Don’t Watch Downton Late At Night

***NO SPOILERS

Downton Abbey slayed me last night.  Absolutely slayed me.  I couldn’t even sleep afterwards; I had to pull the trick I developed when I was a kid: I read something nice until I’d forgotten about whatever was not so nice.

If you don’t watch Downton, you should probably get on board.  It’s only the third season, so it’s really not too late.

And then we can talk about it together.

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Doings

Not one to fail to wring every last drop of ‘weekend’ out of the weekend, I have done the following in the past two days:

1. Hosted a game show (see previous post)

2. Watched Mad Men with my gentleman caller (we’re on Season Two now, and although still enthralled, we both continue to be disgusted with a) the amount of smoking everyone does, b) the sexism, c) the infidelity, and d) the terrible parenting exhibited in almost every episode by Don and Betty Draper.  Was an entire generation like this?  I certainly hope not).

3. Made the most delicious chili in the universe with the g.c.  It was an easy enough recipe, but we had to take a twenty-minute break in the middle of cooking because I feared I was going to perish from the combination of eyes burning from onion and throat burning from jalapenos.  I think at one point I was sitting on the linoleum with my eyes pressed against my arms, seeking reprieve from the fumes wafting above.

4. Watched my third favorite movie of all time (You’ve Got Mail) with the commentary turned on because I know every line anyway, and because I was missing Nora Ephron and wanted to hear her insights.

5. Did two loads of laundry.

6. Cleaned the kitchen.

7. Painted my fingernails.

8. Practiced with my intramural volleyball team.  Scraped up my knees diving for the ball without kneepads.  Also fell on my butt a few times, an anecdote I’m including just in case you were beginning to think that I’m some kind of intense, Misty May-esque player.

9. Am just now settling in to do some studying.  No class tomorrow, so this isn’t a complete act of procrastination on my part.

Going to heat up some leftover chili.  Enjoy these last few blessed hours of weekend!

 

Why I can’t be Pat Sajak

Tonight, I learned that I can never be a game show host.  Not that it was a particular goal of mine anyway, but still.  It’s good to get these things cleared up before it’s too late and I’m awkwardly lip-kissing contestants in front of a flashing board.

Partly because of my role in student government, and partly because I was in the right place at the right time, I was asked to co-host UMM’s first annual Minute to Win It competition.  We were hooked up with lapel microphones, given cue sheets, and shooed onto a feltboard stage.

At first it was a hard to be entertaining and witty and charming because the crowd was small and unenthusiastic.  As the night went on, however (we did this for two hours, which may not seem like much, but which was tiring and thirst-inducing), I became a little more comfortable, and a little less concerned about how I looked or sounded.  This meant, of course, that I said/did some dopey things.

Example: to buy some time while the next activity was being set up, we led the audience in a Simon Says competition.  I was sick of saying the old “Simon says raise your right hand, Simon says raise your left hand,” and instead decided to go with “Simon says wiggle your butt.”  They did it, because there was a cash prize involved, but I got some weird looks.

And then there was the moment when I decided to go backstage briefly to ask the crew if we could have two of the water bottles that had been used for a previous activity.  This wasn’t entirely my fault, because how was I supposed to know that when wearing a microphone, you’re not supposed to walk in front of the speakers?  But I walked in front of the speakers.  And the feedback was deafening.  Perhaps worse was that they wouldn’t give me the water, claiming to need it for something else.

Overall, it was fun, and I’m glad I got to take part, but it’s exhausting to perform for such a long stretch.  I think, in the game show department at least, I’d rather be winning the three-bedroom RV than leading the giveaway events.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Friends,

Near the end of winter break, when I was still concussed and thus largely immobile, my friend Amelia, who shares my love of all things Pride and Prejudice (although I give her all praise for having read much more Austen than I; I couldn’t get past the head trauma scene in Persuasion), told me to look into The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Created in part by the Vlogbrothers’ Hank Green, the LBDs are a series of videos, posted weekly, in which real actors play out the story of Pride and Prejudice.  Although the general arc of the original plot is preserved, the videos are set in 2013.  Thus, Lizzie Bennet is a graduate student in communications.  Mr. Wickham is a swim coach.  The Bennets live in California. You see what I mean.

Here’s the link to the tumblr site, and, because I’m convinced that it will only take one video for you to become as hooked as I am, below is the first installment.

Stay warm!

-Holly

How My Good Days Work

I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it several more times:

When I have good days, I never have good-all-the-way-through-from-sunup-to-sundown good days.  I have no-sleep-last-night-zit-on-my-nose-could-this-get-any-worse days that magically morph into good days.

This morning, for example, all signs pointed to a bad day.  Well, by my above logic, I suppose that when things were dismal I should have suspected that a good day was on its way, although just because I’ve identified a pattern doesn’t mean I can make predictions…  Come now.  Who do you think I am?  (insert name of famous scientist/mathematician here)?

Back to the signs, though: I got six hours of sleep last night due to (I’m ashamed to admit) some last-minute wee-hours studying that was altogether unbecoming of someone in her last semester of college.  The temperature read -17 degrees when I awoke, and didn’t rise any while I ate breakfast, showered, and swathed myself in as many layers as I could find.

Long underwear, wool socks, fleece socks, Underarmour mock neck, sweatshirt, neck cozy (made up name.  It’s like a fleece headband for your neck, only about 6 inches wide instead of three), hat, mittens, winter coat, boots.  And so forth.

Once I had trudged to campus, thawed out a bit, sat through Feminist Theory and Shakespeare, talked a panicked anthropology candidate back from the cliff after he learned his application hadn’t been received, and eaten a very underripe pear, I received two pieces of news that turned a Bad day into a Good one:

1.  An important publishing company has asked the head of the history department (and one of my favorite professors) to do a review of a to-be-released tome.  They also asked if she could select a few students to review it as well.  And the professor asked me to be one of those students!  It’s a grand opportunity that will not only be enjoyable (we all know I go nuts for history), but that will also look rawthur snappy on a future resume.

2.  I’ve realized that for my Honors Capstone Project, I am allowed to use an existing project as a jumping-off point.  This means that I can combine my beloved Virginia Woolf with some extra research and, as the nasty saying goes, kill two birds with one stone.

This also means another semester of Woolf talk.  I hope you can handle it.  I suspect you can.

P.S. Just ate some cereal for a snack.  Just spilled said cereal all over Mac’s keypad.  Milk and technology don’t mix very well, for the record.  I’m trying not to view this as punishment for bragging so much about my good fortune.

The Waiters: A Short Story

Because it’s cold, and because I’ve been using said chill to justify a long afternoon of lazing around the house, and because having finally settled down with my Feminist Theory readings, I find myself engrossed, I’m posting a story.

I wrote this several years ago, submitted it to First Line Fiction, and won third place.  Having come a long way since 2010, parts of this were painful to reread.  You may cringe at the sentimentality.  You may wonder what on earth led me to disregard quotation marks.  But please know that I’m right there with you.

That being said, I do like a few things about this story, hence I’m submitting it to the Internet for the second time.

I also think this blog needs a little fiction every now and then, if only to punctuate many days of non-fiction ranting.

Here you go.  Happy MLK Day!

The Waiters

He brought in his shirt pocket the last photograph he’d taken of his son.

Poor guy.  You should have seen the way he walked into the office that afternoon.  He wore a yellow jacket that seemed inappropriate.  Its brightness contrasted with the hollow expression on his face so drastically that it was almost shocking.  I was relieved when he took the jacket off, carefully hanging it up on the rack in the corner of the waiting room. 

And then the man began to slowly cross, crumpling a little with each step.  I imagined that he’d be on his knees before he even reached the chair.  I imagined myself putting my hand on the shrugged shoulder, shouting into a wrinkled ear.  He made it though, sitting next to me as I knew he would.  There was no other place, after all.  The waiting room was full of people waiting, most of whom were buried in magazines or clicking on small phones.

He began talking as soon as he sat down.  Talking to me, or so I figured after a few seconds.

I had a son once, he said.

A son?  This was before I decided he was speaking to me and not to someone else.

Yes.  He died, though.  Car accident.

I’m sorry.  Because that’s what you say, isn’t it?  I’m sorry?  I’m sorry I can’t know what you’re going through, and I’m sorry that I’m going to try my hardest to comfort you anyway.  I’m sorry I don’t understand.

Thank you, he said simply.  I thought that would be it, and I could go back to staring at the wall.

He continued, though.  So many people die that way; it isn’t terribly original.  But my son doesn’t die that way.  My son doesn’t die.

He did, though.  I spoke softly, hoping he would know that I wasn’t trying to hurt him with my bluntness.  I wanted him to keep talking all of the sudden.  I wanted to know how this man had come to be folded into himself.  How his eyes got to be the way they were now.  Drowning.  He could see, but he wasn’t really looking out of them.  I saw all of these things in that waiting room, and I wanted him to keep talking.

The man paused for a moment, fiddling with the pocket at the front of his shirt.  Out of the pocket he plucked a folded bit of paper.  A photograph; it said Kodak across the back.  He unfolded the photograph and stared at it for a few seconds before folding it once more. 

He took a deep breath before he spoke again.  Afterwards, we all mourned.  No one talked during meals anymore.  My wife and I cried ourselves to sleep every night.  We tried to comfort one another.  I tried so hard.  But it is so very difficult to dig yourself out of the well of your own grief and reach for someone else.

Suddenly the man looked up at me, as if just realizing that he was talking to an actual person who was listening. 

He looked down again at the photo in his hands and continued.  My wife stopped grieving after awhile.  She got on with her life.  She went back to work.  She started running with the dog in the morning.  She drove our daughters to lacrosse and modern jazz.  She didn’t understand why I couldn’t get up too.  She used to become angry with me.  Why can’t you get over him?   She would yell.  Why can’t you see that he’s gone and that we’re left? You have two other children.  You have a job.  This needs to stop.  The man looked at me again, warily this time.  Do you have a job?

I nodded.  I deliver packages.  I drive a truck and I stop and I make people sign for brown boxes or tan envelopes.

The man took this in.  Do you enjoy your work?  He asked me.

I thought for a moment.  Then I answered.  I enjoy the people.  I watch them.  I guess what they’re like, what their names are. 

Do you ever get them right?

I don’t know if I do or not. 

The man frowned.  I would like to know.   He unfolded the photograph again and stared at it again.  I would like to know.

I saw that he was on the verge of crying.  His eyes squinted up and his knees shook a bit.  People across the room were beginning to look at us.  Not obviously looking, but peering at us every so often over their Newsweeks, as if to warn us that they didn’t want to overhear, but that they would if we spoke any louder.  They didn’t want to overhear.  They didn’t want a share in the anguish on the man’s face, the bewilderment on mine.  They read their magazines.

The man shuddered three more times and was still. 

He began to speak again after a few minutes.  I realized soon that I could lose my wife as well.  That she wouldn’t die, but that she would be just as permanently and irrevocably gone if I didn’t stop missing my son.  So I stopped.  I had to, you see.  I knew if I lost anything else I would disappear completely myself.  Everything tying me down would be gone.  I would be gone too. 

I stretched my legs out across the carpet and arched my back a little bit.  I wasn’t bored; I was only sore from sitting so long.  He knew I wasn’t bored.  Even if I had been, I don’t think he would have stopped.  We both knew now that he needed to say these things.  We both knew I needed to hear.

He kept talking through my stretch; his gaze wandered down to my brown boots and anchored on to them. 

I donated all of my son’s clothes, and cleaned his room.  I even took down his posters and painted over his walls with the spring green color my wife picked.  The paint erased my son’s smell until I couldn’t breathe in that room anymore.  I was about to shut his door behind me for the last time when I spotted the edge of something white sticking out from under the bed.

It was the photograph, wasn’t it?

The man nodded gravely.  I had taken it a few weeks before he died.  We were driving in my old convertible going west.  West like the pioneers, my son had shouted joyfully.  While we were stopped at a red light, my son dug the camera out of his backpack and thrust it at me.  We were laughing hard, like two teenagers instead of one.  My son rested one arm on top of the rolled-down window and leaned back away from me.  He grinned the same smile I had seen all his life.  My son leaned back into the wind against the highway and grinned while I took the picture.

It was all too much for the man then.  He dropped his head into the picture in his hands and sobbed soundlessly.  His back rose and fell with each rolling breath, and as I deliberated patting him gingerly on the shoulder blade, I intercepted a few raised eyebrows from across the room.  I shot those eyebrows straight back, sending most of the waiters diving back into their Popular Sciences.  I wasn’t a big man.  I wasn’t even a brave man.  Not then.  But I knew when things were private.  This was between the man, the photograph of his son, and me.

When the man finally calmed down he looked relieved.  Now he could finish.

Very slowly he opened the photograph in his hands.  I couldn’t quite see it, but I didn’t fail to be amazed at its proximity.  I only had to raise my eyes.  I didn’t, though.  I waited.

He spoke.  The last photograph of my son, the one I clung to when my wife wasn’t around, the one that allowed me to keep him and to keep myself together…He trailed off.  He wasn’t sure how to end, now that he had begun to end.

He tried again.  The last photograph of my son is something I both love and hate.  I can’t make myself throw it away, and yet it feels heavy in my pocket.  He stopped.

A woman had walked into the waiting room, and was now looking around with a definite air of impatient authority.  She called out a name.  I didn’t hear, but I guess the man did because he slowly stood and walked towards her with that same worn down gait he had entered on.

I sat back in my chair and looked around the room.  The other waiters stared boldly at me now.  I dropped my head, all defiance gone.  I sat and I thought.  I knew this was a story I would remember, not just another observation to drop in my brain like a marble.  I wondered if I would ever retell it.  I wondered how I would do it.  But mostly I wondered how it ended.

How did I know about the photograph in the man’s pocket?  Because he told me about it while we waited.

On his way out, the he passed me with only a nod.  Thank you, he said quietly, slipping either arm into that inappropriate yellow jacket.  I stared, decided.

Yes I must.  Sir!  I bounded after him past the alarmed waiters. Sir can I please see the photograph of your son?

He looked at me in his watery way, and then seemed to surface.  I imagined the last waves breaking around his eyes before receding like the tide.  Yes, he replied.  Yes of course you can see my son. 

Slowly he reached towards his pocket and drew out the creased picture.  He handed it to me without unfolding it.  Perhaps he thought that by unfolding it himself it would only make it harder.  Perhaps he needed me to take it from him, to hold his regret and his pain for a little while.

I unfolded the picture and stared at it for what felt like a long time.  I wanted him to feel me take it in.  But really it only took me a moment to understand.

As I handed the picture back to him and watched him refold it and set it gently into the same pocket, I listened to him speak the last words he ever said to me.  I had a son once, he explained patiently, as if we were starting over, as if we were just meeting each other.  I had a son once and he died.  I had a son once, and the last photograph I ever took of him captured only his elbow. 

I stood and saw the glass door swing shut behind him, watched it forget instantly that such a man had ever passed through. 

You know, with people you meet when you’re delivering packages, you can guess.  You can assume that a woman is snobbish, or that a man is out of sorts and late for work.  You can guess about them, and it never has to bother you if you’re right or if you’re wrong.  You can just let your imaginings hang in the air above your head.

Sons and photographs, I have come to realize, are a different matter altogether.  With them, you have to wonder your whole life why you didn’t look through the lens before snapping the shutter.  You have to wish that you had taken the time to aim, wish that you hadn’t been too captivated by the living, breathing boy to focus on capturing all of him forever.

Eventually, though, you have to know that when you tell the story of your son in a waiting room, when people listen, and when people look at the photograph of your son afterwards, that those waiters see all of him.  You have to know that those waiters see all of you too.

Johnny Cash Trumps Grumpiness

Typical of Bag End, I can only guess at what’s going on downstairs.  I was reading for 1950s History, poring over Nightmare in Red as if watching a Soap Opera (I am convinced that the Red Scare and The Days of Our Lives are equally ridiculous), when the music began.

It took me a while to recognize the song, but eventually, through the foot-stomping and clapping, I picked up the notes of “Folsom Prison Blues,” played amateurly on someone’s acoustic guitar.  Yes, friends, there is a party downstairs.  There is homemade curry.  There is folk music.

Somehow, even though I’ll have a mountain of reading to do tomorrow, even though they’re not exactly my friends, even though they’re positively drunk, I cannot bring myself to go tell them to keep it down.  Not when they’re singing Johnny Cash.

They’re singing 4 Non Blondes now.  I’m officially going down there to join.  Talk to you tomorrow.