Monday, November 15, 2010

End of an Era

Wow, this has just been a crazy month for blogging, huh? But I'm writing this because of a very timely subject: Harry Potter.

The seventh movie comes out 75 hours and 9 minutes from when I'm typing this sentence. WHOA.

There have been six previous movie releases, and there will be one more, so I don't know why I feel this way. I feel the way I did shortly before the book Deathly Hallows came out: excited, nervous, filled with anticipation, but also a little fearful and sad. It was bittersweet. Because this book, I knew, was it. Here we found out what became of all the characters we had grown to love. Here we reached an end. And I was afraid it would also mean the end of a wonderful, irreplaceable chapter in my life.

It turns out I had no reasons to fear. In fact, it was just the beginning. That summer I attended Prophecy 2007, a Harry Potter conference up in Toronto, and was introduced to the wonders of the fandom. Don't get me wrong - I'd been involved in the online fandom, mostly lurking at fan sites and on forums, not really ever brave enough to put my thoughts and opinions out there. I'd been an avid Pottercast and Mugglecast listener since the beginning. But listening to Melissa, Sue, and John on my iPod while walking across my college campus or hearing Ben and Andrew and all the others while trying to avoid homework in my dorm room is not the same thing as being surrounded by fellow wizards. I loved the programming, seeing my fellow fans in their costumes. I was blown away by the Hall of Remembrance where they had tables set up for all the characters who had died in the series so that people could leave tokens, letters, and gifts. I think the biggest thing about Prophecy for me was that it was the place I truly fell in love with wizard rock. I'd heard Melissa Anelli's reports about the artists on Pottercast, but seeing the live show - WHOA. The saxophone on the Remus Lupins' "Remember Cedric." The Death Eaters dancing to Draco and the Malfoys. And the Whomping Willows set - that was the first time I ever saw Matt play live (I've since seen him in six other shows) and I remember feeling so shy going up to talk to him and get my picture taken with him afterward. :)

At that point, my fandom focus really shifted. I still listened to Pottercast (I dropped Mugglecast around that time), and checked The Leaky Cauldron fansite religiously for news about the movies, but I suddenly became a great deal more interested in the music phenomenon that is wizard rock. I also was introduced to the Harry Potter Alliance around this time, an organization that takes the themes and ideas in the Harry Potter books and uses them to fight evil in the real world and to encourage young people to become involved in activism. I signed up to become a member after the meeting they had at Prophecy and kept tabs on certain activities the group was involved with, but didn't become more involved than that.

That was the year I had just graduated from college, and that fall/winter was really hard for me. I became seriously depressed and quit my job in November. Then I became even more depressed as I couldn't find work and basically sat alone at home all day. But there was this element of pride to my depression, like admitting something was wrong was a sign of weakness. I became suicidal, and had even picked out a day and method for killing myself. It was that out of control.

As a result, my involvement in the fandom took a back burner. I didn't really care about anything anymore. The whole of 2008 is like this great yawning pit, and me dangling precariously above it, trying to decide whether to let go or to try to claw my way out. There was a very important Harry Potter moment in all of this though. The day I had circled on my calendar was getting nearer all the time, when one day out of nowhere a tiny thought popped into my head.

Mrs. Weasley's boggart.

I hadn't seen any of the movies or read any of the books recently. I shouldn't have been reminded of it, yet there it was. I remembered how in book five, Mrs. Weasley faces off against the boggart and it takes the shape of her various loved ones lying dead on the floor in front of her. And I realized that if I went through with my plan, I'd be doing just that to my mother.

It would be an over-generalization to say that Harry Potter saved my life, but it was certainly that thought that finally got through to me. I went to the doctor later that week, and it was humiliating, and I cried like an idiot, and I felt ashamed. But that didn't matter, because I got help. And the day I had circled on my calendar passed, and I lived to see the next day, and the one after that, and I'm still here.

So most of the remainder of 2008 involved me getting on depression medication, pulling my life back together again, getting a job and trying to get a better outlook on things. Like I said, that was a dark, dark year.

But in January 2009, I happened to be watching videos on YouTube and I saw a vlog put out by the Harry Potter Alliance about a project they were doing called No New Stuff. Paul of Harry and the Potters and Matt of the Whomping Willows had pledged to go the whole year without buying anything new (exceptions being food, toiletry items, and art - as they wished to continue supporting independent artists), in an attempt to call attention to consumerism and promote a healthier, more conscientious way of thinking about the things we buy and consume. They encouraged HPA members to join them in their No New Stuff challenge for the month of March.

I loved this idea. Working at Target, I was disgusted by regulars who would come into the store and buy a new shower curtain (or new throw pillows, or new towels, or whatever) every few weeks simply because they were tired of how their old ones looked and wanted a change. What a waste! In terms of commerce, it was great for the store, but it really had gotten me thinking about how decadent we can be as a society here in the west. This project came along at just the right time, so I jumped on board. I made vlogs and left them as video responses, and I started noticing that two other users named Hope and Jenny Sue were participating as well. We became online friends and dubbed ourselves the "No New Stuff Sisters" and decided we would continue doing No New Stuff even after March ended, through to the end of the year.

Around that time, the HPA put out a call for applications for new staff members, and Hope encouraged me to apply for the writing position. Both of us got accepted onto staff, and a whole new phase of my Harry Potter fandom life began.

One thing I have to say about the Harry Potter fandom, is that it is one of the most loving, open, warm, creative, talented, funny, friendly, and passionate groups of people I have ever encountered. But in the past I had only encountered this in small concentrated bursts: videos online, episodes of Pottercast, attending the conference in 2007. Being welcomed into the HPA family was just that - like finding a family. Every day I'd check my HPA email inbox and there would be emails flying back and forth with ideas about campaigns and issues, encouragement and funny references, weekly updates about what was going on in people's lives both inside and outside the Harry Potter community. I met so many wonderful people there, several of which I went on to later meet in person and whom I consider to be good friends.

Also that March I attended the Whomping Willows' 400th show in Holly Springs, NC. This was my first experience of seeing a few bands play shows on a tour. It was also my first exposure to DANC (Dumbledore's Army North Carolina), and North Carolina wizard rock bands like the Blibbering Humdingers and Hawthorn and Holly. I also met a friend there named Debbie, who I continue to see at shows and conferences. She and her friends saw me standing alone and encouraged me to come over and dance with them. Again, just another example of how warm and friendly and positive this community is.

Two months later I went to LeakyCon, which needs a whole blog post in itself to describe, but where I got to meet up with Debbie again and also met many HPA-ers in person (Kate, Karen, Jenni, Malory - who was my roomie, Brenna, Haley, and Andrew) as well as Big Name Fans like Melissa Anelli, Paul DeGeorge (I thanked him for doing the No New Stuff vlogs as it had brought so much happiness my way), Frankie Franco, John Noe, and more. I also got to dance to "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO right next to Hank Green of the vlogbrothers, which made me epically happy. New friendships were forged - people I met in programming, standing in line, on the dance floor. The last day I wandered with a group to the Boston Commons where we sat and talked and played games and refused to allow ourselves to admit that such a wonderful weekend was over. Many of those people are my facebook friends, and I love seeing what's going on in their lives every so often, even if we all live far away from each other.

Summer was the What Would Dumbledore Do? Campaign with the Harry Potter Alliance, and I was psyched to be able to do some writing projects for that, although unfortunately it coincided with a service trip I took to Bolivia and a visit to a friend in Montana, so I would squeeze in HPA work whenever I could without being rude to my friend.

The stresses of the summer started piling up though, combined with the fact that depression isn't necessarily an illness that is "cured just like that," but that can linger and affect your way of thinking even after more serious, suicidal tendencies are gone. I began to be frustrated with some of the way the communication was being handled within the HPA, but I wasn't very good about communicating this (I see the irony, yes) and just kept it inside where it became pent up negativity. Also around this time I applied to grad school and got in, so suddenly I was in class on Monday nights, which is traditionally when HPA meetings are held. Missing meetings made me feel even more isolated, so I signed up to work on the HPA archives, since this was a project I could do on my own time and still feel like I was participating. Unfortunately, I hadn't a clue as to where to begin, so I didn't do anything. But since I was so bad about communicating with people, I didn't tell anyone, until weeks later when I was asked for an update and didn't have anything to show for my time. It was then - around November, I think - that I kind of resigned while they simultaneously kind of fired me, cutting off my email account but not entirely saying, "By the way, you're fired."

November was Wrockstock. I roomed with Jenni, Hope, and Jenny Sue, and had one of the most incredible times of my life. Yet again I was overwhelmed by this community, this family of Harry Potter fans, and amazed by the truly incredible things they accomplished both musically and artistically. The drive there and back with Hope was great fun too. At the time it was miserable. We were delirious with fatigue and joy much of the way home, singing along at the top of our lungs with the Siriusly Smiling album until we were both sick to death of it, all the while wishing we could just be home already. But in hindsight, I'm glad we drove. There's nothing like bonding on a road trip, even one as insane as that one turned out to be.

So 2009 was very much the year of Harry Potter in my life. In January of 2010 I became involved with the HPA again, not on staff, but just as a member - tweeting like a madwoman in support of the various Ustream (or is it Livestream? I can't remember now) events they had to raise funds to help with the relief effort in Haiti. I also think I donated well over a thousand dollars bidding for various items, and ended up winning the signed Guild poster, which was very cool. Even more cool, though, was the excitement of watching as the final number raised grew higher and higher and knowing that it was going to such a good cause. Seeing the pictures of the planes take off for Haiti brought literal tears to my eyes. DFTBA, indeed.

Then, of course, there was the HPAFTW campaign, in which the HPA won $250,000 in the Chase Community Giving Challenge and we got to watch Andrew Slack jump into a pool fully clothed.

I've been to a few other wrock shows this year: two Whompy/JFF shows, Sonorus up in Virginia, and a wizard rock cookout at the Blibbering Humdingers' house to help paint sets for the Final Battle, the musical written by Lena Gabrielle Weinstein (aka the Butterbeer Experience) and Mallory Vance (half of Unicorn Blood). Hope and her friend Maegan drove up with me, and it was great fun.

Then about a week ago I got an email inviting me back onto HPA staff on the reserve team, a team set up for people who still want to help but may have less time to do so. I'm glad they apparently forgave me enough to welcome me back on board, and I look forward to being able to help with things in the future, even if it's in a lesser capacity.

Which brings us to now. And my fear about this movie, even though it's totally unfounded. Now, when I get to feeling this way next summer in the days leading up to LeakyCon '11? Then it may be more justified. I think that will truly be the end of an era for me, because at some point I'm going to have to stop devoting so much of my time, energy, passion, and love to Jo's story and start seeking out my own. That seems like a fitting point to cut things off. One big - HUMONGOUS - last hurrah. The last movie, visiting the theme park, and seeing all my friends again for one last epic conference. I anticipate I will be shedding many tears on the way home.

But for now I still have many months ahead of me where that is not a concern. Currently, I'm busy making one massive wizard rock compilation putting canon-based songs in chronological order. I'm getting involved in the Deathly Hallows Campaign, the first part of which involves petitioning the Harry Potter candy makers to go fair trade. And I will be standing in costume outside the theater in the hours leading up to midnight Thursday night.

My aunt sent me this quote from someone she knows who just saw the film, and it has me very excited: "I don't think all of the Harry Potter movies are that great - some are, some aren't - and I never thought I'd say this, but [Deathly Hallows] is one of the best movies of the year. I wouldn't be surprised if this one, or maybe just part two, gets nominated for Best Picture. It was SO gritty, and heartfelt, the pacing and acting and action were great. It had real moments of real life poignancy. It's definitely the best of the Harry Potter films, and one of the best fantasy films I've ever seen."

I am so excited. A little fearful? Yes. But this isn't the end of the era quite yet, and when that day comes I will grieve, but I will live. And I will move on with the knowledge that these past few years have been some of the best in my life, and that these people and this love we have shared will always have a place in my heart.

And life will happen. And all might not be well, but it will be an adventure into the unknown and unexpected, bringing new joys, surprises, challenges, and opportunities at every turn.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

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