Days 65-66. I grew up in a world of magic.

Disclaimer: If your gag reflex is easily triggered by sappy words, you might want to leave this post. Actually, there’s no doubt about it, you need to leave this post. May I interest you in something more sarcastic? Check out ANY of my other posts. Seriously, I won’t be upset.

Now that all of the “hard asses” are out of here, all aboard the tearjerker express!

Today, I want to talk about a series of books that defined my childhood. This will most likely be outrageously heartfelt (cheesy) and sensitive (corny). I recommend you take a moment to locate your tissues now. I am not responsible for any ruined shirts caused by your sniffles or runny mascara. In fact, you might be better off just throwing a blanket over yourself now. E.T. style would be the most effective.

I’m going to try to keep the angst to a minimum, but I can’t make any promises. You have been warned.

I used to find it strange when a book was credited as having “saved someone’s life”. Did the book stop a bullet for you? Did it catch a grenade for you? Jump in front of a train for you? (Can you tell which song is stuck in my head?). Whenever I heard someone say this about a book, I would get this image in my head of a book with tiny arms and a sword. The book always had a moustache and spoke with the voice of Antonio Banderas. It seemed overly dramatic and cliché to me. I loved books, but none of them had saved me from a burning building or a car accident.

After a great deal of reflection, I get it. While my Harry Potter books never sprouted arms and fended off some terrible foe like the Boogeyman, they did provide me with an escape and a soft place to land when I needed it. When you’re a child, that’s a wonderful thing. Finding solace in the pages of a book is an irreplaceable gift.

I was ten years old when my Nanny (grandmother) bought me the first three books of the Harry Potter series. I was not impressed. My favorite book, up to that point, was Where the Red Fern Grows. I had no interest in reading about a boy wizard with crooked glasses and hand-me-down clothes. Where were the puppies?!

My Nanny also gave my brother the same three books. Unlike me, he devoured them immediately. He turned each page with such ferocity that I’m surprised he didn’t get multiple paper cuts. Instead of sparking my interest in the books, this just made me inch away even further. If my brother liked them, then there’s no way I’m reading them. Boys and girls do not like the same things. That’s one of the symptoms of cooties, obviously.

A few months later, my parents divorced. My mom and I packed our things and moved to Oklahoma, but my dad and brother stayed in Arkansas. All of a sudden, I was in a new room, in a different state, with no one to play Nintendo with. I know it’s obvious to say, but I missed my brother a lot.

When I unpacked a few of my boxes, I found my Harry Potter books. Somehow in the confusion of the move, I ended up with his copy of Chamber of Secrets as well. It was easy to see the difference between his copy and mine. The pages of his copy were dog-eared and ruffled, but my book wasn’t even scuffed from the move. I immediately knew that I had to read these books. I saw it as a way to feel close to him again. Luckily, even at ten, I had the discipline to read Sorcerer’s Stone first. I told myself that reading his copy of Chamber of Secrets would be my reward for finishing the first book.

Of course, I quickly realized that reading the Sorcerers Stone was enough of a reward in itself.

I felt transported. I always loved reading, but a book had never grabbed me the way Harry Potter did. When Harry escaped his miserable life in the cupboard under the stairs, I felt like he turned around and led me out of mine as well.

Armed with the Goblet of fire (it had been released by then), I started at my new school that fall. I was picked on almost immediately. I was a pretty easy target. I was new, too skinny, and had too many freckles. I know this isn’t anything new, bullying is an epidemic. However, when you’re only ten, it’s disheartening. During recess on my first day, I sat by the door and read. While every other kid was off playing on the jungle gyms, I was helping Harry battle a dragon in the Triwizard Tournament.

I know this sounds awfully pitiful, but I was okay with this. I was much too clumsy for playground equipment, and I liked reading.

Instead of rising to their taunts, I would read. Eventually, they moved on as kids often do. I found a few kind hearted friends. I grew to like my new surroundings and the new people in them.

When I did have bad days, I would read Harry Potter. When I had my heart broken for the first time, I read Harry Potter. When I slammed my fingers in the car door and had to get stitches, I read Harry Potter.

For the first time, I felt empowered. It didn’t matter what happened at school or at home. I had something spectacular hidden within the pages of these books. I had an entire world of magic at my fingertips. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world. (Honestly, I still do).

Harry Potter defined my childhood. That may seem like a pretty bold statement, but I know that some of you know exactly what I mean. Maybe it wasn’t Harry Potter that meant so much to you, but there was a book. The book. The book that seemed to tingle and glow in your hands. The book that was always the first one you spotted when you looked at your bookshelf. The book whose pages you knew just by the feel of them, whose binding you could recognize just by touch.

Harry Potter is exactly that for me. I can remember every excited trip to the bookstore to pick up the newest volume. I remember every time I read that first page for the first time. I remember every morning I woke up with one of the books still in my hands. I remember every tear stained page. I remember every crack in the binding. It’s familiar to me. My second home is in those pages. Always. Until the very end.

I think I need a tissue…

I think books can be a powerful force. Do you have a book that you feel this way about? Which book is it? Tell me about it, I’d love to know.


Days 51-64. The TED Talk that changed my writing…

I like to listen to NPR while I’m daylighting as an account representative. I realize this makes me seem more intellectual than I actually am. Don’t be confused, I also spend my time watching crappy teen dramas on Netflix.

I like to stay well rounded.

The TED Talk that has really stuck with me is with Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s the author of the freakishly popular book, Eat, Pray, Love. I haven’t read her book. These days it’s almost impossible to convince me to read a book that isn’t a dystopia or doesn’t contain aspects of science fiction or fantasy. A woman traveling around the world to “find herself and her spirituality” isn’t exactly up my alley.

You’re probably all going to comment and say I should “expand my literary horizons” and yadda yadda yadda.

Before I listened to her TED Talk a few months ago, my writing process was rather punishing. I would write a few lines and then immediately think about quitting.

I couldn’t understand why this elusive idea that just came to me didn’t arrive fully developed and wrapped in a pretty bow. In my mind, though this idea appeared out of thin air, it came from me. Due to this view, I was particularly hard on myself for not being able to easily expand on it by 400 or so pages. If I could think up this idea so randomly, why wasn’t I immediately able to construct all the ins and outs? Isn’t that how inspiration works? Didn’t J.K. Rowling think up the entire story of Harry Potter on a freakin’ train ride?

Okay, I know she didn’t think up ALL of Harry Potter on one train ride. However, it’s difficult to remind myself of that when I’m halfway through a pint of Chunky Monkey and unable to see reason.

I would grow more and more discouraged each time I would sit down to write, and I couldn’t find the perfect words. Why didn’t it just happen? Why did every word I typed feel like I was passing an extremely jagged kidney stone? Why did I suddenly feel like drinking in the middle of the day?

In her talk, she discusses the idea of creating a protective psychological construct such as geniuses and daemons. A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) it was believed that divine spirits were responsible for an artists work.

“They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.”

I think this brings up an intriguing idea. If you have this protective construct, then you are less likely to play into the stereotype of the tortured artist. If your work is wonderful, you can’t take all the credit for it. If your work is terrible, it’s not entirely your fault.

To me, it’s not that crazy sounding (although, my characters do talk to me all day, so my idea of crazy may be a little more lax than yours). I can’t explain how I thought of my story. It just popped into my head. How many times have you described something that way?

I think it provides a security blanket of sorts. It’s okay to sit down to write and not have a huge “aha” moment like that first day. It’s okay to feel like your awkwardly fumbling through each sentence (like I do).  You should still write. That’s your job. Your job is to write when you have a stroke of brilliance, and also when you can barely string two words together. You shouldn’t fault yourself as long as your writing.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying you should use this as a way to avoid holding yourself responsible for your actions. There’s quite a bit of technical gibberish that goes into being a good writer, and I’m not discrediting that at all. I just think this is a great way to avoid torturing yourself with the pressures of writing.

I think she explains it perfectly:

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished, with somebody else. And, you know, if we think about it this way it starts to change everything.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then “Olé!” And if not, do your dance anyhow. And “Olé!” to you, nonetheless. I believe this and I feel that we must teach it. “Olé!” to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”

Here is her TED Talk: