Monday, July 11, 2011

Life After Harry Potter?

July 15 marks the end of an era--a nerdy 14-year epoch I like to call the Harry Potter years. This Friday, the final Harry Potter movie will hit the screens and leave all of us Potterites with little lightning bolt-shaped holes in our hearts. There will be no more books; no more movies. All we’ll have left to fill the void are fan sites like and disturbing fan fiction bordering on underage porn. I’m scared to see life on the other side.

In 1997, when the first book came out in the U.S., I was a freshman in college, and about the same age as the fictional characters in the books, who were born in 1979 and 80. I had never been deeply entrenched in fantasy outside the standards--my exposure was mostly restricted to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. But with Harry Potter it was love at first read. There was something so clever, so charming about the tale, and it hit on my oldest and dearest fantasy--to be found by a stranger and told I was magical.

As a child, I was already firmly convinced I might be a wizard, part elf, or (best yet) a fairy. I waited and waited to have that Buffy the Vampire Slayer moment when a wizened mentor came to declare my mole a mark of great things to come. Unfortunately, no one came. And I really had few moles to speak of. Finally, I just stopped waiting and packed my dream away, like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy--childhood relics better left to memory.

Harry Potter dredged up that fantasy, and apparently revived it for countless others as well. If Gen Xers and Ys are, as they say, a bunch of coddled narcissists, it makes sense we’d all be waiting for confirmation of our specialness. Raised to believe we were blindingly unique and talented, that we could do anything we put our minds to, there’s a crippling level of let down involved in growing up and pushing papers like meaningless drones. The Harry Potter series, which came out when many of us were in high school and college, carried us into the real world with a renewed secret wish that despite appearances, we might still be special. And really, for anyone with a B.A. or Masters, waiting tables or working night shifts at FedEx Kinko’s, there is a sense of magic masked by mediocrity. The temptation to yell, “But really, I swear I’m actually smart,” as you’re dressed down by yet another condescending customer, is an impulse of the mentally caged. Harry, a magical kid trapped in a Muggle world, is the poster-child for all the menial monkeys with a host of tricks up their sleeves.

When I first read Harry Potter, I thought about how much the books would resonate with kids, who, like Harry, are often powerless, friendless, and feel like outsiders. Despite what Hollywood would tell us of childhood and adolescence--that the world is divided into confident, mean popular kids and hopeless nerds, most kids fall somewhere in between. Nearly everyone, even those Queen bees and jocks, are pretty insecure, and everyone feels alone sometimes. The Harry Potter books tap into those emotions--the feelings of isolation, fear, friendship, first loves, and longing that are so heightened as we’re growing up.

As the years went on, though, and I grew older along with Harry, I came to see just how universal these themes are, long after the days of voices breaking and getting breasts. Harry Potter, who was mistreated, misunderstood, and forced to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs--could be any aspiring indie rocker or artist, struggling to get that first break, eating top ramen and couch surfing to survive. Harry’s dynamic with his friends and enemies, too, is only too reminiscent of the workplace, with its complex hierarchy of alliances, backstabbers, and brown-nosers. Harry’s dalliance with Cho Chang, and his fitful longing for Ginny Weasley, who he fears pursuing for a misguided “Bros before hos” mantra, might as well be swapped for any grownup relationship dynamic.

The truth is, middle school and high school, whether magical or not, is frighteningly similar to adulthood. Maybe that’s why so many of us can’t seem to divest ourselves of young adult fiction. Whether Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Hunger Games, human dynamics are just as real in adolescence as they are in later years, maybe more so.

What makes the Harry Potter series so powerful, however, is the fight between good and evil. Like much of the best fantasy, most notably The Lord of the Rings series, the characters’ emotional drama is interwoven with something greater than themselves--something that demands sacrifice and courage, and selflessness. Unlike the Twilight series, which are ultimately centered on the self, and on more personal struggles played out in a smaller, more intimate sense, Harry Potter is about the macro--the struggle for all humanity, for agape, for freedom and love on the grand scale. Without a fight of this magnitude, all the angst is just so much whining. With it, each step on the journey is fraught with meaning.

The Harry Potter books started out as cute, clever books for young adults and those of us, like myself, who can’t seem to leave the genre. By the end, though, they were something more. They were darker, deeper, more lush, more angry. They made me weep on several occasions. The movies on the whole have been poor facsimiles, but I’ve enjoyed them, nonetheless. Sure, I’ve been known to throw a wall-pounding fit post-midnight show for a couple of the films, particularly the Goblet of Fire, which got so many things so impossibly wrong. But the fact that I keep going to the movies is a testament to my ongoing hope they’ll finally capture the true magic of these books.

The last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, was the closest Warner Brothers has come to giving me that desire. Slow, dark, and as cerebral as the WB can allow itself to be, I came away wishing they’d turned many of the books into two movies. From the fifth book on, the movie’s lengths seemed impossibly restrictive. From what I’ve read about The Deathly Hallows Part II (on Mugglenet, I’ll admit it) I’m bracing myself for some level of disappointment, not all of which can be borne by Hollywood. I’ve read the books so many times I could run a trivia night at our local pub. I am, if it’s possible, a Harry Potter historian by all rights. No movie, unless I was allowed to direct it myself, could possibly live up to my expectations. Isn’t that what we all love about books, after all? That our fantastical minds concoct intricate mental images from each page, down to the ticking of clocks and smell of bacon? To read is to take ownership. Much like Bastian in The Never Ending Story, we ultimately craft our own visions through our imaginations.

I’m not expecting miracles and I won’t demand perfection from this, the final Harry Potter film. If anything, I’ll let it stand as a marker to the end of my young adulthood. When I started Harry Potter I was still a teenager, lying in my sleeping bag with a cup of hot chocolate on a Spring Break camping trip. Now I’m 32 years old and a mother to my own little magical beast. Watching her, seeing the sparkles in her eyes and her bawdy little laugh, I can’t help but imagine a day when a bearded gentleman in a long cape will come to her and tell her of her powers. Maybe I’ll have a second chance to see this fantasy finally come true. Just in case, I’m buying her a wand.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday, March 8, 2010

So, a bottle walks into a room...

Female Stand-Up Comedian
Hombrelibre is gone on a business trip, which means its just me and the kiddo for the next three days and I'm, frankly, terrified of going batshit crazy. Any time I claim I'm not an extrovert I have something like this to remind me I am. I do Not. Like. Being. Alone. Even if "alone" in this case is actually being with an incredibly vivacious 7-month-old. I don't like being without fully realized grownup English-speakers.

The weird thing is, I haven't rushed to make plans during his absence. Usually, I have plans most days--a walk here, a playdate there. But this week I've been crippled with inertia. I don't know if my subconscious needs some alone time, or my Puritan experimenter wants to see how well I can do without help or interaction. In any case, I'm looking at several days with not a lot of breaks from a baby.

The baby in question is really entertaining and laughs at nearly everything I do, which is not a bad ego boost, but she requires a lot of attention. Not having other children, and having avoided children much of my life, I don't really have a barometer for normalcy on this. Is my kid an attention whore? Or are all kids attention whores? If I remember my own childhood correctly, with my near hysterical need to be as close as humanly possible to my mom and sister at all times, its all kids.

But now that its me doing the entertaining, I have to admit it can be a wee bit exhausting. I'm fairly creative, but after my fourteenth round of Things I Know Amuse My Baby (trademark) I'm looking around for an invisible person to step in and continue the sketch comedy while I take a nap.

Maybe I just need more material.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

We're out of the woods, we're out of the dark, we're out of the night

I should change my blog name to A.D.D. O.D. this week because I feel like a fifteen-year-old in Chemistry class right about now. Distracted and twitchy, I'm day-dreaming my way through any free time and totally spazzing out while caring for my daughter. She seems to be enjoying it--after all, who doesn't want a mom who can make 16 different animal noises and then dance like an uncoordinated Michael Jackson for her entertainment. I'm like my own variety show.

I tend to get this way every Spring. I don't know if its psychological (whee! It's Spring! Let's party!) or physiological (Get moving to the summer feeding/hunting grounds, humanoid) but I'm clearly a victim of our unseasonably warm weather this year. Something about cherry trees in full bloom and wee daffodils poking out through the grass is making me want to don a flippy dress and go running through the park.

It's amazing to think that this is Indie's first Spring. Let that sink in. Her first Spring. Imagine if you'd never seen the world unfurl after a wintry sleep. Imagine if all you knew of the outside were grey days and rain and then all of a sudden there was sun and color and birds singing. It must be like the Wizard of Oz when it switches from black and white to color.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Fashionably Late

I was recently pregnant, as my gut would attest, and by recently, I mean 7 months ago. Those 7 months spent getting some semblance of my body back plus the 9 months I was knocked up and portly equals a reallllly long time (in fashion years) out of the loop. I basically spent the last year and a half wearing whatever fit and could be scored from a thrift store, so imagine my surprise when I came back to normal person land and found that the clothes are hella ugly.

When did we decide to fuse the worst of the 80s, 90s and some mid-century interpretation of the future and call it good? When did shoes that look like they were created by performance artists on meth binges become haute couture? From high end to low end, there's very little I'm digging.

My mother-in-law once said that if you wore it the first time, you shouldn't wear it again. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, so that means I can't get on the flannel or leggings bandwagon. And skinny jeans? In a moment of sheer madness I bought a pair at my local Value Village with the intention of tucking them into boots. Somehow I forgot that only 14-year-olds and anorexics can pull off that look. Let's just say I looked not unlike a T-Rex shoved into riding boots.

Tunic tops make everyone look pregnant, and I'm frankly done with that. I didn't even wear them when I was pregnant, because they made me look fatter, so I'm not about to start now. At least I can get behind the long t-shirt look that's so big now. Modesty and the loss of my flat stomach have steered me toward this style--I think my butt crack flashing days might be behind me now.

It's hard to wake up and realize you're so far behind on the trends that it isn't even worth catching up. It's the clothing equivalent of sticking with all the music from your college days because you don't have the energy to find what's cool now. I used to scoff at people like that. I chided my mom for her wardrobe--"1982 called and they want that blazer back, Mom."--and mocked my brother's in law for their music taste--"Bands have come out after Pearl Jam, guys."--but I'm starting to see how easy it would be to go there.

Stores like Ann Taylor are starting to look really good to me, and I have officially left my Forever 21 days behind me unless they change their name to Forever 31. I'm just too old--too mommish to buy Smurf-print thongs and skull print hoodies. I don't want to be one of those women in their forties who still wear cat-ear hats and think they're being cute. But I also don't want to start wearing mom jeans to hold in my pooch. There has to be a happy medium. Maybe that's what being in your 30s is all about.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mad Men and the women they love

mad-men-1.jpg (480×648)
We've been watching a lot of Mad Men lately, and it's gotten me thinking about my love of 60's clothes, my inability to emulate the hairstyles of that period (seriously, where do women learn that?), and the obvious miscasting of my body in this time period, when clearly it is of the vintage ilk. The show, not surprisingly, has also triggered a nagging desire to examine gender roles.

In Mad Men, the women cater to the men like mothers and whores, submitting and stuffing down their desires, thoughts, and opinions in order to be proper subservients. And yet, through all of it, you get the feeling the women think the joke's on the men, as they employ the tricks often utilized by the oppressed--manipulation, lies, beauty, and a tight-knit cameraderie. Books and books have been written on the subject of mid-century gender roles and I don't have the credentials or genius to add anything on the matter, but I do find myself doing the third (or is it fourth?) wave feminist thing of wondering what we as women have lost while we've gained so much in the period up until now?

From my perch as a modern day housewife, at least for the last four months, there's something a bit intoxicating at the idea that your husband goes to work and provides for you and the family, while your expectations are to run the household and raise the kids and all that entails. There's no nagging fear about re-entry to the workplace, no constant jockeying with your husband over how long you'll stay home and when you need to start contributing to the house fund. You don't have to find yourself defending your decision to stay home to everyone you come into contact with, from the grocery store checker to your relatives you never see but are somehow allowed opinions on your life decisions. There's no existential crisis over whether or not this is the right decision and are you going to destroy your career/marriage/friendships/finances by staying home with them. There is, in point of fact, freedom that comes with restriction.

On the other hand, I don't like anyone making decisions for me, and the idea of being essentially yoked by marriage and motherhood into a foregone conclusion doesn't sit well with me.

Friday, December 4, 2009

So this is what it's like to have time to myself?

I'd honestly forgotten. And clearly I haven't blogged in, gee, a long ass time. Long enough that I am now a mom for god's sake. A mom! Like a fish with a bicycle or an emo kid who washes their hair, it's all a bit incongruous.

I've been reading "Madness" by Marya Hornbacher, author of my beloved "Wasted," a woman of brilliance and insanity in equal parts. It's good--not as good as Wasted--but good, darn good. Her typical stream of consciousness vignettes of startling imagery interspersed with totally head-screwed-on wisdom style clicks with me, our thoughts like long-forgotten Legos snapped simpatico. I don't know if that makes me crazy, or what. Note to self: analyze later.

The book makes me feel a little off. Dopey. Drugged. Again, part of her genius and I'm sure, knowing her, wholly intentional. I find myself muttering absently as I pour my add-water-and-stir "chicken" soup into a bowl, giggling at nothing in particular after reading too much. My hands are clammy; my back sweaty. Maybe it isn't even the book. I have, after all, been starving and retching and shitting my way through the last four days, as I battled (battle) food poisoning Armageddon. Midget thinks it's norovirus. The word scares me, so I avoid it.

In the book, Hornbacher talks about her constant fear, during a cycle of depression, that she's stupid and has forgotten how to write. I get that. It's my fear as well. It gnaws at me; wakes me at 3 a.m. when a full bladder or a peep from Indie hasn't done the trick. "What if I'm dumb now?"I whisper into my drool-stained pillow. "I will be found out. I am a fraud." I get the desire for mania, for the manic bursts of energy-driven excess and creativity. Aren't all artists of all ilk a bit cuckoo for cocoa puffs? Or is that just the romantic myth? It sure seems to fit most of the talented freaks I know.