Downton Abbey Season 4, episode 1

I really cannot put my finger on the reason for the obsession with Downton Abbey. Its like an addiction to anything: an opium fix, double chocolate fudge cake, sex with someone you really click with, the fixation on Downton Abbey ranks right up there with them all. It was evident in the fall building up to last Sunday’s premiere: searching for any news on the cast, trying to avoid all the spoilers (there are some very shocking events in store!) and the cast tour of America and all their interview videos, I couldn’t get enough!!!

But the wait is now over and I watched it Sunday night, the Tuesday night repeat and this morning I watched it again online – its hopeless for me!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*SPOILER ALERT*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Please stop reading if you haven’t see the episode yet, but if you haven’t, where have you been hiding under a rock for the last 4 years (lol!)

The show opens with O’Brien, Lady Cora’s ladies maid, leaving the Abbey in the middle of the night to go to India to work for “gasp!” Lady Cora’s cousin Susan Flincher. The search then commences to find a replacement and Lady Rose intervenes and who turns up but Edna Braithwaite, the tart that tempted Branson last season. Now Edna has received a “proper training” and manipulates her way into Lady Cora’s boudoir. Poor Branson, I hope he doesn’t get caught in Edna’s spider web again, but for now she is weaving a nest alongside Barrow the underbutler to trap poor Anna and Bates. She fit quite nicely into O’Brien’s wicked shoes.

But back to Anna – it seems like she is becoming a bit more deceptive in her role. Previously playing by the rules, she has taken a twist and it may come back to haunt her. She is embroiled into helping Lady Rose, the dowager’s great niece staying at Downton to behave badly. Anna took Rose to a dance hall, where Rose met a handsome worker to dance with and by the end of the night there was a fight erupting over Rose. Needless to say, the young man later marched right up to Downton’s back door wanting to see if Rose was OK. Anna then helped Rose change into a maid’s uniform to have a secret tete-a-tete with the young man, but when would you have thought Anna to pull off such a ruse! Jimmy the footman bore witness to all the events so I suspect there will be more with all of them and the smitten young village man.

There continues to be more secret crushes in the downstairs milieu, what with the episode opening on Valentines Day. One of the more interesting unrequited love stories involved of all people Mr. Carson and a long lost love of his. A man from his past surfaced and Mrs. Hughes took it upon herself to assist him and try to arrange a meeting between him and Mr. Carson via the help of Mrs. Crawley. The episode ended with Mr. Carson coming to terms with his old friend, despite the fact that the friend wound up marrying the love of Mr. Carson’s life. In parting the friend shared that this woman had died, and at the end she confessed to loving Mr. Carson and regretting not being with him. How sad that this happened to him, its shows how missed opportunities in life can haunt someone until, if they are lucky can get some kind of closure – definitely ending the episode in tears.

Which come next to the heartbreaker, Lady Mary. After 6 months she is climbing out of the abyss of grief over the death of her beloved Matthew. Her state of mind is palpable and we all want her to “buck up” for the sake of baby George. It takes Mr. Carson to lend a hand to climb out and get back with the land of the living to quote the Dowager Countess. Speaking of, Lady Violet was somewhat subdued this episode, but I expect her to unleash her trademark zingers soon. Meanwhile, I am pulling for Lady Edith, and her happiness, she so deserves her reward in the form of handsome Mr. Griegson.

Aside from some drama with the nanny getting caught treating poor Sybbie badly and being immediately dismissed by Lady Cora, this about sums up episode 1. I know I’ll probably watch the online video 2 more times before next Sunday. Its hopeless…..but in a good way!

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Mold by John Biguenet

Southern Rep Theater, in conjunction with the CAC presents now through April 14 the latest play by John Biguenet in his Rising Water trilogy, Mold. His previous two installments, Rising Waters and Shotgun received critical acclaim, and this third installment also rises to the occasion. Be informed, there are spoilers to follow.

I knew this would be a difficult play to watch, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be until I walked into the theater, saw the stage and then felt the wounds of Katrina reopening inside. The set evoked a visceral reaction: the screen door wide open, the furniture looked as if it had been agitated in a washing machine, the buckled floor and warped ceiling fan blades drooping from gravity’s pull and the splattered walls of Katrina patina that looks like a speckled yard egg. When Emile Guidry (played by Trey Burvant) and his wife Marie (played by Kerry Cahill) pushed open the swollen front door, the audience could then see the orange Katrina X-code: 9/21 – CA7 – 0 – 2 dead.

In the first act, Emile and Marie are in his parents home 1 year after the storm waiting to meet the insurance adjuster. It took them a long time to return and the shock of the condition inside as they push the front door open is overwhelming. The third character, Mrs. Delachaise (played by Carol Sutton) a volunteer with the City of New Orleans shows up first, and is tasked with condemning properties and marking homes for demolition, the Guidry home included. Emile is beside himself dealing with the grief of destruction as he meets the coldness of bureaucracy embodied by Mrs. Delachaise, but as he sulks off, Marie and Mrs. Delachaise bond on the porch with Mrs. Delachaise reliving her experiences going through Hurricane Betsy and then astutely diagnosing Marie expecting a child. It was one of those bonding experiences we all know during a storm: with the power out and no electronic gadgets to distract us, we turn to the old ways of conversation and story telling and bonding with strangers while sharing the experience going through the disaster.

The second act opens with the fourth character Mr. Bernard the adjuster (played by Randy Maggiore). He introduces Emile to the 5th kingdom of mold, and the battle that everyone endures fighting for insurance payouts to become whole again. The arguing sets off Mr. Bernard, who angrily relives rescuing people with his boat in the aftermath of the flood, pointing out that Emile was far away, sipping coffee in Houston. Turns out after all the discussion, Emile’s parents don’t have flood insurance, and the grand total of the settlement comes to a measly $1200. It is after Mr. Bernard leaves that the struggle ensues between Emile wanting to remain in New Orleans, the proud mantra that “I’m a New Orleanian and anything is possible” clashing with Marie’s realistic view that there is no money to rebuild, nowhere to live if they did decide to do it themselves and no point in living amongst the ghosts of what New Orleans was and will never be again. Then she reveals to her husband that she is pregnant…

In the brief Q&A that followed the play, Biguenet informed the audience how he had stitched together all the vignettes from countless Katrina stories into the script of Mold. He indicated that Mold was written for all the New Orleanians caught up in the diaspora who remain in exile, as much as for those mold rooted, tenacious New Orleanians that were able to return and rebuild. One audience member wanted Biguenet to add more stories to his trilogy, but others said it was complete. I believe he has covered the experience of enduring Katrina. Mold ends with the couple holding onto each other, the future unknown, the collective experience of discovering the extent of destruction in the immediate aftermath having passed and coming to terms with the loss of loved ones and possessions. The rest of the story has yet to be written with the next step down the path different for everyone as life moves on, and that is where the trilogy ends, for now.

Thanks to Southern Rep for extending the invitation to attend. Experience Mold for yourself, its an entertaining and thought provoking journey to traverse. I hope that this trilogy makes it to the New York stage: in the aftermath of Sandy there will be a whole new audience that can appreciate the relevance and profound message Biguenet’s stories portray.

A Brief Meditation

Over an eighth night of Chanukah dinner, I got into a discussion about the horrible event in Newtown, CT, with a friend of mine who taught for many decades.

“Where are the emergency drills in local schools for this kind of thing? Why is the security at the schools here so lax?” she worried.

It was deemed a sad thing that lockdown procedures were even necessary at schools today, but some basic measures like keeping school gates and doors locked from the outside during school hours seem like afterthoughts here. I remarked that just after I learned about Newtown, I went to pick up my son from school and observed a school staff member head for her car just outside a school side gate, get what she needed from her vehicle, then head back onto school grounds without closing the gate behind her. It’s not like it couldn’t happen in New Orleans – it did nearly ten years ago.

“They do keep the main building closed from the outside, with the only access being via a buzzer and an intercom system,” Dan said, “but if you’re a kid or teacher in one of the portable classrooms, you’re on your own,” he finished half-jokingly.

The only drills anyone runs in the schools here are fire drills, and those not very frequently. I suppose, and hope, a lockdown drill or two will be a part of the school year. The trick is trying to give the kids a sense of safety without it feeling like a police state.

At the same time, schools across the country are being so defunded that to jump up and throw loads of money at security for impoverished schools seems cruel and ridiculous. I’d prefer that the long-term solution be more money to education and the proper treatment of mental illness, and better gun control laws…

…but chances are, we’ll be debating this stuff until someone comes into an infant daycare and opens fire.

when the path becomes clear

Today it happened – a burst of clarity came to me as I was reading the paper this morning. I don’t want to necessarily call it an epiphany, but instead more of a definite decision has been reached. This lucidity was then worked through as I worked out – while walking several miles this morning at the park, the details began to emerge. I got home and quickly wrote down the “road map” – the place, the time, how to traverse the journey, the contingencies on other events and taking those factors into consideration, how long it will take, and then I tacked it onto the cork board above my desk.

I am a methodical planner – I do give in to spontaneous joys, like catching a band and deciding to go ten minutes before the event, or heading out to dinner on an hour’s notice. But this, the life changing event that will eventually manifest, this takes time. Whether or not it works out remains to be seen, but I am steadfast in the decision.

This path has been a long time coming. I’ve been lost, so to speak over the past several years, accomplishing goals yet losing much, too much in the process. Its been an empty time, being stuck in limbo, not knowing what lies ahead and too emotionally broken to attempt to begin forging a new direction. I cannot tell you how hard its been, like being on a rudderless ship, going around and around in circles with the shoreline lost in the fog. Putting on a brave face to mask the internal struggles has helped getting through the day to day, that until now was like living a lie in public.

But no matter, its all going to be OK. For those of you who have gone through the same struggle, I know you can relate – it is so profoundly crushing that once the direction becomes clear, all else falls away and makes getting to that new destination that much more tolerable. I was able to find comfort in “just being” over the past few years, I knew that the future destination would eventually become evident. I can now be comforted in the fact that the compass is working and the ship is sailing. I now feel calm, daresay happier? And for those of you still stumbling in the fog, I hope it clears for you sooner than later, as it just did for me.

A Season of Thanks

I used to dread this time of the year. It was the beginning of reminders of everything that I had lost – family, my parents, some of my friends – and made me feel incredibly lonely as others went into detail about their holiday plans: the visitors they were receiving, the big dinners they were preparing, or funny little stories about the family holiday gift exchange. This year, though, the holidays have a new meaning for me. It isn’t the beginning of a downward cycle where I spend the entire holiday season wishing my parents were still alive and beating myself up because my daughter is growing up without having a huge extended family. There is no going to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, no big family Christmas celebration, and when it comes to holidays, it is always just the three of us. As irrational as this is, at one time, I thought this made meant I had failed as a mother. I realize that my parents dying was out of my control, but to not be able to give those types of childhood memories to Emily, well, that made me feel quite sad.

This year, though, things are different. I felt the tides change when I saw the first holiday commercial and I didn’t feel resentment towards the family of actors surrounding the holiday table. The commercials didn’t make me cringe. I didn’t excuse myself to my bedroom to cry.  Instead of just going through the motions of preparing the house for the holidays, my head filled with ideas on what we could do to make the home festive. Emily drew designs. I brought out the remaining beads from Emily Gras. We got crazy with the glue gun.  We watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Wizard of Oz. We talked about new traditions we wanted to start for our little family. I didn’t turn the radio off when Christmas music came on.

I think it is easy to get caught up on our list of things we don’t have and wish for. The holidays seem to punctuate these things with rows of exclamation marks and blinking neon signs. Whether it is a different house, a new car, a better wardrobe, a smaller waist, more money, a better job, or in my case,  family, those wishes can sometimes control us. They can dictate whether we are going to be happy or sad, whether we are going to embrace life or simply exist, whether we offer kindness to others or simply reject all of those around us. I think sometimes it is easier to think about all those things we wish we were, wish we had, or regret letting go than it is to take a look around, breathe our lives in, and find the goodness that does exist, even when our wish lists are long and it seems like challenges meet us at every bend in the road.

I’ve decided that I’m done with list of wishful thinking and rows and columns of regret. This holiday season is going to be one of gratitude and one of paying love forward. The time to welcome the holiday and create our own traditions and to celebrate without longing, regret, and sadness is long overdue. The smile on my face this holiday season won’t be plastic and fake, painted on my face only for the benefit of my daughter. This holiday, the smile will be real, and it will come from having real joy.

So, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I sit and reflect on the everyday things – the things we often take for granted while traveling  back in time to live in our pasts or traveling years into our futures.

I think about the smile of my daughter when she is very excited, the obstacles she has tackled, the incredible imagination and big ideas that live inside of her head, and the thoughtfulness, kindness and love that live inside of her heart. I am thankful.

I think of my mister taking a leap by changing occupations when Hurricane Isaac thought it would get the best of us, working early and long days, always offering me support and encouragement with fierce loyalty, and understanding all of my nerdy affections, even joining in on a few. I am thankful.

I think of my friends who understand me, laugh at my jokes even when they aren’t funny, and who look out for me. I am thankful.

And I think of New Orleans. The way you live and laugh .The way you sing and dance. The passion you hold. The way you accept and love and make things right. The very soul, that damn beautiful spark, that makes this place, this glorious place, the only place that ever felt like home.  You’ve taught us so much, New Orleans. You’ve given us the place in this world we needed, the perfect place to bloom where we are planted and to grow. I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

A Reminder of What Was Lost….

Losing my mom at the age of 64 six years ago was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. It all seems rather unfair to me that she was taken at such a young age and I feel like I have lost my best friend, confidant and mentor. By nature, mothers and daughters have a special, unbreakable bond with each other and my mom was simply AMAZING.

I miss talking to her every day and I miss getting random phone calls from her to just “check in.” As in most families, especially in the south, my mom was the glue that kept everyone together. Over the past 6 years, our family has changed so much since she passed.

At first we rallied together to try to get through the hurt of losing her and the losses of our family homes in this new version of our life we were still adjusting to post-Katrina. Today, our family has drifted apart and has turned into something I don’t even recognize. I’ve tried to fill her shoes to be that person to keep our family close like we used to be, but there’s just too much resistance and I can’t bring everyone together like she could. I know she is watching over us and I would guess that she is probably very hurt to see that things just aren’t the way they used to be.

My kids are the youngest in our family and I often feel like they missed the amazing opportunity of getting to know their grandmother the way I knew her. My son was only 4 when she died and he doesn’t remember her other than through the photos, home videos and stories that we have shared with him and this hurts me more than anything.  My daughter was very close to my mom – she was only 9 years old when she died and I don’t think she has recovered from losing her either.  Like most grandmothers, my mom had a way to make each grandchild feel like they were special and that they were loved. I know my daughter misses that feeling and I just wish my son was able to experience it longer.

Today as I reflect on the past six years without my mom, I realize that no matter when this inevitable day would have happened…the result would be the same for me – I miss her every minute of every day. We shared a very close bond and losing a parent, especially your mom, is the hardest thing in the world. So, whenever I hear my friends talk about how much of a pain their mom is being – I remind them that life is short – whatever you do – please give your mom a big hug and tell her how much you love her as often as you can. Don’t fight over the petty things…they don’t matter. Spending quality time with your mom = PRICELESS.

There are reminders, signs if you believe in them, of her every day. From the yellow butterflies that I see following me along the path to work, or the images of giraffes that I spot in random places and then there are the times when I look at the clock the same time almost every day that I like to think is her way of telling me “I’m still with you.” Not everyone believes in life after death but this is a discussion we had several years before she died and she knows I’m a believer.

Clearing Out the Stuff

If you’re of a certain age it’s inevitable that you’ll face the unpleasant task of cleaning out your parent’s stuff. My father-in-law passed away in 2010 and my mother-in-law has been in a nursing home for a few years now – visited daily (sometimes twice) by my husband and I. The home where my husband grew up in Mississippi, the home that was built by his grandparents back in the 30’s, has been vacant over 7 years now but is now being renovated by my sister whose daughter will be living there while she attends school. A house that’s been vacant for that many years suffers from being empty, holding nothing more than memories and deteriorating furniture. Cleaning out a home that held three generations of family, and the precious keepsakes collected throughout those years, can bring forth some surprising and heartrending mementos. You get a glimpse of moments frozen in time through newspaper clippings and letters and it gives you a completely new view of those you thought you knew well. It makes you realize how much you really don’t know about those you hold most dear. And it’s sad, in a way. It’s sad that you didn’t hear those stories or see those black and white photos when memory was still clear and words still coherent. It’s also gives you a kind of creepy feeling, a feeling of being a voyeur, that you’re invading their privacy even though it’s done with respect and love.

In my last post, I talked about my mother’s death. We haven’t gone through her things yet and I don’t know when we will but it’s something I dread, really. What do you do with your own mother’s personal items? The clothing that you remember her wearing, the shoes, the jewelry she loved so well. The makeup and toiletries she packed in the little bag she took with her to the hospital was finally, tearfully, dispersed by my sister weeks after her death. And just a week or so ago my dad found something very, very precious that she had kept hidden for years that none of us knew anything about. What does one do with such personal and sacred things? Almost all of us have things in our lives that we never share with anyone else – the very essence of our beings. Finding the sacred things of someone’s life after death is a feeling that can not even be put into words. Sifting through a life’s privacy is unsettling and emotional.

I haven’t spent a night at my mother’s house since her funeral. I’ve been home but I’ve stayed with my sister. Is that wrong? I don’t know. I only know it’s really, really hard to be in my parent’s house now with all the reminders of my mother everywhere around. I don’t want her things to disappear but I don’t want to see them, either. I want to touch her clothes, hold her hairbrush, breathe her perfume. But in another way I don’t want to.

I want to pretend she’s still up there in Mississippi and I can pick up the phone and call her whenever I want. But I can’t.

I apologize for being so obsessed but writing helps.

Mamma

It’s 1:48 in the morning and I woke up thinking about mamma again. I got up, drank some water and turned on the laptop and came across this piece by Jarvis DeBerry. For the last, oh, two or three days my mamma has weighed heavy on my mind. She died in June and the road has been rocky ever since. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her with love, loss, recriminations, regret and desperation. I don’t talk about it much but it eats at my solar plexis like a savage animal some days and I hang on by concentrating on the goodness of her spirit and the hope of reunion in whatever world is out there for us after we leave this one. Jarvis’ words about his mother was a bit of a balm on the open sore of my mothers death and a realization that this is a universal experience in life, one we all must face one day. Your mother is a primal part of your life, like it or not, and when she’s gone a part of you dies too. It’s that simple.

Last night, I sat down just before bed and this came pouring out:

Train 59, City of New Orleans

Now every time I hear that Nora Jones
song, I think of leaving you
alone in a room crowded with
ministering hands and hanging
bags of life sustaining liquid

while outside the window a
bald eagle’s nest in a leafless
cypress tree didn’t amaze me
a tenth as much as your strength
but it’s beauty reminded me

of you so with cloudy eyes I had
to leave my seat in the midst of a
boisterous family, I couldn’t
pretend to be friendly or even be
civil when my entire being wanted
to be with you

again in the kitchen watching you
mix up cornbread and stir the beans
and, later, watching a marathon of
American Pickers on TV.
Something we’ll never do together
ever
again.

I know it will take a while to come to terms with mamma’s death. I know that. But will the ache ever go away?