Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

11 December

Dialogue: Carrying The Emotional Baggage Of Others

by Jon Katz

Dialogue: A conversation between two or more people; to take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve or understand a problem.” –

A dialogue is not an argument, it’s a conversation. I see that many Americans, shaped by anonymous conflicts on digital media are forgetting the distinction.

I am learning every day to respect and promote the idea of dialogue rather than argument.

I’ve had a number of intense discussions in recent years with people who read my blog and my books. The discussions, in my mind, are about the new boundaries of social media, and their impact on free thought, identity, creativity, privacy and dignity.

It is not about pique or anger for me, it is serious and important stuff I am committed to exploring. I keep asking people who refuse to accept the idea of a dialogue, to go somewhere, there are plenty of places for argument, but  nobody ever seems to just leave, or leave happy.

These dialogues are healthy in my mind,  that’s how crazy I am. Many quiet voices contact me to thank me for them.

They are helping me to stand in my truth and speak up for myself, but I recognize that many people don’t see conversations in that way. People get angry with me. I’ve been called a lot of names – “vicious,” a “bully,” “cruel,” “nasty,” “insensitive,” often from people who seem vicious, bullying, cruel, insensitive and nasty to me.

That’s America in 2018.

And while I prize humility, I am comfortable saying I am not a bully, I am not generally vicious to people, and I am sensitive to the point of mental illness at times. You can’t write and take photos and be too insensitive.

In many cases, these clashes have brought into focus the limitations and inadequacies of trying to resolve conflicts online, rather than face to face.

This problem has turned the online culture into a vast and networked cesspool of hate and misunderstanding and distrust.

And I write about it to figure it out. It needs to be discussed. I am proud of these dialogues.

I believe intrusions and hostility and invasions of privacy and  unwanted advice and testimony are often smothering free speech and pushing creativity of thought to the margins.

More than any other single subject, I get the most messages from people saying they no longer comment openly or freely on the Web or Facebook or Twitter, they can’t handle the new and socially accepted ideas of commentary and manners.

They touch my heart, they are the voiceless victims of the digital world.

Many people online are outraged by the idea that I can or should respond to messages that seem inappropriate or smothering to me.

Quite often, I think I am writing for these silenced people – I call them the “Disappeared,”  as well as for me. I certainly empathize with them, although I will not ever be silenced by other people, or let them tell me what to write or do.

I refuse to disappear or be “disappeared.”

It is disturbing to many, these dialogues, yet each time it happens – this week it was about Red and his injuries and his ramp – I learn something new about myself, and about other people, and I grow a bit.

What I am learning this week is that I am bending under the weight of other people’s emotional traumas and baggage – their lost dogs and cats, their experiments and discoveries, their need to help me out, their to share their experiences, their yearning for more detail about people I write about, their  need to know more than I can tell them, about myself and other people.

It’s a mixed bag of wonderful messages and love and connection, and yearning and anger and neediness.

This time, I wrote about the ethical dilemmas of “missing” other people’s dogs and cats and humans. I wrote that I could not handle keeping up with all of the dogs and people and animals that I’ve written about, but am not writing about now.

I’ve written 25,472 posts  since I started the blog in 2007, these posts encompass thousands of people and animals I no longer write about,  or write about infrequently, from my friend Anthony to my friend Becky to Gardenworks, George Forss, Ali and the soccer team, Carol Gulley and her family, Kelly at the Bog, Connie at the Mansion, the Bog itself, Elvis, Winston, Carol the donkey, Rose, Izzy, Lenore, Frieda, and many hundreds more, over a span of more than eleven years.

The column about missing things prompted a new outpouring of messages politely but unhappily pointing out that many of the people I write about are missed, and can I please write about them again or more frequently.

It wasn’t quite the response I was hoping for, but then, it never is. That’s what makes it a dialogue, rather than a diatribe.

These characters in my life’s dramas touched a number of people, they don’t wish to let them go. These characters are not permanent cast members in a Broadway show, they are more of a parade, marking the different chapters in my life and my attempted evolution into a fully realized human being.

I am all about letting go. I am a genius at letting go, I’ve been doing it all of my life. And good riddance to most of my past.

There are a million reasons for me not to keep up with everyone I’ve ever written about – some get sick, die, change their lives, move away, seek privacy, change circumstances. Or maybe this: I’m just too busy.

My own philosophy of life comes into play here, as odd as it is.

I do not go backwards in my life, there is not much there for me,  I move forwards. I seek the new, not the old. I worship change, not stasis. I am not interested in conventional ideas about or downsizing.

I am finding out who I am, and am less likely than ever to apologize for it. But the new thing I am realizing is that I am not capable or able to handle the emotional baggage of other people.

Because I write about someone, or photograph an animal does not mean I can write about them for all time, or should.

Joan summed up the dilemma for her very well in a post on my blog:

“The Bog is no more.” I thought, “wait, what happened to the Bog?” What happen to Scott and his quest for a place to run his business? Battenkill Books? Ali? I give money to the Army of Good with no strings attached, but sometimes an end to the story that is not a one liner would be nice.”

It would be nice, but it would also be impossible and unhealthy for me to do that. I can’t do retrospective docu-posts.

I have explained all of these things Joan wants to know about more than once on my blog, I am transparent to an extreme.

The Bog’s owner died and it closed (as I  wrote) it; Scott moved his Round House Cafe to a new location and is doing well (as I wrote many times), Battenkill Book is mentioned almost weekly on my blog, Ali has found a new sponsor for the soccer team, we ended two wonderful years of working together.”

Once they are known, it is up to them to offer their messages, and up to the people who miss them to find them, they are quite available. But I should warn you, that is not a simple path.

Not everyone wishes to be written about photographed all the time, and I do not wish to be carrying so heavy a burden – 24,000 posts!  Time moves on, life moves on, I move on.

I don’t know Joan, I appreciate her messages, but I will be honest and say that if this is what she needs from me, I can’t provide it. No strings is not some strings, it’s no strings. Missing people is a string.

That’s too much weight for me, I can’t bear to carry it.

If I tried, I would burn out quickly. I don’t get paid by the hour, and I need to pay my bills just as she does.

There are scores of people we have helped in the past few years from the African carver to scores of  refugee children, they have vanished into their own lives, they are not my  business unless they ask me to be.

I can’t update the lives of them all, not to mention the thousands of people apart from them, and I wouldn’t want to if I could. Not everyone wants to live in the spotlight to satisfy the curiosity of strangers.

When I write about this, a number of people usually throw their hands up in the air and shriek in protest – I am mean, or picking on helpless people.

But the thing is, I don’t see this either as an argument or as a battle.  That’s where I part from so many people. This is a conversation, a dialogue, there is no right or wrong here, only what we feel. I believe some day these dialogues will all be a book, a part of our social history.

There is something new and revolutionary about these issues. And what I am learning about myself is that I need to understand how to manage this emotional weight in a positive and useful way.

Cruelty and bullying doesn’t come into it. Bless it, this is a genuine dialogue, and it reflects how a real dialogue – first invented by the Ancient Greeks, after which the term is coined. They also invented the idea of democracy  – is supposed to work.

11 December

Coming Thursday, My Retreat

by Jon Katz

Tomorrow, Wednesday, the 12th of December. I will be doing two things that are new and exciting for me. First, I’ll be doing the next broadcast of my new show, Talking To Animals, on WBTNAM130, a community radio station in Bennington, Vt.

You can call the show free – 866 406-9286 or e-mail me questions about your dogs and animals – You can listen to it here from one to 3 p.m. or you can use a free radio app like Simple Radio, available everywhere there are apps.

Then after the show, I’ll be going on the first solo retreat in many years. I’m taking three days – Thursday, Friday, Saturday – to work on the ending of my book, “Gus and Bud,” and also to cool off a bit, think a bit, refresh the space between my ears.

By “solo,” I mean Maria isn’t taking a retreat, I am. and I will be doing it here at the farm. I plan on getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning to work on my book, before the sun comes up and reality intrudes.

I’m doing a lot of things, old and new – and starting acting classes in January – so I want and need to get this book, probably my last commercial book, finished.

If it’s my last book, I want to go out on a nigh note. I’ve loved being a book author, I did that for most of my adult life. Now I am a blogger and a photographer, and I love that as well. Life is what we make of it.

I love my blog and always miss it when I’m not writing, but we probably could all use a short vacation from one another, healthy for all of us.

So after Wednesday afternoon, the blog will go silent for a bit, and I’ll be back Sunday, probably late int the day. No writing classes this weekend either.

Maria and I are setting out to see the new film “Roma,” by Director Alfonso Cuaron. It is being hailed everywhere as a masterpiece, it is a Netflix movie opening briefly in movie theaters so it can qualify for an Oscar award.

It will debut on Netflix on December 14th.

Maria and I have invited a friend, she was born and raised in Mexico and is working in upstate New York in a dairy farm.

I think it will be a powerful experience for her.

And for us, she is close to us.

I might interrupt my retreat to write about the movie Saturday. It chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970’s. You can see the trailer on IMDB here.


10 December

Taking Calls: Turn On The Radio: Wed, 1-3 P.M.

by Jon Katz

Photograph, Thomas Toscano, the “Maestro” and Station Director.

My latest impossible and mad cap dream surfaces again this coming Wednesday, from one to three p.m., December 10 on the remarkable WBTNAM1370.

We are making some headway on the show, the calls are starting to come in, and thanks to new technology, they are coming from everywhere.

Please call if you have a question or statement to make about animals. The toll free number is 866 406-9286 (if you live in the listening area, call 802 442-1010. If you have  trouble getting through on the first line, try the second.

There is no one there but us.

The equipment on this community radio station dates back to the Korean War, and I have to practically put the microphone in my mouth to get a clear voice out to the world.

I love being there, it fits me like a glove.

Thomas pushes a lot of buttons to get those phone calls to work, and he pushes more buttons to end the calls. From time to time, weasel children  (truly, real weasels) march through the studio on their way outside or to  secret hole in the walls.

Red can handle this, I better not bring Fate.

WBTN is blessed to have  family of weasels living in the outer wall in winter.

Thomas Toscano, my on-air compadre and the director of the station can  easily keep a good conversation going, but my favorite thing is to take calls and try to help animal lovers solve the many and myriad problems that come with living with pets or any animal.

They are not like us, they don’t have our emotions, they don’t speak our language or have our vocabulary so learning to communicate with them without emotionalizing or confusing them is hard.

I love to play the canine Sherlock Holmes, questioning the callers gently and then offering a resolution or solution. I give honest and reasoned advice – I am not excitable – based on more than 20 years of research, interviews and personal experience.

People call back and let me know how they are doing.

We are all about treating one another well, shy people are most welcome and treated with great delicacy and sensitivity. Thomas sometimes goes off on a first-rate rant, but this is never directed at a caller.

I bring prepared research and have lots to talk about, but the show really zings for me when there are callers, I love making that people connection and helping frustrated and even despairing people keep the animals they love and help them to live safely in our world.

So call the station, people are getting through our nearly century old equipment. If calling is trick on your end, you should see it on our end. 866 406- 9286.

For all that the station is nearly broke, the show is great fun for me, I think it is beginning to work. Please feel free to e-mail me your dog or cat or animal questions, I’ll read them on the air. Feel free to buy an hour of support/sponsor time by sending $25 to the station. We will mention you,  your dog or cat or  hose or cause.

You can live stream the show here, or you can download a free radio App like Simple Radio here or from the Apple App Store. If you wish to hear a podcast of my show, go to WBTNAM.US and make sure to download it to hear it all. If you’d like to support/sponsor an hour of “Talking to Animals,” send $25 here.

You can support the station by visiting their new WBTN Wish List. We may need community radio more than we know.

The station is badly in need of  support, my hope is that “Talking To Animals” helps. You can also e-mail me your questions at any time – – and I’ll read them on the air.

Thanks for listening; “Talking To Animals,”  Wednesday from one to three.  WBTNAM1370..

And please call if you can. That’s what it’s all about. 886 406-9286.

10 December

Portrait Of An Orange Fish

by Jon Katz

I’m not sure what to make of fish. I love sitting next to the tank with my 100 mm macro lens waiting for the orange fish to slide into my viewfinder.

I’ve been around fish for much of my life, but they are something of a mystery to me. I don’t know how smart they are, the orange fish knows my voice, I think, and Maria’s, when she hears it, she rushes to the surface looking for food.

It is calming to watch her glide down into the thicket of plants that grow at the bottom of our 29 gallon tank. I like the sense of calm and ease she projects, she is not a fancy fish, but a simple fish.

She is hardly and adaptable, like a good working dog. I don’t know if she has a consciousness or not, but I like the simplicity of her life and her ability to glide. I’d like to be able to do that.

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