22 May

Good Night From The Roost. Being Brave

by Jon Katz
My Heroes

I wonder sometimes what it means to be brave. I wonder what courage really is. I met a friend tonight who led a Marine platoon in Iraq and saw so many of his friends and brothers die, and he was surely brave. I met a woman nearly crippled by a panic attack and when she stopped sobbing and shaking, she wiped her eyes and took a deep breath and started planning for her next painting, and she was brave.

I know a woman who works in a crummy job in a stifling office with uncaring bosses, and every day, she manages a way to smile and light up a few corners of her drained and gray world, and she is brave. I know another who gave up her office job to follow her heart and live her life, for as long as she can, for as long as it lasts, and she is brave. I know an artist who was suffocated for much of her life by angry people who swallowed her up, and then one day she broke free and she is brave. I know a young couple who sold their little house in New Jersey and moved upstate to buy a farm and make cheese, and they are terrified and very brave.

I know a woman who stuck her hand out and got bitten by a dog she was trying to save so she could put a collar on him and save him from a busy highway, and she was brave. My heroes live on the edges, and they are mythical people, dreamers and strivers swimming through oceans of fear to get to the other side. To get to the edge of life and meaning. Sometimes, the fear gushes up in me like a flooded stream, and I gasp in surprise and I list all of the good and wonderful things I have allowed into my life, and I smile and laugh and count the minutes until tomorrow. And then, I am brave.


22 May

Blog Fear

by Jon Katz
Blog Fear

On The Roost

It is difficult to imagine a more clunky and ungainly name for so creative and invidualistic and potentially creative  a thing as a “blog.” The name was taken from the term “web log” and in general terms a blog is a personal journal published on the Web and consisting of entries posted in reverse chronological order – the latest post appears first. I’ve been writing on blogs for more than two decades, but the Bedlam Farm Journal is my first and, I suspect, my last personal blog.

Blogs have upended our very notions of what media means. Traditionally, information was controlled and channeled by gatekeepers – newspapers, magazines, TV stations, government announcements, galleries,  academic journals. The Web changed that, and everyone with a blog is a writer and publisher and media mogul in his or her own right. Blogs are no better or worse than the people who create them, the ideas on them varying wildly in quality, scope and impact. In recent years, I’ve worked a lot to encourage creative people to create their blogs. I believe they are critical in today’s cultural marketplace, a way for people to express themselves, connect with an audience, promote and sell their work, share their lives, hone their creative skills.  Usually when I begin talking to people about blogs – young and old – I get a lot of reasons why they don’t want to do one. They will drain their creative energy, people will steal their work, they will take up too much time, invade too much privacy, attract to much criticism. One writer told me he would “lost the mystery of writing” if he published a blog.  A writer I met in Saratoga Monday night was fairly typical. He didn’t have time, he said. A blog terrified him. He was a Luddite, he said, and would hate it. I know I will hear from him soon.

People who want to make a living writing will come to know their blogs, one way or the other. It is where writing is and readers are. The writer asked me if my blog wasn’t terribly burdensome. Sometimes, I said, but obscurity is a lot worse. I mean to be relevant. Someone e-mailed me the other day after I was whining about some foolish e-mail and suggested that I blog two or three times a week. That way, my blog would not be so taxing. I wrote her back. In case it isn’t clear, I love writing on my blog. Every bit of it.

In fact, I think Ned Luddite the father of the Luddite movement, would have loved a blog. Sensing that the industrial revolution would destroy craftsmanship and pull men away from their farms and families, Ned and his followers – called Luddites – tried to burn and destroy as many factories as they could before British solders put their revolt down. Blogs are a perfect antithesis to bloated and corporatized and corrupted media. They are a check on governmental power, nearly impossible to monitor and censor. For artists, writers, creative people, they are a godsend in the Corporate Nation, a crucial opportunity to offer and sell one’s work in the new marketplace.

My blog has allowed me to connect with my readers in unprecedented ways. They support my work, buy my books, come to my readings. Maria has sold every single thing she has made in the last year by posting it on her blog. My friend Mary Muncil has created her own ministry through her blog. Writer Jenna Woginrich supports her farm and her much acclaimed books through her blog.  I believe blogs are empowering. They are a coming out. They can be powerful personal affirmations.  My blog is on track for six million views this year. I can’t imagine that is bad for my writing. My very powerful publisher cannot reach nearly that many people on my behalf.

Having a blog will not make anyone successful, and everything on every blog is not always worth seeing and reading. The marketplace will do its own weeding. I see that many people, especially creative people, are afraid of blogs. I also sense a lot of snobbery about blogs – they are incoherent, hostile, unnerving, chaotic, draining and intrusive. Blogs cross a line in the minds of many creative people, especially those who grew up in a different culture, where writers and artists could hole up in their studies and workshops and come out once in awhile to talk about their work.

Successful writers are not supposed to need blogs. They are supposed to go to retreats, have food brought to their rooms and suffer the awful Cross Of The Creative Life. Blogs are for geeks, hustlers, self-promoters. Not any more. Blogs offer some of the best and most creative work anywhere in the world, a hive of energy, individuality and culture. Thomas Jefferson would have wet himself over the democratic potential of the blog, it’s unnerving, democratic and leveling nature. Blogs are free and easy. Anyone is a publisher.

I can no longer really separate my blog from my other work, from my writing, my photography. In many ways, they are all one and the same thing. My blog began in support of my life and my work, increasingly it is becoming a foundation of both.

In my talk Monday in Saratoga, I said the subsidized world was ending. There is little or no fat left in our culture for the lives of creative people. Nobody wants to pay our way any longer.  If we were ever different from everyone else, we are not now. Just as it kills happiness and hope, fear can kill creativity as well, and snuff out the creative spark.

22 May

Hey Mister, Can You Spare A Cookie?

by Jon Katz
Hey Mister

I believe donkeys are generally smarter than dogs, or any other animal I know. They are also sometimes lacking in social skills. They were built to be hardy, to withstand hills, hot and cold weather, heavy labor. Unlike dogs, they haven’t figured out how to get inside the house and curl up by the wood stove. As a result, they are tough, stubborn, independent and savvy. They love people, but have no interest in pleasing them or being pets. And they are scholars of food.

It is not easy to get out of a barn when there are three donkeys who know their cookies are inside a trash can. If they get inside, which they do from time to time, they find the can, open it up and help themselves. Otherwise, they wait until I get inside and then stare at me and dare me to come outside with nothing to give them. Hey Mister, you better give us a cookie…

If I forget the cookies, I might get a nose in my butt or a butt-bump. I rarely forget.

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