Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

22 April

Ultimate Loneliness: Seeking Friendship In A Facebook World

by Jon Katz

I don’t recall Sue  every writing to me before, but I was glad she finally did. Sue sent  me an e-mail tonight – I think my best messages come in e-mail, what can you really say in a text message?

She lit me up.

“When I read your blogs,” she said of me and Maria, “I have no question about the authenticity of your words. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with you or not. The truth is what is important.”

But the real question, she added – and this really  caught my eye – is whether there is an opportunity for authentic friendship. Or, is authenticity so scary in our culture that it precludes a friendship?”

What a good question, and how challenging for me to try to answer it. I’m sure authentic friendship is possible in the Facebook and texting era, but I have not been able to find it or keep it.

I can say I no longer believe it is likely or even possible for me. And I am no longer certain I ever needed it or really wanted it in the way I thought I did.

In his essay “Loneliness and Solitude,” the philosopher Paul Tillich wrote that most of us experience the many faces that loneliness can have. We are surrounded by friends and neighbors, co-workers and countrymen, we live in family groups and enjoy the connection of sex.

If we number ourselves among all of these people, we might wonder about this question, Tillich wrote: “I never felt so lonely as in that particular hour when I was surrounded by people but suddenly realized my ultimate isolation.”

I had a good friend who stopped being a good friend or who perhaps, was never a friend at all.

Our separation was sudden, and we have never managed to talk about it.  I tried, but he keeps telling me he will call and set up a time to talk, but we both knew that will never happen, it is just something he says, not something he wants to do.

My friend is, I realized, what I call a Facebook Friend,  he only knew me from my blog or from Facebook messages, the very idea of actually talking to me seemed  frightening to him now, even though he was a faithful commenter on my Facebook Page.

A Facebook friend is one who religiously reads the Facebook feeds of all of his or her friends, making sure to like or comment or commiserate in the appropriate ways. Facebook friends generally have the arena of eye-to-eye contact, of sitting across a table and looking someone in the eye and learning who they might really be.

I have a bunch of Facebook friends, it I died tomorrow, I’m not sure they would even know, let alone care.

How could this be, I wondered? How can we know anyone from  Facebook pages or blogs or text messages. I remembered Tillich writing once that the mystery of a person cannot be encompassed by a neat description of his character.

Neither can it be learned from a neat blog post or five-line Facebook comment, or a like or a Smiley Emoticon. Am I the only one who knows they are not real? I suspect Sue knows, or she wouldn’t have asked this very good question.

I have another friend who seems to know absolutely nothing about me or what it is that I feel, even though she follows my  blog closely and also comments on Facebook.  She is astonished when she learns something about who I really am, yet she has never once asked me who I really am.

The texts and posts are real to her, not me.

Why should she know? I write a blog and she  says “hi, how are you?” in text messages once in a while.

I’ve told her many times how much I hate messages like that, but she keeps sending them. This is what friends do in our world. Is our friendship authentic? Not yet.

We live in this Orwellian time where friendship is simply a matter of one click of a mouse. No charge.

People “friend” me all the time, and recognizing the value to a writer of many likes and “friends’ on Facebook, I always accept these invitations.

I am still  so often surprised to see that the people who send these messages think we are real friends, just like the Disney movies or Thornton novels.

They invite me to dinner, ask when they can visit, send me 50 inch mails about a beloved dog that died, bemoan the rebellious child, notify me about their surgeries. I suggested to my publicist that I stop accepting “friend” requests, and he almost came through the phone. “But these are people who might buy your book, silly!”

Friends like these mean no harm, but they make me feel lonely and isolated, because so many of them think now that this is how you become a friend and maintain friendships. And I hate to disappoint people, as I inevitably do. I lose a lot of friends being friends.

You “like” and cheer and commiserate and enable on Facebook posts, from people who may or may not be real. How can you possibly be friends with someone whose very existence you can’t trust?

Sue, friendship is, after all, all about trust, I think.

In my world, I get more  texts and Facebook messages every day and meet and speak to fewer and fewer people. I haven’t spoken to my editor in years, he only communicates by e-mail, and only rarely, I can’t  swear that he even exists, he might be an algorithm.

In the other world, I had lunch with my editor every couple of months, we were, actually friends.

He was laid off, and I don’t speak to editors any more.

Sue’s question goes to the heart of loneliness in our time, because to answer it, I first have to understand what authenticity is. For me, authenticity begins with vulnerability. Vulnerability is the path to honesty and trust and empathy, the foundations of friendship.

If you can trust someone to show them who you really are, and they care about you enough to hear it, than friendship is possible.

And how does one find it in a text message or e-mail or a warm and fuzzy Facebook post (“I am so sorry for your loss”) or tweet. We don’t actually see each other as individual humans anymore, we are all avatars, representations of ourselves, labels or stereotypes.

How can I tell who the real person is, how can anyone really know me? I can’t be friends with ghosts.

Authenticity to me is the choices we make every day. The choices to overcome our fear and limitations. To take the risk of living fully. To show up and do real good in the real world. To be real.

I risked love and found my purest friendship in Maria.

But I will admit that I am lonely, I have always been lonely, I have always lived with the ultimate loneliness that Tillich says lives in all men. We know how the story ends.

Friendship has eluded me, perhaps because of how troubled I am, but it is also possible, as Sue suggests, that the kind of authentic friendship I want just isn’t possible any longer, the modern world seems to have no room for it.

The closest I have come to discovering authenticity in friendship was with my friend Paul Moshimer, he and I became friends while he sat in my living room one night talking until the morning light when he stayed over.

We talked about wanting to be better men and what that might mean. We talked about how far we had to go to get to be better men, about change and commitment. I wanted to cry.

I felt so much love for him that night, I remember thinking “so this is what it must mean to have a friend.”  A few days later Paul send me a message saying how much he looked forward to the wonderful things he would do together.

A few weeks after that, he was dead, he hung himself on a pine tree on his farm, just months after he had gotten married. It seemed I didn’t really know him at all, and could have been  an “authentic friend” if he never even hinted of his deep  despair and unhappiness, and I never sensed it.

I guess the truth is, I don’t know.

I fear Susan’s question is a good one. I don’t know if authentic friendship is possible, at least for me.  I don’t know how to love a Facebook friend, or someone who reads my blog and thinks they know me, but who will never take the trouble to find out. Facebook friends don’t need to talk things through or work things out.

New friends are just a few clicks away, Facebook will even suggest some for you.

At moments like these, I break through the surface of ordinary life and plunge into the depths of man’s great predicament.

I want to think more and write more about Susan’s good question. Tonight, what I am thinking is that loneliness can be conquered and and friendship found only by those who can bear solitude.

Ultimate isolation.

In solitude, I feel who i am – alone, not in pain and despair but with joy and courage.

In solitude, I will face the truth about myself and wait for that authentic friend Sue writes about, I believe he or she is out there, looking for me as well. Like me and Paul, I will know it when I see it.



22 April

Maria’s Fence. When It’s Your Choice..

by Jon Katz

It’s not simple to understand Maria and the idea of chores. It’s’ not really simple to understand much about Maria, she is labyrinth and a mystery in so many ways.

Before we got together, she felt like she was an indentured servant, pressured to do hard labor and intensely physical work restoring old houses when all she wanted to do was her art. And she wanted to do it very badly.

When we got together, she bristled at the very idea of doing chores beyond taking care of herself, and so I got into the  habit of hiring people right away when there was some physical work to be done beyond daily chores – roofs, leaks, broken fences, downed limbs, heavy mowing.

I never wanted her to feel that pressure. And she was an artist, not a handyman. She ought to be making art, not crawling on rooftops, even thought she knew what she was doing.

I saw that these kinds of chores could make her angry and bring her back to a place she wanted very much to leave behind. She was not a slave, but she felt enslaved, pressured into abandoning her passion for someone else’s passion, a familiar story for many women.

That is changing, I think because she is understanding the different between voluntary tasks and work and work that takes you out of yourself and into a dark and suffocating place.

This began with her work on our farmhouse, she will happily move furniture around all day, scrape walls, mix paint, clean rollers and brushes and  rearrange rooms.

She hops up on rooftops, hauls hay around and Sunday, she announced that she was going install a quarter-mile of mesh fencing around the places where the sheep could get out into the neighbor’s big yard or run out onto a busy highway

I was going to call Todd Mason, who put the fences in, and ask him to do it. I certainly couldn’t do it, it involved hauling mesh fences out to the far pasture, tying it to trees, moving brush and logs and rocks, drawing ticks and bugs.

It was arduous, intense physical work for hours. Big men in big trucks and tractors do that stuff.

I told her she didn’t need to do it, we could call somebody.

And she had just dug a big hole for our Sycamore Tree.

I do my share of things – cooking, shopping, firewood, hay, calling people on the phone, paying bills – but I knew I couldn’t do this, too much crawling around in brush in a hot sun, my legs would never do it. I felt useful only if I could spare her the work, but I could see that gleam in her eye, it was a beautiful day.

She loves to be outdoors, and I could see that the creative spark had been lit in her. She was picturing this fence, working out how to do it. She had a plan, it would be good and  hard work that needed to be done on our farm, she said.

She usually ends up stacking firewood when she gets that look. And she says the same thing.

I stayed with her and tried to help, maybe for an  hour, and dragged some brush around. But I had to go inside, I was worn out, I do not  have her energy, I never did.

I went inside and took a nap and read and wrote on the blog and started thinking about dinner – Tortellini with kale and spinach. I was surprised at how long she was gone, I was getting  ready to go out and check, but then she came bursting into the house, beaming.

It was all done, she said, I put up mesh across the far pasture boundary. She looked pretty pleased with herself, not like somebody who was tired and grudging.

And she stopped and looked at me.

I did a really good job, she said, and she is not prone to self-praise, it must have been a good job, I thought. There was no trace of that old resentment and anger. It’s our farm, she said, I ought to do it. I want to do it.

And she did, I could see it, she had come a long way, was coming into herself, no longer reacted to what other people wanted, or what I wanted, but what she wanted.

She was figuring out what that was. She was coming to know herself.

This morning, we went out to take a look at the pasture, and I have to say I was deeply impressed. I suggested adding another mesh fence to one corner, and she bristled. “But I did a good job,” she said, “we don’t need another section of fence.” You are probably right, I said, treading cautiously.

It took her much of a day, but Maria’s fence is a great success. No sheep would ever even try to get through that mesh, it was all tied and securely fashioned. Sheep are not subtle, they don’t test solid fences, even if they are mesh, they are easily impressed, and there was a wire fence right behind it for backup.

I was shocked at  how long it was, how securely fasted, she must have been crawling around in thornbushes and brush forever.

We were talking about it tonight, why she liked doing it so much, she was trying to understand it herself.

I told her that I think all of her life had become art, and it was all about the creative challenge of figuring things out and taking care of our wonderful little farm, and doing a good job.

I call it the Maria fence.

And we don’t have to worry about escaping sheep any longer.

22 April

Building The Podcast, Stepping Deeper Into The New World

by Jon Katz

Maria and I are taking another stop – this time together – into the new information world.

We are building a podcast, and have recorded six episodes – the latest on vulnerability and courage even as our podcast applications are being processed by Apple and Google for  listing and registration.

New York Magazine says podcasts are among the most important cultural phenomena of modern times, and that is saying a lot.

Podcasts are unlike any other information medium now. Our newest podcast, Vulnerability and Courage, posted Sunday afternoon, already had more than 300 plays by noon today.

And the only promotion has been several mentions on my blog and Maria’s blog. That’s a far better success ratio that Facebook offers or gets on its ads.

“With 660,000 shows and 62 million listeners already,” says New York Magazine, the century’s first new art form is about to enter its corporate stage.

With between 660,000 shows and 62 million listeners, what some describe as American’s first really new art form is about explode, the corporate money-givers are swarming. 64 percent of Americans have now heard of podcasts a 40 per cent jump from just a year ago. 44 per cent of all Americans have now listened to a podcast, which is 124 million people.

One third of all Americans ages 25 to 52 listen to podcasts each month, says consulting firm Convince and Convert, a podcast research company.

Among people 55 and over, 13 per cent listen monthly, that demographic is skyrocketing. The biggest growth in podcast listenership comes from women, an increase of 24 per cent over 2017. Podcast fans listen to 40 per cent more shows than last year.

Podcasts are not like any medium I know. People see them as an Intimate, even personal kind of contact with people they want to hear from. Podcasters are notoriously loyal.

Apple alone has more than 520,000 active podcasts on Itunes and over 18.5 million episodes.

Good podcasts have the feel of conversations, not performances. I think of Paul Harvey and  E.B. White as models for me. Maria has her own feelings about her role in podcasting, she can write about that.

The set-up is not especially hard, but it’s not simple either. Maria and I have been at it for a week, and are not finished signing up with the three different sites needed to record, edit and publish our podcasts.

To do it takes some time and money.

We are not building a sound proof room as many podcasters do, we want our podcast to be authentic and feel and sound real.  Trucks go by, dogs bark, donkeys bray. Our podcast opens with Simon braying his call to life.

 I have a fine Shure microphone and Maria and I talk easily and often. Our life is one big conversation and we want podcast listeners to feel as if they are sitting the living room with us listening to a conversation.

Mannix Marketing is constructing a Podcast Library Page on my blog and podcast buttons on the bottom of blog posts. Listeners will be able to listen to any of our podcasts at any time.

We record in my study in front of a mike. Red lies down behind me and Fate and Bud come in to look for treats and see if they can annoy us. Come and listen to one of our first podcasts.

It’s about our experience overcoming fear and self-doubt and shame in order to do our work and put it out into the world.

All of this is coming together, and over the next few days.

22 April

Happy Bud, Settling In

by Jon Katz

It is gratifying to see Bud evolve from this cowering and battered creature to this very happy dog, every day he seems more settled and comfortable, less wild and frantic. He is still a terror, chasing after sheep, donkeys, chickens and barn cats – he doesn’t seem to want to catch them, just rile them up a bit.

But he is finding new things to love. I wasn’t sure Bud was capable of relaxing until it got warmer, we find that he LOVES to lounge out in the sun in the dog run out back.

He will sit there for hours, watching the sheep in the pasture, barking at the chickens or dogs being walked across the road, or just staring up at the sky. He was a dog that was almost never still, and it is nice to see him soak up some rays, obviously warm weather is his element, not the winter.

I find that Maria and I talk about Bud often in our podcasts, he is a good story, there is always something to learn or laugh at from him, often at the same time. Yesterday, he managed to sneak up stairs to Maria’s office, nose open the door, discover her stash of wool and drag it downstairs where he was apprehended.

I have no idea what drove him to go up there.

When I nap once in awhile, Bud always hops up onto my chest or stomach and naps with me. I am working on training him to walk with me on country roads. More and more, when I write he is curled up on a dog bed next to Red, snoring  like a Buffalo.

Good to see this new and calmer side of Bud, he is becoming quite the happy dog. I’m glad I stuck it out with him in his crazy days.

22 April

Supporting My Blog. Time To Ask For Me.

by Jon Katz

Today, I’m asking your help by contributing one-time or regular payments to support the things you like to follow: my blog and my photography and the farm.

I often ask for money for the work of the Army Of Good – the refugees, the Mansion – but I often forget or am too queasy to ask for money for me and for my blog.

The blog, founded in 2007, has grown beyond my imagination, not only in terms of readers and viewers, but also in terms of cost. I just commissioned $4,000 for the blog re-design and so it will be easier for people to read on tablets and  phones.

It is never easy for me to ask for money for myself, until a few years ago this was unthinkable. But paying for creative work on the Internet has become more mainstream, and saved the creative lives of so many people, myself included.

But I do need help to continue my work, on and off of the blog.

Our new podcast will cost more than $1,000 to set up and publish properly. And there are substantial fees for tech support, blog feeds, domain registration and maintenance.

My photography costs me vastly more than  I can make selling photos. I don’t copyright or watermark my photos or writing. I share it freely,  I love it when my photos or stories go  out into the universe to live.

I put a fraction of my photos on sale

And I contribute a good chunk of money to Army Of Good work myself, I wouldn’t ask people out in the country to do anything I don’t do.

The publishing world is a changing landscape for me. And a lot of big bills are coming due.

No more big contracts, fat and regular royalty checks, book tours or publisher support. Year by year, it is the blog that is driving my creative life, it is the blog I love. And soon, we hope the podcast will tie us to an even larger audience.

I solicit voluntary donations, but all of these things – thousands of photos, blog posts,  the blog itself – are free.

Of course I need to pay my bills just like you, caring well for the animals is also expensive – grain, hay, medical care, fence construction and repair, firewood, wide-angle lenses for all of those sky photos people like.

I spend a lot of time driving to and forth Albany on behalf of the refugees and visiting the Mansion to do my therapy work with Red and help the residents with some of their needs.

I won’t even mention vet bills for the dogs and donkeys and sheep.

I am grateful their lives and stories can give pleasure to people. But it is also work for me, and I think it is important that I get paid for my work by people who can afford to do it. The blog is and will remain free, but it is your support that keeps it going and makes my work possible.

Without  that support, I couldn’t do this work, the blog is the heartbeat of the Army Of Good. And it is past time to tend to my own needs.

I work hard on the blog, my photos, my defunct radio show, the podcasts.  I would be most grateful to be paid for my work if it is possible for the people reading it do.

I’m aware of the great need of many people, I always balk at asking support for  me. But I know this is fair and proper (I just get over it.)

My blog is as secure as we can make it, no financial information of any kind is stored on my blog or its servers.

You can contribute any amount on a one-time basis or contribute on a monthly basis – $5, $10 or once a year for $75. You can cancel anytime.

You can contribute the one time payments in any amount via Paypal, and by check, Jon Katz, Blog Support, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge N.Y., 12816.

You can support the blog on a one-time any amount basis by going here. So if you enjoy the blog or the photos and find my work stimulating, thought-provoking or helpful, I hope you will take a money to help me continue it and support. I thank you very much.

The blog has been one of the seminal positive experiences of my adult life. So has my work with the Army Of Good with the very needy refugees and their children, and the Mansion residents, who many have come to love and care.

This time, I’m asking for me.

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