7 January

Culture Notes: A Movie And Two Books

by Jon Katz
A Movie And Two Books

When we weren’t huddling in front of wood stoves, I saw a movie and read a book and started another, and all three are worth mentioning, I think.

The movie was “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” starring  Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson.

It is a powerful movie with amazing peformances and wonderful writing.

Director Martin McDonagh has created a tragi-comedy with equal and alternating scenes of very dark humor and sometimes savage violence. One reviewer called it a violent carnival of small-town American life, and I think that description works.

The  movie is on every critic’a short list for Best Picture and Best Actress.

That narrative is that Mildred’s (McDorman) daughter was murdered and raped, she very personally challenges the dying police chief (Harrelson) to solve the murder. Her unrelenting rage engulfs the whole town.

In between her fury, she sometimes erupts in great compassion, and those moments are remarkable.

This is a powerful and challenging movie – McDormand is just amazing to watch – but it left me a bit uneasy and unsatisfied. I’m just not sure what to make of it. McDonagh’s message is one of hope and compassion. We are all human and worthy of compassion, no matter what horrible things we do to one another.

That seems a kind of Disney fantasy to me, although a worthy ambition. We humans are often quite vicious to one another, and compassion seems to exist on the fringes of politics and culture.

I didn’t find the funny parts funny, so the movie seemed out of whack to me, and I just wasn’t sure what the point of all the violence was in relationship to hope and compassion. That could just be me.

It’s not a bad message, especially these days, but I think I knew that we are all human, no matter what we do to one another.  That is the drama of humans.

The steady mix of brutality and cruelty juxtaposed with sudden bursts of true compassion and humanity was confusing me, but it sure makes for an interesting movie. And perhaps the idea was to keep the audience off balance.

I highly recommend seeing it, even though I freely admit I was somewhat flummoxed by it.

I just finished the most wonderful novel, it’s called “Priestdaddy,” and it’s a memoir, written by the poet Patrica Lockwood. She is one of the best writers I can remember reading, the book is a funny, rich, deep and poignant look at life with her father, a married Catholic priest who got permission from the church be be ordained. I laughed out loud a hundred times and was in an awe of the writing.

Lockwood grew up with her mother and sister and eccentric Married Priest Father and lived in churches and rectories all over the Midwest, usually in awful towns. The memoir is a timely and penetrating look at the contradictions of modern Catholicism.

Check out her books of poetry, they are wonderful as well.

I can’t say enough about the book, it is compelling and beautifully written. And at times, hilarious. She writes like a dream, with energy, wit and insight.

I just started a collection of stories called “Sour Heart,” by Jenny Zhang, a very beautifully written series of stories about immigration in America. I’m on the second story, and loving every page.

Just wanted to pass those things along for those of you emerging from the frozen tundra to rejoin the world. Bless all of you.


7 January

Almost Over: The Coldest Day

by Jon Katz
The Coldest Day

Today is the coldest day of this brutal cold stretch, and the last day for brutal temperatures, at least for a while. Tomorrow the temperature will rise to close to 30, a heat wave for this January. We are going to Albany today to kick off the Refugee Food program. I’ll post about that later.

It was -20 this morning, but I think we are over the hump. The farm and its animals got through it. We are very lucky. Snow an milder temperatures tomorrow – about 30 degrees – and in the 40’s for a day or so towards the end of the week.

The battered farmers are counting the days until Spring, and there is a sense of relief here, and I imagine, over most of the country. We are calling it the Community Of Cold, even the denizens of the left and the right are in accord – it was cold.

I’m pleased and a bit proud at how the farm has come through this bitter cold. The sheep and the donkeys are fine, they have enjoyed the extra grain and hay, they all seem healthy and hearty. The dogs, ever adaptable, took it in stride. Fate loved sitting out with the sheep in the cold, Red did his work and came into the house.

Gus was all over the place he handled the cold in stride.

The barn cats continue their two week hiatus in the basement (with cat beds and scratching posts and a roaring oil heater to keep them warm.) They’ll come out Tuesday or Wednesday. Fate and Gus have thrived out in the snow, playing, chasing each other, diving into the drifts. Gus’s megaesophagus has not sapped his energy or playfulness one bit, even in sub-zero temperatures.

The dogs don’t mind coming in and sitting by the wood stove fire.

The wood stoves were heroic, they burned day and night and kept the house warm in the high 60’s, even on the most brutal nights. The cars started up each morning. The water line to the barn didn’t freeze, neither did any of the pipes inside of the house.

The baseboard heater we installed in the bedroom kept us warm and so did our heated blankets. We both clearly remember nights when we had to sleep downstairs because the bedroom was so cold, and that was when it was not nearly as cold as it is now.

Our farm was thoughtfully and carefully built, our basement was dry and never got colder than 55 degrees.

Our insulation of the frost-free pump out to the pasture also paid off, the line stayed open, even at this unprecedented stretch of frigid cold.

Maria did most of the shoveling and feeding, but I got my licks in. We have learned a lot on the farm here, and we handled it very well I think. I hope people get their power back soon and the rest of the country can warm up.

Many people caught it worse than we did, and I am thinking of them today.

7 January

Gus, Snow Dog. No Sweaters, No Boots…

by Jon Katz
Gus In The Cold

Gus has surprised us in many ways, bowing to conventional wisdom and common sense, we ordered two sweaters and two sets of booties for his feet as soon as we saw how bad this frigid period would be.

I was unsure about the need for sweaters, and was convinced it was necessary. For Gus, isn’t. It was -20 degrees this morning, and if Gus could handle that, he is not likely to encounter anything much worse.

He isn’t shivering or unwilling to out and sniff around. He loves to chase Fate through the snow. He walked a bit gingerly this morning out in the cold, but he shook that off and eliminated as usual. This morning, he was happy to go inside, but generally, he shows no signs of discomfort, even in frigid weather like today. I can’t explain it.

We did dig out some paths for him, I think he might struggle in the snow, but he hasn’t yet. I’m surprised, even Red has a hard time in this cold, his paws feel the cold. Gus is a tough little dog, he seems to preside over his life rather than react to it.

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