5 March

Tim: A “Great Dog” Meets The Creative Spark

by Jon Katz

I’ve known Tim for several years, and I admire him greatly and consider him a friend. He is one of the most determinedly creative people I know, even though a series of grinding health difficulties.

He lives at the Mansion, and every day, rain or shine, he can be found motoring down Main Street, to visit the book store or pick up things the other residents need. Only a snowstorm stops him.

Tim is a voracious reader, he is working on a book, he makes sculptures out of clay, works on puzzles, sketches, and he draws and paints.

I supply his creative needs – books, brushes, clay, drawing paper and pencils, computer parts. Tim is easy-going, genial. He lost his leg more than a year ago, although he is always in pain, I have never heard him complain.

When I  buy a gift certificate for him from Battenkill Books, he rushes down to the store on his motorized wheelchair and places an order. He reads every word of every book.

He has read most of my books, she shows me his writing, and we often talk about writing and publishing. He hopes to have current work published.

In recent weeks, Tim and Zinnia have bonded in a special way. “What a great dog,” he shouts from the front porch when he sees her, and she responds by bounding over to him and licking his prosthesis and his hand.

Tim comes to every event I participate in at the Mansion – every reading, every Meditation Workshop, every Bingo game (I stopped doing Bingo for a while.)

Every time I meet Tim, we go over his creative projects, he is always busy, always trying something new. Tim is brave, even heroic, he faces life with pride and dignity, and the Creative Spark is always burning brightly inside of him.

I am very happy to be his friend and a supporter of his creativity.

7 October

Creative Spark: Do Me A Favor

by Jon Katz

The ability of the human being to want more, to expand or change their lives, to be better, to create things is, to me, one of the things that often suggests the existence of a God.  Where else could this drive come from?

No dog or cat or chicken can decide to choose a better life, or choose to change his or her life. Only human beings can imagine that.

Why did Gandhi set out to free India?  Or Martin Luther King march through the South? Why did Mother Teresa wash the feet of lepers? Or Michelangelo stare at his chapel for years?

Why did Picasso or Van Gogh have to make art?  Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez write such wonderful books? Why did Jesus Christ choose to fight for the needy when it was so dangerous and lonely?

For that matter, and I am not comparing myself to any of those people above, why am I so drawn to working with the elderly at the Mansion or the refugee children at Bishop Maginn. I can’t say I know for sure, but I believe it is the Creative Spark described in the Kabbalah.

I’ve struggled with the idea of God, but the Creative Spark is the divine for me, I think, in a way that is God for me. Creativity – my writing and photography – is faith for me, perhaps that is why I dislike being told what to write. It isn’t that I am right, it’s that I am free.

This spark takes me out of myself and into the wider world in a powerful way.

What I saw in Maria – I remember it so vividly – was this spark, this yearning to come out of herself and fulfill her destiny. I also saw her bravery and determination in taking so many risks to pursue it. She was absolutely determined, as was I, to fill her life with meaning.

No other animal has this powerful desire to step outside of themselves and create a better world or capture the light and the color and meaning of life.

It is their imaginations that made human beings so exceptional, and it is their failure to imagine that make them so dangerous and self-destructive. This is why museums exist – they are the Temples and Churches and Mosques of creativity.

When people abandon the Creative Spark or let others persuade them to abandon it, says Joseph Campbell, then they lead a substitute life. Or, as T.S. Eliot suggested, they can become hollow men (and women.) I know what that feels like, it is so  easy to become frightened or disillusioned.

God said in the Kabbalah that he gave the Creative Spark only to human beings, and he warned people that the only thing they had to fear from him was failing to use or honor it.

Donkeys are happy to be fed and safe.  The can’t imagine more, so they don’t want more. Maria and I both wanted more out of our lives, and we have fought every day for that.

I sensed this drive in Maria when we first met, and this was one of the reasons I fell in love with her. She said I was the first person in her life to tell her creativity was sacred, important, wonderful. She sure doesn’t need to be told that now.

Last night, I saw her sitting in the living room embroidering another President Trump quote for the Tiny Pricks Project, the artistic resistance online, artists from all over the country choose their favorite quotes from the president in fabric and posting them on the Internet.

The site is seeking to make a creative and artistic record of the Trump era. They call it the “Material Record” of Trump’s Presidency.” Last night, she was embroidering one of his most famous recent quotes, this one to the President of Ukraine: “I would like you to do us a favor, though...”

The President doesn’t seem to pay much attention to artists, I’ve never seen him tweet against them, but I think he would do well to take them more seriously. Throughout history, art has turned intensely political and quite powerful.

Maria has already stitched six quotes on the site, and she has done a strong response to them. It’s right up her alley, a non-violent, non-argumentative creative statement of her beliefs.

I have always believed the Creative Spark is in all of us, and sometimes, as a teacher, I am lucky enough to light it in others. Mostly, it is what drives me and gives my life both love and purpose.



21 December

Portrait, Jackie: The Joy Of The Creative Spark

by Jon Katz

Jackie is one of the belly dancers in Maria’s dancing group, I’ve only spoken to her once or twice, but I could take photos of her all day.

One of the beautiful things about photography for me is that it attaches me to people, whether they know it or care.

I find I am especially drawn to photographing strong women, people who radiate strength and feeling and are fearless about their bodies and full of attitude and joy.

I’m not sure why this is so. My friends are almost all strong women, my wife is a strong women, my favorite portrait subjects are strong women.

Maria’s belly dancing Hafla (celebration) was the perfect start of our Christmas week and Jackie, a hotel manager, a grandmother and mother, is a wonderful symbol of the Belly Dancing ethos – this is who we are, and we love who we are with style and attitude, take it or leave it.

What a fine prescription that is for life.

Jackie also is a testament to the creative spark, according to the mystics, God gave each human a creative spark and he is said to have told his people that the only real sin is not using the spark to creative love and joy and happiness.

When I look at Jackie, as when I look at Maria, I see the creative spark, burning so brightly, every day, demanding to come out, insisting upon it. I had no doubts about belly dancing, and little confusion, but if I do have any, all I have to do is look at Jackie.

Her face is full of emotion, strength and the joy of creativity. And yes, Belly Dancing is an art, it is pure artistry.

She’s been entered in my fantasy photography show: portraits of strong women. I am grateful to have married another. These are the women I love and want to photograph.

27 January

Video: Art Class At The Mansion: Keeping The Creative Spark Alive

by Jon Katz

Maria came to the Mansion with me Friday, she is going to be teaching a monthly art class. I’m planning to start my one on one reading class, seeking to revive minds, memory and reading.

Come inside this class yesterday, and watch as we seek to keep the creative spark alive in beautiful people struggling to keep their memories and imagination vibrant and alive. Come and see from the inside for a bit.

13 October

Imagination: The Creative Spark, The Holy Spirit

by Jon Katz

The Kabbalah says that the fierce power of imagination is believed to be a gift from God. Joined with the grandeur of the mind, fueled by the creative spark, the potency of ethical depth, and the natural sense of the divine, imagination thus becomes an instrument of the holy spirit.

(The new Bedlam Farm photos-for-sale gallery is now up on the blog. The photos there (including this one) are for sale.)

Bedlam Farm