27 May

Flower Art: The Digital Painting Explored. The Wildflower Experiment. Signing Out.

by Jon Katz

Signing off. I had a sweet holiday. I didn’t get the silence or meditation time I hoped for, but I was lifted by the Army of Good’s excellent work, replenishing the Cambridge Pantry’s empty shelves. We took the day off but will be back tomorrow in full force. Thanks so much. I also loved experimenting more with the idea of digital flower paintings, and I loved taking photos of the pantry’s Memorial Day Float. It was a good weekend; it felt good. I’m signing off now and heading out for my afternoon meeting with Zip. He may have forgiven me for taking a mouse out of his mouth by now. I just couldn’t bear to watch it tortured.  I’m tired and still feeling the spider bit and bee sting. It’s also too warm for May.

I look forward to seeing you in the morning.

 

 

 

Wildflowers all. I love their vibrance and simplicity.

 

Wildflowers

19 May

Genius Story: From GAbriel Garcia Marquez’s Wonderful Autobiography, Which Has Captured Me. The Story of Century Old Parrot Lorenzo el Magnifico And An Outraged Runaway Bull

by Jon Katz

It’s a bit off my usual writing, but I am utterly in love with the autobiography Gabriel Garcia Martez wrote before he died. Every page – the book is aptly called Living to Tell The Tale, and every page is more wonderful than the one before. Finally, I understand where this great writer – my favorite as long as I could read his books – got the imagination to tell his beautiful stories.

I want to share one short passage from the book. Marquez grew up in banana country, in the town of Aracataca, along the coastal region of Columbia. The city inspired the village of Macondo, which is the central setting for his breakaway book  One Hundred Years Of Solitude. This brilliant novel launched his career and, to this day, insofar as I know, has not been equaled. I have long wondered what sparked the fanatic and mystical writing that was his trademark.

I think I know now.

The autobiography is true, and this one passage caught my imagination and helped me grasp the source of his remarkable writing. I’ll just quote it, and if you wish, you can read it for yourself. I never stopped laughing.

In this passage, Martez recounts his birthplace as a small child. It was a prominent, sprawling place occupied by the family’s widows, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, and various ghosts and spirits. Here, he describes the kitchen, which he was rarely allowed to see or enter. It was the realm of all of the mysterious and fascinating women who gathered there, along with a century-old parrot named Lorenzo:

Another voice was that of Lorenzo el Magnifico, the hundred-year-old parrot inherited from my grandparents, who would spout anti-Spanish slogans and sing songs from the War for Independence. He (the parrot) was so shortsighted that he had fallen into a pot of stew and was saved by a miracle. On July 20, at three in the afternoon, he roused the house with shrieks of panic.

“The bull, the bull! The bull’s coming!” Only the women were in the house, for the men had gone to the local bullfight held on the national holiday, and they thought the parrot’s screams were no more than a delirium of his senile dementia. The women of the house, who knew how to talk to him, understood what he was shouting only when a wild bull that had escaped the bullpens on the square burst into the kitchen, bellowing like a steamship and in a blind rage,  charing the equipment in the bakery and the pots on the stoves. I was going in the opposite direction when the gale of terrified women lifted me into the air and took me away with them into the storeroom.

The bellowing of the runaway bull in the kitchen and the galloping of his hooves on the cement floor of the hallway shook the house. Without warning, he appeared at a ventilation skylight, and the fierce panting of his breath and his large, reddened eyes froze my blood.

When his handlers succeeded in taking him back to the bullpen, the revelry of the drama had already begun in the house and would last more than a week, with endless pots of coffee and sponge cakes to accompany the tale, repeated a thousand times and each time more heroic than the last, of the agitated survivors.”

This book will keep me happy and mesmerized for a long time, and there are 500 more pages to go. I’m so glad to share a taste of this genius and his creativity.

Even this small story is masterfully done. The best was yet to come.

 

7 May

Sarah’s Choices For Today: For Less Than Three Dollars, You Can Help Hundreds Of People (And Many Children) Eat What They Need And Want

by Jon Katz

It’s a day of great value for the Army Of Good. Pantry Director Sarah Harrington has selected two items that her “customers” want, need, and often can’t find at the Cambridge Food Pantry.

Sarah is innovative and practical. She always considers the costs to other people’s pocketbooks and searches for bargains and the best food at the lowest costs.

Your contributions, no matter how small, have made a significant difference. I don’t have the heart to pass up making so many families very happy for less than $4.

The first is Amazon Brand Happy Belly Grated Parmesan Cheese Shaker, 8 Oz., for $2.96.

The second is Progresso, Italian Style Bread Crumbs, 15 oz. $2.17.

It was with great pride and joy that I learned yesterday that the Army of Goods’s total donation for April was 3,828 pounds of goods and products, a significant increase of 800 pounds from the previous month. Small acts of great kindness can add up to great things. We are becoming a permanent part of the pantry story

This is a testament to your generosity and the impact it’s making. Thank you, thank you.

Sarah said it was “crazy good” news.

It may seem like a small thing to donate, but one of the mothers in one of the pantry families told me it is a big thing to her and her kids. (She texts me to thank the Army of Good and me for the food they are getting. We try to get what the pantry can’t get or afford.

Flavoring food is so important,” one of the pantry family mothers texted me, “especially when you haven’t been able to do it for months or years. We are very grateful to see some cheese shakers and bread crumbs. They mean a lot.”

It is a message to the pantry families and, beyond that, to the outside world. Compassion and caring are a part of us all, no matter what you see on the news. America is a country of great heart.

21 April

People I Love: Alfreda’s Lovely Birthday Party. Who’s The “Big Boss?”

by Jon Katz

Alfreda’s friend threw her a beautiful birthday party on Sunday; we were invited. It was on a beautiful hill in a lovely house with a gracious host and six warm, accomplished women with interesting lives.

It was a particular time, and Maria felt the same. It isn’t always like that, I have to confess.

I’ve long believed social gatherings are often warmer and more comfortable when men are not around.

Alfreda’s birthday party helped affirm this for me: women seem to know how to talk and listen better than most men I know.

This gathering was especially comfortable; I enjoyed it very much, and so did Alfreda. As I left, I thought that this was in part because I was the only man in the room.

It’s a strange thing for a man to say, and yes, I am a man, but I can’t help but think it’s the truth.

I have found that women are often easier when men are not in the room. Perhaps I am speaking only for myself. I know what it feels like to be uneasy around men; I always have been. My father taught me that, I suppose.

Alfreda is easy to love.

She is warm, funny, loving, and brave. She works as hard as anyone I know.

She was very special to us, and the people gathered to celebrate her birthday; the house has a breathtakingly beautiful view,  lunch was great, and conversation was easy.

People who love Alfreda are most often the people I come to like a lot.

She is a great and precious friend. And she poses like a champ, moving into the light and lighting up with a great smile.

The We Love Alfreda Society is an impressive group of people. It was a privilege to sit next to Alfreda and watch her beam for an hour or two. She was humbled and pleased by the attention, almost shy; I’m not sure she has had too many birthday parties.

On Tuesday, Maria and I are taking her out to dinner to celebrate.

We always have a good time with Alfreda. She is honest, and she has a huge, loving heart and a wonderful sense of humor. She’s quite comfortable smacking me around.

She often needs her sense of humor, but not today. She was very happy at the party, and so were we.

She calls me “Mr. Jon,” a title I love even though I always respond quickly: “No, you are the Big Boss.”

11 April

Brace Yourself, A True Story. The Tale Of A Compost Toilet, A Panic Attack, Peace Of Mind, And A Dark And Cosy Bathroom With A Sacred Angry Red Chicken Painting

by Jon Katz

Brace yourself; this might be the strangest blog post yet. Spirituality can break out at any time and in the oddest of ways. The story is about a powerful meditation I had in a compost toilet while looking at a painting of a red chicken by an artist friend named Pam White. For an hour or so, the toilet was a chapel. It helped.

As I wrote yesterday, on Monday, I had one of the worst panic attacks in my life Monday, and into the night, I thought my whole creative life was about to get shut down. I decided to approach my panic and anxiety differently. The fear inside of me will never be gone entirely, but I can do a much better job of controlling it. It’s like diabetes. It has no cure, but it can be managed if you work at it. I’ve been managing it closely and well for a long time.

Something failed inside of me on Monday.

The first step in my mind was to contemplate my life and meditate on my fear, to go deep and to the roots of it, and to confront that panic by digging deeper and understanding better. The deep breathing exercises all the shrinks are talking about have worked on me as well as on Maria.

First, Maria has a nasty ear infection and is on antibiotics.

She needed to sleep last night, and I needed to meditate in a more serious and committed way.

This attack was frightening and unexpected. It was also, as usual, based on a lie I was telling myself – that I was in danger of losing everything. A couple of months ago, we installed a compost toilet in the upstairs bedroom so we would only have to keep running up and down stairs at night to go to the bathroom. We were trying to think ahead.

I was going downstairs, but I looked over at our quaint little toilet and wondered if it wouldn’t be good to sit on it. I don’t know why; I am just drawn to the space; it seems like a small retreat.

I am still determining where that idea came from, but our compost toilet called to me.

I was shocked to come to love this toilet. It works well, has no odor, and is easy to maintain. The little bathroom we built around it is tiny, cozy, and quiet. I like it in there. I love the darkness and the smell of the wood. I decided to sit on the toilet and do my meditation.

It is warm and calm, the perfect place to meditate and focus on the things I want to focus on. Thomas Merton would have loved it there—or freaked right out.

Our little farmhouse is noisy—dogs, donkeys, sheep, trucks, and birds at the feeder, all kinds of sounds.

(My new meditation chapel. The truth is stranger than fiction, yes.)

I sat down, turned on the small light Maria had installed, and was surprised to see in front of me a painting of a red hen I had bought from my friend Pam White, a very gifted artist. Maria, ever thoughtful,  hung it up for me as a surprise.

The bedroom was dark. The toilet is odorless, but thanks to the moss, it smells like pine trees outdoors.

Maria was asleep. When I came in, Zinnia came over to lie in front of the bathroom door. It was peaceful and quiet there; nothing could distract or interrupt me. It was a wonderful place for meditating.

I felt safe there, enveloped in monastic silence. I didn’t realize how important that is. I began doing the breathing exercises I’ve been listening to: inhale 1 2 3 4, hold 1 and 2, exhale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. I was getting anxious when  I came in, and to my surprise, the meditation gurus were correct. I could feel my heart and body slow down and calm down. I sat in that bathroom for an hour. I hadn’t disturbed Maria; my faithful dog was outside the door. My faithful wife was snoring softly in her bed across the room.

I felt strong when I left that little bathroom; the panic was gone. I know there is no magic wand for fear; I’ve been wrestling with it my whole life. This was a good idea.

I came out feeling that something inside of me had changed just a bit. I don’t kid myself. I will never be totally without fear, but I know I can bring it down to manageable levels. Other people have done it; I thought I was one of those people. I am still in progress.

I know I’ve promised to be open on the blog, but I never imagined meditating in a small toilet in a darkened room with a painting of a red hen hanging over me like a statue of one of the prophets.

This is what I love about life: if you keep your eyes and ears open, you will see some fantastic and previously unimaginable things sooner or later. I’m going back there tonight. I’ll say a prayer to the chicken. Maria was a little surprised when I told her the chicken might be sacred.

She took it in stride since she had just come in thrilled and excited because she had seen two worms mating in the gross. I don’t think anything can surprise her anymore.

Bedlam Farm