31 January 2012

february fun

February is, with all due apologies to TS Eliot and his wasteland, the cruellest month.

It is my least favorite month, odd as it seems to be at odds with an entire month. I think this has something to do with how Christmas is long past and spring is far away.

{I should insert this: USUALLY. Usually spring is far away, but today, I took a walk around my office building without a coat on, not even the light jacket I wore for the day. Birds were singing, and everywhere I went today, people talked with a bounce in their voice as we discussed the weather. Maybe this very confused winter will help me like February more.}

A few years back, a couple of friends and I decided to counteract the blah of February by developing a February Fun List. Every day, we would do something small, just to bring a little lift to the day.

I'm reinstating February Fun, but I need a little help: below is the list Katie, Rachel, and I created before, but some things needed to be taken out because they were so specific to that year {such as: Make that uber-long choir rehearsal fun by bringing treats}.

What would you suggest for February Fun?

Seriously, I'm open to anything. But please keep in mind:
  • These should be small things. No "write a novel" or "fly to [wherever] to visit [insert friend's name]."
  • Most of these are work days. Please don't make me dress crazy or skip work.
  • I guess if I have stipulations, I'm not really open to anything, am I?
  • Perhaps one of these should be "work on control issues." Although, well, that counters point 1 in this list of stipulations.
  • But really, leave me a comment, and I'll work it into the list.
  • And you know, you could totally join me in this February Fun. As you can tell from the name, it will be fun.

February Fun List {updated February 3, 2012, after gathering input from fun friends}

  1. send a someecard
  2. wear fun earrings
  3. write a letter to someone you haven't talked to in awhile
  4. read a short story
  5. write a poem
  6. school spirit day {Remember back in high school when you got to have different Spirit Days, such as Wear Your Pajamas to School Day or 70s Day? We don't get Spirit Days in the Grown-up World, so I'm declaring a personal Spirit Day. For me, this means I could wear something purple and gray in support of my high school team, the Grayhounds—Fight, Purple! Fight, Gray! Fight, fight today! Yes, I still remember my cheerleading chants.}
  7. throw out all the socks you don't really like and go get more of the ones you like the most
  8. buy flowers
  9. eat dark chocolate {good for the brain, you know}
  10. organize something you've been wanting to get in order {can be small, bt-dubs}
  11. start watching a tv show you haven't ever seen
  12. watch an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, perhaps with a friend who's never seen it
  13. be crafty: sew a little something
  14. go to a gas station and pay for a random person's stuff
  15. wear fun underwear
  16. paint your nails
  17. call friend/family
  18. make a new playlist
  19. watch the Downton Abbey Christmas special with friends and try not to let your inner fangirl out too, too much
  20. do some sort of outdoor activity {walking Miss Daisy doesn't really count}
  21. bake for your co-workers
  22. Ash Wednesday...um, give up something for Lent day...
  23. wear a power outfit {Note #1: shoulder pads not necessary} {Note #2: Especially appropriate this year, since I'll be in Palm Springs at a conference making a video series with a bunch of doctors}
  24. re-read a favorite childhood book
  25. be a wine-o {or just have a glass of wine}
  26. run 10 miles
  27. make hot cocoa. Like real hot cocoa, not Swiss Miss
  28. try a new recipe
  29. schedule coffee with a friend {or dinner or whatever—basically, schedule quality time with someone. Good friends don't count—this need to be someone you don't see much.}

29 January 2012

on a new notebook

It's an ironic shame: to write the first words in a new journal. To mar the page with ink and unformed thoughts seems a harsh reality compared to those moments before you put pen to paper.

Then, faced with a white expanse, you anticipate.

Or no, even before that, you anticipate.

Standing in the store before a rack of notebooks, you ponder which one should be yours. Pick one up; weigh the heft; run your fingers over the pages; is it the right size?

Choosing the notebook—black cover, college-ruled, three sections—you can't help yourself: your mind trips down literary paths, through poetic fields {if they were truly poetic, they'd be called "leas"}, across the ocean of discovery and words.

It's in this notebook, you sense as you stand in line to pay, that you'll write Worthy of Notice Things.

With a calling like that, it seems ridiculous that you should be forced to stand in a line to buy this—behind a man buying milk and next to a magazine rack stacked with salacious celebrity gossip.

Handing over bills and coins for this notebook: a business transaction. You scoff at that but hand over the bills and coins anyway, of course.

The clerk smiles at you—forced, required—and you smile back out of habit, but inside, you anticipate what you'll write in this notebook that's now swinging in a plastic bag, just hitting the back of your knee.

28 January 2012

grief is very dislocating

I lay in bed reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, and time and memory twisted together, in and out, tying knots here and there, until I didn't know where to start pulling to unravel it all.

The book was talking about grief—about how Major Pettigrew had lost his wife six years before, but that time has not entirely run straight since then.
"I am sorry I did not have an opportunity to meet your lovely wife," said Mrs. Ali, handing him a cup.

"Yes, she's been gone some six years now," he said. "Funny really, it seems like both an eternity and the blink of an eye all at the same time."

"It is very dislocating," she said. Her crisp enunciation, so lacking among many of his village neighbors, struck him with the purity of a well-tuned bell. "Sometimes my husband feels as close to me as you are now, and sometimes I am quite alone in the universe," she added.
Reading that, I was back in Iowa last Memorial Day weekend for my grandpa's funeral.

And I was talking to him the night before his surgery as he explained what they were going to do to his heart and how it was risky but it was a risk he had to take.
"They keep telling me, Zooey," he said, using the family nickname only he still used, "that there are three major risks." He launched into them like a businessman giving a presentation on investment strategy.

"One, my kidneys could fail. Two, my heart could fail. Three—three, damn it, I always forget this one...oh, that's right, I could die."

I didn't have the heart to ask how he could possibly forget that last one, and instead said something vaguely encouraging like, "Well, it'll all work out for the best."

Even those of us who use words for a living fail to come up with the right words at times.
And I was on a walk with my friend Katie a week after his funeral, talking about how my emotions were 3 millimeters under my skin {"Must be the grief," I told her. "Usually, I can keep them more in check but not in an unhealthy way, I promise."} and about her engagement and wedding planning and oh yes, of course, I'd be a bridesmaid.

And I was standing on my parents' back deck in Iowa, looking out over the Mississippi before the visitation and listening to a voicemail from my friend Amie. "Kamiah, I have the best idea: we should go to France and see the lavender fields in bloom in early July. Now, I know it's practically June now and I know you like planning things, but I think we can pull it off. Call me."

Time around when my grandpa died has become all smashed together—with anything that happened or was planned then.

Katie's engagement.

My trip to France.

Another friend's bridal shower.

The summer writing class I started the day before he died.

I can't think of any of those things without instantaneously feeling like right then, in that moment, the funeral is happening. But also in that moment, I'm talking to him the night before his surgery.

It is very dislocating.

As I stood, for example, at the front of the church in Katie's wedding, I was thinking of him,

and the Mayo Clinic where he'd had his surgery,

and how he couldn't remember the third complication,

and how my sister the Air Force captain stood at attention as the flag that had been draped over his coffin was folded and presented to her,

and how I'd had that talk with Katie a week after his funeral.

All those thoughts came to my mind unbidden, but they came because her engagement is tangled up with his death, and I don't know how to extricate it.

It's all mixed up in my head, all these events, and I don't think I knew how mixed up until I read about Major Pettigrew.

25 January 2012

what i said to my pug recently

Last Friday night, there was a snowstorm.

Come Saturday morning, the world was fresh and white and sunshiney, just as the world is meant to be after a snowstorm.

In getting my little pug ready for her walk out in the great white world, I put her snow boots on her.

"Miss Daisy, you have to wear your booties because the snow melt hurts your paws. Remember that from last winter?"

[Little pug cocks her head at me, as if to say, "I barely remember what I had for breakfast—and it's the same thing every morning, especially since you put me on a diet. By the way, I'm not fat. Way to give me body image issues."]

"Well, it does hurt your paws. You do this painful-to-my-heart hopping thing. I want to simultaneously laugh and cry and pick you up and make you keep walking. No pain, no gain, after all, little pug."

[She twists her head the other way and looks in general very worried because she believes her feet no longer exist. Once the booties are on, she can't feel her footpads touching the floor, and in the dog world that means "OMG, I NO LONGER HAVE FEET!"]

Later, as we stomped through the snow on the Prairie Path, a group of fearless runners came {carefully} running past.

"Hey, pug! I love your shoes!" The lead runner shouted this, and then the others all looked down as one at Miss Daisy.

"Yeah, great boots!"

"Love them!"

"You have such style!"

I shouted out a thank you on behalf of little pug, and then, as she looked up at me, confused as to why this group of bright-colored-tight-wearing people just all yelled at her, I said:

"See, other people think your booties are cool. Why can't you just trust me that they are?"

So this week, little pug and I are working on her trust issues.

And on my issues of talking out loud to her as if we were having a real conversation and she wasn't covered in fur.

It's a big week for us.

BONUS picture of little pug, in celebration of this big week

24 January 2012

edith wharton, get out of my life

This must've happened to you before: you learn a new word or hear about a TV show or read an article on an obscure-sounding topic on page D13 of the Chicago Tribune—and then suddenly, that word or TV shows or apparently-not-obscure topic is everywhere in your life.

Did you simply glaze over all of it before because you weren't familiar?

Or, in some odd universe coalescing way, is this word/show/topic now being served up to you on a silver platter, ready for your consumption?

That second question holds a twinge of conspiracy theory in it, and I apologize for sounding suspicious of...the universe.

{Parenthetical Justification for Suspicion: In a world where Google dominates and tracks our every {Internet} move, it's hard to avoid going down the conspiracy theory/someone is stalking me route sometimes.

Example: at work today, I looked up a news story about Senator Mark Kirk {R-IL}, and not too long later, the ads on my Grooveshark were all about asking for donations for Rick Santorum. I hit re-fresh, and they were about donations for Newt Gingrich. In my Google-why-do-I-let-you-know-everything-about-my-life distrust of the Internet, I'm convinced the ads were a direct result of the search.

End Parenthetical Justification for Suspicion.}

I ask all this because I'm going through this experience with Edith Wharton right now.

It's not that I recently heard of her—oh, no.

When I was in middle school, my parents took me to visit her house in Massachusetts, the Mount. I remember seeing her big writing desk in the upstairs sitting room—big windows, lots of light, overlooking the gardens—and thinking that I'd never stop writing if I had that kind of set-up. Or maybe I'd just have very literary-looking photographs of me taken.

The Mount: I would also throw excellent garden parties if this were my house.

Through high school and college, I read several things by her, including her short story "Roman Fever," which has such a twist of an ending that you actually gasp and sit dumbfounded for several minutes afterwards.

If you lived in the Mount and you read that story, you would be forced to take a walk in the gardens {carrying a parasol}, focusing all the time on your breathing and how beautifully blue the sky is, in order to recover from reading it.

So, Edith has been part of my life for some time, but she'd been relegated to the back recesses of my mind, the way things that you did in middle school often are.

Last week, though, she came back.

I was sick and had just finished a book. Standing at my bookshelf with my head tilted, reading the titles to try to find something, anything, that would take my mind off the thumping headache and my self-diagnosis of tuberculosis, I came across my Edith Wharton section.

Edith Wharton? Images of the Mount and me gasping violently {to the consternation of my roommate} after reading "Roman Fever" while curled up in my dorm room bunk bed floated past.

Yes, I could go for some Edith Wharton, I decided, but not any of these that I already own. The next day, when I mustered enough energy to make it to the library {I live half a block away from it, but getting there did involve me changing out of my sweatpants}, I checked out The Buccaneers.

Should you be a visual person who'd like to know what kind of book you're dealing with, here's what it looks like. Now stop judging a book by its cover.

{Parenthetical Downton Abbey Disclosure: This book was recommended for people who like Downton Abbey, and as we know, I'm way beyond like when it comes to Downton.}

In the little sick nest I'd built for myself on the couch—out of Kleenex, antibiotics, pillows, a cuddly pug, and a wool blanket from PEI—I remembered why I like Edith Wharton so much: She makes you feel as if you were in on a delicious secret. And that secret is well-dressed and has a house on Fifth Avenue.

I couldn't stop reading Edith all weekend. The Buccaneers is about American heiresses who go to England in the 1870s to use their Papas' wealth to buy themselves a husband and a title. I assume you're all thinking of Cora Crawley in Downton Abbey now; if you aren't, I obviously haven't done my job of talking about Downton enough.

Yesterday, I made it back to work, and this was waiting for me on our office's Book-a-Day Calendar:

Look closely. Or, you know, click on the image and it will be blown up. Not in the TNT sense.

The Book-a-Day Calendar was telling me to read Edith. I'm way ahead of you, buddy, I told it. Or would have, should I be the kind who talks to paper products.

And then today, Twitter taught me this: Edith Wharton was born 150 years ago today.

Okay, I get it, universe: You want me to pay attention to Edith Wharton.

Or marry an English duke, since she often wrote about that.

I'm sure the message will become clear by tomorrow, when Google will start showing me ads that have to do with visiting the Mount or buying a writing desk to place in my sitting room. {Joke's on you, Google: I don't have a sitting room.}

In conclusion: Happy birthday, Edith Wharton!

17 January 2012

you look like belle, you know

The conversation started innocently enough: with talking about Margaret Thatcher and the new movie The Iron Lady.

Actually, when discussing Margaret Thatcher with people from England and Ireland, the conversation isn't exactly innocent. There are Very Strong Opinions and Reactions from people who were old enough to appreciate or suffer from her policies.

While previews for The Iron Lady have made me want to learn more about Margaret Thatcher, I certainly didn't know enough on Saturday night to discuss it with my boss {the English man} and the girlfriend of one of the surgeons I work with {the Irish woman}.

We were in the bar at The Pines Lodge in Beaver Creek, Colorado, where my company was running a medical education meeting for spine surgeons. The first day's sessions were over, and we were passing the time until our dinner reservations at Beano's Cabin—this rustic-sounding restaurant high up on the mountain that is anything but rustic {as many things in richly quaint Beaver Creek are}. Remember this: Any restaurant where the prices aren't printed on the menu is not rustic.

"When I first watched The Iron Lady, I was shocked at how churned up I got," the Irish woman was saying to the English man as I took a sip of my hot buttered rum. I will order pretty much anything that has butter in the name, and a hot buttered rum sounds so perfectly ski resort-y.

"Is that right? I haven't seen it yet, but how interesting that it would bring that all up in you," the English man responded.

My contributions to the conversation at this point could've been:
  • "When he says 'bring all that up in you,' what is he referring to?" Yes, I could've asked an Irish person to explain the complicated relationship of the English and the Irish over a drink with butter in it—all in time for us to make our dinner reservation.
  • "I saw the musical Billy Elliot, and there's a song in there called 'Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher.' A giant puppet caricature of Margaret Thatcher comes out on stage as kids dance around it singing, 'Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher / We all celebrate today / 'Cause it's one day closer to your death!' Can you explain the miners' strike and the role Margaret Thatcher played in it?"
  • "I love Meryl Streep, who plays Margaret Thatcher in the movie. Did you see her as Julia Child?"
  • "I read once that Margaret Thatcher went through some sort of image makeover where she was told to give up her Tory hats. Why are Tories associated with hats?"

None of those seemed like good conversation-producing questions, so I went with the most obvious: "But The Iron Lady just came out yesterday, and I was at a reception with you last night—I know you couldn't have seen it already."

"Oh, I got a screener of it," the Irish woman told me.

"A screener? That means you're part of that guild that gets to vote on the Oscars. I've never known anyone who's in a guild—perhaps because they went out with the Middle Ages, along with chivalrous knights and people dying from the plague. But you're in THAT guild. What do you do?"

I was thinking she looked like someone who could've played a friend of Minnie Driver's in Circle of Friends. She could've been in the circle and the guild.

Maybe the Irish woman would introduce me to Minnie, and then I would say to her, "Oh, hey, Minnie! When Good Will Hunting came out, I was in high school and everybody said I looked like you. Can we be best friends?"

And she'd say, "Sure! And you can be best friends with Bonnie Hunt, too—ever since we worked together on Return to Me, we go out for dinner and watch girly movies and drink red wine together all the time."

I couldn't believe my luck: two new best friends, and I wasn't even finished with my hot buttered rum yet.

The Irish woman said, "I worked for Disney."

Minnie and Bonnie were immediately forgotten, along with how I'd have to change my name to Kaminnie to fit in their group.

I started gauging the Irish woman's age and guessing when she would've worked at Disney. Could it possibly have been during the Golden Age?

I'm sure every generation thinks that the Disney Golden Age was during their childhood {except for now, when Disney seems more focused on churning out laugh-tracked shows of teenagers with crazy hair, houses on beaches, and a lot of free time on their hands}.

And when Walt Disney was running the show probably should be considered the Golden Age of Disney.

But can we all just agree that the mid-90s will never be surpassed when it comes to Disney? They will also, for the record, never be surpassed when it comes to stonewashed and tight-rolled jeans, kinked hair, and shoulder pads. {In other words: no one should ever try to make the mid-90s retro cool.}

The mid-90s saw Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King coming out of Disney.

In my hometown—before the movie theater moved out to the mall from its downtown spot on Third Street—the line for a Disney movie on opening weekend stretched around the block. Considering that all of downtown is only a few blocks long, I consider this major scientific evidence that the Golden Age of Disney was in the mid-90s, at least in Iowa.

Reaching across the table toward the snack mix, I casually asked the Irish woman, "So, did you work on, say, Beauty and the Beast?"

"I animated Belle. Do you know how annoying it was to do that ballroom scene?"

I didn't have a good answer for that because the ballroom scene—when Belle and the Beast twirl around that room with windows as tall as the Eiffel Tower—was how I, as a little girl in elementary school, imagined Prom would be.

Thankfully, I'd let go of that misconception by the time I actually went to Prom, which was held in my high school's gym. Forget soaring windows; this was where I did sit-ups and played dodgeball and where I once refused to rappel down a tower the National Guard had brought in.

"It's all that twirling, around and around with her hair flying and dress going back and forth. Then she smiles and looks up at him. Every little movement, another little drawing."

Oh, yes, every little movement and the twirling and the smiling and the dress with the full skirt. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Belle because:
  • She lived in France.
  • She lived in a castle that had a library where I'd never get bored.
  • She had brown hair, just like me. This was important: both Belle and Ariel {The Little Mermaid} shared a longing for a different life, which, for some reason, as a child in Iowa, I resonated with. But Ariel had red hair {and hung around sea creatures all day}. How could I relate to red hair {and the smell of lobster}?
  • She got to twirl around in a yellow dress with puffed sleeves.

The Irish woman stopped talking about the ballroom scene and looked at me. "You look a lot like her, you know, love. You could've been the model for Belle."

And with that—the third best compliment I've ever received—I was suddenly twirling in that ballroom, wearing that yellow dress, and singing about how I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.

I realize it shouldn't affect me so much to be compared to a cartoon character.

I realize that I'm 30 and not a little girl anymore who's standing in line on Third Street in Burlington, waiting to get into the newest Disney movie.

I realize that there are lots of issues tied up in how Disney presents female characters: dependent on men, smart but usually more known for their looks, impossibly small waists.

But none of that mattered at that moment: the lady who animated Belle said I looked like her.


I will now start looking for a cottage in France to call my own, and I'm going to start wearing bows all the time.

Or maybe I'll just watch this over and over: a video of "Belle."

16 January 2012

letter writing

I don't know if it's the snow falling outside The Pines Lodge in Beaver Creek or how I've been reading a book where letters play a vital role, but I've been curled up on the couch in my room here, writing letters to friends at home and feeling slightly nostalgic about a time when letter writing was so much more important than it is now.

There is something to writing on hotel stationery, isn't there? It makes me feel as if I've travelled back in time, back to before I could communicate with everyone instantaneously. This reminds me that I should write more letters—going through boxes of family documents reminded me of that, too.

Before, communication became its own treasure trove, preserving emotion and a way of life in a spidery hand.

Now, we have impersonal fonts and emails that are stored where? In the cloud? How will anyone ever know what life was like for us, if they don't have such physical documents?

Although I suppose that question contains its own answer: by our lack of documentation, people who come after us will know that life, for us, was more about quick, ethereal communication. We could communicate in the moment—anything we wanted from the very mundane to the very important.

It's hard to imagine a scenario like the one I stumbled upon when going through my family history:
My dear Anna,

Thank you so much for writing to Mother. You always were a faithful niece to her.

I'm sorry to tell you, dear Anna, but Mother was taken from us on the Monday after Easter. It comforts me to know she went peacefully, with all of us around her, but how I wish you'd been there, too. She asked after you in the end...

The news of Mother's death wasn't known to dear Anna for days. For days, she went about thinking her aunt was alive and that she hoped to hear back from her soon and oh, she must remember to write her a letter about this little thing that happened.

But her aunt was gone, and it's hard for me to imagine opening a letter like that now, eager in anticipation of news from the family, only to see those words: "I'm so sorry to tell you..."

It's not that Important Communication has gone by the wayside, simply because we've stopped writing so many letters in our own spidery or determined or illegible handwriting.

But when faced with a stack of stationery—when overwhelmed with things to share—it is easy to look back in time and say, "Part of me still wishes it were like that."

12 January 2012

i made it snow

On Tuesday, I did the literary equivalent of a rain dance but for snow: I blogged about "Snow in the Suburbs" by Thomas Hardy.

And it WORKED.

I have power over the weather.

Or maybe I have power over you: I said that if we all chanted the poem three times, then it would snow.

And it WORKED.*

This is what was outside my office window today:

As an added perk, you can see what a dull office park I work in. At least there's a bush outside my window—something more than concrete and cars.

* It's in this asterisked note that I'll admit that I knew the weather forecast when I wrote about my incantation of Hardy to bring snow. It's hard to listen to NPR as much as I do and not know the weather forecast. Heck, it's hard to be a person who makes small talk and not know the weather forecast, especially in the Midwest.

So I guess I don't have power over the weather. Or you.

Sigh. I guess I just have power over my ability to listen to and retain information.

** This double-asterisked note is more for me: Self, buy snow boots. Your lack of preparation for the weather is appalling.

10 January 2012

why is it not snowing?

At lunch today, I popped outside for a quick lap around the building.

This would not be an unusual statement in June or even September.

But in January? In January, we're supposed to spend our lunch hours holed up in front of a space heater, eating soup and talking about when we used to see the sun.

Okay, that's a bit dire and not really the truth.

But here is the truth: it's winter, I live in the Midwest, and I would like some dang snow.

Some darn snow.

Some damn snow.

I am upset enough about the lack of winter to progressively work my way towards a bad word.

Since tomorrow is predicted to be just as nice, I've decided to do the literary equivalent of a rain dance.

Except in this case, it's a snow dance. And I won't really be dancing.

The literary equivalent of a rain dance—but for snow—is Thomas Hardy's "Snow in the Suburbs." This is especially apropos because I live in the suburbs.

If everyone reads this three times {perhaps chanting?}, maybe tomorrow I'll wake up to snow.

If that doesn't happen, then I'm going to start a giant sing-along of the song "Snow" from White Christmas. You've been warned.

Snow in the Suburbs
Thomas Hardy

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.

A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.

06 January 2012

jane austen did prepare me for: downton abbey and entails

As you may recall, I went through a little "obsessed with Downton Abbey" phase in the early fall. {This little "I heart fanfic" confession may help you remember that.}

And by "went through," I mean: I'm still in the phase; I'm simply hiding it better.

Okay, I can't lie to you.

By "simply hiding it better," I mean: if you've talked to me at all in the last month, you'll know that I'm obsessed with the show Downton Abbey.

I'm just not good at putting up a facade, which, if I were a real member of the Crawley family, posh aristocrats that they are, would be a very unfortunate trait.

Oh, to be Lady Mary Crawley with her icy, monied, landed gentry composure—that hides vulnerability and deep emotions and fears. She's got a lot going on under the surface, but that girl knows how to pull it together to get through a boring dinner with other icy, monied people.

If Lady Mary is staying up too late reading Elizabeth Gaskell novels and spending her every waking minute wondering if Mr. Thornton and Margaret Hale will finally clear up their misunderstandings, get together, and be happy in that wicked little town of Milton—well, you'd never know it from how she gets through those society functions.

I am not like Lady Mary in that regard.

As we've gotten closer to the Series 2 premier of Downton Abbey on PBS {OMG, IT'S ON SUNDAY! SUNDAY IS ONLY 2 SLEEPS AWAY!}, my obsession for this fictional family and their servants has come out more strongly than ever before.

Like just a couple of paragraphs ago: I was talking about these people as if they were real.

They're not real, Kamiah. I have to keep saying that to myself.

Also: don't talk about them as if they were your friends {or enemies} to real people. You are not a Crawley. You are not Lady Mary Crawley. Don't assume other people know who you're talking about, or that, when they find out you're talking about fictional characters, will have the ability to not laugh at you.

Or here's an actual email I sent to a friend after she admitted that she hasn't yet seen Downton, as I've told her repeatedly she should do:
WHY HAVE YOU NOT WATCHED IT YET?!?!! {Note: Downton, for some reason, brings out the shouter in me.}

I refuse to talk to you until you do.

And there's also this for a sign: I was in a wedding last week, and when I went to the salon to get my hair done, I brought in pictures of publicity shots from Downton Abbey to help guide the hairdresser.

The last time I was in a wedding—in August, just as the Downton obsession {obsession is such a middle-class, depressing sort of word; I think I'll start referring to this as my Downton fondness} was beginning—I told the hair stylist to channel Jane Austen and/or Audrey Hepburn.

I casually threw out a reference to Downton, mentioning it lightly, as if I'd seen it once and was sort of intrigued by it. But then I totally blew my cover by talking a lot about having a lady's maid to the hair stylist. I still don't know if she enjoyed being called a servant, but I think the hair still turned out all right. You can see it here.

For this wedding last week, though, I was in full Downton fondness mode.

Of course I found pictures of Lady Mary Crawley; she's a brunette with long hair, too, so I figured that if I could get her hair right, then maybe I could transform into her. Not that she's real. Or I've ever thought about what it'd be like to be her.

Here's how it turned out:

The only thing holding me back from being Lady Mary in this picture is the incredible amount of skin showing. Well, and the color of the dress. And that it's above the knee, a length certainly not acceptable in World War I England. I guess the other thing holding me back is that I don't have a lady's maid. Maybe we can just assume she's taking the picture.

Oh, yes, I have Downton fondness.

I fully accept this and have become somewhat of a Downton evangelist/translator to my friends. When PBS started to re-broadcast Series 1 in preparation for Series 2 {OMG, SUNDAY}, I watched it with a couple of friends.

And it was at that point that I realized that Jane Austen did, in fact, prepare me for something: for explaining entails.

Until I had this conversation, I didn't entirely realize that a working knowledge of entails wasn't something that everyone had, just like we all have a general knowledge of the Revolutionary War or how we all agree that Saved By the Bell: The College Years was a mistake.

The conversation went something like this:
Friend Who's Never Seen the Wonder that Is Downton: Wait, why can't the snooty older one—
Me, aka, Lady Downton Explainer: Lady Mary. And she's not snooty. Okay, she is, but...No, I won't explain more on that right now. But wouldn't you be snooty if you'd been raised in a house that looked like this?
Friend: How did you get a picture to appear in our conversation?
Me: Because of Jesus and Dame Maggie Smith, who is, as you know, in Downton playing the feisty Dowager Countess. Let's try to focus. What was your question?
Friend: Why can't Lady Mary, who apparently isn't snooty, inherit?
Me: Because the estate is entailed to the next male heir. Now, hush, Dame Maggie Smith is about to say something witty and caustic and I want to see the look on your face when you hear it.
Friend: [after slightly smiling at Dame Maggie] But what do you mean, entailed?
Me: Like in Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. Ooh, here comes Thomas the Evil Footman. Dang, I shouldn't have called him evil and let you make your own decisions. But seriously, look at him; he's brooding and dark the minute he walks on-screen. You would've picked up on your own that he's evil.
Friend: Just listing other period dramas isn't exactly helping right now. Why can't she get the money and the pretty house?
Me: Just think of Mr. Collins getting Lizzy's father's house in Pride and Prejudice or that weak half-brother of Emma Thompson's—I mean, Elinor Dashwood's—getting Norland while the mother and girls are sent to live in a drafty cottage on the edge of the ocean. Women getting kicked out of their houses was a very big plot point back in the day.
Friend: How is that possible in a country that had Queen Elizabeth I {not to mention II} and Queen Victoria?
Me: Um, those eras aren't covered in Downton, and I may have a degree in British literature and I may have lived in England for a little bit and I may watch A LOT of period dramas, but I can't know everything. What do you think I am, a historian magician?

Just suffice it to say: the entail for Downton Abbey—the estate, the title, the money—was written so that it can only pass to men, and sadly, the current Earl and his wife have the three girls. As you can see. In their pretty dresses throwing haughty looks at each other and dinner guests.
Friend: Wait, an entail is written?

It was at that point that I wished PBS had a pause button so that I could get into the details of inheritance law.

Sadly, it didn't, but I think my friend got the point, especially from the number of times various characters repeat lines along the lines of: "Oh, I wish we could break the entail, but alas, we can't!"

Oh, Downton, how I am obsessed with you.

I mean, am slightly fond of you and look forward with an appropriate level of excitement to Sunday evening when we shall be reunited.

05 January 2012

all things great

What I've had in my head for several days:

All things great are wound up with all things little.
{Lucy Maud Montgomery, or just Maud, as I like to call her ever since I visited Green Gables and learned that that's what all her family and close friends called her. Maud.}

I suppose it's been in my head because I also have it on a Post-it Note on my computer at work. It's hard to ignore something when it's next to your task list {unless it's a task that you really don't want to do; then it's easy to ignore, isn't it?}.

Can I not stop thinking about it because at the beginning of the year, I'm more aware than at other times that big things {goals, resolutions, re-inventions of yourself as you turn the calendar page} often get tripped up by little things {actually implementing those goals on a daily basis}?

Is it because to achieve big dreams, you have to be willing to celebrate little victories along the way {keeps motivation up, you know}?

I don't know why I can't stop thinking about it, so I decided to get it out of my head and off of my computer—and onto my own little corner of the Internet.

And perhaps into your head to ponder.

03 January 2012

happy caucus day

Iowans are special, and just typing that made me think of that scene in The Help when Aiblileen the maid/nanny/self-esteem-instiller tells little Mae Mobley:

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

Iowans, often overlooked {or flown-over} as we are, may need to chant a version of this to themselves in the years in between presidential elections.

Every four years, we are important come a cold night in January, and then every presidential hopeful and political analyst and journalist flies in—not over, for once—and tries to connect with the Iowa voter {and explain them to the rest of the nation}.

But in between those bouts of importance, Iowans may need to chant:

You is kind. You is smart. You is FIRST IN THE NATION: take that, New Hampshire!

Not that Iowans would be so combative, and actually, I'm doubting that many Iowans would see the need to chant this little self-esteem builder in non-election years.

We're not too concerned with puffing up our own importance; there are bigger things to think about than how other people see you.

I should get home now, not that I have a caucus to rush off to tonight. I live in Illinois now, in a state that doesn't caucus and is far from the first in the nation, but my Iowa roots run deep—so deep that I still use that inclusive "we" when talking about Iowans.

We're special, even in the years we aren't leading the charge into the presidential election season.

To honor Iowans and my inclusive "we," here's a video of the song "All I Owe Ioway" from State Fair. {Also to honor Iowa today, I'm wearing one of my Iowa shirts, but posting of picture of me in it is boring when compared to this technicolor wonder of singing about being Iowa corn-fed.}


Related Posts with Thumbnails