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Harry Potter et Moi

 

I finished reading one of the Harry Potter books in French! I started with book three, the Prisoner of Azkaban, because it’s my favorite of the series. I thought I’d be struggling through each page, with a French/English dictionary at the ready, but I read it like, well, like a novel. It’s not that I understood every word, but a lot of the words that were unfamiliar could be figured out by the context, and having read the book a number of times in English didn’t hurt either. There were some oddities in the translation, though. Like, Neville Longbottom’s last name was translated as Londubat, and Severus Snape’s last name was translated to Rogue. Muggles are Moldus, and Hogwarts is Poudlard. Diagon Alley is Le Chemin De Traverse (The crossroad), and Dementors are Detraqueurs (possibly because the word dementir is in there, as a French word, meaning “to deny.”

Unforgivably, they changed the names of the OW.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s, the school-wide tests, and gave them non-funny names to make the initials work in French.

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“What’s that about?”

One big discovery. I thought ennui was always translated as boredom; that’s certainly how we use the word in the United States. But it was used over and over in the book to mean “trouble,” and that was the alternate definition given on Google Translate as well. For one word to mean both “boredom” and “trouble,” suggests what the French think of feeling bored: that it’s the gateway for getting into trouble.

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“Trouble? I don’t see trouble.”

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“Look Mommy, I found trouble!”

There were some words that were fun to say, like hululement for the hooting of owls, haletante for panting, and chuchotta for whisper.

I think I’ve become addicted. I’m just not sure to what.

Coincidentally, one of the family-friendly cable channels decided to run seven of the eight Harry Potter movies this past weekend, as an ad for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie, starring Hermione (or the actress who played Hermione, Emma Watson, whatever). Oddly, they left out movie number five, the Order of the Phoenix, and therefore I felt obligated to order it On Demand to see why, because I didn’t remember what could have been so objectionable as to make them leave it out.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but it bothers me, why was this the only movie left out, of the eight? Certainly other movies in the series were equally dark. The Order of the Phoenix is, basically, about the danger of pretending that everything is fine, when everything is clearly not fine and about to get much worse. There’s also an ultra-feminine aide to the minister of magic, with a penchant for alternative facts; and the minister himself, who’s afraid to see what’s right in front of him, looks suspiciously like Mitch McConnell (Majority leader in the U.S. senate). Ralph Fiennes, as Voldemort, though, is a whole other level of evil from what’s currently in the white house. We have more of a Wormtail as president (including the crazy hair), with a dark lord as advisor, whispering in his ear.

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I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Harry Potter is in the air right now in the United States. It’s been on my mind all year, and it’s been coming up more and more in comparisons in the news, and in tweets from J.K. Rowling, wondering if people actually got the message of her books.

I need the comfort of knowing that Harry Potter was able to prevail, though he had magic on his side, and, as far as I know, we don’t. I’m going to read through all of the HP books again, in French and maybe in Hebrew, both to practice my language skills and to give myself a chance to fill up on hope, because my tank has been getting dangerously low.

One of the most powerful lines in the Order of the Phoenix movie comes from Hermione, trying to make Harry understand that his isolating behaviors are playing into Voldemort’s hands: “If it’s just you alone, you’re not as much of a threat.”

I always have to fight against my own isolationist tendencies, to remember that I’m not alone, and that it’s the people who have hurt me who have made me feel so alone, and unsafe, not my friends. The Harry Potter message, over and over, is that you can’t do it alone. The flip side of that message being, you can do almost anything, if you have help.

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Christmas Movies, Again

 

Mom is getting VERY tired of Christmas movies. I try to tell her that it’s either a Christmas movie or another two hours of watching the news, or, we can watch repeats of Law & Order for the tenth time each. She acts like I’m purposely making her suffer through Twee Season (see what I did there? Twee for Tree?), and blocking all of the sensible shows from the TV.

This is not my fault. Actually, there have been more than a few Christmas movies this season that I had to stop watching early on. Usually I like the sugary sweet love stories, and the magical touches that make everything turn out alright, but sometimes the acting is too unbelievable, even for me.

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“Am I sugary sweet, Mommy?”

Poor Mom is stuck, because she doesn’t like the too sweet movies, and she doesn’t like the edge-of-your-seat-the-world-is-ending movies (or news), and there’s not much left in between right now.

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“The world is ending, Grandma!”

This is the time of year when I wish I could forget the plot lines of all of the shows I love, and then I could watch the repeats for hours on end, in pure bliss. But, damn it, my memory is too good. If I try to watch the reruns, I get impatient with my favorite characters for making the same mistakes they made the last time I watched this damn episode.

And I still haven’t given in and joined Netflix, or whatever it is you do with Netflix or Hulu or Amazon. I still borrow DVD’s from the library when I want to catch up on episodes of Miss Marple or Foyle’s War (not kidding).

It helps to have something relaxing on TV while I’m doing my schoolwork at the computer, because if I paid too much attention to the darkness and despair we read and write about in my social work classes, my head would explode. Instead, I listen to Christmas movie dialogue, and reach down to scratch Butterfly’s head, and look over at Cricket’s enigmatic face every once in a while, for reassurance that we haven’t all gone to hell in a handbasket.

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Ideally, all Christmas movies would star Jimmy Stewart, or Tom Hanks, and be directed by Frank Capra or Nora Ephron, and I could just relax my critical mind and let them take me on a floating journey. I could listen to Louis Armstrong singing about a wonderful world, and watch snow fall on the screen, while I sit in my warm, cozy living room, and believe, for a few hours, that everything will be okay.

 

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

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“Yeah!!!!!!!!!”

Star Wars, Again

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“What are Star Wars, Mommy?”

I was worried about seeing the new movie. I dragged my heels, afraid to be stuck in a movie theater, flooded with alienation and disappointment. The prequels were traumatizing, I guess. All of the hype and commercialization leading up to The Force Awakens has overwhelmed me, and I was worried that the old stars would just be there for cameos, and everything would be unfamiliar and boring and patched together.

Thank God I was wrong.

No spoilers, in case there’s anyone left who hasn’t seen the movie, but I loved it.

When I was seven years old, my school bus passed a movie marquee every day where they counted down the days to the premier of Return of The Jedi. I don’t remember if I’d seen Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back by then, or just heard so much about them that I was caught up in the excitement.

We went to see Return of the Jedi on a Saturday night, and the first thing I saw was Jabba the Hut, and I was horrified. Maybe I was already tired, but after a few minutes of watching Jabba the Hut stick his tongue out, pull on Princess Leia’s chain and shake his snotty belly, I fell asleep as an act of self-protection. I didn’t even get to see the ewoks!

I made up for it later, though, and saw each movie too many times to count. I loved the ewoks. It’s not so much that I loved the idea of a race of militant fluffy creatures with high pitched voices, speaking a language I did not understand. I loved that they were the perfect combination of teddy bears and puppy dogs. I would travel to the planet of the ewoks in my mind and spend hours there.

As a kid, I did not identify “The Force” with religion, even though Obi Won Kenobi (Obey One?) was clearly a religious figure. The force, to me, was the unspoken energy in the world, all of the bits and pieces of connections and information and energy that no one talked about or acknowledged. The force was all of the things I knew but could not articulate and the air was thick with it. I could feel it. It was the ESP-like knowledge I had about people but couldn’t explain. I would notice a facial expression, or a tone of voice, or remember disparate pieces of information, and in some part of my brain all of that came together and I knew things no one had told me. All the time.

I didn’t think of it as something I could harness and use, for good or for evil. I thought of it more as the threads that kept me attached to other people, so I wouldn’t feel all alone in the world.

Obi Won represented a grownup who would teach me and protect me and be kind and reliable. He was not Yoda, who was always speaking in riddles and making me feel stupid and not good enough, and he was not Darth Vader or Jabba the Hut, using their adult power against me.

By the way, I did not appreciate the redrawing of Jabba the Hut, in George Lucas’s re-edit of the original films, where you could see the lost scene of Jabba walking with Han Solo. It was just wrong that he could walk, that he was thin enough to pass through a doorway. No. Jabba was a giant slug in a dark cave, the most disgusting, hedonistic, immoral creature ever witnessed. He was there to contrast with the clean, precise evil of Darth Vader. He was the Id run wild: killing, eating, taking whatever he wanted without conscience. He was never on a diet.

This Christmas Eve, friends of ours gave Cricket and Butterfly Star Wars toys, one of which I did not recognize (the new droid), and the other was a storm trooper. The storm troopers never really had much impact on me, except that when SUVs became popular, every time I saw a huge white SUV towering over me, I thought of the evil empire. The girls are ready to see the new movie, and all of the movies that came before.

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Butterfly thinks her storm trooper makes a nice pillow.

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Cricket won’t let the new droid out of her sight.

Butterfly is like an ewok, in looks and in personality. She is childlike, and stubborn, and full of love and loyalty. And she thinks Chewbacca is a tall drink of water. And Cricket would like to have a light saber and a droid of her own.

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“I’m an ewok?”

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The force is strong with this one.

I ate all of my popcorn before the movie even started, because we got there early thinking there’d be a line on Christmas day. But I didn’t need the popcorn to distract me during the movie. I know that Mark Hamill was the least successful of the three lead actors in the first three movies, but he was the one who stuck with me. He was the heart of everything, and if he hadn’t been believable, none of it would have worked. Luke was me, and I was riveted to my seat waiting to see him, and now I can’t wait for the next movie!

Maybe I’m too old for the training, but I want to be a Jedi. I wanted to be a Jedi way back when too, but now it actually feels possible.

Christmas Movies

 

I have been gobbling down Christmas movies for the past few weeks. Partly because my regular TV shows are on hiatus, but also because the world is so upsetting and dark lately that a little true-love-wins-out is necessary.

I’m exhausted. I can’t quite tell if it’s about the political noise, or the news, or the end of my first semester in social work graduate school, or the endless disappointment of getting my writing rejected that’s wiping me out. I just feel like my motivation tank is getting close to zero, and these movies are keeping me from scraping the bottom.

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Exhausted puppies.

Sugar helps too. I did my own Chanukah Cookie Jamboree, but I only got to four types of cookies before I ran out of space in the freezer. There were the triple chocolate cookies, chocolate chip with Macadamia nuts, almond thumbprints with lemon curd filling, and fruitcake cookies (surprisingly yummy!). I gave away a lot of cookies, but there were enough left over to help smooth out some of the anxiety.

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Cricket likes to bake.

I didn’t realize that taking one graduate class at a time, online, would wear me out so completely. I thought I’d have energy left over to get my own writing done, but I’ve just barely been able to keep up with the blog this semester, let alone work on the other ten projects piled on my night table.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the school work, for the most part. I like the feeling that I’m really starting to understand something about this country I live in, and how social policy actually works, and more often doesn’t work. I feel more grounded because of the reading I’ve done on social justice. I feel like I understand the news better, and understand more of the history that shapes today’s issues.

But instead of feeling inspired and energized, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. And then I eat a cookie and watch one of these Christmas movies, which are more about love and family and magic and hope than they are about religion, and I feel a tiny bit better.

Mayim Bialik (a more Jewish girl you could not find) was in a Christmas movie this year. They explained away her very Jewish looks by making her mother Jewish and her father Christian, so she went to Hebrew school but the family still celebrates Christmas every year. Her movie was one of my favorites, because there was only a little bit of magic, in the form of a Santa Clause-esque man who helped her find her plane ticket and nudged her in the right direction. She wasn’t the perfect, blond, success story, she was just an interesting, hardworking, grumpy woman with bad taste in men. And she got a happy ending. Falling in love didn’t land her a great job, or a good friend, or a loving family, because she already had those things. Falling in love only brought her love.

I’ve watched almost all of the Christmas movies, no matter how silly, and there seem to be more than ever this year, with different channels competing to flood the air waves with hard luck stories and plucky heroines. I try not to get too angry about how easily the undiscovered writer/artist/musician finds success before Christmas, and it helps that a lot of these movies are made in Canada and have lots of Canadian accents to cut through the bitterness.

My favorite message in these movies is to slow down and open your eyes to what you already have. Listen to the music. Play in the snow. Laugh with a friend. That’s where the meaning of life has been hiding all along. It’s simplistic, yes, but it’s still true. When I wake up to Cricket’s doggy breath in my face, or watch Butterfly bring her kibble into the living room so she won’t have to eat alone, I feel so much better. These are the moments that save me.

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Cricket’s doggy breath. Can you smell it?

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“Hey Mommy, I have doggy breath too!”

Though I wouldn’t mind if Santa, or the Jewish equivalent, would perform some magic for me this winter and nudge me in the right direction to find a publisher; validation that a lifetime of work really can pay off would be a nice way to start the New Year. And more cookies.

Shy People Need Dogs


 

A few years ago, I noticed a yellow sign with “RP” in black lettering, attached to a telephone pole in my neighborhood. Mom had seen similar signs before, for location shoots for movies and TV.

These yellow signs are very exciting.

These yellow signs are very exciting.

My mother went to USC film school way back when, and worked as a film editor, so she was curious about what they were filming. She followed the signs and found out that the TV show Royal Pains was shooting scenes at the beach near us. The show is set in the Hamptons, which is further out on Long Island from us, and much (much) more expensive.

Cricket Loves the beach

Cricket Loves the beach

I couldn’t bring Cricket along when we stalked the set, because dogs aren’t allowed at that particular beach. I wished she could come, and bark, and draw attention to herself, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk for myself.

(Just so you know the show really does exist)

(Just so you know the show really does exist)

The main character on the show is a concierge doctor who diagnoses strange diseases on the fly. Royal Pains is like the happy, pretty answer to House, with a bit of MacGyver thrown in. But more than the show itself, it was one of the featured actors I wanted to see. I’ve had a crush on Campbell Scott since I was sixteen years old.

I almost met him ten years ago. He was giving a talk at a small cinema on Long Island. He’s smart and articulate and down to earth. If ever there was a movie star I should have been able to talk to, it was him.

This is Campbell Scott

This is Campbell Scott

I did my best to dress up, in a sweater and black pants and a clean pair of sneakers, and sat in the third row of the movie theatre, next to Mom.

            First we screened the movie, The Secret Lives of Dentists, which involved scenes of screeching drills, blood, and the uncomfortable intimacy of the inside of a stranger’s mouth. I focused, instead, on the scenes of Campbell Scott as the father of three little girls. He carried the five year old around so constantly that at one point he said she had become part of his body.

            As the movie ended, he sat down at the front of the theatre, munching kernels of popcorn as the credits continued to roll over his head. When the lights came up, he tapped the microphone to begin, and – nothing.

            “I’ll use my theatre voice,” he said, and his voice reverberated.

            “Use the microphone!” someone screamed from further back.

A woman in the row ahead of me took the traveling microphone. “I thought you did a wonderful job in this movie, of showing parenthood as it really is: a burden.”

            “You liked the vomiting scenes?” he asked, with a grin.

            One woman towards the back of the room asked, in a plaintive voice, “Could you talk for a minute about Dying Young?”

“What about it?”

“Anything.”

I moved forward in my seat, afraid he would dismiss this movie I loved as commercial crap.

“In Europe they called it The Choice of Love,” he said. “Better title, don’t you think? A person could see a title like that in the paper and say, hey, let’s go see that movie. But, Dying Young,” his voice went down an octave. “Why not just stay home and slit your wrists instead.”

I wanted to raise my hand and tell him how wrong he was about the title. How those two words were exactly what drew me to the theatre, at sixteen. I was suffering, and inarticulate. The opportunity to see some of my own pain reflected back to me was the whole point. But I couldn’t say that to a room full of strangers.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation and then slowly moved into the café down the hall for refreshments.

“What should we do now?” I asked my mother, as we watched the majority of the audience get stuck in a traffic jam at the single exit door.

“Why don’t we go to the café and maybe you’ll get a chance to talk to him,” she said.

“What would I say?”

“You’ll think of something,” she said. My mother has an unreasonable amount of faith in me.

We followed the crowd into the reception hall and I stood at the periphery, with my arms and legs crossed, willing myself to move forward, reach out, and say anything. Hello, would be nice. People swirled around him, ticking him around like a clock, quarter turns at a time, for autographs and pictures and questions.

I stood about six feet away, a step outside of the circle created by braver people than me. I listened. I wanted so badly to speak up, to have a memory for the rest of my life of having actually spoken to him. He looked in my direction every once in a while, and I imagined myself touching his arm and telling him he was wonderful. But everything I wanted to say was raw, and I didn’t want to inspire his pity, or annoyance.

And then he was being led out of the room, in slow motion, by the owners of the theatre. I just stood there, frozen.

I try to accept my limitations and forgive myself for the wide variety of anxiety symptoms that run my life, but that moment stayed with me. I could see him seeing me, wondering why I was standing there and saying nothing.

I’m hoping that Royal Pains will do some location shoots near where I live now, because the village main street is often used as a stand in for the Hamptons. And maybe I could walk down the hill with Cricket and Butterfly and meander near where the actors and crew are set up, and see if the dogs can act as my social bridge. Maybe Butterfly will bat her eyelashes and draw a crowd. And maybe Cricket won’t bark and lunge at a cameraman.

I'm sure the girls will make the walk down the hill easy for me.

I’m sure the girls will make the walk down the hill easy for me.

Who could resist Butterfly?

Who could resist Butterfly?

Maybe by the time the weather cools down, and they come back to my neighborhood, I’ll have figured out something to say.