26 March 2015

At The Round House, Red and Scott Catch Up

By: Jon Katz
Red And Scott

Red And Scott

At The Round House, a powerful sense of connection and community. I realized I can tell stories on open mike night,

I am a story-teller. Red and Scott are very connected, before Open Mike Night we visited, Scott and Red caught up.

One of the many things i love about Scott Carrino is that he loves what he does, but every week he wants to do something else –

write, sing, teach. He is good at running a cafe, he would be good at all of the others as well.

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At The Round House Open Mike Night

By: Jon Katz
Maddie

Maddie

At the Round House Open Mike Night,

Maddie played the flute,

Scott sang some songs,

A prophet wandered in and talked of peace,

Deena Sang,

the band played, I don't know all the names  and spellings of all the others

who sang and played, I will learn them in time,

I told the story of Joshua Rockwood and his farm,

we had pizza and tapioca pudding,

we love Open Mike Night

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Community And Empathy. Love Is What Endures.

By: Jon Katz
Community And Empathy

Community And Empathy

There is so much anger and hatred and violence in our world, they tell us every day that this is the true story of humanity, that community and empathy are gone. I have thought so myself, I have written about it, I am not immune to what I am told is true.

But every day I see that is is not true. People are good, given the chance. New technology divides people, it also unites people. When people are in trouble, they help. When people are attacked, the brave rush to their defense. Community exists everywhere, it is simply not considered to be news, it does not burn, explode or maim. We have to trust it and look for it and accept it.  We seek what does not  hate or wound. When I started writing about the Joshua Lockwood story, I thought it was about the collapse of community and empathy, I went to see him and found out that is just the opposite. It is the rebirth and affirmation of community and empathy.

It is so easy for people sitting behind their computer screens to hate and judge, it is so much harder when you talk to people, know their hearts, recognize their common humanity and look them in the eye and know them as fellow pilgrims on the same path. This is what I saw in Glenville New York these past two nights, not a travesty, but an awakening, an affirmation, a community. And so much empathy.

Truly, the animals call us to a new awakening, to open our eyes and understand what it really means to be a human being, there is so much promise and so many pure hearts and souls. I believe this is the awakening the horses are bringing about, what they are calling us to see and feel. We don't have to destroy the earth and pummel one another, we can be better and do better.

How happy I am to be wrong, to learn and grow and to understand that hate and anger are poisons that corrode the human spirit, of those who practice them and those who are the target. Life is sacred, life is good. As God says in the Kabbalah, love is the point, love is what endures.

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Writer’s Life: On Being Banned. Life On The Manure Pile

By: Jon Katz
Writer's Life: On Being Banned

Writer's Life: On Being Banned

I suppose it was inevitable that someone would try to ban me. In the past year I've been writing about the New York Carriage Horses, the elephants in the circus and the sad story of Joshua Lockwood, a young farmer raided by the animal police. I've never had more response to anything I've ever written, or more praise or criticism.

Finally, the discussion we need to have about the future of animals in our world may be starting to get underway, and we can thank the horses for that, and I get to play a small role in it. It all began for me last year when they called out to me to help them as they made their last stand in New York in our greedy and  unknowing world against a Superstorm of haters and know-nothings.

And the horses are prevailing, they are making their last stand a good one.

I am inspired by the role of manure in the lives of animals, and perhaps the lives of people. The sheep love our manure pile, we may have to keep it. It has given them a lookout to consider the world. We all live on a manure pile.

When I started writing about the carriage horses, no one bothered to ban me, which hurt my feelings a bit. A lot of other people in the struggle have been banned many times. What was wrong with me?

In our world,  we are learning to hate the people we disagree with. It is not surprising that someone would get around to banning me, I have to confess I was a bit flattered and humbled. It is about time I got some recognition, and now I can claim – at least in my own mind – to join the ranks of some of the best writers in the world. Getting banned might seem an awful thing to some, but it has a special place in the life and imagination of writers.

Banning someone is quite different from disagreeing with them, as the New York Carriage Trade has learned. To be banned is to be dehumanized, to become something less than human, to become a non-person unworthy of respect, or even of survival. Dehumanization is the the first step towards destruction.

I'm not sure it will work. If you want to harm a writer, the best way to do it is to ignore them, it makes them crazy. I hate it more than anything. And I have been there, believe me. I like attention, just like a dog. There is no such thing as bad attention for a writer.

And my banners may not know that getting banned is a ticket to writer glory. Writers have always done well when they are banned, just consider this very partial list: David Guterson, Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Philip Roth, Judy Blume, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Irving, Laurie Halse Anderson, Toni Morrison. Madeleine L'Engle. In America, being controversial is much more important than being talented, and when you are banned, people come running to see what the sirens and crowds are all about.

Some of them even buy books.

Every writer who has ever been banned has sold more books and jacked up his or her speaking fees.

How proud I would be to get on this list, and have it written in my obituary that I was banned on Facebook.  Mark Twain was banned in many places – he had a gift for provoking people, something I can relate to. When he was banned by a southern library he wrote that "nobody attaches weight to the freaks of the Charlton Library. But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me."

After he wrote that, he got banned from even more places. He was delighted, Huckleberry Finn became a best seller. Perhaps the people on this site would consider banning some of my books as well.

I love Alice Walker's wonderful response when The Color Purple got banned. "…literature," she wrote, "is help for humans. It is medicine of the highest order. In a more aware culture, writers would be considered priests." Or maybe devils, as one of my banners  suggested on her new page. If men could be good witches, I would like to be one. Then they could burn me alive and they would build statues of me on college lawns.  As it is, I am closer to being a deranged prophet, standing on the hilltop, yelling into the wind. But to be banned means someone is actually listening! Good Lord, it is about time.

If my banners asked me, I would have offered them some tips about the best ways to ban a writer, their effort is not entirely smart or modern. They put up a Facebook Page with this title: "Ban Jon Katz From Writing About Animals!" and they predicted I would try and shut it down. But why would I ever want to do that? I am happy to have a whole Facebook Page devoted to my ideas and to banning me, it is not the first and I hope it will not be the last.

But there were missteps. They should have asked me for help, I would have offered it.

Here are my own best tips for banning a writer:

1. Be specific and realistic. I mean, honestly, how could  you ban a writer from writing about animals? You would have to get to everyone on Facebook or Twitter, every bookstore, library or reader in the nation. My blog alone gets nearly four million visits a year.  It isn't a practical goal. Think smaller. You will do better with smaller targets. Politicians and bureaucrats hate controversy, try banning the writer the way they tried to ban Twain. General goals fail. Hitler and  Stalin and Franco and Mao burned books, but that only made martyrs out of the writers, they  became better known than ever.

One of my good friends gave a reading at a bookstore and they tried to ban him. The store was mobbed, he sold out.

Better to ban my books or my blog than to ban me, it isn't practical, except for creating manure piles, if you are into that.

2. Attention is oxygen. As I mentioned, the worst fate for a writer is to be ignored. Most writers are crazy, they would happily set themselves on fire rather than not be read or noticed. If  you are banned, you matter.

3. Don't slur women or Native-American religions, as this banning effort does. We live in sensitive times, and there are mobs of people on Facebook and Twitter who might come after you when you ridicule indigenous peoples or women or call their beliefs "BS."  Remember Facebook is overwhelmingly female, attacking my wife will only upset wives, sisters and feminists, as it should. My beliefs are not hers, don't trivialize women. Your movement is almost entirely female. I'd be careful about that. If you keep on slurring Native-Americans, Facebook will eventually ban you.

4. I'm sorry, I don't mean to further offend. But the title sort of sucks. I mean most people on Facebook don't even know who Jon Katz is, though I might loom large to you and your friends. You have to come up with something snappy like: "Stop  Horse Abuse." Then, you will draw more visitors and perhaps even get a lot of money, maybe a mayor will sign up. Believe me, it works.

5. I do want to say one good word about the person who created the page. When she first e-mailed me more than a year ago, she called me a "liar and a whore." I wasn't sure what she was talking about, and am still not sure. But her writing has really improved, I am glad to see it. Whole paragraphs and fewer exclamation points, capital letters and nasty names. Well….fewer exclamation points.

So that's it, I'm trying to be helpful. Like Mark Twain, one of my heroes, I also appreciate the the deep and unconscious irony of banning me while thousands of factory farms within a few hundred miles from me torture and confine and slaughter tens of millions of chickens, pigs, cows and sheep in the most horrendous and cruel of circumstances, and the page doesn't even mention it. If you are banning me in the name of loving animals, you might at least mention one or try and save one in your page. Or urge people to do that, in between banning me. You are sure to get some people on your site, don't be discouraged, it is, in some ways, a perfect fit for some people on Facebook.

I wish you well. It is high time I experienced this rite of passage. Maybe I have finally joined the ranks of hallowed writers and martyrs. Maybe not.  If you are successful and I do get banned from writing about animals, I will then be immortal and will be sure to come back and haunt you (in a good way). Perhaps I will stand on the manure pile and shout my ideas out to the people. We are thinking of putting grass on it (which would surely grow) and keeping it for the sheep.

I think that's it for now. I learned of this page banning me from a good friend who was upset by it – outraged actually – and wrote me to tell me about it early in the morning. She wanted to tell me that she had posted a message in defense of me. It didn't really work.

She was banned instantly.

 

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25 March 2015

Portrait: Joshua Rockwood And Me

By: Jon Katz
Joshua Rockwood

Joshua Rockwood

I went to Glenville, N.Y., today to West Wind Acres Farm  to meet Joshua Rockwood, suddenly one of America's best known,  most beloved, and most controversial farmers. It is not easy being Joshua Rockwood today, but it sure is exciting. He is awaiting trial on 13 counts of animal neglect, all misdemeanors but it sometimes seems he is on trial for murder. All day long, wherever he goes, friends, neighbors, farmers, strangers, people who buy his lamb, pork, beef and chicken come up to him and commiserate and wish him well, offer him support, shake their heads at the strange nature of the world.

He has, for many, become a symbol. Of the hard and little-understood life of the real farm, of the unseen and little understood struggles of the real farmer,  and of the very ugly cross currents that run through the animal world.

For all of his connections to his community, the prosecutors tried to force him to post a high bail bond last week at his first hearing, they seemed to want  him in jail. I think this was perhaps the hardest thing for me to believe. They said he was a flight risk just like other dangerous criminals. His attorney was incredulous, Joshua has a wife, two kids, and a 90-acre farm with more than 100 animals on it.

None of them died or were grievously injured by him – that is the definition of abuse. Where would he run? Why would he run?

The judge denied the bail request. Joshua was, I think, holding his breath.

Joshua told me before I came that he was not permitted to give any statements for public consumption to me or anybody else, and I told him I was not interested in statements for public consumption, I am not a TV or newspaper reporter, I am an author, I have only my own rules. Mostly I wanted to get a feel for him and a look at  his farm, the details of which are being intensely debated and described and portrayed all over social media and on television.

We made a deal and promised to trust one another. I said I would do nothing to betray his trust. He said he was happy to have me.

None of the arguments online did it for me, I need to see things for myself. I don't like writing about someone I have never met, seen and heard. I needed to get a feel for his place, his farm. Just as so many people wish to get  feel for mine.

I was prepared to like him, I was prepared not to like him. I do not like lots of people at first blush, or even second.

I agreed to keep everything that was said off-the-record, and we did not discuss the details of the hearings. Not really my concern, it is in other hands. There are lots of people who  live to argue and judge people and play God and judge and jury on Facebook, I am not one of them. Joshua and I were instantly at ease with one another, there was no discomfort, hesitation or awkwardness. Nobody pulled any punches, the way men do when they meet one another. I asked him a million questions about his life, he answered every one of them, looking me in the eye, never flinching.

I thought there was some anger in him, some gentleness, a quick mind that was always going.

Joshua is soft-spoken and well spoken. There is, as I was told, a quietness about him. A sharp intelligence. And some vulnerability in those sometimes sad eyes, for sure. He is quite steady, but there is much pain and hurt in him as well. Not easy to be accused of awful things in front of your family, to have animals you love hauled away by the police to places you don't want to see them go. But I felt he is a very strong man, he will not go to pieces or bend too much.

Joshua and I walked over every inch of his farm, much of it still covered in the ice and snow and mud and frozen manure of our brutal winter. He and his animals all got through the winter, but Spring, the farmer's season was laying in wait for  him. The secret informer struck and the police arrived right after the solstice.  We walked among pigs, cows, I saw his beautiful Maremma sheep guard dogs, his sheep, his chickens. We hopped over fences, shelters, lean to's, huts, we walked through mud, climbed hills, talked easily with one another for nearly four hours.

Time went by quickly, I was surprised when it was time to go. There was no small talk, just talk.

I should say I did feel close to Joshua, I liked him a lot. I think he is incapable of guile, a trait that has perhaps cost him dearly. He wrote last week on his blog that when the police came for him, he let them in without a warrant, he never hesitated. He admitted to being sometimes overwhelmed, he had many things to learn.

When I left, I remember thinking I would have been happy to have had a son like Joshua, that is one way I assess people. Would I be happy to have them as a kid? In this case, I would. Joshua has suffered some brutal tragedies, brushed up against a frightening illness, suffered a lot of doubt. And rebounded, again and again. He means to do good in the world.

He is idealistic, hard-working, almost shockingly open, a rare thing in our fragmented world.  There is nothing guarded about him, no sense of secrets, no wariness. His blog is an open book, an honest memoir.

Joshua's dream is to produce good and healthy food for people. I watched and listened all day as one person after another drove onto his farm to wish him well, wish him luck, offer help, thank him for this and that, order some food, claim their faith in him. He is very much loved and admired. One young woman came to his hearing to tell him – and me – that she owed her life to him, he helped her when she needed help badly.

That is also a pretty rare thing, all those people going to all that trouble,  especially for someone accused of wanton disregard for  living things.

I wondered how many people would show up for me in that way if I were in trouble, not that many, I think.  I walked up some steep hills with Joshua, I fell and tripped more than once, he caught me and steadied me. The pigs live on a huge field, it was covered in ice, the cows are at the top of the hill, a lot of snow to stomp through, a lot of ice to fall on, and I did. Good thing I have been working out daily at the gym. I did make it. As always, I saved my camera.

But I am tired and I want to think a bit about my visit to West Wind Acres. And my eyes are tired, too from the wind and my knees sore from all that hiking. I did have my shoes nibbled on by pigs, and that is new. I'll write him some more.

He is seeking help for legal fees and for the thousands of dollars he may have to give to a local rescue farm that took three of his horses after the police raid on  his farm. It's called a bond. You can see his gofundme project here. You can read about his farm in his own words here. I believe in words, they tell their own truth.

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