21 July 2014

Hope, Always Hope, As A Discipline

By: Jon Katz
Hope As A Discipline

Hope As A Discipline

I have been thinking a lot about hope lately, for many different reasons. Hope is a faith for me, it is also a discipline. When I was wheeled into the operating room for my heart surgery,  I felt nothing but hope – it would go well, I would be well, I would focus on healing, not suffering.

I believe my work is to offer hope, just as Mary Oliver's poems offer hope, and as the great men and women of the world have always offered hope. It is not a pose or a reflex, I am filled with hope. I had hope every day of my life that I would fine love, that I would find light and color, that I would write things that touched people, take photos that offered hope. I have hope that we will one day love peace as much as war, and value it as much. I have hope that we will awaken to the bleeding of Mother Earth and help her heal.

I don't know where I found hope, it is not in my genes, I think, it was not in my family growing up, it was not in my life until I left my life behind and came upstate on the hero journey to find myself. I found it there, on the dark paths, with my magical helpers, in my once suffocating spirit, suddenly free to be me, to be who I was meant to be. We cannot control the sorrow and suffering in the world, but we can make a joyful and hopeful noise unto the world.

That is what I got up before dawn this morning to feed the animals for the first time in weeks, make breakfast for Maria for the first time in weeks, do the dishes for the first time in weeks, resume work on my next book for the first time in weeks. I had hopes for all of these things, I never doubted that I would do them, it is just the beginning.  Hope is a faith, a discipline. Without it, life is barren and angry and cold. When I went outside, the light was waiting for me, the sheep, Red at the gate.

There was hope all around me. Hope, always hope.

Posted in General
20 July 2014

Still Life: The Bookcase Latch

By: Jon Katz
The Bookcase Latch

The Bookcase Latch

The bookcase latch sits a few feet from my desk, it is now part of the restored old bookcase in my study, which was used as a chicken coop at the first Bedlam Farm for many years. Sometimes, when the light hits my latch, I wonder at a world where a craftsman would take so much care to design and build such a beautiful latch. I have lived in houses without so much love and detail.

Have we given up too much for efficiency, is Wendell Berry correct when he talks about the ravages of economists and globalism, we sometimes forget what people are for. I love reading Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry,  I believe the difference between the two is that Mary Oliver always offers us hope and Wendell Berry does not.

 

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Milestone: Hike In Merck Forest, The Big Hill. Recovery Journal, Vol. 25

By: Jon Katz
Milestone. Hike In The Woods

Milestone. Hike In The Woods

A milestone today. I've been dreaming of it all week.

Maria and I and Red drove out to the Merck Forest Preserve, a gorgeous 3,000 acre woodland where we both have gone on many hikes and stayed overnight in simple but beautiful cabins high up in the Green Mountains. I will not lie and say it was an easy walk for me, we chose one of the medium trails – we walked a little over two miles, the last two-thirds of a mile a fairly steep slope uphill.

I walked nearly four miles today – 8,291 steps. Most of them in the deep and beautiful woods, how I loved being back there.

My daughter spend a few days here this week, it was great to see her, so helpful to have her here. She went back to New York City today, and we each returned to our very different lives. I left my family a decade ago to move to Bedlam Farm, and Emma and I set out in different directions in life. I wish we could be closer, see more of one another, share our lives. But I accept where we were, it is a good place. This is the life I chose, I cannot speak ill of it.

The trail make my hill-walking seem like flat ground. The ground was uneven, the sun was strong, a long slope uphill.  I felt my heart pounding, and for the first time since I started walking, I felt some shortness of breath. There was no pain or discomfort around my heart or my chest, no pressure. But I knew I had to be careful, and so I stopped every few hundred yards, took some deep breaths and waited a moment or two. I inhaled the smell of the deep woods, took in the sounds of the forest, soaked up the virginal light.

It was hard for me to finish that trail – every time I stopped, nurse Red dog came running over to check me out. Maria kept an eye on me and asked me if I was all right. I was, I really was. I stopped two or three times, but mostly kept going.

It was a tough walk, the toughest yet, a milestone. I was exhausted when we were done, and just collapsed when we got home. But I felt good and so did my beating heart. It was healthy to be told just where I am, and where I am not yet.

Other milestones today. I have taken responsibility for my medications, finally figured out what I have to take and when. This was one of the last medical chores Maria handled, as the doctors insisted a family member do it to make sure the surgery patient didn't get confused or tired and mess up. I'm taking about a dozen different medications, and even before surgery, I'm not good at remember that kind of stuff. But I have it down now. I am beginning to cook, I can take care of myself. This week, I sign up at the diabetes clinic at the University Of Albany, I want to learn more about the disease and how I can handle and control it. I will share what I learn.

I'm now doing much of the cooking, or at least helping. Heart surgery recovery is partially about being constantly brought up short. I could not shuck the corn. I can't lean over or pull up pots and pans. I can't open the oven door or each down and pull things out.  I could slice the zucchini for the pizza. My scars are just about healed, my infection seems completely gone.

Maria is returning to herself, spending more time in the studio, going to yoga, seeing her friends. Good for her, I am happy to see it. I admit that sometimes, sitting in my chair – I really only feel human when I am writing, walking, doing chores or taking photos – I worry whether or not my life with ever really return to normal. I cannot drive to yoga, or see my friends, or do much of anything but walk up and down the road by myself, sometimes I feel blue about that, sometimes I feel a bit sorry for myself. Is it okay to sometimes feel that, I wonder? I think so, as long as it doesn't become the worldview. When people stop me and ask me how I am, I say, "fine, I feel good, I am lucky." That's enough for me. It is the truth, too.

It is almost inconceivable to me that the surgery was just three weeks ago, all of this happened so fast, it was so stunning and brutal and frightening, I feel as if I have just emerged from a tunnel, and am blinking in the light.

I love walking in Merck Forest today, I think I will go back several times this week if Maria has time, it is not far from us. It was worthwhile and sobering to be reminded that I am not whole yet, I cannot do everything I want to do. The  trail there will be hard for awhile, but I will get there, one day at a time, one step at a time. That hill seemed like Mt. Everest to me. I have had it easy so far, I have had no trouble walking up the hills around me. I had trouble on this one.

We are thinking of renting a cabin for a weekend this summer and camping out in the woods. It is a wonderful place to sit and read, I just have to figure out how I can sleep comfortably and find a good position.

I am resolved to confront other issues and difficulties in my life – the first Bedlam Farm comes to mind. We have to figure out how to handle this beautiful place, still not sold after several years on the market. This surgery will also affect us financially, I'm not sure yet if it will delay my work. I know I need to have a spiritual and focused life.  I am fascinated by how I handle the things I never imagined – not selling Bedlam Farm, having open heart surgery.

And I am thinking down the road. I understand that many of the people reading this have devoted much of their lives to caretaking husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. They are heroic, to me and others.

But that is not the fate I wish for me, or for Maria, we both have had a good taste of it this month. I will be thinking long and hard about constructing a different path for both of us. I expect to recover well and fully, but I intend to have a say in how I spent the coming years of my life, and how I mean for it to end. Open heart surgery is a provocative thing, it does get you to thinking about life. And death. This time, they stopped my heart and started it up. One day, that will not be the outcome I seek. I love Maria way too much for that.

For today, I relish my milestones. I intend to keep adding to them, and I seek nothing more than grace and dignity and meaning, every day of my life.

Posted in General

Fly Victory

By: Jon Katz
Fly Victory

Fly Victory

We beat back the flies tormenting the donkeys, at least for now. We wiped their eyes with damp cloth and some balm and ointment, we opened up the inner stall in the barn – it is cool and bug-free in there. They will be back, we will be ready. The donkeys specialize in removing masks and coverings from one another's heads, it is a great specialty of theirs. In the wild, of course, there are no fly masks and they survive.

This morning, I sat out on the Adirondack chair and watched Maria brush the donkeys, as she does faithfully every day It is grounding for her and for them, a sacred part of our day. They cluster around her, await their turns. She does it in every kind of weather except pouring rain, and then they usually go into the pole barn.

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Windowsill Gallery: The Gratitude Urn, The Best Camera

By: Jon Katz
The Gratitude Urn

The Gratitude Urn

I fashioned a makeshift sling and brace and took a single photo with my best camera, my most precious 1DX, which I have not touched in a month, I so loved the feel of it and I love the detail and clarity of it. I felt a strain in my chest – it weights at least nine or 10 lbs and so I won't use it again for awhile. I thought I was able to capture the feel of the Gratitude Urn, it's character, the life and death that already lives within it. It was a still life that smacked me in the head and said, "take it." So I did.

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