29 October

The Fabulous Old Men’s Club: Sexual Harassment, Something Missing…

by Jon Katz
Something Missing

With our friend Paul’s death several years ago, there are only two of us left in the Fabulous Old Men’s Club, we had an impromptu meeting today. We are still looking for another Fabulous Old Man.

I drove in the wind and the rain over to Pompanuck Farm to visit with my friend Scott Carrino, we hadn’t talked face to face in awhile. Scott was working across in the bakery, sending off clouds of flour dust,  he said he was upset reading on my blog that we were thinking of moving to New Mexico .

But he said he wanted us to be happy. He is a good man. (I reassured Scott that it was highly unlikely that we would move to New Mexico, we can’t afford it and we are pretty happy where we are.)

I was touched by that – it’s good to know somebody cares – and men often forget to say how much they care for one another. Scott isn’t like most men, and neither am I.

We talked by his big ovens, I sat on a stool next to Red, Scott was kneading and pounding and tossing dough into the ovens to make bread and pizza crust while we talked.

I once tried to help him shape the pizza dough, but I could not meet his standards and am no longer invited to help. Scott takes his dough very seriously, and I don’t think we would work well together.

This is often how we meet, Scott has little free time these days and I keep Scott company while he bakes. It’s nice.

I’m happy for what we can do, and we stay in touch with each other, our friendship has deepened and grown, a hard thing for many men. It matters to us, and we are always available to one another.

In short order, the topic of sexual harassment of women by powerful men came up, it was on both of our minds. We were both stunned at the stories we are reading about and hearing about.

It isn’t that we didn’t know or believe there was sexual harassment, but the depth and arrogance and cruelty of the stories pouring out of so many women – it was shocking and disgusting to both us.

You know about some things but often they are not real  until they hit us on the head. There is only so much people can absorb, until it explodes in front of them.

I’ve heard these stories from women I know and trust for years, but these new revelations are something else, something that will not, I think, be submerged again in the same way or tolerated so mindlessly.

Scott and I both said we were flabbergasted at the depth of these stories and the disgusting nature of so many, behaviors by  successful men, some of whom I  once admired. It is not a few men, it is many men, across the spectrum of business and culture. And many more yet to come, and even more quaking in their boots.

I said to Scott something must be missing in me, I have never felt easy around most men, and never considered myself man enough. I have never made a good man,  a view my father shared. I don’t care for sports, don’t tell sex jokes, and am not good at manly things like hunting or repairing things.

I have never bragged about my sexual prowess, and don’t have all that much sexual prowess.  I don’t have a large penis either.

Around men, I often run out of things to talk about. I have worked as an editor of a newspaper and a TV producer and hired hundreds of women and worked closely with them every day for years.I am sure I said or did things that were thoughtless or insensitive.

But I can’t fathom doing what these men have been doing, I can’t imagine a single thing erotic or arousing about forcing any women of any age to have any kind of sex with me, or using my power to force any woman (or man) into engaging in any kind of  sexual activity against their will, or even with their consent, if they were working with me or for me.

Love is just the opposite. This is something else, something brutal and ugly.

It did not ever cross my mind to use my position for any kind of sex, and would have been as abhorrent to me as it would have been to them.

It seems an almost unbelievable but undeniably true thing to me,  the many testimonies I am reading about. I don’t know a single woman who is surprised, or a single man who is not.

I just didn’t get how deep and pervasive and frequent this behavior is. I can’t imagine how many victimized women there are who don’t live in Hollywood or New York City around reporters and journalists,  and are terrified to come forward or speak out.

I believe power disturbs and destroys many men, which is horrific, considering how much of this world men run, and how much harm they are doing to our world.

I believe the silver lining in this horror is that women are forming a new kind of revolution together, this time it seems real change may come. Things will not be the same, Harvey Weinstein may have unwittingly done some good. And perhaps this revolution will help us towards a gentler and more compassionate world.

Scott said I should be proud of the fact that something is missing in me, man-wise. If Weinstein’s behavior is what being a real man means to men, I am happy to stay out of the club. It was good to talk to Scott, and cleansing, because it is often hard being a man in these times and in this kind of culture.  Women are our best hope for the world.

I’d like to be proud of being a man, and most of the time, I am ashamed of it. I don’t know a lot of men well, but I believe and pray that most men are like Scott, and find these behaviors just as shocking and unacceptable as I do and he does. Many women tell me stories of their good men, and it heartens and uplifts me.

My son did not live long enough to be a man, but I hope the men of the future will brag about the decent way they treat women and men, will be proud that no one can ever come forth and accuse them of sexual abuse and harassment.

Think of the pride men could take one way if they could look in the mirror and say they never force anyone to submit to them  in any way to get work or to protect their jobs or livelihoods. I dream of a world full of good men who brag about the right things.

I believe it is sadly true that man are proving themselves unfit to lead or run the world right now, or to save save the earth, or to make jobs secure and meaningful and fight to offer people dignity and safety.

Oddly enough,  I am beginning to feel better about my discomfort with other men, my life outside the club. Perhaps in being such a lousy man, I ended up being a better one without even knowing it.

We men have so much work to do, it sometimes bends the soul.

29 October

A Gift For The Vet

by Jon Katz
Gift For The Vet

I posted a different version of this photo last week, I have this one as well, it is Rockwellian image of a moment between an dog and a loving vet. Fate has just had several needles stuck in her and is out on the scale getting  weighed. Dr. Fariello came out to apologize to her for poking her and Fate was a bit wary.

Some treats were offered and everybody kissed and made up. I’ve decided to get a print of this photo and give it to Dr. Fariello, who has seen me and Maria through so many dog adventures – Izzy, Rose, Frieda, Lenore, Red’s illness, and now Gus and Fate.

She has always been honest and caring and helpful, in the best of times and the worst. I can speak openly with her about everything from grieving to the cost of animal health care. She doesn’t read the blog so I can get away with posting this here, it will be a surprise to her (Nicole and Cassandra and Lisa, if you see this, don’t tell her) I love the feeling it captures.

29 October

A Feeling: In The Woods. Learning To See The World Anew.

by Jon Katz
In The Woods

I am very much enjoying my experimentation with inexpensive, innovative, and long forgotten optical art lenses and techniques. Every photograph is an adventure, and one that takes me way back, at the dawn of photography. No electronics, no auto focus, no image stabilizers, no computer.

It’s just like it was 150 years ago, me and a lens I have to focus an adjust with every shot. I can’t rely on the camera for anything but light now, and so am forced to learn more every day about light and glass and how they work together.

For me, the new lenses open up whole new range of photographic options. In my writing and my photography, I look to capture feelings as well as clear digital images – I want to do both. Yesterday, I wanted to capture the feeling of walking in the woods with Maria and a dog.

I didn’t want it to be a literal image, I hoped to capture the experience, like walking in a beautiful and dark tunnel. Maria was walking ahead of me with Fate and I like this image, it captured the magic of the woods we love so much.

29 October

The Aspen Leaves. Fall Farewell

by Jon Katz
Fall Farewell

I’m egocentric about the forest, I think the leaves are saying goodbye to me. A wind and rain storm is here and blowing, and I suspect I will not see many of these leaves again, if ever. They are beautiful life, beautiful in death, the Aspen leaves are the least to go for the winter, some of them stick around until Spring.

29 October

New Mexico Dreaming: Where The Heart Goes

by Jon Katz
Where The Heart Goes

It happens to everyone as they grow up, I believe. It is part of the never-ending dialogue we have with ourselves as we experience the power of life. You find out who you are and what you want, and then you realize that people you’ve known forever don’t see things the way you do, or feel the things you feel, or live the way you live.

So you look inward and see who you are and what it is you truly need and want, and they you set out to find it, you find yourself moving on.

This has been the story of my life until I moved to a farm, and then felt I had come home, and stopped moving on. I moved searching for happiness and fulfillment and then finally saw that this had to come from the hard work of learning who I was. It didn’t matter where I lived.

Peace is an internal, not an external thing. It never comes from where you live, only from who you are.

People who move in search of happiness are almost invariably disappointed, in my experience. Because they just keep changing the scenery, not the narrative of their lives. Fantasies don’t make people happy, they keep them from learning how to be happy.

But the story in my head today is this: the specter of moving on has arisen again, as improbably as it seems. The ghost returns.

I’ve known Maria for a decade now, and seem to love her more and more with each passing day. As long as I’ve known her, I have always believed she would live in New Mexico one day. She always talked of the place – she lived there for a time – in a way that she never spoke of any other  place. It showed in her eyes.

She talked of the color and light there, of the profound connection to nature she felt there, of the rich culture and connection to nature there, and of the sun and the sky.

She never spoke as an enthralled tourist, blown away by the scenery, but rather more as an artist who was inspired in a powerful way by a place, much like Georgia O’Keefe was. She talked about the color and sense of belonging.

Artists and writers come to life when they find their true place, there is a connection to places and the geography of the soul.

I see that the colors of New Mexico chop up all the time in our home and in her art and I have no doubt she will live there some day.  I saw her face in New Mexico as she walked the hills and met the artists. She was happy in a profound and deep way.

I always assumed that when Maria got to New Mexico, it would be without me, the next chapter, the life beyond me. I suspect that is still so.

My feeling about her living there one day was reinforced on our trip. She was radiant and connected and so very much at home there, if seemed to me this was home to her, in a way. She should be here, I kept thinking. This is her place.

But I had never seen myself in that picture.

Maria is complex in this way, as many artists are, she loves our home in upstate New York as well, and she loves her friends and her life here, and her studio and her good with friends and her donkeys, and the power of the hills and woods.

The natural world abounds here as well.

She was  surprised by how much I loved New Mexico (me too)  as well, and for some of the same reasons. I felt the creative power of the place, and it affected me. and since I became a photographer, I am also sensitive to the light and colors there, and to the very powerful geography and drama of the place. All around me were jaw-dropping manifestations of beauty and nature. They called out to me to write about them and take some photos.

Something changed inside of my as well there. I felt healthy and strong and exited in a different way.

We were glad to come home, we love our little farmhouse and have shed much blood and tears on it.  Soon we will take on the kitchen, and in mostly New Mexico colors.

We are both surprised to see that we have started talking and thinking about living and moving there, something that would be extraordinarily difficult and impractical, and thus unlikely.

We both felt so comfortable there, and it would be a wonderful place to continue our work, my books, my blog, Maria’s art. It’s a fine place for dogs and donkeys too. I drool over the stories I could tell and the photos I could take.

As the November gray skies move over us and winter lurks just behind, the moderate climate and bright sun also seem to beckon. The people there seem warm and open. We met lots of people like us, who just upped and went there.

This morning, in the night, I thought deeply and for the first time about how I might help Maria – and me – pursue this dream, and if is practical or feasible in my lifetime.

There are enormous, perhaps insurmountable,  obstacles to our moving. One is that we love where we live – we are in no way unhappy here, quite the opposite.  There is no good reason to move. We feel a part of a rich and accepting and creative community. I always feel I have come home here.

Another is, as many people understand, financial. The great recession was very personal for us, as it was for so many others.

Because of the real estate crisis we faced in selling the first farm – it took four years and brought us to bankruptcy – we don’t have the resources to move and buy another house, and might not be able to even get a mortgage for awhile.

I have no complaints, we have paid off our debts and kept hour home and moved on. This was the deal we knew we were making.

We kept our house, but at a cost. We will never be able to profit much if we sold it. And we love living in it.

Real estate in New Mexico is complex, there are many issues over water and our dogs and donkeys  can’t just go anywhere. Moving would be a massive interruption in our work. We both keep dismissing this as an understandable, perhaps inevitable fantasy, returning from such a sweet vacation.

But the empathic part of me – and I do believe I am an empath – believes Maria will live there one day, I can see it. I would love to help make it happen, at these moments I wish I was richer.

It would be wrong to move there for her alone, I grasp the patronizing, even sexist overtones of that. For me, love is about selflessness, and just as she always thinks of me before herself, I think of her before me. At the same time, we have learned to protect ourselves and our own identities and not surrender them to anyone else again, not ever.

But New Mexico got into my head too, and we would not be the first artists or writers to follow that call. Every time I look down at my beautiful copper and silver bracelet, I think of the Navajo artist, sitting on the ground, his beautiful work spread out on his blanket, a scene that repeats itself in this market every day, as it has for hundreds of years.

And I think of the mountains and hills and limestone palaces and the sun and the clear bright blue sky. There are lots of home rentals in New Mexico where dogs can run and sheep and donkeys can graze.

In the morning light, it seems an impossible and unnecessary move. I have lots to do here, and so does Maria. Here, we are known, we have put our roots down deeply in the ground. Unlike many people, I love the deep winters here, the winter landscape. It’s the writers time, so few distractions.

But I need to be  honest as well.

On top of anything else, we just can’t afford to move. That is the boundary of the story. There is that other side of my that truly believes anything is possible if you want it badly enough and are willing to work hard for it.

That has been the story of my life. I believe I could make it happen, one way or the other. That doesn’t mean I should or will. The path forward will make itself clear, as it always does.

If I found Maria in Hebron, N.Y, right across the street, anything is possible. And I do believe we would thrive there – think of the blog and the photos. I felt especially vibrant and strong there, I can’t quite explain it.

So for now, we will wait awhile and see if this feeling goes away, as it probably will, or stays, or returns in force.  I have learned the hard way to be wary of fantasies, they eat up many more dreams than they create.

In the meantime, we love one another very much, and we both have lots to do.

If the fates mean for this to happen, for us to move to New Mexico,  we will know it, and I will share it, and we will make it happen.

Otherwise, I am very happy to be sitting here, dogs at my feet, fingers flying across the keyboards, a cup of tea by myself, my bees wax candle burning,  Maria clacking away on her blog in the living room, the donkeys braying to us to come outside with some carrots.

The storm creeps up to us. The wind is picking up,  the garbage cans are rolling across the lawn, Ed Gulleys’ wind chimes are alarmed and singing loudly, the donkeys have taken shelter in the pole barn, the dogs are curled up together by my feet.

The storm is whispering that it is close,  the leaves are blowing past my window, caught up in their wild dance of death. Days, winds, seasons, storms, decisions,  pass over me.

Whatever happens is acceptable to me, I am at peace. When I stand up to go outside, when I go to move, I feel as if I am rising up out of this world.

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