16 July

Inside The Book Tour: Are You “Dog-Friendly?”

by Jon Katz
Life In A Dog-Friendly World

It is book tour planning time. This year, for “Dancing Dogs,” and for “The Story Of Rose,” my first e-book original, I’m going to San Francisco, Corte Madera, Santa Cruz, Calif, and to Boston, Chicago,  Philadelphia, New York City, Manchester and Wilmington,Vt., Cambridge and Clifton Park (Half Moon Library), N.Y.

I love book tours, seeing different cities, room service, and a chance to meet with readers and followers of the blog. I always learn a lot and see some different perspectives. Getting out and talking about my work is a joy, valuable to me. Readings are fun for me, and the questions and answers long and lively.

I consider myself “dog-friendly.” Dogs are my work, a passion, much of my life. I love them and love to share my life with them, take them to as many places as I can – if they are invited or welcomed.

Dogs have profoundly influenced, changed, saved and helped me. Anyone who reads this blog knows that. Yet there is this odd thing about every book tour. If you write about dogs, many people think you must be writing about saving them and sheltering them. Abuse and rescue are the prisms through which the companion animal is increasingly viewed. And treated.

So quite often, shelters show up at my readings with dogs and cats in crates. I’ve seen very few people adopt animals in this way, and shelter people are rarely interested in the books. I also think there are some issues about shelters that I like to talk about – the presentation of many dogs as “abused” so that that they will be adopted. And the idea that a “no-kill” shelter is humane because dogs are unnaturally confined in crates for their entire lives.(Shelter workers know better than anyone that many people do not want happy and healthy dogs.  They seem to need to see their dogs are abused, whether they are or not.) It’s okay with me if shelters come – most do wonderful work – but I’m not sure what it has to do with me or my books. Why not raise money for hospice? Or women’s health?

On every book tour, almost every bookstore describes their towns as “dog-friendly.” In my travels throughout the country I have never heard a town described itself as “dog-hostile.” I’m not even sure what either term means. In our culture, we like to feel good about ourselves, even if we aren’t always doing good. On every book tour, one or two bookstores will say that because they are a “dog-friendly” community they would like to invite people to bring dogs to my book talks.

Perhaps it is just me, and maybe I am just out of step with the world,  but this always confounds me. The great irony is that the only bad book readings I have ever had are the ones where a bunch of dogs showed up. People have no sense of reality about their own dogs. They just don’t see them clearly.  I’ve been nearly bitten twice at book readings, seen a half dozen other people nipped or bitten. I find it distracting to concentrate on my talk or reading or listen to questions while dogs are having accidents, getting shushed or pulled, growing at other dogs, barking, whining or pulling at their leads. Usually their owners are beaming or looking away, as if this isn’t happening. Perhaps they truly do not see it. I understand that people love to be with their dogs, but it seems insensitive to me to bring a dog to a book talk. What is the purpose? The talk isn’t about other people’s dogs, it is about the ideas or story in a book. And people’s rare opportunity to talk to a writer directly.

I bring  Red everyplace I can bring him, but I cannot imagine bringing him to a bookstore to distract people from a writer’s talk. I don’t like bring my own dogs to readings for the same reason. People talk right over me and the questioners taking photos, getting on the floor, talking loudly to my dog, often in baby-talk. I recall how this horrified Rose the few times I brought her to book readings. She had good sense, that girl, she wanted no part of it.

Many people in the audience complain to me about dogs being present at readings, because it is distracting to them too. I love being a writer, and hate to see a book talk and reading so trivialized. Thank God I don’t write about alligators. For me, being “dog-friendly” does not mean being unable to leave a dog at home, or go on vacation without an animal, or go to a bookstore and just listen to the talk and discussion. I think being “dog-friendly” is understanding a dog’s rightful place in the world. Where they should go and where they shouldn’t.

So thanks, I say. I am “dog-friendly” too, but dogs don’t belong at book readings. People who are truly “dog-friendly” will get that in a flash.

16 July

The Old Sheep. Whispering To Us

by Jon Katz
Whispering To Us

In the afternoon, in the hot pasture, the sound of flies buzzing so loudly, the old sheep find cool places to lie, leaning against stones, tubs of water. I stand with them, and I hear them whispering to me. There are no sounds, apart from the flies and the sound of the sheep breathing slowly and heavily. It is so still. Life does not disturb them. I hear them whispering to me:

We ask nothing of you, they say, nothing at all.

We are tired and past the business of sheep – running around,

plowing into each other,

being afraid,

rushing from blade of grass to blade of grass, frantic, skittish.

We are not  frantic or skittish.

You can see there is peace at last in our last summer,

or last days on grass, our last days in the world.

We do not know the language and stories of humans, we our senses

are keen and we know where we are going, what is happening,

and we have found rest.

We are taking care of each other. We are each one,

all that the others have. Perhaps that is the story of sheep.

Life has given us a last summer on grass. We accept it.

16 July

Joy, Joy: The New Bedlam Farm. Come Along

by Jon Katz
Joy, Joy: Come Along With Us

We close on our new home at 3 p.m. Thursday. Today, Maria and Red and I – I cannot really imagine life before either of them – went to check out the New Bedlam Farm. Lori McLenithan and her husband Dave were in the last day of a tag sale. We set out behind the barn where Rocky hangs and we found a pond and three new pastures right behind the farmhouse. Beyond that are acres of beautiful woods – space for the donkeys to graze, for the dogs to walk and run, for the sheep to have their own pasture. More than enough for the three donkeys, pony and half -dozen sheep that will be coming. We need some new fencing.

How thrilled we were to feel so close to owning this wonderful place.

Red and I will get to move the sheep out to pasture every day – the farm is 17 acres. And there will be a sheep pasture by the side of the house where we’ll work and do some herding demos.  The family has cleaned out the beautiful red barn and there are four stalls for our crew. We will be moving Rocky inside for much of the day – he can wander around at night. His life will change. He’s getting water in a tub by the barn now, and during the summer days, he will be in the shade heating some hay.

Someone asked me a question in my Sunday Facebook Q & A session about moving. “How can you leave Bedlam Farm?, it seems like heaven on earth.” It was a curious question to me.

There are many reasons for moving, and one of them is that I don’t have as much money as I had when I bought this farm. When I bought Bedlam Farm, I spent a small fortune fixing up barns, the farmhouse, putting in new foundations. I guess people assume I am rich, but I am not rich and wasn’t even rich then. Publishing has changed, and I am changing with it, and writers make a lot less money than they did a few years ago, and that means for me to be free to do the work I want to do I need to alter my life as so many other people are doing. It is very inexpensive as far as farms go, especially now that we have dropped the price three times.

But I also want to build a place with Maria. I told the questioner that there is no heaven on earth for me. Heaven is where I am with Maria and these animals. If there is magic, it is inside of us, not in buildings or land or bank accounts. And that is good, because I have never had less money than I have now, and building this New Bedlam Farm will be a very different experience for me. One step at a time, carefully. I was delighted seeing these new pastures because they are beautiful, but I was also happy because I don’t need to buy hay between April and November. Perhaps I am now thinking like a real farmer, not a writer with a farm.

16 July

Facing Life

by Jon Katz
Facing Life

I choose every day how I wish to face life. I am moving forward to a different place, as I have done before. This is my rebirth, my renewal. I am riding on a cloud of love and connection, which is my chariot. I have no idea what the future will bring any more than anyone else does. Closing is Thursday 3 p.m. I close my eyes and give thanks for our new home. I pledge it will be a place of love and creativity, just as this one was. I am thrilled at the chance to redefine my life again, and will work every day to make it meaningful and better.

16 July

Worry It Will Be Fine. Changing The Script

by Jon Katz
Worry

Every day now people send messages of concerns about the animals or the barn cats or the chickens. Will they travel? Seek to find their own home? What about the chickens. Are they coming? Not. Will Rocky get along with the donkeys? Will Frieda jump the fence?

These messages all come from a place of love and concern, and I appreciate them. “It’s natural,” wrote one lovely human. “We just worry.”

I thanked her, but I said I don’t need people to worry about me. Believe me,  I can do that myself. And Maria and I will take great care of the animals. We don’t have to follow that old and hoary script.

I’d prefer people not worry for me unless it is this:

Worry that it will be fine. Will all work out. Will be a fun, satisfying and meaningful experience. Worry that every dog, donkey and chicken and cat and ewe and ram will be moved safely, compassionately and securely. Because that is what I intend. If I chose to make this about everything that could go wrong – the expense, selling the farm, panicky sheep, stubborn donkeys, roaming barn cats, confused dogs then it would be an awful experience, a sad one. We are conditioned in this world to live in a state of fear and alarm and to confuse worry with love.

Worry is not love. If you love me and are concerned about me – and I know many people are – then do me the favor of worrying that this will all go happily and well and help me sail forward with Maria in a cloud of good feeling and true affection.

All morning I navigated through lawyers, closing procedures, grumpy electric company employes, fences, phone companies, confusing phone trees, requests for passwords and ID’s, bank procedures,closing protocols. In this new world, no one wants to speak on the phone, no one want to speak to each other. You can go online. Everyone is tense, impatient. What’s your date of birth? Your social security? Everywhere the pretense of concern and security, the reality of detachment and looming anxiety. But it always gets worked out, it always happens.

Before each phone call I said this. This call brings me closer to my life. Closer to the next thing. It is a part of the process. I am grateful that I am good at it. I remind myself to be patient, to be excited about our new home, to begin labyrinthine processes of moving this world to the next one.

This for me, is part of awakening. I don’t follow that  script any longer. I’ve wasted enough time on it.  I choose to worry that it will all be fine. Come along on that trip instead.

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