Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

15 January

The Tender Work. SOS: Bringing Jean Up From The Darkness

by Jon Katz

I got an SOS from two Mansion aides today, they thought Jean was slipping into a depression, they were worried about her. They asked if I had any ideas about lifting her up. I did.

It is not simple living in assisted care even in the best of times. For many of the Mansion residents, these are not the best of times. The Danforth Care Center graciously agreed to take in the displaced Mansion residents until repairs are finished there.

But they are especially fragile, and this is one of the worst things that can happen to them.

It has been very hard of them, one of the most difficult things for the advanced elderly to endure is to be pulled from safe environments in a hurried way and thrust into a strange environment. Each one has been affected in their own way, many have gotten colds or brief fevers, others are simply confused or depressed, they want to go where it is familiar. They want to go back to the Mansion.

The staff and the Army of Good have thrown themselves into this breach, we have built a temporary activity room filled with books and puzzles and gotten a DVD player and some movies to relieve the boredom and disorientation. Julie Smith as been coming to the Danforth every day to read to the residents and talk to them.

So have Red and I, and Maria has come on several visits as well. I asked the aides some questions about Jean, a called a psychologist who specializes in elder care, I talked to Maria and the aides and sorted through my own experiences in hospice and assisted care work.

I came up with the idea of giving Jean a second comfort baby doll, she loves the first one so much, I thought it might lift her up, jar her out of a deepening funk.

I got her some diapers and clothes for the new doll. Maria and I went to Wal-Mart after lunch to buy the baby doll, we found a good-sized one, somewhat similar to the comfort doll I got her six months, ago, she was the first resident in the Mansion to get one.

The danger of the comfort dolls is that the residents can become too deeply attached to them, and worry about them so much they forget to be active and take care of themselves. Jean is already reluctant to leave her comfort doll in her room, but the doll has given her so much pleasure and purpose everyone involved believes it has been valuable to her.

We brought the doll to Jean around 2 p.m.,  and the change in her was dramatic. She smiled, talked, even joked with me and Maria. She laughed when she saw the doll and instantly agreed to get up (for the first time in a day) and go outside of her room and show her new baby to the other Mansion residents who were gathered in the Activity Room/Chapel that has been set up for them.

Jean sat down with both babies in her arm while eating a popsicle given her as a treat. She was animated, happy, the aides were relieved, she had come up out of the darkness. The baby doll did the trick, it gave her purpose and focus, something to nurture and love.

I talked about the baby doll with the Mansion staff, and we all agreed that I should take the new baby home with me and bring it to Jean on my visits to the Mansion. Let her get used to it gradually, and not have the chance to focus on it too much.

They were worried about the responsibility and worry she would feel for two baby dolls, we all thought it best to move cautiously and deliberately. I told Jean I wanted to take the baby and care for her while she was at the Danforth, and she nodded, and said that was a good idea, and hugged the baby – she named it “Honey” – and kissed it goodbye.

She looked so much better, we told her she would be returning to the Mansion soon, and she said that a good thing. “I feel much better today than I did yesterday, ” she said.

I felt good to hear that. The work at the Mansion is proceeding  rapidly. It is hoped that some of the residents will be able to come back on Friday, or possibly Monday.

The residents are very happy to hear it. I pray for them to get home, it has been a difficult time for them, and for the people who care for them, and for their families.

This tender work is precious to me, and to Maria. It is somewhere between therapy and medicine, but we can fill some of the holes in their lives. Do good in the real world. Every day. This week has been a trial for the residents and staff, in a curious way, another gift for me. And another chance for the Army Of Good to do Practical Good.

Another chance for the Mansion workers to show their dedication and love.

Next week, a Homecoming Celebration, courtesy of the AOG: Chinese food and music. It will be a joyous event. Jean with have both babies with  her for that.

15 January

Portrait, Meet Holden, Actor, Contractor, Role Player

by Jon Katz

There are a lot of fascinating people in my acting class. Christine Decker, our teacher, is a wonderful actor,  and an intuitive teacher, and I’ve already met a professor, a pastor, a bunch of young actors and a fascinating and creative young man named Holden.

Holden is 22, he works in Massachusetts as a general contractor, but that is his day job, his passion in life is Live Acting Role Playing, (LARP) one of the most creative  and challenging and little known subcultures in the digital world, and in all of  culture.

Live Acting Role Playing is a form of real world and online role-playing – inspired, I think, by the Dungeons and Dragons games – where the participants physically portray their characters. The players pursue different goals – hunting, finding, “killing” playing. The setting takes place in the real world, the players interact with one another in character.

It is really all about acting, creating and drama.

There is a farm outside of my town of Cambridge – I’ve never been there – where role players gather four or five times a year to act out their different scenarios. Holden role plays there.

There are many variations to role-playing. The rules vary also.

The outcome of the player roles and actions are often mediated by game rules or determined by voting or consensus among the players. The event hosts and arrangers are called gamemasters, they choose the setting and the rules to be used to manage play.

The first LARP’s were run in the late 1970’s, during the rise of tabletop games and genre fiction, online and off. Dungeons and Dragons was the mother of these and other offshoots of gaming. The play might be a simple game or a complex dramatic or artistic play or other expression of creativity.

The gamers live in an alternate universe sometimes – few outsiders know what they are doing, how complex and creative and obsessive and stimulating it is. They truly live in another world, colorful, intense and expanding. Few parents or educators or politicians can even begin to grasp it’s complexity and reach.

This is where Holden came in, he say she took the class to enhance his acting skills for his LARP work, but he seems to be a natural actor, comfortable before a crowd and authentic. I’ve always seen the gaming culture as one of the most compelling and creative cultures in the country, even though it is still a subterranean culture, not recognized by mainstream media or the cultural trendsetters of the coasts and media.

It was great to talk to Holden last night, and good for him. He is serious about nurturing and expanding his creativity.

His games are not far from the farm, I hope we can get him to visit or invite me to one. I will enjoy watching him grow in class.

15 January

My T.S. Eliot Monologue For Acting Class. I’d Love Some Advice

by Jon Katz

I’ve chosen “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot, one of the great dramatic monologues of all time, as my monologue for my acting class. We had our second meeting last night – I am really into this class –  and I read parts of Eliot’s masterpiece poem.

Christine Decker, our gifted actor/teacher suggested I read a shorter part, and savor the language more. She said I didn’t need to emphasize the rhymes, let the words speak for themselves. She said I need to slow it down and “taste” every word.

I can speak easily in public, but I’m not comfortable reading text in public. I just don’t feel comfortable.

This is one of my favorite pieces of writing, the piece speaks powerfully to love, aging and life Eliot understood that it takes some courage to age well, you have to dare to eat the peach and step into the water.

I usually cry when I read this work, and I guess I did tear up for a second in the video. But I’d love some feedback on how you think I did and what I can do to be better. I am not looking to act or be an actor, but if I do something, I would rather do it well.

I hope to be reading this work well by the end of class.

You can post your comment right at the bottom of this post, you can post a comment on my Facebook Page – Jon Katz – or you can e-mail me at jon@bedlamfarm.com. I might not be able to respond to all of your messages but I will read them.

Some of you might be surprised that I am asking for advice, but the truth is I value advice – it has saved my life in many ways. Advice that is requested is precious, I find  unwanted advice to be intrusive at times and presumptuous.

There’s a reason for that. I want to make my own decisions and learn to take my own advice. Part of that is knowing when to ask for advice, and when to not.

So if you have any thoughts about my reading of the monologue, I would welcome them and thank you. I think Acting Class will  help me to think creatively and perhaps open up in public more. That would also be good for my writing.

14 January

Improv: Acting Class

by Jon Katz

I went to my second acting class Monday, taught by Christine Decker of the Old Castle Theater Company in Bennington, Vt. Christine brought out a red carpet for Red, who blended in beautifully with the class.

I will never have another dog like Red, he was a bit confused at first, then settled down and watched intently as the class did improve and read their monologues.

Christine like my choice of monologues – T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song Of J. Alfred Pruflock, one of the great dramatic monologues. She wanted it shorter, with less emphasis on rhyming, and she wanted me to “taste” each word, Eliot’s words are so beautiful.

She loved the choice, but I have work to do on this poem. I didn’t cry when I read it, however, I think that was a first.

Red has been invited back to all of the classes, that dog can go anywhere anytime and figure things out.

Half the class is improv, and that is hard for me. I am great with a podium in front of me talking about one of my books, but improv will take some getting used to. It is not a comfortable medium for me, although I enjoyed it more tonight.

I like being opened up and need being opened up. The class is good for me, just as Christine suggested. I am the oldest person in the class, which is interesting.

14 January

So What is This Photo Flap All About?

by Jon Katz

Alice and I joke about the dates we have gone on – lunch outings, boat rides, bands playing in the Mansion Great Room. We always dance, I always approach my “girlfriend,” and she is alway up for it. She has been staying at the Danforth Adult Care Center and like the other Mansion refugees, is eager to get home.

Her children came over the weekend and took her out to get her hair done.

When she returned, she was eager to have her photo taken, she was very happy with how it turned out. I asked her if I could put her hairdo up on my blog, as I always do, and she said “sure,” that would be great.

In another dimension, this would hardly be news. For Alice, it was big news.

It is important for the residents to have attention paid to them, to still be able to get a nice hairdo and show it off, to feel good about the way they look and flattered that someone is paying attention. To pay attention to their looks.

This week, I find myself in the not unusual position of being in an unwanted controversy, although in the overall scheme of things, not an earth-shattering one. This story is not really about me, or should not be. I apologize if I’ve done that.

I ticked somebody off, somewhere along the line, and my camera got banned from the Danforth Care Center, where the residents are staying. I am uncomfortable finding myself in this position.

But I do need to set the record straight, the downside of the Internet is that misunderstandings and misinterpretations and impulses often take precedent over caution and reason.

First off, the Danforth management was not responsible for my photos getting banned. That was the state of New York. They were asked to post this new dictum and they did.

I can’t quite fathom what their reasoning was,  there is probably some regulation somewhere about it, since I have not been there before.

This does not affect my Mansion work, and since the residents are due to go “home” in a few  days, the Lord and state regulators willing, there is really no point in my whipping up a storm, although I am certainly prepared to fight if I should need to.

I know some people have concluded that the Danforth must be trying to hide something, but I don’t think that is true. The staff and operations have been quite open to me and other visitors.

Other people are making – because of my writing – assumptions about the Danforth that I ought to address.  The Danforth is not the Mansion. It is not in a beautiful old house, as the Mansion is. The owners do not have the same ideas about activities that the Mansion owners have.

It is the Mansion that is quite special, not the Danforth.

The people at the Danforth care about their residents, they do the best they can. They are not evil or harming their clients, they are quite typical of most adult care facilities I have been in – well run, well supervised, the aides attentive and present. People get the care they need.

I wish there were more activities there, but it’s not my prerogative to tell them what to do. And America does not spend much money helping the aged.

The residents at the Danforth seem content to me. No one there has complained to me. It is not for me to judge them and if I have been doing that, I apologize. That feels arrogant to me.

The Danforth residents would love to have a dog like Red visit them, and I think they would appreciate an Army Of Good to support them, but there is only one Red, and only one Army Of Good. And to be honest, there is only one me, and one Maria.

I am not interested in expanding, we all have enough going on in our lives.

I am not looking to start a crusade, but you can see from Alice’s face that she wants people to know she is alive.

She wants to be seen.

That is the focus for me, now and always, that is what we need to think about: the people in elderly care are human beings, just like you and me. They hate and love and hope, just like you and me. When we forget that, we abandon them to an unhappy end. I don’t intend to forget that, my camera gives them voice and humanity. They have been voiceless and invisible for too long, if I am on any mission, that’s the one.

Alice is, to me, the point of taking photographs of the elderly. She wants and needs to be connected to the outer world, she loves getting letters (The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, she loves to dance, she loves to get her hair done and eat special food. Sometimes, she needs special orthopedic shoes to help her walk.)

The truth is, I don’t know what the Danforth does with or for its residents, nor is it my business. I am not the Lord of Assisted Care, or the special police of assisted care. The state seems eager to do that. I am where I belong and will stay where I belong.

As always, I just wanted to be clear. And I am so grateful for your assistance with the Mansion residents during this difficult week. We have done well. I can always use some help if anybody wishes to contribute to the Mansion Fund.

We have our big Homecoming Celebration coming up next week.

You can contribute to the Mansion Fund via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com, or through my Post Office Box, Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Another reason I take photographs is so  you will always see where the money goes, and to whom. Thanks.

Email SignupEmail Signup