Under a Bright Blue Sky

Frost

February in upstate New York had the perfect color palette for Valentine’s Day. Snow would fall, snow on snow, and blanket the landscape in white. The icy cold would drive all clouds out of sight and leave the sky a brilliant blue. The sun, in its short trek, would set the snow to glittering and the icicles to sparkling. What better backdrop for cheery red and delicate pink hearts? As a child I loved the holiday. Continue reading

“I’ve Come Down in the World”: Downton Abbey and the Politics of Hope

Well, here we are again.

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One time, when my son Christopher was a toddler, learning to walk better, he was practicing going up and down the stairs.  He was midway down the staircase when he stopped, and in a moment of panic, said, “Mommy, I don’t know if I am going up or down.”

I thought of this moment in an early scene in which Mr. Mosely, who has seen his fair share of troubles, confides to another servant that “I’ve come down in the world,” and we all know what he is talking about.

Hey, we have all been there.

This is the great theme of Downton Abbey: upward and downward mobility.  It is a tough gig, requiring a striving that may not have even been possible in previous centuries.  English culture is still stratified, but it has loosened.  But America has always been a little revolutionary:  I am teaching early American literature right now, and whenever I am watching this show, important notions ring in my ears.  I think of John Smith telling early Virginians:  Hey, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.  I think of Benjamin Franklin, in his essay addressing those who “wish to remove” to the colonies, breaking the news that your la-dee-dah title does not count for much.  Instead, he tells his readers that in the colonies, it is not so much who you are, but what you do, that really counts. Continue reading

On Conversation Hearts

SONY DSCValentine’s Day is a day it’s okay to hate. For some, it’s the day dedicated to force-fitting the expression of genuine feelings into social expectations, without appearing saccharine or heartless, weird or trite, forced or routine. For some who will spend the day in solitude, it’s that special occasion when you find exceedingly trivial others’ frustrated attempts to find a satisfactory gift and dinner reservation, in comparison either with your own loneliness, or with the crude social assumption that, since you are alone, you must be lonely. It’s the day for publicizing love, for turning your heart inside out, for romantic one-upmanship. Like it or not, that intrusive co-worker will probably ask you about your Valentine’s Day on February 15. This year, thank goodness, the day of reckoning falls on a Saturday.

No one in my acquaintance has ever complained to me about Grandparents’ Day or Black History Month, but then again, Grandparents’ Day and Black History Month don’t demand as much of us. They don’t assault our senses in grocery stores, movie theaters, and shopping malls. Perhaps it’s because I’m neither a grandparent nor of African descent, but I’ve never been disappointed after those commemorative occasions. To object to either would be to court contempt unnecessarily, but everyone is permitted to hate Valentine’s Day, an awkward pink-and-red experience in which every couple is expected to participate, but which every individual—coupled or not— is permitted to deplore. Continue reading

Six Things to Love about February 2014

1.  Groundhog Day, 2 February.

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My month started off hysterically.  I walked into my twelve-year old’s bedroom to make sure he was up for school and he was hiding under the covers with the iPad waiting to see if Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania had seen his shadow. Let me put it this way: Christopher believes the groundhog over the most seasoned meteorologist.  Anyway, we are apparently having six more weeks of winter.  I know this has been a cold, rough winter for much of the nation, but this Texas girl is thrilled.  That means six more weeks of cute winter clothes that I hardly get to wear anyway.  Plus, every time this day rolls around, I think of that movie with Bill Murray called “Groundhog Day,” and it makes me happy all over again.

2. The Olympics, Opening Ceremony and Events, starting 7 February.

I love the Olympics–and even though that fifth ring for the opening ceremony failed to open, I still was wowed by the whole spectacle, and you cannot help but love Team USA.

I can help loving those sweaters, but the team:  Love. Them. Continue reading