Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

14 April

Solitude. I Love To Be Alone. A Strength And A Blessing

by Jon Katz

“Let me tell you this,” wrote Jodi Picoult in My Sister’s Keeper, “if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”

There is some truth to that, at least for me.

I have tried many times to blend into the world before, and people almost always disappointed me. I suppose I must have disappointed them.

I have seen this as my failing, not theirs, but I don’t share Picoult’s bleakness about being a loner.

I do enjoy it.

It’s my natural place, and it took me many long and sometimes difficult years to come to terms with it.  It’s a good and peaceful place for me to be. I am never lonely.

I’m afraid I don’t write well about my love of solitude; people seem to think I am sorry for it and pining for more people in my life.

“I’m so happy for you meeting Moise,” wrote one reader, “I know how you are so eager for a male friend.” I realized I had once again failed to express myself well. The Amish do not make friends like the “English” do.

I love my time with Moise, we have a real connection, but the Amish don’t do buddies, and that is not something I seek or need from him.

I have everything I have ever wanted or needed.

I care for myself.

The more solitary, more friendless, the more unsustained I am, wrote Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre, the more we respect ourselves.

The last thing in the world I crave now in my life is another male friend; I’m done with that; men have disappointed me more than anything else in my life. I’m finished with them.

It is important to remember that there are many good men who do many good things. I know that.

But men are also victim makers, too many do harm to people, their families, the earth.

A good friend, a man I valued and loved and did good work with, was recently arrested for having sex with a child.

This broke my heart. I have no more energy to figure out why men do what men do.

My best friend when I worked in television, was a decent,  honest, and empathetic man.

He set fire to his life a couple of years ago when the women working for him came forth and told how he would expose himself when they came into his office to meet with him and after he closed the door.

And how he sexually harassed them again and again. Everywhere he went, he left victims behind, innocent people who trusted him.

I hear awful stories from every woman I know about men.

There is nothing left of my TV friend’s good life. His wife is gone, his children are gone,  his house is gone, his work is gone. He’s a night security guard at a rich condo in New York City.

Why do men so willingly sacrifice themselves to harm others for their own selfish pleasures? Why do they so rarely see that it’s wrong and an awful price for them and others to pay?

I had a friend I loved very much who visited with me one weekend and then went home to his wife and hung himself in a tree behind the house, so everyone could see him hanging there and swinging in the wind.

My heart breaks for men; I look in horror at the men who seek political power and use it to club innocent people into the ground and preach cruelty and hatred.

So many men are broken to me, the list of people who hate them seems to grow and grow until it seems the earth will open up and suck all of them into a giant sinkhole.

It is lonely being a man sometimes, I will admit to that. But it is simpler than being around men or becoming their victims.

I think the world is nearly done with men; I am done with men. I do not despise men; my heart breaks for them. I want to cry for them. So many are lost, closed, angry.

Sometimes I am so disheartened and wary of what men do, I have to find a way to be alone.

Tonight, Maria, exhausted from her belly dancing class, went to bed early.

I was glad. I needed to be alone tonight.

We talked all through dinner, and then she just ran out of energy. I did the dishes, let the dogs out, cleaned up the kitchen. I cherish my time with Maria, but I needed to be alone tonight, and I think she sensed.

I wrote this piece, turned off the computer, and went into the living room, still and peaceful.

I am grateful for solitude tonight. My mind works much better sometimes when I don’t have to speak to anyone or listen to anyone or be pitied by anyone.

I poured myself a rare Scotch – two fingers and two ice cubes – and chased Bud out of my chair and sat down with the New Philip Roth biography Philip Roth – 900 pages – by Blake Bailey, a book I loved from the first page.

It seems a narrative masterpiece, the study of a master writer and a brilliant but deeply troubled man—a loner from beginning to end.

Thoreau, another loner, wrote in Walden (I  have a stack of loner books on the shelf right next to me)  that he found it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.

“To be in company, even with the best, is soon worrisome and dissipating,” he wrote in Walden. “I love to be alone. I never found that companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

I did find my companion. She has also been hurt by men.

I am fortunate.

Maria is as companionable to me as solitude, but even then, I sometimes sink when I pay attention and learn of the destructive and hurtful ways of men – and women –  and need solitude to wash away the sadness.

Solitude gives birth to the original in me, to a kind of poetry I can’t access in the company of people.

Thomas Mann writes that solitude also gives birth to the opposite, the perverse, the illicit, the absurd. Yin and yang, yin and yang, nothing is simple or completely clear.

It isn’t like humans to be happy and bright and hopeful all of the time. Solitude is cleansing, like flushing the soul’s toilet.

We all find our own ways to let it pass through us; it always does pass through.

If it isn’t in human nature to be happy all the time, neither is it in our nature to be unhappy all the time.

Tonight, I’ll cleanse myself of this uncharacteristic but somehow sweet melancholy with a glass of Scotch, a powerful story of a tormented genius, and music of contemplation from my new and wonderful Primephonic App, Music For Contemplation – Schubert, Mozart, Bach.

Good company late at night.

I’ll read and listen until I fall asleep. Sometime around one or two a.m., I’ll pop awake, Zinnia dozing with her head on my feet. I’ll stumble up to the bed and cuddle up with Maria and in the morning will be raring to go, to face the day and rejoin the world.

My brooding ends with the first light, it and the birdsong pull me right out of myself. Zinnie crawls up on the bed to lick my check or failing that, my leg.

Dogs make good friends, but I need more human connections in my life.

The last thing I read before I sit down will be Rainer Maria Rilke’s famous letters to a young poet,  considered by artists to be a sacred work of creativity and inspiration:

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding, but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

– Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

Off to the living room. Good night to all.

14 April

An Amish Backyard

by Jon Katz

In the country, it’s the custom for people to keep their old and used cars in their backyards in case they need spare parts. Many backyards look like junkyards, although they are just car and truck graveyards. You never know when you will need an old fender..

I see that Amish backyards are different. There is no stuff in an Amish backyard because there is no “stuff” in Amish life. Their simplicity is deep and real.

My life is so often filled with clutter and debris that it suffocates me. I life without stuff would denude me. But it is striking to see lives without stuff.

They are filled with newly cut and cleanly stacked lumber, there are usually 10 to 12 horses in wide pastures, there are clotheslines filled with jeans and shirts and dresses and there are rows of carts, nearly lined up and waiting to go.

Otherwise, the backyards are spotless.

My friend Moise’s backyard is different and lovely. I could take photos of this farm all day.

14 April

Radio Bulletin: “Katz On Dogs” Is Now “Katz And Wulf On Animals.” It’s Me and Maria, Co-Hosts.

by Jon Katz

(I want to apologize to the dozen or more people whose calls were inadvertently blocked during my radio show today. It was a tele-glitch which has been repaired. Please try again next week: 802 442-1010. We will get it right.)

Ideas have a habit of exploding in my brain, and talking to Maria today on my weekly radio show; it just hit me. We should be doing the show together.

We share a life of animals, we talk easily and openly with one another, and I have this strong belief that there should be an articulate, knowledgeable woman with strong feelings and rich knowledge about animals on the broadcast along with a man.

I see women surging everywhere and am proud to live with one of them. She shouldn’tt just be calling in. She should share the show and the billing.

Maria is a true animal whisperer, she has fascinating stories to tell.

We feel it’s important to share our experiences and ideas with others. We believe in open lives insofar as it is possible.

I believe in change. Maria has just as much to say as I do; I want it to be our show, not my show.

I proposed the idea to Lee and the station brass, and they loved it. I don’t tend to sit on these things for long, and Maria agreed to the idea this afternoon.

The new broadcast will air next Wednesday, April 21, at 2 p.m. EDT live on WBTNAM, streamable from anywhere in the world. Just click here.

I think this will draw animal lovers to the show, Maria has many followers on her own blog and we have journeyed through a life with animals together as long as we have known each other.

You can check out her amazing blog here.

Together, we have learned many lessons and experienced a lifetime of experiences, joys, disappointments, controversies, and evolutions.

We balance one another well.

Maria has read just about every book on animals in nature for the past decade, including treatises on snails, sheep,  beavers, barn cats, chickens, dogs, ponies, and whales. She has a lot to say about animals.

So we’ll do the show together and take calls together and take on people’s questions and issues together.

We’ve done numerous podcasts together and had a blast. Sometimes she’ll be in the studio with me; sometimes, she’ll be calling from the farm (on Belly Dancing Days.)

As always,  you can call in (we’ll have the lines fixed) at 802 442 1010, e-mail your questions to me or Maria – [email protected] or [email protected], or stream in next week live for free.

We’ll see how this format works. If it flies, we might go to two hours one day. With the two of us, all kinds of things are possible.

I enjoyed the show today very much.

Sorry about the lost calls.

I can feel the energy of the show lifting along with the audience.

We had a great discussion on what’s happening with vets right now during Covid-19; we followed Cynthia Daniello’s adventures with Edgar the Helldog, we discussed Lily’s grieving for her human man.

I can see we might need more time.

I hope to continue our discussions on dogs and other animals’ intelligence, the struggles of the veterinary world, the training of deaf and all dogs, the best way to get a dog, the best way to train a dog. Maria will add her own mix to the show.

I think this is a great leap forward for the broadcast; I can’t wait until next week.

WBTN is a Community Radio station that depends on public support for survival. in the Corporate Nation, Community Radio needs to survive. If you like the broadcast and it is valuable to you, please consider making a donation in any amount. Thanks. You can donate on the station website via Paypal here.

14 April

Radio Show Today: Stewardship, The Intelligence Of Animals, Deaf Dogs, Not-So-Smart Dogs

by Jon Katz

My weekly radio will be live this afternoon,  Wednesday, April 14th EDT, at 2 p.m..

The program – we talk about dogs, cats, all animals – is broadcast by WBTNAM but can be heard anywhere in the world by going to WBTNAM.org and clicking on the “live” button on the top of the page.

I’d love to hear your questions, you can call live toll-free at 802 442-1010. If I’m on a call, hang on, I’ll get to you. You can also e-mail me before, during, or after the broadcast with your question or concern about animals: [email protected]

I’ll be happy to talk with you about your dogs or cats. “Katz On Dogs” is a safe zone, we don’t permit hostility or social media nastiness. We are a safe zone.

Today Maria Wulf, my wife and partner, will be coming on early to talk about animal intelligence and the idea of animal stewardship. She is deservedly popular and interesting.

I hope to be hearing from Cynthia Daniello about her Helldog Edgar, who is deaf and loud, and how she is learning to calm and quiet him.

Tracy Snell of Our Best Friends Rescue will be on to offer dog lovers sa compelling dog who needs a home.

And hopefully, others will call in with their questions and problems. I have some e-mailed questions I want to get to.

So listen, stream, call, or e-mail “Katz On Dogs,” we strive to be the most intelligent and useful dog show on the radio or anywhere else. Stream live from anywhere, e-mail me at [email protected], or call live (toll-free) at 802 442 1010.

We have at least one listener in France, and another in Rome.

14 April

The Gift Of Stewardship. The Five Freedoms For Animals

by Jon Katz

The philosopher Thomas Aquinas believed that God created animals in order to teach human beings how to be merciful.

I’ve always been drawn to that idea, but over time, I’ve also come to believe animals were created to teach us to be caring stewards, of them and of the earth, an evolution of Aquinas’s idea.

This idea transcends mercy and includes morality, faith, and responsibility.

For much of modern history, a steward has been defined as one employed in a large household or estate or business to supervise the accounts or distribute food and drink in an institution.

A steward is also an employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages passengers’ feeding and care.

But the term has taken on a broader and deeper religious and spiritual context.

In Christianity, the idea of the steward has broadened further.

The Christian steward’s philosophy writes Paul E. Chapman,  is that stewardship means we have been entrusted with the welfare and belongings of someone or something else and that we must be held accountable for how we handle that responsibility.

Some dictionaries give as many as 30 definitions of the term “steward,” and stewardship has become a philosophy in its own right, especially when applied to people and animals at our mercy.

Environmentalists have also embraced the term and expanded its meaning, challenging us to be  “responsible stewards” of the earth and its dwindling resources.

According to Wikipedia, Stewardship is a belief that humans are responsible for the world and should take care and look after it. Creation includes animals and the environment.

I see myself as the steward of my animals, as someone responsible for them and to them.

My responsibilities are to feed them healthy foods, shelter them, exercise. I am morally responsible for training domestic animals like dogs to live harmoniously and safely in our world.

Animals do not exist solely for my emotional support and well-being. Animals serve me, and I serve them. They are my companions on the path through life.

I am responsible for providing health care to my animals when they are sick. I am responsible for helping all of my animals to leave the world in comfort and dignity when the time comes and not make them suffer or prolong their pain for my sake and out of my needs.

I embrace the notion in religious theology that caring for  God’s creations is a sacred obligation. The stewardship of animals and the earth are believed to be sacred to God in every major religion. That is the teaching of every major faith: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.

I’m learning that the Amish also consider the proper treatment of animals to be a moral responsibility, not because they are their children or their emotional support systems,  but because healthy and secure animals make their lives possible.

As society has evolved, so have our thoughts and values on what constitutes good stewardship of animals in our care. In 1965, the United Kingdom developed a set of principles to cover farm animals and livestock welfare.

I embrace these Five Freedoms, and so has Maria; this is the code by which we care for every animal on our farm, from the domestic dog to the donkeys and sheep to the chickens and barn cats.

Like Aquinas, I believe these animals make me a better and more merciful human being by challenging me to be responsible for their welfare. They are not children or furbabies to me, but partners in my life on the earth.

It sounds strange to me, but I am certain of legislators were free to bring their dogs to Congress, the two parties might well learn to work together. Dogs soften us, make us smile, open us up to empathy.

It seemed no accident to me that the Trump family was the first in many years not to have a dog in the White House and the Trump administration was the cruelest in modern history.

The Five Freedoms embraced by England are these:

Freedom from hunger and thirst.

Freedom from extreme weather and discomfort.

Freedom from pain, injury, or disease.

Freedom to express natural and normal behaviors.

Freedom from fear and distress.

I believe our own humanity is measured and reflected in the way we treat animals. A society that treats animals humanely historically treats its most vulnerable humans humanely as well. Animals teach us to be human; they are a profound moral challenge to human beings.

Food and shelter are only the beginning of the animal steward’s moral obligations. We owe our animals a good and meaningful life.

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