16 April 2015

Ties and Weddings. Any Truth Is Better Than Any Lie

By: Jon Katz
Identity: Ties And Weddings

Identity: Ties And Weddings

 “Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.”   – Henry David Thoreau

Identity is the cornerstone of a meaningful life, I believe, I have fought all of my life – every day, I think – to discover my identity, accept it, nourish and protect it. Lately, I find myself defending it more and more.

I have come to understand that in our inter-connected and increasingly fearful world, it is my identity that is threatened more than any other thing in my life. They can take almost anything from you, and you can lose almost everything you have. But not your identity is my soul and my foundation. It is my garden. Every day,  I have to respect it, water and rake it, assert it, define it and stand behind it. Identity is a sacred thing for me. What is more important than knowing who I am and standing in my truth?

It took me so long to find my identity. All of my life, I have found, people – my parents, teachers, bosses, readers, – have been telling me who I am, what to do, what to think, what to say. I think it was only a few years ago, perhaps even a few months ago, that I began to understand the sanctity of identity and the need protect it, to keep it intact. Identity is my soul, my footprint, my mark on the world. It is the very definition of strength. Women know this, some men know it,  artists know it, so do writers or anyone who lives through their voice and spirit.

And there is perhaps no greater threat to identity in our modern world than fear, righteousness and invasive new technologies that make it possible for almost everyone in the world to tell others what to do, and that they have the right to do so.  New messaging systems and social media, which gives everyone in the world a chance to challenge identity with the stroke of a keyboard. Boundaries are overrun, so is civility and common sense and simple manners. I am glad my grandmother taught me that it is rude to tell other people what to do, and arrogant. I was never a great learner, but that lesson stuck.

I am astonished at the number of people who insist on trying to tell me what to do, who think that Facebook or Twitter or e-mail gives them the right and obligation. It has helped me understand identity and made mine stronger.

I've been writing about my daughter's upcoming wedding this weekend and  have mentioned the fact that there is something of a dress code, and jeans are not permitted. Ties are requested, but optional. Every man but me will perhaps be wearing one, I was told, but that if that didn't bother me, it was fine. It will not bother me, I have never been cursed with the need for other people's agreement or approval.

And I will not wear a tie. I told my daughter that ties had special significance for me. I burned all of mine in a joyous bonfire and that day began my hero journey, my transition from one life to another, to the life of a writer and creative, to my move upstate, to my blog, to nature, a spiritual life, my books and animals, to Maria, the life of the farm. My identity. When I burned my ties, I began to find myself, my place in the world. It was a long road, a hard one, I am still on it. I will never toss it away for a tie.

This has annoyed some people, I see,  they think I am being selfish and self-centered. Right away, there was a small but intense stream of messages scolding me for not wearing a tie, telling me in no uncertain terms that it was Emma's wedding, if she told me to wear a Santa suit, I should do it, this would be a great gift to her. Some of the notes were nice, some were not. This morning, I got an e-mail in that vein – a nice one – from someone who likes me and my work, who summers at a lake in the Adirondacks, but then added:

"I think you are amazing, but one thing I read today I disagree with – and that concerns no tie no way!!! It is my opinion that this is your only daughter, and this is her wedding, and if she asked you to wear a ballgown you should do it – with a smile on your face!!!!"
  I did not recall asking her for her opinion or needing or wanting it.  What is it about our new world that treats identity so casually and values it so little?
This idea that it is loving and selfless to submerge one's own identity in the rituals of others and consider that a gift struck me as worth discussing. Is it really a gift for my daughter to believe that my own values are not important to me, and can be trivialized and dismissed by a dress code? Obviously, it is not about a tie, I could care less about clothes, it drives my wife crazy how little I care about what I put on each morning. My daughter, bless her soul, said it was fine with  her if I didn't wear a tie. She is perhaps the last person on the earth who would let anyone – me included – tell her what to do. She cherishes her own identity and would not take it from anyone else.
Honestly, I bear no ill will to these enemies of my identity, they mean me no harm. I imagine them to be people who expected to be told what to do, and who believe it is a gift to others to submerge their identity when asked, rather than to assert and affirm it. The Internet has caused them to forget their manners, and forget the boundaries that mark individuality and free thought. They have lost the old and widely held belief that each life is precious and different and individual, there is no one way to think or talk or write or live or go to a wedding.  We each must find our own way in the world. That is what identity is.
And that minding one's own business unless invited to do otherwise is a covenant among people that is worth preserving, for farmers with animals as well as people going to weddings.
 Maria thought it was fine for me not to wear a tie,  and understood it. Unlike the people sending me messages, she knows me. So does Emma, who perhaps has more vivid memories than I do about our lives when I was wearing ties for other people. The identity thieves dismissed my feelings as the foolish vanities of just another selfish man. But we are all mirrors of one another, we see what we need to see. Another challenge to identity, like women being told they had to wear hose and high heels to work.
Identity suffers when total strangers decide it is okay for them to tell me what to wear, to criticize me for being willful and selfish, and to submerge my own strong feelings and emotions  with a fake smile on my face.
But the truth is I wouldn't have a smile on my face if I went to the store and ordered one of those awful ties, a symbol of bondage to me, an enslaved and loveless life for me, the worst memories of my life. I speak only for me, I have many wonderful friends who wear ties and love their lives, and good for them.
  My real life – my real identity –  began when I burned my ties in a backyard in New Jersey. Would I really be doing my daughter a favor carrying that resentment and memory into her wedding? She understood that, so does my wife. So do I. Isn't that enough, isn't that something to be respected and understood, a boundary not to be crossed? On Saturday, I will have a smile on my face, not because of what I am wearing, but because my daughter is marrying a nice and loving man and she is happier than I have ever seen her. Not because of what people are wearing, but because of what is in her heart. I can hardly imagine a better or more fitting message for her on that day.
  I understand that these challenges to identity are a great gift to me, as puzzling and annoying as they can be. Social media brings good and bad things, as all technology does. I think one reason my sense of myself has grown stronger in recent years is the almost daily challenge to my identity, this great pressure to make my own decisions and define and defend them, as Thoreau urged and preached and lived. I know the people telling me what to do mean no harm, but if you look around you, you may see, as I do, that identity is under siege everywhere, so many people are struggling to find theirs.
 I prefer Thoreau's message. That is my identity. Say what you have to say and wear what you have to wear, not what you ought to say and ought to wear. Any truth is better than make-believe, any affirmation of self is better than any submission or subjugation. I am grateful that poor Thoreau didn't have e-mail or live in the age of Facebook, he would never have gotten out of Walden Pond alive, he would never have lived to write his books.
Posted in General
15 April 2015

Father Of The Bride. Will She Be Happy?

By: Jon Katz
Father Of The Bride

Father Of The Bride

This weekend, I am going to New York City to attend the wedding of my daughter, my only child. Emma and her about-to-be husband Jay Jaffe are both baseball writers, they live in Brooklyn and are passionate New Yorkers, we could not really live lives that are much more different and still be on the same continent.

Being a father is one of the seminal experiences of my life, I have often struggled with how to be a good father and what it means.  I have not always been a good father, I have no excuses, but I had no real model for it. The children of divorce have a complex life in many ways, their very idea of family is broken, the world as they know it is altered forever.

A month ago, my daughter called me up and told me gingerly that there was a dress code for the wedding, she was concerned, I think, that I might wear jeans or farm boots. I told her I would be happy to follow the rules and wear chinos, but could not and would not wear a tie. She accepted that, a bit reluctantly I think. I'm not always sure they know what to make of me in Brooklyn.

Emma told me that it would not be necessary for me to walk her down the aisle, in Brooklyn they did not support the Patriarchy. She said later she was sort of kidding, but she was not, and did not need to be. My daughter is proud and strong and tough and she does not need to be walked down the aisle by me or anyone else. She can make it  herself, she does not need to be given away. I did help pick the music for the first dance.

I am not certain what my role is at the wedding, I will give a toast, maybe, dance with my daughter, meet and see many people from my former life, people I have not seen or talked with in some time. I will be there with Maria.  I will celebrate Emma's good and loving relationship with Mr. Jaffe, they are very good together. She feels safe, loved and supported, he is very good to her and very good for her. And she, I think, for him.

The Patriarchy thing is interesting, it is not really a joke. I think men are ruining the world and may yet destroy it, I would be happy to help tear the Patriarchy down – it is on ugly display in Washington every day. I have never made a good Patriarch, I don't have a feel for it, and I like women a lot more than I like most men.

But the collapse of the Patriarchy speaks to the complexity of being a father in our world, and what it means today.

It once meant protecting and providing, it does not necessarily mean that any more. Women can protect and provide for themselves, and are doing it all the time, everywhere. I have always thought being a father meant offering support and wisdom, hard to do once  your child figures out that you are both exasperating and stupid.

For some time now, men have been struggling to figure out their roles in the family, the world keeps changing on them.

Over time, I have come to see that the ambitions of a father are really rather simple, if not easy to accomplish.  We want them to be happy. All of us will always see our daughters as little girls at times, precious and dependent on us for strength and guidance. A marriage of a daughter is a profound transition for a  father, a kind of saying goodbye. She is leaving one chapter in her life, and entering another, it will necessarily take her away from me, and into the world of marriage, perhaps mothering and parenting and working up life's ladder.

I am not one of those parents who believes my child should be preoccupied with me at this stage of her life,  she is off to build her own life. I am there to cheer her on, help when asked, and wave the banner from the dock. So what is it that we fathers want to see and do at the wedding of their daughters?  Here's the simple part again. We just want them to be happy, to believe that they are. That is the point, that is what it is all about.

I will always mourn a bit the period of my daughter's life when I was at the center of her universe, when I was the source of much of her comfort and safety.  I fear I was erratic in that, I was restless, unhappy, disturbed for so much of her life. And then I was gone, to a farm hundreds of miles away.  I shudder to think of how she saw it, I am sometimes afraid to ask her.

This is a time to move to the periphery, she has always been independent. A good father knows when to get out of the way. I am grateful for the connection we have to one another, the love we have for each other, the way we always keep in touch with each other, even through some hard and challenging times.

At this point, it is too late to explain to any daughter what it means to be a father. They have other things on their mind.

That I will always worry about her,  to my last breath.  That I would gladly die to protect her and that I also understand what Christopher Hitchens wrote in his memoir: "nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away." I love my wife dearly, but there is no love in the world like the love of a father for his daughter.

My job this weekend is to cheer her on, this is not a time for either of us to worry about me.  I know what it means to find love, and she has found it long before I did. Good for her. Good for them.

So this is where my head is as I prepare to go to New York for rehearsal dinners, a wedding and a reception. Take some wedding pictures.  Maybe find some carriage drivers to visit in the morning. Walk through the park with Maria. I will brush against my past, and I will give a toast and raise a glass to them and hopefully, get the first dance. Then I will go back home to my life, and my love, and leave her to hers.

I will celebrate this very happy event with an open heart and will, I am grateful to be there.

And the really good news: Emma is happy. She loves her life, her work, her husband. Can any father wish for more than that?

Posted in General

The Meaning Of Bedlam Farm

By: Jon Katz
The Meaning Of Bedlam Farm

The Meaning Of Bedlam Farm

Bedlam Farm is an idea, a state of mind, as much as it is a place. There are three buildings there, the white farmhouse, built in 1840, the old barn, built sometime in the 1800's, and Maria's Schoolhouse Studio, a former one-room schoolhouse moved to the farm sometime around the 1950's and used as a workshop. We have 17 acres, smaller than the original Bedlam Farm, which was 90 acres originally (and the price is being lowered today to $249,000, down quite a bit from the $475,000 asking price four years ago. The parcel leading to the woods is being sold off separately.)

The Bedlam Farm idea was always centered around creativity. I met Maria when I was looking for an artist to occupy one of the barns, I wanted it to be a creative place, a place for art shows, internships, retreats. I didn't get to see that dream happen, but Maria and I are getting to live another dream.

Bedlam Farm is all about creativity. I wrote my books, blog and take my photos here, Maria makes her potholders, hanging pieces, quilts and handkerchiefs here. We have two Open Houses a year, lots of people flock here to see art and buy it and talk to one another and see Red herd sheep.

We are a place of encouragement. We share what we know, teach what we learn. We support the creative spark, the God-given gift of creativity that lives inside of every human being. We celebrate the ancient partnership of people and animals, there is nothing in nature more natural than human beings and animals living and working together, that is a part of our life.

We believe here that human beings are entitled to love what they do, that everyone's stories are important and need to be told in whatever form is comfortable for them. We believe it is a form enslavement for people to be trapped in work they hate in places they don't wish to live. Money and security are important in our world, but they are not the only things that are important.

We reject the media and political people who divide people and arouse them to anger. We believe the farm is the embodiment of St. Francis of Assisi's idea of a Shelter Of Compassion and Mercy. And Creativity. We seek a world where people and animals are treated with dignity and given support.

And it is a place of ideas, and photographs, and words and art, always. We accept our mission to bring color and light into the world and to help people make sense of both.


Posted in General

Forest Echoes, In The Heart’s Shadow

By: Jon Katz
Enchanted Forest

Enchanted Forest

Every day, I try and visit Maria's Studio at least once, she never speaks of her work until it is finished, there is always a surprise waiting for me there. She calls this hanging piece "Forest Echoes," and it is enchanting and mystical  to me. She is selling it for $150. You can learn more about it here.

Posted in General

Healing Red

By: Jon Katz
Healing Red

Healing Red

My friend Scott Carrino and Red have a powerful connection, and Scott has been helping heal the wounds in his eye that Red received last Sunday from a dog in Massachusetts. I was shock the other night when Scott held Red and Red seemed to settle, his woulds seemed to heal. It's hard to describe, but I saw something passing between them. Scott, who now runs the Round House Cafe,  is a healer, a former massage therapist and  Tai Chi master.

He understands pain and injury, he has experienced it at different times in his life. Red is a healer also, a therapy dog who connects with people in very moving ways. So these two connect, energy passes between them, I see it even if it is hard for me to explain. I have held Red a lot this week myself, I can't see it, but I feel it.  I saw this healing again today, we ran into Scott on the street. Red surrenders to Scott, he leans into him, and it is clear this is a healing process, I am fortunate to be able to see it and to share it.

Animals belong with people, there is nothing more natural in the world than that.

Posted in General