Well, not today. I think it was technically last week sometime.
Michaelmas, for those not familiar, is a charming holiday celebrated on British television. For those of you actually from or familiar with the nation of Great Britain, I apologize that my only exposure to your culture is from PBS rebroadcasting of your television. Never fear though, now I can also watch Acorn.
Michaelmas is the Feast of St Michael, just as Christmas is the Feast of Christ. It commemorates the biblical story of the Archangel Michael escorting a certain fallen angel, named Satan, out of heaven. It is celebrated in the fall, on September 29.
I first learned about Michaelmas from the charming television series “Lark Rise to Candleford,”a series that ran from 2008-2011, chronicling two towns set in nineteenth century Oxfordshire. Once again, television would have me believe that this is on the mysterious isle of England. One of the towns, Candleford, is an established burg with businesses and such, while the other, Lark Rise, is a little village of tenant workers and farmers. The two communities struggle with each other due to economic, religious, and value differences, often with whimsical results just dripping with life lessons. In my ongoing efforts to prove that men enjoy period pieces, I thought I’d discuss the Michalemas episode with you, draw some observations, and then…I don’t know…compare it to destructive communication patterns on Facebook.
Ready? Let’s do this thing.
The episode focuses on several storylines at once (because it’s AWESOME!!!!!) but chiefly it focuses on the character Pearl Pratt, played by the amazing Matilda Zigler. Pearl is a seamstress, the owner of a dress shop in Candleford. She has recently lost her live-in business partner, her sister Ruby, who has moved away to pursue a relationship. Lonely and struggling to keep up her business, she is forced to turn down paying contracts without an assistant.
She of course decides to employ a one-episode character, because that always goes well in the world of serialized drama. She hires Enid, a traveler who states she is just passing by, but has remarkable sewing talent.
Enid and Pearl become friends very quickly. Enid is inspired by the town, where not only the dress shop but also the Post Office are owned by female entrepreneurs. Ms. Lane, who owns the Post Office, receives a posting looking for a “missing wife.” It seems that some local nobleman’s wife has fled their marriage, probably because it was so awesome. He is presumably seeking for her in order to sue her for breach of contract, force her to return to him, or perhaps charge her with the outlandish crime of being a woman in the first place. Keep in mind, any other time to be alive other than now was pretty awful.
(Spoiler alert, my dudes and dudettes: Enid is the fleeing spouse. What!!??!!)
Empowered by the female bravado of Candelford, Enid feels she can “at last be perfectly and fully myself.” This leads her to feel safe enough to pursue her most passionate political cause; women’s right to wear trousers. As ridiculous as it seems, this was apparently a thing that could cause a stir in a community at the time. Enid, however, is a practicing member of the Rational Dress Society. She stages a demonstration of these scandalous duds, which embarrasses and offends Pearl something fierce, ya’ll. I believe she calls the pants “an unskirted garment,” and labels her new friend “a radical seditionary!”
In a fit of perceived betrayal, Pearl decides to turn in Enid to the….marriage police I guess? A very serious decision, returning hurt-for-hurt by ostensibly returning a person to an abusive relationship. When Ms. Lane refuses to help her by posting a turn-her-in telegram, she becomes angry and storms down the road, intending to post her letter in the neighboring town’s Post Office.
BTW, this episode also showcases the wonderful game of conkers, which apparently involves hitting something that grew out of a tree against another tree-born thing. You can apparently cheat by boiling the tree-thing in vinegar? Is this from a Neil Gaiman novel? England you are a weird wonderful place, and I am totes on board.
The point is that on a Michaelmas episode, a day celebrating the expulsion of evil, we have the struggle of acceptance and rejection, a feeling of betrayal and loss when someone learns that they don’t see eye to eye with a person they had embraced as a friend.
Sound familiar? We are in the midst of more information swapping these days than we have ever been as a species. Social media allows us to share, comment, and get to know people on a whole new level, and not just the bits we wish to know about. As a friend of mine recently stated in a Facebook post “I think when I was young I knew a lot of people with opinions I would have been horrified by, but I never knew they held them.”
This is never more true than in an election year, and you may have noticed that this year is especially polarizing. I have personally known, seen, and spoken professionally with at least 10 people in the last month who have had some (or all) of the following happen to them:
- A sudden social media blitz attack at a post they felt was benign.
- Loss of friendship status with someone over a political post.
- The assertion that no they did NOT have the right to hold that opinion.
- Clergy or family being contacted by a third party who was upset at an observation, original post, or “Like” that they had shared on Facebook.
We often forget that with the ability to share comes the ability to not share, and with the ability to express comes the ability to scroll on by. Even the ability to disagree without being a dick about it is often laid by the wayside in our ongoing quest for self-justification.
Pearl offers us some insight here. When attempting to punish _______, she is asked by another character what she is doing. She replies:
“I don’t want to, not really. I am trying to punish someone who has already been punished enough, and now I do not know how to stop. In truth you find me somewhat distressed.”
Do you ever find yourself caught up in such a feeling? So invested in a tantrum that you cannot pull yourself out. I know I do.
Important note, you are not allowed to reply to anything during this exercise.
Ask yourself this question:
- Which of these bring me joy, and which make me sad or angry?
- Which of these can I reply to without losing self-control?
- Are there any of these that would make me happier to never ever EVER review again?
Now click on those that make you sad, angry, or give you a NO to question 2 or a YES to question 3. Force yourself to click on the teeny-tiny settings area. That is the drop-down in the upper right corner on most devices (except the Double Ocarina, which requires you to cover the third hole for settings). Select “Turn OFF notifications for this post.”
Ahhhhhhh. Don’t you feel better? No? Well this is not the feel-better exercise, you did the right thing. Trust me, you will feel better later on than if you hadn’t have done that.
None of this is to suggest you shouldn’t engage with controversy on Facebook, if’n you wanna. It is perfectly healthy to have conflict in a safe and respectful way (maybe a future column happening as we speak…hmmm…making a note). That isn’t what we are talking about today. I am suggesting avoidance of the type of interactions that will end up with you headed on a long walk to the Ingelston Post Office.
When Enid, Ms. Lane, and a host of other interesting characters catch up to Pearl, they find her significantly calmer, having already become involved in the resolution of a different subplot. Rest assured that people are able to reconcile once the heat has died down. The honest heart-to-heart that Pearl has with another sub plot … I mean a child named Sydney is well worth the watch.
Hey, maybe we could use that on Facebook somehow.
Let’s end with some wisdom from Sydney, which you will have to watch the episode to understand:
“I just don’t want to cook my goose.”
Here’s to hoping you can avoid cooking your goose out there on the internet this week as well.
Somebody tweet at me about what the hell a conker is, would you? @breakabrain
Photo: Getty Images