My Week With Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Part 5

download (3)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix surprised me. I’ve known that as the series progresses that the books would become darker and more mature; yet so far, the ambiance of the books have only felt subtle like how a frog would feel as the water slowly starts to boil.

Phoenix ostensibly stages everything like it has in the previous four books. My first thoughts were a semblance of guttural sounds. Everything felt so normal when it shouldn’t, not after what happened in Goblet of Fire, and for several minutes, my thoughts sputtered and my own stamina waivered. To tell you the truth, I almost quit reading. My thoughts were perfectly aligned with Harry’s: Didn’t anything happen???

Then Phoenix takes a sharp turn away from the monotony of Privet Drive and the Dursleys. Harry is attacked out in the open. Muggles are harmed. Dementors are no longer playing on the Ministry’s side.

This is exactly the kind of thing I expect to happen after Voldermort’s revival, the significant interruption in the status quo. What I didn’t expect was the extensiveness of the lunacy of the entire Ministry of Magic. I knew, but the films don’t inform you quite the way Phoenix does. It’s not just about preserving peace; it’s a power play.

Phoenix exceeds my expectations. It’s by far the most politically charged and antagonizing book out of the Harry Potter series. So many players are introduced and reintroduced in a new way (Professor McGonagall and her ability to stand her ground for instance.) We’re also witnesses to Fudge’s campaigned against Dumbledore, the monitoring of information and media (although it’s no Hunger Games), the restriction of speech, and the attempt to indoctrinate archaic, out of date practices. There’s a lot we could critically analyze: an anti-government sentimentality to the subtexts of Nazism. All these ideas, while have been building over the course of four books, are heavily pronounced in Phoenix, which as a post-English major, I truly love.

Putting the political criticism aside, Phoenix explores further into the heroism of Harry Potter. By now, Harry has experienced multiple life-and-death situations and witnessed tragedy firsthand (and later on.) He’s so alienated from the people around him. And why is that? Because he’s special—since he was born. He is, after all, ‘The Boy Who Lived.’

A lot of what made Harry Potter famous in the wizardry world is his miraculous survival when Voldemort attacked him with a killing curse, which subsequently severely crippled Voldemort and lead many to believe Voldemort had perished.  As a result of this, Harry was considered a hero for defeating the Dark Lord, and Harry, who was nothing but short on luck, has not lived a normal life.

Harry notes on several occasions how people first look at his lightning-bolt scar before regarding him. His legend overshadows even himself. He wants people to see him for what he is beyond his hero status—or so I thought. Harry, despite what he says, does the opposite when it comes to people being in danger, proving later to endanger the people around him and himself. This is a consequence of being crowned a hero when he was only eleven. While we could argue that Harry didn’t ask for any of this, we see Harry repeatedly put himself in danger often with the reason: who else is going to do it but me? But the truth is, there are many people who could do it and Phoenix exemplifies this when Harry learns that Sirius Black is in danger and he, along with his Scooby-Doo friends, rush to save Black. He thinks there’s no one that can help when there was.

It’s not that no one can help, but Harry feels the need to insert himself and save people regardless of the consequences. It’s a nice idea, ideal even, but it’s also not normal and more messed up than we realize.

Phoenix gives us a better understanding of who Harry Potter is. He’s certainly a hero just trying to do what’s right, but this sense of righteousness stems from his own feelings of guilt. His parents were killed protecting him. Ginny Weasley was mind controlled by Voldemort to get to Harry. Cedric Diggory was killed in cold blood by Voldemort. And with the death of Sirius, Harry’s anger explodes. It’s not that Harry just feels guilty for everyone’s death, he feels guilty for living, being the only one to survive. It explains a lot about his character and his savior complex. He’s someone who shouldn’t be alive but is. What else is he supposed to do except to try and give his life unconditionally?

In Phoenix, there’s less glory and more of the stigma attached to being Harry Potter. The transition from the golden boy to supposed nut case was really interesting to read. In our culture, we often glorify heroes, and overlook the darker aspects.

Here are my other thoughts about Phoenix [Yes, there will be more Spoilers ahead]:

Dumbledore’s Mistake:

Dumbledore is revered among the wizardry community for not only his magical prowess but his fortitude and gumption. Dumbledore has a clever retort or counter spell for everything. Up to this point, I couldn’t believe that a man of his caliber would fall—until now.

I understand Dumbledore’s purpose in keeping Harry at a distance. Even so, if Dumbledore was purely thinking strategically, he’d easily use Harry to his own devices and possibly feed Voldemort wrong information. Dumbledore had the advantage, but he didn’t take it.  He was reluctant, and he’s been holding back this entire time, which includes information he held back from Harry.

Dumbledore considered Harry a child who needed rescuing despite Harry experiencing many things that children don’t normally see.

It’s interesting that Dumbledore views this as his weakness; yet I cannot think of anything more valuable than compassion, as it sometimes feels like there’s a paucity of it.

Sirius Reliving His Glory Days:

There’s a real knife in the heart when reading Sirius’s last year alive. He’s forced to live in a stuffy, moldy house. He can’t help any of his other comrades for fear of exposure. His communication is cut off from Harry. He’s traded being a prisoner in Azkaban to being prisoner in the Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters.

He’s a tragic character who’s had to endure the most. Losing his best friends and then being trapped in Azkaban for thirteen years, Sirius wilted into something almost unrecognizable. He was anxious and willing to gamble with his and Harry’s safety. His brain is rattled from years of trauma and isolation that when he was finally killed, I was ambivalent. It was sad when he died, but I was also relieved; he wasn’t living but existing.

The aftermath of Sirius’s death is also so tangible. Harry can feel nothing but removed, isolated. He can only feel his emotions searing him, over and over again. Phoenix  doesn’t end with him miraculously cured of grief but with it occasionally throbbing and resurfacing like blisters. It’s not all brooding. Harry does find some solace after speaking with Luna Lovegood (loooove her, btw). The moment lets him breath long before the drowning sets back in.

Blood Magic. The Mystery is Revealed!

If you’ve been following my series, one of my biggest complaints has been that Harry’s friends continue to send him back to his physically/emotionally abusive relatives. This was egregious, one of the things I couldn’t forgive.

But as it turns out, Dumbledore piggybacked (or so I understand) off the love-spell of Harry’s mother and imbued the Dursley’s house with the ultimate protection spell, sealed and enacted by Petunia’s blood. As long as they’re living there, the spell is in effect and can keep Voldemort from killing Harry. (If I’ve misunderstood this, please let me know.)

I’ve always thought that Harry possibly had more relatives. I thought it was strange that Dumbledore knowing full well that putting Harry in the care of the Dursley would be a mistake, considering how much Dumbledore cared about the Potters. Now that the reasons has been revealed, Dumbledore really didn’t have a choice. It was the best protection he could give Harry.

There’s so much more to discuss (two pages worth that I had to take out of editing) but I’ll leave you with a picture of my adorable Corgi Archer. Have a great Halloween everyone!

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Book Nerd Problems: Living With Too Many Books (And NOT Enough Room!)

book clutter

In my apartment, I approximately have eleven shelves dedicated solely to books. Of course there are other unofficial areas where my books take up space. The dining room table. The window sills. The dresser. The rotunda. The closet. I even took a page from Rory Gilmore and kept books stashed under my bed. I lived in a space virtually dominated by books and while this ostensibly is a book hermit’s paradise; it wasn’t mine. Soon I discovered that most of the books I owned were books that I didn’t like, that were passed on to me by relatives and friends, or were books I said I would get around to reading but never did. Letting these kind of books reside in your home, especially if you live in a small place like mine, is no way to live or for that matter, is one of the worst thing you can do with your books.

I get it. We all want that expansive library in our someday house. We want books wall-to-wall in our tinted Victorian house in the woods next to a serene lake, but I can honestly say that after donating the books that I didn’t feel anything for or that didn’t do anything for me that my someday Beauty and the Beast library will copiously have all the books that I love. So why do so many of us hold onto books that we’re indifferent to? Is rampant consumerism to blame?

Many of us when we purchase our books, whether it’s from a book store, online, or a thrift store, are making a financial investment. One or two books maybe doesn’t add up, but when you’re buying a book on a weekly basis, you’re spending as much as you would if you were to buy a Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte everyday, and that’s assuming that you have enough will power to only buy one book. I don’t even have to mention how crazy expensive book hauls can be if you’re not shopping smart. For many of us, we’re not discarding books because of their price.

Letting go of our books can be very hard. We’re sentimental about them. Reading stories is candy to us and books are obviously a gateway to the candy factory. So when it comes to letting go of a certain book, it triggers the emergency brake in our hearts. At one time, we emotionally invested ourselves in that particular book and just as book veterans know, there are no guarantees. Some books just weren’t meant to be.

Yet when it comes to letting that book go, we fight like hell to keep it. We suddenly morph into social workers and lawyers advocating for the book’s refuge.

The excuses vary. With me, the sheer volume of books was a front I liked to have in my place. It acted as castle, my armor. Without the mass of books, I tended to feel vulnerable. I thought without the books around me, I wouldn’t have anything to go to when I sunk into a Low or when I had nothing to preoccupy my mind. To spare you from a rather long psychoanalysis session, I learned that I simply didn’t need all those books. Even when I suffer a Low, or when I wanted a new book to read, I rarely every reached out to my book shelf. When I did, it was to pick up a book that I loved. Any other time, I’d go to the library. Keeping every book you’ve ever purchased or found may seem impressive to the naked eye, but what are those books actually doing besides taking up space?

What’s more is the problem with keeping the books you dislike or the ones you’ll probably never read. It’s a disservice to books. It’s their purpose to be read and not just one time, but again and again. Keeping these kinds of books significantly hinders this process.

So do them a favor. Donate them. Free up some room in your living quarters. And there are plenty of folks and organizations who’ll be glad to take them.

It’s time to take a hard look at yourself and your books. This last weekend, I donated forty books to a local organization. I’m not saying it was easy sifting through my books, determining which should stay and which should go. These included the books I didn’t like, relative/friend pawned-off books, and books I know I’ll never get around to reading. If the urge does arise, there’s no need to panic. I can always go to the library.

And by the time you’re finished and done, your shelves may look a bit naked, but now you have the space again to fill them up with the books you really love.

Likeable Characters: Does it Matter?

Unlikeable characters picIn Paula Hawkins Girl on the Train, almost every character falls under the category of unlikeable. Gillian Flynn’s characters in Gone Girl and Dark Places evokes a similar, chronic umbrage that even their worst personality traits and immoral choices cannot compensate for; yet, after the chaos of voluntarily dropping ourselves into these characters’ circumstances along with knowing the well-founded and pitiful reason for these characters being who they are, the vast majority of readers cannot pull themselves away from the all consuming discussion: were the characters likeable?

I was dismissive of this topic at first and never put much emphasis in it. I still consider it a short-sighted way to gauge a book’s merit, and I think it can act as a form of discrimination, especially when people use the scapegoat of not liking  a book because they weren’t able to identify with any of the characters. When did we start treating these characters like celebrity friends?

Our purpose in reading has changed. Although why we read has its own myriad of answers, reading still cultivates a feeling of empathy, but when we remove the likeability from our characters, it seems to affect how we read the text. People usually don’t feel as generous or sympathetic toward a character doing terrible things regardless if people are well informed of the character’s motivations and circumstances, which says a mouthful of what people are willing to spare in terms of compassion.

Then again, reading isn’t just satisfying our own moral compasses and egos but a way to study the spectrum of humanity. As anyone who happens to turn on the morning news or has had their share of hardships, we can be hollow, cruel, and vicious creatures, which can be difficult for many to read. Some days leave you feeling like a hopeless cynic who wants to do nothing but hermit. And while you can gain so much from being exposed to this material, it’s not what a majority of people want to read. As the Guardian writes, people have an “appetite for easy, unthreatening fiction.”

In the last few years, our culture has undergone economic changes. Despite the recession, people are still significantly more well off than they would have been fifty years ago. Finances, health, and well-being have increased, which subsequently, has fostered a belief, attributed much to the new generation, that places an emphasis on self-worth. Millennials want to do work that is fulfilling. They want to know that the work they’re doing is making a difference somehow, but they also want to know that they’re not going to spend every waking hour in an office doing a monotonous job, not after the sobering realization that a perfect education cannot promise anything. People are still seeking employment. Some are working for positions they’re overqualified with salaries below minimum wage. Our healthcare system has problems and isn’t as affordable despite its name. Even though things are improving, several people are still struggling.  There’s a tendency to forgo the challenging books with unlikeable character and prefer characters they can relate to and inspire them. It’s a healthier way to self-medicate. Having a likeable character in a story isn’t necessarily bad in terms of characterization, but as Claire Messud puts it after a reporter blithely asked her about a certain prickly female character in her book, “[People] read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘Is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘Is this character alive?’”

Our criteria and rhetoric has become heavily biased in terms of how we rate and appreciate characters in books. In a society that already has in place a double standard system, with unlikeable female character tending to be judged more than their male counterparts, our own impartiality limits our exposure and engenders the prolonged problems of not having enough diverse characters.

The other issue stemming from only generating the likeable characters will result in trite material. As Zoe Heller argues, “to insist that the fault always lies with our shortcomings as readers is to attribute to literature an infallibility it does not possess.”  A likeable character is a pleasing person and we’re essentially creating a nice version of Frankenstein’s monster that is an aesthetically, well-behaved, non-ambiguous character. If we seek fault, then it’s part of the travesty of not wanting to find mix-matched parts to assemble.

Whether we like or dislike a character shouldn’t affect our final verdict. It’s actually distracting us from having more meaningful, complicated discussions. This is not to say that you should kill your feelings just yet. They’re a great plateau to jump off from that can lead into the more thought-provoking conversations.

If we simply regard a character based on our overall impression of them, we can easily end up being misinformed and end up misunderstanding the people in our own lives. Characters are, of course, fictional, contrived from the inner creative circuitry of the writer’s mind. If nothing else, we can find more than just entertainment injected into the ink: we can find ourselves, people, strangers, another world, the new, the ugly, secrets, and lies.

Post Blog Post: If you think I’m exaggerating or aren’t taking me seriously about the scrutiny of female characters, just Google: unlikeable characters in books. Then click on ‘Images.’

Can a Book’s Ending ‘Make’ or ‘Break’ a Story?

download (2)When I read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake during my undergrad days, discussion trickled in like a broken faucet. No one had anything to say—that is before everyone finished reading it. The conversation we had was ambivalent; some argued that the lead up was anti-climactic while others delivered eloquent reasoning for the lack-luster sequence of events in favor of a detonating finale. It conclusively came down to one thing: the conclusion and its effects on the novel as a whole.

In this last year of reviewing books, I’ve included endings as a part of my criteria and had considered the concept of a book’s conclusion without too much thought, but then I started to wonder because of my own novels that I’m writing. For years, I’ve mulled over how my story will end. Comprised of three books, my novels involve several, ambitious characters seemingly familiarized with what they want only to have their circumstances abruptly change. While I’ve known how each book ends, I didn’t know where these characters would end up, or if they could end up in a place so unexpected. This lead me to think about the nature of endings, the misplaced certainty they hold, the satisfaction they bring, and their pseudo finality. In other words, can endings really ‘make’ or ‘break’ a novel?

The first thing I noticed: endings are not a natural occurrence in novels. They are literary devices that significantly and noticeably change the trajectory of stories. We know intuitively when we are approaching an ending, signified by a story’s climax followed by a quick procession of events leading to a conclusion. Sometimes these conclusions provide answers, refute our preconceived notions, or abandon us, giving us yet another wrinkle in our foreheads and a void of uneasy answers. Endings are intentionally perplexing because we perceive them as a natural occurrence, when endings are inventions that are part of a sequence in the art of story-telling.

The functionality of endings, however, is a very interesting phenomenon. Have you ever noticed that the endings cannot be found or preserved in the real world? It’s because after we say our goodbyes or part ways with people, the novel discontinues following the characters’ lives, which subsequently creates a kind of time capsule that readers can revisit. But we know that life keeps going; we just can’t witness it in books and nor should we. It’s not only impractical (because no one wants to read that many pages…), but the art of writing the novel would quickly and abysmally become perfunctory and would be incapable of evolving as it’s done over the years. As much as we want to argue that some books accurately reflect the condition of living, we can’t overlook that endings makes us self-consciously knowing that they don’t.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines endings ‘as the last part,’ a ‘termination,’ or ‘death.’ It’s true life has beginnings and endings, i.e., we are born and then we succumb to the side effects of mortality, but when we perceive endings in our lives such as graduating, relocating, or losing a job, we redefine it in a different context. When something ends, we perceive it in subsidiary terms in hopes of finding closure. Even though that specific event ends, the effects from that experience insert itself in your already cultivated thoughts from living. Thoughts bleed into our everyday moments and can easily throw us back to that moment in the past by something as small as a green scarf or white pearls. This is why we cannot have real-life endings: our thoughts are too complex.

A book’s ending also has the uncanny effect to work externally and internally. For example, the last line in Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is famous for a single piece of text that’s been analyzed and interpreted in a hundred different ways to mean a thousand different revelations:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

It gorgeously aligns with the tragic character Gatsby who yearns to relive the past, but most readers will agree, we extricate meanings from books and compare them to our lives. We are existential creatures trying to find the hidden patterns and place meaning to them. The endings found in literature reflect this ideology and before a philosophical debate erupts, it’s also this quality about ourselves that allows us to create stories and invent endings to aid us in defining the moments in our lives.

So it’s not surprising why we put a great deal of stock in how books ends. Stories are perhaps one of the most successful instruments in devising meanings, construing symbols and metaphors, and cataloging life. There’s a lot we can take from a story and decipher; yet, an ending acts as a wild card, an independent variable from the rest of the story. It has the unpredictable way of sabotaging a story by abruptly changing it and leaving us alone with our thoughts. It’s no wonder, including myself, why endings cause readers to vehemently purge their cathartic feelings and feel emotionally bruised for days.

But I still haven’t answered my question from earlier. Do endings ultimately decide the value of a story?

The answer is: well—yes and no?

I’d be remised if I overlooked the other contributing aspects of a book that unify and create a coalesce piece of work. Characters and the writing are bolsters in any story, and I’m more forgiving of an ending that breaks my heart and ditches me in my own pit of despair.

On the other hand, there are some stories that do not try or are afraid to take that plunge into the scary, dark cave and opt to take the bridge with a rainbow arching over it. There are endings that remove the characters in favor of something more exciting and morph into something utterly different. When this happens, I do take offense, not only as a writer, but as a reader who’s invested her time in reading said amazing prose and getting to know these characters only to feel cheated by the author’s reluctance to follow through with the story.

And that’s the sad beauty of stories: the unsaid commitment that these books will end in xxx number of pages. And if you’re lucky, you’ll read an ending that will stay with you and replay in your head countless times before calling it quits.

My Week with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Part 4

Harry_Potter_and_the_Goblet_of_Fire_(US_cover)Warning: There are most definitely spoilers ahead of you.

Turns out, there are other magical institutions in the universe of Harry Potter with foreign relations held together by the thinnest of threads.

Goblet sets up kind of differently (Dursleys, again…) but shapes out differently than the previous three books–and I’m not referring to its deadly tournament.

There are more conversations had behind closed door that are intentionally kept secretive. As more adults and members of the Order trickle into the story, we begin to see how much is really being withheld from us. There’s more to process in Goblet as more and more things are exposed about Harry, Voldemort, and the Ministry of Magic.

Here are some of my bundled thoughts:

Just how much influence does Albus Dumbledore have?

It’s believed that Dumbledore is the only one with the potential to defeat Voldemort, but I have to wonder just how many people Dumbledore has recruited, or rather, people who owe him favors. This is best represented in the concealment of Sirius Black. For Sirius to travel and not be caught, there must have been an exhaustive amount of efforts to get him to Hogwarts, and I just don’t think Sirius has enough pull on his own or connections in the outside world to help him.

There’s a very real reason why the Ministry of Magic fears Dumbledore, and it’s not just for his crazy powers (which I can’t wait to read more about.)

HarryxHermoine:

I want to go on record here: I hate love triangles.

I loathe when an author employs this convention in a piece of literature, and it so often finds room in the Young Adult genre. The girl is torn between two equally but crazy hot guys with polar opposite personalities. She spends the entire time back and forth conflicted on which one she ‘loves’ and eventually but painfully makes her choice. And while taking her time to make said decision, she (or him) hurts a lot of people in the process. Someday I’m going to compile a list devoted to things I wish books would stop doing. I’m happy to say Goblet doesn’t resort to this when Viktor Krum is introduced into the mix.

Goblet takes advantage of its character, Rita Skeeter, a reporter interested only in writing for entertainment. Her articles work as a beautiful form of satire, a side commentary on the litany of love triangles and how ridiculously time-consuming and monotonous they are. Goblet has all the potential to become this: KrumxHermoinexHarry, HarryxHermoinexRon, GinnyxHarryxHermoine, KrumxHermoinexRon, HarryxChoxCedric. Harry Potter could have easily turned into an episode of School Rumble, but it doesn’t.

With bigger problems obviously ahead, the characters, although their involvement with said other party members is a source of contention, does not interfere with the overall story or suddenly turn any of the characters into a deflated balloon.

With that said, am I really supposed to believe that Harry and Hermione don’t have any feelings for each other? At all..?

Compared to Ron, who refutes and knocks Hermione down a peg or two every chance he gets, Harry treats Hermione with respect and consideration, more charming in my opinion than a guy being mean to you, which in our culture somehow translate into masculine affection. It makes no sense to me.

SNAPE IS THE BAD GUY, uh, right?

If I had a nickel every time Harry and Ron surmised that Snape was plotting Harry’s death…

It’s interesting how everything seems to loop back to Snape. He’s always the first one Harry and Ron suspect that, at this point in the series, you can’t take their accusations seriously; yet, this boomerang effect feels so planned that you would think that the clever Hermione would have already discovered the truth (but teachers aren’t people, they’re concentrated nuggets of goodness!)

There’s a reason Snape is involved in almost everything. Either coincidences are as abundant as rabbits or Snape is intentionally inserting himself into these situations.

The funny part is Harry has the tools he needs to discover what Snape could be doing. If he truly suspected that Snape was out to get him, he could easily take his Invisibility Cloak and camp out in Snape’s office or potion supplies closet (as far as I know, there are no secrets charms or protection spells but feel free to let me know). It wouldn’t take much. Just wait long enough and eavesdrop on one of his conversations.

This might just be one of those times where it just slips Harry’s mind.

Background Checks:

After going through four professors of the Defense Against the Dark Arts, one would think that conducting an investigation into your professors would be prudent. For all the things Hogwarts is, their Human Resource department is haphazard when hiring Hogwarts’ professors. The Divination Professor Trelawney doesn’t seem qualified to predict anything, let alone expect her own students to predict the scope of their lives (but hey, every school has a blow-off class.)

If anyone had insisted that Mad-Eye Moody answer a few basic questions, because Google is not a thing in Harry Potter, a lot of things could have been avoided and lives saved.

Bad Reception:

The biggest mystery is resolved! Finally!

I’ve been closely following the story to piece together if Harry Potter occurs in a time before the internet and cellphones or if it’s purposely being left out. The films never covered it. As it so happens, the effects of magic negate technology! And I’m perfectly content with this explanation!

My next question: If you’re a wizard or witch, does possessing magic make it impossible for you to use technology…? I’d still think that some of those kids would have a cell on them considering it’s still faster to call someone versus an owl (although not as cool, I admit.)

To be continued…

Cedric Diggory:

Cedric embodies many admirable characteristics a champion should possess, and it’s his perfectness, his eagerness to do right by others and be selfless, that foreshadows his tragic, untimely death.

Even though Cedric’s death feels so catalytic, at the same time, I struggle with the lack of subsequent remorse. For all intents and purposes, Cedric was Harry’s rival; his competitor, and the root of Harry’s envy. He was many things but a friend.

It could be I’m overlooking this, but I really didn’t know Cedric. The only Cedric I see is Harry’s version, and while Cedric’s affability and heroism is attractive, it’s consequently something that dehumanizes him, which makes him feel less real to me.

I know many have wept pearl sized tears at the death of Cedric, and I do sympathize at the fact that he was too young and innocent to be taken, but I think I’m more sad at how much we can look at someone, feel like we know them and then not really know them once they’re gone, also one of my favorite type of stories.

 

Despite Mental Illness: 5 Inspirational Authors

mental healthAlthough implied in some of my posts, I haven’t openly come out and said that I suffer from Depression and Social Anxiety. Only a handful of close people know about it, and even some of them shy away from the subject like it’s a rattlesnake about to bite you. I’ve been reluctant to say anything only because I’m not sure how to get the ball rolling.

I harbor this fear that once people know, they’ll treat me differently (although I am inherently different,) perceive me as incapable of managing high stress (I do fine, thank you,) and possibly consider me weak because ‘it’s all mental.’ And even though I want to say all these empowering things about using cognitive behavior strategies and positive reinforcements, I have to be brutally honest: there are just days when funny cat memes or counting to four do absolutely nothing.

Sometimes I have days where it feels like mold is growing inside of my organs and spreading to my brain. I dream of scrubbing out all the gunk lodged in my brain’s crevices (if brains have them) hoping to clean out whatever is making me so—bleh, suddenly stripped of interest and made immobile.

During this downtime, which initiates the snowball effect, I start to weed through all my past mistakes, which I ultimately construe as failures. I summarize things, which makes me overlook the good parts, which makes me only want to improve myself, which only makes me realize how many times I have tried to improve myself, which I start to realize is a pattern, which I see no one else struggling with, so I conclude there’s no way of getting out of this hamster’s wheel, etc, etc! To summarize, those are what those days seem like to me, and I went years without ever knowing why I thought and felt this way.

Although it’s been several months now since I left therapy, and I’m in no way cured. I still have days like these except they are less severe. Mental illness is a chronic disease, and it’s something you have to carefully manage by taking care of yourself.

People tend to box in those who suffer from mental illness and believe they’re just a bunch of crazies swallowed by their disease, but these people really don’t give us enough credit. Our problems are virtually invisible to the naked eye and thereby treated like it doesn’t exist. Every day we have to battle an army of derisive screams which seems to echo inside our bodies like a canyon. We have only our own voice for support to stop the rock slide from collapsing on us. Yes, we are incredibly strong.

I’m not doomed to be stuck in a perpetual, self-defeating cycle of relentless hopelessness restrained in bed and having to watch the world from a window. I’m able to do things like anyone else. Having mental illness is not the reason we should stop living or be reduced to the bare minimum of just functioning and call it living. We can do more.

Writing has been my third leg for me, and it’s also what lead me to find other writers and authors who face similar challenges.

To no surprise, many authors have advocated the therapeutic benefits of writing. In spite of the stigma that still surrounds people with mental illness, writers are talking over the misinformed, contentious, nebulous noise and revealing their personal battles with mental illness.

Below are my top five authors and poets that have inspired me in some way or who have dealt with mental illness to some capacity.

5) Emily Dickinson

Perhaps the queen of all hermits and warrants a spot on any introvert’s list, Emily Dickinson lived a solitary, reclusive life. Her poetry captured the complexities of the human condition and analyzed our perception of death, expounded by her short, rhythmical lines.

We can only speculate about Emily Dickinson’s state of mental health. She refrained from answering the door and rarely left her room, not even to attend her father’s funeral held at her homestead. Some believe that her aberrant behavior was indicative of agoraphobia or possibly an anxiety disorder; yet Dickinson corresponded with several other writers via letters. No doubt she would have loved Twitter.

So many of us think we have to travel the world and be exposed to unique experience to have something interesting to say, but there’s also taking what you know and just going with it.

4) Sylvia Plath

Sylvia PlathHer work is contained in the genre of confessional poetry and would later garner her acclaim. She wrote only one novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical story that depicts a girl named Ester interning in a big city and winding up in a mental institution after attempting to kill herself. In Plath’s unabridged journals, we see her lay bare her most empowering, vulnerable, tumultuous feelings in fluid yet raw sentences.

Although Sylvia Plath was never officially diagnosed yet underwent electric shock therapy regardless, she more than likely suffered from some kind of mental illness.

Tragically Plath committed suicide before the release of her novel, but it’s her fervent passion of writing and seeking out life that has always inspired me. There’s a reason so many young women gravitate towards her.

3) J.K. Rowling

Yes, the Harry Potter Author.

Even though I’ve just started reading the Harry Potter series, I’ve known about the author for a long time and stay regularly updated.

Depicted by the press as a rags-to-riches story, J.K. Rowling’s life does at times seem like a fairy-tale, but that’s just the romanced version of it.  She has opened up and talked about the darker parts of her life when she was struggling with Depression and having thoughts of suicide. Once faced with overwhelming adversity, she managed to come out alive on the other side.

The reason I include Rowling on this list is not just because she’s a famous author, but the fact that she didn’t let that time in her life define who she is. From her own pit of despair and hopelessness, she was capable of generating such a story that affected others with an overall amount of goodness and inspired others for the better. We can all use a little bit of that.

2) John Green

John Green is one of the loudest in-a-good-way advocates of mental illness and is forthcoming about his struggles with Anxiety and Depression. At one time, his mental condition was so severe it kept him from completing his Looking For Alaska, until he eventually sought treatment. While Green is receiving a lot of attention lately and is probably the most well-known YA author around, his books are so full of young, humanistic experiences that he not only reminds people of their emotional capacity but is also an example of what you can do after you have your mental illness under control. You can end up doing great things.

1) Libba Bray

Libba BrayLibba Bray. Oh, Libba Bray.

When I first read a Libba Bray book, I thought my heart was going to do a Gymnast flip right out of my chest. Her writing is gorgeous and has a knack of filling her pages with such interesting characters. Her stories are just the right kind of bizarre and twisty that if I didn’t have a day job, I would keep reading them, even after finishing them (except for Lair of Dreams because that is just not out…yet.)

Not only am I in love with her books, she’s also an amazing person and candid about her experience with mental illness, and how it was writing that saves her.

Writing kept them going and eventually lead them to doing what they loved. If you know any writers you think should be included on this list, feel free to leave your comments. You can never have too many inspirations.

My Week With Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban: Part 3

Harry_Potter_and_the_Prisoner_of_Azkaban_(US_cover)I’m finally at the point where the books and films begin to diverge—quite a bit actually—and the discussion of intertextuality and film adaptation is a topic that I’ll save for a later time. With that said, I’d still like to share some of my thoughts.

Less Harry-Centric:

Mentioned in part one of this series, the films are Harry-centric, i.e. the films operate in a way that if it doesn’t directly involve Harry, sub-plots go by the wayside. Thankfully the books are not like this. Azkaban happily includes the other characters. Yes, those people Harry calls his friends who apparently have lives of their own. Go figure.

Admittedly I prefer some of the other characters over Harry, not that I dislike the character, but I have a hard time relating to him.  He’s ostensibly popular with everyone he meets, famous for no other reason than surviving Voldemort’s attack, and he’s the equivalence of a jock with being a Seeker on his Quidditch team. For me, I’m the polar opposite, although charming. I gravitate towards characters like Ron and Percy, but especially can relate to Hermione, singled out mostly for her interests, her intellect and book appetite. She’s misunderstood more often than not and tends to work herself too hard (punctuated heavily in this book.) Needless to say, Azkaban, so far, is one of my favorites for the series shifting from away from its Harry focus plot and elevating the roles of its supporting characters.

Harry and the Dursley:

I. Don’t. Understand. This!

I’m just confounded that at the end of each book, Hogwarts, Dumbledore, the Weasley Family, McGonagall, and even Hagrid do not call child services!

Everyone seems aware of Harry’s situation, that he’s being horribly mistreated, yet every time the topic is brought up, everyone acts as if the treatment from Harry’s Muggle family is benign, appropriate, even funny (because it’s SO hilarious having an Aunt and Uncle who treat you like an air-borne virus and who lavishly shower their obnoxious nephew.) I reach the end, tricking myself that all’s well that ends well, until just like Harry, you remember the Dursley.

James, Sirius, Lupin, Pettigrew:

I know there are several characters’ stories that could easily be a novel in itself, but am I wrong to think that these four characters would be a really interesting read?

Azkaban extrapolated more of the past of Harry Potter’s parents and their friends, and, for me, there is something about this group that piqued my interest immensely. Part of it has to do with their shenanigans, but I also think it would be fascinating to read these men’s friendships form and develop. I mean, what happens post Hogwarts? Only Lev Grossman’s The Magicians comes to mind, but even still, it doesn’t quite satisfy my curiosity.

Snape’s Tormented High School Days:

To someone who was bullied during middle school through high school, I get it. I do. But Snape is the personified version of what happens when you hold onto those grudges.

There is certainly a part of me that feels bad for Snape—but this is mostly canceled out by his tenacity to believe anything Harry Potter does is insidious and wrong, albeit Snape does tend to be 85% right in his assumptions. Harry is usually up to something, but this doesn’t give Snape the right to threaten Harry with expulsion from Hogwarts,  his haven away from his verbally abusive family.

I’d like to think as time ages us, we would learn to let go of the past and be better people overall (optimistic, I know.) Snape is the antithesis of this. He’s just not a good person. At all. I say this even knowing his friendship with Harry Potter’s mother. None of what he does should be considered acceptable, even if it’s for a noble cause.

The Hormones are Coming!

It was subtly hinted during the final Quidditch match with Harry and the other Seeker that the feelings are coming. I am hoping that the books handle the emergence of young adulthood and fair better than the films did. I don’t suspect it to be a seamless transition. I expect it to be just as jarring as your first flat tire, bumpy and abrupt. But what I would like to see is a genuine interpretation that doesn’t tantamount to emo-nesque and boy lulled eyes. After all, it’s Harry Potter, and there’s certainly more going on than teenage romance.