Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

28 February

Color And Light: Powerful Rain And Wind Storms All Over The Country, Brighten Up

by Jon Katz

It’s pouring, and the wind is fierce right now. I’ll be happy when Maria gets home from her belly dancing; the driving through Vermont will be a bit sticky. These are howling severe winds. Maria knows what she is doing, but it always makes me uncomfortable when she is out in a storm. I’m the storm wussy, not her. This kind of love does take its own toll. I wanted to get these posts up before the wind gets any stronger and trees start falling.

It’s a gloomy night all over the country. Stay try, stay warm, see you in the morning (if the power’s not out.)

 

28 February

I Have An Animal Support Team, I Just Didn’t Realize It. They Are Part Of My Spiritual Direction

by Jon Katz

We all need support in this world, and in my life, animals are essential. Recently, Zip has shaken my understanding of dogs and animals and support. Maria is, of course, my primary support system; no animal has come close to that. Still, my animals comfort, inspire, make me laugh, and teach me how to love.

They are essential to me and a key element in my spiritual direction. (photo above by Maria Wulf.)

Thomas Aquinas was one of my favorite philosophers who wrote about animals. He did not think animals are equal to humans, as so many people do now, but rather, he believed we needed to love and be kind to animals so that we could learn to love and be kind to people. I have tried to embrace this idea. Animals teach me every day, some more than others.

My animals have helped me to grow, love, listen, be patient, and learn; they have been around us for thousands of years and have a lot to tell us if only we can hear. They know me better than any human other than Maria and my daughter.

Animals have been a part of my spiritual direction from the beginning, from Julius and Stanley to Rose to my other dogs and now to Fanny, Zinnia, Zip, Fate, and Bud. Each dog has marked or opened something inside of me. I need to give them more credit.

To listen to animals, we have to live around them, which more and more of us are eager to do.

My animal support group keeps me grounded, peaceful, and patient. I am always learning something from them. So, I’ve listed my support group in order of importance because they are all vital to me. They are always with me, inside the house or out.

Right now, Zip is foremost in my animal consciousness, mainly because he is new and has taken me on as a project. We have bonded powerfully.

He has become my farm partner; he goes everywhere with me on the farm, and we are beginning (weather permitting) to meditate together every morning in the chairs by the pasture. He is into silence,  cuddling, curling up on my shoulder, and eventually going to sleep purring. He is my farm pall, my new buddy. We are always looking for one another.

No animal in my life will compare to Zinnia, my companion, supporter, and good friend. She is a beautiful therapy dog and a sweet creature; she has helped me through various surgeries and other difficulties.

She is always there, whenever I go, with whoever I go with. She has brightened my life, the Mansion residents, the refugee kids. She is patient and sweet. Whenever I look around, she is right by me,  waiting to love me when I need it, drive when I’m going somewhere, and meet the many friends she has won over in therapy work. She is my light and spirit dog; I smile and am warm whenever I see her. She is at my feet whenever I write and at my feet whenever I sleep. When I am sick, she never goes away.

Zinnia and Bud are close friends and companions. Very often, when I go anywhere (this is Maria’s studio), I see the two together. They are a central part of my animal support team. (Photo by Maria Wulf)

Bud is a complex creature. He is my resting companion; when I sit down to watch a mystery, nap, or read a book, he is in my lap, waiting to get his belly scratched or just wanting to sleep. He’s my buddy inside the house and a warrior outside, hunting relentlessly for mice, moles, and chipmunks. You can tell when he catches one. He farts long and loud. I’ ‘m very fond of Bud, a small dog with a huge personality. And a history of bravery and good nature. He has been through hell but has no anger or grievance.

Fanny (foreground) is my calm companion. She always comes to me for scratching and rubbing; her calm and wisdom calm, inspire and heal me.

Bud is getting older, as am I. We are getting older together. He loves sitting by the sun.

What can I say about Zip? He entered my life like a bomb and changed it. I love having him around; I appreciate his affection, devotion, and character. I know what it means when those ears go straight up. Something small is about to die. I love our meditation time; it’s a new thing that settles me. He has awakened something good in me. I am grateful for him.

Fate is more Maria’s dog than mine, but she is a fantastic dog full of energy and commitment to work the way she sees it. Fate never succumbs to human expectations; things have to be her idea, and she never quits her work. She inspires me to do the same.

28 February

Bedlam Farm Book Sales, Four Great Books For Sale At Very Modest Price

by Jon Katz

Today, we offer four used books for sale as part of the Bedlam Farm Book Sales Project. Maria read two of them, and I read the other three.

We liked our books very much; we don’t sell any of the books we thought were stinkers.

The four are different; each has been well and thoroughly reviewed if you wish to look the reviews up online. Maria is charging $10 plus $5  shipping. She is handling payment; please don’t send any money until she knows if the books are still for sale, and please don’t send any payments to me or in my name.

To purchase a book or get on the list, e-mail Maria at [email protected] to ask if the book you want is available.

This is her project; she does the work and gets the money. We love to read and are pleased to see these well-cared-for books go to our readers and friends at a meager price. All are hardcovers in good condition.

The first is a copy of the AKC’s famous “The Complete Dog Book.” This book is enormous, almost $900 pages, and cost me $35 when I bought it in 2007. It is the Bible of dog books, a complete top-to-bottom guide to finding a dog, understanding breeds, training, and caring for a dog, from birth or acquisition to death.

It’s long and thorough – about 900 pages.

This was my very reliable guide to caring for dogs. It’s the official publican of the American Kennel Club. The book on sale is the 20th edition, and it’s in great shape.

In one book, it can tell you everything you might need to know about finding, buying, choosing a breed, training, and health care. It is for serious dog lovers who want to know all there is to understand rather than getting a dog emotionally or on impulse. I highly recommend it and am happy it might go to a dog lover. It was one of my primary dog guidebooks. It’s heavy, and Maria may need to charge more than $5 for shipping. She’ll let you know.

The second book – Three Hours, is a gripping,  best-selling story that is all too familiar to Americans. British writer Rosamund Lipton has written a novel about something most people don’t care to read about – school shootings. The story covers three hours (180 minutes) in the life of a British private school under siege by terrorists or sociopaths who wounded the headmaster by gunshot. They promise more deaths if their demands are not met, but they won’t say what their demands are.

A police psychologist has just a few hours to figure out who the invaders are before they kill some children trapped in the school auditorium.

It’s not a book I could put down easily, but it was in no way horrific.

The book is done skillfully; it is a gripping read, thoughtfully and delicately done. Still, it was tense, I felt the clock running out.  It was never bloody, just tense and nail-biting. I was impressed; I never thought I would appreciate a book on that subject. This book is simple; it’s an important book.

The third book for sale is I Have Some Questions For You by award-winning Rebecca Makkaiwas.

Maria read this book and loved it. It’s a mystery and novel about Bodie Kane, a film professor and podcaster who returns to her New Hampshire Private school as a short-term lecturer. Twenty years earlier, her friend and roommate was murdered at the school, and she is not persuaded that they got the right killer. The book is 435 pages long, too long for me to take up at the time but an easy and good read for Maria. She recommends it highly.

I’d call it an unusual boarding school murder drama; Bodie has to confront herself and the natural killer.

The fourth book is How To Say Babylon, by Jamaican writer Safiya Sinclair, a Pulitzer Prize Winner. The New York Times hooked me on this book, and I didn’t regret it. How to Say Babylon, said the Times,  is “a gripping tale of fundamentalism and the light of rebellion piercing through its cracks.” That is the truth.

Sinclair’s father was a violent and sometimes vicious reggae musician and a militant Rastafarian. He was obsessed with Sinclair’s purity and the corrupting influences of Western Culture, which was pulling her farther and farther away.

She was desperate to get out of Jamaica and to the U.S. Her father is determined to stop her.

I loved this book; it is a story of courage, determination, and a fantastic ending. Sinclair is a great writer and a powerful human being. I recommend this book highly. In one sense, it’s also a powerful feminist tale about freedom.

All of our books sell for $10 plus $5 shipping. They are all in first-rate shape; We care greatly for our books.

The AKC Dog Book is the first of my extensive library of dog and animal books. I’m sorry to see it go. I don’t need it anymore. Much to my astonishment, I have read it cover to cover, except for some of the breed descriptions I’m not interested in. I used it almost every day for some time.

If you are interested in these books, e-mail Maria at [email protected]. Please don’t send any payment until she e-mails back and confirms the book is still available. Please don’t send the payments to me or in my name. She accepts PayPal, Venmo, and checks and will review the payment details when she contacts you.

Thanks for your interest in this project. The farmhouse is stuffed to the ceiling with good books in good shape. We are delighted to sell them cheaply to our readers, who have supported us. Every book we put up for sale has sold almost instantly. It feels very good to be doing this.

 

 

 

 

28 February

Photo Journal: Birds In A Dark Rain And Windstorm

by Jon Katz

Until today, the birds have tended to disappear when I stopped outside with my nature camera. Today, I figured out how to do it. I sat in the car and drove it about 20 feet from the bird feeder. I turned off the engine, brought all the dogs inside, and just sat meditating, dozing a bit, thinking.

After 20 minutes – on the dot – the birds returned and started flying to the feeder we had just refilled. Suddenly, the birds paid no attention to me, and I could hold up my 400 mm lens, rest it on my shoulder, and sit patiently. Four or five small songbirds flew up and made themselves heard. I didn’t want to push my luck, and I also realized that I was distorting the photos by severely cropping them. A big lens like this will do that.

Interestingly, the camera picked up Maria hard at work on her fiber art. The birds didn’t seem to care. The wind is already severe, but the birds seem to fly through it. Zip hung around, trying to figure out what I was doing. I ignored him, and he got the message and ran away.

The wind has really picked up – severe weather alerts everywhere. Maria is going to her belly dancing class tonight. I’ll be right here writing about some things. Stay tuned. Here are some of the new bird photos. It’s dark and gloomy and spooky outside.

I got my new lens to zoom up and get this larger picture, but I need to figure out how. I’ll figure it out.

I enjoyed sitting in the car quietly, waiting for our birds to take their chances with me.

I missed a few big birds; I’ll get them tomorrow. I loved seeing Maria at work. Today was a breakthrough; I’ll figure it out tomorrow. I’m also thinking about the pictures of birds and nature I will try to take in the spring. I’m learning a lot now.

 

They were hiding from the wind.

 

 

28 February

Portrait/Still Life Gate Battle Rages On! I’ve Upset The Amherst Art History Department. They Blame Me For Trumpism And Climate Denial

by Jon Katz

I found the key to happiness. Surround yourself with animals and stay away from idiots..” — unknown.

___

“Great art makes us stand back and admire…The art of a Vermeer or a Braque seeks not to amaze and appall but to invite the observer to come closer, to close with the painting, peer into it, and become intimate with it. Such art reinforces Human dignity” – Germaine Greer, The Obstacle Race (1979), P. 105.

Germaine Greer is an Australian writer, feminist, and intellectual. She spoke my mind above.

I pissed off a whole bunch of holier-than-though academics yesterday, so here’s my chance to do it again. A friend tells annoying people on her blog to “blow it out of their ass,” at first, it sounded rude to me, but it makes more sense every day.

Greer said it better than I did, but it’s precisely what I had in mind when I wrote that I was curious if my portrait of Maria the other day (below) was a portrait or part of still life. Could anyone clarify this for me? I wondered. I found a dozen different definitions online, almost all different.

Greer spoke my mind. I hoped to peer into the picture, become intimate with it,  and close with the picture in the way one might with a painting.

I seem to have a genius for annoying, stuffy, and rude pedantic people; I get along with almost everyone else. I might be too dumb; I’m not the one to say.

On the one hand, that’s a noble thing to keep in mind; on the other, it tells me a great deal about why so many young and rural people hate prestigious schools and the elites they seem to attract. I’ve never enjoyed being called stupid or ignorant, but I’m older and wiser now and can usually laugh it off.

I’m not sure I ever posted anything as personal or nonoffensive as my rumination about Maria and my art, particularly the things that connect still life with portraiture. It is only apparent to me if there are a few others. My photo was about love and creativity, not labels and official words. But this is America in 2024. Everything is a debate.

Of course, a still life’s literal and official definition is indeed a flower, vase, or inanimate object – duh. Do I care? Not really. No truth is absolute.

I was thinking about – and said pretty directly – that the portrait of Maria felt like a still life to me, and since so many people wrote to agree, I started considering the idea.  My ego danced.

This was a very personal, even intimate, observation about my feelings and love for Maria and the emotion of the photograph. I don’t have a PhD in art history or any history. That’s why I have to figure it out myself and should.

Aren’t teachers supposed to applaud that rather than call me names? I love learning about art and thinking about it.

The Maria picture is an emotional photograph to me, and I enjoyed thinking about it and reading about Johannes Vermeer since several people said the photo reminded them of him. I consider it one of my best pictures. I’ve never considered myself an artist, and it’s jarring sometimes.

This being social media, all kinds of strangers assumed this was their business, and I was surprised to learn I had caused a near meltdown at the Amherst, Mass, College Art History Department.

Jennifer Herdt, a Ph.D. professor, was the first to write to say I was wrong, and it was ignorant of me to suggest that a portrait could be anything but a portrait and a still life anything but a still life. Her message was presumptuous, unasked for, and annoying but almost civil and thoughtful. I disagreed with every word of it. It was dangerously wrong, it was said,  for me to try to define things that might conflict with the canon that the professor teaches. Nuts to that.

A high-ranked academic school as famed as Amherst (I spoke there on a book tour) might be expected to understand that I’m just doing my job as a writer when I raise questions and explore conventional wisdom. That’s what I do.

I wrote back to Dr. Peldt., which sparked another, nastier message from Ellen Waverly, who was shocked that I could question a Ph.D. professor’s opinions. I told her that Maria has a master’s degree in art, and she liked what I wrote, but I was told that she could not possibly carry the weight and wisdom of a Ph.D. professor. This is a master class in elitism.

This is another lesson in why so many rural people hate elite schools. They really do think we are all stupid. I had an awful thought – could Ron DeSantis have a point about colleges?- but I quickly recovered. No, he doesn’t.

(Portrait of Maria.)

But a lot of his followers think so. It wasn’t debatable, she said; a still life is a still life, and a portrait was a portrait. I was showing my ignorance and encouraging it in others.

But the squawk was getting underway. And I must be honest: I love trying to take the air out of windbags.

Ellen Waverly, a student or friend of Herts, jumped in and decided to stop pretending and be openly offensive, with no subtlety:

Jon, your attitude is part of our political mess now. You, like anti-vax folk and COVID deniers, are pleased to ignore experts in a field and make up your own “facts.” Suddenly Maria, who doesn’t have a PhD., is as much of an authority as an Amherst professor? You think it’s a sign of free thinking to challenge authority. I have news for you—so do Trump’s most fervent supporters. Don’t like the implications of climate change? No problem! Just make up your data because that’s what all the smart kids are doing. Your photo is not a still life. Vermeer never painted a still life. Why not take the note from an actual authority and move on instead of insulting her and looking like an ass.”

I’m sorry we can’t agree, Ellen; it is most certainly a sign of free thinking to challenge authority.  It is a sign of fascism to prohibit any challenge to authority.

Call me a happy ass.

That’s how the country was formed. I’m afraid I’m not responsible for the Trump nightmare or climate change; it’s a little more complex than that,  and I never said or suggested that Vermeer painted a still life, although he has inspired mine in a couple of different ways. Being extreme is not a way to fight extremism; I found your message way over the top. I respect experts in any field – I am grateful for every vaccine and boost for COVID-19 and have gotten all of them. Trump is a living nightmare, and your cheap link is…well, cheap.

I have news for you, Ellen. Prestige colleges are in trouble, not just from political extremists. You all need to be more in touch with the modern world and younger people’s real lives and needs. This is not one of the seminal issues of modern times, and no, I will never bow to people who tell me they have all of the answers. Nobody does.

This is the challenge of open thought on the Internet: it’s still free, but you may have to fight for the freedom to write what you want. I’m happy to take up that challenge. I am grateful to be freeer to examine my art and life than an Amherst art student.

 

(I’ll dare to repeat it. This photo, one of my best, evokes the feeling of Vermeer and still life painting for me. I don’t care what the professors think.)

So, what do I take from all this? Engaging in name-calling with rude, knee-jerk, or pompous people is pointless.  But sometimes it’s important. I was a college professor at NYU for five years, and if I had ever told my students that what I said was not debatable, I would have run out of the building.

I am almost embarrassed to write about this; it seems ridiculous (does no one have better things to fight about?); it brings back my dread memories of faculty meetings where grown women and I fight endlessly about nothing. They drove me out of teaching.

What are we arguing about, and why is it necessary to call me all of these Middle School names? I would hope for better at a college like Amherst.

I always wanted my daughter to consider going there, but she chose Yale. I doubt a single professor there would argue that their statements were not even debatable.  I don’t wish to live in Putin’s nation or take art classes at Amherst.

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