30 January 2015

When Storms Don’t Matter. Red And The Carriage Horses

By: Jon Katz
When Storms Don't Matter

When Storms Don't Matter

Whenever I am tempted to complain about the winter, I take Red out into the pasture during a storm. I had to clean out the barn this morning, there is a sudden snow storm that looks fairly serious and I told Red to keep the sheep in the barn and he did. When I was done, he was covered in snow head to foot, he did not seem to know or to notice. To some extent, winter is a state of mind, and I always remember in late January to take the Rev. Bill Graham's advice to  heart. Do not complain about your life, it might be listening.

There is external winter and internal winter and I keep the two separate. There will not be a winter in my heart. I am mindful of the fact that if Red were a New York Carriage Horse, it would be illegal for him to be out in the snow working, and I could be arrested for letting him to do it. No carriage horse is allowed to work in the snowstorms, or in heat and extreme cold, as Red does every day. Tomorrow, the high temperature is supposed to be seven degrees, Red will be out several times a day moving sheep and helping out with farm chores.

We have this idea that domesticated animals like dogs and horses are fragile and child-like, weaker than us. We let firemen and woman, police officers, construction workers and laborers work outside for long periods in storms and winter, but the tough work horses, who have worked outside for centuries are considered too fragile and weak for such work. We have it backwards I think.

It's during times like winter and in things like storms that the working animals have done the most for human beings.

The real abuse for domesticated work animals like Red or carriage horses is not work, it's the absence of work. Red reminds me to keep winter in it's proper place.

Posted in General

Mother Earth’s Song Of Winter

By: Jon Katz
Soul Of A Winter

Soul Of A Winter

It has not been above freezing here for weeks and no relief in sight from the snow and the cold. Many parts of the country have it much worse. Everyone reading this has experienced the new and common reality of extreme weather, it is, to me a song of winter from Mother Earth, she is calling upon us to pay attention to her, to understand her message.

For me, the message is not to rush out and stock up on milk and bread, or to plan disaster kits to keep in your pantry or your car along with your guns and self-defense plans. I don't care to leave like that, many people do, I wish them well. For me, a life lived in fear or preparation for disaster is simply another kind of slavery, along with believing money is the key to security and peace of mind. Fear is a poison, it corrupts the soul and spirit and drains the joy from life.

I hear the song of winter, I know it is real and true, I feel it in every part of my body, I see it in the animals and their lives. My new play was greeted with a new storm, Mother Earth singing in sync with life, walking alongside of us, reminding us of God's injunction in the Kabbalah and elsewhere to be mindful of her or face the awful consequences. I am hopeful we will all hear her awful and beautiful song, I heard it tonight.

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Talk Back: “Last Day At Maple View Farm”

By: Jon Katz
Talk Back

Talk Back

After the play, David Snider, me and the actors all gathered on the stage to get some feedback from the audience and answer their questions. It's a nice idea, it brings the audience and the actors – and playwright – closer to together, there is always something to be learned. The audience applauds the actors, the actors applaud the audience.

The pressure will be up a bit on the weekend, the weather is supposed to be frigid but not stormy, although one is raging tonight. We just got out of there in time, the roads were grim by the time we headed for home. A great night for me, I think this play needs to have a life.

Posted in General

World Premiere Of A Playwright And A Play: Last Day At Maple View Farm

By: Jon Katz
World Premiere

World Premiere: Taking A Bow

It was an important and exciting night for me, the world premier of the playwright in me, and of my new work "Last Day At Maple View Farm." It was a fitting setting in a small theater at the Hubbard Hall complex in Cambridge, N.Y. Of course, there was the obligatory sub-zero night and driving snow and ice storm raging outside – I can't imagine a January cultural event without it, it is almost a part of the play itself.

There was a small and brave crowd there, and the seven actors performing "Last Day At Maple View Farm" touched my heart and soul, they brought my words to life. This is a new experience for me, seeing my ideas and words being acted out by other people, by actors with their own interpretations of my meaning and ideas. I loved it. The play will be performed at Hubbard Hall, along with two or three other works Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. You can check tickets and times out at Hubbard Hall's website.

Hubbard Hall's executive director David Snider is offering new plays and readings right in the middle of winter, when we most need them up here, and this winter is a whopper. When I heard the weather forecast, I told Maria we would be lucky to get a half-dozen people to come we did better than that. We did more fine tuning tonight, I thought of things to cut and some to add, David sees each of these plays as a rehearsal, not a finished work.

More and more, I am thinking of taking this rich subject – the end of the small family farm – and turning it into a full-blown play. This version is only 45 minutes long. I'll be there tomorrow night, and at each play this weekend, David has asked me to take questions from the audience at the end of the play. Tonight meant a lot to me, I am immensely grateful to David and to the actors, each one added something richer than my words to the play. I learned a lot and grew a lot, a miracle always.

Posted in General
29 January 2015

My Life With Red

By: Jon Katz
My Life With Red

My Life With Red

When Dr. Karen Thompson messaged me two years ago and told me she had a dog that God meant for me to have, I thought she was crazy. I didn't know of her faith – she is a minister – her perception, her compassion and judgment. I do now. She saw in Red a rare kind of spirit in human or animal, a sweet and trusting spirit that had, like Simon and so many other animals, been given good reason to be mistrustful.

Red has changed my life, and he continues to alter my life, almost every day. We work every day in all kinds of ways – on the farm, with sheep, in therapy work, at cardiac rehab and even in my new incarnation as a playwright. Red enters into the spirit of everything I do. Last night, he watched the actors performing my play, he entered the life of the play, just a border collie on a farm would.

The actors improvised when they saw him, they made him part of the play, they continued their dialogue and leaned over to pet and talk to him. Red grasped this almost immediately, When the actors were talking to him, he was alert and watching them, when they moved on to other scenes and lines, he lay down and went to sleep, right in the middle of the stage, all kinds of crying, yelling and movement around him.

But that, of course, is what a farm dog would do. He would ignore the animals and mayhem and take a nap, right in the middle of milking, I've seen it a million times. When Red is on the farm, he focuses on his work. He looks to see if I am heading to the car or the gate, and is always there ahead of me. He keeps the sheep away from Maria and I and the donkeys. He keeps the rams in check.

I've decided to focus some of our therapy work on cardiac rehab, it is needed and appreciated more than I realized. I've graduated from rehab but we come at least once a week to visit with the patients there, and Red makes an enormous difference there. He takes up his position on the edge of the carpet near the door and waits to receive the people who want and need him.

Some pull up chairs to sit with him, one woman has biscuits she keeps in her pockets in case he shows up. The men come by and pat him and talk to him before getting on their machines, everybody says hello or goodbye when they come in or leave. Everyone who sees him smiles or laughs, thanks me, asks me about him.

His range in my life is astonishing. He is a part of my life in the bookstore, he is loved at the dentist, they insist on seeing him at the hardware store, he has incorporated himself into all of my work but my writing, and I guess he is becoming a substantial part of that as well.

I am grateful we took up therapy work, continuing the work I started with Izzy, and to some extent, Lenore. Red has a genius for this kind of work, soon we will return to the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, I know the need is great. I have stayed away until I am far along in my heart surgery recovery, I do not want to bring any of my difficulties to them, they have enough of their own. Red has enriched and deepened my life and my experience with animals and helped me connect with human beings as well, and understand the pain and loneliness that is often in their hearts, and which can be eased and softened by a dog.

Red makes me better, it is true, I think, that if you want to have a better dog, you have to become a better human. Red makes me a better human every day. He gives me that opportunity, he leads me in that direction, he makes it possible for me to walk on that path.

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