Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Summer at Hogwarts

Like millions of others around the world, I eagerly awaited the final book in J. K. Rowling's amazing Harry Potter series. When it hit the shelves in July I snapped it up and devoured it in a day and a half. The Queen of Blue Balls had made me wait two years between fixes and the suspense was killing me. When I was done it was like "Huh? What? I don't remember... How did he... What the hell!!" I knew there was nothing for it but to re-read the entire series in order. Which I did. The entire month of August. I barely went on-line except to read my emails and complete my Pogo challenges. I wanted nothing to distract me from my immersion into Rowling's world of witchcraft and wizardry. I came through the other end feeling drained and forlorn. It was over. I would no longer have this wonderful world in which I could escape and I was lost.

It pisses me off when I hear people dissing the Harry Potter books. Rowling's genius lay in her ability to pull the reader into an entirely believable world. She could have set it up as a group of kids on a sheep ranch in Montana and it would have been just as interesting. The theme is an old one - Good Kids vs. Bad Adults; Extraordinary vs. Ordinary; Good vs. Evil. By setting her book in a magical world, one that existed along side our very ordinary one, she made sure her books had a universal appeal. Kids and adults from Bangladesh to Bangor, Maine could read and understand the trials and tribulations of little Harry Potter.

J. K. Rowling is also directly responsible for my return to the written word. When I was younger I would often have two or three books going at the same time - one at school, another one or two at home. That stopped in 1997 when my mother and brother died within weeks of each other. I found that I could not read more than two sentences at a time without my mind wandering. This makes it very hard to follow a story, so I quit trying. Until Harry Potter came along that is. Rowling's writing focused my mind, drawing me out of myself and into her world with a clarity that had been absent for too long.

I've read that Rowling said the idea for Harry Potter came to her all at once and that the books practically wrote themselves. You wonder if the muse will ever strike her again. And if it does, will she be able to pull it off like she did with this series. Is there another story burning in the back of her brain, eager to be set free? I wonder. In one way, I hope so. In another, not so much. Maybe she shot her wad with this book and her next will be a disappointment. But whatever happens - Thank You J. K. Rowling for setting me free!

Listen! Can You Smell That?

They say that writing is a habit. The more you write, the better you get. The more you write, the easier it becomes. Since I seem to have gotten out of the habit of writing this summer, let's start off with something easy - like a memory:

When I was young I could smell the change of seasons weeks before they actually arrived. In January I could smell the damp earth of spring and the air held the promise of warmth in its molecules. By April I could smell the heat of a July summer day, and in late August it was the smell of leaf litter and burning leaves that clung to the wind. But winter was the most notable. As early as September I could smell and sometimes taste the biting winter wind all crisp and clean long before it swept down upon the plains from the frigid north.

I kept this ability to smell changes in the air into my teens, with the bitter winter air being the last to leave my senses. But I remember this strange power and wonder if others had the same experience.

It wasn't just seasons that assaulted my senses either, it was people as well. I don't mean this in the bad body odor way. I mean that every person - every family - had it's own, unique odor. I could smell it the minute I walked into their homes or if two or more family members were together. My family included.

Sadly, (or maybe not...) I lost this ability early on in childhood and frankly never thought about it. Until one day I was rummaging around in a junk store, looking at the old dresses and hankies, when I smelled Aunt Della. The smell of her hit me so hard and the memories came so suddenly that I looked around fully expecting to see her standing there, smiling at me like she did when I was little and was digging through her drawers looking for dress-up clothes. I was so shaken I could only stand there, clutching that dress to my face while her memory filled me with longing.

I did not buy the dress because I knew that it could not be her's. She had died in Iowa and I was in Pennsylvania. Maybe my memory was off. I was an adult, after all. But Aunt Della had come from Pennsylvania, along with her sisters (my Grandma Moss and Aunt Emma) when they were just little girls. Their parents had driven them out in a covered wagon with all their worldly possessions. Could this dress belong to a distant relative whose family still had this same smell? Who knows. I certainly don't. But it's fun to think it might be so.

Age (and cigarettes) have taken this heightened sense of smell away from me. But the memories of the change of seasons lingers. And for that I am truly grateful.