Thorin’s Oaken Shield

True confession: I’m in love with a particular part of the actor Richard Armitage, and it isn’t his nose. Nope, Nope, Nope. It’s not his King of the Dwarfs schtick either, though I’m sure that’s impressive, and it’s not his rendition of John Thornton from “North and South,” though I can recite many of his lines verbatim.

I’m in love with his voice. Those audio books with him reading Georgette Heyer? Scrumptious, virtuosic, amazing… I expect some of his skill in this regard is because once upon a time, he pursued music professionally, playing cello and flute. Music informs how I write—I hear my characters’ voices—I can’t help but think it informs how Mr. Armitage goes about his work, too.

When I catch wind that somebody is interviewing Richard Armitage, I usually click the link, in part because I want to hear his “real” voice. The Everyman quality of his interview voice always takes me aback, but then, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” can be performed on a Bosendorfer concert grand piano or a kazoo.

The most recent interview I’ve seen of him was on the day of “The Hobbit,’s” premier in Wellington, New Zealand. The questions asked included a query about how it felt to wrap up shooting after a year and a half, working with a cast that had grown quite close. After that long, I expected the cast and crew might be mighty ready to get home, wherever home is, and move on to a world other than Tolkien’s.

Not so. Mr. Armitage said he’d been “choked to leave” after the final wrap, and talked about how hard it was going to be to “shake off the character.” He speculated that part of the role would live on inside him for a long time.

Maybe if I’d been Thorin Oakenshield (or Mrs. Oakenshield?), I might be happy to have some of my roles live on inside me for the rest of my life, but there are other roles I wish I were better at ditching. When I get home on Thursday, I’m usually still running lines from my closing arguments at court (which by the time I can’t fall asleep Thursday night, are finally brilliant), drafting motions for reconsideration in all the cases I lost that day, and reconstructing the cross examinations I fumbled.

With all that noise in my head, it’s hard to turn my focus to Regency England or Victorian Scotland, and I really, really resent the interference.

I want to ask Richard Armitage how he does it. How does he leave behind the reality and people that claimed his focus for months—not merely for a day at the courthouse—and re-fashion “real life” that includes a place for old Thorin from time to time, but doesn’t cater exclusively to Thorin’s continued existence?

Maybe this is part of the reason so many people become depressed following retirement: The role they’ve fashioned wants to live on, and can’t, and road maps for shaking off roles are few and far between in our culture.

Next Thursday, I’m going to make sure I have a version of “The Convenient Marriage” read by Richard Armitage with me in the truck, and when I drive home from the courthouse, I’ll be hearing Lord Rule’s purring tones, and Horatia’s stammer, rather than my own feeble bleating in the halls of justice.

How do you shed your roles, or at least transition between them? To one commenter, I’ll send a copy of Richard Armitage reading Georgette Heyer’s “Venetia.”


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21 comments on “Thorin’s Oaken Shield

  1. Hello from snowy, chilly Calgary. I can empathize with your struggle to shift gears smoothly between your worlds. I think you’re on the right track to have Georgette Heyer and yummy Richard Armitage accompany you as you wend your way home from work.

    As I would ride the streetcar home from work (in Toronto), I would always have a book to read, usually a romance novel. That 40 minute respite/escape from the world allowed me to segue into my role as mom/housekeeper/tutor/sports coach/laundress/cook/nurse. At the end of the evening, the kids in bed and the house quiet again, out would come that book but this time it was easing me into the land of snoozing !!!

    I could’ve spent that 40 mintues making lists (love lists) and festering over all the things that needed to get done but, I found by taking that time only for me, a much nicer person walked in the door to be greeted by her two hooligans. And the world was safe from even more of my lists.

    Thank you so much for sharing your writing with us.

    All the very best to you,

    • Bev, Love the use of the word “festering,” because that’s exactly how it can feel. I used to have a much longer commute and rarely minded the traffic. When I was a single mom, that commute was the ONLY time I got to myself.

  2. Thank you, Grace, for this post. I’ve always been envious of those who fall asleep easily and can turn off the noise in their heads in the ‘blink of an eye.’ For me, leaving the cares of the day behind, leaving a friendship behind, leaving a past love behind take time and intentionality.

    For example, before I travel, I never get a good night’s sleep because my mind churns, not from fear, but excitement about the journey. So I am not an expert at the turning off of everyday noise. But I do remember living in northern New Jersey right after 9/11. (I’m from New York City.) For weeks, National Guard reservists were guarding the George Washington Bridge and rumors of the bridge being blown up were rampant. I remember being almost overcome with fear for every time I crossed that bridge for about a week. One day, I decided that I refused to live in fear, especially since my daily routine required me to cross that bridge for all sorts of reasons, and that conscious decision changed things.


  3. I’m lucky enough to be able to be a stay at home mom, so I don’t have work/home transition issues. But as a military spouse I’ve had lots of practice moving from place to place and transitioning into new spousal roles as my husband has gotten promoted. The latest transition is having my husband home again after a 2 year sea duty that he spent in Japan. He had visits home and skype was a very cool thing, but he was basically gone for 2 long years and having him back home has been wonderful and stressful. Going from being the only adult in charge of the house for that long to sharing that burden and privilege has been freeing and frustrating. My favorite part is getting to be a wife again – getting to take care of him again and being taken care of in turn. My coping techniques consist of saying the serenity prayer numerous times a day, breathing deeply – a lot, and reminding myself he’s not a mind reader. We have been working on communicating clearly and trying not to keep our frustrations to ourselves. When I can’t fall asleep at night, I tuck my cold feet up against his warm ones and let myself enjoy the feeling of having him back where he belongs.

    • Oh, that must be so hard. He’s where he belongs, but it’s still an adjustment. You’d think the military would have some cheat sheets for couples in your position–two years is an eternity, and Japan is literally the other side of the earth.

      Here’s hoping he gets to stay where he belongs.

  4. I too am a stay at home mom so I don’t have to transfer roles like you do, but I do have to remember to be a wife to my husband and not his mother. It some times takes a few minutes of conversation between the two of us for this to happen but eventually (usually once the boys are in bed) it does happen. I also have a fairly unique situation in the fact that 3 of my 4 boys have autism and therefore do not communicate with me the way other children would. I spend most of my day not talking with people so when I do get the opportunity to be social and get out of the house without my boys I have to take a few minutes to get back in the groove of actually having fun, meaningful conversations with people. I wish there was a magic button to push or switch to flip to just transfer from one role to the other but since there isn’t I will just have to continue to gradually take the time to transition by slowly conversing with others and eventually moving into the role I need to be in.

    • Sarah, you’re making me realize that part of what plagues me is that I have no relational role waiting for me when I get home to nudge me out of those “office shoes.” Four children, much less four boys, much less four boys three of whom are autistic, must rivet your attention, moment by moment. Of course, changing frequency for DH is going to have to take some time.
      Best of luck to you, and I hope having good books to read helps.

      • Oh yes, a good book to read always helps. It is what keeps me sane in a house full of boys and a life spent in therapy waiting rooms and when I say therapy I mean physical, speech and occupational therapy for the 3 autistic boys. Although I am sure I could use some therapy too, of course that is what the good books are for, a little escape from reality.

  5. Hmm, I would say I have a very hard time with a changing role. Like the last two posters I am also a stay at home mom/wife/caretaker. But, when I go out with friends or other family members its hard to think of other things to talk about other than my children or husband. But I do love to go out and do other ‘grown up’ things and have fun just being me. I think sometimes as a mom its easy to lose the real you and to not remember what things you love that are not related to your children. With me, its even harder, because I had children at a young age…maybe I will find out more about me in about 6 years when I have an empty nest.

    • Rhiannon, it isn’t empty nest, it’s Get Your Life Back. I was a single mom, so parenting was particularly resource intensive, but parenting is like asking a fish about water. You don’t think about everything that goes into raising children, you just do it. You cope, you get up each morning, you do the laundry, etc.
      I didn’t realize until my daughter moved out how very much emotional oxygen she used up just by being an adolescent in the same house as me. I miss her to pieces and I always will, but I also enjoy very, very much, having control over my time, my space, and my resources like I didn’t have when I was actively parenting.

  6. I could go on for quite a while about my various coping mechanisms, but the truth is that transition, large and small, is hard and I truly suck at all of it!! I would like to thank you for providing me with moments of blissful escapism that still feel genuinely meaningful in the midst of my rough transitions!

  7. My transition over the past three years from single career-oriented to for health no longer able to work has been a paradigm shift. I mentored via Skype, phone calls and emails until my accreditation expired, until it felt my knowledge isn’t quite current enough, and much has run out my ears from lack of daily use. Donating my work wardrobe helped make letting go positive…shifting to casual fun things (tie-dye!) that I didn’t get to wear since my teens. As did donating all my professional reference books to the local membership group. Both helped others and made a tangible physical space in my life for “new” to happen.
    Day to day my cat always helped me switch from office-mode to home-mode, simply by vocally, physically demanding my immediate and complete attention the moment I opened the door. If I mentally wandered back to a meeting or to-do list he’d pat my face, drop a ball in my lap or gently nip the hand that stopped petting him. He’d allow for a cup of tea or cocoa while he pinned me to a chair, which also helped shift gears.

    • I’ve started walking in the door after court, and picking up my big, black Angora purring machine and holding him up to my ear so I can hear and feel his happy vibe. Old Petey Pumpkin is therapy on four paws.

  8. What tremendous readers you have, Grace, and what great practical advice they offer.

    I have to admit I’m not familiar with Richard Armitage but I plan to get familiar. When I need to escape or redirect, I wish I could say I meditate, lol, but often I reach for Davina Porter reading the Outlander series – a young Frenchman, an old and young Scot, an English woman, and a child all in the same scene. You can’t help but escape.

  9. Find something you love. Do it often and do it well.

    I read, tinker on my piano, cook, write letters, poems and essays, and have discovered a new Love for all things natural. I make my own cleaning products, lip balms and candles to gift to friends. I get together with said friends and chat, drink tea (and alcohol!) and travel.

    When I’ve had a particularly difficult day I call my coworkers to vent, hug my family and thank goodness that we are safe and well. Then I take a tennis racquet and ball and beat my aggression out of my system. I come home bake something soothing and bask in the feeling of having accomplished something good.

    Do we truly shed our roles? Not likely. We cajole, flatter and coerce them into what we want ourselves to be and walk that fine line of having them shape us but not define us.

    • You make a fine point, Christina: No matter how miserably I might feel my day in court went, I leave the courthouse profoundly grateful neither I nor any of my six siblings nor any of my cousins, uncles, etc, ever got caught up in the foster care system. There is MUCH to be grateful for.