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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WHY DOWNTON ABBEY IS GOOD FOR YOU (EVEN WHEN IT'S BAD)


I love Downton Abbey, who doesn’t?  Seriously, saying “no” to DA is like saying no to a free massage.  Or no to drinking expensive red wine that is guaranteed not to give you a headache.  And no to eating good, dark chocolate that doesn’t have any calories.  It’s self-punitive to say no, plain and simple!  It is a free, delicious, luxurious treat, so why not indulge?  There is not a single reason in the world to abstain from this not-so-guilty pleasure, the definition of “me time”.  And men like it too!  It’s not something you need to hide away.  Watch it loud and watch it proud!  You are going to get a lot of support in this endeavor!
 
But…(you could see that coming, I’m sure)…but, we are in the 4th season and it is a little creakier than it used to be.  Like maybe that free massage didn’t go as deep as you needed it to, or that very excellent red wine gave you the teensiest bit of a headache.  The characters that we have grown to know and love are maybe behaving a bit…shall we say, uncharacteristically these days.  And of course the body count is quite morbidly high; The Walking Dead’s got nothing on the Abbey.  I think we can all accept and actually expect older shows to resort to stunts such as untimely death and (very unfortunately) rape; but at the same time, remember how absolutely unexpected and delightful the untimely death of Mr. Pamuk was the first season???   I remember laughing with a sort of maniacal glee when that happened; by the time Matthew Matthew died, it was more like “of f*cking course he did”.

Also, watching characters devolve to suit these melodramatic storylines is a sad and confusing experience.  Remember Mr. Bates?  Oh, I know he’s not dead, I realize there is still a character named “Mr. Bates” on Downton Abbey, but he does not bear much resemblance to the man I met and fell for in season one.   Ohhhh my God, season one Mr. Bates, how I loooooved you!  What an incredible character, what a remarkable man.  Remember when Thomas tripped him in front of an important guest, trying to make him seem lame and weak and unreliable?  Did S1 Mr. Bates leap up and beat Thomas’s face into a bloody pulp with his walking stick???  Because that’s what I would have done, especially with that stick being so handy.  No, S1 Mr. Bates most decidedly did not.  He didn’t so much as tattle on Thomas, he just gracefully apologized and took responsibility for what had happened without so much as a crack in his composure.  S1 Bates was so calm, cool and collected, he made James Bond look like a freakin’ spaz.  Why else would Anna have fallen madly and deeply in love with this person so soon after meeting?

But now we have to contend with season 4 Mr. Bates.  First, as an aside, we have all now seen him shirtless, and that did very little for his case in general.  But S4 Mr. Bates, instead of being the pure-hearted, noble prince of Anna’s dreams, is apparently regarded by his onetruelove as such an out-of-control rage-aholic that she can’t trust him, her husband, with the horrible fact of her rape, for fear he will go ballistic and murder her rapist in cold blood.  Say what???  I mean, I certainly felt that Mr. Bates behaved in a slightly sinister and threatening way while he was in prison, but I chalked that up to the fact that he was IN PRISON, and when in Rome, right?  If you cannot muster slightly sinister and threatening while in prison, you are in for a world of hurt, so I supported his choices.  And when he came home, did he not protect and defend his old tormentor Thomas against a certain and horrible fate, like S1 Mr. Bates would have done?  Why does Anna feel he is going to go all “death wish” on the guy?

Speaking of Thomas…we really do get a different Thomas every season, don’t we?  S1 was pure evil and I guess they decided that was what worked best for him, because after two seasons of nuanced performance and character from the very excellent actor who plays him, we are back to pure evil.  But we’re not sure why.  What is his motivation for hating Bates again, especially after Bates saved his ass out of common decency?  Why would he be gunning for Tom Branson, when he professes such admiration for his late wife?  Why is he infiltrating the house with an unwilling spy, when he has been treated so well by the very people who should’ve sacked him about 14,000 times so far?  We may never know; for now, Thomas is a very bad guy simply because life is more interesting that way.  And as for poor Edith (you'd think she would just go ahead and change her name to that already)…is this the same girl who slut shamed her older sister in season one???    How does it feel when the shoe is on the other foot, girlfriend?

And finally Robert…oh, excuse me, Lord Grantham… perhaps the most disheartening of all.  His season one incarnation was absolute perfection, but by now we have come to expect him to be sexist, stuffy, out-of-touch and horrifyingly bad with finances.  Seriously, can we hide the checkbook from this guy?  It is sad to see him made to be such a buffoon when he used to be so extremely awesome, but extremely awesome was not terribly dramatic, I guess.  Good thing we can count on the Countess!  And how much do we love her?  Let us count the ways!!!  Actually, let’s not; we’ll be here all day.   But if there is one thing about Downton Abbey that is consistently brilliant it is the performance of Maggie Smith as this towering and impregnable woman; and bravo to the writers for never leaving her without the exact perfect thing to say.  Whatever its flaws, Downton Abbey remains a bright spot in the dull winter months; so we give thanks and cross our fingers that Dame Maggie Smith lives forever.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why You May Be Thriving (Without Even Knowing It!)


I am having a rough week, how about you?  Nothing big, just that mountain of little things that seem to pile up and overwhelm me like in the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”.  One or two tribbles is no big deal, but when they start swarming the ship?  We all have days like that, even weeks and sadly, sometimes months and years.  Sometimes it feels like you cannot handle a single thing more, no matter how small; there is a reason the expression “the straw that broke the camel’s back” is so ubiquitous.  But here’s the thing:  you can handle it and quite frankly, you will.  And P.S., no camel EVER had its damned back broken by a piece of straw, no matter what else it was carrying at the time.
We persevere, don’t we?  Over and over again, no matter what the situation we are facing, no matter how many “tribbles” keep piling into our sanctuary, we keep on keepin' on.  Because we have to, really.  I mean, consider the alternative.  And even when our burden is light, undoubtedly we have friends and family who are going through some kind of mess or another, and then we reach out a hand if we have one free and lend an ear whenever possible.  Human beings are pretty amazing, actually.  That is what I’ve learned over and over in my life, and this knowledge keeps the pep in my step most of the time.  We persevere, often even cheerfully!  And as we do this, we inspire and connect and keep true to our path.

There is a wonderful exchange in the movie “While You Were Sleeping” (holla, Bill Pullman!) between a father and his son, in which the father imparts this wisdom:  “You know, son?  Life is a pain in the ass.  You work hard, try to provide for your family and for one minute, everything’s good.  Everyone’s well…and in that one minute, you have peace.”  To which his son replies, “Pop?  This is not that minute.” 

HA!  LOVE THAT!  Because sometimes it feels like it’s NEVER that minute, never was that minute and never will be that minute.  And life is a pain in the ass, without a doubt in the world.  But we love it anyway, just like we love our pain-in-the-ass relatives, just like we love our pain-in-the-ass friends and just like we love our pain-in-the-ass selves.  It’s all worth it somehow, all worth the colossal pain-in-the-assiness being alive entails.  We persevere because we have to; but also, because we WANT to, right?
And here’s a little secret for you about all of it:  all of this talk about “thriving” vs. “surviving” is a whole lot of codswallop because you can’t have one without the other.  If you don’t have the tools, the desire and the gumption to survive, you are never truly going to thrive.  Thriving requires bravery.  You can’t sit on the sidelines and thrive, you have to know that when the shit hits the fan (and it ALWAYS does, sooner or later) you will be capable of running the necessary play.  You aren’t going to curl up under the bench and hope nobody sees you, you are going to run out on the field and GET.  IT.  DONE.  If you don’t know in your heart this is true, you can never truly be described as thriving, no matter how nice your house or how good your job.  Because you are afraid.  Afraid of losing the externals you think define you, afraid of what might be around the next dark corner. 

I looked up the definition to the word thriving and was amused to see it doesn’t all exactly jibe with our common notions about it…for example, one definition was “to make steady progress”; another was “to be fortunate or successful”.  These are not exactly the same thing, are they?  You can’t make steady progress without direction and effort, but you can be fortunate without even getting out of bed.  Direction and effort are a decision and an accomplishment; fortune is a gift, and like all gifts it is transient and retractable. 

Another definition I found for thriving was “to grow vigorously”.  I like this one best of all, it seems the most proper and helpful.  Because when we sit on “easy street” we do not grow at all, least of all vigorously.  It is through our perseverance that we grow, in strength, wisdom and most of all resilience.  And resilience is the key to life.  You will fall, you will be overwhelmed, you will want to scream in frustration at all of the pain-in-the-ass details you need to attend to, but you will overcome and live to fight another day.  You will be thriving.  And when you are thriving, your problems often end up being no tribble at all.

Friday, January 10, 2014

WHY YOU SHOULD WAIT

No, I’m not going to talk about what you think I’m going to talk about here.  But now that you brought it up,you should wait for that, too.  Every time it’s new, if possible. 

Never mind the logistics and also building trust and rapport and treating yourself with the care and respect you deserve; the waiting part is just soooo goooood…anticipation is the best foreplay there is, the idea of the kiss nagging at you that makes the actual kiss so much more delicious.  There is a reason why star-crossed lovers in novels and movies and television fill us all with such sublime longing.  Waiting may be the hardest part, but in some ways it is also the best part.

What was I talking about?  Oh, right, PATIENCE.  I was talking about how important it is to be patient.  Not necessarily when your husband is asking what the password for voicemail is for the 40,000th time, but with yourself, your goals and yes, your rewards.  Technology has robbed us of the need to wait for nearly ANYTHING, and it is ruining a lot of our fun.  Sure, it’s fun at first to be able to make any song, movie, person, etc. appear in your hand (via phone, tablet, whatever) at the blink of an eye; it makes you feel like Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie”. 

My wish is my iPhone’s command!  Feel the power!!!  But then…

I remember what my very first “favorite” song was.  For the record, there is some family dispute about this, because my mother likes to claim my first words included a request for a Bobby Sherman single when I was less than 2.  Proving once again that babes (and apparently babies) LOVE musicians. 

To my ability to recall, however, the year was 1977, and one day on my way to the orthodontist, I heard the song “Peg” by Steely Dan.  Now, I like Steely Dan as an adult, why not?  But I have no idea why this song hit me so hard at the time.  But it did.  I loved it, could not wait to hear it again…but I had to. 

Wait, that is.  Because it was 1977.  I either had to save up to buy the album or sit next to the radio for endless hours scanning up and down the dial for even a snippet of the beloved tune.  I chose the latter, because at the going rate for allowance in those days it would have taken a year to save enough, plus nothing could match the clutch of excitement I felt in my stomach when I heard the opening notes I was craving to hear.

In fact, sitting by the radio scanning for my favorite songs was a big part of my adolescence, especially after the “boom box” revolution allowed me to tape songs directly off the radio.  I still have some of those tapes I made after countless hours of patient waiting, deejays talking over the first notes of the song, commercials and call letters blared over the final ones.  The satisfying victory of getting the WHOLE SONG on tape, to listen to at your leisure!!!  Such a sense of accomplishment to learn every lyric, imitate each vibrato!  And then, once the song had been mastered, to move on confidently in the direction of your next conquest.

Patience, my friends, it took patience.  No internet to look up lyrics on, no iTunes to buy every song that fleetingly strikes your fancy.  No, you had to commit to your choice, work patiently to acquire it, then the number of times the rewind button had to be pressed with your ear up against the speaker to discern those sloppily annunciated lyrics is legion.  LEGION. 

But we did it, we all did it, over and over again because it was just so damned satisfying when your goal was accomplished.  You felt so damned good about yourself, we used to brag in the lunchroom about our vast collection and knowledge of pop music and GOD FORBID you did NOT know the lyrics to whatever song had currently caught the imagination of your peers.  I still love scanning the radio dial when I am driving, hoping against hope that somebody will dust off the Pure Prairie League’s “Amy” or anything by Firefall. 

I could buy any of these songs right this second, but what is the fun in that?  I love bouncing up and down in the driver’s seat singing joyfully at the top of my lungs whenever a favorite tune plays.  Would I even hear them if they were available 24/7?

So patience is a virtue, not because self-denial is so impressive, but because it teaches us to truly enjoy.  Working for something, waiting for something makes it so much sweeter.  It builds our confidence, our sense of security and helps us to discern what we really want, versus what would just be kind of nice for a minute until it isn’t anymore or we totally forget about it. 

My son likes to say, “Wait for it, wait for it…” whenever he is about to reveal a piece of information he thinks is particularly juicy.  I love that!  At 8, he already understands that the waiting part is good too.  So the next time you see something (or hear something) you think you want, take my son’s advice.  Wait for it.  Then when (if) you get it, you will appreciate it and yourself, so much more.