Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

14 December


by Jon Katz

We drove down Main Street to the town’s only liquor store this evening, we bought a bottle of wine. I have some red wine once in a great while, but I have largely given up drinking.  An older man with heart disease and diabetes doesn’t need to drink a lot of alcohol.

I’ll join Maria in a glass of red wine once in awhile. Maria drinks very little, sometimes she has a glass of wine.

I love the way the liquor sits out on Main Street in the dark, it is a beacon of sorts. Businesses come and go in a small town, there are just not a lot of people too sustain too many businesses, but, the liquor store has been here a long time and will be  here for a long time, I would imagine.

The owners have a quiet border collie who visits from time to time.

14 December

Bingo Night: Red’s Professionalism

by Jon Katz

I think Red is a great animal in many ways, but I am always struck by his professionalism, his ability to use and trust his instincts apart from what I have taught him and encouraged him to do.

On most Bingo nights – Friday is our bingo night –  I am the caller, spinning the numbers in a wheel and calling them out one by one for an hour or so. The residents take the game seriously, and focus on it.

At the end of the hour,  there is a prize card with prizes for the residents to choose.

During the course of the hour, Red goes and visits with each one of the residents in the room, offering himself for petting or talk or comfort. He spends three-to-five minutes with each person.

He has his own clock, and he decides who and when to visit, and when to move on to the next person. Towards the end of the hours, he has visited everyone at least once, and comes to me and lies down.

If he is in any pain tonight, he is hiding it. He has the most remarkable instincts for this work, and I think this is true of all of the great therapy dogs I have met.

Training and reinforcement is important for these or any other dogs, but tonight, watching Red do his work in so professional and thorough and intuitive a way, I see the power of dogs to heal and ground us.

Professional is the word that keeps coming to my mind. He is appropriate with everyone, he approaches softly, demands nothing, and offers himself in ways that people choose. Above, he is visiting Matt, our reigning Bingo champion.

I am fortunate to have such a dog, and grateful he will be able to do his work, perhaps even for years. One request tonight: one of the Mansion men needs new and wide velcro sneakers, his old ones are falling apart. I’ll trawl some online shoe stores, they will not be available up here.

14 December

Country Road. Living In Our Own Myths

by Jon Katz

We all live in our own myths, one of mine was that I could live apart from nature, away from animals, cows, woods, hills, falling barns. I’ve read a number of psychologists who believe that people who live away from the natural world and the world of animals, are broken, and lives that are unnatural and disconnected from our own history and identity as human beings.

That is what happened to me, and I came to nature to heal and create a new myth, and that has helped to bring me a precious life, full of love and meaning.

14 December

Tidbits And Friends: Bud Steps Up To Help Red

by Jon Katz

( I am on retreat writing my book, this conversation never happened and will self-destruct shortly, in a poof of smoke.)

I’m surprised by Bud’s sudden placing of himself between Red and the sheep, about a week-and-a-half after  Red suffered a severe spinal injury and some temporary paralysis. I don’t pretend to know what is going on in Bud’s mind, but I do know what I see and it challenges much of what I believe.

I think he is aware Red was ill – he is very attached to Red – and is watching over him, It looks like he is making sure the sheep don’t rush Red or come after him.

Red’s work now is limited to lying down near the sheep. Bud walks in front of him and sits down as if this is his job now, or perhaps because he knows Red is vulnerable.

It almost has to be one or the other.

This is not something Bud did before Red was sick, and Red seems to take it as a given, he completely accepts Bud’s presence.  In generally, border collies don’t like to share their sheep responsibilities with other dogs.

Dogs can always surprise me, they humble me by reminding me of what I don’t know.

My idea is to watch it without rushing to conclusions. The truth is, I just don’t know. My dogs have never ceased to surprise me and humble me.

Heather called into my radio show Wednesday from South Carolina to ask a dog question,  but also to join in the conversation Thomas and I were having. We were talking about the new kinds of  interaction between writers like me and the people on social media who interact with me in all kinds of new ways,  some good and some bad.

As you know, I’ve been writing about this for years, to the discomfort of people who feel entitled to say anything they wish because I’m asking for it.

These new ways of messaging – I get hundreds of messages a day in one way or another – can be uplifting, supportive, informative, inspiring, unwanted, distracting,  undermining, intrusive, rude or inappropriate.

The internet has obliterated the boundaries between writers and singers and artists and their audiences. In many ways, this is a great thing, something I have been fighting for years.

For someone who needs a lot of space in his head, it is a daunting thing. There is no longer much space out there.

I think every  creative person who shares his or her life is trying to figure out this new world, and still have enough space in one’s head to create.

Heather asked if it had occurred to me that the people flooding me with unsought advice really just felt the were “friends,” and did what friends do, they try to help.

I loved Heather’s call, she was thoughtful and intelligent and challenging. It was lovely to speak with her. She is smart and nice. To be challenging and likeable is a rare gift these days.

It has occurred to me that many people messaging me see me as a friend because it is true – many of my friends are online. I have hundreds of friends out there I have never seen or met, think of the Army Of Good.

It’s a new kind of friendship, and I’m still learning how to accept it and also keep the boundaries around my life that I have learned to cherish and guard, and that are essential for someone like me to be able to think, which is what I do for a living.

I got another much appreciated message on Facebook today, it was from Lisa:

I love how you can’t resist sharing tidbits you know us readers will enjoy! I was reflecting on how reading daily, real-time stories provide an experience very different from reading a book — matched to the pace of how life and relationships actually unfold. For example, we will know how things unfold for Red as they happen. We care and feel connected with you, Maria, Red and each member of your menagerie differently than the more condensed drama of a book (which I’m still looking forward to reading!) More like friends, I tell my husband, “hey guess what Bud did today” and share a chuckle. For me this pace fosters more inter-being, less separation of the author-characters as celebrities.”

Heather is really discussing interactivity, the powerful new reality that equalizes the relationships between people like writers and readers. I am a passionate advocate of interactivity, it is the future everyone who read anything has a right to expect. It is the reason I was one of the first writers to start a blog.  Lisa did a great job of delineating the difference between interactive new media and static and passive – and failing – old media.

I got another comment on my blog the other day from a reader saying she had come to understand my blog as a series of moments, almost like photographs, “tidbits,” Lisa called them, snapshots of my life.

I love this idea of the posts being like photographs, a running visual and textual account of a life, for all of its warts and problems. It’s not all about cute animals up here on the farm, I would never wish to mislead anyone about that.

I’ve been trying to have this conversation for years, but it seemed nobody else wanted to have it with me,  people just wanted me to shut up about it and suck it up.

That’s not how I live, alas.

I am grateful that we are beginning to have a dialogue, a conversation about expectations, boundaries, change and acceptance.

It is important and exciting, and I am learning a great deal from it. We are not calling one another names, or storming off in righteous and cowardly huffs.

I consider many people who read my blog to be friends. I have for years, I have a wonderful relationship with more of my readers than I could possibly count, or ever imagined. I am grateful for that.

I also know that boundaries and identities are being crushed all over the Internet by people demanding – not requesting – things that they have no right to expect or receive. We are pioneers, working to define these boundaries.

I have never seen it as an argument, it has always been a conversation in my mind.

And thanks to people like Lisa and Heather, it is beginning to happen.

(I am on retreat, this conversation did not happen, it will self-destruct shortly.)

13 December

Merry Christmas From The Mansion Staff

by Jon Katz

I know I am supposed to be on a three-day retreat from the blog, but the Mansion staffed asked me at the Mansion Christmas Party tonight, if I could consider taking picture of the staff gathered around the Christmas Tree.

I can’t say no to that, and I know many of them are waiting to go home and see it on the blog tonight, my retreat will resume after this picture. Maria predicted this would happen.

I can’t complain about it, I have come to love and know many of these people, and they rarely ask anything of themselves. They are givers, they are not takers.

I asked them if they would like a print of this image, and they all said yes. That will cost a couple of hundred dollars at least to have it done well.

But it’s worth it, they have so much connection with one another, and there are hardly any photos of them all together. I love the smiles on their faces. When I take a group photo like this, I always yell “look at my bald spot, and take my hat off.

This time we even got the kitchen staff to come in and join the group.

I don’t know why, but this always cracks everyone up, and the photo is full of smiles. I’m going to try to get the prints before Christmas, it might be tight.

Maybe I’m fussy, but I don’t love the quality of the online printing outfits, I’ve been disappointed in the quality of the work. I’m going with the Image Loft in Manchester, Vt.

This night was important to me, the residents gave me a gift of all the poems we have worked on this year together, bound in a small book. I’ll  post a picture and write about the book after my retreat ends sometime this weekend.

It’s curious, I have felt myself an outsider all of my life, and am rarely, if ever, comfortable around groups. I feel completely at home at the Mansion, in so many ways, they are the family I never had.

I did get a good jump on my book today, this time the blog really will be silent for a couple of days

__ Please consider supporting the Mansion Fund, drained by the holiday gifts, Amazon gift cards, cookies and presents. You can help via Paypal,, or by mail: Jon Katz, The Mansion/Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. You can also donate in any amount via Paypal or major credit cards by clicking on the Support The Army Of Good button.

And happy holidays from the Mansion staff.

It’s at the bottom of every blog post.

I thank you.

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