The Granger-Weasley Wedding: A Muggle Perspective (Fan-Fic)

The car rolled over the moors, lumbering through the humid June morning. It was a respectable car, certainly nothing flashy, moving at a reasonable pace. Seated in the front seat was a couple that were similarly respectable, reasonable, and certainly nothing flashy. The driver was a middle-aged man with thinning red-brown hair and a slightly ruddy complexion; seated beside him, poring over maps printed from the internet, was his wife, whose brown hair was tied loosely back. Both wore spectacles and were the model of middle-class practicality.

Filtering from the Peugeot’s speakers was a CD by the Australian rock band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, which the couple had bought on a year-long holiday down under a couple of years prior. That trip had been one of the few impulsive things either of them had ever done: Looking back, they were hard-pressed to explain what had driven them to suspend their dentistry practice and leave for Australia for an entire year.

“Lovely country, isn’t it?” the husband said to his wife. “Do you think they’re going to stay out here after the wedding?” She looked up from the maps that she was studiously examining and smiled.

“Well, they both work in London so I imagine they might end up at least a little closer to us. Oh, look,” she added, pointing to a signpost, “Ottery St. Catchpole, 1 mile. It should be coming up.” She buried her head back into the maps.

As the narrow road curved around a bulbous little hill, they spotted a narrow drive cutting through a bog marked by what appeared to be a freshly painted sign:

No. 127
THE BURROW

The husband was about to ask his wife if this was the driveway they were looking for, but realized he had no need: This was certainly it.

The evidence was a man standing some ways down from the sign, who began waving excitedly as soon as he saw the car slow down. He was middle-aged, with thinning hair that still retained much of its original bright red, wearing what could only be described as a wizard’s robe.

“The Grangers, at long last!” he exclaimed as the car pulled to a stop and Mr. Granger rolled down the window.

“Hello, Arthur! You didn’t have to meet us at the end of the drive,” said Mr. Granger by way of greeting, as Mrs. Granger leaned across her husband to wave her hello.

“Oh, it was no problem at all! I wasn’t sure if I did the number right — our home is usually unmarked. We don’t get your post, you know. Besides, I’m always fascinated by how unmodified muggle cars work.”

The Granger shared a bemused look, before Mrs. Granger spoke. “Would you like to drive it back to your house, then?” she asked.

Continue reading “The Granger-Weasley Wedding: A Muggle Perspective (Fan-Fic)”

Book Report: FRANCE by Jonathan Fenby

9781250096838Partly because of the way it’s painted itself to the world through a long history of art, geopolitics, and run-of-the-mill tourism salesmanship — but also partly because of our entwined histories — Americans have drawn a number of caricatures of France. Coexistence between two or more of these caricatures seems impossible; each is its own nation, distinct from the others. This speaks to French culture’s complex nature, and also to its complicated history.

There’s the boho-chic France, of the Lost Generation and Shakespeare & Co., of the Left Bank and Gauloises, Beckett and Sartre. This is the France of self-serious art, which may have evolved over the generations but is, always, just so French.

There’s the French idolized by the wealthy, the France of the grand chateaux of the Rhone and Bordeaux, of 246 kinds of cheese, of the Bocuse d’Or and yellow-and-blue Provençal tablecloths.

There’s the France unable to defend itself, the France of surrender, just as bad at defending its 1998 World Cup win as it was the Maginot Line.

And there’s the newest caricature of France, held by a particular sort of person, who views it as a country single-handedly saved by the U.S. — twice — who used their opportunity at 20th Century prosperity to do ludicrous things with taxes while admitting way too many Muslims into the country.

There are more, I’m sure, but the point is clear: If these competing caricatures speak to the complexity of France, they also speak to our (Americans’) inability or unwillingness to genuinely understand the French. We do this at our own peril. While we may share a language and a distant history with the United Kingdom, we arguably have the most in common with the French.

That’s one lesson I learned from reading France: A Modern History from the Revolution to the War with Terror (c2015, St. Martin’s Press). Its British author Jonathan Fenby was named a chevalier de la Légion d’honneur for his contributions towards British-French relations, but he emphasizes throughout the book a tension very familiar to students of the American situation: the tension between France’s stated ideals and the actual, lived experience of the French people.

Continue reading “Book Report: FRANCE by Jonathan Fenby”

In 2016, I Became a Democrat

When I registered to vote after turning 18 in 2004, I (loudly) proclaimed myself to be a Proudly Registered Independent. I’ve been a registered voter in Maryland, Louisiana, and California, and each time I selected that state’s version of “no party preference.” That ended this year, three weeks before my fourth presidential election, when I (quietly) changed my registration to Democrat.

I did this for many, many reasons. My reason for registering independent was a classic version of the argument that the Two Party System Is Bad. I was making that argument in a pretty haughty, pretentious way, believing I was somehow intellectually superior to all the sheep who “belong” to a party. I’ve seen this argument from so many people over the last year, and it always carries that same sense of superiority.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve matured is that feeling like you’re better or smarter or otherwise superior to somehow often means that you in fact are not. People taking this tact often use it as an excuse for refusing to engage in the system. “The system is bad,” they say, “but if it were this other system that I consider perfect, I would engage.” The system will never get better unless you engage.

Further, the two party system is not necessarily bad. It is certainly different from other, newer democratic systems, and we would do well to adopt many democratic innovations developed in other countries’ newer constitutions. But whereas European democracies have many parties that form coalitions after an election, because of our “first pass the post” electoral system, we create our broad left and right coalitions before our elections, in the form of the Democratic and Republication parties.

I am proud to have joined the coalition that is working for good, for unity, for love, and for inclusiveness rather than the one operating out of anger, hate, fear, and exclusion. Continue reading “In 2016, I Became a Democrat”

It Sure Looks Like I Haven’t Been Writing

And that’s not true! This year I’ve written more than I have at any point in my life, excepting of course those two years where I got paid to do it full-time. It’s just that none of it has made it to my website.

This year I finally started on my super-secret creative project, mentioned in my New Year’s post for 2014(!). Spoiler: it’s a screenplay. Learning the ins and outs of screenwriting has made me feel like this is maybe a good format for me, so I’ve been going to some table reads, talking to folks who are much better at this than I, and writing constantly.

It feels so great.

 

The Rhetoric of Negativity, or, Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

-Preamble to the Constitution of the United States

My life as a political being goes in waves, from peaks of heightened political engagement where I think often about the current state of our country and the philosophical foundations of the American political system, to valleys where I maybe still read history and philosophy but don’t bother much to think about politics as such. The last few years have been such a valley — I’ve spent most of the Obama presidency with a deep respect and admiration for our current president and general annoyance at Republican obstructionism, punctuated by occasional interest in (without taking action on) key issues.

A few recent events have quickly taken me from a valley to a peak: the emergence of the new civil rights movement, particularly in and around my hometown; my wife’s and my decision to start watching The West Wing beginning back in November;  the massive popularity of the musical Hamilton, which got me reading more deeply about the early days of our country; and the current election, which vivifies everything wrong with our country today. In this current bout of consciousness I’ve bought a copy of the US Constitution and read it several times, while also beginning to read The Federalist Papers to be better understand the logic and history behind that Constitution.

One unintended result of this is that I like our current president more and more, while increasingly detesting the opposition party. In Barack Obama we have a pretty good president and a great, inspiring leader, willing to work with the opposition. In reaction, the Republican party has done the opposite at every turn. The end result is a rhetorically strong but intellectually dishonest attitude that has the potential to take our country in a disastrous direction. Continue reading “The Rhetoric of Negativity, or, Why I’m Supporting Hillary Clinton”

The Patron Saint of the Arbors

I.

There’s a handsome young gentleman who lives in my apartment complex who, the first year or so that I lived here, I thought was not a he but rather a she. This is a mistake many of us make when presented with a non-human creature: too often we address the cool, tough, intense, or energetic creatures as he, while the softer, gentler, more demure ones we call she. When we see a hawk or a bad-ass dog or a cartoon of a fierce dinosaur, we say, “Whoa, look at that guy!” With pretty birds and adorable pups it’s always, “Who’s a pretty girl?” This is crazy, though, and it reveals how deeply held our prejudices are.

So this gentleman in my complex, for over a year I referred to her as Honkers, a name drawn from her meow that is only barely deeper and bolder than a squeak. It’s a soft little Owmp, which in its pitifulness matches the cat’s scrawny size. Honkers is only seen at night, hanging around outside the apartment of one of our neighbors on the floor below us. She sleeps out there just outside the door, on a bed that her person put there for that purpose. But more often Honkers can be seen about ten feet down the way, sitting erect and looking out through the little wrought iron fence that blocks the walkway from the courtyard below. Always sitting there, Honkers just looks out on the nighttime world. When we come up from the car, she greets us with her little noise, honking and bonking and rubbing and purring. For a stranger, Honkers is the perfect cat.

Once or twice, I’d be talking to Honkers about what she’d seen and done since the last time we’d seen each other, when her owner would crack the door to see who was out there. Acting more skittish than the cats, I would dart away for fear of getting caught being the weirdo that I am. Eventually, though, I did get caught. On that occasion, my wife was standing there with our groceries — I had set my bag down, knowing that Honkers was, wisely, afraid of shopping bags — and she was patiently indulging me as I pet the cat. Then the door opened too quickly for me to gather my groceries and run away, so I tried chatting a bit with Honkers’ owner.

As friendly and chatty as Honkers is, her person is the opposite. But I was able to learn from her that Honkers’ real name is Tiggs — presumably short for Tigger, a terrible and obvious name for a cat — and that she is a boy cat. More accurately, she’s a grown-ass man cat. Tiggs just showed up at the person’s door one day and has been attached to her ever since.

After my conversation with Tiggs’ person, I still take time to say hello to him whenever I can, and avoid her at all costs. Also, while common sense suggests his name is short for Tigger, I assume it’s actually an elision of Taye Diggs, so that’s what I call him. I don’t work nights anymore so I don’t see him as much, and besides I think he’s usually allowed to sleep inside when it’s below freezing, as it has been lately. But still, on warm nights sometimes he’s outside when I’m leaving for my pre-dawn run, and at the risk of disturbing his slumber I still usually exchange good mornings with him. Recently I saw him on the opposite side of the apartment complex, an area to which he rarely strays except for those occasions when he’s feeling so sociable that he follows my wife and I to our door. When he follows us, he usually lays outside our apartment for an hour or two, driving our cat Puss — full name Hunter Paxton Pusserton — absolutely crazy as he spies from the window.

On this occasion, though, Taye Diggs was on the landing half a flight of stairs up from the laundry room, pacing distractedly. I said hello, of course, and scratched him a bit behind the ears. Then I continued to the laundry room, to do those things that people do there. Then it became clear why Taye was just a half-flight of stairs away: his person was doing her laundry, and he had chosen to accompany her. We all always knew Taye Diggs was a true gentleman.

Continue reading “The Patron Saint of the Arbors”

Thoughts on the New Year: 2016 Edition

This is the fifth edition of my annual Thoughts on the New Year essay. I wrote it over three sessions, starting in the lobby of a Midas on New Year’s Eve and completing it the morning of New Year’s Day  at a crowded breakfast table. It feels awfully scattershot to me, but that’s how my brain works. See previous editions of this essay here.

Could any New Year’s Eve feel more unexpected? Sure, this is the inevitable end of any year: they all must end 365 or 366 days after they begin. But usually I’m at least aware that the year is ending for a couple weeks before it actually does. 2015 was so full, from beginning to end, that I haven’t felt any natural slowdown of this year or the attendant excitement for the coming one. That’s not a bad thing — tonight will be a fantastic night spent with friends and family– but it just feels different.

For the last several years, New Year’s — and all the hope and expectation that comes with it — has led me to think very deeply and feel very intensely about the coming year. That’s resulted in four consecutive annual editions of this essay. (Five in a row, whoa!) While writing this essay has become an important part of my New Year tradition, I didn’t start thinking about this year’s essay until this afternoon

As 2014 turned into 2015,  I committed myself to digging in, focusing, being more consistent, and chugging along like a tugboat captain. It was the Year of Stability. But it was still a year I was  excited about. And it didn’t disappoint: I followed up running a marathon in 2014 with running two more, and finishing the second under three hours. (Something achieved by only 2 1/2 percent of everyone who attempts a marathon — itself less than two percent of the population.) After nearly two years at a very good job I got a new one, and was able to quit my second job. Oh, and I got married.

All of those feats are indicators of stability. Marriage is stability. Long distance running is itself an endeavor of persistence, and it’s an activity I began in earnest in 2013 and am continuing into next year. That’s stability. And sure, I changed jobs, but I did so in a move that will hopefully allow me professional stability in a way I’ve never had..

So while chugging along I did some really great things, but it was stable. This was the first year since I was in high school in which I didn’t move. The apartment in which my wife, my cat, and I live isn’t great — I decided yesterday that it’s the third- or fourth-worst of the 12 or more I’ve lived in as an adult — and I don’t particularly like the area where we live. I feel, occasionally, that I’m performing well below my ambitions. But committing to my plan, working hard, and digging in was my goal for this past year. In addition to my very real and tangible and exciting successes, achieving that more passive goal is its own victory. I end 2015 feeling very good about the year.

The end of 2015 snuck up on me. Here we are, but when did we get here? When did all this time pass? This year has been busy, right up to the last few hours. (It’s so busy that I began this essay in the lobby of a Midas, watching the second Hangover movie while getting an oil change.) Suddenly tomorrow is next year and I’ve hardly thought about it at all.

Continue reading “Thoughts on the New Year: 2016 Edition”

Another Novel Not Written

There are so many things I’ve not written. There are countless novels, plays, stories, journal entries, screenplays, teleplays, recipes, cookbooks and brochures that I’ve not written. The very small number of things I’ve written is overwhelmingly dwarfed by the number of things I’ve not written.

This is called potential: there’s always more to do, more to write.

More problematically, the number of things I’ve written is even dwarfed by the number of things I’ve started writing and given up. I’ve never written a screenplay, but I’ve started three and quit them all. I’ve written a dozen or so (of course unpublished) short stories but have thought about, taken notes for, and even begun countless more. Almost 10 years ago I helped co-write two different theatrical productions; the number of plays I’ve started outlining must outnumber those at a ratio of 10 to 1.

Last month I added another entry to the numbers of creative projects I’ve undertaken and quit. This was maybe my most ambitious attempt, so quitting it doesn’t really hurt all that much.

My goal was to participate in National Novel Writing Month, something I mentioned in my last post on this site over two months ago. National Novel Writing Month is a non-profit organization that encourages people — adults and schoolchildren — to write an entire novel in 30 days. The target is 50,000 words, which I believe comes out to about 1,600 words per day. I could confirm that math using a calculator, but the specifics are less important to what I’m saying here. Point is, it’s ambitious.

On November 1, I started strong. The idea for the novel had been germinating in my mind for months. I spent much of my Sunday long runs thinking about different passages, phrases, descriptions and events that could contribute. November 1 was a Sunday. I sat down at my computer and started writing. I wrote a little over 450 words before needing to go on my long run. I came back from my run and had to do some errands. At that time, Sunday was my only day off and my only chance to do many of the chores and activities that allow adults to live productively through the week. So I never got back to my computer that day, but I figured if I could just write 50 extra words per day, I’d be fine.

November 2 I started a new job that requires a commute of about an hour and a half. I thought I’d be able to take that time to work on my novel, but it’s hard to write when standing on a train. (I almost always stand, keeping the seats for people whose need to sit is more urgent or extreme than my own.) Also, as happens in life, I decided that there were other things I could do on my commute that made me happier. In the morning I do language lessons and read Le Monde; in the evenings I read.

One week and 465 words into National Novel Writing Month, I resigned myself to quitting my novel. In the past I would have really beaten myself up over this: the last 10 years of my life can be described as a cycle of wanting to do creative work and being frustrated with myself for not making the time to pursue it, with brief periods of hard work intermixed in there. But I (no longer) want to be a famous writer, or even a published one. That’s ego. I want to write because I love doing it, and sometimes things don’t get written because they’re not very good or I’m not very committed to the idea. Other times I don’t write because it’s simply not a priority then. And that’s okay.

Ideas are autonomous things. They have their own souls and needs and potentials. Ones that get nurtured and encouraged can become great; they can leave the mind of the writer or artist and enter the thoughts of strangers, adding value to many people. Other ideas, living quietly in the back of my mind, will still live out their proper and wonderful existences, adding value to my life even if I don’t do anything with them.

This is another novel not written, and there will be many, many more. And that’s just fine by me.

Working Hard, or Hardly Working

Sunday is my only day off. As my only day off, I usually just want to sit around and do nothing all day long. But also, as my only day off, it’s the day I need to do laundry and clean and buy groceries and, ideally, cook a fun dinner for my wife.

Sunday is also my best opportunity to catch up on my creative work, something I abandoned because of personal life stresses many years ago, which I’m trying to regain. But when I have to do laundry and clean and shop and cook — and really just want to be laying on the couch napping and watching sitcoms with my cat — it’s difficult to also write and read and play guitar and practice my harmonica. But those are things I need to force myself to do.

To force myself to do them, I’ve set myself some goals. In October, I’m working on two short pieces of creative writing: an essay about running for submission to Runner’s World but most probable publication in some other, more minor outdoors magazine, and a short story about an imaginary acquaintance I used to have back in Napa. (He was a troll; he passed away during the earthquake. I used to pass his home on many of my long runs and bid my respects.) Today I did indeed finish the first draft of the running essay, which came in at just over one thousand words. It requires heavy editing and re-working.

In November I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month. My novel is going to revolve around a career hospitality worker, which is a sort of bizarro-world alternative reality I could easily be living. The protagonist is a composite of myself and several people I’ve worked with over the years. His co-workers are, likewise, fictional of course but will incorporate characteristics of restaurant people I’ve known and loved.

And all of this is going on at the same time as my Super Secret Creative Project (tipping my hand a little, it’s a screenplay), and my budding harmonica skills. Little in this world makes me as happy as working towards improving myself. Even if on some base level I do just want to be laying on the couch with a beer.

On Being a Tugboat Captain

Or, Thoughts on the New Year, 2015 Edition

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve used Tumblr to write an essay for the new year. Read previous year’s musings here.

This is something I do. Every year I write the same essay, looking back on the past year, looking forward to the next, getting deep-and-thought-y, drinking too much coffee, listening to music, feeling big emotions. I still firmly believe that New Year’s is sort of a stupid holiday — in that we put too much stock in it, demanding big things when, at most, it’s just the worst of the drinking holidays. And New Year’s resolutions are gimmicky and too easy to forget about when January becomes February. Still, as I wrote at the end of 2011, there is value in marking the arrival of a new year.

Today’s feelings are muted. 2014 was fine — it was full of a number of personal victories, but still it feels like sort of a throwaway year. Perhaps that will change with time. I did, after all, start this past year feeling just about as low as a person can get. As I wrote last New Year’s, I was completely unsettled, floundering in my work and my life, feeling like everything was basically the worst. I didn’t like myself and had trouble showing those around me that I loved them. In 2014 I got back to equilibrium, which (in light of how I ended 2013) is itself a pretty big victory.

Instead of making resolutions, I make big declarations. 2010 was The Year of the Alex, 2011 was The Year of Good Decisions, 2012 was The Year of Good Work, 2013 was The Year of Getting Right (ha!), 2014 was The Year of Good Returns. I think that title for this past year was pretty accurate.

There was a point, in mid-April, when I was getting pretty down about my attempts to get out of restaurants and back into my career*. I wanted to move from online publishing to doing digital things in traditional book publishing. I was applying for jobs, never hearing anything back, and I felt awful. But an opportunity arose that, through much effort and difficulty, could lead to something good. When faced with the option of re-enrolling in community college to take an internship, which would require me to work seven days a week (commuting into the city for two of them), I found myself in the parking lot of Napa Valley College saying unto myself: “Just do the damn thing.” I did the damn thing, got the internship, got a job, kept working seven days a week across two jobs, moved to Walnut Creek, got myself down to just six days a week in two jobs, and am truly moving forward. Lots of work, but good returns.

Here, an inexhaustive (and non-chronological) list of my victories from the past year. I did these damn things:

  • Ran my first half-marathon in Oakland in March
  • Ran my second and third half-marathons in San Francisco and Walnut Creek
  • Ran my first full marathon in my hometown of Baltimore, coming in 73rd place overall
  • Saw my family in Baltimore twice this fall, both helping satisfy (but also feeding) my growing homesickness
  • Started a new job back on my career track, at a fun little office doing and learning interesting things
  • Started a new restaurant job at a restaurant that, for the first time in a very, very long time, I truly enjoy
  • Moved back into our own apartment after a year with the fiancee’s parents

This next year will be huge, too. I’m getting married in June, and that large event — and the smaller events associated with the big one — will define this coming year in a very real (and very great!) way. But somehow I have this feeling that by the end of this year, I won’t be in all that different of a place. I’ll be married, sure (yay!), but I plan on still being in both of my current jobs — hopefully being more successful in both, but still there — and in my current apartment. But that stability, that unrelenting forward momentum pushing ever slowly and consistently like a tugboat pushing a barge upriver, is its own victory. I’ve never had stability in my adult life. I crave it, and having it will contribute to further growth, further victories, and future adventures.

This, then, is the Year of Stability. It’s the year of moving forward with maturity and consistency and dedication. It’s the year of chugging along like a tugboat.

*Funny. I just re-read last year’s essay and my pessimism about getting out of restaurants is so apparent. I didn’t get out of restaurant work, but I got back into my career, and that’s a victory.