Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

24 May

Out To The Pasture. New Book, New Album For The Holiday

by Jon Katz

Our farm is a beautiful place, sometimes my photographs suggest – like this one – that it is remote and far from civilization.  It is a private place, in that we have no neighbors who are right on top of us. But it is only a few miles from town, and on a busy road.

The farm has the curious feeling of being isolated, yet very close to and connected to community. I love the empty loneliness of this photo, the sheep seem far away, Lulu is making what seems to be a lonely trek out to join them and graze.

Loneliness is one dimension of life on a farm. Perhaps because it is the eve of a holiday, the farm feels very quiet, and the Internet is still. I haven’t gotten an e-mail or  message since mid-afternoon, that is very unusual, the world feels very still.

I am loving the quiet and sense of solitude. We skipped calling Bingo tonight at the Mansion. We both need quiet. I’ve been listening to Lizzo the rapper and her new album “Cuz I Love You.” I’d not heard about this album, Maria heard it on the radio.

Lizzo has a ton of attitude.

I like it a lot, sitting in my chair with the earphones on is sweet.

I bought the new Jonathen Lethem mystery, The Feral Detective. I think it’s an amazing book, an old story in a way about heroes descending to the underworld set in the era of President Trump, in what Lethem calls the “post truth era.”

The book is narrated by Phoebe Siegler, a privileged, 30 something New Yorker who quits her job as a reporter for the New York Times in anger and despair over the 2016 election of the man she calls the “Orange Beast.”

I don’t generally go for novels with contemporary politic twists, but this one seems both timely and real.

She flies to LA to hire Charles Heist, the literally “feral Detective” to help find the missing daughter of a good friend in Brooklyn.

Heist is a creative of nature, his wildness collides head on  with Phoebe’s unapologetic urbanity and the two head off to the Mojave Desert on what seems likely to be a great and dangerous adventure.

I love the book so far, as I loved Motherless Brooklyn, an earlier entry into the crime genre by Lethem, who is one of the best writers I have read in a long while.

Lethem is one of the more literary of crime writers, he has a great feel for language, the plot moves rapidly, the novel is deeply compassionate so far and the story line is said to be unpredictable.

I’m only 70 pages in, it already is.

I am lucky to have a great new album and what seems to be a terrific new mystery/novel for the weekend, I am going to spend time with both of them. The password for the weekend is calm. And rest.

Maria and I will take a ride or two over the weekend, but I’m seeking solitude. So much going on in my head, I want to quiet it down. And take photos of course.

24 May

The Secrets Of Emily Dickinson Quilt. “I’m Nobody…”

by Jon Katz

Maria calls this quilt “Emily Dickinson’s Secrets.” It was sold well before it was even finished, and I think it is a breakthrough idea for her and a wonderful quilt. Maria’s backstory is  fascinating.

We are learning that Dickinson’s true life was kept a secret for decades, we are only learning about it now. As many others have pointed out, Maria’s artwork is becoming deeper and richer all the time. “I’m nobody. Who are you?”

24 May

Do Gooding Ideas For The Weekend

by Jon Katz

It feels good to do good. It is so much better than arguing or worrying about what is good. Thomas Paine said his religion was to do good. I love that idea. I hope to keep the faith.

Many of you contributed to our various causes this week, and thank you. For those do-gooder in the Army Of Good and beyond who wish to do some good this holiday weekend, we can help you. I try to do some practical good every day, it is my spiritual exercise.

There are some kids to help and two nearly sold out wish lists, one for the Bishop Maggin High School, the other for the Mansion. Very few items left. What a holiday gift for these people to find them all bought out by Tuesday. I’m buying one thing a day on each.

One good I wish to do is to keep Issachar and his brother Asher in the Bishop Maginn school. They need tuition help. We have some time to raise the money.

You can donate to their tuition fund by sending a contribution to Mike Tolan, Bishop Maginn High School, 75 Park Avenue, Albany, N.Y., 12202. It’s tax-deductible and life changing, a gift that will keep on giving for a lifetime.

First, I want you to hear this wonderful young man Issachar, the twin brother of Ishtar, explain to me the ending of Avengers Endgame which I have been puzzling over for days. Isacchar’s enthusiasm and intelligence shine through, he is a lot of fun. I really like this kid, and his shy and quiet brother.

Principal Nolan loves the Avengers too.

We need to  help his very poor family pay some tuition fees so he and his brother can stay in Bishop Maginn High School, a place that has brought them safety and love. They have not often been safe in their lives.  They have enough suffering behind them, it’s time for a new story.

There are only four items left on the Mansion Amazon Wish List, one for some tea, the other three paints for art work and projects, increasingly popular at the Mansion, thanks to you. The gifts range in price from $13 to $41.

On the new Bishop Maginn Wish List, there are three items left, all relating to art and crafts project, clay, drawing paper and tape, ranging from $15.99 to $38.64.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the wonderful work you have done, and that you have helped me to do. We are doing something special, I really appreciate the Army of Good when we take on a new project and watch the shock of needy and vulnerable people who have almost given up hope.

You give me hope.


24 May

Red Shows His Stuff. Love And Work

by Jon Katz

Red seemed energized by his visit to the Bishop Maginn High School on Tuesday. Red proves Sigmund Freud’s theory that life is about love and work. He loves to do his work, at the school or the Mansion, or in his pasture with the sheep.

I am determined to give Red the opportunity to work for as long as he can and wishes. It may or may not shorten his life, he has a bad heart now, but I would love for him to live his life as fully as he can for as long as he can.

This morning, he marched right up to the sheep and took his stance. He looked like the old Red. Good for him, dogs have pride and dignity too.

24 May

On Love. There Is Only One Of You

by Jon Katz

There is so much writing about love, yet I have so little understanding of it. And it is important.

Thomas Merton wrote that “love is not just something that happens to you: it is a certain special way of being alive.”

I woke up this morning and turned to Maria, who was still groggy, and I said “there is only one of you.” And she groaned and then answered, “there is only one of you.”  I said I had never  in my life met anyone anything like her, and she said the same was true of me.

Was that, I wondered, the reason for our love? Some biologists say it’s smell that draws us to one another, the chemistry or biology behind it is not known or understood. Why do we love one person, and not another?

How can we be so ignorant of something so central to our lives? In the Kabbalah, God says love is the point. There are all kinds of books and movies about love, yet we don’t know how it happens.

Sometimes, in the minutes before sunrise, Maria and I each wonder how it is that we came to love each other, and to love each other so much. It is something of a mystery to us.

In think at times that we love people who are symbols for us of something bigger than them or us.

I got the most beautiful letter this morning from Cynthia Prince of Medford,  Oregon, she wrote:”when you called Maria your Cather woman I was overcome – never had I known such a term existed! I told my husband of 37 years he now had the key to unlock my soul, just call me his WC woman…he knew exactly what I meant.”

Maria has the key to my soul, and perhaps she does signify to me something bigger than me, something I always wanted but could never find: a Willa Cather woman to share my life –  a person who is smart, creative, loving and fierce in her love and life.

Our souls did touch, and we set out together to leave fear and loneliness behind and just live. We fight like Samurai warriors for one another, and in the process, of course, we are fighting for ourselves.

Souls can get lonely and frightened, they need other souls to walk with them.

I spent most of my life in a loveless way, I was too frightened or crazy to figure out how to love. When I met Maria, I had given up on love, I was deep into a downward spiral,  like a plane heading straight for the ground. Love was for other people. It was some sappy thing you saw in the movies, or read about in novels. It had little to do with me.

The closest I get to it is the idea that love is about being known. Maria says she never  felt as known as she did when we first met and became friends, and the same thing is true of me.

How is it that two people at pivotal points in their lives can to see into the souls of each other, when neither of us could see into the souls of other people? And when few people could see into ours?

I don’t know, I don’t have an answer.

We were both wrecks at the time, not at our best, not really in a loving frame of mind. But we both saw the true person inside of each other, we just knew each other. It was as if we had known each other all of our lives, two people who were uncomfortable with almost everybody were completely comfortable with each other.

I can’t imagine anyone loving me in the shape I was in, or at all, and yet Maria saw through all the confusion and madness and saw the person I wanted to be, the one buried inside of me.

I looked at  her and saw the artist yearning to come out, to be released, to see the light, to be freed.  I saw her strength and her passion.

I loved that in her. Her love of life reignited mine, and my knowing her somehow gave her the strength to stand in her truth, and reclaim ownership of her life.

When I looked out the window and saw her walking up the hill with carrots and celery for the donkeys and the sheep, I thought, this is my Willa Cather girl, bursting with love and strength and creativity.

I know what it is like to not love, and to not be loved. Now, I know what it is like to be loved and to love. Merton is correct, it is a different way of being alive.

I have to say that I feel my dogs helped to open me up to love, they were the first beings to force me out of my cave, to get my heart beating again. To have the dogs I wanted, and the dogs I loved, I just had to be a better and more whole person, more patient, a better listener, more empathetic.

Orson began the process, Rose deepened it, Lenore symbolized it. I was telling a shrink about Lenore, who I called the Love Dog, and she looked at me and said, “don’t you see? Lenore is what you want? That’s why you came up here. You are looking for that love in a human being!”

I got it, I saw it. I love my dogs, but they have always led me to people, not away from them, and that may be what I love most about them.

When I met Maria’s man-hating dog Frieda, the Helldog, I knew this was a ticket to love. If I could get Frieda to love me, Maria might just find me better than most men she had known and let me in.

And so it was. Maria said she first began to trust me when I was willing to work so hard to break through to Frieda.

And that’s how it is with these Willa Cather girls, they don’t really need men to live their lives, they just sometimes decide to tolerate them for a while. You have to let them live their lives and mean it.

Dogs can be ambassadors of love, scouts and enablers. They have enriched and enabled my life.

To find love I had to do the same thing with Maria as I did with some of the dogs.

I had to change, to be open to it, to look very hard at myself and face the truth about me and what it was I really wanted, and what it was a I had to change. I had to acknowledge the worst things about me.

Dogs didn’t really show me how to do that, but they opened the door, and I am grateful.

So that’s as far as I’ve gotten with this love thing. I am arrogant enough to think I might one day have something new to offer about love.

Love is not, in fact, just something that happened to me. It is a certain special way of being alive.

There is only one of you in this world, Maria, and there is not an hour in any given day that I don’t give thanks for you.

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