23 May 2017

Re-Enacting The Melania Slap. Ouch. Jump In.

By: Jon Katz

Re-Enacting The Slap (Warning, This Is Meant To Be Humor)

When I got up this morning, I was surprised to see that a dozen or so people had urgently e-mailed me videos of the now very famous Melania Trump slap, delivered to the President on an Israeli runway yesterday and recorded by an Israeli journalist.

It is already the world's most famous slap and is being discussed, de-constructed and analyzed by many millions of people. It is a being called the slap heard round the world. In our very curious world, most Americans will know little or nothing today of what is likely to happen to their health care, but every single one will know about Melania's Slap, now being called the Melania Slap.

Maria and I don't talk politics all that much during farm chores, but this morning, I asked her to stage a re-enactment of the slap with me as we finished shoveling manure out of the barn. She was happy to do it, even as we scraped donkey droppings off of our shoes (it was very unlike the Trumps).

Then we both analyzed what we thought was really happening. I held up the original video on my Iphone and walked to the gate, and we took some care to duplicate the positions of the President and First Lady. I walked just ahead of her, then turned, just as in the video, and reached out for her hand.

Maria did not balk or make fun of me for asking, she took it seriously, as I did.

Maria seemed to grasp the whole thing quickly, which was a bit disturbing. She slapped my hand away, quickly and confidently, and said "get away."  That, she said, is what happened. "She was telling him to get away. No doubt about it."

The Melania Slap was really a flick, not an actual slap. I watched it a dozen times.

A flick of the wrist, quick, effective and to the point. "Ouch," I said when I saw it, imagining what it might mean if Maria flicked my hand away like that, since we often hold hands, even when walking across the lawn.

"Ouch," I said, when Maria slapped my hand away. The meaning was unmistakable to me. And she seemed quite familiar with the gesture, as if telling men to get away was not in the least a rare or unusual thing, even on an airport runway with thousands of cameras pointed.

I ought to say that I make a faith out of not minding other people's business. But since thousands of people mind mine, perhaps I ought to jump into the water.

I also want to say this slap business has no bearing whatsoever on whether Donald Trump ought to be President Of the United States or is doing a good job. I approach this story as a man married to a strong and proud woman, and as an amateur social anthropologist curious to decipher what this video means and is really about.

This is not about the left or the right, it is about marriage and relationships, perhaps the most fascinating subject on the earth.

In the interests of fairness and honesty – we do not practice fake news here – I also need to say that I have no idea what Mrs. Trump is actually intending to do here. Was her husband urging her to catch up? Wanting to take her hand? Seeking to answer all of those numerous reports that they are not a close couple? That she is a trophy wife who secretly can't stand him or be close to him?

It is almost inconceivable to me that she is dissing him in front of the whole world, but it is also true that her gesture had both clarity and conviction. She was defining her boundaries, and they were not negotiable, even then.

I have no answers, I am only in it for the gossip.

(Here might be a good time to link to a sight explaining humor, we have had issues with this before, when I poked fun at a famous book pig and fantasized about eating her at brunch one Sunday. Humour – British spelling – is the cognitive tendency to provoke laughter or amusement.

Humor was once widely practiced in America, even used in political speeches and in political campaigns, but was banned in recent years by both the left and the right as being irreverent and unacceptable.)

Shame on me for even writing about this, I suppose I ought to apologize, but I couldn't get it out of my mind this morning, and our  re-enactment cranked me up even more. This was more fun than shoveling manure. Although now that I think about it, maybe it is just another form of the same thing.

Maria's theory of the Melania Slap – as a woman, she is better qualified than me to comment on this, was that Melania was so quick and practiced at this that she had done this before. She was clearly telling Mr. Trump to get away, and not try to touch her or take her hand. There was no doubt or ambivalence about the movement, she said.

I should point out that Maria is not overly fond of men. When we met, she had a fierce and protective dog – Frieda – and the name I gave  Frieda was the "dog who kept men away." Much of our first year together was highlighted by Frieda wanting to eat me alive, and Maria chuckling good-naturedly at the idea. "Oh," she would say when Frieda would snarl at me, or  run me out of the barn, frothing at the mouth, "I just love that dog so much."

So it seems natural to her that Melania would slap her husband's unwanted hand away. What else would you do with men?

My idea is similar to Maria's, with some differences. My sense of the relationship is that there is a contract there. Mrs. Trump will appear in public and they will pretend to be a devoted couple, but when they are together, I almost get a chill at the frosty space between them.  Just looking at the photos makes my breath frost up.

There is no warmth and chemistry as I often see between couples that are close, including, hopefully Maria and me.

I think touching and public displays of affection are clearly not part of their contract, or we would occasionally see them connecting to one another.  She does her job, she keeps her bargain, but no more.

There is some nudging, even prodding, but nothing I would call warm touching or connection.

I admit to being fascinated by the Melania Slap, it is much more compelling than any of the awful things being done in Washington. Your theory is as good as mine. If you have one, please be good enough to share it on my Facebook Page.

Blessings to you. I hope you are smiling. If not, please tell someone else about it.

Posted in General

Back To The Future: Decisions And Rebirth. A Beginning, Not An End

By: Jon Katz

Back To The Future

I have been a book writer for more than three decades, for half of my life. I have written 25 books, the latest of which, "Talking To Animals" has been out for just a few weeks. I am working on the 26th book, "Lessons Of Bedlam Farm," which will be published sometime in 2018.

I am proud being a book writer, it is the only thing I have wanted to be and I have loved almost every moment of it. It has introduced me to thousands of wonderful people, taken me all over the country, put me on TV, and even inspired a movie about my life. In a way, it brought me to Maria, the first words she ever spoke me were about the fact she had never read one of my books. It was a great conversation starter.

The last few days and weeks, I have been thinking about making "Lessons Of Bedlam Farm" my last book.

About concentrating my work on the blog and my photography, both things now the focal point of my creative life.

I am not thinking of retiring from anything, I do not wish to ever retire. Writers can keep on going until they drop, that's my plan. I expect to die in my chair in my study, to collapse from my own protracted verbiage. And there are lots of classy, small and independent publishers I am interested in writing for.

I am loving writing this new book, it is natural for me, but I am also increasingly conscious of how much publishing has changed, how unrecognizable it is for  writers like me, from e-books to the Great Recession.

And of how natural and exciting and comfortable writing on my blog is for me, every single day.

I want to keep writing and keep taking my pictures.

But the new and corporate world of publishing is not really for me any longer, I fought hard against that idea, and have known this is true for some time.
But it is, I think,  time to give rebirth to my life, the blog has nearly four million visits a year and is still growing rapidly. I write on it every day and love every minute of that, it is timely,  no one can tell me what to do, I have no marketers to impress, and it has its own vibrant and attentive audience.

One day, I might even make real money out of my voluntary donations and payments, but at least the blog is mostly paying for itself.

Publishing has become a very different writing forum than when I first signed a contract.

There are hardly any book reviewers on newspapers and magazines any longer, the public reviews are exciting and revealing but also nastier and more erratic. Even the public radio interviewers focus mostly on TV personalities and movie stars now.

It is almost impossible to find an interviewer or online reviewer who actually wants to talk about the issues in the book, or who has read it.

It is nearly impossible to get any publicity either. Donald  Trump knows how to do it, I don't.

The publishing world has gotten rid of most of its publicists, leaving it to writers themselves and social media to let people know if the book exists. So many writers have dropped out or fallen a way it is sad for me to see. There are fewer bookstores and fewer people coming out to hear writers talk and read.

I have worked hard at this, and been somewhat successful, but at heart, I am not a promoter or publicist or marketer.

I understand that I am one of the very lucky ones, I still have a commercial publisher that wants to publish me but more and more, I am wondering if it is time to move on. I don't want my song to get old and worn.

And the truth is, I have no idea if my publisher wants me to stay on or just disappear. That is telling in itself.

I have not talked to my editor or any publicist in months, what was once a wonderfully collegial process  crammed with readings and interviews has become quiet and solitary, done exclusively by e-mails and text message.  I wouldn't know these people if I ran into them on the street., and I always depended on them for inspiration and encouragement.

Now, it is mostly me and Maria.

Sometimes, my books feel like orphans, sailing out into the big cold world by themselves. This, I know well, is the reality for the vast majority of new and young writers today. But it never used to be my reality, and this is the challenge we all feel as we move on in life, and begin to be older.

I never feel that way about the blog.

Writing on the blog, I never feel irrelevant or empty or forgotten, or even older. Quite the opposite, we have the most vibrant and civil quarrels and arguments and discussions almost every day.

I am right in sync with my readers, I know who they are and they know who I am. There is a lot of crackle and pop, and blog writing fits my own head and chaotic, ADD style. The farm journal is my voice, my medium.

I love being a writer in any form, but I love the vibrancy and challenge of the interactive world.

The Army of Good, something that is unimaginable and impractical to explore in a book, has been a wonderful inspiration and experience for me, and we have just started marching. I want to work with elderly people in assisted care facilities, and I want to work with refugees and immigrants, desperately in need of advocates and support.

Odd, but this is not the end of my time, it's the beginning.

My writing hero was John Updike, and while I do not claim to write like him, I do admire  him and the way he approached his writing life. He wrote eloquently about the moment when he knew he was not vital and essential to his readers any longer, he noticed that his books weren't getting the attention they once did, that fewer people came to his readings, and fewer books in his stories.

Like Updike, I don't want to brood about my place in the world. When is is time, I want to be the one who sees it. I don't wish to regret my life, or ever speak poorly of it.

Ever since my long-time editor was laid off and discarded by my former publisher, I have seem some of these things begin to happen to me and my books. Even the nastiness on Amazon and other places seems ritualistic and tired to me, the same thing again and again, to no afffect and without much thought.

It makes me weary.

For all of my life, I have loved my work, and next to Maria, that is the most precious thing for me.

I have no laments or complaints to make, publishing has been wonderful to me, it's given me a life I could not have imagined. But I don't want to stay anyplace beyond my time, and while people I care about suggest it is not my time, I am beginning to get the feeling that time is near.

I've said this during the publication of the last several books of mine, as publishing changed and moved inexorably away from the kind of writer I am and the kind of environment I am comfortable working in. I might well get over it, but I might not. Life does require us to give birth and rebirth to ourselves, again and again. I accept that call.

I don't ever want to work only for money, or only out of habit. It has to be much deeper than that.

I am ready for it. I am far from over. In so many ways, I am just waking up.

Tonight, I'm off to Oblong Books in Rhineback, N.Y. for a talk and a reading. I am excited to be going to that beautiful bookstore, and I look forward to it.

Posted in General

Dental Dog

By: Jon Katz

Dental Dog

One Spring day last year, I went to the Cambridge Family Dentist office to have my teeth cleaned. The receptionist looked over my shoulder and asked politely, "where's Red?" I had brought him there once or twice but wasn't sure if he was welcome all the time, even though he is a therapy dog.

The receptionist looked stricken, and one of the techs came over asking for him as well. They seemed incredulous and disappointed that he wasn't there. You don't wish to make your dental staff unhappy, so I asked kind of jokingly if they wanted me to go home and get him, I love just down the road.

There was a chorus of "yes" and it was emphatic so I went home and got him. Ever since then, when they call me for appointment  reminders, someone will ask if Red is coming and remind me to be sure to bring him.

So I do. I get in the chair, he lies down on a carpet right outside the cubicle, and receives his many admirers and visitors. Today, he was mobbed, they all heard he was very sick, they were happy to see him, they showered him with hugs and kisses.

He brings so much light and pleasure wherever he goes in a world that can sometimes be vicious and cruel.  I am glad he is okay.

Posted in General

Red: What A Difference A Week Makes

By: Jon Katz

What A Difference A Week Makes

Watching Red move the sheep out towards the side pasture this morning, I wanted to jump up and down a bit. What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday, Red was in the Cambridge Valley Veterinary Clinic. He hadn't eaten for days and his fever had been at 104 for nearly a week.

He could hardly keep his eyes open, and looked miserable. The staff was worried, so was I. I was preparing a goodbye speech to tell him how much he meant to me and how much I loved him. That afternoon, he had some news for me: he wasn't dying, he wasn't ready to leave, his work was done.

So we got down to it, Dr. Suzanne Fariello, me and Maria. We tried different medicines and recipes. We did additional blood work and summoned a specialist with an ultra sound machine. We ruled things out, one by one – liver trouble, organ cancer, bone marrow cancer.

My recipes got more pungent and exotic – chick broth, meat gravy, cooked hamburger, white rice, baby food.

We discovered the four tick-borne diseases showing up in his tests, some of them showing cell counts through the roof. Two different kinds of anti-biotics and the second worked after a day or so.

Last Sunday he began eating normally.  Monday his fever was gone. Yesterday, he went to the Mansion to visit his friends there. This morning, he came with me to the dentist, he was mobbed by his admirers there.

I am settling down, I guess I was on the roof too.

Last Tuesday was one of the hardest days of my life, Maria suddenly was worrying about me as much as Red. I always love Red, but it is sometimes easy to forget how much he means to me, my life, and the lives of so many other people. He is not just my dog, he belongs to many others as well.

It is so grounding for me to be able to write about it., and all of your support and concern gave me strength, the feeling that I was not alone with it. So thanks again., even to the corps of amateur vets bombarding me with information.

I'm going to Rhinebeck, N.Y. today, to do a reading and talk, and I've decided to leave Red at home.  People will be disappointed, I am well aware he is more popular than I am.

But he still needs rest, I can see that, but he is very close to himself and the best care I can give him right now is nothing, some peace and quiet.

It was wonderful to see him out with the sheep, poised and strong and steady. Just as he told me last week, he has a lot more to do, and I have a lot more to do with him. Last week, I thought he was gone. This week, new beginnings, for him, perhaps for me.

Life is good.

Posted in General
22 May 2017

This Weekend: Robin, RISSE Soccer Team Come To Bedlam

By: Jon Katz

Saturday In Bedlam

This will be a big weekend at Bedlam Farm. My daughter Emma and Robin, my granddaughter are coming Thursday, staying over the weekend, and the RISSE soccer team – refugee and immigrant children from all over the world – will be coming Saturday.

I'm making no plans for Emma and Robin, other than that they relax and maybe go to pizza night at the new Round House and take a stroll down Main Street sometime. I think they both need to rest and experience some donkeys, sheep and affectionate dogs and barn cats.

I haven't seen Robin in months, she has changed quite a bit. She talks a bit, stands up and seems game for almost anything, she has already been all over New York City. I've got a car seat, high chair, crib, baby monitor, eco-friendly diapers and wipes, bananas, cheerios and fruit. Got some toys as well.

I have this feeling she will love the donkeys, but we'll see. She can love whatever she wishes, or none of it. I think Emma could use some help and some rest. I'd love for her to leave refreshed and ready again for the big city.

Saturday afternoon, the RISSE (refugee and immigrant support center of Albany) soccer team, 16 players strong,  will arrive in a van around 1 p.m.

Ali (Ahmad Abdullah Mohammed), their teacher and driver and coach, will be shepherding them all. My plan is for them to see Red and Fate work the sheep, meet the donkeys, see Maria's studio. We have a healer friend who might make it to talk to them about stress and movement.

After an  hour or so, we'll head over to Pompanuck Farm where they eat some fresh, healthy and gourmet pizza from Scott and Lisa Carrino and the Round House, they are donating some of the cost to the kids, and thanks. The kids will eat and then ride down the big hill to Bejosh Farm where Ed and Carol Gulley will meet them with cows and ice cream and talk about how a dairy farm works.

Ed is memorable, they will not soon forget him. I'll be taking photos.

Many of these kids grew up in refugee camps, and few of them have been outside of Albany much since they got here. This visit is something of a dry run, in July and August, another 90 kids will come, one group at a time, on Tuesdays and Thursdays through July and August.

This will be a test of timing and practicality and to see what they like and enjoy the most. I hope it will be a special time for them, it will certainly be a special time for us. How great to have my daughter and granddaughter here as well, Emma is eager to participate and help out. I have this feeling the kids will love Robin and vice versa.

This trip will be at no cost to RISSE or the kids, and Scott and I will work out an arrangement for the pizza for Saturday and for the summer. He is eager to help, and he and Lisa have very big hearts.  I am very pleased that people in our town are eager to meet them and show what it means to have a community, and also show them that we do not believe they have come to harm us in any way.

If there's time, I'd love to take them into the book store, but the schedule is already tight..

I'm excited, I hope they feel as welcome as they are and get a look at the true spirit of America, we are a land of big hearts, open spaces generous hearts.

(Tomorrow, I'm going a talk and reading at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y., from 6 to 8 p.m. I'm leaving Red, he's still recovering.)

Posted in General