Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

15 February

Guarding Red

by Jon Katz

I asked Red to lie down between the sheep and the donkeys to keep the sheep still and maintain order, his primary task in the morning. Bud came scurrying up the hill and took up his new daily position between Red and the sheep. The sheep, for some reason, are afraid of Bud and while he doesn’t “herd” them in any convention sense, he is able to keep them still, and well away from Red.

Nobody moved much as Bud glowered at them. I wonder if Bud will ever figure out that he is a small dog, and the sheep could stomp him into the ground. He loves Red and has become his guard dog.

14 February

On Being Alone

by Jon Katz

Our language has created two words to describe the experience of being alone. One is “loneliness,” used to capture the pain of being alone. The other is “solitude,” which expresses the glory of being alone.

In my third year on the first Bedlam Farm, a howling blizzard roared down from Canada.  I knew then, I think, that I could never go home again, that my marriage was falling apart, but I couldn’t admit either of those things to myself or to anyone else.

I lied to myself every day. I was going home soon. My marriage was good.

There was at least two feet of snow on the ground, the wind was blowing huge drifts and the temperature was well below zero.

I called my dog Rose out with me – she was up for anything – put on boots and a heavy parka and started climbing up the steep hill with Rose leaping alongside of me. I wanted to get to the top of my mountain so I could look out over the valley below at this beautiful storm.

There were two chairs up on the top that I had put there, and I stomped through the wind and snow, out of breath and cold, the wind blowing ice crystals onto my face, where they were freezing. Rose ran behind the chair, out of the powerful wind.

It was worth the climb, the lights in the valley flickered in and out of the thickening snow, and the wind sent gorgeous whirls of white, all backlit by the floodlights on the barn and the house. It was both magical and mystical to see that snow and hear the wind screaming through the forest behind me.

I felt transported to another world. I had never imagined such aloneness, it felt so sweet.

I didn’t know better than to climb that hill, I was exhilarated to be so free and alone. I was on a journey.

I sat on the chair, and thought that for the first time in my life, no other human being had any idea where I was, no one other human could see me or hear me, I was utterly and completely alone, and the fear melted away, and the most beautiful and peaceful feeling came over me, I wanted to just lie there and go to sleep and spend the night.

Rose was smarter than I was, she barked, shook herself off, and started down the hill.

I remember thinking that I had to let her in the farmhouse, or she might freeze. So I got up and followed her down that hill and staggered, numb into the farmhouse.

__

They are two very different things, loneliness and solitude,  although it’s easy to lost the distinction between them.

Like so many people, I have experienced both loneliness and solitude all of my life, being alone is an embedded, deeply woven part of me. I grew up alone, quite often feel alone, and most often, I am alone, one way or the other.

I am happy and at peace with me. Most of the time, I am enough.

I see now that this is my place, where I belong, where I am most at home. So often, when I am not alone, I feel the most alone.

My experience of aloneness was shattered by my marriage to Maria, which began the longest and deepest period of feeling connected to the world, and which interrupted both my loneliness and my solitude to this day. But like me, she needs to be alone for some of each day, the need for being alone is another of the things we share.

The philosopher Paul Tillich wrote that he never felt so lonely as in that particular hour when he was surrounded by people, but suddenly realized his ultimate isolation. I know that feeling well.

I am wary of people still, and I suppose I will always be. There are many in my life now, but I am most comfortable at a distance. Tillich says we feel the most alone when we are separated from those who helped us to forget that we are alone, either through separation or death.

He believed it was the greatness of human beings that they are centered within themselves. Separated from the world, we are able to see it and consider it. Being alive means being in a body, he writes, a body separated from all other bodies.

And being separated means being alone.

This, Tillich says, is true of every creature on the earth, but it is more true of man than any other creature, because he is not only alone; he knows that he is alone, just as he knows he is going to die.

The animals are spared this sense of self, they live in the now, not the future or the past. They don’t know that they are going to die, or that they are alone.

Loneliness is hard to endure – I learned that living alone on the first Bedlam Farm in Hebron, I was often lonely, I was alone for so much of the time.

But I also deeply felt the glory of solitude, as I did when I lived on Colfax Mountain for a year and wrote Running To The Mountain, accompanied  by Thomas Merton’s journals and only by my two Yellow labs, Julius and Stanley. I’ve always needed to run off somewhere and be alone, that was – is – the only way I could ever figure out who I am.

Solitude is so different from loneliness, at least for me. Merton taught me that, he loved his hermitage so.

We all  have a lonely place, and I need a lonely place.

Without solitude I have always felt that my life is in danger.

Without solitude, words lost their meaning for me. Without solitude, I lost any sense of who I was. Without solitude, I lied to myself, again and again. Tillich wrote that “without listening,  speaking no longer  heals, and without distance,  closeness cannot cure.”

It is solitude that forms the basis for my spiritual life, there is life in action, and there is life in solitude, and I can no longer live in one without the other.

I couldn’t make it up that snowy hill now, and I wouldn’t drag any dog I know up there with me today. But in solitude I can grow old freely, without being preoccupied by usefulness or fame, I can offer services I never thought of or planned.

I feel I am losing all of my many dependencies on the world – mother, father, child, career, wealth and success – and life in a circle with very little to defend, and nothing much to covet. In this circle, I am learning to take the world seriously, but never too seriously.

When people laugh at me, I can laugh with them at myself.

And why not? I have little left to lose, I might as well be me.

I am no longer a slave to results other than the ones I impose on myself and that are caused by my love for Maria.

I have  joined the fellowship of the weak and the humbled. I am not afraid any more, I am  accepted there.

14 February

Sleeping Bud

by Jon Katz

I was lying down during my Peaceful Hour, and listening to a Beethoven violin concerto, and then I closed my eyes and drifted off. When I woke up there was a dog lying on my chest, and the Iphone was on the table next to him. People seem to love these Sleeping Bud photos, and I am fond of them too.

It is a special experience to open your eyes and seeing a smushy face like this, we are connected. It makes resting and meditating a different experience.

14 February

Remembering Red/Afternoon Chores

by Jon Katz

Red is going to get an acupuncture treatment Friday, he is moving well, but slowly, and when I bring  him out to the pasture – there was a beautiful late sun and he wanted to go, he was at the door – he seems to want just to be near the sheep.

He stays away from them, and doesn’t do any real running or herding, and the sheep accept his new role and give him some space. His wingman, Bud, is almost always near.

I think Red has great dignity sitting out there, I don’t know how long he will live, but I do know he is failing, and I want to have some work for his own sense of pride and value.  I believe it is important to him.

This photo is how I want to remember Red, and will always think of him.

14 February

Update: A New Feed Coming Tomorrow

by Jon Katz

So I called it Feedgate. There is a lot of response and controversy surrounding the new blog feed being mailed out for free every day, some of it pretty heated.

The good news is that I see that people really care about my blog, and how it is presented. That means a lot, even if I see Americans are losing their patience, sense of humor and perspective when it comes to technology.

There is more good news. A new feed format is coming with tomorrow’s morning feed, it is the one that was supposed to be put up in the first place.

The bad news to some is that this is a relatively complex switch, it won’t happen until tomorrow, and there may be some bumps to smooth out as happens with any new technology. In our world, tomorrow sometimes feels like an eternity, take a deep breath and hold it.

If there are problems, we will fix them.

Here’s what happened. First, the old free morning mail “feed” of my blog, on Feedburner, started having trouble. A growing number of people weren’t getting the blog any more.  We checked it out and found that  Feedburner hasn’t been updated since 2007 (when my blog started) and was rumored to be shutting down soon.

So we decided to switch to SpecificFeeds, a newer and highly regarded feed service, supposedly the best. Specific Feeds offers a free feed version, but we rejected this option because the feed was too primitive – just a long list of titles, an ugly feed without a displayed photo. We all know the new bait-and-switch sales ploy: its free, but only if it’s crap.

You couldn’t see the whole journal, only titles. I didn’t like it, Mannix Marketing didn’t like it. We decided to pay for better.

Of course, as luck would have it, Specific Feeds has a paid feed – starting at $13.50 a month – which displays the blog as it is every day, photos and all in one sweep.

Since photos are one of the signature elements of the blog, the ugly free version was not acceptable. And I didn’t like the clunky stack of titles, and the fact people had to click on a title, but couldn’t see the whole, nicely designed package.

You had to click on the blog to see what it was about.

(Turns out, a lot of other people didn’t like it either.)

So I went with the paid version.

Yesterday, we made the switch from Feedburner to Specific Feeds and the e-mails began almost instantly. I couldn’t imagine what had happened.

It turned out, Mannix told me today, that Specific Feeds messed up and used the free, clunky and ugly feed – bit stacks of titles, no sense of the blog, no photos.  One piece of software didn’t tell another I had purchased the better version.

The angry and pleading messages (some were very nice) began right away. I was surprised at the passion and the heat –  this is a free service, after all, and a lot of blogs don’t offer it all. I like the feedback, but the anger was a bit off-putting, as anger usually is.

Still, it spoke to my blog’s power and reach. I’ve worked hard for that. And I am grateful for that. People don’t want to miss a day, and how can I mutter about that?

We noticed the Specific Feeds problem right away and it took awhile to connect to them, but they acknowledged their mistake and today, began building a new feed – very much like the old  Feedburner one – that will go up tomorrow.

I am told it will look a lot nicer.

People are very frustrated by big tech, they don’t feel anybody is listening, so they bellow and yell sometimes, to make sure somebody is paying attention. They’ve been frustrated too many times by companies who pretend to care but don’t, and who are neither accountable nor reachable.

I was paying attention and so was Mannix, I’ve been answering e-mails all night and day. This is not what I expected to be doing all day, but it is my responsibility to do it, even if I can’t carry out the execution.

We got to work instantly to change the feed and to figure out why some people weren’t getting the blog at all. We are still working on that.

So more good news: The new feed goes up tomorrow morning.

This mailing service of my blog is free to you, and by no means universal. And I am happy to pay for a feed that does what it is supposed to and respects the look and feel of the blog.

I would recommend patience and perspective to people who depend on technology.

There is no such thing as an instant, totally clean technology shift. It’s like getting a new computer or Iphone – something always goes wrong, and 99 times out of 100, it can be fixed easily, or in a day or two. This has taught me to be calm and keep perspective.

We are again migrating thousands of e-mails to a different web site and server.

I know what it’s like to call Verizon or most giant corporations but Mannix is not like that, and I am not like that. Mannix and I have been building this blog together for nearly a decade now, and they are wonderful, dedicated and efficient. I trust them completely.

I am also, I have to concede, very happy to see how many people get the blog mailed to them every morning and get upset when they miss it. I thank you for that, it tells me the blog is worth something and worthy of the the time and money and effort that has gone into.

I don’t deal well with people who threaten to stop reading the blog if I don’t do what they say.  I usually say go in peace, but go. There was only one or two of those this time.

So tomorrow, a better blog feed,  I haven’t seen it, but am told it’s pretty classy. There may be some issues,  setbacks or problems.

If there are, please let me know. If you can be nice, that would be good. I’m not Verizon, and this is just life.

Email SignupEmail Signup