Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

19 July

Bedlam Farm Comic: Issachar’s Jokes, My Mistakes

by Jon Katz

I met with Issachar Wednesday at the Bishop Maginn School in Albany, N.Y., we talked about his week and also about Batman, the Dark Night series of books, and Marvel and D.C. comics.

I should warn you that I got almost everything I said wrong, I might be getting addled or perhaps there is just too much going on in my head right now.

The Superhero culture has grown beyond my ability to keep focused, I love reading those books still but I leave it to the young (as with gaming), I can’t keep up.

Batman was a creation of D.C. Comics, not marvel, and the Dark Knight books could not have come out when I remembered them coming out in the video, as several vigilant superhero types – including Issachar – pointed out to me.

So much for my trying to recall memories of a half-century ago.  I don’t like nostalgia anyway but the memory is a tricky thing. I remember the Dark Knight having an enormous impact on my wanting to be a writer, but I can’t say when, or even if.


Anyway, Issachar did his job and came up with three neat jokes, he is getting better and better at it. I know he wants to be a lawyer, but he would make a great stand-up comedian. And I think he would love talking to a crowd, Issachar is comfortable in the light.

I’m bringing the Dark Night Saga Deluxe Edition, a T-shirt, a bracelet and some Dark Lord comics and books.

Come and listen to the jokes.

19 July

Find Something You Love To Do

by Jon Katz

Find Something You Love To Do, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

I was talking to a good friend the other night, she is thinking about the next chapter in her life and she kept talking about what things cost and how much money she would have to earn to live, she is by herself. She never mentioned what she wanted.

At some point, I broke in. I don’t like to give advice unless asked, and she was asking me.  I found myself saying, “look, I think you’ve got this backward. First, you’ve got to decide what you want to do and what you love to do, and then, you can figure out how to pay for it.”

Somewhat to my surprise, I was saying just what Confucius sad. In our culture, money is the religion for many people,we are taught from our first breath that money is security, money is everything, money should dictate every choice we make from work to where we live and what we do.

The people who control wealth and media have always told us that security comes first, the first thing we must do is make sure we have enough money to be secure, to get credit, be safe, and have what we need.

I don’t remember the day, but I think it was I left a corporate job – CBS News – to write books. My wife at the time went out and bought a desk and put it in our bedroom and said, “well you want to be a writer, write on this.” And I did, I wrote my first novel.

Soon, I was holed up in the freezing cold attic, typing away through my fingerless Dickens gloves. I was never that happy. I wrote 26 books after the first one.

I have done so many stupid and wrong things in my life, I didn’t even notice at the time that this was a wonderful and important decision. Talking to my friend, this was reaffirmed. But my life was transformed.

Living the life I love has not been simple, nor secure. I don’t have any of the things I am told I ought to have at this point in my life. I am out there,  on my own, there are no nets under me.

But I wouldn’t trade a day of my life for a billion dollars. I know money has nothing to do with security – just think of the wealthy people you know. I know living for money is just another form of slavery, they just don’t need the chains, we imprison ourselves.

When my book publishing world collapsed, I just kept on doing what I loved. Write here. I didn’t really know any other way, thank God, if I did, I might have fled this life.

There is some debate about who first said uttered this quote. Most scholars attribute the quote to Confucius it has sometimes been attributed to author Harvey McCay.

In 1982, a Princeton professor employed the saying and credited an unnamed teacher as the author. Bob, a reader of the blog, passed it along to me this morning.

“By loving what you do, you found it, Jon. Congratulations.” It was a nice note to get.”

Whoever actually said this – I’m going with Confucius –  was wise and profound.  I decided to find something I loved to do and did it. I believe that people who do that are blessed in a particular way, we know one another when we meet.

Somehow, I have survived.  And I love my life, my writing, my farm, my photography. None of it seems like work to me, since I began doing what I loved, I’ve not worked a single day.

Next, to Maria, finding something that I loved was the best decision of my life, and perhaps the most difficult and controversial. I’ve never really looked back.

Nobody has a perfect life, not the rich, not the poor.

But I told my friend a good life for me began when I put loving what I did first, not last.  That is my idea of security. Somebody told me at the time that if I loved my life enough, I’d always figure out a way to make it work.

So far, thanks to the angels, they were right.

19 July

Wish Lists, Second Guesses. Snarky Land.

by Jon Katz

I don’t think there’s ever been a day when somebody didn’t question or second-guess me about this Army Of Good work with the Mansion and refugees. I understand that’s the way it is, grievance and suspicion are not part of the national story.

I accept it.

I’m a bit schizophrenic about it.

On the one hand, I appreciate people questioning me – they have a right to know what we are doing – and on the other, I just get weary of the snarky and often poorly-informed questions.

In my less gracious moments, I resent having to take time out of good work to argue with people, almost none of whom have ever contributed a penny to anything, to the best of my knowledge.

Perhaps it was the heatwave scouring much of the country, or our President’s Twitter rages – I’ve started thinking of him as Tweety Bird for some reason – but the messages came in a wave yesterday.

Yesterday was the nasty and grumpy day.

First, there was a surprising message from someone upset that we were trying to buy basketballs for Bishop Maginn or DVD’s for the Mansion residents, or concerned that I didn’t seem to care how Amazon employees were bring treated.

People wondered why I didn’t do more bargain hunting. One angry man – Brent – went onto eBay and listed all of the DVD’s that were cheaper than the prices on Amazon.

I am nothing if not transparent, I owe that to the people who send me their money. I get a lot of thanks and praise, so I suppose it’s only fair that I get a lot of sniping and questioning also.

They call it democracy, and I believe in it. It’s good for the righteous and the Second-Guessers, a vast subculture in America that loves social media. The first message was about basketballs:

I’m having a tough time with this school. Please don’t take this in the wrong way. I have donated from the wishlist but this basketball request struck a nerve. Of course, I want the kids to have basketballs. Hope you get all you request but what kind of school has a gym with no gym equipment, an art department with no art supplies? What other departments are barebones. And why? This is the type of charity I cannot give to without seeing their financials.”

This one set me back, I admit.  How was I supposed to take it? Why was it okay to buy soccer balls and shirts for the soccer team, but not to buy basketballs for Bishop Maginn?

Bishop Maginn High School opens its doors every morning all summer so that the refugee children and the poor children in the neighborhood can come into the gym and play basketball rather than roam the streets, dodging drug dealers and gangs.

The school does not have a single new basketball for its own students, kids have to bring their own scarred, patched and deflated balls.

What kind of school, I wrote back, has no equipment or art supplies?

This kind:

A struggling Catholic School in a poor urban neighborhood whose student base has moved to the suburbs and who admits children whose families have no money to pay for tuition. The Catholics call this a “mission” school, it’s mission is to help these needy children.

The gym teacher begged for those basketballs, I’m told, and I am glad he did.

I told the writer that she may not have noticed that the Catholic Church, the owners of Bishop Maginn are spending billions of dollars justly settling lawsuits, and closing hundreds of schools.

If they closed Bishop Maginn, it would be a catastrophe for the needy students who go there.  So they put up six $59 basketballs on their new Wish List. I told this messager that the school was asking for six new basketballs, and I was proud to have purchased three of them. They are all gone now.

I ought to say the sender is a good and generous person, we worked it out. She has often contributed to this work.

(There are now just two items and two gift cards left on the Bishop Maginn Wish List.)

Then this message from someone named Cameron, who suggested he has been reading the blog for a while (but I somehow doubt it.)

I’ve been curious for a while now,” wrote Cameron, “how do you justify relying so heavily on Amazon, even including pictures that are essentially free advertising for them, knowing the horrific way they treat their employees.”

Cameron is a devotee of the new American way of online dialogue – sending snarky messages while hiding behind computers and then fleeing when challenged. I wrote to him and pointed out that I don’t run the Wish List’s or choose the items on them. I just support them, in order to help the residents and the refugees.

I said Amazon has been a godsend for the Mansion residents and Bishop Maginn. It is simple and safe and the things people need to get there quickly and as advertised. That is no small thing when people are desperate for underwear, socks or shoes.

I don’t really know a lot about how Amazon treats its employees, my guess is that they treat them as badly as most corporations in America treat their employees. I think “horrific” might be a bit of stretch. I don’t think they torture or murder anybody.

In our country, people are just garbage, to be discarded the second profits dip. Switching to e-Bay won’t stop that.

I told Cameron if he could suggest a corporation that could do what Amazon does and support our work as efficiently, I would be happy to pass that information along.  I told him if I only ordered things from American corporations who treated their employees with compassion and generosity, we’d probably have to close up shop.

Cameron, of course, hid.  It seems he wasn’t all that curious after all.

The idea of a snarky message is to feel the power and righteousness of sending it and then vanishing into the fog. I will never hear from him again.

I was barely done with Amazon and basketballs when Brent and Anne posted messages complaining about the price of the DVD’s the Mansion residents had requested. Six of them were posted on the Mansion Amazon Wish List.

The Army of Good can do a lot better than buying wildly overpriced used DVDs on Amazon,” wrote Anne indignantly. “There are other sites that have them for one-tenth the price that Amazon charges.”

I also wrote back to Anne, saying that I didn’t choose the items on the Wish List, and I was sure that many could be purchased more cheaply. The thing about Amazon is that it is simple and people trust it and feel safe using it. They also have a vast range of products, almost everything we need, and they ship it quickly and intact.

If she wanted to find items at lower items and send them to the Mansion, I gave her the address: 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. I am waiting to hear back.

Brent went to eBay and posted a half-dozen links to eBay prices and products without comment, permission or explanation. I deleted his messages and told him to get lost.

I will say that I am wary of used products for the Mansion residents. So many are broken, scratched or don’t work at all.  I am sorry to say people often send dirty or torn clothing. Or clean out their attics and ship the contents to me without asking. It is always good to ask.

Shopping on eBay with strangers is much more complicated and time-consuming than Amazon. And we’ve had bad luck with it, to be honest. I hate it when the residents get things that are broken, have no guarantees or not as advertised. I don’t want them wearing somebody else’s underpants and socks.

Beyond that, there are few well functioning computers at places like the Mansion. The staff generously takes the time to put some items up on the list, they do not have the time or bandwidth to bargain-shop.  And they are so busy, they aren’t required to do this work.

It’s a miracle to have a wishlist like this for the Army Of Good, it is such a good thing, it has done so much good.

I buy many of the items myself if I have the funds, and I do bargain shop all the time, especially for clothes, I have a nice network of thrift shops. But I don’t have much time to bargain shop or browse the Internet either, I surely don’t have an hour to shop around for the cheapest DVD’s.

Sometimes the cheapest way is not the best way.

I’ve suggested three Wish Lists in the past few years – one for RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center in Albany,  one for the Mansion, one for Bishop Maginn.  All were successful beyond expectations. I can’t speak for RISSE, I haven’t been working with them for some time.

I will say this – the wish lists – was the best idea I have ever had for this work. This is the future of fund-raising.

The lists have drawn scores, if not hundreds of people who don’t have the time or skills to bargain shop online or send money over the Internet. They trust Amazon, and in this context, so do I. Its not my job to evaluate the corporate mentality and honor of every business we work with.

The wish lists have democratized fund-raising.

People can send their money directly to the people and institutions who need it, purchasing things they know are needed. There are no middle-managers or administrative fees. I can’t tell you how much good these wishlists have done. People know – see – what they are sending.

Nobody likes to be second-guessed, least of all me. But being open is important. I want to share these comments and explanations, you all deserve that, even if they do take more of my time that could be better spent.

P.S. There is one DVD left on the Mansion Amazon Wish List, it’s a Clint Eastwood DVD for $30. I’m sure it’s cheaper somewhere else, but if you don’t buy it, I will. It will come tomorrow. (The list is sold out, as of noon, Friday, thanks)

There are two items and two gift cards left on the Bishop Maginn High School Wish List. One is some copies of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, the other a Jumbo Monthly Classroom Calendar.

I have a dream that both lists will be empty by the end of the day. The gift cards will say up.

As always, thanks for listening.

18 July

Please Can You Share Your Older Dogs With Me?

by Jon Katz

Red is eleven years old now. We’ve only had one dog live longer than that, this was Frieda, who lived to be about 14. Older dogs can have a certain bearing and dignity about them that is beautiful, just like older people. Their faces have great character.

I’d love to see images of your older dogs, this Dog Sharing program is one of my better ideas, and I’d like to keep it going. I think I’ll do birds next. Thanks for participating, I’m learning a lot and channeling the joy and life I see in these images and words. I read  every one (it might take a few days.) The only platform available for these photos is my Facebook Page.

I’d like to build on this new feature by doing some good and suggesting people who enjoy it consider sending a small donation – $1, $2, $5, $10 – to be used in support of Bishop Maginn High School’s supplies and tuition needs.

The Dog Sharing feature is free, this payment is entirely optional. Should you contribute, every penny of it will go to Bishop Maginn High School and the needs of its students. You can send a contribution via Paypal, or you can send a check, Jon Katz, Bishop Maginn Tuition, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Either way, thank you, I look forward to seeing these photos. I’d say six or seven years and up, yes? But if you’re sure, just post a photo.

18 July

Red Rounds Up Izzy, The Lone Sheep

by Jon Katz

Izzy is one of our biggest and most idiosyncratic Romney sheep. These days, she is often out grazing in the pasture alone, an unusual habit for a sheep. Maria and I went out to the far pasture this morning, Red walking behind us.

Suddenly, he perked up and saw Izzy grazing alone. Red went into his crouch and started creeping towards Izzy, who was wolfing down some fresh grass from the pasture.

It’s very unusual to see sheep alone. Maria thinks Izzy is just expressing his individuality, I think she’s gone bonkers and has dementia.

There’s still some juice in the old boy, though, as Red advanced towards Izzy, he just took off, heading fast for the pole barn and his brothers and sisters. He wanted no trouble from Red.

Red was pleased, and we slowly walked him back to the barn.


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