30 December

Review: Star Wars: Do Not Mess With These Women!

by Jon Katz
Star Wars

I went alone to see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” movie in a small theater in Bennington, Vt..

The theater was jammed, and even thought it was two-and-a-half hours long and I am easily made restless, it went by quickly and entertainingly. I wasn’t bored for a minute.

I liked the movie very much, a bit to my surprise. As I think about it, I think I actually loved it. I’m happy to recommend it.

I am no science or space nerd, but I remember being blown away by the first “Star Wars,” and it is expecting too much to be blown away by each episode of a series that has gone on so long, and that still opens the exact same way the first one did.

I cried twice and felt like I was visiting an old and trustworthy friend with many powerful women, African-Americans and Asians, younger and older women, women with fancy gowns and Robin Hood woods gear.

Yes, there were some powerful men too, but they tended to be reckless, impetuous (and a little dumb) mostly screw-ups that needed some smacking down and saving from the women. The robots, like the women, are as brave  as the women, but mostly are going for cute rather than strong.

It’s kind of a game for me to figure out what the best-selling toys at Disney World Will be.

Disney is turning out to be a worthy keeper of this flame.

Some general observations:

This movie was more human and penetrating than some of the other episodes, despite the several million explosions and laser blasts across the galaxy.

More of the rebels died and suffered than before, there was more of an emphasis on bravery, sacrifice and faith in good.

I liked that and felt it.

I confess that I have given up trying to follow the tortured genealogy of the Star Wars story, other than that the series is beginning to look like the Clampetts or Bevery Hillbillies at times, everybody seems to be everybody else’s mother, father, son, brother or sister.

I worry that there is a lot of inbreeding among the resistance.

As usual, the plot makes absolutely no sense, the evil empire – yet another mummified emperor  with glowing eyes and bad teeth – has some of the most powerful weapons ever devised by human beings, but they all seem to have fatal flaws and weaknesses that intrepid  rebels and their cute furry helpers and robots seem mostly able to penetrate with secret codes and code-breakers.

I’ve never seen a revolution in need of so much last-minute saving.

You have to just let all that slide by, and you’ll be fine.

There was much online hang-writing among diehard fans about the new director, Rian Johnson, but he seemed to me to do a fine job of keeping the humanity in a mega-movie that could so easily have been overwhelmed by machines and computer gimmicks.

If you step back a bit, which I did, the movie is beautifully shot and the special effects are dazzling and sometimes breathtaking.

Good for Disney for putting all of those brave and strong female characters in this movie, Daisy Ridley is persuasive and like able as a wanna be Jedi, and this movie connects strongly with the past with appearances by Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

Mark Hamill Luke Skywalker), returned finally  as the reluctant Jedi Knight being called back to save the universe one more (last?) time.

The spirit of Yoda even returns to mumble some profound and incomprehensible wisdom that only Luke can decipher. And this time, Yoda actually glows, perhaps to remind us that he is spiritual.

I’m not giving any plot away but I wouldn’t bank on their being a Last Jedi, if I were you, or mourn the loss of this noble tribe of space knights.

This franchise is a multi-billion dollar gold mine, and Disney is building a real life Star Wars universe of its own in Disney World. The next Jedi is front and center in this episode. And the soon-to-be furry creatures on sale everywhere are unusually cute this time. They kind of reminded me of Gus.

The main premise of the movie is that Rey is feeling her Jedi-oats and goes to the grumpy and retired and reclusive Luke for guidance. Unnerved by her strength and courage, he tries to chase her away, but Jedi knights are not, of course, easily discouraged.

This time, the rebels really take a pounding, and that brought a welcome note of feeling and reality to the movie. It isn’t all about the best laser gun.

The role of bad guy falls once more to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who is somewhat of a modern villain, much more tortured and feeling (sometimes) than one of the great villains of all time, Darth Vader.

Like is father, he has this funky habit of entering the heads of people at will and messing with their goodness. Being a Disney movie, we suspect he will not get as far as he wants to go.

I think girls and boys, men and women,  will like the equally, and that is certainly something new. Ridley’s performance is very genuine.

My only advice is forget about who is related to who, and just lean back and enjoy the fireworks, even though they rarely make any sense.

They are beside the point. The empire needs some new engineers –  in every Star Wars there is always some hapless evil general looking through the windows of a giant ship and saying “Oh, My God! before being blown across the universe.

I found the driving message of the movie relevant.

Women are coming into their own in powerful and increasingly recognized ways, and do not ever lose hope when it comes to fighting for conscience and compassion. This is finally seeming natural and not contrived.

At a time when compassion and morality and forgiveness seems to be under fire, it was good to be reminded that they can be beautiful things, even in a made-up story. Perhaps that will inspire some people.

I liked those messages very much in this movie, and felt them, sometimes sharply.

30 December

Circle Of Women, From Maria

by Jon Katz
Circle Of Women

I was surprised to come into the living room and see Maria’s newest hanging piece, “Circle Of Women,’ made with vintage fabric, pieces of felt and some small figurines someone sent her to use in her work.

This piece is not finished yet, and is not yet on sale. You can follow the progress of the “Circle Of Women” on Maria’s website, fullmoonfiberart.com

29 December

Three Dogs Now

by Jon Katz
Three Dogs Now: Fate, Red, Gus.

We have three dogs now, and they are all different, each distinctive in their own ways.

The most dogs I have ever had for any length of time was four dogs – Izzy, Lenore, Frieda and Rose. Sometimes Pearl, the beautiful gentle yellow Lab, was also there.

My favorite number of dogs is three, more than that is a pack, and dog packs, like people packs, get political.

Orson and Frieda were the most difficult dogs I have lived with. I was able to train Frieda to calm down and be easy around people, I could not get Orson to there, he had to be euthanized after biting three people, including a child.

I spent many thousands of dollars on Orson, he was seen at veterinary schools, by behaviorists, holistic caretakers and vets as well as neurological specialists. I learned many valuable lessons from Orson, he cast a long shadow over my life with dogs.

I will not again live with a dog that harms people, or spend thousands of dollars on caring for a dog’s difficulties. Frieda was a different story, working with her required patience and thoughtfulness, not money, and for all of her wildness, she never hurt a human being.

She did eat a lot of wild creatures.

Fate is Maria’s dog more than mine, the two are inseparable, they take wild walks in the woods in all-weather, hot and cold. Fate sits outside Maria’s studio for much of the day, and scratches at the door when she wants to come in, warm, up or sleep.

Fate is an intensely active dog, she loves being outside and has a wild animal streak in her. She can be difficult to control at times, but  never aggressive. She will steal the toys, treats and food of Red and Gus if she can, will slip open the front door to get to the sheep if she can, and every now and then, look for food to snatch if no one is looking.

She is a  ferociously independent dog – she would sleep outside if she could – but also needs attention and affection.

She and Gus can play for hours, chasing each other, stealing one another’s toys, wrestling.

Fate is a smart dog, is alert to us and misses nothing. Like Gus, she has boundless energy and is not still until dark. This kind of dog can drive some people crazy, but I am already crazy and we fit together.

I could not train her to herd the sheep in a rational way, but she lives to run in circles around them and sit with them in the pasture.

Red is in many ways the perfect dog for me. Calm, responsive, instantly obedient. He works beautifully with sheep, is an extraordinary herding dog. You can go anywhere with him and do anything with him. He is my shadow and spirit dog and companion His intuition in therapy work is profound.

Gus is Gus, a feisty, energetic, bright and affectionate creature. He is my first small dog, and I am happy with the experience. He loves Fate and shadows her and torments here, the same way Fate torments Red.

The trick is to treat him like a dog, not a furbaby.

In the house, Red is the calmest, Gus the most active, Fate the most restless. She is always by the door waiting to work, Gus is industrious, moving his toys from one and of the house to the other, foraging for food or crumbs, dozing next to me or Maria.

The three move together like a school of fish, sometimes it is like having one dog. They coexist well together, each eating by their own bowl, sleeping in their own favorite corner, often by the wood stove in the winter.

I love having these three dogs, each is different, yet they form a cohesive whole. Maria loves working with Fate in her studio, Fate knows to stay off of the quilts. Gus seems eternally happy and busy here, he loves sleeping in my study, or in Maria’s studio. He is easy-going adaptable, forgiving and accepting.

These dogs offer balance and connection for me, and for Maria. I think I have three special dogs, and almost everyone things their dogs are special, and in some ways, everyone is right.

29 December

For Maria, A Darning Egg From France

by Jon Katz
A Darning Egg From France

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Maria’s quite frugal and old-fashioned habit of darning her socks when they had holes in them, I had never seen this done, in my family we just bought new ones.

When she sits in the living room darning, I think of the many women in this old farmhouse who did the same thing over the years. She is so different from them, but sometimes, so much like them. I always think of Maria as a character out of a Willa Cather novel.

It reminded me of old farmhouses and the frugality of farm people, so I went online and browsed and I found Benedicte on Etsy, she lived in a small village outside of Paris and she sold antique artifacts, including darning eggs.

This egg was not easy to find,but I thought it would make a lovely Christmas gift for Maria. Benedicte wrote me to say it wouldn’t arrive until this week, and it arrived today, a beautiful, worn darning egg. I couldn’t wait to give it to Maria.

Inside was the carefully wrapped egg, and a nice note from Benedicte, who said she hoped it would delight me, and it did and does.

Maria, who is rarely surprised by anything i do, was amazed, she wanted to put it on the mantle or a shelf in her studio. I protested, and said she needed to use it, it was a century old and had helped to save many socks.

Benedicte and I have become friends, we chat all of the time online now. She loves the photos of Gus, she has a terrier too. She hopes to see a photo of Maria darning her socks.

I think she thinks it is too precious to use, and it is up to her of course. I love this egg, I think it is one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten for Maria, and nobody we know is likely to have one either. I have one more Christmas present coming for her, and this one is also original and  took some searching.

The Internet has its headaches and problems, but sometimes it is just a miracle. I think the darning egg is already on the mantel above the fireplace. We’ll see. Thanks, Benedicte.

29 December

On Not Being Mr. Trump. Does This Photo Remind You Of Him?

by Jon Katz
On Not Being President Trump: Does this photo remind you of him?

I touched off a bit of a storm online yesterday when I wrote about a nice woman named Jennie from Iowa who suggested I would be more successful and popular if I chose to take up some of the President’s amazing use of social media to draw 42 million followers.

She pointed out – I believe she was only trying to help, she has been a reader of my blog since the beginning – that I don’t have nearly that many followers, which is true, and perhaps if I decided to be more assertive and direct, or tweet more,  I could find fame and fortune.

She gently prodded me to get off my butt and start making some loud noise on social media? If he could do it, she said encouragingly, then so could I.

I thought this a strange idea – Maria was speechless, for once –  but endearing. Many of readers were  alarmed at the idea that I would try to become Trump like in an effort to get my own 42 million followers.

After all, she said, the formula was simple. You just write some provocative or offensive words once or twice a day,  “I’ve seen you do it,” she said.

“Oh bless her heart,” wrote Maureen on Facebook. “She really believes that blowhard from Queens is more than a con man. Don’t change and be like him, whatever you do!”

I got more than 100 messages soon after that piece yesterday, almost every one of them imploring me not to change or try to be like  Mr. Trump. I assured them, they need not worry.

From my remote snow-bound retreat, I realized once more that these are fraught times and people are edgy about such things, even when they are quite unlikely to happen.

You have to be careful what you joke about. Honestly, I never imagined that I could ever be like Mr. Trump, let alone get millions of followers.

It did get me thinking though, fantasizing a bit.

Was it possible for me to become more like Mr. Trump? And as successful?

And if so, how would I go about doing it and getting some of those 42 million people?

I think I would use the notoriety differently.

I wouldn’t build hotels and golf courses, for one thing. I wouldn’t build anything. I am not a builder. I am a spender.

The refugee kids would get a week at Disney World right away and their mothers would have refrigerators stocked with food,  and the Mansion residents would get their own kennel outside for their dogs and cats. It does boggle the mind.

But really, think of the other obstacles.

Does that photo above of me shoveling snow off the car in my slippers and nightshirt and sweat pants remind you of Mr. Trump? I have to be  honest, I would not make a good President. Good Presidents do not talk to dogs and donkeys and walk out naked in the snow to take pictures.

I don’t own a suit or tie, for one thing.

And he has that amazing hair, and I have hardly any. Mine is colorless, like the rest of me, my head is crowned in baldness, like those old Franciscan Friars you see in the medieval movies.

If I had orange hair in my town, combed high enough to hide a raccoon, I would be gunned down in the street before I got my decaf coffee.

There is also the golf thing. I have never played golf, or even, to the best of my memory, touched a gold club, or set foot on a gold course. Honestly, I don’t mean to belittle anybody’s sport, but I have never grasped the point of standing out on a green field and swatting a tiny ball for hours a day and then complaining about how difficult a thing it is to do.

Why would anyone want to do it? That attitude would be a problem, I don’t think Mr. Trump would want to go see a movie about Winston Churchill with me, and eat a small container of popcorn with a little bit of real butter,  that is about as wild a time as I ever have.

When I think of golf, I think of WASP men in pastel pants and visor caps and shits with alligators on them, and I don’t have any pastel pants or white shoes or shirts with alligators on them. How could I be like him if I don’t play golf?

I am sort of what the old Jews call a schlump. i wear clean clothes every day, but they are always the same – blue jeans, blue shirts. He looks like everything he wears just came right off of the rack. And it is well-tailored, you would hardly know he has an older man tummy, just like me, but when you look at me, you know it is there right away.

The president would not like my socks, and I have no shiny black shoes. I burned my ties years ago to keep me from ever taking a corporate job again.

The tax cut is not meant for me unless there is a category I don’t know about – old writers with blogs.

Mr. Trump eats fried chicken and McBurgers, and I am forbidden from eating either. Fast food is dangerous to me, like a viral disease.

A Big Mac With Cheese would sent my heart into shock and send me straight to the hospital, if I was lucky enough to get there. I last had a burger and fries when people still used dial phones.

Mr. Trump and I speak about women differently.

If I ever boasted about “grabbing a woman’s pussy,” the first thing that would happen is that my wife would tie me to her toilet bowl of a car and drag me out into the pasture, where I would be tethered to a tree and left for the coyotes and crows.

And if she didn’t finish me off, she has many friends who would happy do it for her. I don’t think that would make be a best-seller, it would make me a bruised and battered man. I’m not sure I would get on with the people who might follow me for that.

He is like an insult machine, he is, in his own way, quite creative about it.

But I am bad at insulting people. I tend to try to argue rationally and vigorously with people who annoy or provoke me, or often laugh at me.

I don’t really know a lot of names to call people – “jerk” is about as far as I go, or “pompous.”

I once called someone an “ass—,” but i felt bad about it. My grandmother taught me it is rude to insult people by the way they look or talk or dress, she said it was below the belt, and real men, she said, stayed above the belt.

Somehow, this made sense to me, and I have tried to stay on that track.

Mr. Trump and I do have things in common. We sometimes get into fights with people we would be better off ignoring. We are roughly the same age, but he seems resistant to change, and I love change and live by it. Change has saved my life.

We both have a short attention span, although I like to read books and he likes to watch cable news. I can’t stand to watch cable news, not even for a minute. What would we talk about?

I think the President has a likeable side we don’t see much, he has many more friends than I do or will ever have, and he seems to dote on his family. We both have been divorced, but I am uncomfortable talking about my sex life, any sexual prowess, or the size of my penis, at least in public.

My grandmother said real men never  brag about their penis or mention it in public. I kind of agree.

I suspect my penis is definitely smaller than his penis, although I’ve done okay with it..heh-heh, get it?

I also like immigrants and refugees and identity with them, perhaps because there were so many in my family and I was nearly one myself. The ones I know are amazing people. That could be a strain on my efforts to be like him.

.Mr. Trump has touched women and kissed them without their permission.

When I first met Maria I was afraid to touch her at all and told her I didn’t like being touched.

She said if I didn’t want to touch her, then I could go find somebody else to marry, and I cleverly switched gears right away and started talking dirty to her in her Studio Barn at the old farm. I said I would make her squirm with joy.

I was terrified that she might be offended.

She is no lady.

She loved what I was saying and we quickly got together. I have never rated her body or bragged about it, that would be below the proverbial belt and would get me hurt.

Another thing, Mr. Trump is a billionaire, and  am not a billionaire, I have to consider things in order to pay the mortgage.

The refugee fund I started will hopefully have a few thousand dollars in the bank by the end of the month, and that is more money than I have in the bank. You can see my tax returns anytime you want, but bring a tissue, it is a sad story.

I had money once, but it didn’t work out. I’m happier now.

Mr. Trump is a somebody, he is on TV all the time, and I used to be a somebody, I was on TV a lot of the time, but glory is fleeing for writers and the TV producers who used to call me up and beg me to go on their shows seem to have moved on.

None of them seem to know my name any longer, and editors don’t return my phone calls for months. I think Mr. Trump would find me boring and insignificant unless he wanted to  hear about how I talk to donkeys in the morning. And I have this idea he wouldn’t want to talk about that.

I have to be honest with all of you good people, I didn’t mean to frighten or alarm you, but I would not make a good Donald Trump, and that is not a knock on him. I wouldn’t waste a second worrying about it.

He would not make a good Jon Katz. I do have this sneaking feeling he would be fun to have lunch with, especially if  you are an older man who used to work in television in New York City. I can talk New York when I need to, just like Chuck and Donald do.

I suspect we would have a good conversation about television, it would be fun. We could drop a few names and talk about the good old days, something I rarely get to do. (Or even like to do). And we would both leave thinking what a  great fella the other guy was.

But it wouldn’t be real, I don’t think. And it wouldn’t last.

Afterwards,  he would get right on Twitter, and I would get back to my farm and wife and dogs and donkeys. And we would never talk to one another again.

Just in case, I’ll e-mail him my phone number. Maybe he will come up and have a drink with me at the Bog. Kelly  Nolan would love to serve us at the bar.

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