14 October

For Bill, A Dinner Out With Family

by Jon Katz
A Dinner Out

At the Mansion today, I was very pleased to meet Suzanne, Bill’s daughter, and her husband Jim. They come every weekend to see Bill, and he says his daughter is his best friend in the world.

They came to take him out to dinner at the Bog, he loves to have a drink now and then, and he is reveling in the mail and gifts he is receiving from people in gay communities around the country.

He is looking forward to eye surgery in the next week or so, a big step towards reading. But we are still struggling to get him to read or listen to audio tapes, he says he says he just can’t focus on stories or narratives right now.

The doctors said that because of the severity of his stroke, it might take a long time for him to read again.

It was good to see Bill, I hadn’t seen him since the Open House, too much going on. I told him I’m getting him some audio tapes of books by author  Armistead Maupin, the chronicler of gay life in San Francisco for many years.

And he very much appreciates the letters and messages he is getting from GTBD people, the staff or me reads them to  him, and they matter.

Suzanne and I are in touch, we communicate regularly, and she is devoted to Bill and determined to support him in every possible way. I told her that is rare, and so important. He is lucky to have her, and I was happy to meet her.

I almost never get the chance to take family photos at the Mansion. It felt good.

Bill says his greatest pain comes from loneliness and a sense of disconnection. He misses his community, he misses being a part of the gay world. He would love to hear from members of his community, you can write him c/o The Mansion,  11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

14 October

Hugs For the Trip. It Got A Bit Emotional

by Jon Katz
Hugs For The Trip. DorLisa gives Maria a hug for the trip.

I suppose in a sense, the Mansion residents have become my family. Maria wanted to see Connie and I wanted to check up on some of the residents, so we went to the Mansion to say goodbye. I didn’t expect it to be emotional, but it was.

They were sad to see us go, and we were sad to go, there is so much feeling there. Before my work with Red in dementia, hospice and assisted care,  I saw the elderly as one blur, I tended to avoid them, and to avoid thinking about them and their lives.

They seemed  remote to me, in places I didn’t want to go to, and didn’t want to know much about, like most of the country. Younger people are almost allergic to older people, they are all reminders or our fate and destiny.

Working with them regularly, getting to know them as human beings, not images or symbols, I see it very differently. I love to photograph them, their faces have such extraordinary character.

On our way out, DorLisa demanded that we  have fun, and that I spoil Maria at every turn. I promised. She told us to be safe, and she hugged us both, as almost everyone did today.

I left feeling a bit torn, as if I were abandoning some vulnerable people. But I drew back from that thinking, it is neither healthy nor appropriate. The residents are in very good and loving hands, their welfare is not dependent on me.

Boundaries are essential in this work, and a vacation will make me stronger and more open and available. It was just more of an emotional pull than I expected. I will make sure to bring everybody some token or trinket from New Mexico.

When I come back I will have a lot of work to do, not only at the Mansion, but at RISSE in Albany, their school, adult and child, is back in session, and there will be good things for the Army of Good to do. Devota is doing well, paying off her loans, and Mawulidi will be out of the hospital soon (he had some minor surgery) and back to his carving.

Life goes on. And on.

14 October

At The Mansion, Hugs For Bob

by Jon Katz
Hugs For Bob

It is hard for me to imagine the shock of losing a spouse of 65 years, we stopped at the Mansion today to say goodbye before we leave for New Mexico. As I mentioned earlier, a week is a long time at the Mansion, and i do have a little trepidation about leaving, but that is not healthy, we need our vacation.

Bob is holding up well, considering, he has some health issues of his own to deal with and is, as always, gracious and warm. I’m thinking of organizing a movie trek for Mansion residents once a month, that would be a fun and inexpensive outing.

Bob says he would like to see a movie, maybe I can get him to one after we get back from New Mexico. He was happy to see us, today, he gave me and Maria and big hug.

You can write Bob at the Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. A reminder that Halloween is coming up and the Mansion would welcome any special decorations your very fertile minds might concoct or buy. Same address, thanks.

14 October

Video: At The Mansion, “Amazing Grace” For Shirley

by Jon Katz

This has been a rough couple of weeks at the Mansion, and I will be thinking of my friends there while I am away.

Maria and I went to the Mansion to check on Connie and to say goodbye and let the residents and staff know we are going away for a week. A week is a long time at the Mansion, and an awful lot can happen in that time. So there were a lot of hugs, well wishes, and slightly sad goodbyes.

I am thinking of Bob, who lost his wife Shirley this week, they had been married for 65 years. A friend from Bob’s church came by to see him, and they sang Amazing Grace.

Dorlisa, a staffer came by and she often sings “Amazing Grace” at memorial services and at besides of severely ill people. I asked Bob and his friend and DorLisa if they would repeat the song on video for the Army Of Good, and in honor of Shirley, who we did not get to know very well (except for Red).

They couldn’t quite finish the second verse, but that was quite understandable, the song, sung on the Mansion porch, carried a lot of emotional power. Come and see. Bob is on the right.

14 October

Getting Our Heads Straight: Journey To Abiquiu

by Jon Katz
Getting Our Heads Straight

We are getting our heads straight for New Mexico this weekend, slowing down, cooling off our fevered brains, talking and thinking about our pilgrimage to a place Maria already loves, a place I already love without even having seen.

Maria lived in New Mexico for a time,and our trip there together will tie both of us to one of the most important experiences in her life. I am eager to go.

I’ve figured out my medications,  and my photography I’m bringing the monochrome black and white camera, and one portrait lens.

If I need a color image, I can borrow Maria’s new Iphone 8, the camera is amazing. Reading about Georgia O’Keefe and other books about New Mexico art, I’m in a black and white mood.

This morning, Maria started reading to me in bed, she read from “Remembering Miss O’Keefe: Stories from Abiquiu,” which was the  home of O’Keefe’s famous Ghost Ranch. And where we willl be Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

It is lovely book by Margaret Wood, who left her home in the Midwest in 1977 to work as a companion and caregiver to O’Keefe

for five years.

The famed artist was then 89 years old, and her eyesight was failing. Wood was twenty-four, inexperienced and in awe of the formidable and demanding O’Keefe, who cared about every detail of her gardens and home. The book is an elegaic remembrance of her five years with O’Keefe and the beautiful small moments that made up the artist’s life: tending the garden, preparing dinner, nighttime reading, afternoon walks at Ghost Ranch.

I bought the book for Maria some years ago, in a Museum bookstore, whoever spends time with Maria will spend time in museums.

I love hearing Maria read from this book, it has so much feeling for her, and now me. Maria is a completely different kind of artist than George O’Keefe and I don’t mean to be comparing the two, yet O’Keefe’s life  reminds me of Maria’s life in several important ways.

Both are ferociously  dedicated to their work, both care much about every detail of their lives, their homes, the walls, their distinct way of dressing, their identities. Both love every herb and flower int he garden, and both love nature and draw great  strength and inspiration.

From what I’ve read of O’Keefe and her iron will, she always knew what she wanted to be, and Maria is only recently finding out for sure what she wants to be. But their passion for life is strikingly similar.

Maria is as determined to be an artist as any human I’ve ever met,  and there is not a plant or cactus or tree or bush or pot or windowsill she does not care about and  respect and love. I live in an art gallery, my wife is the curator.

In the foreword to her lovely book – Maria wants to read it to me on the plane – Wood, now a speech language pathologist based in Santa Fe (I would love to meet her)  writes about learning of O’Keefe’s death in 1986 at the age of ninety-eight. By then, she could no longer live at Ghost Ranch.

“I thought about the variety of feelings I had experienced with her,” wrote Wood, “from exasperation to love. I reflected upon her remarkable life. When I thought about her death, I hoped she had died peacefully. I wished she could have died at Ghost Ranch, the place she loved best, gazing toward Pedernal in one direction, the brilliantly colored cliffs in another. In my mind, her regal spirit still reigns over that entire kingdom, from the magical flat-topped mountains to those majestic cliffs.”

This is the right mindset for us, the right story to hear,  this is the right place for us to visit together, we will drink from this sweet well and be nourished by it. Somehow, it is what we are about, a pilgrimage we need to take. We want to step our ourselves, we are as tired as we are happy. We always celebrate creativity, and in that sense, Abiquiu is a shrine.

Maria has a long list of museums she wants us to see in New Mexico, and I am game for that.

We are committed to doing some resting too, but we are always committed to that, and we never seem able to do it. At some point, one has to accept who he or she is.

This morning, we both swore we were going to Abiquiu with a spiritual head  seeking quiet – we are staying in a village nearby –  and then we listed about 15 museums and pueblos and weaving communities  we wanted to visit nearby, and in  Taos and Santa Fe.

If we do even half of them,  and we will, do all of them there will not be a lot of time to rest, we won’t be there too long.

The book is getting us in the right mind, but the truth is, we always have fun together, even when we drive down the road. New Mexico will be a joyous feast.

I love the stories Wood tells about her life with O’Keefe, whom she came to love and call a friend. Over that time, O’Keefe lost her memory and most of her sight, and could no longer paint. Her spirit was a force of nature.

We both hope to draw from her genius and her spirit and her great strength. Tomorrow night, we begin the pilgrimage to Abiquiu. We are more than ready.

Email SignupEmail Signup