8 December 2017

Friday, The Weekend

By: Jon Katz

Friday, The Weekend

Friday morning, I'm glad to see it. I've had a particularly intense week and a good one. Everywhere I went, I saw and felt the good deeds of the Army Of Good. Clothes arriving at RISSE, boxes of Christmas Joy arriving at the Mansion along with a horse carriage next week, letters heading for Kelly Nolan, winter boots heading for the soccer team and the RISSE children.

It felt good to be alive. It felt meaningful to be alive, I am happily wallowing in my own kind of Christmas. This weekend, quiet..we hope to see a movie, The Florida Project, I will review. My writing class is cancelled, as I am taking some Mansion residents to the Hubbard Hall Arts Center Christmas Breakfast.

Sunday, I've been invited along with Maria to have some pizza with the RISSE soccer team, I think we will accept that invitation. Their favorite pizza place is just outside of Albany. I love these days, and helping them out is one of the great joys of my life. Thanks for your help. I think I'll have a quiet hour this afternoon holed up in front of the wood stove listening to Gillian Welch and Patti Smith and reading a book by Jackson Katz (no relation) on how to be a better man.

A good and timely idea. Now, heading out to pick up some lunch for me and Maria. Here on the farm, I am the Hunter-Gatherer, foraging for good while the artist makes magic in her studio. I better get going, she gets awful testy when she's hungry.

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Portrait Love: Kelly And The Birth Of An Army

By: Jon Katz

Kelly And The Birth Of An Army

I'm not ashamed to admit it, I have come to love Kelly as I've gotten to know her. In a sense, it's what I call Portrait Love, there is an intimacy to photographing someone for a long period of time, especially when it comes to portraits. You get to know a person in a particularly way.

Kelly turned out to be an influential figure in my life, she is the Godmother of the Army Of Good. A little more than a year ago we were having dinner at the Bog (Foggy Notions) bar and restaurant, and I got to know Kelly a little bit.

Her very radiant smile caught my eye, and when I asked her if could do a portrait, she didn't blink, she said sure. A strong woman. That day, she had taken her dying pregnant mixed breed dog to the vet for emergency treatment, she was struggling in childbirth.

The vet saved one or two of the pups, and the mother. Kelly said she had a $1,300 vet bill, she said it was worth every penny to save her dog and she would do it again in a heartbeat. She was uncomplaining and generous, as usual.

I had this idea, which I kept to myself. I had all these good and loving readers out there, many if not most, passionate dog, cat or animal lovers. And my blog had grown quite a bit, nearly four million hits a year.

What if we surprised Kelly by paying her vet bill and rewarding her for her big heart and commitment to her dog. Kelly works very hard and does not make a lot of money, she would have been paying off that bill for some time.

So I mentioned this idea on my blog. I asked people to send checks. It took two days for them to arrive, and we had the money instantly. We took them to the bank, deposited them, and wrote  check to Kelly for the full amount, and wrote another check, the overage for $200 to a local animal shelter.

I was shocked and delighted. I saw that the power of the Internet to do great good instead of just sowing division and argument. I remember thinking about the possibilities for doing good.

I went to Kelly's house to take a photo of her – she wanted to let everyone see the pups and thank them. Other than that, i have never spent any time with Kelly outside of the Bog. Yet I could not feel closer to here than I do. It's strange how chemistry works, and I am grateful that Kelly has trusted me all year to take her portrait once or twice a week.

For me, Kelly embodies the Christmas spirit. She did so much good without even knowing it.

I remember thinking, what if Donald  Trump used his Twitter Account, which now has 42 million subscribers, to do good each day, to raise money for a needy person or a good cause. The possibilities were bone-rattling.

Why not use the blog in a new way, not only to be read but also to do good for people who are so inclined. That, it turns out, is a lot of people.

So in my own much smaller way, and inspired by Kelly's big heart, I set out to do a much smaller version of that. The Army of Good was born, although I didn't think to call it that for a couple of months.

We started helping the Mansion residents, buying them air conditioners, lift chairs, clothes, books, getting them letters and holiday gifts and clothes and decorations, an outdoor chair and table set, even a van to get them to doctor's appointments and  outings.

We began supporting a refugee soccer team in Albany and the boys and girls in their after school program. We bought art supplies, books, projectors, clothes, sent money for tuition, to help parents pay of loans, for scholarships to local classes, snow clothes for boys and girls.

We even got the boy's soccer team new uniforms, they are much in need right now.

Kelly inspired all of this in a way, money for her vet bill was perhaps the very first deed of the Army Of Good.

I've always admired and respected Kelly, watching the graceful and warm way in which she does her difficult job. She is uncomplaining, always ready to smile, patient and even-tempered. I have come to love here these days, Portrait Love is a special kind of love.

I believe that in order to take a good portrait, you have to love the subject. It shows. Thanks Kelly, for the good you are conscious of, and for the good you may not realize you have spawned. And thanks for letting me take your picture.

You have brightened the days of a great many people with your smile and grace.

I thought it would be a lovely thing if those of you who have been following Kelly might wish to send her a Christmas or holiday card. I think she would love it, and I would be grateful.

The address would be Kelly Nolan, Foggy Notions, 52 East Main Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Thanks.

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Darning Socks. Celebrating Differences

By: Jon Katz

Darning Socks

Maria and I have been together for a decade now, and it is always a fascinating thing for me to reflect on the ways we are so much alike and the ways in which we are so different. Somehow, it fits.

In all of my life, I have never darned a sock, asked to have a sock darned, or thought of darning a sock with a hole in it. I'm a big man with flat feet and my socks often sprout holes. For all of my life, I have taken those socks and thrown them away and bought new socks.

I would no sooner darn a sock that fly over the moon. Maria, on the other hand, is quite often darning socks, she darns them when we sit and talk, when we have breakfast, sometimes while we are sitting by the fire or reading.

She does it in a flash, she pulls a needle out of somewhere – I have no idea where – and some thread, and sews confidently and skillfully, and continues to wear the sock. The idea of buying a new sock when there is only one or two tiny holes is completely alien to her.

I think one of the many things I have learned living with Maria is to celebrate our differences as well as our similarities. We respect each other's choices. It is sad to see Americans learning more and more to hate people who differ with them. I hope I never do that.

Sock darning is a small thing – although on farms a very old and enduring thing – but that has meaning too in such a divided and angry world.

I know I will never darn a sock or even think of darning a sock, but I admire her ingenuity and simplicity. I would never belittle her (sometimes I call her cheap) and she never is annoyed that I throw so many things away. We just accept one another.

Maybe I'll get there. But I've also learned to be realistic about myself. When socks wear out, I give them away or throw them away. Maria loves the earth and is always thinking of it.

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Robin’s Radiant Smile

By: Jon Katz

The Radiant Grandchild

My granddaughter Robin seems to be turning into a charismatic and very special human being, full of good will and a radiant smile.

I hope she keeps it, and I trust she will. My daughter Emma and her husband Jay are wonderful parents, and this is reflected in every smile of Robin's.

The fact that Emma is so empathetic and loving a mother makes me feel good about my first marriage, Paula and I did something quite wonderful with Emma, I think, and that perhaps is one small part of the reason Emma is such a great parents.

Divorces are sad and painful, but much good came from our marriage. People ask me all the time if I am sorry to not be there in Brooklyn, watching my granddaughter evolve. I think about it a lot.

The answer is yes, of course, I do wish I were there to see Robin evolve, she is such a pleasure and gift to be around.

But no, I am not sad. I read a survey last month in which 75 per cent of all grandparents said that having a grandchild was the most important and meaningful experience in their lives. Once again, I felt odd and out of sync with the world.

I was surprised by this. I love Robin, and would be happy to be a continuing part of her life, but there are a number of meaningful experiences in my life, and most of them are my own.

I balk at the idea of taking on somebody else's child in that way, or of suborning my life to another. I very much want my life to be the most meaningful thing for me.

There must be something missing in me to feel so differently than so many of my peers. I think Robin should be Emma's most meaningful experience, if anyone's. If I were living in Brooklyn, I might feel differently. I do see the great and very pure love grandparents have for their grandchildren, it is very beautiful.

But I've shed a lot of heart and soul for my life, and I love it. It is my choice, and I knew when I made it that I would be gaining some things and losing some things. I know I cannot have every single thing that I want.

Everything comes at a cost, and when I began my move to the country more than 15 years ago, I lost a great and deep part of my life. I knew that. That was the choice I made.

My heart is full of love for Robin, and even more so for Emma. I don't need more than that, that is a lot.

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Gus’s First Ride On Lulu

By: Jon Katz

Video by Maria Wulf

Gus took his first real ride on a donkey today, he often sits up on them and takes in the farm, but today, Lulu decided to take a walk and Gus decided to go along.  The donkeys have moved around with Gus, but never carried him this far. Might be time for a saddle.

Maria was ready with her first video camera. Come and see. Gus is either a farm dog or a circus dog, or both. (Warning: This dog is entertaining thousands of people, some find this an offensive use of animals, a form of abuse. We are odd, we believe in laughter and joy and love making people smile.)

Lulu and Gus seem to be having fun, too. Come and see.

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