12 October 2017

Following Up On Fate

By: Jon Katz

Following Up On Fate

All of my dogs love people, but Fate loves them in her particularly intense and all out way, as she does everything. And people love her.

She just goes crazy around people when she first meets them, hears them or sees them, she shakes and quivers and jumps on them, she  cannot seem to control herself, despite almost continuous efforts at training and control, from choke chains to alternative behaviors.

And when it comes to greeting people, I cannot completely control her.

Fate has lived through four or five Open Houses, and never had a problem, never completely lost control.

But she did last Saturday, as I reported. She ended up  rushing out of the house, whining with excitement, dashing towards and into the busy road in front of the farm. Then she ran in frenzied circles trying to greet everyone who had arrived, ignoring me, running away from me, completely beyond my control or hers.

I responded in the time-honored and completely ineffectual way of men and frustrated dog owners, yelling, chasing after her, in a fright-inspired rage, no dog of mine had ever done that before, not ever.

I guess, to be honest, the sight of her rushing onto a state highway, crammed with speeding cars in foliage season, unhinged me.

I did just about everything wrong that morning, but finally collared Fate, dragged her into the farmhouse, swatted her on the butt and threw her into her crate, where she spend much of the morning. I could see she had no idea what I was communicating to her, no idea of what I wanted or what she might have done wrong. That's what happens when you scream at a dog, they have no idea what you are talking about or what they are supposed to do about it.

The next day, I went out early with her – we had both calmed down – and I did it  right, starting with obedience and calming training (my specialty) to rebuild trust and communication and train her properly, calmly and clearly.

This didn't turn out to be difficult. Fate and I have a long and solid history of working together and it seemed Saturday was an episode that could have turned disastrous, but not reflect a permanent behavioral change.

Fate is a wonderfully trainable, eager-to-please dog, and when is a problem occurs, you can be sure it is my fault. She turns herself inside out to respond to commands, even hand signals. She walks in the woods with us for miles, and never runs off, even for deer or chipmunks.

I can't be certain about what triggered this, it might have been my anxiety about getting ready for the Open House, or Gus and his assertive playing, or something I didn't hear or see, like dogs out in cars on the road.

I won't ever know, and it doesn't really matter.

I was reminded of the fact that I must not be complacent or arrogant about my dogs and their training, and not ever take their responses for granted, especially when disruptive events like the Open House occur. We must have had 1,000 people coming through our farm on Saturday, and that would unhinge many a high-strung dog, especially an arousable border collie whose instincts are very strong and powerful.

Her arousal around people is intense, but not long-lasting. She always calms down.

In my therapy work with Red, the most responsive and grounded dog I have ever known, I still know to be vigilant and alert always, the people we deal with are frail and often confused and unpredictable, I always watch him closely, and he always watches me.  Things can and do happen, and I have a zero-tolerance for mistakes in therapy work, that is the last thing vulnerable or dying people need.

Fate is very responsive, but much more intense and arousable than Red.  Sometimes, she can be a wild thing. When Red sees a rabbit, he looks at and then ignores it. When Fate sees a rabbit, she gives chase.

In retrospect, it's foolish to open the door and let her loose when there are 100 people outside the door. It was just too much for her. If I'd thought about it, I would have anticipated that, but I didn't think about it, probably because my ego loves the idea that my dogs can operate freely and with trust, even in that kind of situation.

That was my mistake – hubris and ego. I did get the message.

On Sunday, after our training brush-up, she calmed quickly, and was fine, if sometimes a bit too affectionate. People love that and they love her. It's the very first encounter with a crowd – a lot of people especially, cars pulling up, people talking and waving  – that  I see I have to monitor closely, and adapt her to gradually. Sunday, I had her on a leash at first, and then put her inside the pasture. I can't just leave it to her to figure out the world.

All day Sunday, she never even looked at the road, and was always obedient and instantly responsive to me. She had adjusted.

As the readings and talks began Sunday afternoon, Fate circulated calmly and methodically around a wide circle of seated people, she was calm, affectionate and frequently just went to sit at the pasture gate near the sheep.

So it was a frightening and surprising experience, but also a learning experience, I feel wiser and humbled and more thoughtful about training, which I have always seen as a spiritual experience, and not really about obedience. When something like the Open House occurs, and Fate is a part of it, it is my job to protect her from her powerful instincts and impulses, not ignore them and hope for the best.

Fate is a strong and adaptable creature, the next morning, we had our usual good time out with the sheep, she rushed to the door, ran alongside of me, listened to me closely, even from hundreds of yards away. It is fun for me to work with dogs, yelling and screaming and ego only turns it into a misery, and that is the worst possible way to train a dog.

The fact that she obeys 99 per cent of the time in most circumstances doesn't mean there are not circumstances that might unsettle or unhinge her. I have to be ready for that, and not just trust to the fates. That could have cost Fate her life, and that would have been on me. She is a dog and dogs are simple souls, we are the complicated ones.

People are always complaining to me about their dogs, calling them willful or devious or jealous or rebellious. I always think the same thing. Dogs aren't devious or rebellious and they don't get jealous, those are human emotions we project onto them because we don't take responsibility for training them property.

Since I see it and say it all the time, it didn't take me long to recognize it,  yet it was too long and could have cost Fate her life. I don't want to overdramatize it, but I don't want to minimize it either. When we mess up, the dogs always pay.

It won't happen again,and she is happy and up to her usual mad playing with Gus and running circles around sheep. She is a loving and happy dog, and is entitled to the best and most thoughtful kind of care.

Saturday, she didn't get it. I will remember it, but move on. It all turned out okay.

Posted in General | Post a Comment
11 October 2017

Pastoral: Bedlam Farm In Fall, Morning. Photo For Sale

By: Jon Katz

Morning Pastoral, Bedlam Farm

I was drawn to the softness of this scene, and the photo. The sheep had just been shorn, and are grazing, the sun is just cutting through the mist, the trees are just beginning to turn for Fall. It's an in between photograph to me, soothing and timeless, and I am grateful to live in a place where I can see this in the morning.

This kind of image soothes me in this sometimes disturbing time. It is for sale for $130, offered as an 8 1/2″ x 13 1/2″ print on rag paper, signed but unframed.  Contact Maria at [email protected]

You can see this and other images for sale on my new Bedlam Farm photo-for-sale gallery, now part of the blog, located at the top of the Farm Journal Page.

Posted in General | Post a Comment

The Mansion Poetry Workshop: “The Second Home,” First Draft

By: Jon Katz

The Second Home

We had our second poetry workshop meeting at the Mansion today, poet Jackie Thorne and me and eight Mansion residents.

We worked on a poem entitled "Second Home," and we wrote it together, as a class. The themes that emerged from this poem were powerful, they focused on acceptance, ambivalence, safety and gratitude. The class is quiet, they listen, but as the time passed, they became more emotional and open.

We are hoping to explore the process of aging, and living in a community of people at the edge of life. Hopefully, we can publish another book, the first, Tales Of The Manson, is in its 3rd printing.

The poem title the residents proposed was "Second Home," exploring the idea of a second home and what that experience means.

This is where we are so far:

Second  Home

This is not our first home,

we are no longer free to roam.

We miss our dogs, we miss our family.

But we are safe, we are protected,

we are a place for people with nowhere to go.

The food is wonderful, plentiful,

we are never hungry,

we never have to cook.

This is where we live,

it is just home now,

just where we are,

we accept our lives.

We know one another,

we care for each other,

and we are grateful,

our laundry is done for us,

there is always someone to turn to.

This is our life.

If you don't accept life,

you are up the creek.

This will always be our home now,

our last home.

We are thankful here,

we've got everything that's ordinary.

Some of us have been places

where that is not the truth.

I like this poem, it is honest and powerful. It's a good first start. They are eager to work on it until it is done.

In  two weeks (after our trip to New Mexico, Jackie and I will return to the Mansion and finish this poem, and then begin another, which the residents have titled "Growing Older." I am looking forward to that. I am supplying each of the workshop attendees with books of contemporary poems.

Note to the Army Of Good. Halloween is coming in a couple of weeks, and decorations for the Mansion Halloween Christmas Party will be much appreciated.

On October 30, we are hosting an October Fest lunch catered by the Round House Cafe for 30 residents an aides. Your letters and messages are much appreciated. I am exploring sending four Mansion residents to see the "Beach Boys" concert at the Proctor Theater in Schenectady, N.Y. on November 14. I will cost about $400.

Your donations would help them get there.

The donations to the Mansion Fund are much appreciated. You can send them to my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, [email protected]

The current list of Mansion residents who wish to receive messages are Art, Brother Peter, Winnie, Jean, Ellen, Mary, Gerry, Sylvie, Jane, Diane, Alice, Jean, Madeline, Joan, Allan, Bill, John K, Helen, Connie, Bob, Alanna, Barbara, Peggie, Dorothy, Tim, Arthur, Guerda, Brenda, John Z.

Posted in General | Post a Comment

About Men: Dominance And Privilege

By: Jon Katz

Dominance And Privilege

I wrote last night about the Harvey Weinstein tragedy, and also about my conversations with a late friend about what it means to be a man, and how to be a better one.

I feel it's an important story and it sparked a widespread and thoughtful conversation online. Because it is not quite yet a left-right thing – it will be soon – there is still time to think about it and talk about it.

One comment caught my attention, it was from Lisa, she said she thought that the crisis of identity for men is defined as anything that does not approach being perceived as feminine.

"How would your idealized definition of what it means for you to be a good man be any different from a definition of a good strong woman? Forgive me,"she wrote,  'but the penis casts a great shadow over planet earth. Male dominance and privilege is not surrendered easily and perhaps never."

Lisa does not need forgiveness, it was an interesting and thoughtful message. I can handle it.

I will admit I had to laugh at the last line. My penis doesn't cast a great shadow over anything much these days, not even my toes, let alone the world. I can't speak for women, or even for men, only for me.

My ideas of being a good man do not seem grandiose or unattainable to me, they are certainly idealized, as are most admirable goals. I can't say whether we will all reach them, or even if I will. That's not a reason not to try, at least for me.

I balk at terms like "dominance" and "privilege" to me, they seem too much like cant and official dogma and they make me twitchy.

I have given up a great deal of male privilege in my life, and it was very conscious.

In my first marriage, I choose to work at home for years and take care of my daughter. I left a big deal producer's job at a major television network to care for my daughter, and have never regretted it.

I shopped, cooked and drive her to school, play dates and lessons. One reason I chose to be a writer was so that I could be home with Emma and help her grow up.

My wife is a lifelong feminist, chose to work and I supported her in this at every turn, not that she needed my permission. I was happy to help support her work.

In my new marriage, my wife is not domestic, she is a hard-working and ambitious artist and devotes her self to that work full-time and beyond. I do the shopping, the cooking, we hired someone to help with the cleaning. I am not in charge. We make all decisions (except our personal creative ones) together, and each has full veto power.

I no longer believe (I had to work at this) that I am responsible for her safety and welfare. She can take care of herself. She has her own car, and insists on paying her own bills, even during those hard artist months when there is little money coming in. She deals with repair people, carpenters, plumbers and all matters relating to the house. She climbs ladders, drills, hammers and makes minor repairs.

We have altered many gender stereotypes. Our goal is to support and encourage the other, in all things. Most of the time, we do.

She has her own bank account, and manages her own business finances.

There is no sense that I am the head of the household, that I need to be deferred to, that I am the boss,  or that she needs to please me or get my approval for her decisions. She has her own friends, sees them whenever she wishes, and is free to make her own plans, although we often prefer to be together.

She never asks me my opinion or approval for her work, and she has no fear of me in any way for any reason whatsoever.

When I talk about dominance and privilege, I am not speaking as globally as Lisa, I don't know what will happen to the world, or whether or not men will destroy the planet before women finally get to rise up to power. My revolution is personal, it begins at home.

I want to be a better man. I want to support my wife, and no dominate her, I want to encourage her and not diminish here. I don't wish to ever be confused with a man like Harvey Weinstein, or our President, if I am being honest.

Does this make me like a good woman? I don't know, you'll have to ask women. I hope it makes me a better man. One man at a time.

I have no desire for my penis to cast a shadow over the world, although I do sometimes miss the shadow he did cast, not that it was especially large. I recall a female doctor examining me who said kindly that men with large penises do not necessarily make the best lovers.

It gave me hope.

Posted in General | Post a Comment

Remarkable Times. Things That Never Happened Before.

By: Jon Katz

I live in remarkable times

These are, in fact, the times that try the souls of men and women, but they are also remarkable times and stirring times. I am grateful to be living now, I have never been more alive, or seen more people rise to the challenge of being human in our world.

I have never felt less alone, or more alive.

Some people I know many –  wake up every morning and believe they are living in the worst of times, some people see the best of times. I see remarkable times, good and bad,  and they excite and challenge and frighten and inspire me.

I am different than before, better than before. I am learning what it is I believe and what is important to me. I never had to do that before.

I see a big wave coming, will, like big waves, be choppy and dangerous and beautiful.

This time has been a gift to me, it has challenged me to become a full participant in the life I wish to lead, to take responsibility for it, to become a patriot and understand what that means, to every day do things I did not imagine ever doing and did not ever do. To do good rather fight about what good is.

I have never in my life looked in the mirror in the morning and been  more respectful of the face I see. I am trying, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.

The cup is half full, the cup is half empty. Life is what we make of it. I am stronger and clearer than ever.

Every day, there is the choice, are these times a gate that opens for me, or a door that closes?

I empathize with the suffering and anguish of so many people in our country and our world now, but  I am also called upon to recognize how many good people are rising up to stand with our better angels. I am fully responsible for my life, and no one can tell me how to live it.

We live in a time when powerful men – superpigs I call them – can now be disgraced and dethroned by women who will not accept abuse and exploitation any longer and are speaking out to a culture that supports them more and more every day.

That is not a wave, it is a tsunami. It has never happened before.

We live in a time when comedians and artists and entertainers have formed a powerful resistance to hatred and greed and formed a new kind of conscience, they speak for so many of us and for our culture. They have transformed themselves into a voice that can not be dismissed or marginalized, and has great power. Sometimes, it seems they are the only voice we have.

This has never happened before.

Think of it, late night comedians are now a moral force, the guardians of our traditions, and Eminem, a brilliant and angry rep singer calls out the President of the United States for racism and falseness and intolerance in a lyrical freestyle that ricochets around the world.

And it has never happened in this way before.

We live in a world where hundreds of thousands of young people called Dreamers  have come out of the shadows to declare themselves Americans and organize to fight for themselves and their parents and the millions of hard-working immigrants who have done our dirty and hard work for years.

This has not happened before.

Everywhere I look, I hear and see things I would not have seen or heard just a few years ago:

I do things every day that I never did and would not have done two or three years ago, on behalf of  vulnerable people our government has abandoned, and who now persecute, and  will not help any longer. We are just beginning our work, we call ourselves The Army Of Good. We were not even a dream last year at this time and that has never happened to me before.

My wife Maria has become a belly dancer, and she would not have been a belly dancer before these remarkable times. She and her fellow dancers are not interested in performing for men, or entertaining people for its own sake. She went to India to teach women to make potholders, and sells their work in America. She sells pussy hats. She makes art about goddesses and women's voices.

The belly dancers are not looking to amuse, they  are standing up for who they are, proud of what they are and what their bodies are like. Many hundreds of women – many in tears – came to our Open House last weekend to see the belly dancers and cheer them on. This has everything to do with our times.

She has never done that before.

This year, more women marched for women's rights and values than have ever marched before, anywhere in the world,  and they created a powerful wind that has just begun to blow.

This year, actor's and artists all over the country are speaking up for their values, and for the values of so many people in America. People like me no longer have leaders representing me in my government.

I am disenfranchised. I am appreciate the actors and artists who are speaking up for me.

I am grateful to the young people all over the country who have put on their black jackets and sweatshirts to challenge the Nazi's and haters and chase them off of our streets. I bought a bracelet from them and will wear it until Nazi's once again don't dare to show their faces among us and return to the sewers and dark places where they breed and live.

We have never needed them before.

We live in a time when rich and powerful athletes, most of them African-American, speak up for justice and equality and remind us that our country would rather hide from history and trouble than face it. They have taken on some of the most powerful white men in the world on behalf of those who can't speak at all. To me, they are not spoiled millionaires but brave people of conscience. They do not undermine liberty, they teach us what it means.

They are controversial and often despised, they are what the American flag and national anthem are all about. At a time when our government hides from fascists and brutality, they force us to pay attention to both.

Everywhere, people are joining things, doing things paying attention to things. For me, this is not a time of despair, but of a great awakening.

These are my remarkable times, I would not wish to be in any other place. I can feel despair or hope, weakness or strength. I am no summer soldier, these are the times when we find out who we are and who we are not.

The gate is wide open for me. I am walking through it.


Posted in General | Post a Comment