Displaced: [dis-pleyst], adjective -
moved or put out of the usual or proper place.
Debutante: [deb-yoo-tahnt], noun -
a young woman making a debut into society.
Who is a displaced debutante? She is a fish out of water, a square peg in a round hole, a vegan in a meat market, or in my case, a Southern girl living in New York City. As I explained over in MY STORY, I made my debut into the Southern Debutante Assembly in 2008, a fact that means something down in Mississippi, but that here in New York doesn’t mean much at all. In this city, graciousness sometimes translates to weakness; people think they can take advantage of you. In this city, being friendly often makes people think you aren't "real", becuase anyone who is THAT nice is obviously totally fake. And in this city, most men think that simply being sociable means that you must want to sleep with them. I can’t tell you how many times men have told me they have a girlfriend when all I did was ask how they were. I’m not hitting on you sir. I’m just a Southern girl. I was raised to be nice to everyone.
All that said I still find myself completely enamored by this city. Joan Didion sums up my feelings about New York almost perfectly in an essay found in “Slouching Toward Bethlehem”:
“Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean "love" in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again. I remember walking across Sixty-second Street one twilight that first spring, or the second spring, they were all alike for a while. I was late to meet someone but I stopped at Lexington Avenue and bought a peach and stood on the corner eating it and knew that I had come out of the West and reached the mirage. I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later—because I did not belong there, did not come from there.”
I have lived in New York for over 6 years now and I have tasted that peach, I’ve felt the air from the subway on my legs, and I’ve smelled the lilac, expensive perfume, and especially the garbage. But she’s right. For those of us who do not come from New York there is a cost of living here that is beyond financial, a cost that is most noticeable when you’ve been away for a while. For me, coming back to New York always feels like it’s for the first time, which in a lot of ways is magical, I never become that jaded New Yorker. But at the same time this newness takes its toll. My legs have to relearn what it means to walk this city. My heart has to relearn what it means to love this city. And no matter how many winters I go through, every year around this time my soul has to relearn what it means to survive this city. I’ve just returned after being away for quite a long time, and what is here to welcome me? Not just winter… a Polar Vortex. I have a feeling my legs, heart, and soul are going to have quite a bit of relearning to do.
Let me catch you up.
For the past 6 months I don’t think I’ve spent longer than 2 weeks consecutively in the city. After being away all last summer working in summer stock (summer theater, for those of you unfamiliar with the term), I came back briefly in the fall only to leave again for Chicago and then Los Angeles, with just breaths of New York in between. Then, just as the temperature here was dropping into the “Oh, this isn’t cute anymore” range, I flew South for winter. Those ducks are really on to something there.
I arrived in Oxford, MS, my “hometown” I suppose, the week before Thanksgiving and just in time to attend the last Ole Miss football game of the season. We lost to Missouri, which was a game we totally should have won... the exquisite agony of being a Rebels fan at it’s finest. Hotty Toddy, y’all! Then after Thanksgiving, my parents and I flew to London to visit some family friends and attend several events. The first was a black tie dinner at Windsor Castle benefiting one of the many foundations my father is involved with. The next evening my parents and I were invited back to Windsor for a choral concert at St. George’s Chapel followed by a private dinner in The Octagonal Room, a room Queen Victoria often used to entertain her guests in lieu of The State Dining Room next door. The grand finale was a Christmas concert at St. Paul’s Cathedral followed by a fundraising reception down in the crypt beneath the cathedral. It was there, dressed in Burberry, standing around Lord Nelson’s tomb sipping champagne, that I met Hugh Grant. We spoke. He asked if I was an actress. I made a “Love, Actually” reference. He kissed my cheek. Edward Ferrars from Sense and Sensibility kissed my cheek. Sorry – an impulsive Jane Austen reference. I do that a lot. Regardless, it was an incredible time that I will never forget. This debutante was truly in her element. Talk about a fairy tale.
Speaking of a debutante in her element, we spent Christmas in Oxford at Magnolia Hill, my familial home, and the fairy tale continued. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. You can’t help but feel happy and peaceful there. To stick with this Sense and Sensibility theme, whenever I am there I feel like Marianne Dashwood:
“Is there any felicity in the world superior to this?”
During my time in Mississippi many a “Hey y’all” was exchanged, many a casserole was cooked, and many a heart was blessed. There was even a “Sip n’ See” for my 8 month old nephew, which is a quintessentially Southern event where women get together in the early evening and “sip” wine as they “see” the baby. I’ll give you a moment to take that in. I know, it’s a lot. We had a beautiful Christmas, and then with no one except my little nugget to kiss at midnight (I call my nephew "nugget"), I rang in the New Year with some champagne in my bathtub and made plans for 2014.
1) Lose weight (always)
2) Love yourself
3) Make art
4) Write more.
I would be returning to New York in a few days to begin implementing these resolutions, but this time with no plans to leave again in the near future. I had been away so long I wasn’t sure I was ready.
Here’s the truth. No one is ever ready for New York, at least no one who has the relationship with it that Ms. Didion so beautifully describes. But you know what? You go anyway. You go because you have no choice. I have no choice but to be here. This city feeds my passion for making art, and in doing so feeds my soul. During my time in Los Angeles back in October I had a chance meeting at a Beverly Hills hair salon with Eva Marie Saint, Academy Award winning actress for her role in "On The Waterfront". She was waiting for her hair appointment and I was waiting to wake up from a dream. Jodi, who was working on my mother's hair at the time, told Ms. Saint that I was an actress. She asked about my training, and when I shared with her my NYU Tisch and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art credentials she was impressed, especially by the fact that I had stayed in New York after graduation.
"You're really doing it", she said.
The training, the city, putting in the work and putting in the time... I was doing it. She said she was proud of me. She then asked about my love life so I shared with her a little of my "unlucky in love" history.
"They're all fools", she said regarding the men of my past.
"Be smart, and put yourself first", she advised for the future.
What a woman. She also told me to buy a purple coat and work on my walk. She met her husband on the subway in New York dressed in a purple coat that caught his eye, but it was her walk that really hooked him. It was an adorable story. Eva Marie Saint, an Academy Award winning actress, then looked at me and told me I was lovely, smart, and have what it takes to make it. She could just tell. All I needed was a purple coat and a great walk. With that she winked, smiled, kissed me on both cheeks and wished me luck. I'll never forget it for the rest of my life. And while I think I have a pretty good walk, you better believe I bought myself a purple coat. Whenever I feel unsure about New York, I think about Eva Marie Saint.
So sure, was it hard having to face my fourth floor walk up with three huge bags after staying in a house equipped with an elevator to help with such things for 2 months? Yes. Was it a total 180 to be wearing a gown eating a five-course meal at Windsor Castle one evening only to, a month later, be wearing sweatpants and eating a Chipotle burrito bowl on the floor of my studio apartment because there isn’t room for a table? Yes. And does part of me miss drinking champagne from my parents’ cellar in my giant soaker tub when I’m in my little bathtub here in New York drinking two buck chuck Pinot Grigio from the corner store? Absolutely. I’ve been back about a week now and the dichotomies between my two lives keep popping up. But it’s in dichotomies like these that I find such humor in my life. These dichotomies make me the person I am; a person who I hope people find lovely and gracious like my mother taught me to be, but also interesting, dynamic, and entertaining. These dichotomies give me a unique perspective on life and have inspired me to start this blog.
Joan Didion also writes,
“You have to pick the places you don’t walk away from”.
I’m not walking away from my Southern roots to live in New York, nor am I walking away from New York to stay true to my Southern roots. I pick both. I am blessed by both. I could never walk away from either place. They both live inside me.
The fun is in the balancing act. Can the two coexist? A girl can only hope.
My name is Mary Lane Haskell. Welcome to the world of The Displaced Debutante.
With Grace and Good Humor,