Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

22 January

The Unflappable Dog

by Jon Katz

Zinnia is the most unflappable dog I’ve ever had, even Red could get spooked by sudden moves or mishaps or belligerent farm animals. So far, nothing much has rattled Zinnia. She falls off chairs and beds, gets her treats stolen by Fate, hangs out with donkeys and sheep.

Only two of the sheep seem to want to challenge her, Liam, our grumpy wether, and Giselle, one of the Romneys.

Liam lowers his head as if to butt her, and she yawns and moves away. The other day he did butt her, and she wagged her tail and moved back a few yards. This morning, she climbed out onto the ice in our pond, and it cracked and she was stranged in the middle of the pond on a floe.

On the way out of the pasture, she stopped by a shocked Liam and gave him a lick on the nose. Fate is no longer growing or snapping at her, Zinnia adores her.

She jumped into the water and swam to shore (Maria said she almost panicked, but Zinnia wasn’t bothered.) Well, she is a Lab, and they tend to not be afraid of water and she was only a few feet from shore in a pond that is three feet deep at its deepest.

Being calm is the sign of a grounded dog, and Lenore Severni breeds for temperament as well as bone structure and health. Being unflappable is a critical factor for a therapy dog, who must remain stable in unpredictable circumstances.

Zinnia comes out with us to the pasture every morning now, she eats a bit of donkey manure, chases after Fate, and just hangs around. A good farm dog.

22 January

Bishop Maginn High School Day

by Jon Katz

Today is Bishop Maginn High School Day, a bright day on my calendar.

I’m planning to work with Zinnia and some of the students, talk to two charming twins from Myanmar who need some tuition assistance and meet with the very shy girl who fell in love with Zinnia.

I’ll talk to Principal Mike Tolan, but usually, tuition donations go straight to the school, as they are tax-deductible. I’ll let you know.

We’ll see what the therapy dog can do with the shy girl. I’m also asking for some assistance buying some scrubs for the Mansion aides. I’ll need about $500 to get six-set scrubs for each of the 19 aides.

They are necessary for the good work they do, I am committed to taking good care of them insofar as I can.

If anybody wants to help with the scrubs, please contribute via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com or by check, Jon Katz, Scrubs, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. And thanks.

I’m off to Albany.

21 January

Smile: Morning Greetings

by Jon Katz

I slept a little late this morning, it was so cold out, Maria loves to get out there and feed the animals in all weather, and I thought, okay, live with it this morning.

When she came back, she brought Zinnia and Bud up to say good morning, and the two piled into bed, crawled all over me, showered me with licks and then started wrestling with one another.

They had a blast on the bed rolling over each other, chewing on each other’s heads. These two have fun all day, anywhere. I rolled over, grabbed my iPhone and took a photo before shouting at the two of them to get off the bed, which they did. But gets upset when I yell, but with Zinnia, it’s like peas off a tank.

Bud hopped right off, Zinnia came up and licked my nose, and hopped off in a minute.

She eventually does what she is told but in Zinnia time. She is a Dog Of Privilege. If she were a person, my class resentments would bubble up, but as a dog, she’s just endearing. My smile photo of the day.

21 January

My Books: The Saddest Happy Ending

by Jon Katz

” Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough presence.”  – Eckhart Tolle

This is a sad story with a happy ending.

After nearly 30 books, I’m saying goodbye to the book publishing world. I don’t want to deal with the new corporate publishers, and they don’t wish to deal with me. The plans for publishing my last book – the story of Gus and Bud have been put on hold after three years of conflict and frustration, and probably for good.

My agent and the editor who won’t speak with me will work out the details, I’ve moved on already, I couldn’t quite admit it. I agree with it now. I was feeling like one of those people I always dreaded becoming; someone who fights to hang on, who can’t let go, who doesn’t grasp when he is no longer valued or wanted.

The thing is not to whine and cry; the idea is to get moving. I got moving.

I’ve had enough. It’s time to move on. I’m with Winston Churchill. Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to move on that matters.

I have a closet in the farmhouse that was stacked with copies of each one of the 26 books I have written, five of them bestsellers. The shelf is emptying out.

My book launches were classic publishing events once, a high powered mix of media and classy book stores, almost all of which are gone.

I started on the most potent NPR shows. I then moved across the country doing newspaper and televisions interviews from Los Angeles to Ohio, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, Boston, and a bunch of places in between.

My books sailed from one printing to another; there were scores of reviews, most generous and approving, and a wonderful editor who believed in my work and fought for it. He was laid off during the Great Recession, and my book career slowly disintegrated along with his presence in my life. It happens.

Publishing is (was) a kind of medieval world. Us writers were orphans and serfs, we depended entirely on the generosity and kindness of our editors. When they were gone, we usually went with them. I don’t hear of much generosity or kindness in publishing now.

It’s not a new story, but an old story, made worse by a massive recession that turned publishing upside down and made mid-list authors like me extremely dispensable.

I am lucky. Of all my friends and colleagues in publishing, I think I lasted the longest, but have been hanging on by my fingernails ever since 2008. I can’t say I’m proud to be a book writer any longer, only that  I once was proud.

I sensed the future and started my blog in 2007. Bedlamfarm.com has more than four million hits a year now I am told, and is read all over the country and some of the world.

Please don’t be sorry for me and please don’t tell me you’re sorry for me. The blog is my book now, and it is the right place for me. If you like my writing, here it is every day and for free. When people ask me when my next book is coming out, I tell them it is right here, out every day.

I suppose it was more complicated than just losing my editor, perhaps I lost the book writing skill, or was so distracted by my breakdown and personal torments that my mind no longer worked in the right way. It is not really for me to say. No one is obliged to like my writing; no one is required to publish me.

I decided yesterday I was done with it when I learned my new publisher has no plans to publish the story of Gus and Bud after three years of hard work and waiting. No one bothered to tell me.

Honest people I trust who have read the book like it very much and no one has told me anything is wrong with it. Nobody has told me anything at all, which I gather is the new editing. I hear stories much worse than mine all the time.

I’ve been preparing for this for years now, I don’t stack all my books in the house anymore, I give them away to people I meet, and when they are gone, I won’t replace them. I rarely mention my books on my blog and don’t have the heart to promote them by myself. I’d rather work with the Army Of Good.

I think my books depress me now, and I don’t want that. They deserve to be loved by their creator.

I’m proud of them and want to feel good about how I spent so much of my life. Writing books was my dream and my identity. I think if I let go of book writing, I’ll love my books again. Today I read from Saving Simon to the residents at the Mansion, they say it’s their favorite book.

And I’ve never read it to them until today, and I thought as I read my own words, wow, this is good writing. I hadn’t looked at it since it was published. I didn’t recognize my words at first.

Writing books has become a battleground between me, the corporate marketers, the revolving door kids asked to edit their first books, timid editors who hide behind e-mail, corporate publishers who care about nothing but money.

Enough.

I will not become bitter and discouraged, I will not speak poorly of my life, I have moved on.  I don’t care how hard this is, or how disappointing or hurtful. I’m moving forward. I’m good at that. It’s how I survived.

My sense of well being surprises me, but it’s real. Somehow, in all of this, I’ve found myself. I’m doing what I ought to be doing, where I ought to be doing it. My success was not final; my failure is not fatal.

My blog, my photos, my animals, Maria, my farm, my work at the Mansion, and Bishop Maginn High School are where my heart is now, not waiting for other people to define me.

That part of my life is over, it ended today with a decision I have been fussing over for some years, and it’s time I made it and owned it.

I’m done with writing books. I won’t give up pieces of my heart to publishing anymore.

Even writing this makes me want to cry, but I don’t. Maybe in a day or so, forty years of book writing is worth a few tears.

Nobody wants to hear about my glory days; even my daughter knows little or nothing about those days, and I don’t care to fill her in.

Maria toured with me on my last book tours, and she saw something of the big crowds, four-star hotels, limousines, lush reviews, and one interview after another.

I don’t get called for interviews anymore; I have editors now who don’t speak to me or return messages, and books that seem to vanish the day they are published.

The world has changed; I’m changing with it, not holding on to dreams and memories. My boat isn’t sailing without me.

It’s my time, and I feel nothing but pity for the men and women who can’t accept their time. Older men need to give way and find new things to do, I can use my acquired wisdom and experience for good.

It’s not as if I have nothing important to do.

My blog is more successful than any book I ever wrote, I am finally liberated from corporate marketing departments and free to write what I want, I am up to my neck in good work with the elderly and refugee children.

I love every day of my life on the farm, and every minute with the wonderful person with whom I share it.

I have absolutely nothing to complain about or regret. If this is a failure, I’ll take it.

The problem is I am happy in my life; it is fulfilling, creative, peaceful, and full of meaning. This is the most joyful sad decision I have ever made; it is the saddest happy ending.

And you know what?

I’ve never written better in my whole life.

Truman Capote wrote that failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. Disappointment and difficulty have been good for me; they have sweetened the precious life I now live.

So I want to thank the kind and loyal people who have read my books and write to me about them every day. I am nothing but grateful, and I  hope you will find on my blog what you saw in my books.

I’m working hard at it. If you ask me when my next book is coming out, I will tell you that you are reading it right now.

Encountering defeats is not the same thing as being defeated. I have learned who I am, what I can rise from, and how I can find new triumphs.

I can tell you from the heart that no best-selling book is one half as sweet and as raising tuition money for a brilliant refugee child desperate to learn.

To the many good people who bet on me and have followed my blog for some years or recently: thanks for your support.

I will work hard to earn it and keep faith with you. I won’t say this isn’t hard; books have been so much a part of my identity. I’m not a tough guy. It hurts to write this.

Books will always be a part of me.

So this is a big deal for me, a big goodbye. I don’t have anything else to add.  You can say what you want about me, but I don’t look back. I am learning to live in the present and make every hour count.

I loved being a book writer; it was a life-long dream fulfilled. Now I get to find another and another. I thank you all.

21 January

Zinnia, Dog Of Entitlement, Goes Too Far

by Jon Katz

Maybe she was reading the blog post about her being a postcard, maybe she wants to try out my seat, beneath which she is often sitting. I came into my study from lunch and was startled to see Zinnia, Dog Of Privilege/a/k/a Dog Of Entitlement, sitting contentedly in my chair.

No, she is not allowed on chairs or sofas. No, I have no idea what prompted her to try this out. I got her off quickly – she is not used to getting yelled at – and went off calmly to chew a bone.

I think the animals may be plotting to take over the asylum. As I raised my voice to make the point that she was not allowed on my chair or anybody’s chair, she tilted her head and looked at me curiously, as if I were speaking an ancient language of the dog.

I went over the guided her off with a helping hand and a swat on her behind, which she didn’t seem to notice. And I said “no, Zinnia,” in my Emperor’s voice, which she didn’t seem to pay much attention to either.

But the important news is that she got off. And will stay off. Not even the Dog Of Privilege gets to sit in my writing chair.

Email SignupEmail Signup