Podcast of the Black Swan: Episode 5

When we last left our heroes, they had been broadcasting from a quasi-functional blackbox in a hotel room in Orlando, fondly reminiscing about the now-defunct “Jaws”  attraction at Universal Studios, Florida, and only occasionally interrupted by the blackbox’s previous contents.  Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, the hotel room was infiltrated by a group of surly pirates who promptly attacked with their advanced technologies and rendered our heroes unconscious.  For the full low-down, check out our last episode here!

Today, the adventure continues with the exciting new installment of our Podcast mini-series: “How We Spent our Winter Vacation”.  Click here to check it out.

As always, many thanks to the ever-talented Matt Rosvally and once again thanks to the voice talents of Billy Maloy.


Sometimes I am Wise… Sometimes

Ah the beginning of the semester.  New books, new pens, new notebooks… well… the idea of new notebooks and pens.  I gave up actual note-taking several years ago in lieu of its much more green digital cousin netbook note-taking and have only looked back on the first few days of the semester when I miss purchasing new spiral-bounds.

My favorite part of a new semester is the excuse to procure new books.  Lots of new books.  New books in spades.  New books in battalions.  New books in numbers that are certain to make me cry as I progress through the semester and actually have to read all these glorious shiny tomes.

Every semester, as I hunt for the textbooks which I legitimately need, I also manage to sneak in a little present to myself.  Often times, this present consists of more books.  Occasionally I will deviate from the tradition and treat myself to something other than books.  The only rule about the present is it must be procurable at the place where I purchase said books (school bookstore, amazon.com, half.com, or abebooks.com …this is not really a limiting factor as you can procure just about anything from amazon these days).  It’s a way to make myself feel loved and cared for as the semester continues.  It’s also a reminder to myself that, while school will always be the first priority, I should take some time out now and again to reconnect with the rest of the world.

This semester, spurred by my recent trip to Hogwarts (…I’ve been ruined for

pretty sure I drank ALL the butterbeer

all sugary drinks ever by the wonderful crack-laced butterbeer), I decided that it was time.  I invested in boxed sets of all the Harry Potter movies.

“Now self.”  I said, as I almost-guiltily hit the amazon checkout.  “You may be purchasing these films, but just because they are a wonderful part of your adolescence does not mean that you can use them as an excuse to not do your reading.  You are purchasing these films as a leisure activity to be enjoyed when all of your homework is done.”

“Yes, self, I understand.”

“Because if you’re just going to stick them in to watch before you do your real work, I’m going to have to put them back right now.  These can’t be distractions from the important things in life.”

“Of course not, self!  I will be good!  I will be the picture of discipline!  I will go to the gym and not eat carbs and my reading will always be done by a reasonable hour.  You know, I may even pile another bit of reading onto my weekly reading goal – comps is coming up, after all!”

“Good job, self.  If you can promise to do these things, then I will purchase you this golden piece of your childhood.”

“I love you, self.”

“I love you too, self.”

…flash forward to today.  A giant box has appeared on my doorstep chock full of amazony goodness.  Lo, thought I, it must be a great many of those textbooks I ordered!  Excellent!  I can get started on the reading for class on Thursday!  There is one play which I still require to be completely prepared for that first course and, as everyone knows, first impressions are so very important!

I opened the box, hands trembling with excitement.  This was it.  The thing that would complete my preparations for the second semester of my PhD.  I unfolded the lid, my breath bated in anticipation.

I tore aside the billing statement and glanced to the contents of the box.  To my delight, my Harry Potter movies were waiting cheerfully on top… along with one (count it) one of my textbooks.

One?  But I ordered everything on the same day!  Ah, but some of it was through half.com… and some of it was used through amazon sellers… and some of it through the school bookstore…. And… oh bother.  Of course luck would have it that the play I need to read for Thursday is not that one golden book entombed with the DVDs.  That would have just been too easy.


It really does look like that.

So now they’re sitting on my shelf… taunting me as I write this.  I do have a bunch of research to do, and some deadlines to meet, and other reading to do… but it’s been so long since I’ve seen my friends at Hogwarts.  Maybe just a quick fix?  If I write a paper on it, then it’s considered “research”, right?

…maybe I should just learn to listen to my better judgment.  At least sometimes.  She usually  has some valid points to make even if they’re couched in stupid grown-up logic.

Girl Power

It’s a gray, rainy day in Boston.  The kind of day when you just want to curl up on the couch with a good book, a kitty, a cup of tea, and a fireplace.

Also, the kind of day when you really just don’t want to bother with anything.

In my world, I call them Bartleby Days.

Allow me to devolve into a girl for a few moments.  I will be the first to admit that I’m usually fairly picky about my appearance.  One of the many virtues I picked up from working as a Ballroom Dance instructor (story for another time, folks) is a certain finickyness about my appearance.  I rarely leave the house without doing my makeup (certainly never when I know that I’m going somewhere… yes, class counts as “somewhere”), I at least put a token effort into my hair, and I’m never caught dead in requisite school sweats and ugg boots unless I’m walking around the corner to the drugstore on my day off (I get days off?  Okay, afternoon off).

But one of the key functions of a Bartleby Day is the understanding that, no matter what you do, your hair is simply not going to co-operate.

(…I promise, this is going somewhere quasi-scholarly, bear with me for another moment…)

Growing up, I had many role models.  Most of them were characters from books.  Perhaps one of the most enduring role model of my young life was a certain Hermione Granger.

Here’s the awesome thing about being a frizzy-haired chick in academia: on Bartleby

Me this morning at my most unglamorous (hair Hermione style, sweatshirt, glasses, and *gasp* not even wearing lip gloss!)

Days, I can simply rock the Hermione look.

And I feel okay about that.

As a bookish chick, I find “rocking the Hermione look” comforting.  Hermione is a great role model.  She’s never afraid to be herself (even when that’s not the most popular thing to be), she’s strong enough to not hide behind anyone else, she’s wicked smart, and she always (if indirectly) manages to be the hero.  Harry Potter wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without Hermione proving, once more, that it takes a woman to truly be able to accomplish anything.

Geek girls rule the world and, today on the most Bartleby of days, I wish to salute a few fictitious geek girls who have made my life a better place:

Seriously... get me a library like this, and I'll happily skip about your house singing songs as your trophy wife

*    Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.  Say what you want about Disney (it’s probably true), but a brunette heroine who is outcast from society because, despite the fact that she’s pretty, she’s simply too nerdy to get along with the popular girls?  A heroine that requires (instead of the requisite gift of roses) a LIBRARY to be wooed?  A heroine who’s more interested in a bookstore than a pair of rippling pectorals?  Yep.  If I were a Disney Princess, I’d be Belle.  Hands down.  Talking clock and teapot and everything.

*    Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Despite her degradation into generic pretty female love interest in just about every Dracula re-telling, Mina was actually pretty badass in the original.  She was the secretary for what became known as “the crew of light” and so kept all the notes and things tidy.  Without her, the fictitious narrative never would have come to be.  It was Mina’s work in compiling notes, letters, diaries, that made the final volume.  Okay, so maybe the boys didn’t let her go out on the “dangerous missions”, but what do you want from Victorian men?  Mina bound the group together and it was her efforts which ensured that they were able to accomplish their goals and defeat the mighty beast.  Perhaps more importantly, it was her efforts which ensured that documentation of this even survived.  Boo-friggen-yah.

 *   Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.  When I was a kid, I would read books and eat apples because that was Jo’s favorite thing to do.  Jo reads and writes to an extreme which makes her unladylike (much like the harried author of this blog).  Despite having her nose stuck in a book, Jo also manages to bag the guy at the end and balance being a woman with being ambitious in the nineteenth century.  Yea… I may identify a little bit with this clumsy, tom-boyish, not-as-pretty-as-her-sister literati… just a little.

*    Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  Yes, I know, this book

Totally badass

comes up all the time, but it’s because I LOVE LIZZY.  Oh my god, if you could bottle Lizzy and sell her she’d be in my cabinets all the time.  I’d bathe in her, I’d cook with her, I’d even spritz a little on my pillow every night.  Maybe it’s a stretch to call Lizzy a literati (she’s not really depicted as reading any more than any other strong heroine of the time), but she definitely is smart and (as such) I’m going to label her as a nerd.  She’s clearly focused her time on something besides painting, drawing, playing music, and sewing (she says so herself), so let’s assume for the sake of my list that that something is reading?  Please?  …plus… she fights zombies…

This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a selection of my favorites.  Hopefully it’ll help you get through your gray dreary day.

And remember; Bartleby days happen to everyone.  If the weather (or extenuating factors) have put you in such a slump as this, just think: What would Hermione Granger do?

Also… watch this.

I know that always makes me feel better.

The Potternomenon

Over the weekend, I engaged with my brand spankin’ new housemates (hi, Boston!) in the cultural phenomenon currently sweeping that nation that has members of my generation weepy-eyed and reminiscing.

I saw the last Harry Potter movie.

It’s no secret that Rowling’s series has made an immense impression upon the culture of the times.  I am of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter and, now that it’s “over”, are facing down a blank Potter-less existence punctuated by random bouts of nostalgia triggered by wands and quasi-Latin.

I think the question on everyone’s mind is “where do we go from here?”.  What do we do with our Potter-less existence?  How do we keep on living with no new book or movie to look forward to?

But this is not a new feeling for Potter fans.  Flash back to the summer of 2007.  I was in Conservatory at Shakespeare & Company (the first round).  Despite the fact that the book was released mid-week for us (we only had one day off, Monday; thereby Thursday counted as “mid-week”), despite the fact that we had rehearsed and trained for twelve hours that day, despite the fact that the next day was another twelve-hour marathon of soul-searching, a small die-hard contingent of us still marched ourselves to the only bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts and waited on line at midnight for the release.

I remember thinking at the time “this is it”.  Then I read the book.  As I turned that final page, teary-eyed (yea, I’m a girl, so what?), I remember thinking the same thing.  “This is it.”

So as I sat in the theatre, I couldn’t help but wonder if this really was it.  And if it was, why did I care so much?

The sheer impact that this series has had on our culture is fascinating.  In a world of e-publishing and instant gratification everything, we are facing down a generation of young adults whose lives were significantly affected by a series of books.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  And, perhaps most importantly, is it possible that this may happen again?

My thoughts on Pottermania are several fold:

1) Harry Potter is a brilliant adaptation of Campbell’s Hero Cycle which succeeds in evoking classical tales and appropriating them into its own innovative mythos.

fantastic chart of the Hero Cycle

2) Harry Potter occurs in a world of urban fantasy which, in my opinion, is the most engaging genre of fantasy.  Urban fantasy invites us to imagine that the fantastic is all around us, just beyond the borders of our perception.  It invites the reader to look deeper at her surroundings and invent the links between magic and reality.  This genre has always appealed to the unsatisfied creative soul, the series’ primary demographic.  Moreover, the world at large has embraced the Potter possibilities (likely in an effort to capitalize upon the series’ popularity, but okay, we’ll overlook the rampant show of consumerism).  If you go to King’s Cross Station in London, you can visit platform 9 ¾.  Qudditch has become a popular-enough sport on college campuses that it warrants its

Visiting Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross London

own international organization.  Believing hard enough in the illusion has fostered its own sense of reality and this is outrageously appealing to those who, like Harry, feel that they simply don’t belong in this world.

3) The series’ hook is one which latches into a fundamental aspect of its target demographic.  Recall all the way back to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Harry, as a “normal person”, simply doesn’t fit in.  His family doesn’t understand him, the other kids tease him, and his life (on the whole) pretty much sucks.  Suddenly he is taken away from all of this into a world where he fits in, where he is normal, and where he’s a celebrity.  Isn’t this every misfit child’s dream?  The belief that there is “somewhere else” more betterer than here (be it Hogwarts, Oz, or Wonderland) propels the angsty pre-teen through a jungle of hormone-induced nightmares.  Harry Potter is a lifeline for misunderstood geeks, a veritable treasure-trove of “get me through my day”.  This feeling of companionship fosters Pottermania and encourages fanatical devotion to the escapist fantasy.

As to the potential for this occurring again, I am honestly not entire certain that it can.  I mean, we all know that there are books which have similarly captured pre-teen imaginations in the past ten years (ahem Twilight cough sputter), but who can say anything about the longevity of such fans?  Harry Potter is a series which I believe will be read generation to generation because of the important life lessons it teaches (if you have any doubt about that, just check out this week’s post secrets).  Twilight, not so much.

Who can say when someone will tap into this sort of cosmic vein?  Throughout history, there have always been artists who manage it… and some, for whatever reason, don’t.  We don’t have fifty million Marlowe festivals across the Globe, but we do perform Shakespeare at every possible opportunity.  Will someone eventually be the cosmic muse for Potter-scale fandom?  Probably.  I certainly hope so.  I am dubious at best, however, that my kids will be able to grow up with future-Potter like I did with past-Potter.

But you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s one of the most beautiful things about true art.  It’s lovely, it touches you, it shapes you, then it’s gone.  The fleetingness of the moment is what makes it so heart-wrenchingly wonderful.  We can’t re-create it, we can only live it.