Kelly is especially radiant standing behind the bar. She is waitress and bartender at the Bog several nights a week, she moves graciously between the bar and the tables, her smile is always close to the surface, is a natural part of her, a radiant spark. When I point the camera at her, she just stands and smiles, it is a natural and very real part of her.
I have come to love my Kelly photos, if and when I get my Monochrome camera, one of the first portraits I take will be of Kelly at the Bog.
I lived up in the country for more than 15 years before I ever set foot in the bar and restaurant called “The Bog,” it’s real name is Foggy Notions. Some people said it was unfriendly to outlanders, that it was a biker bar and they were uncomfortable going there. Nobody told me it was the friendliest place in town, or that bikers are some of the nicest people in town. Or that it’s really a family place, and there aren’t even many bikers there.
No one has ever said a word to me that isn’t welcoming, and of course I started wanting to take pictures in the Bog. I started to photograph Kelly, the waitress and bartender and friend who works there several nights a week and who has the best smile in Washington County, and I wanted to photograph people playing pool at the big table in front of the wood stove. There is no better place to get a burger than at the Bog on a cold and stormy night.
Tonight, four players were at the table, and I asked them if I might take a photo and they all said sure. If you try to take photos of strangers in Boston or New York City, the police may come up to you to see if you are a terrorist or predator – it has happened to me more than once. In the country, no one has ever refused permission to me to take a photograph, or even asked me what the photo is for.
These good people laughed when I asked them, as if they had been expecting me and threw their own pose, which I loved. We go to the Bog all of the time now, and I remind myself – for the upteenth time this week – that one cannot live by the perceptions and fears of other people, you have to go out and see the world as it is. When I walk into the bog now, everybody says hello and asks me who I’m going to take a photo of that night. The burgers are pretty great too, and the fish wrap.
Jacob Weinstein is a large animal vet from the Granville Veterinary Service, large animal vets live wild lives of emergencies, work in dark barns in the middle of the night, bloody operations in open fields, late night phone calls, kicks and bites, wary farmers. Jacob has rushed to our farm many times, he is courteous, warm and loving to our animals. He is a friend.
He came together to give the equines – Chloe, the donkeys – their annual shots and worming tests. He is, like the farriers and shearers, from another time. He brings news of other farms, talk of the latest medications, cautions about viruses and diet. I can’t count how many times he has come rushing to our farm in the night, dying sheep, sick lambs, injured donkeys.
People like Jacob are unique to the country, I think. They could be working in heated offices making a lot of money, they rush all over the country facing mysterious illnesses from giant creatures who can’t tell him what is wrong with them, often in dirty barns in darkness. Recently, he went to an Amish farm to see a sick cow, there was no electricity, he had to operate by lantern.
Out in a pasture, there are few hi-tech diagnostical tools for Jacob, he has to use his instincts and experience. He saves a lot of animals.
We are always happy to see him, we always learn a lot. Jacob is a good listener as well as a healer, he wants to know how we feel about the care of our animals and listens. Not too many doctors have the time or the will to do that.
I won’t lie, the plan was for me to shoot a brief video of the afternoon chores. I wanted to show how Red protects Maria from sheep rampaging around after their hay. I did get to shoot that, but the video was interrupted by an attack of tickling from the rear. I won’t mention any names, but I am plotting some revenge. Still, come and see Red do his work.
At 68 years, I am at a turning point in my life. It is a good one.
I do not believe in speaking poorly of my life, or writing in lament or nostalgia. Some of you know that these past five or six years have been the best time of my life in many ways, and also the worst.
Joseph Campbell writes that at the threshold of the hero journey is an encounter with the dark counterpart, the shadow, this is where the shining hero meets the darkness. If may be in the form of a dragon, or a malignant enemy, or a series of awful storms that can dismember a life.
It may be an encounter with the dark side of the self.
In either case, the hero has to slay his demons and go into the new world alive and knowing who he is. A few years ago, a part of my life came together – Maria and I found one another – and a part of my life came apart – divorce, the recession, a breakdown, the loss of my life-long book editor and the collapse of publishing as I knew it, the breakdown of the real estate market.
It all came at once, and I have been struggling to recover from it all ever since.
Then, there was the open heart surgery. I was at the threshold.
At times, I thought my book writing career – the dream of my life – was over.
At times, I thought I could not cope. I had given up on love. I felt I was drowning in waters too deep for one person. A therapist told me he had never met a man my age facing so much voluntary change.
I lost my savings to the divorce, the real estate disaster, we fell into debt trying to keep two farms running, convinced we could sell one. For four or five years, we simply spiraled, we were under great pressure and lived with a great stress and pressure.
A year ago, we surrendered to the reality, we declared bankruptcy, and began the journey back to stability.
My publishing pain was great. Without my editor, there was really no one to speak to, talk about my books, no one to fight for me or them. In publishing, they call it being orphaned. It is hard. As publishing became bigger, more and more corporatized, people like me fell by the wayside. In the new world of bigness, we were just too small.
If not for my blog, I imagine my writing career would have ended. And the financial struggles were endless. Bankruptcy is not easy or pleasant, no matter how necessary. Some months we struggled to buy groceries, some weeks we had $100 in the bank, and no resources but our own wits and love. We were the glue that held each other together. Maria is a strong woman, I will never doubt her ability to care for herself.
I have had many sleepless nights, and many good days. I have been determined every day to give rebirth to my life, to be creative and fulfilled.
Bit by bit, I am getting my life back.
There is Maria, of course, the most wonderful grounding point. I found a new publisher and left my old one, and my new editor and I we have made our first book together, and it has been a happy and rewarding collaboration. There are second chances in life. I got paid for my book and we can move forward in our financial recovery, paying off almost all of our debts and obligations. There will be nothing left, but neither will be under so much pressure.
My blog has grown, the subscriptions and voluntary payments have been a great source of stability and support, and I thank all of you who took the trouble to help support my writing life. My new agent, Christopher, and my freelance editor Rosemary Ahern, have stood by me, shown great faith in me and urged me to keep writing books. Next week, I am second a proposal for my next book to my new publisher, Simon and Schuster, I am hopeful they will want to publish it. At a time when I feared I might be finished as a book writer, I am reborn.
I am returning from my journey with the elixir, and my teaching has been a source of great inspiration and meaning to me. It is something I am called to do, to give back for what has been given to me.
At a time when many people fear blogs and run from them, mine has given me an anchor and a base for my creative life. My photography has grown and deepened, this week I am getting enormous support from my readers in my quest to acquire a black and white digital camera, something that will deepen my art and work. I asked for $3,000 and have already received $2,000 of that. Thank you again. This is not something I could yet do without help.
I look forward to the day when I will not need help.
Today, I am feeling stronger than I have since those storms.
I am healthier. I am more creative. There is love in my life, recognition of my work.
We are not there yet, but financial stability and health are close and in sight. My book writing life has been reborn, my next book will come out in the Spring, and I have a publisher who supports me and my work once more, and people who support my blog and my photography.
My love for Maria only deepens, we are on the hero journey together. Through all of this challenge, we have never turned on one another, blamed one another, fought one another.
I can’t count the number of times I wished I had been able to spare her this time, this wave of my troubles, most of them nothing to do with her. But she never wanted me to feel that way, we were always in it together. I gave her every chance to keep out of it, she chose to stand with me.
Together, I am somewhat in shock today, my head is spinning, I wanted to share this emotion with you. I feel I am at a turning point, I have entered the threshold, faced my demons, stood my ground, never quit on my zeal, I have answered the call to adventure and may yet survive. I am standing in the light, one day at a time. And I have no illusions or fantasies about life.
Life is not predictable, nor would one wish to tempt fate. Crisis and mystery are always around the corner, there are no guarantees in life.
I am filled with love and gratitude and excitement and hope. The idea of the hero journey is to walk boldly through the door and out of the darkness and into the light. We live on this side of the mystery, in the realm of the pairs of opposites: true and false, light and dark, good and evil, we seek truth beyond the mystery.
I am at a turning point, I am crossing the threshold again.