Mondays on Zelda & Scout are all about you! In a series we call “Just Folks,” we talk to Southerners who have found their way to New York about where they’re from, where they are now, and what home means to them. Tell us your story here!
This week we have Mary Lane Haskell: actress, singer, and Chipotle devotee. Although born and raised in Los Angeles, Mary Lane’s routes are definitively Southern (her mother was Miss Ole Miss, after all, and she’s basically been cheering “Hotty Toddy!” since the womb). The creator and writer of the Displaced Debutante, Mary Lane is a true Z&S kindred spirit!
Mary Lane Haskell
Oxford, MS by way of Los Angeles, CA
New York, NY
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a girl who should have been born in Margaret Mitchell’s antebellum South or Jane Austen’s England, but in this life I am an actor/singer, avid journaler, Chipotle enthusiast, and writer of “The Displaced Debutante” — my blog all about reconciling the Southern Belle I was raised to be with the Modern Woman I feel called to become. I have been in a very serious relationship with Netflix for two years now: He’s always there when I need him. I also have a serious frozen yogurt problem. I’m seeking help… and by help, I mean more frozen yogurt.
Time North of the Mason-Dixon line so far?
I’ve been in New York for 7 years.
What brought you to New York?
Drama School. My whole life I wanted to go to Ole Miss. My parents both went to Ole Miss. My father was my mother’s first date at Ole Miss. My mother was Miss Ole Miss, and then went on to win the Miss Mississippi pageant and compete for Miss America. I lived and breathed Ole Miss. Even growing up in LA amongst the sea of UCLA and USC fans, I was always the girl sporting red and blue and yelling “Hotty Toddy, y’all!” But when I decided that I wanted to be an actor, I knew that if I was going to “make it” I would need to train at one of the best drama schools in the country…and that wasn’t Ole Miss. When I received my acceptance letter to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, I knew I had to go. I moved to New York in August of 2007 and have been here ever since.
What’s the most common reaction when people learn where you’re from? What’s something about life in the South that you have to explain to non-Southerners?
When people learn that I’m Southern, they immediately jump to every stereotypical conclusion in the book: that my life must be like an episode of Duck Dynasty, or that my Christian faith must mean that I don’t believe that people should be able to love who they want to love. What I have to explain to non-Southerners is that the South is so much more than that. Every non-Southerner who has ever come to visit has had nothing but the most wonderful things to say about the South and its people. You just have to be open-minded enough to give us a try. And if our Southern hospitality doesn’t change your mind, then our food most definitely will.
Describe life in NYC as people at home picture it. Describe life in NYC as it actually is.
People at home picture life in New York as an episode of “Gossip Girl” or “Sex and the City.” Wearing gorgeous clothes and dining in fine restaurants every night, bright lights big city, very glamorous.
What my life in New York actually entails is wearing sweatpants and eating a Chipotle burrito bowl on the floor of my studio apartment because I don’t have room for a dining table.
Where do you consider home? Why?
Even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I have always considered Mississippi home. It’s funny — everyone I met growing up always told me that I may have been born in LA or I may live in NYC, but I was “from” the South. Perhaps it was the way I was raised, or perhaps it is because I feel more at peace in Mississippi than I do anywhere else, but I am definitely a Southern Girl.
Do you miss where you’re from? Do you see yourself going back?
I do miss where I’m from — both places actually. I miss the sunshine and all my childhood friends in LA, and I miss the pace and the simpler way of life in Mississippi. And while I could absolutely see myself going back to LA, my line of work would make it difficult to ever move back to Mississippi, unless I just threw in the towel with this whole “acting thing” and went into party planning or something. After a long day of auditions in the city, sometimes being a party planner in Oxford, MS sounds REAL nice. But not just yet — I’m not ready to leave New York. We still have a few more chapters to write together.
Do you consider yourself a Southerner? Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? Why or why not?
I consider myself both. As I said, everyone I ever met in LA or New York always labeled me a “Southern Girl,” but likewise everyone I ever met down South labeled me a “City Girl”. The girl who was a debutante with the Southern Debutante Assembly is just as real as the girl who rides the subway and works a restaurant job. It’s reconciling the two that sometimes proves tricky… hence “The Displaced Debutante” (another shameless plug, haha).
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines New York for you? (choose as many or as few as you’d like)
Food: dollar pizza
Song: Harry Connick Jr.’s entire soundtrack to “When Harry Met Sally”
Movie: “You’ve Got Mail”
Quote: “…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 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” — Joan Didion in her essay “Goodbye to All That”
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines where you’re from? (choose as many or as few as you’d like)
Food: My mother’s Gourmet Chicken Spaghetti Casserole
Drink: Scarlett O’Hara (basically a Southern girl’s cosmopolitan because it’s made with bourbon instead of vodka — yum)
Song: “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis
Movie: “Gone With the Wind”
Quote: “Who we were is not who are are.” — Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat in speaking about The South, and his decision to erect a Civil Rights monument to James Meredith on the Ole Miss campus
What is the best cure for homesickness?
Going to The Tipsy Parson on 9th Ave. between 19th and 20th Streets, and ordering their sweet tea-infused bourbon, some grits, and some hush puppies served with pimento cheese. That’s my homesickness cure-all.