23 April 2014

Finding The Other Jon: A Voice From The Other Side Of Life

By: Jon Katz
Voice From The Other Side

Voice From The Other Side

Family is a complex thing for me and for many other people, it is the template for our lives so often, it is, for me, the puzzle never solved. My best friend when I was a child – the only memory of my childhood – was of my friendship with Jon, a cousin. We lived a few blocks from each other and we spent a lot of time together. I don't remember too much about him, not really.

I remember hanging out with him after school, walking through the neighborhood, eating ice cream together. I remember going to family functions and being with him, I had a good feeling about him, I remember him as kind, gentle, easy to talk to.  We even had the same name.  Jon is really the only thing I remember from those early years apart from some things I don't wish to remember. When we were nine, he vanished one day, his family moved out to the Midwest, I learned, we never got to say goodbye or speak again for many years.

I lost track of him, never heard from him, never tried to contact him. One evening, at a book reading in the Southwest, a man came up to me and introduced himself to me, "you don't recognize me do you?," he asked, and I didn't. It was a cousin, I think, perhaps an uncle,  but I was in a bad place on that time, I had shut out everyone in my family, I had come to see family as a disturbing and dangerous thing. On that book tour, I took a cane along, I don't know why, honestly. I had hurt my back in a fall, but I didn't really need a cane and threw it away shortly after I got home.

People who saw me on that book tour always ask me about my health, I didn't realize at that time I was beginning my long and spectacular crack-up and I felt sick and must have looked ill. I was alone and in a loveless life, I felt old, I think, I began to act that way. I felt my life was ending, I was beginning to be as ill as I must have looked, but it was not my body that was aging, it was my mind and my heart. I talked to Jon a bit, then fled the bookstore. I barely remember meeting it, I was not, as the therapists say, available.

I should say that my family was shattered not long after Jon left, and even before,  torn apart in the most awful and enduring ways. We have never recovered, I shut family out of my left, I shut out the past.  I did not see my mother for a number of years before she died, I have only spoken to my brother two or three times in the past decades, I love my sister dearly, we were so close as children, but life tore us apart and I speak with her once or twice a year, it is all we can do, really. We talked last night, one of her dogs is dying of cancer, and it is a time when she needs me to be in touch and asks me to be in touch. I am grateful for the chance to be a brother.

There is no ill will among us, that would perhaps be easier to bear. After I hung up with my sister,  who was very sad and who talked about a number of issues in her life, I remembered Jon, and I felt a strong wish to find him and talk to him.  I don't know why, mind and memory is a curious thing. My memories of him were still so strong. Thanks to the Internet, I tracked him down in a couple of minutes,  I found someone by that name, a lawyer practicing in the same city where I had seen that relative at my book reading. It had to be  him, I called his office and left a number, "I said this is Jon, if you are the same Jon I was best friends with, you will know me and please call," and I left my number.

This morning, just after I sat down to write, the phone rang and it was Jon. "It is me," he said, "is this you?" I swear, something in the voice touched something deeply inside of me, I nearly cried.  I spent the next two hours on the phone with him. It was as if we have never stopped talking. He remembered me well, he also had often thought of me, he remembered a quiet and shy boy who was always reading, who always had a book with him. We filled one another in on the happenings in both of our lives and our families, he was curious to know about my family, there were all kinds of rumors but no one really knew what had happened to all of us, what was going on.

I think the most striking thing about the call is that I know nothing of who I was then, I remember nothing, I have blanked all of it out. Jon painted the portrait of a quiet and shy child, a voracious reader, he said he didn't think he ever saw me without a book in my hand, I don't recall that or what I might have been reading. He said the last time he saw me, I was sitting on a fire escape outside of my grandmother's apartment reading a book. I bet it was one of the Hardy Boy books. Jon, I found, is still gentle, still thoughtful, still grounded, still a friend.

I was already making up stories in my head, living inside of my own world. He said I always seemed to be in my own head. It was striking to hear this voice from the other side, from so far back. To see this portrait of me, painted by my first friend. All of my life I have avoided the people in my past, and here I am, tracking down one of the first. Isn't life curious?

I told Jon a little of what I do remember of what happened in my family, he listened quietly, he was, he said, very surprised, he had no idea. In that world, families kept their secrets, there was little understanding of psychology or even medicine. He had some of his own. Jon's family has hung together, stayed in touch, supported each other. I felt a pang about that.

Jon is thinking of doing some writing, he is in his 60′s and wondering how much longer he wants to practice law.  I gave him my creative spark speech, he got interested. We traded cell phone numbers, e-mails.  We hope to see each other again, we mean to stay connected, I got an e-mail from him minutes later saying he was grateful I had looked for him and found him. "It matters," he said on the phone. It does. I don't understand this, but I know it is healing, I know it is good.

Posted in General

Jukebox, The Bog. My Life.

By: Jon Katz
Jukebox, The Bog

Jukebox, The Bog

The bog is a cozy bar and restaurant in my town, it's hamburgers are considered to be among the best anywhere, it is a great place to go on a windy or rainy night, there is a roaring wood stove, a jukebox, a pool table,  a video game machine and a long wooden bar filled with regulars. It has a classic kind of American feel to it.

Posted in General

Maternity Meeting

By: Jon Katz
Maternity Meeting

Maternity Meeting

Maria held her daily maternity meeting this morning in the barnyard, the ewes are getting heavier by the day, bagging up, lying down, their stomachs hanging low to the ground. No sign of anything imminent, but then, with sheep, you never really know. Friday, Maria and I are going to Vermont to pick up the wool from last Fall's shearing, Maria will sell the yarn on her website.

Posted in General

Create Fearlessly

By: Jon Katz
Create Fearlessly

Create Fearlessly

The writer John Updike inspired me in a number of ways that affect my work and creative life, years after I heard him speak about creativity and read his ideas about creating things, especially books, essays, poems and artistic images. First, he said that real writers write, every day, in every way they can.  They learn when they are the most creative hours and they protect and cherish that time all of their lives.

Writers don't take scores of workshops, agonize in writer's groups, whine about the traumas of publishing, list all of the reasons why they are no good, why they can't make a living, why nobody will ever like their awful stuff, why their lives are so difficult. They go out and do it, every day, any way they can. That is my creed, my mantra, creativity is a fire within, it burns or it doesn't.

This week I am reading the new biography "Updike," by Adam Begley.  Updike was as creative and vibrant at the end of his life as he was at the beginning – perhaps more so. He published 26 novels in 49 years, countless poems, essays and short stories in between. He took his own life and shaped and re-shaped it, told and re-told it. The biography is re-inspiring me in my writing, my books, my blog, my photography. Most of all, in my discipline. Create fearlessly, Updike said, every day of your life.

Writers just write, there is so much truth to that. Artists paint, they create, they sew and weave, they photograph and create verse,  they sculpt and draw. They create fearlessly and relentlessly, they send their works out into the world, they put themselves out there every, they come out, often in painful or frightening or uncomfortable ways. The process of creation is heroic to to me, small acts of bravery in a fearful time.  Updike believed the writer and artist continuously share what he called the "digested"part of their lives. That is the theory of my blog, from the very first day to now. You may get some undigested parts as well.

I love this idea of creation. Every day, a lottery of sorts. You may get the good Jon Katz today or the bad Jon Katz, , I might make sense to you or not, I might touch your emotions or make you smile or  cry. Hopefully, all of the above.  People will often surprise me and patronize me by saying they continue to read my books and my blog even though they often disagree with me, as if their reading my work is a favor, a gift, generously bestowed despite my idiosyncratic thoughts and words. To me, that is a narrow, even sad idea about creativity, the very antithesis of it. It's the ideas that challenge and provoke me that I need the most, creation is a gift all of it's own, nothing touches and inspires more people or gives them the inspiration or the strength to love their lives.

My writing is not about what other people think, it is about what I think, I am the one who must look in the mirror each morning and feel good about who I am and what I am doing. My work is certainly not about my concern with others but my concern with self, not of timidity and the need for approval but of dignity and pride.  My standard is not the approval of a neighbor or reader but of self-respect -  I seek the approval of me.

I love the idea of creating fearlessly, I have had it since I was a little boy, John Updike gave me a name for it. Every day I meet or hear from someone who has permitted their creative spark to be shut down by the nature of the world, by the cruelty or indifference or discouragement of parents or teachers or friends or  critics or siblings. I want to grab each one and shout Updike's idea to them: create fearlessly, every day, for yourself and your own self-respect.

This week, I am thinking about creating fearlessly, and I'll devote all of it to Mr. Updike and his legacy:

- Thursday night, for the first time in my life, I am taking my poems to a poetry reading at the Round House Cafe, Cambridge, N.Y. I am not comfortable in groups generally, I like to create by myself, and just put it all out there,  but a friend told me he will read his poems if I will read mine. Fair enough. Don't just do what I say, do what I do. I'll choose a Divine Old Dog poem and one about walking on the path. I'm looking forward to it.

- My friend George Forss, the great photographer, is spending most of next week in New York. He told me this morning that he would love to take some photos of the New York Carriage Horses with me, and that is an exciting idea for me. I am thinking about going next Thursday.

- My writing life. As I mentioned, my life-long publisher, Random House and I have parted company in a very respectful and amicable way. I need something different, I suspect they do too, it is just time, no fault, no foul. So I am hanging out there, going to meetings, talking about my next book, my special project, "Talking To Animals." There is considerable interest in this book, I've had some wonderful meetings about it, I have not ever been without a book contract, it is strange for me, a big part of me missing. It is a part of creating fearlessly, I must keep doing my work, respecting my self, following my passion. I feel good about it, I have a great book (more than one) to do, a committed and respected agent and Updike's call to the fearlessness of creativity rings still in my head and heart.

Posted in General

Welcome Dr. Joel From Fromm Foods: Ask The Vet, Something New

By: Jon Katz
Welcome Dr. Joel

Welcome Dr. Joel

This morning, something new from bedlamfarm.com. We are pleased to welcome Dr. Joel Ehrenzweig, an experienced veterinarian now working with Fromm Family Foods, a sponsor of this website (the only one ever) and the oldest holistic family-owned pet food company in America. My dogs have been eating Fromm Food for nearly two years now, I have never had a better food with better results, it is the only pet food company I ever considered advertising here.

For a year now, Fromm nutritionists have been coming onto my Facebook Page on Wednesdays to answer your nutrition questions. Today, Dr. Joel will come onto my Facebook Page live between 10 a.m. and noon (the nutritionists will be answering your questions all day) to answer any questions you might have about your pets health and nutrition. He is the real deal. This is a rare opportunity, in the age of a lot of dubious Internet amateur vets, to talk to a real one about your dog or cat.

The topic will go up at 10 a.m. on my Facebook Page. Please post your questions there and Dr. Joel and the Fromm nutritionists will answer them as quickly as they can. At the end of the day, I'll choose one of the questions and the poster will get a coupon for a free bag of Fromm dog or cat food.

I'm excited to be able to offer this service through the blog, grateful to Fromm for offering it free of charge. As many of you know, I have long been uncomfortable with some of the hysterical and false information that flows so freely online, from long-distance diagnosing of animals to untested and unproven homemade medications. Vets go to school for a very long time to learn about animal health and it's a great opportunity to talk to one directly, today (Wednesday) and almost every other Wednesday. So ask away, and thanks for contributing. I'll post the winner of the free food tomorrow.

Also, don't forget to check out the Fromm website, there is a lot of good nutritional information there, and they have one of the best customer service departments anywhere. This begins at 10 a.m. today.

Posted in General