Tag Archives: the project

#1 — how harry potter defined the direction of my life.

This post is part of a big project I am starting, which I’m hoping to complete in the next year. I’m open to any stylistic criticisms for these. 

The first time I had ever heard of Harry Potter was in the third grade. There was a new girl in my class at St. Michael’s that year named Madeline Dahl. If I couldn’t tell from her white skin that she was a military child like me, then I realized when our moms started a carpool to and from school. Madeline was exceptionally good at imitating accents, and recently, her favorite thing to say was “Expelliarmus!’ Which, apparently, was from this Harry Potter book.

Mom took me to the PX one day after school and I made a beeline for the book section while she filled her basket with whatever she had come for. That day, a wire shelf held a display of the first four Harry Potter books. As I stood there in my St. Michael’s uniform, my life changed. I had never given Harry Potter much thought but that day, for some reason, I decided it might be worth a shot to pick up one of these books.

When I got home I held the book in my hand and wondered what the story could be about. Reading the first few lines, I felt as if I were being inducted into a secret club of those who know — those who understand, who have read, and who love.

The first chapter was slow, but gradually the story drew me in and I became infatuated with the skinny boy with glasses who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. I began to stay up late at night reading and wake up early with only one thing on my mind.  I felt smart when I pulled the hefty books out of my backpack at school when we had free reading time after lunch and recess. Every moment was delicious.

Since this was 2002, only the first four books in the series had been written. I devoured each one quickly and then had to wait patiently for the next one to be released. In that time, I pacified my anxious mind by learning to use the Internet.

Our house on Schofield Barracks had one computer in the very back room. The desktop sat on a big, official-looking wooden desk for which we had no better location. It had squeaky drawers with gold handles that I would keep my floppy disks in when I brought them home from computer class at school. I liked to spin around in the leather chair with its armrests, my feet dangling in the air. To my memory, the room was always dark and cool, so it became my new favorite hide out – and I liked hide outs. There, I would play with my dolls for hours, creating elaborate narratives for each character that would consume an entire afternoon.

But sometimes I would power up the ancient desktop and explore this new world inside that bright screen, which was often the room’s main source of light. I had learned to use Google in computer class at school, so I typed in the name of the woman who wrote Harry Potter, one letter at a time.

J. K. Rowling. There wasn’t much online at the time, but I did find the title of a biography on her, written by Marc Shapiro entitled “J.K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter.” I found the book at Borders and read it over and over again. I had never considered the woman behind the story before, but now it amazed me: she had created the world I had fallen in love with. The biography told of her lonely childhood when she had to switch schools and make all new friends. She came up with stories to tell the girls at her school and that was how she made friends. I felt connected to this little girl because I had had to move to a new school and I would likely have to do it again in the future, although I tried my best to put that thought out of my mind.

Before I finished the biography on J. K. Rowling, I resolved to become the creator of something equally as beautiful. I had a purple, hardcover Harry Potter notebook, the kind you could buy at the Scholastic book fairs that toured elementary schools around the country. The lined pages were blank, and that excited me.

I gathered up some pens and pencils from my pencil box and, inspired Harry Potter’s under-the-stairs living space, I made myself a little writing niche in the cupboard of my bathroom. I brought a pillow and a blanket from my bed and I shut the door of the cupboard, hiding out for hours. I must have brought a flashlight or something in with me; I don’t know how else I would have been able to see.

What resulted in those many hours of solitude, locking myself away from the greedy fingers of my little sister, was a 20-page long beginning of a novel – Harry Potter fan fiction, to be precise. It was a story about Harry’s long lost cousin, who attended another wizard school. I focused a lot on her appearance; I felt as if that was the only concrete description I could create of a person that would solidify their existence as a legitimate character in a piece of work.

After a particularly spirited writing frenzy, I sat on the couch in the living room completely spent from the passion I had just put my young mind through. My mom looked over my happy smile as I curled on the sofa cradling the purple notebook as if it were the most precious possession I owned — because at that time, it was. Although I never finished the story, I was proud of the work I had done. I fanned the worn pages over and over again, and I ran my fingers over the indentions on the backs of pages. This was the first time I realized that something material could come from the silly things that ran through my head and I got such satisfaction from the tangible evidence.

I always promised myself I would come back to that story because I saw some real promise in those twenty pages. But the words were written in pencil and the plot was based on a world someone else had imagined. I hadn’t yet realized — or maybe I didn’t want to admit it to myself — that the story was never to go anywhere further than the first twenty pages of my purple Harry Potter notebook. The final three Harry Potter books and film versions of all seven would be released over the next nine years. Madeline would move away the next year and so would I. I would buy new notebooks and pens and I would grow another six inches, but the desire to create would remain inside me, causing my fingers to itch routinely for the pen or for a willing keyboard.