19 September

Two Videos: A Choir Is Born: Miracle At Bishop Maginn

by Jon Katz

If felt like a miracle to me. The Bishop Maginn Choir was officially launched last Thursday, they held their second practice today, they are already working on their Christmas Concert.

Today I heard some angels singing, it will be a treasure to see them grow and learn.

Choir Director Judi Merriam is the real deal, charismatic, exciting and full of talent and enthusiasm. She really knows how to inspire and lead a group of eager students.

I was proud to see that they met in the new music room, filled with chairs and music stands – and a new Casio keyboard –  all things that the Army of Good purchased. I hope to buy the choir members colored T-shirts and help them get to the concerts where they hope to perform.

A reader of the blog has donated a Grand Piano which will go into the school gym for concerts. Miss Cindy, a professional accompanist is helping Judi to teach music to the brand new and enthusiastic choir. Neither one will accept any payment.

I believe this choir will be one of the most important things we could possibly do for the school, I see them singing for the school and also serving as ambassadors for a school with a heart and a mission. I think I might be bawling at the Christmas concert.

They are a powerful symbol of courage, determination, and resurrection.

It was a delightful shock to see the energy and innovation Judi has already brought to the choir and this very old favorite Christmas carol after just two classes. “I am very impressed,” she told the choir today. Me too.

I wanted you to see what you have done, and what Judi has done, so I took two videos today:

The first one – a short one above – captures Judi’s innovative ideas for “Jingle Bells.” The second shows her energy and leadership, she goes to the next level.

It was just like watching a maestro lead an orchestra, and that’s probably because that’s what Judi is, a maestro. She is confident and clear and upbeat. She has a lot of heart and feeling, I wanted to join in more than once. Bishop Maginn is fortunate to have her.

The longer view was fascinating to see because it shows how a professional can teach music and fire up students. It also shows how a creative conductor and singer can re-imagine an old song like “Jingle Bells.” She really brought it to life, and the choir got more confident by the minute.

This choir is going to be great, it’s nothing short of a miracle, and you made it happen. Thanks. I think I ‘ll be back next Tuesday, I’m eager to see this progress and chronicle it if I can.

19 September

Ron Dre Hands Me A Sci-Fi Mythology Book: He Wrote It

by Jon Katz

Ron Dre hasn’t taken my writing class yet, but he’s already written half of a book and given it to me to read. This class could really work out.

I wrote about Ron Dre a couple of weeks ago.

It took the Army Of Good only two days to pay his tuition for this year and next at Bishop Maginn. Ron asked me if he could join my eight-week Writing Workshop at the school, which starts in October.

I said I would be happy to have him in my class.

Ron’s former principal said he was one of the best students she had ever seen. I can see why. When Ron and I talked, he told me he was interested in Greek Mythology, especially Poseidon, God of the Sea.

I sent him some books about Poseidon.

Today he came up to me at Bishop Maginn and asked if I still wanted him in the class, and I said yes, and he smiled and said he had written six chapters of his book, “The Search For Medusa.”

I was pleasantly surprised, but when I got home and read the chapters, I was floored.

He writes well and clearly, I’ve had a lot of much older students who couldn’t write as well.

He’s deeply into a science fiction tale about an eight-year-old boy pulled into the water and nearly drowned. Gasping for breath, he finds himself face to face with Poseidon, who turns him into a demi-god, altering his life and causing his mother great alarm.

The chapters are: A Monster Tried to Drown MeMy Father is Poseidon, whaaaat?; I Killed My First Monster, My Mom Knew All Along, My Best Friend Is a Satyr?

He got me from the beginning, he even knows how to foreshadow: “I never really believed in monsters until I was eight. I went to my mother’s friend’s son’s pool party. Everyone in my class went, including my best friend, Luke Carmet.

Ron writes in a clear and clean narrative, he uses anecdotes, believable dialogue, and writes with humor and self-awareness. He also explores the complex dynamics of a mother who discovers her son is now a demi-God, but still an eight-year-old child who suddenly is called up on to battle and kill monsters.

I can’t wait for Medusa to show up. Medusa was a monster in Greek Mythology, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. People who gazed upon her face were turned to stone.

Ron said he loves Bishop Maginn. He has great teachers good friends. He said he made the right choice by coming there.

My class will have eight to ten students. Each one will write his or her own story, and when the class is over, I intend to self-publish the book, Tales Of Bishop Maginn. I’ll work with the class together, and then one on one.

I’ll give each of the students three books: Where I Was From, by Joan Didion, Turtles All The Way Down, by John Green, and Saving Simon, by me. The reading is mostly voluntary, we’ll pick out a few essays and chapters to talk about.

I want them to get used to showing their work to the class, and I want them to understand that we all have important stories to tell. I hope to inspire them to be authentic in their writing, even when it is difficult, even when it makes people uncomfortable, as I so often do.

The cardinal rule of writing for me is to never lie to myself, or to other people. Like I love to say, you get the good Katz and the bad Katz, but you will always get the real one. If you are doing your job, some people will not like you.

I’m delighted we were able to help Ron Dre stay in Bishop Maginn. He loves it there.

I hope we can do the same for Melak, so far, we’ve raised only $500 over four days to help with her tuition. Fund-raising is always unpredictable, Melak is charismatic, intelligent and strong. I believe we’ll get there.

This very gifted child is a refugee twice over, once Iraq, once in Syria.

She needs some safety and peace, she’s lived through Hell twice with grace and courage,  she needs to be at Bishop Maginn. If you can help, please send a contribution toward her tuition to Mike Tolan, Principal, Bishop Maginn High School, 75 Park Avenue, Albany, N.Y., 12202.

All contributions are tax-deductible. Mike is hoping for $4,000.

Bishop Maginn is a special place. Love lives there.

19 September

Wayne At My Mansion Meditation Class

by Jon Katz

Wayne had a surprise for me when I showed up at the Mansion for my 15-minute weekly meditation class. He won these glasses and a false nose in a Bingo game somewhere. (His hat is from a member of the Army Of Good).

The class was lovely. We talked about happiness and restfulness. I talk about how we could use our breath to move away from fear and anger and depression. When our mind went off in a direction we don’t like, I said, focus on your breath, your breathing, the sound, and feel of it.

Several people in the class were agitated when we began, towards the end of the meditation every one of them was asleep, which was a sign of success in every way.

When we woke them up (it was getting to be time for lunch) everyone was smiling and said they were relaxed and at ease.) Then I showed the video of the new Lab puppies born or the weekend at Stonewall Farms Labradors. Hopefully, one of them is Zinnia, I said the new therapy dog for the Mansion.

Soon a dozen residents and aides were gathered round me watching the video and smiling.

I very much enjoy the feeling of Meditation Class, I think it is doing good. It’s a small class – seven or eight – but they are very faithful and regular. It brings me peace and satisfaction also.


19 September

Acts Of Kindness, The Mansion: From No To Yes

by Jon Katz

Mary is one of the quietest and shyest residents at the Mansion. She admits that she cannot ask for help or even receive it at times. I’ve figured out over time how to work with her. I ask her three times, and the fourth time, she accepts and thanks me.

I asked her three times if she wanted one of Patricia Benward’s beautiful hand women lap robes. I’ve visited Mary in her room, and I know she gets cold in the winter.

Monday, she said no, and this morning, before and after meditation class, she said no twice. I talked to some other residents and then came into the Mansion with one of the robes, and I asked Mary if she is sometimes cold. She said yes.

I asked if she would like this free lab robe, made by a gifted weaver in New Jersey. She looked at it and said, “why yes, I would love to have this when I am sitting in my room and reading or thinking.”

She said she was very grateful. Even if you can’t quite grasp the process, you can just roll with it.

We had our first frost last night, and when I went to the Mansion for my meditation class, Georgianna and Nancy were out smoking in the Secret Garden, smoking and talking. I brought Georgianna one of Patricia Benward’s beautiful lap robes, she was so eager to take it she jumped up and kissed me.

She sure needs and deserves one, she is outside almost all during the daylight, and sometimes in the evening. Patricia’s lap robes are not only warm, but they are also beautiful.

Peggie has had the toughest time finding bedroom slippers that fit and that also have high backs to keep from falling or slipping, and are also warm. She went to Wal-Mart two times and had to return the slippers.

I got her measurements and went online and found a good pair her size (her own estimation of size was wrong) that were also fur lines, and with wide bottoms and a high back.

She was happy and relieved. And warm.

If you wish to support the Mansion work – we commit small acts of great kindness continuously – please send your contribution to me via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com or by check, Jon Katz, Mansion Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Thanks.

19 September

Ashes To Ashes. Zelda Returns To The Earth

by Jon Katz

“He that cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes…” The Old Testament.

Ashes to ashes. Zelda returned to the earth yesterday, a humble sheep but a large presence on this farm. We covered her grave with dirt and sod, in a few weeks there will be little trace of it, she will have returned to the earth.

The saying “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, ” is not really in the Bible, as conventional wisdom believes. The term is actually found in the Church of England’s Book Of Common Prayer.

It comes to mind all the time, especially on a farm.

In a few weeks we’ll remove the rocks from Red’s gravesite, and it woo, will soon be just a part of the pasture, back to the earth. We want to honor the animals who have meant so much to us, but we don’t want the pasture to become a graveyard.

On the farm, we observe the cycle of life and death almost continuously, we know that life goes on and on. Even if we wanted to, there’s only so much grieving to be done when one animal after another finishes it’s life and moves on.

And we don’t want to. I respect life.

I love normalcy, however short-lived it is, it is both healing and uplifting. The sheep were well aware of Zelda’s death yesterday, they watched the shooting and they paid special attention to the burial.

I think it’s good that the see all of it, it seems to settle them and enhance their acceptance. I have learned a lot about acceptance from the animals on the farm, they adapt, they move on, they move forward, they survive, they do not grieve.

Ten minutes after Zelda was buried, the other sheep, who lived so closely with her for so long, were out grazing in the South pasture. And good for them. They have living to do.

Same with me.

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