Scott and Dominick are like two DJ’s handling a keyboard when they make their wood-oven pizza on Friday night. Scott was away for a few days, he has been working without respite for a couple of years getting his new cafe up and running. I don’t know how he does it, it was great to see him smiling and rested, I hope it lasts.
It is great fun to see Scott and Dominick work together to make pizza outside in their tent on the Hubbard Hall lawn. They take orders on Scott’s Iphone (he just got a cellphone this summer) and he and Dominick work efficiently and intuitively. They did 40 custom made pizzas in a few hours Friday night using one small oven. Scott is a creative, he sings, writes songs, embraces the art of fresh and good food, everything that leaves his kitchen has to be perfect and look like an original work of art.
I got the itch to do portraits of these two, more and more, I am loving portraits.
Marcel Proust wrote that the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. This strikes a chord with me. In the first four decades of my life, I moved at least 14 times, I lived in almost every major city along the Eastern Seaboard and some as far away as Texas.
I managed to be miserable in every one of them.
I quit a dozen good jobs, I wanted to live almost anywhere but where I did live. I wanted to be a potter on Cape Code, a literary figure in New York City, then a poet in the East Village, a writer in Cambridge, Mass. a journalist in Washington. I always believed paradise was one move away, and I nearly drowned in my fantasies and illusions. Eventually, and blessedly, I came to understand what the real problem was, and that was that wherever I went, I came too.
I came to see that in West Hebron, New York, living alone on my big 90-acre farm. Every face I saw in the mirror was mine, wherever I went. This new idea came as a great shock to me, but it also helped me begin to live an authentic and meaningful life, a work that is always in progress, every single day. Almost as soon as I had this revelation, I found love in a place where it was unlikely, if not impossible, and then I began taking photographs, and I had new eyes.
I came to see the world anew, I saw things I had never seen before, and in new ways. Inspiration is a curious thing, I believe it comes from deep within, not from without. If I didn’t know who I was, how could I possible see the world outside of me clearly?
I see every day as a voyage of discovery, a thrilling adventure, I am surrounded by new and beautiful landscapes, but discovery truly comes from new eyes. I know a writer who always wants to talk about health, mostly his, and I tell him I do not talk about my health outside of my family, and not even then, it is not something that interests me or anyone else.
I embrace the ethic of discovery, of being open-minded. Today I told my writing students that as we get older, it is crucial that we embrace what we fear, that we learn from the young, that we not dismiss change as fearful and de-civiliziing, as beyond us. Being a writer or an artist or a teacher or a police officer does not mean what it mean a dozen years ago, and if we wish to be relevant to the world and join in the great conversation, we must make that trip, take that voyage.
The world is not a better or worse place than it ever was, it is the world as it always has been, in some ways better, in some ways worse. It pulls us up and down, just about every day, challenges us to think and grow. Change is the only constant in our lives.
I don’t look to move anymore, where I live is somewhat irrelevant. I have new eyes.
There are good people and bad, good news and bad, so many things to learn and discover every single hour. Grandma Moses summed it up, life is what you make of it. New eyes help me see.
I’m using a new command with Fate to help her use her eye on the belligerent ewes who are challenging her, and to help her learn that standing still is often much more effective with sheep than racing around. She is getting that. My new command is “Back “Em, Up,” and sometimes “Give ‘Em Eye,” and she grasps both of them, she stops and is beginning to use her eye to direct the sheep and control them. I took a short video this morning to show what I mean.
Fate is a farm dog, not a trial dog, and I am happy free of the do’s and don’ts and snobbery and competitiveness that are so evident in much of the animal world. I love using my own language, commands and instincts. I am passionately committed to the Beavis & Butthead school of learning. Because I am stupid I am free. Because I don’t know what I’m supposed to think, I am free to think.
People who swear by the “left” and “right” labeling of the world will never know that freedom or joy. There is always more than one way to do anything, and we are having a good time sorting through it. Come and see. In slowing Fate down and showing her how to walk up to the sheep, she has begun to use her, not her speed. Critical for a herding dog.
I’ve often said we get the dog we need, and that many of us are blessed with spirit dogs, lifetime dogs, dogs of the heart that enter our lives and mark our passages in life. Orson came to get me out of an unhappy life and on my hero journey, Rose made me feel safe to life alone on my farm, Lenore was the Love Dog, she kept love alive for me when I most needed it, Red brought me back to therapy work and stood alongside me as I lived my life.
Now, another remarkable dog, Fate, I see that she is the Joy Dog. She loves life, every bit of it, every walk in the woods, every moment of sheep herding, every person she sees, every body of water, every meadow, every dog, every stick and toy, every bit of food, every hour sitting with Maria in her studio or walk in the woods.
Her joy is infectious. She came to us at a difficult time. We battled for four years to keep the first Bedlam Farm from foreclosure, and hung on long enough so that the bank could sell it for itself. We wore ourselves out with stress and challenge, we lost three dear animals in one bitter winter – Simon, Frieda, Lenore. We have difficult questions to face about our future, our home and our life.
The winter itself was brutal and exhausting and draining. We were tired, weary. Fate came into our lives this Spring like a joy bomb, she got us moving, thinking and laughing. She loves to ride with us in the car, navigating, wagging her tail at every passing human. She loves to wrestle with me, and my herding work with her has rekindled and and refreshed my love of that ancient practice.
Fate loves to sit with Maria in her studio, bringing her bits of fabric, peering out the window, rushing out to race back and forth in the yard. There is nothing she does that does not bring her joy and absorb her boundless energy. We needed Fate, and she came when we needed her, as all the great dogs do, and became the dog we needed. In her wake came Chloe, and new ideas and new excitement about the future.
Animals can mark the passages of life, Fate has helped bring us from one phase to another.
So she is, for us, the Joy Dog. She will not tolerate anything else, nothing else is possible in her boundlessly enthusiastic and loving presence. She is the perfect companion for mellow Red, the two are inseparable. She has enriched his life as well. When a kind friend from Florida sent me a notecard with Marcel Proust’s wonderful poem on it, I thought instantly of Fate. “Let us be grateful to people (and animals) who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
It is wonderful to have a space like the big table by the fireplace at Pompanuck Farm to teach my short story class. Red and Fate come and Fate is settling down, other than still jumping up on people to say hello. I may have to kick her in the stomach again before that stops.
Pompanuck is a beautiful, even mystical, environment in which to teach, my class has nearly a dozen students. Each one is working on a short story that will be published in paper or e-book form next Spring. The group is varied – a minister, professor, teacher, tech support counselor and writer, a poet, illustrator, a doctor and a nurse practitioner, a retired bishop, an academic communications director, a Mayflower descendant.
The stories are rich and deep and we are working through them one by one. There is honest and direct feedback, always positive, always easy to grasp, always generous. Outside our windows, nature – gardens, ponds, trails, fountains. How lucky we are to have this space, how much is transforms and accentuates our work.
Today, we talked about the new interactive writer, how writing is changing, how all of us are challenged to face our fears and phobias and old ideas and evolve creatively and be relevant in the new world. The class has an amazing chemistry, it is enhanced in our beautiful space.
We meet every Saturday morning from 10 a.m to noon, this is never a chore, is never sleepy. Brain food for the open-minded, for those who wish to grow. We talk about ideas, story structures, the things each of us brings to writing. Good writing classes help people feel strong about their work, not anxious or confused. Most people talk about writing classes as if they just had an enema. My goal is that each of these students leaves the class strong and confident in their voice, unafraid to come out into the open with their work.
Many people have asked if I will teach this class online, and I’m afraid the answer is no. This class is why I only teach face to face – we look at one another, get to know one another, trust one another, talk and listen to each other. I am at ease writing online obviously, but I do not care for it as a teaching environment. In Pompanuck, I think I have found my teaching home. This class will go on a long while, next time up I’ll teach a blogging class again, or I might do a blogging workshop over a weekend in November. We’ll see how things go.
I love teaching, I love teaching this class. There is a magic to it, and on October 9, we will host the first Bedlam Farm Creativity Conference at Pompanuck, hosted by the Creative Group At Bedlam Farm. It’s already full, but hopefully the first of many to come.