Other's Archive

Intervals, and life

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008


This photo, to me, is just like a painting.

There is no such thing as a simple photograph in hospice work. The subjects can’t be told to move or sit still, the light is never, ever good, there is medical equipment and personal information everywhere, and you can’t use any of the tools, like a flash or lightstand. You also have to be especially sensitive, keeping out of the photo any elements that shouldn’t be seen.

So you learn something every time, and grow. I am thinking differently about my hospice photos.

I am deep into the composition of photos these days, in between writing for my next book, and I am focused on the idea of intervals and variety in composing photos. I am thinking differently about the placement of objects, centering, and mixing up shapes and sizes. As recommended by Craig Albert in his book “The simple secret to better painting,” the cardinal rule of design is “never make any two intervals the same.”

Mix it up. Tilt the shot, look for different shapes and sizes, think of how the eye works when it looks at a painting or phot.

I identify with the idea of intervals, because it is more or less my idea about life. You don’t have to do what is expected, you can bring different elements into life, try things others might not encourage you to try, listen to voices inside of you that want to come out. There is joy and satisfaction in life, and sometimes you have to battle your way to it.  It is always worth it.

Izzy and I, traveling to other dimensions

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

August 2, 2008 – I feel sometimes as if Izzy and I are time travelers, going from one dimension – my life – into another, the realm of the dying. People and their families ought not to experience death alone, and Izzy is doing his bit. People ask me all the time what I think is going on with Izzy, how does he connect the way he does, why do people respond to him the way they do, and I always think the same thing – I don’t know.
  Two things stand out. His ability to focus on people, and let them love him, and the quite extraordinary reaction of people to him. Carolyn, a loving and hard working nurse said the whole ward has changed since Izzy began visiting. Everyone is calmer, happier. I can see it.
  I have to say, these travels are among the most fascinating and jarring of my life, and I am nothing but grateful for them.
  Our work has become ritualized, in a good way. We go into homes and nursing homes, and we are welcome. My dog is welcome, my camera is welcome and I am welcome.  Always. And trusted. And that means a lot.
  We visit Marion, then we drift into the common rooms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, the hallways, lounges, dining rooms. Alarms are always going off – packs patients carry if they tilt or move suddenly. They are almost always false, but the nurses always go running, back and forth.
  These alarms give a surreal air to these wards. So do some of the patients yelling, some shouting angrily, others for help they don’t need. I talk to the nurses, and see how hard they work, and hear amazing stories about their lives and struggles, and they give me tips on how to communicate. Now, we are known – the patients clearly know us – and they light up when we come in. And there is laughter, smiling, talk. I try and bring cookies or pies for the nurses. I admire them, greatly. They work hard. They are patient, they counsel patience.
  My girl friend Jo proposed to me the other day, asked me if I wanted to get married, and today, when I came in, she was waiting for me, asked me if I had considered the proposal. “What about it?,” she said. “I’m not getting any older.”
  Sure, I said, let’s do it, let’s get married. I could not, I say, be luckier. But I am a lot older than you, she said. We’ll deal with that later. And let’s plan to dance at the wedding, I said, can you dance still?
  Sure, she said, what do you think?
  And she and  her friend Min began putting together a guest list, including some of their fellow patients. Stan would not be invited, as he is messy with meals, and grumpy. Angela would be a bridesmaid. And, said Jo, can my husband come?
  Sure, I said, as long as he didn’t shoot me. And there were hoots of laughter, and the clapping of hands, and eyes were rolled. That is a nice dog, said Jo. When I was younger, I was afraid of dogs, afraid they would bite me. But Izzy wouldn’t bite me, would he?
  No, I said, he wouldn’t.
  When I was four, Jo said.
  When I was four, that was when I thought dogs would bite me.

Marion, beautiful woman, portrait

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Marion is a photographer’s dream, her face etched with character, warmth, humor and spirit, undiminished, really at 97 years. She is sometimes confused, and yet misses nothing, and Izzy brings out the deep well of love that seems to dominate her soul.

Marion, a tea party to remember

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

July 18, 2008 – Hospice is one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and it continues to surprise me and bring me to once unimaginable places. Yesterday, Izzy and I hosted a tea party for Alzheimer’s patients, some with dementia, and I ended up deeply affected. We brought fresh flowers and chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, and Izzy and Marion fell in love with one another. I was fairly smitten myself by this warm and loving spirit, very much in evidence.
  Marion used to live on a farm, and had a border collie, and she just lights up at the sight of Izzy and keeps trying to give him a cookie, and she looks him in the eye and talks to him in the way he absolutely loves and responds too, and the two of them cuddled and talked for nearly an hour, and she took Izzy’s head in her hands and told him, “why, I just love you. You are just a wonderful creature.” 
  And Izzy stared back, and it was quite a thing to see Marion smiling and laughing and asking when Izzy could come back, and for the umpteenth time, could he have a cookie, or could I bring some for her to give him. She so wants to give him something, and I will bring some biscuits next time. It is late, and I am tired – after the tea party we went to the Washington County band concert (see below) and so I will post more about the tea party in the Hospice Journal today – Sunday. The Hospice Journal on this site will go live this week, but I will continue to post the journal entries here on the Farm Journal, but all of the Hospice Journals and photos will be collected in one place (see tab above) for people who want to see them.
  I believe strongly in the hospice idea, and I am forever humbled and in awe of the work Izzy does, and the way he connects with the soul of people, and draws them out. We will see Marion often.

Heat, love, tears and laughter at Gardenworks

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Hospice muck-a-muck Keith Mann talks about Hospice, and what it does, at Gardenworks
Hospice muck-a-muck Keith Mann talks about Hospice, and what it does, at Gardenworks

June 8, 2008 – Had one of the memorable afternoons of my life yesterday, and it caught me by surprise, as  memorable things do. “Hospice Journal: Stories, Pictures From the Edge of Life” was an intensely collaborative effort – Hospice workers and volunteers, families of Hospice patients, Stephanie Arpey, the framer, Meg and Rob from Gardenworks, Maria who hung the pictures, Mary Kellogg, who read some poems, Keith and Kim, who sang and played Maria Heinrich, who hung the show, Izzy and Lenore, about 100 people from all over the Northeast on a sweltering day,  and a number of ghosts and spirits from Hospice work and my life, who could not be present.
It was 97 degrees in Gardenworks beautiful second floor barn when the exhibit opened, and barns are no place to be in that sort of heat and humidity. So I was somewhat overwhelmed that so many people took the trouble to come and hear about Hospice, not usually a subject one travels to hear about on a Sunday afternoon.
It was very important to me to see Warren and his daughter Berta looking at the pictures, sitting in the center of the crowd. What a good and loving man, to endure that grief on behalf of other people who are walking in his shoes, and I was reminded of his long – seven years – and unflagging commitment to his wife Helen, who was the subject of a number of the photographs, and whose spirit suffused the day.
There were a lot of tears in that room, and a lot of smiles, too, as Lenore managed to personally greet almost every person there. One of the Gardenworks staff said it was a good thing the weather was so hot, as there would have been no place to put any more people. I thank those who came.
Still, I was surprised, even bewildered by the event. Maria’s quilts were hanging and Mary read a beautiful poem about grief and loss, but still, the afternoon felt somewhat personal for me, and there I was, this thing happening, a connection between me, this site, the dogs, the Hospice patients, the people in the room. I could almost touch the affection and good will, and I thought, wow, let me work hard to earn this.
It was a true opportunity to spread the message of Hospice, a program to help people leave the world with choice and dignity. I have seen how the dying are often shunned and isolated, and how much it means to them to have choice and support and know that people care about them. That they can decide how they wish to die.
I felt it was a turning point for me as an artist, and maybe as a human being as well. I could not have imagined, even a year ago, taking those pictures, writing those columns and poems, seeing the things I have seen, going into so many strange houses, doing that work with Lenore, and especially Izzy, writing those poems, learning so much about death, grief and loss, and seeing so much of it day, after day.
The dead the dogs and I have seen and known were standing right alongside me, their spirits very much in evidence in the photos, and I could feel each and everyone of them, filled with gratitude for the love and openness they have shown me and the dogs, and the trust and faith they placed in me by allowing me to write about them, and take their photos at the edge of life, the most intimate and personal of times.
I not only bonded with them, but with their families, and that kind of bond is eternal.
Hospice is not depressing. I have never known such love and courage. I have also seen a lot of pain, suffering and loss.
I felt, somewhat to my surprise, the power of this blog – what a clunky name for this – and the reach of its signal. I appreciate that. I will work to justify that. How lucky I am, to the kind of friends who were sprinkled throughout that room. Nobody could feel deserving of that, or fail to be humbled by it.
I am lucky to be a writer, to have found photography, to have such dogs, to have the opportunity to do this work. Tomorrow, Izzy and I go to see a new patient. We are eager to start another chapter.
So it was a great  and memorable day, for me and for other people,  and thanks to all of you who came, who would have liked to have come, who sent e-mails and poems and messages of good will. Your own signals were heard and very much appreciated.

Izzy and Warren after Gardenworks
Izzy and Warren after Gardenworks

Izzy, Hospice dog, at Gardenworks

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Izzy, Hospice dog, at Gardenworks

Izzy’s time: Hospice Journal at Gardenworks, Sunday, 2 p.m.

Monday, June 2nd, 2008


June 2, 2008 – For more than a year now, Izzy, a border collie rescued from a farm not too far from mine, has led me on one of the greatest journeys of my life, Hospice work. We’ve traveled to the Adirondacks, to homes, trailers, villages, hospitals, crumbling houses, restored and working farms, nursing homes, tiny apartments and clapboard mill houses, to bring some comfort and attention to people on the edge of life. Izzy has entered one strange environment after another, coping with strangers, machines, cramped and dark spaces and people in intense stages of many emotions – love, despair, pain, grief, decline, death.
He has done a great job everywhere he has gone, and is loved by everyone who met him. He has always been welcome, and been to more funerals, memorial services and cemeteries than any dog I have ever known of. He has never harmed or frightened a patient, disturbed equipment, had an accident, or made himself in any way unwelcome.
He is an empath, an intuitive creature gifted with a wondrous ability to see into the souls of people, and connect with them.
He has been challenged by dogs, cats and unfamiliar circumstance, day after day. He has brought light into darkness, eased loneliness, opened emotions, brought comfort and even joy when it seemed almost impossible. As Keith Mann of Hospice said of Izzy tonight at a volunteer’s meeting, Izzy is the world’s greatest active listener, showing the rest of us how to hear and see.
Izzy has seen more than one person he loved die, and has almost visibly grieved. I see him suffer sometimes, confused and deflated. But not for long.
I do not know what goes on inside the spirit of this extraordinarily loving creature, but I am blessed to have brought him into my life. Lenore is not intuitive in the way Izzy is, but she is a powerful Ambassador of Love, a spreader of smiles and laughter and love. She is on her way to becoming a great Hospice dog.
Sunday, I honor Izzy and also Lenore, my two Hospice dogs, by bringing them to Gardenworks, Route 30 in Salem, N.Y. (518 854 3250) at 2 p.m. I will talk about my Hospice work with dogs. There will be some music, Maria Heinrich will show her quilts, Mary Kellogg will read from her new book, “My Place On Earth,” and Gardenworks will offer its rich menu of crafts, flowers, cheese, organic produce and pies, donuts and muffins.
Hospice officials will talk a bit about Hospice and photos from Hospice Journal will be shown publicly for the first time. There are lots of good reasons to come, but in my mind, the day belongs to Izzy, and honors him for his great and faithful heart, and proud service to the great tradition of dogs helping human beings.