Have you thought about your Hogwarts house recently?

Maybe it’s time you revisited that topic.  If you’re even moderately involved in online or in-person Harry Potter fan discussions, today’s post isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know, but I hope my personal examples will make reading it worth your while.

You’ve probably heard it said that your Hogwarts house (whichever house you identify with most–whether selected by you or by Pottermore) is more indicative of what you value than of the person you currently are.  That statement now seems incredibly obvious to me in light of not only the books (e.g., Harry’s choice not to be placed in Slytherin) but also my own house and those of my friends and family, but I had never heard the idea articulated until recently.

Let me illustrate it with my own story.  If you’ve been reading this blog long enough–or if you go back through the archives to around 2012-13–you may know that I used to consider myself a Ravenclaw (and still have a Ravenclaw blog title and tagline, which probably won’t change) and had a bit of an identity crisis when Pottermore placed me in Hufflepuff.  But over the years since then, I have become a very proud Hufflepuff.  There’s a bit of a chicken and egg question here–did I realize that I was really a Hufflepuff all along, or did I accept the Pottermore pronouncement as fate and write myself a personal narrative to fit?  Or–a third option–did my house identity lead me to aspire and strive to become a person who belongs in Hufflepuff?  I think this last theory best explains what happened.  Before being sorted, I already valued loyalty, hard work, and kindness (a quality not specifically mentioned by the Sorting Hat but popularly associated with Hufflepuff) to some degree–otherwise I wouldn’t have answered the sorting questions the way I did–but being sorted into Hufflepuff pushed me to articulate these values more clearly than I ever had before and to begin consciously striving to emulate them.

Now, here’s the key–I don’t always exemplify these traits, but I strongly admire them when I see them in others, more than I admire traits associated with other houses.  I think that’s a big reason why I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them more than a lot of people did–because, as I argued in this post, it’s a movie about one actual Hufflepuff and (as I see them) his very Hufflepuff-like friends.  People don’t necessarily think of Hufflepuff when they think of me, but when someone does place me in the correct house (this happened a couple of weeks ago), I’m very happy, and I take this as a sign that I am becoming the kind of person I want to be.  We see this with Harry Potter.  He probably could have fit into any of the houses, but his choice placed him in Gryffindor.  And throughout the series (especially in Chamber of Secrets, but later too) we see him worrying about whether he’s really brave enough to be in Gryffindor or whether, instead, he’s simply foolhardy.  I think we see it with Neville too–he doesn’t immediately appear to be a brave person, but being brave is important to him (because of his parents, we later learn), and he eventually becomes brave.  We could think of it this way: If you’re constantly thinking, “I don’t deserve to be in this house,” you’re probably in the right house.

This theory explains why I know some very sweet people who strongly identify with Slytherin–maybe they’re tired of being pigeonholed as sweet people.  It probably explains a lot of other things that I haven’t thought about yet.  How about you?  Do you think you belong in the house where Pottermore placed you, and why or why not?  I know this topic gets discussed a lot, but I never get tired of it, because I think it can be a fascinating and useful tool for understanding who we are and who we aspire to become.

I’m a church lady.

I hinted last week that I might post about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this week, but after watching the Blu-Ray, including the deleted scenes (which were enjoyable  but didn’t fill in any of the story gaps I’d hoped they would), I found that I don’t have a whole lot that’s new to say about the movie, except that I still love it, story gaps and all.  I will briefly mention, however, that I now have a favorite sequence: the one in which Newt and Jacob work together to catch the Erumpent in Central Park.  It starts off with that lovely little scene in which Newt does the Erumpent mating dance, showing that he has no problem making himself look ridiculous for the benefit of his beloved beasts (and making us love them too, vicariously).  After that, it’s a well-paced, purely fun caper through the park that solidifies the partnership between Newt and Jacob–at the end, the latter puts out his hand as if they’re meeting for the first time and finally says, “Call me Jacob.”  The music is also perfect in this sequence; it’s beautiful and sounds like something that should be in a ballet, but it has just enough of a sense of humor to fit the tone of the events.

But that’s not the topic of today’s post.  Instead, I want to write a little bit about the wonderful time I had this past weekend at my church’s women’s retreat at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Ashville, NC.  I think I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m a mountain lover, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed my surroundings, especially the feeling of being enveloped by the woods while zip-lining on Saturday.  I also enjoyed The Cove’s gourmet meals, the music and teaching sessions, and getting to sleep in almost total darkness and quiet.

But my favorite thing about the retreat was looking around and realizing just how many women from my church I recognize and, of those, how many I can call my friends.  This is significant to me not only because I belong to a large church, but also because for a long time, I didn’t think I was a “church lady.”  During college and for a number of years after that, I did not consider myself the type of person who would go to a women’s retreat–nor who would attend a Beth Moore Living Proof event (which I did last fall) or who would wear a piece of jewelry inspired by a book from a women’s Bible study I participated (and I love my necklace pendant that looks like the bird’s nest on the cover of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts).

Now, when I look back on the period when I thought I wasn’t a church lady, I realize that my attitude largely stemmed from pride and prejudice.  (I promise that was not an intentional Jane Austen reference, but I decided to run with it.)  I had a very narrow definition of what a church lady was.  Although I couldn’t have pointed to one person who fit this description, my stereotyped mental image of a church lady didn’t like to read non-Christian fiction, hugged everyone who came across her path but didn’t really know them, would have considered me unspiritual and just plain weird for liking Harry Potter and rock music, and used Bible verses in all of her decorating.  She was also, although I may not have ever articulated this is a verbal thought, intellectually and spiritually inferior to me.

Of course, I was wrong, not to mention lousy with pride.  My erroneous thinking derived from two main problems.  First, I was forgetting that the true definition of a “church lady” is any woman who belongs to Jesus Christ, even if she lives in a country that doesn’t have a single Lifeway.  Second, I didn’t know very many women from my local church.  It took me a long time and some deliberate actions–serving in various ministries, becoming an official church member, deigning to attend Wednesday night Bible studies–before I really started getting to know some of them.  Now, in my church, I have running buddies, I have fellow Harry Potter fans, and I have women who may not have any superficial interests in common with me but with whom I can have a genuine conversation about life.  It was beautiful to look out over the crowd in our sessions over the weekend and realize that.

my thoughts on the Oscar nominations

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know that most years, I have at least a bit of commentary on the Oscar nominations.  I don’t predict the winners–it’s too early to do that anyway, and I don’t have the magic formula–but I like to throw in my two cents about whom and what I hope will win.

  1. Best Picture: This is an unusual year in that I had already seen three of the Best Picture contenders before the nominations were even released.  I’ve already shared my thoughts on Hacksaw Ridge in this post.  The other two I’ve seen are La La Land and Manchester by the Sea, two excellent films that are polar (or at least West Coast/East Coast) opposites in setting, aesthetic, and topic, but that both deal with the theme of rebuilding a life from the ruins of hardship and disappointment.  I’d be happy if either of those won the top prize.  Hacksaw Ridge won’t win it–because of its subject matter, its director, and its fairly conventional story trajectory.  Speaking of conventionality, I was surprised to see Hidden Figures on the list because the trailers made it look like a standard feel-good movie.  Trailers can be misleading, though.  As for the other nominees, Fences looks like the kind of emotionally raw family saga that the Academy loves, Arrival looks like one of those surprisingly deep space travel movies we’ve been seeing a lot of in recent years (Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian), and the other three I have nothing to say about because I know next to nothing about them.
  2. Best Original Score: This is typically one of my favorite categories, but this year, with the exception of La La Land, it’s a total snoozefest so far–I say “so far” because I’ve been listening to all of the scores on Spotify throughout the day, and I just (like 30 seconds ago) started the last one, Passengers.  (I have hope for this one because it’s by my favorite film score composer, Thomas Newman.)  La La Land, as we would expect from a movie about music, has a very good score–it’s peppy and poignant by turns in all the right places.  One film whose score I would have included, if I’d been asked, would have been Manchester by the Sea.  Maybe it was left out because some of the finest musical moments in the film were not original at all but from Handel’s Messiah and other classical works.  But the original portion of the soundtrack was beautiful and unexpected for this understated story (it’s mostly choral, which gives the film a sacred quality).
  3. Miscellaneous categories they sneak in near the beginning of the broadcast when I’m out in the kitchen getting snacks: Know what else had a really good score?  My favorite movie of the year, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  James Newton Howard didn’t get nominated in that category, but the film did get nods for Production Design (formerly known as Art Direction) and Costume Design.  I think it’s significant that it was nominated in these categories rather than in those where we often see fantasy/franchise films, such as Visual Effects and Sound Mixing.  This seems to be another indication that the Harry Potter franchise is growing up–the Academy sees Fantastic Beasts as a period piece, not a special effects blockbuster.  By the way, I was cherishing a secret hope that Eddie Redmayne would get nominated for Best Actor for his third year in a row.  Alas.
  4. Best Animated Feature: I’ll close with this: One of the best films I saw in 2016, categories be darned, was Zootopia.  It dealt with serious current issues in a complicated, far from heavy-handed way, and it was that rare animated movie that remained a kids’ movie even while appealing to adults.  It should have been nominated for Best Picture, but I hope it at least wins the animated feature category.

I’ll probably blog about my reactions to the winners on February 27.  Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on the nomination slate?

some random questions for Christmas

In which I interview myself.

If you could design a Christmas t-shirt, what would it say?  Bob Cratchit: Straight Outta Camden.

If you could spend Christmas with any fictional family, what family would you choose?  I borrowed this question from another blog I looked at over the weekend, but it’s something I’ve thought about before–not that I had to think very hard.  The only correct answer to this question (and a total no-brainer if you’ve been reading my blog over the years) is “the Weasleys.”  However, I did see Fantastic Beasts again today, and I have to say that if for some reason I couldn’t Apparate across the Atlantic for Christmas, it would also be fun to spend Christmas with Tina and Queenie Goldstein–if Newt and Jacob could also be there, and if we could have pie and strudel.

What holiday season song bothers you the most?  Please indulge me in a rant on this one.  I am deeply troubled by the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”  It used to bother me because although it gets classified as a Christmas song, it’s merely a cold weather song.  People in Australia could sing it in August.  But then someone pointed out to me that this song appears to describe a man keeping a woman in his home against her will.  You can call it an attempt at date rape or a hostage situation–either way, there’s nothing cute or clever about it, and it really annoys me that singers who think they are cute and clever are still covering it.  You can try to explain the lyrics away as the product of a simpler time, but what are you going to do with the line, “Say, what’s in this drink?”?  Slipping drugs into a person’s beverage was never okay.

Let me contrast this song with another one that presents a similar scenario: “Let It Snow.”  In this song, the two characters appear to be mutually consenting adults who actually like each other, unlike in “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and they face a far more challenging weather prognosis (cold is only dangerous if you have to spend the whole night outside, whereas snow can cause decreased visibility and hazardous road conditions).  Yet, after a nice evening enjoying popcorn in front of the fire, one of them is mature enough to say, “I’ve had a lovely time, but I am now going to get in my four-wheel drive vehicle and safely drive home before this snow gets worse.  How about you give me a big kiss and a hug to keep me warm on my way?”  Yes, the line “The fire is slowly dying, and my dear, we’re still goodbye-ing” may indicate a reluctance to part, but again, this reluctance seems to be mutual.  There is no coercion here, nor any guilt-tripping.  (Contrast this with the part in “Cold” when the man says, “Think of my lifelong sorrow.”  Gag me.)

(takes a deep breath) Okay, we can move on to the next question.

What charming Christmas comedy have you discovered in recent years?

How did you know I’d recently discovered a charming Christmas comedy?  Well, last year I came across Nativity! in which Martin Freeman plays a put-upon grade-school teacher directing a nativity play that gets way out of hand.  Martin Freeman is delightful as always (I think I’ve used that exact same adjective to describe him at least once before on this blog), and the kids, who seem to be “real” people rather than actors, are hilarious.  So is Mr. Poppy, the teacher’s aide who is basically a child himself.  Check this one out.

 

The no-maj question

This is the second and last post I am writing in response to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–at least until I watch it again. 🙂  Spoilers ahead.

A few weeks ago I wrote on my blog that one of the aspects of the film I was most excited about was the presence of a non-magical person as a major character.  I predicted that this would be significant for fandom because it would give us all hope that we, too, could become part of that world (since we’ve all pretty much given up on receiving that lost-in-the-mail Hogwarts letter).

What I didn’t realize was that there would be so many non-magical characters in the movie and that they would represent such a wide array of roles.  (And yes, let’s get this out of the way: “N0-maj” is kind of an annoying term, but it makes sense.  Americans don’t like saying long words if we don’t have to.)  In Harry Potter, we basically just had the bland yet horrible Dursleys, but in Fantastic Beasts we have…

  1. The Second Salem group, an anti-witch society, composed of a cold, abusive woman and her adoptive children of varying ages, that’s scarier in its way than any of the dark magic in this film.  I haven’t read any movie reviews yet, but I have a feeling that people are probably tagging this joyless family as a caricature of religious fundamentalists.  I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, and I also noticed that the Second Salemers receive a moment of sympathy when they are dismissed and mocked by one of the people in this next group.
  2. The newspaper baron and his competing sons.  If I hadn’t known that this movie was the first in a series, I would have said that these characters were completely superfluous to the story (though the murder of the political son makes a lot more sense when you remember who seemed most sensitive to his mockery in the scene I just mentioned), but I have a feeling we’ll see at least one of them later.  The “I’m trying really hard to get Dad to notice me” son could go in a lot of different plot directions, whether or not he’s retained any memories of the magic he’s witnessed.  And speaking of retaining memories…
  3. The aforementioned major character, Jacob Kowalski.  By making Jacob a lower-middle-class, frustrated in his job, affable but not terribly brilliant schlub, J. K. Rowling has gone out of her way to make us believe that if this guy can make friends with wizards and witches (and get kissed by one too), surely anyone can.  (I’m focusing on surface appearances here; I actually do think Jacob is pretty special–see my previous post–but you see my point.)  But then the ending of the movie cruelly wrenches that hope away from us as Jacob is subjected to the same massive memory-wiping charm as the rest of New York City.  If there hadn’t been a little scene at the end to let us know that Jacob has subconscious recollections of his adventure, I really think I would have walked out of the theater devastated.

Whether or not you think that the ending negated–I should say “obliviated”–any strides toward no-maj acceptance that the movie seemed to make, you have to admit that there’s a much wider range of non-magical characters than we’ve ever seen before.  And I have a feeling we’re going to see even more.

 

Fantastic EQ and How to Have It

Well, I couldn’t wait until next week.

I know there are some people who read my blog who love J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world as much as I do, but there are also some readers who aren’t great fans of that world but are interested in the psychology/personal growth topics I often write about.  This post is for all of you.

Last night as I was leaving the theater after seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where I Find Them, I ran into several friends and acquaintances, and as we briefly exchanged expressions of love for the movie, I noticed that I kept putting my hand over my heart, as if I needed to keep it inside my chest.  That’s how the movie made me feel.  I felt like my heart was overflowing.

Another way of saying the same thing: Sharp-eyed viewers (and people who have been on Pottermore recently) will notice that the protagonist, Newt Scamander (whom I loved just as much as I hoped I would), has a Hufflepuff scarf.  I remarked to one friend that even though Newt is the only Hogwarts graduate in the movie, all the inner-circle characters seem like Hufflepuffs to me.  Despite their different personalities, they are all kind, awkward, earnest, and almost painfully empathetic.  And I think that’s why I loved the movie.

Emotional intelligence (EQ), of which empathy is a big part, is a topic that fascinates me, so I can’t help noticing when fictional characters show that they have it–or don’t.  In Fantastic Beasts, I saw the main story as a piece of Newt Scamander’s EQ development journey.  At the beginning of the movie, he doesn’t make eye contact with people (he does with animals, though), he behaves bizarrely in social situations, and–most importantly–he’s very, very guarded about his personal life.  By the end, he hasn’t become a different person, but he’s learned to trust a few people who have earned it, he makes the (for him) difficult admission that a human being is actually his friend, and he seem to take the first tiny steps toward falling in love.

But yes, this is a fantasy, not an introspective drama.  Yet I think the splashier plot, the one involving dark magic and wand duels, also hinges on emotional intelligence.  At the end of the movie, empathy saves New York City.  (How’s that for a superhero movie title?)  Seriously.  Unfortunately, it comes too late to save the lost soul whose personal conflict has been spilling over and wreaking havoc on the city.  As in the Harry Potter series, we see that children who don’t receive love usually (unless they’re special, like Harry) have no love to give others.

There’s also a beautiful metaphor for empathy in this movie.  One character that I didn’t except to love (I forgot that Rowling can write really great female characters, unlike so many authors) was Queenie, who is a Legilimens (for you non-fans, that means she can read minds).  Mind-reading tends to be portrayed as a sinister skill, but in Queenie’s case, it’s a literalized form of empathy: I actually do know what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, but instead of using that against you, I’m going to help you if I can, and just accept you if there’s nothing else I can do.  I think my favorite line in the whole movie was when Queenie said to Newt, talking about a girl that Newt used to be close to, “She’s a taker.  You need a giver.”  Right at that moment, Tina (Queenie’s sister and Newt’s–I think–love interest, and the one whose empathy, along with Newt’s, saves NYC) walked onto the scene, as if on cue.  The next second, so did Jacob, Newt’s new friend–a guy who’s so giving that he wants to open up a bakery and spend the rest of his life feeding people (insert emoji with heart-shaped eyes).  So it was just a whole room full of real and honorary Hufflepuffs–people whom you really, really want to be your friend.

Maybe I’ll write more about Fantastic Beasts next week.  (I haven’t even said anything about the fantastic beasts yet!)  But I just wanted to explain why I’m not just being sappy and fangirlish when I say that I had to rein my heart in after watching this movie.

 

things that made me happy this week

I couldn’t settle on a single topic for this post, so I’m just going to make a list of things that brought me a bit of delight over the past week, in hopes that it may be interesting and useful to others as well.  I guess you could call this my T(t)hanksgiving post, since next week you better believe I’ll be blogging about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

  1. Finding the soundtrack to Fantastic Beasts on Spotify today–there’s nothing like listening to the score to get you excited about a movie (not that I needed it in this case)
  2. The full trailer for Beauty and the Beast, released yesterday.  Besides the fact that this is a remake of one of my very favorite Disney movies, I also love that the anticipation is giving me a way to bond with other fans, including my children’s lit students and some of the women in my family.
  3. Speaking of my students (in all of my classes), they’ve been making me happy all semester.  These groups of students are fun and smart, they seem to like me (teachers, let’s not act like that doesn’t make a huge difference in our personal morale), and they seem to actually be interested in what we’re reading.  And those things aren’t necessarily true every semester.
  4. Finding three Christmas tree ornaments over the weekend: a wooden “Peace on Earth” ornament from The Funky Junk Shop in Forest, VA (where I also found a cozy and flattering shirt that I’m now in love with) and a felt baby chick and a vintage Shiny Brite brand bulb with the solar system on it, from The White Brick House, also in Forest (where I also found a vintage Virginia state bird and state flower glass to replace one from my set that I had broken).
  5. Cooking and baking, for myself and for others.  For myself, I’ve been making some chard-based recipes featured in the December Better Homes and Gardens, and they’ve been delicious so far.  Last night I baked an apple pie for a Thanksgiving dinner being hosted by a friend’s local ministry (and the crust actually looked presentable, which is definitely something to be thankful for), and tonight I’ll be making some treacle fudge for the International Candy Tasting at work tomorrow.  And I’m already looking forward to making sweet potato souffle this weekend for my friends and next week for my family.  (I also made some last week just for me–I’d like to keep up this “one sweet potato souffle a week” trend as long as I can stand it.)
  6. The cardio funk class I attended last night at the YMCA.  When people think of my good qualities, rhythm is not normally near the top of the list (or on it at all), but I think that’s part of the reason why I enjoyed this class so much–I knew I wasn’t going to get the moves exactly right, so I just focused more on the cardio than on the funk and had fun laughing at myself.  Tonight…Zumba.
  7. Volunteering with Safe Families for Children, an organization I’m excited to be involved with as it gets off the ground in Central Virginia.  Saturday morning I got to help with registration for a conference for foster and adoptive families where SFFC had a big presence, and it was so much fun to see all these hospitable, compassionate people showing up eager to learn and be encouraged.  Yesterday and today, I’ve provided transportation for some young single moms, and I’ve enjoyed talking with them and playing with their cute kids.  I know they say that helping other people is a big mood-booster, but more than that, I love getting to know all the many different people that I encounter through these opportunities (and this is coming from an introvert).
  8. The beauty right outside my house as winter approaches.  This week, highlights have included a flock of blue jays in the backyard; a huge and colorful woodpecker that landed on my feeder a few days ago, looked bewildered, and then flew away; the incredibly bright supermoon on Sunday and Monday nights, and the hard frost Saturday night/Sunday morning (the coolest part was in the morning when the sun started melting the frost where there weren’t any shadows–my lawn was half white and half green).

I could keep going, but it’s time to go make a chard stir-fry.  You should seriously consider taking half an hour to write down things that have made you happy this week.  It isn’t hard at all.