Some time ago I wrote about a teenager I know and her younger sister who deserved her own story. This is my belated first attempt.
In the past few years she stopped being the mischievous, daring, shy, passionate little girl I knew and became a calmly determined, sweetly poised young lady. She’s still all of those other characteristics too, of course. It’s an achievement I’m still hoping for.
At her age I would have detested being called “young lady” — even now it makes me feel a cringe. It’s one of language’s oddities that society has turned this compliment into an insult. In the kindest and most respectful way the term fits her.
Simply, internally, I think of it as poise. The more complex description sounds exhausting, but never looks so.
Looking at ease when standing and sitting up right. Lounging when appropriate, but never slouching. Leading and guiding a conversation. Genuine, outward cheerfulness. Confident intelligence. Graceful even when slashing fruit with a samurai sword in a video game.
Poise can’t ever be completely learned. It’s one of those qualities you have or you don’t. Maybe, though, that’s just to excuse my failing attempts.
That’s the acknowledgement that came to me while watching Downton Abbey’s season 5 premier.
I suspect that even the show’s creators are shocked at its popularity. Masterpiece isn’t a young start-up treading new ground in TV viewing. They’re the stodgy neighbor talking about “when I was a kid,” but with an unpredictable ability to knowledgeably comment on current fashions. To be fair, Masterpiece and PBS are really more aging hippies than signing their lease at a nursing home.
I don’t care for the show’s melodramatic story lines, but I will still eschew all other distractions in order to spend my Sunday evening watching it. It’s tradition. I even plan dinner to match. Watching this fictional mirror of a distant time that isn’t is interesting. We might even — in some future episode or season — hear a character mention TV as a crazy new invention. Have you heard? Impossible!
Dining, rather than eating, is a frequent yet never common activity on the show. It makes me feel rather a slumpy, slobby, flob. Last Sunday I ate my dinner in courses, starting with roasted tomato soup and wild rice. I made soup because I wanted to feel like a lady.
Eating soup is about as close as I can get to that level of poise. Grazing the spoon away from you isn’t any more difficult than scooping it toward you, though it appears exceedingly affected in the States. I’d go hungry trying to balance a pea on the back tines of a fork or eating scrambled eggs with a fork and knife because of this same bizarre polished balancing act.
My own attempt at being a lady barely lasted the night. By the time I was eating the last of the leftovers I was very strictly back to being me. Even if I could learn to sit away from the chair back or be a good conversationalist (even more implausible) it still isn’t natural. There is something true in my earlier statement about poise being unteachable.
Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham would never hump her shoulders over the table, shoveling up spoonfuls of soup while reading a book. It might be acceptable to read the newspaper or the morning post at the table during the informal breakfast, but they will sit up straight while doing so.
Not even late Lady Sybil would dare to be less of a lady. And she wore pants. If I was asked this is the character I would say most reminds me of the young lady I used to think of as a little girl. The unflinching devil-may-care propriety and strength and laughing good humor and kindness is mirrored in real life in her.
In a very modern way, obviously. Please, she is a teenager living in 2015.