Harry Potter, the Black Dog, and Literary Chocolate

harry potter

[photo courtesy of google image search]

It was recently World Maternal Mental Health Day, so what better time than the present to channel my inner Gryffindor (I’m actually a Hufflepuff, but sometimes you need a little Gryffindor courage) and admit that I’ve been struggling.

I knew I was predisposed to developing postpartum depression/anxiety after the birth of my beautiful daughter in July, but the black dog didn’t bite until this past January.

After months of house hunting with a new baby, getting in bidding wars, and losing on several houses in a hot market, we finally bought our first home and moved an hour away.

The stress of moving combined with sleep deprivation caused by a regressing/teething baby, and long hours of momming due to my husband’s work hours, brought the black dog out of the shadows and I finally had to admit that I wasn’t quite myself.

harry-potter-quote-poster-yawn-sane

[photo courtesy of google image search]

I’m in good company. It seems like my social media feed is full of articles written by new moms who struggle to keep their black dogs at bay.

As a hopeful romantic who always dreamed of having children, I thought motherhood would be a breeze. I envisioned blissful days tapping away at my novel with my gently cooing baby content in her bassinet beside me, and then tucking my dozing cherub into her crib at dusk and walking away, perhaps scribbling some enlightened motherly thoughts in my journal and reading a little Jane Austen before settling in for a full night’s sleep.

I thought my maternal nature would enable me to interpret every cry and fulfill all of my daughter’s needs without once questioning my abilities as a mother.

Oh, how naive I was. Motherhood is miraculous, beautiful, and life-changing, yes.

But it’s also hard as shit. 

Add some sleep deprivation to the mix (which is literally torture) and some major life changes and you’ve got some dark days ahead.

CacU2CLWwAAO4Rz

[photo courtesy of google image search]

Despite all the Bell Let’s Talk and CAMH initiatives, despite the countless celebrities and high-profile people who have opened up about their postpartum difficulties (and mental health struggles in general), it’s still so incredibly hard for me to talk about.

No matter how many hashtags and coloured shirt days there are, year after year, the stigma remains. If the stigma was truly gone, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable and vulnerable right now, like I’ve been wearing an invisibility cloak and have just now decided it’s time to take it off.

So there it is.

The invisibility cloak is off.

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[photo courtesy of google image search]

Although these last few months have been difficult, there’s been some light. A local mom group, library activities and outings, meds, prayer, music, daily exercise, and the support of friends and family have all helped alleviate some of the darkness.

I’ve also been learning a lot about the importance of self-care, which is particularly important as a mom when you’re constantly meeting the needs of others. I’ve learned that “me time” isn’t selfish–it’s a means of survival.

My “me time” happens every night after the baby finally goes to bed and I hand over the monitor to my husband so he can keep an eye on her for a few hours. I dive into bed, put my earplugs in, and get lost in a good book before getting some uninterrupted sleep.

Which brings me to Harry Potter.

stories

[photo courtesy of google image search]

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the series before.

Despite being 11 and the target audience when the first book was published, many Christians were leery of the series based on their “glorification of witchcraft and magic” … even though the author herself is a professed Christian.

As I grew up, what prevented me from reading the books was my natural distaste for anything with hype and desire to go against the grain.

Flash forward 20 years and I can say with all sincerity: Harry Potter has saved me. 

kafka

[photo courtesy of google image search]

Now I can see why everyone has been trying to get me to read the series for 20 years. Now I understand why, when I told a coworker my intention to read the series on my maternity leave, she said, “Oh Alison … enjoy getting lost in the magic.” Now I know why it’s such an enduring series, and all the hype is well deserved.

And although I wish I had read the books as a kid, I think they came to me at just the right time, when I needed them the most.

In that hour or so just before bedtime, I become completely immersed in a magical world, distracted by a story that has me unreservedly embracing full-fledged fandom.

lupin chocolate

[photo courtesy of google image search]

In Prisoner of Azkaban (my favourite of the series thus far, although I’m only a quarter of the way through Half-Blood Prince), Harry first encounters the Dementors, which are said to be based on Rowling’s own experiences with depression.

Professor Remus Lupin (one of my favourite characters), tells Harry:

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.

Harry discovers he’s more susceptible to the evil creatures–he faints when they’re near while his friends Ron and Hermione do not–much like some people struggle with their mental health while others do not. It doesn’t mean you’re broken or weak.

Lupin tells him:

You are not weak, Harry. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

not weak

[photo courtesy of google image search]

The kind professor, who is also stigmatized, gives Harry chocolate after his first experience with the Dementors–the chosen remedy to sweeten sadness. Eat, Lupin says. You’ll feel better. Chocolate won’t prevent the Dementors from coming back. It won’t completely cure Harry from being affected. But it helps.

magical

[photo courtesy of google image search]

The black dog may always be lurking in the shadows, ready to bite. The Dementors may come and go and sometimes you’ll find the strength to ward them off. Sometimes you’ll feel them drain your peace, hope, and happiness.

But you’ll get up again. I promise. You’ll find the things that sweeten your day, that save you, that reveal God’s love to you, however small … be it chocolate, tea, friends, therapy, nature, or the power of a good story.

You’ll find your way home.

Always. 

home

[photo courtesy of google image search]

If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, don’t be afraid to get help! There’s some great resources through Life with a Baby (if you’re in Ontario) and Postpartum Progress.

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Confessions of a Bibliophile

Bibliophile: [bib-lee-uh-fahyl, -fil] –noun a person who loves or collects books, especially as examples of fine or unusual printing, binding, or the like.

and i'm a little bit nerdy

I suppose I’ve been a bibliophile since before I could even read and this is what filled me with an insatiable urge to figure out what the letters on the page meant. I loved the smell of the pages, the feel of the books in my hands, the ability to escape and learn and get absorbed in a story. I won a creative writing contest in grade 3 and spent the $100 prize entirely on new books.

I’ve maintained a lifelong love affair with literature. It’s what I know. It’s my passion. It’s one of the few things at which I excel. Math? No. Science? Heck no. Physical Education? Hopeless … But give me a book and tell me to read it, love it, critique it, dissect it, write papers on various themes and I’m all yours, baby.

Fast forward 10 years or so, and I decided to pursue my love of reading at the university level. Four-and-a-half years of intense reading (with some prerequisite courses thrown in for good measure. Let’s not discuss university chemistry please!) and armfuls, boxes full of new books. My Billy bookshelf sags from the weight.

And then there’s the literary internship. Publishers sending books daily to be reviewed. No time to review them all, so many end up getting shelved. The bright-eyed, bibliophile intern decides to rescue them, take them home like heavy, abandoned puppies.

It’s no surprise then, that years of studying and loving literature have resulted in a bookshelf in this sorry state:

My bookshelf BEFORE spring cleaning

So many books, so disorganized, each one vying for attention, my favourites stacked between ones I never got around to reading. I’d had enough–and I’m Dutch so I cannot deal with clutter and disorganization–so last week I decided to spring clean my bookshelf and undergo the incredibly painful task of deciding which ones to keep, and which to donate to goodwill.

It sounds so silly, but it was an extremely difficult task. I sat on my floor surrounded by all my books, holding each one while I decided its fate. Keep, or donate? My friend and I discussed this recently, and why it was so hard. She too is an English major (that is, we both studied English literature in university and were not associated with the English military) and is in the process of going through her extensive collection also.

We believe it has to do with this dream we have of ourselves that we have to surrender. I’ve always had this idea that I would grow up with an impressive personal library and a house overflowing with books. To be seen as this pretentious bluestocking book snob whose book collection is so gigantic that when people see it they come to the conclusion that I’m just so wickedly clever.

The reality is that books take up a huge amount of space, and there are tons of books on my shelf that I never read or didn’t even like. Take Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for example. Hated the book, not a fan of Steinbeck, but I felt I had to keep it on my shelf just because it makes me look good.

In the end, I decided to get over this dream and only keep the books I would truly treasure and/or read again.

crates full of books to donate to goodwill

I still have an impressive collection, but now it’s much smaller (and alphabetized!):

my bookshelf AFTER spring cleaning

Why hoard books which give me no enjoyment when they can bless and be a treasure to someone else? All I can say is, after receiving the books that both my bibliophile friend and I are donating, goodwill is getting some fine literature!

And I’m still a bibliophile. Just a downsized one.

I’ve Been Reading …

Shocker.

come home in the car you love, brainy brainy brainy

I’ve been reading two different books (one finished, one nearly halfway done) which have impacted me in different yet significant ways.

I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity which I bought and read at the perfect time in my life. Clive Staples Lewis has a way of making Christianity so simple and accessible, and the way he words things and illustrates concepts with beautiful and unexpected metaphors made me feel like I was hearing ideas for the very first time (and in many cases, I was). I can say confidently, with no exaggeration, that this book has changed my life and has been an integral part of my “Christian walk.” I love Jack.

The other book I’m currently halfway through, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, is a book I’ve been meaning to read for about a year. There’s only one copy at the local library, and every time I went there since January, it’s been checked out until I got lucky last week! Like The Awakening by Kate Chopin or anything by Virginia Woolf, there are some sentences in it that simply take my breath away.

… But rather than continuing my ecstatic ramble, I’ll let the words of the authors speak for themselves.

they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength

From Mere  Christianity by C.S. Lewis:

[…] many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity–that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride–just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense (pg.125)

[…] for many people […] music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity (pg. 137)

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about yourself altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without having noticed it (pg. 226)

first cup of the morning

From The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery:

[…] we are tasting the splendid gift of this unexpected morning as if it were some precious nectar; ordinary gestures have an extraordinary resonance, as we breathe in the fragrance of the tea, savor it, lower our cups, serve more, and sip again: every gesture has the bright aura of rebirth. At moments like this the web of life is revealed by the power of the ritual, and each time we renew our ceremony, the pleasures will be all the greater for our having violated one of its principles. Moments like this act as magical interludes, placing our hearts at the edge of our souls: fleetingly, yet intensely, a fragment of eternity has come to enrich time. Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn–and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb.

So, let us drink a cup of tea.

[…]

The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls morn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed (pg. 90-91)

Dear Lord, I wish I had written that. But I’m also thankful that yesterday afternoon out on the back deck in a rare moment of sunshine, with a delicious polichinka and a cup of tea, I read that paragraph and had to take a break to let the beauty saturate me.

Marching Forward

mmmmmmmmm ....

The title of this blog is obvious and cliché, but what can you do?  I just wanted to give you all a quick update about what has been going on lately and why things are looking up.

First of all, I have a job!

It’s not what I went to school to do, but it’s something for right now and the situation I’m in.  I’ve worked there before, but since it’s been about 3 years and things have changed there, I have to be re-trained, beginning today!

I’m excited to be making money again and yes, working somewhere that forces you to deal with people.  Constantly.  It’s good practice and an invaluable skill; I found that in my latest journalism jobs, it was so easy to retreat behind the computer screen and dread having to pick up the phone to call somebody.

With this job, retreat is not an option and neither is shyness, really.  You have to forget about yourself and focus 100% on the customer.  It’s a lot like acting in a way, and I was always a pretty good actor.

Plus, you can’t go wrong with tips and health benefits. You really can’t.

Even though ideally I would have had a steady job in the journalism field by now, I’m learning to have a positive attitude about everything and remembering Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

I’ve also been getting a lot of driving practice in lately and am building my confidence in that regard.

Yesterday, I went to the second-hand shop downtown and couldn’t believe my luck.  I got used copies of Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson, and Beauty by Robin McKinley for just 40 cents!  Not that I need any more books, but come on.  40 cents!  And all four are amazing books. I haven’t read the Findley title or the Winterson title, but I’ve heard great things.

And here’s another reason to smile today: the sun is shining and there is a hint of spring in the air!

Reinventing Jane

 

Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson in BBC's adaptation of Jane Eyre

 

After reading this article, about how new adaptations of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are being made to appeal to Twihards, I have just two questions:

  1. Can’t everyone just leave the Brontë sisters alone?
  2. Must this Twilight insanity phenomenon influence every aspect of culture, leaving nothing sucked dry (see what I did there?)?

Apparently, Emily’s gothic tale of dangerous, obsessive love has been experiencing an increase in sales due to its mention in the Twilight series and a revamped cover with a sticker that reads: Bella & Edward’s favourite book!   Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad kids are reading (even if they are reading low culture), and that it’s making them turn to the Brontë sisters.  My issue is with how they’re getting there — from a vampire’s recommendation.  I suppose my problem is that I suffer from true Old Lady Syndrome, which is why I haven’t touched the Twilight series, the Harry Potter series, and snobbishly disdain anything with that kind of collective hysteria.  Pop culture phenomena always makes me bristle and embrace the eclectic, the bizarre, the underrated.  When those things become unearthed and re-marketed for mass consumption, I feel as though I’ve been betrayed.  

I forget how I came to read Jane Eyre, but I was probably in grade 8.  As a somewhat pretentious adolescent, I was hungry for a good old-fashioned classic after the joys of reading Pride and Prejudice.  I remember the precise scene where I decided I had found my new favourite book: when Mr. Rochester dresses up as an old gypsy come to read the fortunes of his high society house guests, and Jane’s, and then his identity is revealed.  I remember my heart actually thumping loudly in excitement and fantasizing about Mr. Rochester, even more than I fantasized about the stuffy Mr. Darcy and his wet shirt clinging to his body (our teacher showed us BBC’s Pride and Prejudice as a graduation treat!)

 I have read Jane Eyre countless times since then and it is by far my most favourite book in the entire world.  Each time I read it, something new strikes me, a new dimension is added.  The last time I read it, in third-year Victorian Lit. class, I was shocked by the pre-feminist implications of the novel’s conclusion and the fact that Jane only returns to Rochester when he is blind and physically handicapped. Rereading it now, I’m finding all sorts of comments on the class system and Jane’s peculiar position outside the margins of society.

So strong is my loyalty to the story that I’m automatically nervous whenever a new adaptation is made to a novel I treasure.  Since I’m not a big fan of Wuthering Heights in the first place, I’m not overly concerned that the role of Heathcliff is being played by Ed Westwick of Gossip Girl fame in the newest adaptation.  The 1992 version, starring Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes, was pretty terrible and didn’t make me like the book any more.

However, since she is Charlotte’s sister, I cannot help but feel protective over Emily’s work and its latest bastardization to cater to Twihards and their disposable incomes.

Ladies, drool over your new Heathcliff!

 

The best adaptation of Jane Eyre I’ve ever seen is the BBC’s, starring an appropriately plain Ruth Wilson as Jane and an unconventionally sexy Toby Stephens as Rochester. If anyone has the rights to classic British literature, it’s the British, and they usually get it right, as is evident in their long, yet mostly accurate, adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  The new Jane Eyre will star very pretty, very young (and very un-Jane Eyre-like) Mia Wasikowska and a ridiculously handsome Michael Fassbender whom I haven’t seen in anything else.

Will he live up to Toby Stephens' Rochester?

 

Too pretty to be plain Jane Eyre?

 

Needless to say, I’m very nervous about this adaptation, as I am with the untitled Dominic Murphy film project about the “imaginative worlds invented by the Brontës as adolescents.” According to Murphy’s producer Mike Downey:

“There is a whole younger audience out there that is ripe to enjoy these darker versions of what is generally served up, and the response from funders has been very upbeat, especially in the light of the recent success of Twilight”

I’m throwing up my hands, Stephenie Meyer.  If your terribly written, yet extremely successful series is going to lead sheep teens to my beloved classics, so be it.  If anything, it will give them their first taste of literature so good that it has stood the test of time.

“Not all Christians vote Republican and not all women are shoe-obsessed”

Preach it, sister!

I must read this memoir:

 

photo courtesy of Google Image search

The author, Carlene Bauer, was recently interviewed in The Economist’s More Intelligent Life. 

I love their description of the book and feel like it’s one that I could really identify with:

Like all coming-of-age tales, this one mixes the painfully familiar (“we were exhilarated by our loneliness because it meant we were being tested, or destined, or chosen”) with the exotic (“my heart would flutter and whirr like a hummingbird until I said it: God“). Bauer describes an awkward youth of evangelical Christian schools and camps against a soundtrack of unbelievers (the Smiths, the Cure, the Replacements, the Pixies). Having looked to such models as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf for a sense of how to live, Bauer moves to New York City and waits patiently for her life to start. She yearns for a way to be both coolly intellectual and cosily devotional—to both love God and love the world […]

You can read the whole interview at the link provided above.  Despite a few crucial differences between the author and I (I’m still a believer, like The Monkees), this sounds like one memoir I need to read.  The Smiths?  Check.  Virginia Woolf?  Check.  Wants to love God and the world?  Check.  Not Republican?  Check.  Not that shoe-obsessed?  Partial-check.  Wine, food, and 30 Rock?  Check, check, check!

 

Of Mice and Misery

For all of the classic books I love, there are those I hate. And the entire repertoire of some authors.

I hate J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and have tried it a million times and was never able to finish it. I hate Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, even though as someone interested in beatnik culture, I technically should love it.

I don’t.

I absolutely loved Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but In Cold Blood, as well-written and engaging as it was, has scarred me for life. As has Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  It’s not bedtime reading, folks! I thought I was going to die before I finished reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa; even more painful than reading 1,536 pages of sheer frustration was the fact that our 18th century literature professor assigned it to us to read over Reading Week.  Pure hell.

I can’t read anything Chuck Palahniuk without feeling the urgent need to take a hot shower and purge my mind of filth and gratuitous raunch. I also can’t read Kurt Vonnegut. I wish I could like James Joyce but I just don’t get him. I tried A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with no success. Finnegan’s Wake? Forget it, man. 

But most of all, much to my ex-boyfriend’s chagrin (he was a huge fan), I hate, hate, hate John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is a debacle of hardship and depression. Why would I want to read that?  For pleasure!  Thank God I never had to suffer through that suicide-inducing tome as an English major, even though I took American lit.  In high school, I thought I’d give Of Mice and Men a chance to seem literary and cool. I ended up throwing the thing across the room and stomping on it.  Seriously.

I am much comforted in my Steinbeck hatred, however, with this blog on The Roaring 20s: Classic Novels You Can’t Stand. According to its post yesterday, Steinbeck is the author with the most works no one wants to read. Oh, and look: she included my comment in the Best Of list, and included a picture of Mice and Men.  Cheers to hating some classic literature and not feeling badly about it!