I have never liked the Harry Potter series. There are two key truths related to this admission. One is simply about timing: for legitimate, if not rational, reasons, the theme of the first book reminded me of some then-recent trauma; thus a kind of guilt by association led me to hate the entire franchise. The second truth is this: I have never read the books. Nor have I watched the movies, despite being trapped in a houseful of relatives who were marathon-watching the DVDs on some Christmas past.
I am not proud of this. It makes me the worst kind of critic, declaring my disdain for an artist whose work I have never actually seen.
Sometimes I exhibit a stubborn resistance to hype, refusing to see the latest blockbusters, even if they interest me. I am usually willing to watch those movies later, when I can watch them via Netflix or Amazon Prime, rent the DVDs for a couple dollars, or borrow them, free, from the library. I even allow myself to enjoy them. (One notable exception is “Titanic.” I’d gladly pay full ticket price to have those three hours back.)
But hating Harry Potter was neither a product of bitter envy nor a rage against the Hollywood machine; it was something that anchored itself in my worldview as immutable. And a fixed worldview is a dangerous thing.
I have been working—or rather, not working—at allowing myself space to create, giving voice to whatever inspiration shows up, in whatever form. The strongest desire is usually to write, though I have been doing precious little of that, as I always seem to have at least one foot in the quicksand of self-doubt. However, once I begin keeping appointments with my muse, perhaps by writing a blog post without worrying whether it will move anyone but me, I find myself curious about the process. Not about my process, but about the process itself, which means I become curious about how other people show up at the page, and more importantly, how they keep showing up.
Eventually, this curiosity turns to wondering how long one must appease the muse before the magic shows up. And last weekend, as I wondered about the magic, I thought about how I might be able to learn a thing or two from J. K. Rowling, if I could allow some flexibility in my worldview.
I stealthily retrieved my wife’s copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from our family room bookcase and carried it into my office. Still resisting the idea of reading it, I placed the book on my desk, next to my computer, with the intention of typing the first few paragraphs of the story, to see if it evoked any kind of somatic response.
The book sat there, untouched for four days, but not unnoticed.
SUZIN: Harry Potter? Really? (grinning) Huh.
This afternoon, after meditating on the creative process, I picked up the book and sat down in a comfortable chair to discover how it all started. Except the last line of the first paragraph—which, incidentally, I did not type (until now)—was, “And he also happened to be a wizard.”
I knew enough about the story to know this was not how it started, so I flipped back to the cover page: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in the series. It was in the wrong book jacket! Recalling that one of the Rowling books on our shelf was missing a jacket, I returned to the bookcase. The naked copy was book six, which sat alongside books four, five, and seven, each in its respective jacket.
Unbelievable. I am finally open to the possibility of Harry Fucking Potter, and I can’t find it. Perhaps this is the message from J. K. Rowling: “Tell your own story.”
After deciding there was no way I was going to the library to check it out, I headed to Yountville to satisfy my craving for an almond croissant from Bouchon. And since the bakery is just up the street from the Yountville Library, and I had never been to that branch…
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was not among the 273 books in the Yountville branch, but Patricia Ryan Madson’s Improv Wisdom was, and I had been meaning to pick it up again. Madson’s first maxim is “Say yes.”
Say yes to everything. Accept all offers. Go along with the plan. Support someone else’s dream. Say “yes”; “right”; “sure”; I will”; “okay”; “of course”; “YES!” Cultivate all the ways you can imagine to express affirmation. When the answer to all questions is yes, you enter a new world, a world of action, possibility, and adventure. (p. 27)
When I got home, I asked my stepdaughter if she happened to have Harry Potter on the bookshelf in her room. She brought it to me, and I said, “Yes.”
Did you have opportunities to say yes today? And did you?