Bits of Fun

A creative sort of evening

I was apparently feeling in a rather creative mood tonight. I’ve updated the header banners on FB and Twitter:

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The old one was really only ever a placeholder, and I quite like this. The picture’s actually one I took while visiting Rome last summer! I think I’m going to redo it for the blog as well and possible adjust my overall theme to go along with it.

And then decided to try my hand at some lyrical playfulness, inspired by today’s intelligence report. I rewrote “Congratulations” from The Hamilton Mixtape in honor of the GOP’s invention of a new kind of stupid.

So yeah. It’s been an evening.

Inspiration

My Princess, My General

I was always into princesses.

It was natural. I was born in 1985. I was the perfect age during the Disney Renaissance of Belle and Jasmine. So from the start, my heroines were women who read, women who stood up for themselves, women who did what was needed instead of what was expected.

But Princess Leia was a revelation. Long-time readers already know the story of how I found Star Wars and how it changed my life, and Leia was a huge component of that. I was eleven years old, and I wanted to be Princess Leia when I grew up. She wasn’t just outspoken and independent — she was in charge. She was ready to sass her way to her execution, if that’s what it took to protect her people. She grabbed the gun from the idiot boys who weren’t being effective with it, and she made her own escape route. She led a rebellion and she fought in its trenches, so devoted that she had to be dragged out of Echo Base while the ceiling was caving in on her. She saved the man she loved, and when a sexist creep tried to humiliate her and punish her for her daring, she choked him to death with absolutely no mercy or remorse.

She also was the proof that there was space for me in that universe. My middle school friends and I all sensed that, even if we couldn’t put the words of feminist criticism to it at the time. We just knew that the boys couldn’t tell us we weren’t supposed to play Star Wars, because Leia was in it, and not as an accessory or a trophy. She was there and active and wouldn’t have stood for anyone telling her she shouldn’t be.

Because Star Wars was what launched my determination to be a writer, Leia Organa set the mold for my heroines. The first one basically started out as a blonde version of Leia, but as I grew, so did she. For twenty years, I’ve been exploring myself through the leading ladies I write, but there’s a little bit of Leia at the core of all of them — that heart of kyber.

I did grow up — at least, I grew into adulthood. “Up” is debatable, and I certainly never outgrew Princess Leia or Star Wars, but I did discover the woman behind the legend.

Carrie Fisher was not a porcelain perfect princess.

Carrie Fisher helped me realize — continues to help me realize, because it’s a process, not a moment — that I am beautiful and more importantly, worthy, no matter what my weight is, no matter that I am, let’s face it, getting older every year. That I am clever and worth loving, even when depression and anxiety get in my way. That I need not be ashamed of who I am, flaws and all, because I am here and I am trying. That striving to be the best version of myself doesn’t mean I have to flagellate myself when I fall short. That I should be gentler on myself sometimes, and harder sometimes. That I can — and will — produce good things, good work and good art, even in the midst of personal crisis or chaos.

As Leia Organa and as herself, Carrie Fisher was the heroine so many of us needed, as girls and as women. Losing her was never going to not suck. Losing her now, at the end of this gods-forsaken dumpster fire of a year, just seems like insult to injury. Losing her when this world’s equivalent of a Hutt crimelord is taking charge of our erstwhile-democracy, to thunderous applause… I struggle to find words for the unfairness of it.

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She was only 60. She should have had so much more time, more years to create and to inspire and to love and be loved. And we should have had her, the hopeful symbol of rebellion from our childhoods, a shining beacon of “no-fucks-given” for our adulthoods. We should have had her to help us through what will be, no doubt, a dark time for the Rebellion.

But the thing is — we still do. We have her work and her words. We have Princess Leia and General Organa and Carrie Fisher, there to inspire us — and now part of the Force surrounding us and binding us together. From her enduring legacy, we can remind ourselves to fight evil wherever we see it, whether it’s a fascist regime with matching hats or the hateful voices in our own heads, trying to tell us we don’t matter.

2016 took our heroes from us.

In 2017, we will be the heroes.

Time to step up, y’all.

And may the Force be with us.

leiastealthing

Bits of Fun

Figures in History: Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke

Mary_Sydney_HerbertLady Mary Herbert, nee Sidney, was one of the foremost minds of Elizabethan England. More literary works in the period are dedicated to her than to any other woman, save only the Queen. She wrote and translated herself, and was perhaps the first female playwright in England; though her plays were never performed, one likely served as inspiration for Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. When her brother, Philip Sidney, a famous courtier and poet, died in the war in the Netherlands, Oxford and Cambridge published elegies to him and refused to let her contribute — so she basically thumbed her nose at them, marched herself to a printer, and published them herself — in addition to completing Philip’s last great work and publishing it as “The Countress of Pembroke’s Arcadia”.

Lady Mary was part of a family of extraordinary women. Her mother, Mary Sidney, was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth during her early reign, and in fact nursed the queen through smallpox in 1562. The queen survived, but Mary Sidney was badly scarred and never really appeared in public again. (The queen was less than gracious about this). Mary Herbert was also the aunt of the later English poet Lady Mary Wroth.

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Me at Ludlow, geeking out over imagining my heroine running around this castle as a little girl

Mary grew up at Ludlow Castle (the ruins of which I was lucky enough to visit this summer), most often inseparably in the company of her sister Ambrosia. Their mother reportedly dressed them alike, and when Ambrosia died young, Mary was very greatly affected by the loss. To help her in her grief (and perhaps finally feeling a bit of pity for her erstwhile friend Mary Sidney), Queen Elizabeth suggested that young Mary come to court. Not long afterwards, her uncle Leicester (yes, that Leicester) arranged a marriage for Lady Mary with the much-older Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. He probably had about thirty years on her, but this actually seemed to work out quite well for them. His first two wives had left him with no children, and then Mary popped out four in five years. He was so delighted with her over this that thereafter, he pretty much gave her whatever she wanted. Invite over poets and writers for readings? Sure. Write your own play and want your friends to come over and read it? No problem. Custom-made laboratory so that you can have botanists and chemists come work and study just because it interests you? Go right ahead.

We don’t have any letters or diaries that speak to the personal nature of their relationship, but those details suggest to me that Henry Herbert was utterly besotted with his clever young wife. When he died, his will left her a truly enormous sum of money on the stipulation that she not remarry — and she never did.

That brings me to really the only scandal anyone ever came up with surrounding the Countess of Pembroke. Truly, she was beloved at just an absurd level. The royal court of Elizabethan England was, at best, a petty and back-biting place, and at worst, downright cutthroat. Yet almost no one has anything bad to say about Mary. She was considered beautiful, gracious, talented, witty, and virtuous. The only teensy tiny little blot on that near perfect record is an implication that she might have started having an affair with a doctor sometime after 1600 — by which point she would have been in her 40s, past childbearing, and probably she would’ve married him if it hadn’t been for the loss of income that would’ve entailed. It’s also possible that the scandal-lite was being pushed by one of her own sons (who did not live up to their mother’s virtuous reputation) who wanted to force her to remarry so that they’d have more cash on hand.

Ultimately, her reputation in her own day is summed up in her epitaph:

Underneath this sable hearse,
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother.
Death, ere thou hast slain another
Fair and learned and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.

If a female English-speaking writer were looking for a patron saint, you could do far worse than Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.

Bits of Fun, Research

Mi dispiace; parlo italiano solo un po’

I am woefully, shamefully monolinguistic.

In spoken languages, anyway. I have some good solid Latin under my belt, and I used to be fairly proficient with American Sign Language (that skill has faded with disuse, but I’d love to regain it). When it comes to spoken languages, however… I’m pretty well useless.

I don’t have the ear for it, is the thing. And that’s a weird thing to say, as someone who has such an audiographic memory in English, and who prides herself on a certain facility with language. I took a year of French in high school (before switching to ASL), and I’ve been self-tutoring on Italian for about a year now. I can read both languages at a basic level — enough to pick up a newspaper and get the gist, enough to follow instructions. I can speak simple sentences quite slowly. But I have never trained my ear to hear other languages spoken at a normal speed. This embarrasses me. It’s something I’d like to rectify.

I recently spent four days traveling in France and Italy. Across France, really, to get myself to three days in Rome. And I was hellbent not to use English unless I absolutely had to. Armed with Google Translate, a willing attitude, and a charming smile, I set out to experience la citta eterna in its own voice.

This is an experience every English-speaking American should have.

I mean, not Rome, specifically, but traveling somewhere that English isn’t the dominant language and trying to behave accordingly — trying, at least, to get along in a language besides the native tongue that so much of the world now kowtows to.

Let’s face it; I was doing this with a safety net. Almost everyone you’re going to encounter in the high-travel parts of France and Italy speaks at least some English. If you really get screwed, you can find someone to help you in your own language. There’s security in that, and I genuinely don’t know if I’d yet be brave enough to go farther off the beaten path, where that net didn’t exist.

What I found, though, is how much wonderful benefit there is in allowing yourself some confusion and embarrassment. I didn’t want to use the safety net if I didn’t had to. So I buckled some solid phrases under my belt, looked up extra vocab where needed, and proceeded to stammer and gesture my way through.

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I’m sure it was hideous. It certainly didn’t seem to take anyone very long to figure out that I’m an English speaker — although, strangely, a fair few guessed French before I opened my mouth — but many, very kindly, stuck to Italian when they realized I wanted to give it a try. It seemed to make a lot of people happy that I was giving it a go. I managed to get through a few transactions at restaurants and shops without resorting to English at all, and I felt so proud of myself — so stupidly proud, for managing fifteen or twenty words outside of my native language — but proud nonetheless. (I also started to get irritated at overhearing my fellow Americans who weren’t even trying. I mean, how hard is “grazie”?)

It can be unnerving, at first. I was most unsettled about my linguistic disadvantage when I was actively in-transit — getting across Paris from one train station to another, finding my way to dinner in Torino, navigating the Roman bus system. The rest of the time, though, I realized I could breathe a little and let the musicality of the Italian language wash over me. When I let go of the desire to understand perfectly, I found that I actually could pick out a word here or there. Perhaps, with greater immersion, I might actually get that skill I’ve always thought was beyond me — I might actually be able to tune my ear.

I sure hope that, even if I came off as “that stupid monolinguist American”, I also at least came off as “that pleasant American” and not “that jackass American”. I tried to approach every interaction with a slightly apologetic smile and a willingness to learn. I tried to bring myself as far along as I could, rather than expecting those I encountered to jump to where I was. It’s a humbling moment, to realize how many people have this experience on a daily basis — and how many of them do it without a safety net.

It’s also interesting to think about what it is that you get wrong. I’m terrible with prepositions, as it turns out. What must that sound like to a native speaker? What does it sound like to us, in English, when someone gets things wrong? And I’m interested in a scientific way about what errors people coming from different first languages make — are some cultures more prone to screwing up verb tenses than others? How about cadence? What was it about the errors made that made it so easy to identify me as una ragazza americana?

It’s the sort of thing, I think, that breeds empathy and compassion. Not just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, but also thinking about how you get there. Too, thinking about how many concessions are still made for me, as an English-speaker, in so many non-English places.

So I urge you, my fellow native-English-speaking Americans, if you never have: Go abroad. Go somewhere that English is not the default language — even if it is still there as a safety net. Go somewhere where most of the conversations you hear will not be in English. Order a meal without using English. Ask for directions in another languagae, and try desperately to understand what you’re told. Get things wrong. Be corrected. Learn new words. Be laughed at a little. Blush a little. Apologize a little.

It’ll be good for you.

I think I might try Portugal next.

Bits of Fun

Word cloud for the June 2016 revisions

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Bits of Fun

Sisters, sisters…

So this has been on my mind for a while, but the recent #Ham4Austen meme, courtesy of @Drunk_Austen, has revived my desire to chatter about it.

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Kindly ignore my tragic misspelling of Bennett; I stand by this statement anyway.

As the deal announcement for my forthcoming novel stated, the backbone of the story belongs largely to three sisters: the Vitelliae — who are, in the creativity of Roman naming conventions, Aula Vitellia Prima (called Aula), Aula Vitellia Secunda (called Latona), and Aula Vitellia Prima (called Alhena). As I’ve discussed before, my inspiration for them came from a painting, but I think it’s slightly more than coincidence that much of the novel has been written and revised while I’ve had not just thematically-appropriate HBO’s Rome and the BBC classic I, Claudius running in the background (I am nearly incapable of working in silence), but also Downton Abbey, the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, and the Hamilton soundtrack. Their relationships, with each other and with those outside the family, drive the story.

I wasn’t consciously adopting a pattern as I wrote, but nearly everyone who’s read the book thus far has commented on how the Vitelliae make them think of the Bennetts, the Crawleys, or the Schuylers. Sarah once asked me if it were intentional, and our notes back and forth are littered with references to Hamilton (not only because of the sisters — but a lot because of them). But it got me thinking just what the similarities and dissimilarities are, because my girls don’t align neatly to any of the characters they are, as a group, compared to.13516359_520496718154978_8947441272109785272_n

Pert, vivacious Aula Prima has the most in common, strangely, with Lydia Bennett — if Lydia Bennett had Angelica Schuyler’s political sense. She loves a good time, has a fondness for military men, and flirts with abandon — but unlike Lydia, she strives to keep her family out of scandal. Knowledgeable and adept, she hides a cunning mind and clever wit behind lively green eyes, pink cheeks, and bouncing auburn curls. In “a world in which [her] only job is to marry rich,” she turns her political ambitions towards her father and brother.

Editor!Sarah and I have a joke of referring to Alhena as “And Peggy”, but there’s really much more to her than that. She probably has the most in common with Mary Bennett, and maybe a little with Edith, though I think she’s a bit softer than either. She’s a more minor character than Aula and Latona, but she has a lot of room to grow and develop, but at the onset, she’s bookish, and almost painfully shy outside of her own family (with, you’ll learn, good reason).

And then my dear Latona, middle sister and primary protagonist. She’d get along sparklingly a dinner party with Mary and Sybille Crawley, Angelica Schuyler, and both Elizas Bennett and Hamilton, but I don’t know how much she has in common with any of them. She’s a slightly different type. None of the Misses I mention start with as much tragedy in their backgrounds as Latona. She feels Angelica’s frustration and ambition, shares Mary Crawley’s sense of responsibility and Sybille’s social justice, would appreciate Eliza Bennett’s wit, Eliza Hamilton’s yearning for a peaceful and prosperous domestic life… but she also suffers a repression that’s personal, not just societal, and it’s colored her deeply.

So what has made early readers feel such resonance with these sisterly sets? Something in the structure itself, I suspect. A sister is different than a friend. Friends, you can choose (and the Vitelliae have those as well, as I consciously did not want to create a world where women had no social connection outside their families). But sisters, you’re given.

I am a woman with a sister, myself. Just the one, so a smaller set than the families I’ve discussed above, and we’re about six years apart. I would take a bullet for her, but our relationship hasn’t always been easy. That age gap is a bit weird — too far apart to be real allies as children, too close not to feel competitive. When I was in my most troubled years, she was still in grade school; when she was in hers, I was off at college. I often had an older sibling’s exasperation with being expected to be responsible and set a good example, not retaliate when provoked, and irritation with what she got away with that I hadn’t or couldn’t (parental leniency with younger siblings being a well-noted tradition — at least among oldest children!). I suspect that she often felt held to a high standard because of me, that I was something she was expected to live up to. We were both probably a little right and a little wrong. We get along much better as adults, but it’s because we’ve both learned to be more thoughtful, less antagonistic, more empathetic. We’ve learned about each other, not just what we like but how we work, rather than just assuming a genetic bond would either function or not. (To our mother’s total lack of surprise, we often find that our strife has been caused by our similarities, not our differences).

I hope that particular aspect of sororal relations comes across in my writing in a genuine way. It’s one of the things I really adore about the Crawley sisters. While the Bennetts certainly don’t see eye-to-eye, there’s never any real strife among them. Even when Lydia disgraces the family, she shrugs it off with almost no consequences, and everyone else sort of rolls their eyes, and life moves on. Everyone seems far more concerned about how Lydia’s actions reflect on them than about Lydia’s well-being. Lizzy never gives Lydia the dressing-down she had coming, nor do the other sisters air their grievances. ClawJQdUoAAz3lQSaintly Jane never shows impatience or irritation with her siblings. Mary never explodes with frustration at the mockery she endures. The closest we get to real sororal trouble are the sniping between Lydia and Mary, and then the jealousy that Kitty feels over Lydia’s popularity and invitation to go to Brighton — but those are only side notes, the background chatter of the novel. The disconnect between Lizzy and her younger siblings is more glanced at than explored. The reader is meant to dismiss them as silly and pointless (one of the things I like better about the 2005 movie is that you see more soulfulness out of Mary Bennett), and thus not to feel much sympathy for them.

On the other hand, Mary and Edith spend a lot of time at each others’ throats, snarking and subverting and outright sabotaging. But when their tempers aren’t up, they know that they do love each other — and that one day, they will be all each other has left. “Sisters have secrets,” Mary says, at the end of the series, and she’s right — and those secrets are rarely tidy and cute. Their relationship is far less sanitized than that of the Bennetts, and far more real. The Vitelliae aren’t quite so contentious, but they don’t always understand each other. Their personalities are different, and there’s quite an age gap between the elder two and the youngest. They’ll make decisions the others don’t agree with. They’ll be unintentionally hurtful. They’ll worry and scare each other. An older sister accustomed to being in charge may seem bossy. A much-sheltered youngest may struggle to have her maturity recognized. And a troubled middle daughter may feel misunderstood and like she has nowhere to turn, even among people who love her.

I don’t know everything that will happen to them. Their relationships have grown more complex in Book 1’s revisions, and I expect those discoveries will continue. I just know I’m looking forward to the journey — and I hope you are, too!

Images and Artwork, Research

The Charms of Cartography

I love maps. I don’t know why, but cartography fascinates me. I find maps so beautiful. I particularly love historical maps — either maps that are, themselves, old, or just maps of earlier versions of our world. I’ve got a delightful book of maps of the Middle Ages, which shows changes to all of the inhabited continents from the 7th through 15th centuries. This year, I’ve even got a calendar of historical maps (June’s feature is a 1647 map of Iceland). The Game of Thrones opening credits utterly delight me. My favorite part of playing Civilization is typically exploring the map, figuring out where all the other civs are, locating the resources, and figuring out the best trade routes. In the fifth grade, when we were instructed to invent a state and make a map of it, I got marked down a few points for going utterly overboard and filling in damn near every available space on the poor little salt-dough construction with some item of interest.

I mention all of this because, when you’re writing a fantasy historical epic, having maps is rather crucial to keeping one’s head in place and places in one’s head.

I was bemoaning to my gentleman the difficulty in finding a decent map of late Republic Rome that I could mark up for my own purposes. Pretty well everything available is from much later on — Hadrian-era, sometimes, but often even later, 4th century. It makes sense — the archaeology is more reliable from that period, since things got knocked down and built on top of each other. But, though my story is an AU, it’s an AU based on the mid-first-century BCE, so using a map from so many centuries later would be an awful lot for me to have to un-see and work around, to recover what the city would’ve been like before all those baths and basilicas and palaces that the emperors built.

So, my gentleman asked me if there were any maps close to what I did like, and yes — my favorites have always been those in Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Those books are meticulously researched, and even though the maps have some question marks on them (This was the… Temple of Feronia? Or Juno Curitis? Pompey’s house was… probably here?), when it comes to the overall shape of the city, they’re wonderfully detailed. The books also include a map of the *whole* city, not just the famous bit around the Forum.

They’re also, y’know, only the size of a trade paperback page, so while a good reference, it’s not something I can really scribble on to add in the things I need. I want to keep track of who’s on which hill, how far between them, who can oversee the river from their house and who’s got a view of the aqueduct. I added or moved some temples, but — damn, where did I put them? I’d made my own map of the entire Mediterranean with the provinces , but the minutiae of the city itself was just too overwhelming a project to consider starting from scratch.

So, hearing this lament, what did my beau do? Scanned those pages in and had them printed up as full-size posters!

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I’m so thoroughly delighted and grateful that he went to the time and effort! Now I’ve got a Wall of Rome to draw my Aven all over! (It’s underneath the map of Roman Spain given to me by my BFF last Christmas). Twelve square feet of fun.

I won’t start marking it up properly til I’ve finished this round of revisions, but I’ve begun by plotting out the epicenter of the story:

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Bits of Fun

Now is the month of Maying

“And thus it passed on from Candlemass until after Easter, that the month of May was come, when every lusty heart beginneth to blossom, and to bring forth fruit; for like as herbs and trees bring forth fruit and flourish in May, in like wise every lusty heart that is in any manner a lover, springeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds. For it giveth unto all lovers courage, that lusty month of May.”
–Thomas Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 18, Chapter 25

Today marks the beginning of my favorite time of the year! We don’t have the best Beltane weather in Virginia today, but I’m sure it’ll perk up as May goes on, and from now til Midsummer — even through July — is when the world seems to resonate with me. It’s a good-luck time of year, warm and optimistic, as tender blooms grow into strong, vibrant greens. The world seems new and full of possibilities. And it is, as the songs says, a time for frivolous whims, for throwing self-control away, for divine mistakes.

Want to celebrate Beltane like I do? Indulge yourself. Eat something decadent. Wear heady perfume. Put on your favorite dress, or vest, or shoes. Listen to great music. Watch your favorite movie. Dance in the sunlight or in the pouring rain. Buy yourself flowers. Take pleasure where you can find it, in company or on your own. Spring and flourish in lusty deedsIMG_5241

Say hello to the world. Look at the sky and notice its colors changing moment to moment. Find flowers in different stages of blooming. Save a snail on the sidewalk. Watch the patterns birds make as they swoop and whorl. Breathe deep; seek peace.

Nourish joy. Be creative and courageous. Start a new project. Revisit one you haven’t looked at in years. Reach out to a friend. Take a picture of something beautiful. Write out how you’re feeling, or paint it out, or sing it out. Decorate your pathways with chalk.

Find someone or something to love today. A person, a moment in the sun, a flower blossom, a pet, a poem, a word, a wonder. Fill the world with love.

Celebrate. Because we’re alive and sharing this world. Because you have a soul and it strives. Because when the world renews itself, it reminds us that we can, too.

Bits of Fun

Set My Heart Aflame: A moment of love for language

So, I’ve recently become high-school-levels of obsessed with the musical Hamilton. At this point I’d pretty much sell a kidney to get to see it, and with the ticket prices and availability being what they are, it may well take that in order to do so. Fortunately, many of my friends share in this fixation, so my constant reblogging isn’t as obnoxious as it might otherwise be.

Take yesterday, for example, when a friend decided to rhapsodize on the lovely repetition in the song “Satisfied”, and I just couldn’t resist from jumping in with a full rhetorical analysis:

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There are a lot of reasons I’ve fallen so passionately in love with this musical, but this right here is a big one. The language is just goddamn gorgeous.

It makes you realise how flexible our ability to express ourselves is, how many ways a writer can reveal character and intent. The words themselves are just the half of it — rhythm, structure, patterns and the breaking of them — that makes the rest.

Bits of Fun

The Fandom that Lives

If you’re as big a Harry Potter geek as I am, you know why today’s a big deal.

Four years and two weeks ago, I wrote the following on another blog, marking the release of Deathly Hallows, Pt 2:

This is not the end of my childhood.

My childhood was already almost over when I got into Harry Potter. I was sixteen, closing in on seventeen. I had to make a run to the drugstore to pick a prescription, and I picked up the 1st book, completely on a whim, just from the little newsstand there. I devoured it in a day, and then had to get CoS immediately — which I then had to balance with studying for my physics final. I remember distinctly sitting on my back porch, alternating a chapter of one with a chapter of the other. By the time I finished PoA, school was over and I was on my way to Italy. But, Goblet of Fire was still only out in hardcover — and my packing restrictions for going to Italy meant I couldn’t carry a hardcover book with me. So, I spent three weeks in torment, not knowing what happened next, having to cover my ears when the other girls started talking about it. This was sort of my first introduction to the concept of spoilers.

I wasn’t an adult yet, but I wasn’t a child, either. I’d known love and I’d known betrayal and I’d known heartbreak. I still had a long way to go on the path to maturity, but I didn’t enter these books in a state of innocence. I sometimes wonder if that’s why the characters who fascinated me — Sirius Black, Bellatrix and Narcissa and the Lestrange brothers, Remus Lupin, Minerva McGonagall — aren’t as much the younger characters, not the ones we watched grow up (though I do have a great deal of affection for many of them as well).

As much as I loved the series from the moment I picked it up, I didn’t really get into the fandom, though, until a little later — about the time, I think, that Order of the Phoenix came out. Slightly before, probably — I started hunting the web for theories and clues and ponderings, and I stumbled into fanart and fanfic as I was doing so. And from then on… oh, I was immersed. The spot that Star Wars and musical theatre had once occupied in my heart and mind, Harry Potter now claimed.

I can’t even express how much this series and this fandom have meant to me. Even though I’m not really in the fandom anymore, or at least not the way I was — it was so big a part of me for so long. There are so many memories, glittering and laughing and, well, magical. Online and off, in text and in real life, there’s just so much. Whole afternoons and nights spent discussing theories, both about the past and the future, with my friends. Helping to found WizMug, a HP fan club at William and Mary, becoming their projects chair, organizing Death Day parties and Yule balls, playing Quidditch for Slytherin and discovering that I make a damn good Chaser.

And then online, where I met so many people who have become such good friends to me,  some of whom are now in other fandoms with me. I love that HP brought us together, and that we’ve stayed close. I remember discovering the Lexicon and all its cross-referenced wonders. I remember discovering Mugglenet and its forums and theories. I remember hovering on JK’s site whenever she was going to make an announcement. I remember being delighted over wonderful fanart.

I remember, and still re-read, the fanfics I wrote, oh my goodness, crafting an entire life for Bella Black, making her so full and real, drawing up proper family trees with sensible math, sketching out the floor plan of Ebony Manor, spending ages on timelines and details and all the little moments that made up her life and made her what she was — and becoming so well-known for it, at least for a time, at least in a certain part of the fandom. I was, for a while, the queen of the House of Black, HBIC, an acknowledged force to be reckoned with. My stories became head!canon for a lot of my readers, which is still so flattering. I remember the fic challenges, and the communities, and the exchanges. I remember running a prompt community for a year, and running a Death Eater reclist. I remember how hard I pushed myself, and how good it felt to get the story right, and how even better it felt when other people took delight in it, too. My writing grew so much from writing her — and it also led to me exploring a rather darker side of my own nature. Bella helped me fight through the deepest, grimmest depression of my life. It took exploring that darkness, through her, to know how to combat it in my own life.

Then, the RPGs – Sanctuary, which was my first one, an OC-based, PoA-set game, filled with so many Mary-Sues, but which was still fun, and that’s where Alexandra Bradford started — dear little clumsy, bubbly, sweet-natured Alex (the antithesis, really, to Bella). Then Oblitesco, Race, D&S briefly, Magic-on-the-Web that never was. Getting so frustrated with the lack of plot in one comm that we, with our tertiary side characters, created a completely bonkers sideline plot that we somehow sucked Harry Potter himself into — and then getting fed up and just starting our own game, which I still think had a better plot than HBP did. Staying up all night RPing with my friends, spending far too many hours with Heather detailing the precise breakdown of votes in a wizarding election, caring so much about what happened with Bella or poor little Alex. And then Lumos, the great sorting comm, where I fought so hard for Slytherin’s dominance game after game — and where I met a great many people that I still cooperate and compete with over in a different sorting community, based on A Song of Ice and Fire.

I remember the book release parties — coming within several beans of winning the guessing contest, faux-groveling at the feet of a kid who came as Quirrel, complete with Voldy-head, having to wash black dye out of my hair, giving my name as “Black” at a restaurant just because it made me giggle to do so. For HBP, when we all went as Death Eaters and spent the night asking people to join our cause — and getting one seven-year-old to yell “Pureblood pride!” which still makes me giggle inappropriately. Crawling underneath the table at the Short Pump B&N to get away from the crowds, and sitting on the floor between two racks of greeting cards because there just wasn’t anywhere else to go. Just being so happy to be sharing the love with so many people, with complete strangers who were also so happy. There was always a whole lot of love in those rooms. I remember not getting OotP at the store, because I’d already pre-ordered it on Amazon — I remember the way the FedEx guy just grinned at me when I bounded out the door to meet him, because he knew what I wanted, because Amazon made those special boxes just for HP. I remember falling out of my chair during the second chapter of HBP, because Dez and I had had that exact conversation while RPing.

I remember the excitement of getting my parents to read them. Mom caught on early, but it took forever to persuade Dad. They’re both pretty adorable about it now, though. I remember getting text messages from both of them when JK announced that Dumbledore was gay.

I remember the movie releases — taking over an entire theatre with WizMug for Goblet of Fire, shuttling people back and forth from the University Center, sitting grouped with our Houses, a riot of colours and banners, all cheering and shouting. I remember taking a veritable hoard of costumed folk to New Town for OotP, taking pictures in the hallway of the Jamestown dorms. I remember not making the midnight showing of HBP, but going to Short Pump the next day. DH1 wasn’t as much of an event, due to time constraints and poor planning, but it was still an exciting evening I got to share with friends. And now… now I’ll have Deathly Hallows 2 to remember, too.

And then, just a couple of months ago… going to Hogsmeade, getting to immerse so fully in that wonderful dream. Just being dazzled and delighted, all over again, and realising that — this series is going to stand the test of time. Haters to the left. It is certainly not without its flaws, but it is still something really special, and it always will be.

I may not have come to HP as a child, but part of what the series reminds me is that — you don’t have to be a child to feel that wonder, that splendour, that sense of magnificence. You don’t have to be a child to get wrapped up in a story. You don’t have to be a child to learn lessons from a story, either. And you certainly don’t have to be a child to love something so much that you overflow with it, that you have to share it with all of your friends. I’m so glad HP has given me such an opportunity to stay playful and creative, an excuse to dress up and not care what anyone thinks about me, to laugh and debate and get excited with my dearest friends. I’m a woman grown, and I wouldn’t trade back a minute of what HP’s given me over the past nine years — nor do I intend to give it up now.

Everyone’s sad that it’s over. Everyone’s worried this really is the end, that what’s left of the fandom will die out after this.

I’m hoping there are, phoenix-like, the seeds of a new beginning here. It won’t ever be just as it was, it won’t ever be that same golden moment again — but there could be something else, just as special, in its own way.

I wept my eyes out last night, make no mistake. My heart was breaking for so many reasons. But I do not accept this as The End.

And what’s happened since then?

If anything, my fandom involvement has re-escalated. I went to Ascendio in 2012, and I’ve been to a con a year since then. I’ve been the winner of Wizarding Advanced Readiness Training and have danced my heart out at wizard prom. This exact day last year, I was in Orlando for LeakyCon. This past May, I worked on the staff of MISTI-Con in New Hampshire, and it was some of the most fun (ridiculous, exhausting fun) I’ve had as an adult. That con also saw the premiere of a wizarding murder mystery by Clever By Half Productions (wherein I got to play with wrist-mounted flamethrowers, so if nothing else I have this fandom to thank for making that lifelong dream come true). I’ve continued to make friends near and far, thanks to this fandom. I’m involved in real life and on Tumblr. I turn 30 this year, and damn if my party isn’t going to be themed to the wizarding world (but, y’know… in a grown-up way). There have been and will continue to be so many golden moments.

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And it’s certainly not just me. Harry Potter remains a cultural touchstone for so many people. Just a few days ago, my dad texted me that he and mom think Quidditch should be played using drone technology. No. Seriously. They had that conversation, and then texted their daughter about it.

So thank you, JK. Not just for inspiring so many readers and so many writers, but for giving so many people a love to share. And happy birthday to you and to Harry!