“Whisper’d of peace, and truth, and friendliness . . .”

Wildness is all.

Wildness is all.

On Sunday evening last I began watching Downton Abbey on PBS TV.  The network plays the episode from the previous week before they show the episode for the evening so people like me who miss an episode can catch up with the serialized story. The story is an “upstairs—downstairs” story following the lives of an aristocratic family in a splendid English manor house and their servants, the “downstairs” crew.

In the episode two weeks ago, the young man who is part of the aristocratic family only because he married into it and who has given up his true calling to be an Irish revolutionary—even though his wife has died—has a one-night affair with one of the downstairs girls.

I watched last week’s episode for a few minutes, until the scene where the maid confronts the young would-be gentleman to make him promise that, if she is pregnant, he will marry her. This is headed a few weeks down the line to disaster. She’ll seduce a male servant and get pregnant and then ruin the young gentleman’s life by insisting he is the father of her child and must marry her. DNA paternity testing is a long way off, so he’s her ticket out of the basement.

It’s too predictable and emotionally fraught for me. I turned off the TV.

I tell people I don’t watch shows like Downton Abbey or movies, or serialized TV stories (such as Modern Family) because I expect watching such shows to be like going to a movie at a theater—that is, a social event, not a solitary one.

That’s, if not a lie, at least a bending of the truth. TV series, movies, operas, plays and the like are not, for me, escapist. I experience them too realistically—get too emotionally involved in them—to tackle them by myself. I am too uncomfortable with the life of my own feelings to put myself into a situation where I will absorb others’ feelings, participate in others’ emotional life, even vicariously. My anger, fear, pain, joy passion, love, shame, and guilt are too strong to take on someone else’s—even fictionally—by myself (the reduction of feelings to eight primary ones comes from Pia Mellody—you can Google her and find hundreds of references).

All of this may be my attempt to intellectualize experiences that are basically emotional, an attempt to figure out something mentally that can’t be analyzed.

So I’ll leave it there. Background, perhaps not even relevant, to what I really mean to say.

My guess is that a universal desire among homo sapiens is for friendship. It would be nice if a friend were also a lover, but friendship is first.

Where upstairs does not meet downstairs.

Where upstairs does not meet downstairs.

When I’m watching Downton Abbey, I want to share, to speak, to express my experience with someone. When I go to the symphony, I want to tell someone who might, because he or she has had the experience too, understand how the last movement of the Brahms First Symphony affected me.

That desire to talk about the effect of “art” or even “melodrama” or “comedy” on the life of my feelings (which may or may not be, depending on whom you ask, reality) is translated into a desire to talk about the life of the feelings that emanate from me, not from something I’ve seen, heard, or read outside myself. I know that’s problematic for my ability to have relationships. No one wants to hear about the depression I can do nothing about. One should pay a therapist of some sort to talk to about those things, not bother other human beings with them. No one wants to hear about the pain in my shoulder. One should tell that to the physical therapist.

Or one should simply carry those feelings unexpressed. Neither father, mother, sister, brother, lover, best friend, nor casual acquaintance should be subjected to one’s descriptions of how one feels. It’s safest to have feelings vicariously as “art.”

I have my favorite escapisms. “Parker’s Back,” “Cathedral,” any story by Alice Munroe, The Brahms First Symphony, the Bach Great Eighteen Chorales, Big Bang Theory, Criminal Minds (on which I have finally overdosed), Winter’s Bone, Chinatown, O Brother Where Art Thou. Those begin the list. Don’t ask me why.

But it’s as difficult for me to add to that list of emotionally charged creations as it is to learn to trust someone with my own feelings, my real reactions to my real life (or what I perceive to be my real life).

Keats. He understood.

Keats. He understood.

The older I get, the more important expressing my feelings (about almost anything/everything) becomes. I wish I were a poet or composer so I could create art that expresses at least the shapes of my feelings. But I’m not, so I’ll have to do it here. Or gush them forth unfiltered to those I love, unsuspecting as they are. And run the risk of driving them away.

The poet John Keats understood all of this. His favorite flower was the musk-rose, the wild rose. Until a friend gave him a bouquet of cultivated roses.

“To a Friend who sent me some Roses,” by John Keats

As late I rambled in the happy fields,
What time the sky-lark shakes the tremulous dew
From his lush clover covert;—when anew
Adventurous knights take up their dinted shields:
I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,
A fresh-blown musk-rose; ’twas the first that threw
Its sweets upon the summer: graceful it grew
As is the wand that queen Titania wields.
And, as I feasted on its fragrancy,
I thought the garden-rose it far excell’d:
But when, O Wells! thy roses came to me
My sense with their deliciousness was spell’d:
Soft voices had they, that with tender plea
Whisper’d of peace, and truth, and friendliness unquell’d.

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