About Tara Stone

Tara is a trumpet player turned screenwriter who loves spreadsheets, squirrels, and Sinatra. Born and raised in Colorado, she's a die hard Broncos fan and a sucker for sweeping mountain vistas. She's passionate about helping women understand their dignity and feminine genius.

Posts by Tara Stone:

Spiritual But Not Religious

I may be treading dangerous waters here, and I fully recognize that this isn’t normal Broke But Bougie fare, but hopefully it’ll stoke a conversation that will be edifying for all of us. So here goes: let’s talk about religion.

Or perhaps more accurately… let’s talk about spirituality.

You may have seen this Rolling Stones interview with Mumford & Sons frontman Marcus Mumford floating around the interwebs. In it, Marcus Mumford says, “I wouldn’t call myself a Christian” because “the word conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like.” Okay. Fair enough. But on the other hand, “Mumford emphasizes that… his spiritual journey is a ‘work-in-progress,’ [and] he’s never doubted the existence of God.”

So what we have here is something that our generation seems to be embracing more and more: the idea of being “spiritual but not religious.” Buzz Marketing Group found that 43% of Millennials “worship alone” (though I’m not clear on what is included in the term “worship”) while “50% still attend some sort of worship experience” (which I can only assume means worshipping with a community of believers).

Now, I’m not naive. I know that a lot of people take issue with particular religious organizations because of the behavior of individuals within them. I also know that we live in a culture of relativism where you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe, and somehow we’re both right – and an organized religious institution that dictates what you’re supposed to believe rubs people the wrong way.

But is that really it? Does it really boil down to those two things? Or are there other reasons?

I’m genuinely curious because I like to understand what makes people tick, how they think, why they do what they do.

In any case, regardless of whether we identify ourselves as religious or spiritual, we’re apparently not afraid to talk about it – Buzz also found that “96% of Millennials are exchanging ideas and opinions, and having conversations about faith and religion.” So with that bit of encouragement, let’s talk.

I’ll start. Hello, my name is Tara Stone, and I was born and raised in a Catholic home. Today, I’m a Christ-professing, mass-attending, pope-loving Catholic woman. My religion influences pretty much everything I do, and I think I’ve turned out to be a pretty okay person.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Are you spiritual, religious, neither, both? Why do you think our generation rejects religion but still embraces spirituality? What chafes you about religion but doesn’t scare you away from being spiritual? Why is being spiritual still important?

What’s also interesting to me is Buzz Marketing Group’s assertion that online churches and social media will play a big part in the spiritual landscape for our generation as the trend away from religion (presumably) continues.

Okay, slow down. Online churches? I’ve never heard of an online church. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me – goodness knows everything else is online – but the idea intrigues me.

Again, Bougie ladies, I turn to you for insight. Has anyone out there had experience with an online church? What’s it like? Is this a big deal that I’m totally out-of-the-loop about? Do online churches fit the “spiritual but not religious” bill, or do they constitute organized religion?

Femininity in Film: Downton Abbey – Lady Sybil

**Spoiler Alert: If you have not watched the latest season of Downton Abbey, you probably don’t want to read this.

One of my favorite non-Maggie Smith lines from Downton Abbey (because let’s face it – Maggie Smith gets all the best ones and makes them even better with her delivery) comes from Lady Mary after the heartbreaking death of Lady Sybil. It’s the beginning of an exchange between Mary and Edith about their younger sister, and I think it beautifully captures what makes Sybil such a lovely character:

“She was the only person living who always thought you and I were such nice people.”

Now, we all remember the first season, how Edith reveals Mary’s scandalous improprieties to the Turkish Ambassador and how Mary retaliates by ruining Edith’s chances with Sir Anthony. They’re pretty awful to each other. And that’s what makes Mary’s statement about Sybil so poignant. No matter how rotten Mary and Edith act, Sybil always believes the best about them.

An argument could be made, I suppose, that Sybil is actually flawed in this way – that she is either willfully ignorant of her sisters’ faults or too naive to recognize them. But I think that’s a terribly sad and cynical way to read her character. I don’t believe Sybil is naive at all, willfully or no. At least not when it comes to her sisters.

Sybil recognizes an underlying goodness in each of her sisters. She doesn’t boil Mary and Edith down to this bad choice or that mean remark. It’s not that Sybil doesn’t see their faults, but that she sees beyond them. She loves her sisters, and indeed everyone she meets, unconditionally.

Oddly enough, it’s this kind of radical love that makes Sybil such a progressive.

She falls in love with the family chauffeur and doesn’t let class prejudice and convention stop her from marrying him. Perhaps even more amazingly, she manages to make peace with her snobbish family over the entire matter – they may not have been thrilled by the idea, but in the end, they don’t disown Sybil and even accept Tom into the family.

She helps Gwen, a housemaid, get a job as a secretary – not just with a good reference, but by loaning her clothes, submitting applications on her behalf, and personally driving her to an interview.

Thomas, the servant we love to hate, says about her:

“In my life I can tell you not many have been kind to me. She was one of the few.”

Again, we might be tempted to think that Sybil’s kindness toward the servants is borne of a naivete, as if she doesn’t know the rules of her class system or isn’t aware of the implications of her behavior. But we see when she argues with her father about marrying Tom that she’s painfully aware of those things. She sees the flaws in the system and deliberately defies them – and her weapon of choice is love. Not the fluffy feel-good kind of love, but the active, shirt-off-my-back kind.

I think that’s what makes Sybil a female character worth imitating.

Femininity in Film: Downton Abbey – Lady Edith

Yes, I am one of those crazies that obsesses over Downton Abbey. And yes, I am very, very upset about the events of the third season. But I don’t want to talk about that. What I do want to talk about are the women of Downton. Downton Abbey has a huge cast, so there are a lot of female characters to take a look at – too many for a post this size. So I’m going to focus on Lady Edith for today.

Lady Edith is very different from her sisters. Being the Downton nerd that I am, I bought Downton Abbey: The Complete Scripts Season One and read all of them despite having watched the first season twice already. The real treasure here was the commentary by writer/creator Julian Fellowes. Pretty early in the pilot script, Fellowes talks about his intentionality behind making each sister different from the other two. He wanted each represent, in some way, the range of attitudes of aristocratic women during that time.

Lady Edith is on one end of the scale trying to fit the mold of aristocracy at every turn (at least she begins on that end – by the finale of season three, she’s seriously considering a very unconventional and, for the period, improper affair with her editor). Meanwhile, Lady Sybil represents the other end fighting for women’s rights and defying authority. Lady Mary falls somewhere in between holding tight to her aristocratic prejudices but willing to do things differently if she thinks it right. But I’ll talk about Mary and Sybil in later posts.

Lady Edith… poor, poor Edith. I think we can assume from the way her parents treat her and talk about her on the show – though they never mean any harm, surely – that even growing up, Edith lacked their affirmation. This is the irony of her character: even though she’s the only one of the three daughters doing her parents’ perfect bidding in the beginning, she’s also the only one who never gets credit, who’s always doubted and made fun of, who always gets the shaft.

Her unfulfilled craving for familial affection plays out in her romantic choices – whether it’s the married farmer tenant, old crippled Sir Anthony, or her married editor. She deserves better than any of them (although Sir Anthony was a nice chap, and despite his age, I think she truly cared for him and he for her), but she’s willing to settle because they give her what her family never has.

Whether we admit it or not, I think a lot of us can see a piece of ourselves in Lady Edith. It’s the piece that wants so badly to please people, to make people like us, to fit into a mold that we think others want us to fit. It’s the piece that sometimes accepts a counterfeit version of love because, at least for the moment, it feels better than the neglect we feel elsewhere.

Listen, ladies. Be better than Lady Edith. Don’t twist yourself into someone else’s vision of perfect. Do what’s right, not what’s pleasing. Don’t settle. You deserve better.

FEMININITY IN FILM: Milly

I love Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and a generous portion of my affinity for it comes from my admiration for the main character, Milly.

I’ve probably seen it close to a hundred times – at least. Even as a kid, I was attracted to Milly’s character and wanted to be like her when I grew up. Now as an adult, I still want to be like Milly when I grow up.

In previous musings on the portrayal of femininity in film, I’ve often questioned the way we demonstrate that a female character is strong. We seem to have this automatic association of strength with physicality, as if the only way to be a strong character is to be physically strong. Or even if a film concedes that strength can come from intellectual prowess, it’s still a matter of overpowering other characters. So culturally, we believe that strength equals wielding power over others (or at least the potential to wield power over others). Heroes are only heroes if they are smarter or stronger or faster or better shooters or better dancers or better athletes… in all cases, somehow superior to the antagonist. Often, becoming superior or realizing that they already are superior is the character’s arc. Okay.

What I love about Milly is that she’s not stronger or smarter than her husband or her brothers (more educated, perhaps, but that’s external to her character). She’s sassy, she’s spunky, she’s strong-willed. But these things only make her an interesting character. What makes her the heroine is her outstanding feminine virtue.

Let me give you concrete examples… and context.

The movie starts with Adam Pontipee (played by Howard Keel) coming into town from his isolated mountain home where he lives with his six younger brothers (this is Oregon Territory, 1850, mind you) in search of a wife. His idea of a wife is someone to cook and clean for him and his brothers. He chooses Milly. Milly, even though she’s only known Adam for about five minutes, falls hard and fast, and besides, she’s always dreamt of being married with a home of her very own. So – arguably not the most prudent decision, but for the time and place and for the sake of getting on with the story, we’ll suspend our disbelief – Milly marries Adam and goes home with him.

Only she doesn’t know about the six other brothers. And she doesn’t know that Adam is more interested in having a cook than a wife.

Until she arrives…

She’s devastated at the reality of things, of course. And for a moment, we think she might give up. But – and this is my favorite moment, a moment that really defines who she is and who I want to be – she rolls up her sleeves and submits herself anyway. Not in a defeated way, but as in a way that exudes determination and fortitude – and kudos to Jane Powell for her performance showing us that difference without saying a single word. She cooks and cleans for all seven brothers.

That night, however, she takes her stand – she tells Adam that she will not live with him as his wife if he’s not going to love her like one. If she’s nothing more than a servant girl to him, she deserves a room of her own. Adam apologizes, but it will take the rest of the movie for him to understand what Milly’s talking about. This balance of submitting to Adam while at the same time never allowing him to use or abuse her makes her a strong and truly feminine hero, I think.

What Milly demands of Adam she also demands of her brothers when they begin to pursue marriage. She demands that they treat women with respect and love, but she never nags them or demeans their masculinity.

Our culture probably thinks I’m crazy – to most people, I’m sure Milly is the poster girl for women oppressed by a misogynistic, patriarchal society. But those people are only looking at the surface. If you look at Milly’s character, you’ll see that her willingness to serve and expectation to be loved by her husband – not simply admired or liked or lusted after, but truly, self-sacrificially loved – transforms the men around her into good men. That’s spiritual strength, strength of virtue.

And if you ask me, that’s the kind of heroine worth looking up to.