Pablo Picasso said that every child is born an artist, the problem is how to remain one once we grow up. I think of the artist in each of us as a fragile, beautiful and precious light, a creative spark inside of every person. In the Kabbalah, God says he gave the creative spark to each and every human being, some feel it and some won’t or can’t.
I think when children first interact with the wider world, when they take their first class, the process begins of fear and pressure: here’s what you don’t know, here’s what you better learn if you are going to work and survive and pay your bills in our world. There are very few parents I know or have met who worked to save that precious light within their child, very few teachers, very few brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.
We are all born with awe and wonder, very little of it survives our first years, and if it survives at all, it is hidden away, it has no place in our modern world of money and anger and fear and motion. Sacred is the child who keeps his or her soul intact. But it does not ever die, I think, it is always there, hoping to come out.
What is creativity, after all, but the impulse to share our own view of what we see, think and feel? Those are not things we ever lose. We are taught from the first day to feel dumb, thus to be dumb. Then we are told what we must need and must think. That will kill the artistic spirit as fast as a bullet.
A friend told me her son is restless and constantly in motion, much like our border collie Fate. She told me proudly that she took her son to the doctor who put him on medication to calm and center him. I shuddered for him.
Last week, a famous dancer gave an interview on the radio. She said her mother took her to a doctor when she was very young because she was so restless. What is wrong with her, her mother asked the doctor?
After examining her and watching her, the doctor called in her mother and said “there is nothing wrong with your daughter. She is a dancer.” We have so much more power than we think.
It would be an awful world if everyone was an artist or a writer, the world needs so many different things. But I’ve seen a lot of artists die or killed off in my life, that is a sad thing. It seems our world is preparing children to serve the corporate masters of the world, to learn the things they need to learn to worship in the new religion, to pay their bills and fit the changing needs of the business world.
I work in my own rebellious way, if any young person ever asks if he or she can be a writer, or an artist, or a poet or dancer, I say yes, of course. Make sure you don’t ever take a day job. If you do, it will become your life. To be an artist is to take the plunge, take the oath. You have to close your eyes and leap. There can be no going back.
In the recession, the first classes to be cut were the art classes. Art teachers were the first to lose their jobs. After all, how can art classes boost the economy or help the young to eat and find jobs in Amazon warehouses or Wall Street hedge funds? I can only imagine the message that sent the children – do not ever dare to be an artist. In the Great Depression, the government spent millions of dollars to keep artists alive and working, it was believed art was essential to the soul of a people.
That was a long time ago. Can you imagine the fight in Congress if anyone wanted to help keep art or artists alive now?
I think Picasso was right. Every one of us is born creative, is born an artist. The challenge is always how to remain one once we grow up.
Fate is learning one of life’s great lessons for a young border collie – how to get a sheep to move when a sheep doesn’t want to move. First, you put your head down low to the ground. Then, you move forward step by step. Then you give the sheep a withering dose of eye. When you are very young, they stare, they stomp, they lower their heads and charge. But as you get older, bit by bit, you stand your ground, back them up, move them back.
That’s when life for a border collie begins to make sense.
One of the looming challenges of humanity for me is to work to see people who are different from me, or who believe different things than I do as human beings. It is a hard thing to do. More and more, I see how important it is.
I have been writing recently about the victims of the new hysteria in America over animal rights and animal abuse, a sort of mob fever that has more to do with the Salem With Trials and George Orwell’s Oceana than it does the real welfare of animals, or their rights.
The photo above is of a very old and beautiful tree at Blue Star Equiculture from which my friend Paul Moshimer, the co-director of Blue Star, the Massachusetts working horse rescue farm and sanctuary, stunned everyone who knew him by hanging himself at the beginning of the summer.
I did not know Paul long, but we had become close in the past year. Shortly before he died, he spent the night at our farmhouse. He and I stayed up late talking, we both said how much we looked forward to being friends, having fun together. I felt our friendship deepen that night, we were already texting and messaging each other almost every day, or talking on the phone.
Friends do not come easily to me, I was excited about this new friendship. It was not to be.
I think our connection came from the fact we were both damagedin some ways, and also from Paul’s interest in learning how to express his feelings about his work and the farm as a writer might. He shocked me by saying he thought I was brave in my writing and for saying things people might not like.
Paul also talked openly about the great pain and anguish he and his wife Pamela had experienced at the hands of people who say they are protecting the rights of animals. The two of them, he said, and the young volunteers on their farm had been subjected for years to a truly fearful litany of threats, insults, hacking, harassment, and false accusations.
There are all kinds of people in the animal rights movement, some of them are good friends, but increasingly the movement – like some of our political institutions – has become angrier, more extreme, even frightening. It is a problem of the times, I think, exacerbated by new communications technologies that make it easy to hate and demonize people, and to live in incestuous and angry circles where people talk only to one another.
Just watch cable news.
The animal rights movement believes it is cruel to horses to work, in New York City or anywhere else. Increasingly, it is a movement that claims to love animals while hating people.
The movement, which spent millions of dollars in an unsuccessful effort to ban the New York Carriage Horses, considers it abuse for work horses to pull carriages, for people to profit from them, for them to live anywhere but in nature or on rescue farms.
Paul told me some of the things that had happened to him, to Pamela. He talked about the young student interns who had to hide their work at the farm for fear of harassment and persecution, the many calls from informers to the police claiming horses were being tortured, even murdered. The awful e-mails, the calls to authorities, the vandalization of farm gates and property.
Paul had a lot of problems in his life. One of them, he made it a point to say, was this constant exposure to harassment and social violence. It was depressing, he said, it was discouraging, especially when all he and Blue Star did was to rescue horses, treat them and help them find good homes. That was it’s mission. How, he wondered, could people hate them for that?
I had no answer for that. How could these good people, who lived to save and re-home and heal animals in need, be subject to such hatred and cruelty from people who claimed to be acting out of the love of animals? There was no rational answer, it is a movement gone mad.
But hatred is potent, many people on social media and in various causes don’t seem to know that. It could not have been an easy or healthy thing for a sensitive man like Paul to live with every day. I can testify to that, and I also get much love and praise for my work.
Could I possibly help to teach him, he asked, to learn how to respond in a positive way? I was flattered, humbled by the request. We planned to meet this Fall.
I don’t know exactly why Paul killed himself, I never will. But I believe this cruelty, this abuse of people in the name of protecting animals, contributed to his despair, for sure. It was clearly on his mind. He told me so, he was sitting five feet from me. I suppose, like others, I wonder if I was listening enough.
To understand the great debate raging over the future of animals in our world, one needs to think of Paul Moshimer, a good and kind man, a great animal lover, friend and husband. Cruelty is no more justified when turned on humans than on animals.
One might also think of Joshua Rockwood and his wife Stefanie. Their lives were upended earlier this year when a secret informer of the new animal rights police reported him to local authorities on suspicion of animal cruelty. He was charged with 13 counts of animal cruelty, including having an unheated barn in winter, of having water tanks that froze in – 27 degree temperatures, having two pigs with possibly frostbitten ears and horses with slightly overgrown hooves.
Joshua, a young and idealistic farmer in Glenville, N.Y., is fighting for his life and his farm. By most independent accounts, the charges against Rockwood are outrageous, the arrests should never have occurred. His animals were all healthy, well fed, hydrated and cared for – two vets testified to that.
His three horses were seized, and he is being asked to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get them back, even if he is acquitted of all charges, which almost everyone who knows him believes he will be.
The case has already dragged on for months, cost many thousands of dollars, and there is no end in sight. His image has been in newspapers and on local television stations, many of his meat customers have fled. He and his family are struggling to cope with an endless nightmare.
Farmers and supporters from all over the country have raised nearly $60,000 to help Joshua get through his ordeal. Every farmer who knows him, has read of the story or visited the farm said the same thing I said: it could have been me. Joshua’s story bears witness to our growing disconnection from the real lives of farmers and the real lives of animals. It bears witness as well to the growing abuses of the animal rights movement.
Joshua’s wife Stefanie will not let their two children play outside, she is afraid other informers – they regularly drive by their home and the farm – will see the children playing alone, call the police. She is afraid the police will come and seize their children. I am the grandson of Russian immigrants who fled to America for safety and the rule of law. I did not ever expect to hear such a story here, surely not in the name of loving animals.
A good number of people are angry with me for raising these questions about the Orwellian turn the animal rights movement has taken in America in recent years. They should have talked to Paul. They should talk to Stephanie.
They should talk to Sandra, a Michigan farmer whose Austrian Shepherd was seized by people who call themselves animal rights activists because she was running outside on the perimeter of her farm, checking for stray sheep, as she was trained to do. Bessie was seized, taken to a shelter at a secret location. Sandra found her months later with the help of her local police. The activists refused to return Bessie, they said that Sandra was unfit to own her because the dog was permitted to run free. Sandra has spent $7,000 trying to get her dog back, and despite two court orders, she has not been able to locate the dog who was, she was told, re-homed. She says she will never give up.
The people who believe it is ethical and moral to harm people in the name of helping animals ought to talk to Sandra.
Or maybe also to Tim, a New York Carriage Driver who took his two young children to an S.P.C.A. animal shelter in Long Island, N. Y., to adopt a dog. Tim’s carriage horse was rescued from a kill auction in Pennsylvania, he wanted to adopt a dog from a shelter. In front of his children, Tim was told that because he was a New York Carriage Horse Driver, he was an abuser of animals and would not be permitted to adopt a dog from the shelter. He was, they said, an immoral man.
His face flushed with shame and anger, his children in tears, he left the shelter and ended up buying a German Shepherd dog from a breeder, who was happy to give her puppy such a good and loving home.
To write this piece, I am sorry to say, I had scores of stories to choose from. They should all be heard. I think of them all as faces, as casualties, as images of cruelty. There are worse things, or things just as bad, as abusing animals and being cruel to them. Like abusing people and being cruel to them.
Paul knew that because of my writing, I was receiving some of same hateful messages and threats as he was, the Internet is an equal opportunity highway of hate. Many people are furious with me. A passionate animal rights advocate I respect – her name is Patty Adjamine – comes on my Facebook Page every time I write about the new animal ethics to disagree, rage at me, tell me how wrong-headed and dishonest and manipulative I am.
Neither of us agrees with hardly a word the other writes or thinks but we are connected to one another in a human way, I would not consider blocking or banning her, I admire her passion and conviction. When she sees something I write that she likes, she says so, as frustrated and unhappy as she is with me. She has important things to say, they ought to be heard.
To me, that is important, it is about remembering that there is a human being on the other end of outrage, of judgement of difference. I hope to meet Patty one day, to talk with her face to face.
When we have an animal rights movement that understands that the people they attack are human, that the growing human casualties of their movement are people, not dehumanized targets of hate and harassment, then perhaps they will fulfill their true mission. Perhaps the animals of the world will get the advocates they need and deserve.