is, Maria doesn't like teaching  – I do – and I think I might have pushed her into it. I thought she would love it. She didn't. It made her uncomfortable. We are always learning about one another.

I had encouraged her to try it – she balked – because she is nice and encouraging, and a good listener,  qualities that seem to me to make a good teacher. She was always reluctant. I thought it would be good for her, which in retrospect, seems a bit patronizing.

Maria really didn't like teaching her class,  she doesn't even remember much about it. Some people – me – love getting up in front of a crowd of people and talking. Some people do not.

Odd that I was surprised, I think I know Maria well.  And she sure didn't show any signs of unease. She talked easily and well about her art and the "free motion" sewing she does, but I could see afterwards that it was hard for her to do. It just makes  her nervous talking to a group of people, she associates teaching with giving orders, something she had experienced too much of in her own life.

I love teaching, and I think it's one of those things that I will do but she will rarely do. A boundary, perhaps.

"It's your thing, really," she said, "not my thing." I think when you hear that said, you have to accept it, and I do. Maria does many wonderful things, and she will figure out on her own what she likes to do and doesn't. She doesn't need pushing from me.

Maria doesn't ever like telling other people what they should do, not in any form. So another lesson for me in the perpetual struggle to let people be themselves, and not make assumptions about them. Not everyone likes to do everything.

Posted in General

“Lean On Me” – Creativity Conference

By: Jon Katz
"Lean On Me"

"Lean On Me"

We spent the day at the first Bedlam Farm Creativity Conference at Pompanuck Farms. There were workshops on poetry, fiber art, writing, blogging, singing and photography. It was a tiring day, even a small conference is filled with excruciating details and a lot of work. I taught the writing and blogging workshops, I very much enjoyed them, the audience – all members of the Creative Group At Bedlam Farm – were committed, intense, bright and passionate about their work.

Even in the rain, Pompanuck was a shining star, a beautiful place to be. I loved the conference, but I don't know if we will do it again next year or not, up against the Open House, which starts tomorrow, it's intense.  We are both pretty wiped, and the main event hasn't even  happened yet.

The Open House looks exciting, clear skies. Lots of art, sheep herding, visits with donkeys and a pony. The shearer is coming tomorrow, the farrier on Friday. There will be poetry readings and talks, big draft horses from Blue Star Equiculture.

The singing workshop serenaded us at the end of the day with a bluegrass version of "Lean On Me." Sweet. People came from all over the country to meet one another and take part in the workshops. There was a great feeling about it, I pushed hard on the creative impact of blogs and their growing importance to writers. In the morning, we talked about writers.

At dinner, Scott and Lisa Carrino served their increasingly famous pizza. Pompanuck is a great place to retreat to, even in the pouring  rain.

Posted in General

Next Chapter. Wishing For Rain

By: Jon Katz
Wishing For Rain

Wishing For Rain

Feels like a next chapter for Maria and I this weekend, we've come a long way since our first Open House in West Hebron, N.Y. five or six years ago. The Open Houses are different now, comfortable, much about art and friendship and community and the love of animals and creativity. Lots of people come back every year, lots of new people come.

I imagine that is so because I am different, and Maria is different. These Open Houses are intimate and they feel nourishing and comforting and sometimes, inspiring. Off to Pompanuck Farms for the day-long conference on being creative. Like Walt Whitman said, we can all offer a verse. Life is a big poem.

It is raining hard today, and will all day, the weekend weather will be perfect. A friend of mine who believes  you can will anything you wish to come to you – I've written about this spiritual idea before – called me last week and said she had looked at the weather forecast and if I wanted, she would wish for sun and make it happen. Hmmm, I joked, I didn't know you were God.

I told her thanks but no thanks, Mother Earth gets to call those shots, not me, and I didn't think anymore of it until Wednesday morning, when I ran into a farmer from down the road, and he said he and his wife were praying for rain today, they needed it badly for his fields, his pastor said if they prayed for it then the rains might come.

Of course, I thought, there is no one wish that trumps all of the wishes of everyone else, I don't wish to be God or play God and if there is a God, he ought to read the news, he has better things to do than worry about rain in my town. Acceptance for me is about the embrace of life as it is given me, not as I might selfishly wish for it. The rain will do us no harm today, our conference is indoors. And tomorrow and Sunday look perfect, that is when the people are coming.

I wish to accept what is offered me.

I leave God's work to God, and Mother Earth's to her. She let's me make my decisions, and she can make hers..

Posted in General
8 October 2015

Dog And Horse: Under The Apple Tree

By: Jon Katz
Dog And Horse

Dog And Horse

This morning, on the farm, a big pony was under the apple tree in the pasture, pulling apples out of the tree, grabbing branches in her mouth and shaking them until the apples fell out. A border collie puppy was creeping up on the sheep, trying to figure out how to get them to do what she was telling them, and not really succeeding.

The two were startled to come across one another, and seemed to say hello, then went back to their business, a fleeing moment, two different sense of beings coming together in their lives. Two professionals, I thought, sharing their cup of coffee.

Posted in General

Hallelujah: Dane’s Bittersweet, Wonderful Story: The Art Of Unhappiness.

By: Jon Katz
The Art Of Unhappiness

The Art Of Unhappiness

I met Dane Cory about five years ago, he was wearing a black suit and tie and a white shirt, he was a limo driver picking Maria and I up from the airport. We were returning from Florida, where I had given a speech to some veterinarians. Dane was young, in his early 20's. He looked pale and sad to me.

Maria and I both liked him, he told us his passion was to cook, but he seemed unhappy,  at odds and ends, it was obvious he suffered from some kind of depression and was looking to find himself. It was obvious he had been through some hard times, and that he did not wish to be a limo driver for long. Maria and I ended up giving him a speech fanatics like us tend to give people once in awhile, if we know they are open about it.

Sometimes I feel like a rabid missionary, waiting for certain souls to come to me in need. Sometimes I hate that. I am an empath, I fear, cursed with the ability to sometimes see the creative spark trapped inside of  people, burning like a hot coal.

I remember telling Dane he should follow his heart. He seemed like a creative person, he should try find what he loves and do it. I hate to meet young people who know what they want to do and already feel trapped in the American fear and obligation machine, doing jobs that mean nothing to them for people who care little for them. Living only for money and security, a hollow way to live. Why not be happy and do what you love?, I asked.

I invited Dane to visit Maria and I at the farm, and a few months later, he did. I was surprised to hear from him, and glad to see him. I remember talking with him, sitting with him in the living room,  taking him out to lunch at the Round House, which had just opened. We had a good talk, I urged him to consider breaking away from the people holding him back and trying to do what he loved. I did not hear from again, I thought he had not be able to change his life. But his intelligence, sensitivity and obvious creativity made an impression on me. He was special. I often wondered what happened to him.

I remember Dane as a very nice, thoughtful, soft-spoken man, and so sad he seemed almost paralyzed. I had the sense something very powerful was inside of him, literally dying to come out.  A part of him had quit on himself, I thought, a part of him was fighting back.

This morning, at 6 a.m., Maria and I were planning to get up, we had so much work to do for the Open House Weekend. Fate was dozing at the foot of the bed, a new thing, we let her up in the middle of the night and she curls up and goes to sleep until daylight.

My phone pinged a message notification, unusual for that time of the morning.

"Hey there, old friend," the message said. "I was your limo driver once upon a time. I saw you on FB and had to contact you. I no longer drive limos. I'm an artist now. Building a business. Working with musicians as well, doing their art. Just wanted to let you know I'll never forget the talks we had and your kindness having me at your place that day. Please tell your wife the same. Maybe we can catch up one time."

I am grateful for this message, it brought me nearly to tears. I woke up Maria to read it to her, we were both so happy to see and hear it.

Dane and I spent the next half hour furiously texting one another, catching up, celebrating how far he had come, understanding the toll it had sometimes taken on both of us to live our lives, making plans to see one another, sharing the details of our work. He had a bunch of my books, he said, but had not read any of them.

It was a strange scene, I was sitting up in bed in my nightshirt, cheering and whooping, Fate at my feet, Red on one side, Maria on the other. These days, people speak for themselves on their blogs, I went right to his. I knew his story while we were still texting.

Dane's blog is called The Art Of Unhappiness, and on it, he tells the story of his very painful depression, of his thoughts of suicide, of being locked up in a mental institution and being encouraged to draw by the nurses there.

His story is harrowing, powerful, honest and inspiring, a tale of creativity and it's power to transform us, a tale of courage as well.

Dane remembers drawing a bee when he was nine, his mother had taken him to a drawing class. He did not draw after that.  He did not discover then that he had discovered what he was meant to do then, and then again when he was 29, "inside a psychiatric facility for people that were suicidal."

"Since getting out of the hospital," he wrote, "I have drawn or sculpted every single day and have made such leaps and bounds that it still has not registered inside my brain. My family is blown away. Strangers are blown away. I've won contests, been contacted by galleries and even have my story featured on a major art blog. I have to say, my brain has not caught up with my success at all. Internally, I still live in that hospital. I am still in a great deal of pain daily. But I have an outlet, finally. All my crap has somewhere to go; a place to be filtered and processed into fuel. Every time I sit down it is an emotional experience."

I loved Dane Cory's strikingly original art, he is very good, I think. He said he wanted to look at my blog, and at Maria's. I invited  him to the Open House, but he is showing his work this weekend at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Clay Arts Center. Dane draws and makes sculptures and designs cover art for the albums of musicians.

it is not possible to enter the lives of other people and change them, they can only do that for themselves. It is arrogant to even try. But sometimes you can plant a seed, a thought, an impulse, that might live inside the soul of another for years, and then, a radioactive seed of memory, it can suddenly light up and grow and free itself. And you.

I am in no way responsible for Dane's success, I know that for sure. But I am very glad I felt this powerful thing inside of him, and spoke to him about it. If you see something, say something. I look forward to seeing him again, he will either come to the farm or I will go and see him, buy him lunch and dinner, toast a glass. We made a real connection with one another, perhaps because we each sensed the broken parts in the other.

On his blog, Dane wrote that "I searched my whole life in every other possible area I could, looking for a spark somewhere, only to be left in the dark every damn time. My spark was there all along."

Hallelujah, brother, Hallelujah. Me too. It's like Picasso said, every child is born an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist when he grows up. The adult world is often in the way of that, they have other ideas for their children. Get a day job. Save for retirement. Be afraid to do what you love, it is never good for you.

You figured this all out in that suicide ward, Dane, and in the valley of pain and sorrow.  I can only imagine the loneliness and pain there. Good for you. I look forward to talking with you again. I can tell you that it is possible for even the saddest among us to be happy. Don't give up on it.

Posted in General