Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

21 November

Respect Suffering. It Might Be Listening

by Jon Katz

I used to think that happily married people didn’t argue (my parents argued every time they were together, and they came to hate one another), but I was wrong.

My first marriage last 35 years, and my wife and I never argued or raised our voices to one another, even as the marriage disintegrated over time and the deepening issues between us grew and multiplied.

Maria and I have been married happily for 10 years, and we argue fairly often sometimes  – rarely – even yelling at each other. We’ve both come to realize that arguments can be healthy and productive. If my first wife and I had argued, we might possibly have been able to save our marriage or leave it in a healthy way.

I’ve learned to honor and accept the broken parts of me, and I’ve learned to love and acknowledge the broken parts of Maria as well. It is something powerful that we share.

There is the solitude of suffering,” wrote the poet John O’Donohue,”when you go through darkness that is lonely, intense, and terrible. Words become powerless to express your pain; what others hear from your words is so distant and different from what you are actually suffering.”

Maria and I argued today, just a few hours ago, and it was about suffering.

Maria has had a rough week, old feelings of helplessness, hopelessness,  and low self-esteem have been popping up. She had a hard week. She was upset that she isn’t working hard enough, wasn’t doing enough, was feeling overwhelmed.

The problem for me is that none of those things are literally true, even as the feelings are all too true. It is a very important distinction.

Maria sometimes reminds me of some men, she quite often denies her suffering or trivializes it, like I once did, as so many men do. She has learned to speak up about her pain, but she doesn’t ever want to wallow in it or surrender to it. She never does.

It’s not a big deal. I’m not really suffering. I was upset at breakfast, but not all day.You’re making too much of it. I’m fine.  I’m sure many of you have heard those words.

In our marriage, Maria and I have witnessed some deep and painful suffering in each other.  I learned well the lessons of my first marriage and its sad ending. We do talk about it, we do argue about it.

We see suffering clearly in each other, but not always in ourselves. We rely on each other to bring the other back to reality. My 30 years of therapy come in handy sometimes.

When Maria panics – like me – she can leave reality for a bit. She rarely admits to her suffering, and when she does, she trivializes it, as if there’s something wrong with her, or it’s really not important.

She loses touch with her strength and creativity. She fights her suffering at every turn.

Mostly, she trashes herself as being messed up or unable to deal with her life.

I know the very opposite is true. Maria is one of the strongest and most competent people I have ever know. She deals very well with her life.  I don’t mind arguing with her, but I wouldn’t dare mess with her.

She is both tough and resourceful. It’s just that she sometimes doesn’t know it and is too close or damaged to see it.

For all of her pain, nothing stops her or slows her down. She can take care of herself, and then some, the last 10 years have been remarkable for her when she makes up her mind, it happens.

She was deeply upset yesterday but kept dismissing it and pooh-poohing or and denying it. Sometimes, each of us finds it hard to get the other’s attention. We’ve learned how. We talked about it last night, and again this morning in bed, and again this afternoon. We were getting nowhere.

I finally raised my voice, and said words I knew would get her attention quickly: “hey,” I said, “you’re sounding like one of those idiot men, always denying their suffering. You need to respect your suffering. It’s listening.”

If there is anything Maria doesn’t like to be compared to it, it’s an idiot man. Or any man.

There’s some guile to my saying that, as we both know I have often been one of those idiot men, many times in my life.

So I speak with some confidence about it. Late this afternoon, she kissed me goodbye and drove off to Belly Dancing Class. She called me a few minutes later to thank me for calling her out about suffering.

Even if we don’t agree, we hear it’s other. Always.

I told her again, this time softly, that we need to respect our suffering, not succumb to it or deny it.

Albert Camus wrote about men’s problems with suffering in The Fall: Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. So long as you are alive, your case is doubtful; you have a right only to their skepticism.

Proust said we can only be healed of suffering by experiencing it to the fullest.

I think Maria and I have both had this problem.

Suffering, like pain, is part of life. There is no one who fails to experience it.

The more one fights it, the harder and more difficult it is. I have learned over time to accept it and to honor it. Like fear, it is a part of me, of who I am. I don’t want to ever again run away from who I am.

Accepting it is not surrendering or admitting weakness, quite the opposite. I know now that it will never rule my life again. I can live with it, past it and around it.

But I cannot disrespect it, or deny it’s existence. Or fight with it.  I believe Maria will come to agree, she will come to it herself and in her own way, not mine. In some ways, I think she already has.


21 November

Strong Women At Jean’s Place. Robin, Zinnia, Kelsie

by Jon Katz

I’m happy to continue my photographic exploration of strong women, there are many at Jean’s Place, a wonderous eatery in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. Two of my favorites are Robin and Kelsie, and I think Zinnia can now join this remarkable sorority.

I could reach out and touch the love passing back and forth between these three when I dropped by to introduce them to the new puppy. I have never been so popular in my life. Perhaps I should get a puppy every couple of years.

21 November

Zinnia Joins Meditation Class At The Mansion. News Of Good…

by Jon Katz

It was an impulsive decision. I was heading out to the Mansion to run my weekly Meditation Class there, when I thought, “why not bring Zinnia?,” she loves to work and meet new people.

So I tossed her in the car, brought a small marrow bone and headed off to the Mansion. As always, she drew a large crowd of adoring residents and staff, all of whom remarked on her calmness and ease and affection for people.

“Wow, she’s going to be an amazing therapy dog,” said Kassi, the Mansion director, who nearly melted into the ground when she saw Zinnia. I put the bone on the floor, held onto Zinnia’s leash but she munched on her bone and lay quietly during our 14 minute recorded and guided meditation tape on Thankfulness, an appropriate topic as Thanksgiving approaches.

Our meditation session was challenging today. I was distracted by Zinnia and some residents talking loudly at other tables. But Zinnia settled and I was able to talk about breathing as a means of settling down from fear and anger.

The residents loved Zinnia, some because she was cute and others because they sensed her calm and affectionate manner. We all thought she did beautifully, and I’m grateful our visits to Bishop Maginn yesterday and the Mansion today worked out so well.

It’s still early in the game, but I feel very good about this dog. I love the idea that she can sit through a meditation session at the Mansion, an alien experience for her, but one she adapted to easily and quickly. Soon, I’ll start working on one and one work with her.

“This is your new therapy dog,” I announced to the residents when I walked into the dining room, and they cheered and applauded. Zinnia made them very happy.

P.S. Kassi tells me there are now 18 aides at the Mansion, not 14, they’ve hired additional staff for the Memory Care Center. So I need $200 more dollars for my Christmas plan to get a $50 Wal-Mart certificate for each of the Mansion aides. They deserve it and more,  and could use it.

I’ll need to keep the fund-raising going a bit, I need at least $200 more dollars. Thanks, if you wish to help and can, you can contribute via Paypal, or by check, Jon Katz, Mansion Aides, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

In other news, the Mansion put out a call for hats and gloves, I found some on Amazon, some in consignment, some were missing but discovered. I think I’ve got this one. They need five pairs of gloves (I got that), and at least five winter cats (I think I’ve got that too.)

Also, the electricians have come to measure the new Mansion Break Room, they’re putting in a baseboard heating unit and extra outlets in the walls. The small refrigerator, and tea and coffee makers and chair and table are all set. I’m bringing some more wall hangings, but there isn’t much room for anything else.

Thanks for your support.

21 November

Why Bonding Is About So Much More Than Cute

by Jon Katz

Zinnia and I are bonding, as I’ve been writing. Maria has been kind enough to try to document the process in photos. This morning, I picked Zinnia up to say hello, and she just put her head down and went to sleep.

I guess we are bonding; I have a benign sort of Grandpa look in this photo. Maria says it is happiness. It did feel pretty good. I am happy Zinnia and I are bonding, which Why suggests we will have a meaningful and loving life together.

When a dog naps under your feet, he or she is trusting you.

Bonding is cute, but it is also more than that. It leads to better training and an easier and happier life together. Hunting, therapy work, agility, K-9, and search and rescue work,  herding, and farm work are all dependent on human-dog bonding.

Bonding comes in many ways – feeding, training, exercising, playing, working together. I see that when I write, Zinnia likes to go and lie down next to me. She senses that this is one part of our work together, and work is often bonding for dogs and people.

There are clear signs of bonding: eye contact, the dog infrequently checking with a human, happiness to see us, an ability to relax with a person, listening to a person, seeking a person out for affection or attention.  As the photo suggests, if Zinnia can fall asleep like that in my arms, she trusts me.

It also helps that I feed her and train her. Both are bonding exercises. Dogs tend to love the person who feeds them and pays close attention to them. That makes training much more manageable.

The training itself is bonding; effective training can’t be done in four weeks of classes at Petsmart; it goes on throughout the life of the dog.

Quite often, dogs will bond with other dogs rather than people if the person doesn’t find a way to spend time along with the dog or train and walk or exercise them.

Bonding takes to love a step further. A bonded dog-human relationship is one that’s steeped in equal parts of mutual trust and respect.

It took Bud a year to bond with Maria and me, and even then, he can be tentative and fearful, it was clear when he came that he had never bonded with a human being, especially a male.

A strong bond is essentially the glue of your relationship. It’s what keeps your dog from running away without a backward glance when you forget to shut the front door,  or aren’t paying attention on a walk. It’s the reason he listens when you ask him to do something.

The bond between a dog and a human encourages attentiveness, good manners, and partnership. I insist that my dogs respect my work and my dignity. People tell me all the time how their Labs chewed up their sofas, chairs, and carpets, almost as if they are proud of how destructive they can be.

Those are the kinds of Labs I choose not to live with. I think we all know Labs, who are ball addicts and house wreckers. This is one reason I am devoted to crates for training.

That won’ t happen here. I won’t permit it. It’s a dignity question, and it has never happened to me or any house I’ve lived in with Labs or other breeds. That’s the great danger of treating dogs like furbabies or pathetic abused creatures. We can quickly lose their respect.

Biologists say that bonded dogs tune into human language, and read our moods more intuitively than was once thought. I am already working in dog therapy work with Zinnia, she looks at me for direction, and I respond by pointing to a person who wants to see her, and saying “Zinnia, go see Wayne,” and then praising her when she does.

It’s vital to see training as a lifelong process. Also, I need to remember to praise Zinnia long after she is trained in basic obedience and is no longer a puppy. Dogs need positive reinforcement and appreciation for all of their lives; it is essential to deepening our bonds with them.

It’s also essential to be unpredictable, to walk in different places, train in different ways,  keep the dog guessing and paying attention a bit, they get bored and disinterested just like we do.

I feel very good about my bonding with Zinnia so far. She is a working dog, and more intuitive than I would expect her to build at nine weeks. My challenge is to build on this, not to get lazy, arrogant, or smug.

I’ll write more on bonding as it hopefully develops. Zinnia loves to work with me, that’s a great sign.

21 November

Color And Light. The White Dog Cometh…

by Jon Katz

In my part of upstate New York – a vast space – I’ve learned about the importance of color and light to my psyche.

The last few days have been cold, misty and dark, characteristic of the world month of the year for me. When November gets dark, I usually get dark. This year might be different.

November is a warming of what’s to come, but it’s actually darker and gloomier than December and January and February. Snow is a bright color all of its own, but this foggy Siberian mist reminds me of how brave and strong the people who came before me were.

Without color and light, I sometimes just sink in the November mist, Robertson Davie’s famous Black Dog comes and sits beside me. Only this year, I don’t have a black dog, I have a white dog, a nine-week-old puppy names Zinnia (after Maria’s favorite flower.)

I took her outside this morning for our daily training session, and even as we got there, the sun burst through the icy and misty fog, and there was light. The Black Dog brings comfort in the gloom, the White Dog brings a sense of joy and hope.

You cannot look at this dog and not smile, at least I can’t. That means a lot, especially in November. This is true of many dogs – they bring light and love –  but it is especially true of this one. Zinnia is all about bringing the light, a magnificent trait in a therapy dog.

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