15 November

Inside Job: Everything You Need Is Inside Of You

by Jon Katz

In  her extremely timely new book, Almost Everything: Notes On Hope, author Anne Lamott writes that “there is almost nothing outside you that will  help in any kind of lasting way, unless you are waiting for a donor organ. You can’t buy, achieve, or date serenity. Peace of mind is an inside job, unrelated to fame, fortune, or whether your partner loves you.”

We cannot, she says wisely, arrange lasting safety or happiness for our most beloved people. They have to find their own ways, their own answers.

As someone who crippled for years by a ravaging co-dependent strain, I learned what every good parent, loving partner, and true friend knows in their heart and learned long before I did:  you can’t save other people from anything but fires or onrushing cars.

They have to save themselves. And only they can save themselves, not me or you.

Lamott is obviously writing about “hope” at a time of anger and disconnection and confusion.  She is peddling  hope,  telling us the answers are within, that’s where hope it.

She has taken the idea further for me, and perhaps more directly than I had taken it. There is a great deal of truth in Lamott’s paragraph above. I have tried to saved countless people in my life, and the truth is, I never saved a single one of them.

Some saved themselves, most didn’t or couldn’t. Most people, a therapist once told me, don’t really want to change.

I also have come to see that every bit of lasting help I got and felt and internalized came from me. Unwanted advice is not only unwanted, it is profoundly useless, because the best and most advice can only come from within.

I don’t look for other people’s solution to my problems, I want my own. I don’t want the remedies other people gave their dogs, I want to discover them for myself. Thoreau was one of the last rugged individuals in American history, he desperately wanted the freedom to think for himself. And so he did, there was no Facebook or Twitter to tell him what everybody else thought and did.

So he had no choice but to think for himself.

I sometimes have the solution to my problems, but if it is someone else’s problems, I have to say in all honestly,  I doubt very much that I have the solution. I never have.

I think this is the pathway both to humility and wisdom. I have to understand what I can’t do as thoroughly as I must understand what I can do.

This is why meditation, solitude, writing and reflection are so important to me, because those are the means by which I solve my problems, and see them.

I think the drama of childhood, and thus of life, is a question of value.

Do I have value or not, and if I am made to feel I don’t have value as a child, then I am certain to spend much of my adult life trying to reassure myself that I do. It is so easy to forget that I  have value, there are so many people in the world eager to tell me – and you – that I don’t.

Lamott writes that the idea that she had all the value she would ever need was hidden from her whole life. And it wasn’t “out there,” she found, it was inside of her all the time.

“It’s everywhere,” she wrote, “within and without around and above, in the most ordinary and trivial, in bread and roses a glass of water, in dawn and midnight. All you have to do is want to see.”

A couple of weeks ago, a student in my writing workshop, a bright and interesting woman told me she could not possibly start a blog, she had nothing to say and did nothing interesting enough in her life to write about, she wanted to find an agent who could tell her if she could write or not.

I wanted to scoop her up and shake her.

I wanted to tell  her there is nothing outside of her, nothing any of them could say, date, buy or accomplish that will fill the hole inside of her, or help her to give birth and  rebirth to her valuable self. She didn’t need an agent or publisher or editor to tell her she was valuable, she needed to hire herself for that.

She would break her own heart, again and again, to try and try and try, and after a while, she would hate them and they would hate her.  And most likely, she would hate herself.

They would most likely rob her of any sense of value and she had precious little as it was.

But I didn’t say those things.

The path to wisdom is accepting my own ignorance.

I  understood that this was not something I could solve from the outside, it was an inside job if it was to work at all. She would either solve the lasting problems in her life by herself, or not at all.

I let go of the old impulse.

And so for all of her talent and gifts,  she  risks a lifetime of regrets, forever looking for the agent-in-the-sky who would discover her, and lead her to glory. All I can do is watch and sheer her on, and wave my little white flag as the ship begins to leave the dock.

I love this lesson that I have taken to heart.

Everything I need is inside of me, there is nothing outside of me that has ever helped me in a lasting way, or ever could.

It’s an inside job, it’s my job.

As for hope, that’s inside of me also. Many people are discouraged and despairing of our world. I am not.

I have what I need to get through, no matter what they say, no matter what they do, no matter what is lost or what is found.

No matter how grey the day or dark the night, I am free to do good, to offer my small acts of great kindness, to embrace the color and the light, to write my stories and take my pictures, to pursue the love and the promise, all of which create hope, day after day.


15 November

Sage: Mansion Aides Recognition Month

by Jon Katz

November is the month I chose to honor and recognize the amazing work of the Mansion aides, whose love and hard work have made the lives of the residents so much better.

As a society, America undervalues the health care workers, the lives of so many elderly citizens are in their hands. I’ve been working with the Mansion aides for a couple of years now, and I find them almost unfailingly loving,  hard-working and upbeat.

They do the work nobody else in America wants to do, and they do it with affection and empathy. I have been so touched by how they are such fierce advocates for the residents and their needs.

Once or twice every week, a Mansion aide comes up to me and tells me that a resident’s underwear is disintegrating, or their shoes have holes, or they have no warm pajamas for the winter.

Just this week, the aides came to me and asked me to get hold of a bathrobe, tights so a resident could go visit her family at Christmas, socks for a man whose socks were full of holes, compression socks for three women with diabetes.

The aides know the residents better than anyone, they help them dress, go to the bathroom, take their medications,  cheer up, or resolve arguments. Sage is one of the newer Mansion aides, but she has the smile and the energy I have come to know so well.

They work very hard to keep the residents comfortable, safe, healthy and happy. They can’t always succeed on every front, but  they make an enormous difference in the lives of people on the edge of life, people who have so often been left behind by the rest of society.

She is working on the night shift, she will soon know what it is every resident needs. Small acts of great kindness would be impossible without the Mansion aides.

I am happy to try to offer some meager recognition for the amazing work they do.

This week, we are honoring the aides by giving them each $50 Amazon Gift Cards, engraved pens, and cookies over the holidays.

15 November

Red’s New Reality: Love And (Radical) Acceptance

by Jon Katz

(Dr. Suzanne Fariello And Red, The Cambridge Valley Veterinary Clinic)

I’m coming to terms with Red’s new reality, and the challenge of dealing with his aging. Red nearly died last year of four different tick borne infections, the year before that he was stomped by our horse Chloe and suffered a spinal injury.

In the past two months, his cataract has advanced sharply in one eye, and is growing in the other.

At certain angles, he can only see shadows. Like so many active and working border collies, Red also has severe arthritis in his hind legs.  He is coming very near the end of his active sheep herding days. He is growing old. A vet tech smiled at Red, and looked at me.

So he is.

I see now that even the sheep are onto the fact that he can’t see them clearly, they are blowing him off and challenging him as he valiantly struggles to keep his powerful eye on them and anticipate their movements.

This is sometimes hard for me to watch and awful for a border collie. I see him struggle sometimes to stand up or lie down easily, his legs are so sore. Sometimes, the sheep can outrun  him, which never happened before.

Getting into the car is now painful and laborious for Red, he can’t really see the seats or the ground, it is taking him longer and longer to jump in or jump out.

He is at ease in the farmhouse, his senses help him navigate, he knows where everything is. He is content to be with me, but is quieter with each passing month.

Today, I took him to see Dr. Fariello at the Cambridge Valley Veterinary Clinic, she is my wisdom and guru when it comes to dog’s health. I trust her completely and respect her wisdom and experience. She examined him and agreed that his eyesight is worsening him and his legs seem very sore.

We are beginning a series of talks to figure out how to help Red and manage the rest of his life, which will, I firmly believe, be long.

A bright spot for both of us is that none of these issues in any way affect his therapy work at the Mansion, or in any hospice environment. His intuitive senses with people seem to be unaffected and as strong as ever. This will be the focal point for his work in the coming years. We are lucky in this, he loves this work and is wonderful at it.

Red is eleven years old, and it is time for me to take steps to ease his discomfort and confusion and prolong his life in a way that is healthy and that requires me to have perspective. Like many dog lovers, I would love to keep Red alive forever. I can’t and won’t try to do that.

It is time for me to embrace one of my core philosophies in life, the practice of radical acceptance. Like me, Red and I will grow older and die. That is a part of life.

“Clearly recognizing what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart, is what I call Radical Acceptance” writes Dr. Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist, lecturer and author of the book Radical Acceptance.

“If we are holding back from any part of our experience, if our heart shuts out any part of who we are and what we feel, we are fueling the fears and feelings of separation that sustain the trance of unworthiness.”

The way out of the cages we put ourselves in, at least for me, has been in part this idea of Radical Acceptance, which I began to study and embrace several years ago, and to which I turn at difficult or important points in my life.

For me, it means accepting absolutely everything in my life, by embracing every minute of my experience with care, and without lament or complaint or panic.

In the case of Red, this means – I speak only for myself, I don’t tell other people what to do – accepting his limitations and helping him to structure his life around what he can do, not what he can’t or around what I would like him to do.

Ethically, I do not believe in subjecting unknowing and dependent animals to expensive and brutally invasive surgical procedures, which they can neither agree to or comprehend.  I will not spend many thousands of dollars to prolong a dog’s life, not because I can’t afford to, but because I believe it is wrong.

Surgery for cataracts with dogs is difficult, painful and very expensive. I won’t subject him to that, we will work to contain his eye issues and arthritis, to make him comfortable in a loving and careful way, and to help ensure that the rest of his life is as meaningful and full of love and connection as what has come before.

I choose not to be caught in the trance of guilt, unworthiness, or the judgments and solutions of other people. I love Red dearly, he has had the most remarkable impact on my life. I will never have another dog like him.

So this  is between him and me, and to some degree, Dr. Fariello. I know Red, and he knows me. No living thing loves me in quite the way Red does. That can be appreciated, but never replaced.

I am grateful to have my great love for Maria, I think it makes it simpler for me to keep Red and his aging in perspective.

We are looking into acupuncture, laser treatments and massage. We will innovate as we go along.

There may be some medications that might be helpful to Red. This part of my journey with Red is just beginning, and I will share it with you.

I appreciate your interest and support, both of which are profoundly valuable to me. And I have come to accept both in my life.



15 November

Supporting People’s Radio. Thanks!

by Jon Katz

Wednesday, on my weekly WBTNAM radio show, station director Thomas Toscano and I launched a new, interactive way for ordinary people to support broadcasting and content that they like.

We suggested that listeners to our baby broadcast, just six weeks old could purchase an hour of every two-hour broadcast in the name of any cause, person or pet that they wished to honor or publicize.

We just thought of this yesterday, and were expecting to launch the idea in a few weeks, but the listeners to “Talking To Animals” got ahead of us. By Wednesday evening, six people had purchased slots – Thomas called the “Golden Leash Supporters” for “Talking To Animals.”  We will make sure they are acknowledged next week and in coming broadcasts, and we invite anybody else who wishes to help “sponsor” this kind of animal programming to join in: it’s $25 an hour,  you can buy one hour or many.

So far, so very good.  Now, you don’t have to be Exxon-Mobil or General Motors to take out an add on a program you love. Anne Sweeney is buying a monthly spot, Elizabeth Heyenga wants to call attention to her bioenergy and tuning fork healing with with animals (www. elizabethheyenga.com), Bev  Graham bought an hour in honor of Ed, Maria bought an hour in honor of Full Moon Fiber Art and Fate, and Susan Popper bought an hour to honor her dog Sally, Lisa Hatch bought $100 worth of time, she gets four hours to use anyway she wishes.

If you wish to be a “Golden Leash Supporter” of Talking to Animals, just go here and send the station $25 via Paypal. We will mention you or your pet or cause or friend. If you can’t send a note with your payment, e-mail me at jon@bedlamfarm.com and I’ll make sure the appropriate message is relayed on the air.

This money goes to the station, none of it to me. If you prefer using s-mail, as many of you do, the station is address is: Thomas Toscano, Golden Leash Program, 407 Harwood Hill,  Bennington, Vt., 05201.

I am working hard to make this work, I feel it is happening. This is good for me, for animals, for civility and thoughtfulness, and for a community radio station that really needs help in surviving.

We took in over $300 yesterday with this program.

We will make sure that the causes, animals or people to be mentioned are mentioned. This is not only a way to support community radio, but also a way to reach a national audience of animal and pet lovers. We are already getting calls from all over the country.

The show is catching fire, I can feel it. Please e-mail me any questions you have relating to your pets or other animals, and I will read them and answer them on the show.

We encourage you strongly to call 866 406 – 9186 (if you live in the station’s listening area, you can call at 802 442-1010. You can also live stream the program (Wednesdays one to three) here or download a free Simple Radio App and listen that way from anywhere.

With new digital technology, every station is national. You can hear the show from anywhere, and there is also a podcast, just go to WBTNAM.US.

Thanks so much, On top of everything else, this program means to help animals and be useful to their owners.

15 November

In The Cold

by Jon Katz

The cold is upon us and will remain with us for some time. We have the wood stoves going, we are beginning to dig out the winter gear, the animals are hungry in the morning and eager for hay, the donkeys are growing some fur, we have hooked up heating wires to the pumps and water bowls.

We had our Seasonal Funk this week, we are moving forward. Of all of our animals, the sheep are the ones who could care less about the weather. That’s what lanolin covered coats will do for you.

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