Merry Christmas from Lou, Jenna, and Maia St. Hilaire

We had a little more trouble than usual getting everyone in the picture this year.

Wait for it...

...wait for it...

...there it is.

Well. There are Lou and I. I attempted to catch Maia, and she meowed angrily and bolted. Lou later got a nice shot of her relaxing and looking at the tree, though.


My dad emailed me this last night:

Lou and I had just come home to find broken bits of one of the family ornaments all over the house—we're still missing one of the pieces—as well as water splashed all over the floor around the tree. Our survey and cleanup of the damage were closely watched by one very excited cat.
Maia: "You put up the GIANT PLANT and hung it with SO MANY TOYS AND you filled up a WATER DISH under it!!!!" 
Me: "Normal cats avoid water. Why do you have to obsessively bat it onto the floor?" 
Maia: "I can reach that knitted doll where you just hung it. Also, I can dig past that towel you're wrapping around and around the water dish. I will DIG TO THE WATER and I will FLING IT EVERYWHERE OH I DIDN'T KNOW THE WORLD COULD BE SO FUN."
She can, too.

Right now I've got the Christmas tree stand swaddled in cloth, which I've taped all the way around the trunk. I've spread a red blanket over the top of that and weighted the ends down with a bronze Mary bust. That had better work, because I'm out of ideas otherwise.

...and that's all I've got for today. I've got to go wrap some presents and finish the laundry.

Blessed Christmas! Much love.


O Great Mystery and other stories

This was a Christmassy surprise to wake up to this morning:

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Blogging over the next couple of weeks will be unpredictable. We're expecting to spend some quality time with all twelve of our nieces and nephews during the twelve days of Christmas, presuming that the baby girl makes her appearance—which she should, as she was due a couple of days ago.

In between making midnight airport runs, visiting new babies, packing and wrapping Christmas gifts, putting a semi-desperate effort into getting Christmas cards out, and directing choir, I'll try and plan on at least an end-of-year post. I hope to get an H.P.B.C. post up between Christmas and New Year's as well, if I can do it without scandalizing family. ;P

* * *

* * *

Say what you will about Windows 8, its bluescreen is at least friendlier than the ones I'm used to.

To be fair, I probably shouldn't have asked it to read the camera card while having a pdf, Audacity, three Word documents, two browsers, and Windows Explorer open. My computer is sensitive; I've crashed this thing a lot. It feels like less of a tragedy, though, when it just gives you a little frowny face and informs you that the computer has encountered a problem and needs to shut down.

* * *

Music of the week: O Magnum Mysterium, a text from Christmas Matins (a set of nighttime prayers) which has been set to music beautifully by quite a number of composers. I'm not sure anyone tops Morten Lauridsen's sublime, modern polyphonic setting.

Text and translation, courtesy of Wikipedia—it looks correct, as far as I can tell:
O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord.

* * *

Happy weekend.... and if I don't make it to blogging again beforehand, Merry Christmas. <3


Advent Peace

It's one week till Christmas, and I was going to spend some time today working up a post on Twilight, including red-pen commentary, enthusiasm about Meyer's characters and certain of her descriptions, and gratuitous snark about Catholic hymns—but I was out shopping four hours, and my brain has had all it can take.

The Ghost of Christmas Present seems to be saying to me, "Don't feel so obligated to do so much; just quiet down and experience the season," but it hasn't been saying how. I got a whisper this afternoon, though. Just a soft little thing: "Your inbox isn't so full of advertisements today: have you noticed?"


For the first time today, it felt like Advent. Which had mostly to do with crawling out of bed in the dark at ten to seven this morning, driving down to church, and spending an hour with Christ—with the candlelight reflecting off the monstrance, a whole row of little votives burning under the Fatima statue, and a cloudy dawn picking out the gray-greens in the stained glass for first light.

My mind was still so busy that it took me most of the hour to get through Lauds (morning prayer takes about ten minutes to read), but there was peace in just kneeling with my eyes open.

Speaking of the Liturgy of the Hours: the O Antiphons come but once a year, so here's today's:

Blessed Advent! Peace be with you. :)


Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 6

Hail! We're moving on by one chapter this week. I'd intended to go further, but: a) there's so much in this chapter, b) there's so much in the next one, too, and c) I'm starting this more than halfway through the day and I still haven't yet dared to look at my to-do list. Time is a limited thing.

Art by tim-tyan
Meanwhile, we have word from both Masha and Christie! Masha's post about dementors went up over a week ago, but in case you missed it:
The dementors are an amazing idea. Creepy, swooping, demonic beings of darkness and filth, they are the perfect horror element - tailored to the individual and apparently indestructible. I love their role in this book - to drive Harry into a deeper confrontation with his traumatic past. But the dementors fail in one essential and deeply troubling sense. The ‘dementor’s kiss’ steals the soul of the victim. My frustration with this all-too-powerful ability of evil is that the soul is then reduced to merely a thing - something that can be taken away through no fault of the individual..and I can’t help but be disturbed by such a view of the person.
I'm beginning to understand—like, not just know, but actually comprehend—why Masha disliked the books on first read, and why she has such a worldview clash with them. I suspect I lack that worldview clash myself primarily because I'm willing to let so much slide in good kidlit.

E.g.: if the dementors represent depression to me at one moment, raw evil at another, the effects of giving up the battle for your own soul at another, and mere plot device at yet another, I'm completely fine with that—in fact, I favor it, because I'm not fond of getting too allegorical. It's childlike play with powerful ideas, though, taking one after another as the mood strikes. I just don't happen to mind. I'm not concerned about getting a proper, nuanced, consistent vision of metaphysical truth throughout. Not in comic children's fantasy. Rowling did include spiritual symbolism, but that's more in character growth and action than in her worldbuilding.

Christie took up the matter of the overlap between the Muggle and Wizarding worlds:
There must have been bad wizards and witches, like our common thugs and petty criminals, who didn't care to keep their mischief confined to their own kind.  But then, that's what memory charms are for, I suppose! 
It's an interesting thought to entertain—how often and how many times have happily oblivious Muggles happened upon magic only to have their revelations erased and their life's events rearranged for them—and how does that jive with ethics, wizards' or otherwise?
That, I think, is a bit like the dementor's kiss—if you think about it in literal, real-world terms, it's not bearable. Much as most of us want to go to Hogwarts, I don't think anyone is prepared to accept the implications of the magical world. Sometimes, even with Harry Potter, it's good to be able to close the cover of the book and say, "It's just fiction." The real world is hard enough without dementors and jerks with magic powers.

There's also that.
On to next week! But first, more Wizarding Christmas music. Okay. I have not gone out of my way to pump my wizard rock on my blog, because said wizard rock is a) amateur, and b) kind of embarrassing. But this is the H.P.B.C., so I figured I had to do this sometime, and... anything for the H.P.B.C! Look, I've even signed into Myspace for the first time in eons. That's dedication, right? I uploaded a Christmas song just for you. Merry Christmas. ;)

I blame this one on John Noe from Pottercast. He's the one who introduced a competition with the words, "Take your favorite Britney Spears song and set some Harry Potter Christmas lyrics to it..." The competition never went anywhere, but the words couldn't be unsaid. This was already in my brain.

*tries not to enumerate all the faults with the recording, like a certain keyboardist's (okay, it was me) having played the arrangement so fast as to not allow for breath, and a certain vocalist's (yeah, also me) having therefore come up well shy of pitch-perfect on half her thirds*

* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 6

Potential Discussion Points:

Art by Paul Hollano

1. Hermione's class schedule. Here there be SPOILERS. But I know exactly how she feels in blithely setting herself up with an impossible to-do list.

2. Sir Cadogan. All I have to say about him is that he's hilarious. Here's to you, sir, grass stains on your metal knees and all!

3. Divination. Now, here's a point worth talking about. Interesting subpoints include, but are not limited to:

Art by Nynne Katrine Davidsen
A. The act. From the silvery ladder descending in silence, everything about Divination class is augmented by the creation of a susceptible mood. There are soft chairs, low lighting, heavy incense, lots of warmth, all designed to relax the mind. Sybill Trelawney quickly perceives Neville to be the clumsy one of the bunch, and from the beginning she makes him nervous in ways that are kind of brutal, setting him up to fulfill her own prophecies. She tosses out casual predictions, too many to be easily remembered by most of her hearers, with a confidence that the baffled, off-guard thirteen-year-olds aren't prepared to refute. She attacks challengers flatly with the intimation that they're ungifted, and by then she's manipulated enough of her students into half-believing her to unsettle the entire class. It's quite a show.

B. The humor. I got a laugh out of Harry's seeing Trelawney as a "large, glittering insect." The conversation between Harry and Ron is likewise hilarious. Student attempts to read the tea leaves mostly are, even after Trelawney has dramatically predicted Harry's death. And we're just getting started.

C. The head-clearing. Hermione, rational Hermione, challenges Trelawney immediately: everyone knows that Harry has a deadly enemy. Tell us something we don't know. Hermione is well ahead of her peers, being able not only to see the act for what it is, but to call its bluff. McGonagall reinforces the rational response, conquering most of the rest of the class' confusion with the plain facts about her colleague. But the damage is done, and even McGonagall's combination of humor and confidence can't undo the philosophy-shaking that went on in the Divination classroom. Lavender Brown is screwed up for a while yet.

The first bit on Divination, then, is a clear refutation of the idea that there's anything in the standard charlatanry primarily associated with the idea of fortune-telling. Of course, we're not through with Divination yet.

4. Animagi. An awesome word for an awesome skill. Props to Professor McGonagall for her ability to turn herself into a cat with spectacle markings, but I'd never choose to become a cat. They're too prone to evil. (Do not tell Maia I just said that. I'd rather not die in my sleep tonight.)

On the other hand, this is ADORABLE.
Fun question of the week: If you could turn into any animal, what do you think you'd become? For myself, I'm going with either:
  • small dog, because I'm affectionate and eager to please but awfully skittish, or
  • songbird, because I like trees and singing, or
  • deer, because I'm shy and long-limbed, or
  • horse, because I was one of those horse-crazy young girls and I don't think I'd have been able to imagine myself as anything else when I was in school. :P
If you're not interested in coming up with your own Animagus form, the internet is here to help.

5. Hippogriffs. If the internet can be trusted, the hippogriff is the offspring of a mare and a griffin—which, since griffins eat horses, makes the hippogriff the Renesmee of the animal world. ;D The result, in this case, is a creature that has the front body of an eagle, the rear body of a horse, and a king's distaste for personal insults. Even shy, uncertain Neville has difficulty gaining the proud creature's respect.* Arrogant little Malfoy, of course, is a slashing waiting to happen.

Art by masterdragon09. Source.

NB for movie fans: Obviously the Buckbeak flight scene was modified greatly in the movie. ;)

6. Hagrid. Feel free to talk about him or not; I just mention him because I feel so bad for him here. Teaching high schoolers is a tough job.

What a first day back in class, eh?

* I feel your pain, Neville. But I'd still rather be you than Malfoy.


Whirring and Beeping and other stories

Why yes, it is the middle of the night.

Once upon a time, I had a boss who liked very much to talk about goal-setting. His intense enthusiasm burned the concept of the SMART goal into my head—you know: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. In honor of said boss, I'm pretty good at four of those five. But the Attainable part? I blow it a lot. Possibly because I never say no to anything.

So, I haven't worked on either novel in two weeks, and neither will be done by the first of the year. I'm still only part way through Evoking Sound, and I've just spent all day and half the night (minus a Christmas party) finishing up the editing project. Which is why I'm up. It's finished and sent, and I still mean to get in some piano practice before bed, but I thought—what the heck, I'll blog, too. Between cleaning house, making tamales with my friend Lisa, and another Christmas party, tomorrow's not going to leave me much time for talking about my feelings and coming up with captions for cat pictures.

One of my first (unedited) attempts with the new camera!
Maia, that cannot be comfortable.

The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

* * *

Tonight (and this week in general) I am...

Feeling... tired. Standard practice for all-nighters is supposed to involve things like coffee and Red Bull, right? Well. I had wine at the Christmas party. Three glasses of it. They were little glasses, but still.

I might need to do this tomorrow.

* * *

Seeing... Maia contentedly giving herself a bath over in her favorite chair. It's too dark to get a good picture of that, even with the nice new camera. The camera might handle it, but I'm much too sleepy to figure out how to edit RAW tonight.

Smelling... not much, but I did put a recipe into the breadmaker, so we should wake up to the scent of hot bread. It's really worth all the beeping and whirring at five A.M.

Tasting... so many good things tonight. A lemon and cream shrimp dip on baguettes, Rachael Ray's chicken and eggplant parmigiana, Caesar salad, bow tie pasta, bourbon pecan pie and apple crisp, and sweet Riesling. It was a good party.

* * *

Listening to... not much. I can't listen to music while I'm editing; the rhythms throw off the natural flow of grammar and punctuation, and any English lyrics become unmixed distraction. But I'll probably play Edward MacDowell's "To a Wild Rose" on the piano tonight. After weeks of wrestling with Mendelssohn, I flipped to the back of the book and read this off recently—and it was short and easy and exquisite.

Also, it makes me miss my flowers.

* * *

Grateful... for the opportunity not only to have a piece I arranged sung by the choir this Christmas, but—at the choir director's insistence—to direct it myself. It's an unbelievable feeling to hand people a sheet of music you've only heard in your head (and in lovely robotic midi beeps) and, with a little instruction, hear it coming to you in human voices. We have very little time, and I'm desperately short on female voices, and it's really just a short little thing—but it feels like a gift, hearing it sung.

Now I need to go spend some quality time with Evoking Sound and a mirror. Hmm. Maybe Saturday.

* * *

Reading… Twilight. :)

Studying… conducting gesture, and Hanon piano exercises, and random things I had to reference check for editing, like Scottish knives and tortious interference.

Working on... well, now that I've sent off the editing project, I promised my friend W. that I'd break up her two-plus-hours of concert recording into individual songs. And then I told B. that I'd transcribe a song and invent some harmony for it... and Christmas things need putting together... and we finally replaced our printer, so I can print off my arrangement of the hymn I need to record for my lullaby CD, which means I should be able to make the recording soon... and I'm making a second attempt at learning "Clair de Lune", which is going better than the first... and there's always those two novels that want finishing.

* * *

Loving... my best friend, to whom I spoke for the first time in months this week—spoke to for a lovely hour and a half. And Masha, who sent me several long and meaningful emails (and Christie, who has been too busy to join in). Prayer and the people on my deep and wide list these days. Book club friends who insist on having a Christmas party even when it can only be done on a Thursday night. Husbands who turn up the heat so you don't freeze when you decide to stay up all night working.

Oh, and these two:

Two episodes of Firefly left to watch, and then Serenity.... and that's all. Joss Whedon, if you make me dislike Simon or River Tam, I will never forgive you. Not. Ever.

* * *

Hoping... for enough sleep tonight that I can safely drive up to Lisa's and back and then not fall asleep in my plate during Lou's company Christmas party. Because that would just be embarrassing...

Happy weekend!


The H.P.B.C. Takes a Week Off, Spontaneously and Informally

All right, you guys. I suck, but I'm going to have to bail on the H.P.B.C. for the week. I'm trying to wrap up some editing work that is due in early December, and I figure I can respectably finish it off in the next two days—but not if I kill several hours geeking out over Harry.

Here: at least have some Gred and Forge. Yeah, it's Advent, and Christmas music—especially Christmas music about the twelve days of Christmas, which start with December 25—should theoretically be reserved for the actual Christmas season, not that anybody does that. Masha, is it actually possible when you live off-grid??? But I came across this song today and just couldn't put the grin away, listening. Even if the (fan-made) visuals are a little out of order from time to time.

Christie, you have an extra week to catch up! Everybody else—there's some decent conversation on dementors in Masha's combox.


Music, Mortality, and Outliving Mozart: The Whimsical Tale of a Slowly-Built Passion

The great composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart passed away two hundred and twenty-two years ago today. As I was born on his two hundred and twenty-second birthday, I've now outlived him by... let's see... about fourteen hours. I feel very weird about this. Hence, the following.
January 27, 1756: birth of Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (baptismal name*)
January 27, 1988: music teacher Nancy Wilson tells her fifth grade homeroom class that "Today is Mozart's birthday."
After which Mrs. Wilson said, off-handedly, “Have I missed anyone’s birthday?” I looked down at my lap, too shy to announce that it was my own tenth birthday and risk getting sung to. Several of my classmates raised their hands, and she distributed Tootsie Rolls accordingly. I was disappointed in my own cowardice, but she had given me a better gift than candy. I got to share a birthday with someone awesome.

* * *
Mozart, age 5, 1761: Little Wolfgang begins predicting his musical future by composing his first pieces, which his father notes down for him, and which are pretty dang impressive for a five-year-old (see below)
Jenna, age 5-or-6-ish, sometime in 1983-4: Little Jenni (this is before I was Jenna) predicts her musical future during Suzuki violin lessons: first, by learning off a song above her level by ear; and second, by having a fit of shyness that rendered her unable to play it at speed for her teacher**
* * *

One of Mozart's earliest works, from the Nannerl Notenbuch:

* * *

In fifth grade, my understanding that Mozart was awesome was almost entirely abstract. I'm not ashamed of that, but I am ashamed that it continued to be true until just a couple of years ago.

* * *
Mozart, age 6, 1762: begins touring with his sister "Nannerl" (Maria Anna), both as child prodigies
Jenna, age 7, 1985: Jenni (still not yet Jenna) writes her first musical poem in between reading The Chronicles of Narnia during the family moving trip from Tampa to Missoula. The poem reads and sounds like a crappy countryish commercial jingle, but it's a start.
* * *

My best defense for not knowing much about Mozart growing up is that my family listened almost exclusively to pop Christian radio. This, I should explain, was before artists like Third Day and Jennifer Knapp came along and made pop Christian radio listenable.

The album that rocked the only world I knew.
By "almost exclusively," I mean that I remember most of the exceptions, and I remember them as exceptions. My parents homeschooled us for all but three years, restricted TV and movies, and were very selective about whose houses we could visit unsupervised; they had pretty thorough control over what my sisters and I listened to. I assumed Dolly Parton was a naughty person who sang dirty songs until I was in my mid-teens.

To be fair, my parents let go of the stricter rules as we started graduating high school, and my dad and I actually saw Def Leppard and Bryan Adams together a few years back. But that's anticipating the story a little.

Everybody loves Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid.
Even conservative homeschoolers. Source.
The main source of non-pop-Christian music, aside from movies, was an off-the-radio mixtape my parents had. It contained a few ABBA songs and a tune or two each by Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley and John Denver. A handful of other songs made it to my ears as well, and as far as I was concerned, they were usually made of fireworks and magic:
  • "We Built This City on Rock and Roll" by Starship
  • "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel
  • "Orinoco Flow" by Enya (nowadays, Enya is one of my favorites)
  • "Insensitive" by Jann Arden (this played just once in my hearing, on TV; obviously, my parents didn't catch the lyrics)
But my knowledge of music was still mostly limited to Christian radio. Unfortunately, aside from a few markedly sincere anomalies—Keith Green, Twila Paris, and Rich Mullins come to mind—I hated the stuff and preferred silence. I admit, however, to liking those three enough that I will still sing Twila Paris' "How Beautiful" and Rich Mullins' "If I Stand" and accompany myself on the piano. I never bothered learning "Awesome God", though.

* * *
Mozart, age 14, 1770: hears Gregorio Allegri's "Miserere" in the Sistine Chapel and, overlooking the fact that writing it down was at that time punishable by excommunication, writes it out entirely from memory. (The pope was so impressed that instead of excommunicating Mozart, he was all like, "Hey, that's cool! Write it down as often as you want to!")
Jenna, age 14, 1992: having had a few lessons, can now play Beethoven's "Für Elise" and Bruce Rowland's "Jessica's Theme (Breaking in the Colt)" from The Man from Snowy River, just like every other female piano student in Montana. On account of sharing a house with another family for a few months and being too shy to practice in front of them, however, she stops playing the piano. (NB: I was an idiot when I was fourteen.)
* * *

Nothing says "made for greatness" like a list of Mozart's childhood accomplishments. Very few people ever possess the kind of aural recognition and memory that would allow them to write out "Mary Had a Little Lamb" from memory after hearing it just once—let alone this:

* * *
Mozart, age 17, 1773: is appointed court musician by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus Colloredo
Jenna, age 16 or 17, 1994-5: discovers that Keith Green, Twila Paris, and Rich Mullins are not the heights of musical genius
This occurred thanks to a miracle: my dad switched from pop Christian radio to country music. I more or less responded with, "I thought most music sucked? This is amazing!!"

Don't hate me! I had to start somewhere.

* * *

At seventeen, according to Wikipedia (I know), Mozart wrote the first of his works to still be widely performed today: the motet "Exsultate, Jubilate." Here's the first movement:

* * *

One of my small consolations for not knowing much about Mozart till recently is that at least my deficiency has not just been limited to the music that's most important to me. Lou and I have had the following conversation a minimum of three times:

Me: "I like this song! Who's it by?"
Lou, with a strange look: "The Beatles."

To be honest, I'm still not sure which is which.

* * *
Mozart, age 19-22, 1775-8: being under the Archbishop's employ, tosses off concertos, sonatas, adagios, and divertimentos at the approximate rate of the average junior higher's phone texts
Jenna, age 19-22, 1997-2000: joins—and eventually leads—the worship team for a tiny basement-dwelling church. Duties include: providing a weekly music lineup that satisfies both the hymn fans and the praise song fans, playing guitar, singing harmony, and shepherding a worship band made up almost entirely of youth group members, which at one point includes a tone-deaf bassist.
That was fun. Most of the time. :)

* * *

Maia getting into the new camera case.
This doesn't have anything to do with music; it's just so
George doesn't feel gypped this week.

* * *

After spending my eighteenth through twentieth years convinced that I needed to be a country singer, in pursuit of which goal I used to lock myself in the bedroom every evening with my guitar and piano, I was given a second gift of broadened musical horizons, this time by my youngest sister. Through a friend, she'd discovered rock and alternative, and she decided I needed to listen to them with her.

Muse, photographed by swampa
I lost most of my taste for country music in short order. I still think of that sister with gratitude when I listen to Muse and Keane and The Fray, though technically we bonded ten years earlier over Lifehouse and Coldplay and Train.

* * *
Mozart, age 25, 1781: blows off the job with the archbishop in order to begin an independent career, and proves his capability by things like performing in front of the Emperor
Jenna, age 25, 2003 (approx): plays synthesizer for another worship team and discovers just how far behind she is as a musician
Friendly church pianist: "Wow, you improvise off guitar chords? I wish I could do that."
Me: "Isn't that what you're doing? You're way better at the piano than I am."
Friendly church pianist: "Oh, I'm not improvising. I'm just sightreading."
Me: "That's possible?!!!"

* * *

A handful of classical works managed to creep into my consciousness before I got myself voice lessons (at about age twenty-one): Bach's "Air", the occasional Beethoven, and Handel's "Messiah". I loved those, but classical music in general, and Mozart in particular, seemed—in the short, unrepeated clips I was prone to coming across—comparatively unemotional, and young Jenna was always about the feels.

The feels. Beethoven knew all about them.
Love you forever, Ludwig.
My voice teacher, whose lessons were one of the best decisions I've ever made, taught me to like opera and classical songs. Her influence included loaning me a video recording of Mozart's opera Cosi fan Tutte. I liked Cosi, but my preferences still ran to slower, sweeter Handel arias and Scotch love songs.

Mr. Chant himself,
Gregory the Great.
Portrait by de Goya.
At long last, I learned to love classical music when I met Lou. He introduced me to musical traditions I'd never even heard of—Gregorian chant and polyphony, which caught me, heart and spirit and imagination, from first listen—and taught me that the trick to loving classical music is in exposure; it isn't an immediate dazzle and then overplayed, like pop music, but something that grows on you as you got to know it, like a book you can read over and over again and enjoy more every time.

Mozart still took me a little longer, though.

* * *
Mozart, ages 32-34, 1788-90: despite suffering setbacks, possibly including depression, still manages to do some impressive composing, including the opera Cosi fan Tutte
Jenna, age 33, 2011: finally understands why Mozart is awesome
Technically, I was still thirty-two, but only just.

I don't recall who said, in my hearing, that “People who don’t think Mozart’s music is passionate aren't listening carefully.” They made me ashamed of myself for not knowing better, however, which is the surest way to make me learn something. Not long later, just days before Mozart's two hundred fifty-fifth birthday and my thirty-third, Lou and I saw the Requiem and "Ave Verum Corpus" at the Seattle Symphony. I finally understood Mozart that night, and loved him.

I have just four words to say for myself: Better late than never.

* * *

One of the most beautiful works of art in existence:

* * *
Mozart, age 35, 1791: returns to full productivity and writes a number of great works, including The Magic Flute, the unfinished Requiem (completed by his student Süssmayr), and "Ave Verum Corpus"
Jenna, age 35, 2013: devotes herself to piano practice and church choir, regains some of her vocal strength after several years of cord damage, and discovers a knack for choral conducting and arranging
It's been a good year for me, musically. Which is helpful, because when it comes to my writing, this year has sucked—but that's another blog post.

* * * 
Mozart, age 35, December 5, 1791: passes away at one A.M.; may he rest in peace
Jenna, age 35, December 5, 2013: well, the day's not over yet, but I've made it past one A.M. :)
It's a bit humbling to realize you've outlived someone so much greater than you. It raises the question of why he had to die so young when I, who will never accomplish a tenth of what he did, am still living—but such questions are probably better left unasked. (Number 22 is germane here, however. Though I sympathize with practically all of those. Maybe not #8. But oh, gosh, #7, and #11 and 12, and #17.... ;))

Detail of Mozart, from the family portrait
by Johann Nepomuk della Croce
Mozart composed over six hundred works, and that's just what we have on record; he was prone to not writing things down, and was so disorganized that he didn't bother cataloguing his work. After his death, musicologist Ludwig Ritter von Köchel went through the mess and did it for him.

Six hundred remembered works and six children (only two of whom survived to adulthood) are a lot for just thirty-five years of life.

I don't think I was made for great things, but I'm grateful that he was. And I'm grateful that I can sit down to the piano and fumble through his music today, two hundred and twenty-two years after he died. I won't subject you to a sample of that. But here's to Mozart, in life and in death.

* According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know), 'Amadeus' is the Latin form of the Greek Theophilus.

** I never got very good at the violin. My sisters and I had a few lessons when we were little, and I played in fifth and sixth grade orchestra. In seventh grade, when we went back to being homeschooled, I did a few trios with my sister on flute and my best friend on clarinet (which might be the worst combination of instruments for a trio ever) and then put the violin down upon falling in love with the piano. I regret putting down the violin, but not nearly as much as I regret not falling in love with the piano earlier and more faithfully.


Finally Finished Reading: War and Peace

For the sake of my own respectability, this is not a proper review; it's just a few key details of personal engagement with the book. FYI. :)
"When loving with human love one may pass from love to hatred, but divine love cannot change. No, neither death nor anything else can destroy it. It is the very essence of the soul. Yet how many people have I hated in my life? And of them all, I loved and hated none as I did her." And he vividly pictured to himself Natasha, not as he had done in the past with nothing but her charms which gave him delight, but for the first time picturing to himself her soul. And he understood her feelings, her sufferings, shame, and remorse.
I never would have thought at the beginning that Prince Andrei would end up my favorite character. More on that shortly.

Historical fiction is not a likely favorite of mine, either—not because I don't like history, but because I don't like seeing modern-day thought patterns and agendas imposed, anachronistically and irritatingly, on the people of yore. I can spot an unlikely "Personal Relationship with Jesus" or "Equality Now!" from miles off. But while it's conceivable, I suppose, that Tolstoy imposed some 1860's Russian thought on the Russia of fifty years earlier, I'm not familiar enough with either to tell, so I was free of my usual hangup and could simply enjoy history and story alike.

The Battle of Austerlitz
by François Gérard
Which I did, very much, despite being occasionally bored by the long descriptions of war tactics—I'm ashamed to admit it, but it's true—or frustrated with the repeated bashing of Napoleonic war historians. Not that Tolstoy didn't have me convinced, mind; I just wanted to yell back through time and let him know that his reader had gotten the point, so he could freely return to whichever character he'd cliffhangered most recently.

The difficulty with that last matter is that Tolstoy often got bored with his characters just when I was getting most interested. When he did go back to one, he frequently summed up the scenes I'd been looking forward to and launched the character into a new set of challenges, sometimes with a new personality to accompany them.

Which is how Prince Andrei—whom I disliked outright at the beginning—ended up as my favorite character, though he's arguably tied with Pierre, whom I loved from the book's front cover to its back. Both men kept a consistent, believable nature throughout the book, and both of them went through spiritual journeys that I understood and sympathized with, right through their final scenes. Tolstoy does nothing better than spiritual journey, and Pierre's and Prince Andrei's were responsible for many of the most beautiful passages in the story.

Natasha Rostova
by Elizaveta Bern
The other characters left me with a more complicated response. Nikolai jerked me around, making me love him for his goodness one minute and detest him for his arrogance the next. Natasha, with whom I sympathized passionately, kept my heart close to hers right up until she hit the epilogue; from there, she was taken someplace I could not follow—could never have followed, even if my life had gone the same direction as hers—and I resented that. Sonya's development got shafted, and I resented that, too. Princess Marya was lovable, but I couldn't like Nikolai consistently enough to get on well with her. And I wound up not minding that Tolstoy apparently forgot about Boris and Julie, both of whom I had originally been much intrigued by.

Probably I'd make peace with most of that on a re-read, which will have to be accomplished with a print copy so I can skip around to the relevant sections. I'm not sure whether to blame my Kindle or my edition for losing pages every time I looked back through my bookmarks, but e-readers are really only good for single cover-to-cover reads anyway.

The story didn't lack for truth, beauty, goodness, or love, of course, even when it frustrated me. I got more out of the history than I thought I would—Tolstoy's perspective on Napoleon being far more interesting and comprehensible than Victor Hugo's—and I left several bookmarks in the philosophy at the end, despite moments of comparing Tolstoy to St. Augustine with amused disfavor toward both.*

I got a kick out of his referring to "the diffusion of printed matter" as "that most powerful engine of ignorance", however.** There's nothing like a little self-conscious writerly deprecation.

Minor frustrations and inconsistencies aside, Tolstoy's characters and their development—especially in spiritual things—are always a delight. I don't regret reading this book at all, despite the brutal scene I commented on last week. Hopefully none of you regret my reading it, though, seeing as how I'm now thoroughly enjoying that Tolstoy-provoked re-read of Twilight. :)

* I've been reading the Confessions for five years. Five years. And the reason for that is that the great saint spends an immense amount of time asking questions like: why does God mention the surface of the deep before mentioning the Spirit of God's movement across it?—and I tend to respond with, "Does. It. Matter?!" Tolstoy had his moments with that sort of thing. To be fair, those moments might've been fewer if I hadn't been so sleepy when I read it.

** And he hadn't even seen the internet! :P


Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 5

I hope you Americans all had a lovely Thanksgiving!

We of the H.P.B.C. are advancing this discussion just one chapter this week, while awaiting a post from Christie. Taking things a little slowly through the holidays is probably a good idea anyway. (If I think about what I have to get done between now and Christmas, I'll start crying, so I won't. No point subjecting either myself or you to that. :P)

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 5

Potential Discussion Points

...I saw two important ones in this chapter:

1. Professor R. J. Lupin. At this point, he's still part of the book's main mystery, and everything I want to say about him involves spoilers. There will, however, be lots of opportunity to talk of him in future.

Art by Jenny Dolfen. Source.

2. Dementors.

Art by Mike Schwalm. Source.
In all the speculative fiction I've ever read, I cannot think of a more troubling invention than the dementor. Not much is explained about them in this chapter, but the basic facts of their existence shouldn't be spoilerific enough to restrict discussion.

Probably the most succinct and thorough description of them in the series comes a few chapters ahead of where we are now:
"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. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself... soulless and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."
That's bad enough, but it gets worse. The primary danger of the dementor is the Dementor's Kiss—in which the dementor clamps its mouth over a human's and sucks out the soul, leaving the body alive, but presumably vegetative. The soul ceases to exist.

That's one of the most disturbing ideas I've ever come across. The implications are beyond bearing.

Art by Melanie
Like other inventions of fantasy, however, this imagery can provide a way to deal with human issues at a manageable distance.  As someone who has fought the monster Depression, I've found significant consolation in three fictional portrayals of said monster, one of which is Rowling's dementor—or, more specifically, her means of battling it.* More on that in a few weeks.

I wouldn't want to limit a creature like this to a single interpretation, but the facts are that Rowling has suffered through depression and openly admits that the dementor is a depiction of that experience. Here she is talking about that portrayal with interviewer Ann Treneman (The Times [UK], 30 June 2000). Treneman begins:
I do not think that [the dementors] are just characters. I think they are a description of depression. "Yes. That is exactly what they are," she says. "It was entirely conscious. And entirely from my own experience. Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced." 
What does she mean? 
"It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."
It's a hard experience to put into words. Images help. Allie Brosh used both very vividly and very famously earlier this year. My encounters with it have differed from hers, but the core feeling is similar. I used to picture an empty glass jar chilled in the freezer and then placed under a marble slab with someone standing on it. The whole inside of my chest would feel like that—empty and frozen and brittle and unstable and under pressure to the point of shattering, all at once.

So, the imagery of a malevolent creature that sucks feeling and hope away from you, that leaves you with a cold void space where your heart should be, that strands you in the company of only your worst fears and memories—yeah. That. That is what it feels like.

Art by Allie Brosh
Malfoy apparently excepted, it's impossible to have anything but sympathy for Harry and Ginny here, as both of them react more strongly than their companions: their worst fears and memories are horrible indeed.

In a few weeks, we get to talk about defense tactics. For now, though, I absolutely love it that first aid for a brush with a dementor is chocolate. That's not to say that chocolate is a reliable way to soften the effects of the soul-sucking void. But sometimes, it's the oddest, smallest things that let in the first, tiny, crucial bit of light and warmth.

Aaaaaaaaaaand now I'm hungry. Source.
If you have other ideas for interpretation of the dementor—pure evil comes to mind—please elaborate. I'm officially out of time for the day, but onward with the discussion!

* The others, in case you're curious: 1) Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, as Kostya Levin has to hide his farm ropes from himself despite his being young, successful, and happy in his marriage and newborn child; and 2) Bella Swan's experience of the Cullens' disappearance in Stephenie Meyer's New Moon. All three portrayals of depression have been very powerful to me.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Right now I'm happy—and thankful—because I just made it in and out of Haggen grocery in less than an hour, and all their employees were smiling and making sure people had a non-stressful shopping experience. Two teenage members of the staff asked me warmly if I was finding everything okay, and a checker caught me on my way to the front and took me straight into her aisle, chatting like she was out to make a new friend. I didn't even have to wait in line. Thanks, friendly Haggen people!* I hope you all have a proper holiday tomorrow, and a lovely one. :)

I'm also thankful because I had a quiet hour in Adoration this morning, and because I had a gift card to Woods Coffee and twenty free minutes after Adoration so I got a mocha with whipped cream, and I'm pretty sure it was the best thing ever.

And because I finally got caught up on music filing for choir!! YAY. I suck at being choir librarian—I'm much too prone to leaving octavos in my own book bag. But I'm working on this.

And because made-of-awesome Deborah more or less gave me a camera she couldn't use, and it arrived this afternoon! Which made today feel like Christmas:

Selfie with new camera, taken with old camera...

Thank you, Deborah (and Rick)!!! Pictures with fabulous new camera coming soon.

I'm also grateful because Lou and I both have loving families that want us present for the holiday tomorrow, and with the exception of Lou's older siblings, they live close by. That's not everybody's situation, and it may not always be ours, so I'm enjoying the heck out of it while I have it.

And because we share house space with a completely dopey, sock-eating cat:

Even if she does stand up under my elbows and lay down on my pedal foot
while I'm playing the piano.

Music of the week: Gwyneth Walker's setting of e.e. cummings' "I Thank You God." It seemed appropriate. I've been enjoying Walker's music (thanks for the rec, Jade!); she's done a lot of pieces for women's voices, which I particularly like, a lot of poetry-themed music... which I appreciate despite poetry being my weak spot... and some beautiful sacred music.

Poetry may be my weak spot, but who doesn't love e.e. cummings? Even if my inner English Nazi desperately wants to capitalize those two e's and the c.

Happy Thanksgiving! May you all be blessed and loved. Virtual hug! [[[ <3 ]]]

* As a matter of fact, I do know two out of three names there... I just usually presume people don't want their names on the internet till I know otherwise. :)


Harry Potter and War and Peace

This being Thanksgiving week, blogging is going to be a bit of a mashup. Christie hasn't posted for the H.P.B.C., and I suspect we'd all like the holiday week off, so I suggest we take it. Also, I mean to make some serious progress with my fairy tale today, so this will be short.

Harry Potter

Masha did post. Feel free to check it out and join me in the combox, wondering how Harry ever manages to develop any sense of ethics at all. From Masha:
causing physical harm to another (even repairable harm, unintentionally caused) is not something to ignore, in any situation, and I'm not surprised Harry never really ends up learning to control himself, with the unbalanced jump from neglect and abuse in the one society to catering and over-excusing  in the other.
Considering that Harry's examples of ethics include the Dursleys, who punish him for existing, the Ministry of Magic, which only punishes him when he's innocent, and the Hogwarts teachers, who only sometimes bother punishing him even when they actually catch him doing something wrong, which they don't half the time, it's pretty remarkable that he has a sense of right and wrong at all. It would've been a different story if he hadn't. (Fan fiction. Go.)

War and Peace

Current status:
Those who tried to understand the general course of events and to take part in it by self-sacrifice and heroism were the most useless members of society, they saw everything upside down, and all they did for the common good turned out to be useless and foolish... Even those, fond of intellectual talk and of expressing their feelings, who discussed Russia's position at the time involuntarily introduced into their conversation either a shade of pretense and falsehood or useless condemnation and anger directed against people accused of actions no one could possibly be guilty of. In historic events the rule forbidding us to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is specially applicable. Only unconscious action bears fruit, and he who plays a part in an historic event never understands its significance. If he tries to realize it his efforts are fruitless.
Such cynicism, Tolstoy.

Also: damn it, but there's a reason I put off reading books like War and Peace. It's fear of having to re-experience the reason I hated Jurassic Park and never, ever should have read The Hunger Games*. I find it very difficult to sit through a scene where a human being is brutalized and/or murdered. Yes, this is a staple of fiction at every level, and yes, I'm fulfilling female stereotypes, and yes, many of my favorite books contain such scenes, but Tolstoy's account of an arrogant policeman's sacrifice of a prisoner to the mob, upon which the mob did what mobs do despite the young man's cry for mercy, was absolutely horrifying and heartbreaking to read.

It shook me pretty badly. Possibly the sidecar I was drinking at the time did not help. But I'm not sure when I'd have gotten up from the corner of the couch, where I'd lodged in protest against the awfulness of the world, if Lou hadn't lured me out with lit candles and a back rub and a patient reminder that fiction doesn't reflect reality in proportion.

Tolstoy has some serious making up to do right about now. He made me want to ditch the whole story and go re-read Twilight. Fortunately for him, I'm much too fond of Pierre and Natasha and Prince Andrei to give up on them. It's also quite possible, of course, that when I get to the end of the book, all will be forgiven.**

I still might re-read Twilight, though. Brace yourselves.

* Oddly enough, I read the sequels to both. You'd think I'd learn.
** The chances are good, actually, since Maria (of commenting days of yore) recommends this book with enthusiasm. Maria despises cruel endings of the Tess of the D'Urbervilles variety as furiously as I do.


Hoping for Miracles and other stories

St. Cecilia by Guido Reni
St. Cecilia, patroness of musicians, pray for us!

Hers is one weird story—the virgin martyr tales always are. The Catholic Encyclopedia reasonably writes it off as "pious romance", but says her existence is historically verified and she was buried with fellow martyrs in the Catacombs of Praetextatus on the Via Appia. Good enough for me. I need her prayers. What with shaking fingers, years of vocal problems, and being only half trained, I'll take all the prayers I can get.

This blog post might come off a bit slapped-together today, and it sort of is. I'm sorry. I've got a funeral to attend, a house to clean, a refrigerator spill of sticky jam that got all the way down underneath the crisper, and more writing work than I know what to do with. Wish me luck, if you will.

The Today meme is hosted by Masha! Join in over at Piękno, or leave your own sensory notes in the combox...

Today I am...

* * *

Feeling... a little sad, because my in-laws' neighbor passed away this week (it's his funeral today). I didn't know him very well, but I liked and respected him. I'll miss the sight of him, leaning on a shovel in his ever-healthy vegetable garden, greeting us with warm good nature from across the fence. He'd lived by my in-laws for something like thirty years.

Rest in peace, Mr. Anderson.

* * *

Seeing... frost and sunshine. The garden denuded of tomato plants and half denuded of weeds, awaiting its mulch as soon as I can convince myself to get out in the cold and lay it down.

Smelling... coffee.

Tasting... coffee, right now. I'll probably make homemade mushroom and olive pizza tonight.

* * *

Listening... well, this Wednesday was the seventh anniversary of Lou's and my first date, so I thought I'd play "our song." Or what passes for such a thing, anyway. This whole concerto is beautiful, but I especially love the first movement; it's when that mellow horn solo comes on the radio that I wander around the corner from the kitchen, look at Lou, and smile.

* * *

Grateful... for a warm house. It is cold out. For Bellingham, anyway. My inner Montanan is mocking my Washington-adapted self, but whatever. I don't have ski sweaters anymore.

* * *

Reading… War and Peace. There's some possibility I'll finish this week. We'll see how bogged down I get in the extended philosophical ramble I hear is at the end.

Studying… Mozart. I'm writing a... shall we say, whimsical post for a couple of weeks out, if I can pull it together.

Working on... chapter seven of the fairy tale retelling, and an editing project for a family friend. The world has been set against me working the last couple of weeks, though, I swear. Well. Most of the battle is in my own sleepy head, but there are external factors:

I NEED that notebook, Maia. That's my manuscript with my editor's notes.

* * *

Loving... quiet.

Hoping... for miracles of productivity, which are hard to come by in the holiday season.

* * *

Happy weekend!


Ender's Game: From Novel to Movie

Yes, I'm still reading War and Peace, but I only have time for one post today, and I thought a review of the Ender's Game movie would be of more general interest. More W&P next week.

N.B: I'm reviewing this movie as a devout fan of the book it was adapted from. If you've never read the book, the review may make comparatively little sense and include mild spoilers. :)

The great challenge of adapting a much-known, much-loved book to the screen is not so much in translating details from the verbal medium to the visual; it's in finding the heart of the novel and making that the heart of the film as well. Failure seems more common than success.* The Narnia movies were mostly soulless because the scriptwriters missed the point of Aslan and therefore of the entire story. In the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, Keira Knightley caught Elizabeth Bennet's depressive side without catching her bright sense of humor, which resulted in a halfhearted portrayal. And nobody in the film industry seems to quite get the silent moral courage that powers Jane Eyre.

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card's best-known and very-deservedly-loved novel, centers around the tension between brutality and compassion in the soul of one young human. This is worked out as Ender commands others while undergoing intense psychological suffering himself. It's an unusual and meaningful exploration of the necessity of loving your enemy, with contemplation of innocence and guilt and culpability, of the ethics of self-defense and of the means used toward that goal, of forgiveness and the righting of unrightable wrongs. Some of the questions are answered with a steady regard for truth and hope, and others are left for the reader to wrestle out with his own conscience. The whole of it is written with rare humanity and empathy.

Card was wise to hold onto the movie rights till he found someone who understood his novel and could share the vision. There are plenty of interesting, filmable details in the novel that screenwriter Gavin Hood could have focused on to the exclusion of more important points: tactics and strategy, Battle Room zero-gravity action, bullying scenes, everything that happens at Command School. Instead, Hood exercised unheard-of directorial self-control, abbreviating every one of the action scenes to make room for the core story, which he gave open recognition to with the quote at the beginning.

Not that the film lacked for action, mind. Ender gets his time in both mock combat and the real thing, and the Stilson and Bonzo fights, while shortened, are especially painful to watch. Even the dialogue is generally intense, and all that dramatic tension is reinforced by vids of Mazer Rackham's battle, the Giant's Drink mind game, Battle Room, and the simulator.

It was a delight to get visuals on the Battle Room and the space stations, and here I should say that the sets and photography were utterly beautiful. Scenes involving both Graff (Harrison Ford) and Ender (Asa Butterfield) were shot mostly in dark blue, which emphasized both characters' blue eyes and thereby subtly drew attention to the psychological nature of the story. Scenes with Valentine (Abigail Breslin) were warmer and browner, and while I'd always pictured Val and Ender as fair and Peter as dark (as per the book's descriptions, I believe), rather than the reverse, the color scheme was lovely.

I also loved seeing John Paul and Theresa Wiggin—though the shortening of John Paul to John, while probably accurate to the Wiggins' hiding of their respective Catholic and Mormon faiths, more or less removed the suggestion of religion entirely. Graff's in-book explanation of the Wiggins' quarrels over baptizing their children and of their conscience-stricken compliance with the global two-child policy is not plainly central to the story, so it wasn't an offensive removal, but it's a detail I always found fascinating, so I missed it.

Peter came off as a thug and not much else, but there simply wasn't time or place to give Peter and Valentine their subplots. What Hood kept, however, was Ender's internal conflict between the main characteristics he shares with each sibling: Peter's domineering brutality and Val's empathy and compassion. This was quietly emphasized through images as well as words.

Films rarely equal novels for nuance, and the story did lose some of its depth. The novel doesn't skimp on showing that Battle School is legitimized child abuse, but it communicates the I.F. leaders' belief that there's a clear motive for it in a way the movie doesn't. The movie shows the reactionary aggression of the humans against the Formics a little too unequivocally, too early. The end result is the same, of course, but in the movie, this amounted to making the ending seem a little more predictable and Graff a little less complex. Harrison Ford compensates well for the latter, though.

Moviegoers who have read the book will probably smile affectionately at mention of names like Alai, Bean, Fly, and Dink. Moviegoers who have not read the book will barely notice. These characters were mostly deemphasized—Bean included—for the sake of bringing Petra Arkanian forward, which invested the Battle School segment of the story with a little more female presence than it has in the book. Any study focused on war tactics and combat is naturally going to be male-heavy, so I wasn't bothered by that in the novel; on the other hand, I've always loved Petra as a character, and Hailee Steinfeld brought an impressive amount of light and energy to the role. Her appearance onscreen often eased the tension temporarily.

The ending was modified in a few ways to work better onscreen, and I generally thought these ways so clearly did work better for the medium that I wasn't disappointed. Getting an actual image of a Hive Queen, and a beautiful image at that, was a striking touch. I found that incredibly moving.

I'm just disappointed in two things about the movie: first, that they didn't pronounce Chamrajnagar for me, and second, that we didn't get to see Bean lean into his microphone at the end and whisper about Absalom. To be fair, that latter is from Ender's Shadow and might have given the game away, as it were, but whatever. Like any fan, I have my favorite details.

I'm beyond grateful, though, that the heart of the book was there.


Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 2-4

Art by Anariel27
Hail, magical ones—a day late, but here I am! It's time to talk some Potter, and both my co-hostesses have done so this week. Christie went first, with "HPP: Modernism vs. Magic" (emphasis hers):
"You can throw some powder in the chimney, walk into the fireplace, and end up in another town altogether.... we Muggles see it as charming, but for the wizard-born-and-raised, wouldn't the e-mail and the text message seem more magical? And what separates magic from science, in a universe where magic seems to lack all elements of spirituality and is a naturally found occurrence?  It reminds me of the passage in The Lord of the Rings when Lady Galadriel kindly tells Sam that what he considers "elf-magic" is for them art, skill, and science."
Arthur Weasley excepted, I wonder if the wizard-born-and-raised would find texting and email more magical than Floo powder. Those technological advances might just look like the Protean charm.

But while Rowling's magic is a naturally found occurrence as it's portrayed, I don't think it's necessarily unspiritual for all that. Art, skill and science involve the whole person, spirit and all; roughly put, I'd say that there's the hard, technical craft side of any skill or study and the more fluid, artistic side that draws from unseen places. I'm with Sam in taking a bit of a mystical view of such things.

(Apparently I am Sam. Sam I am. [Sorry, I couldn't help myself.])

I'm debating Christie's words here, not her meaning. She would be the first to recognize the Greek honor for the Muses, the Psalmists' inspiration from God, the spiritual aspects of the faculty that allowed Michelangelo to find David in a block of marble and Copernicus to hypothesize about heliocentrism. As for Harry Potter, I've probably introduced terminological confusion into this discussion by too-eagerly defending Rowling's treatment of magic as nonspiritual with nonspiritual meaning "obviously not based upon the invocation of spirits."

If you want to re-create fifth-grade science, here's how.
When put that way, it's easy to view Rowling's magic as comparable to the straightforward act of mixing vinegar and baking soda for a fizz. [*resists urge to go re-create fifth grade volcano experiments in the kitchen sink*] But while said magic is generally distinguished from the pursuit of occult powers, it's also more than the rote combination of reagents for a predicted reaction. Rowling says this flat-out in book one:
"There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words."
She gives very little explanation of what she means there—merely a brief comment on studying astronomy and herbology. Based on the overall presentation in the story, though, I do think of Harry's magic as spiritually invested in the artistic sense, at least. Hints include:
  • it's something he has an innate talent for but must study and perfect
  • it's obviously deeply connected to the emotions/psyche (consider, for instance, what Harry does, wandless, in this week's chapters)
Sheesh. This conversation will be so much easier toward the end of the series.

Gotta keep up with Masha on the cat picture thing.
Masha responded briefly to Christie, included an adorable kitten picture, and said something I keep coming back to, although I think it could take a long time to respond to properly:
This is the [Potter] book that seems to have more unrealized potential than any other
Which suggests that the other books are either more realized, or have less potential, which could be quite a series of arguments (and might become so when we get to OotP and DH). I'd like to keep this in mind as we work through this book; if it hadn't been that I love one and five and seven so much, book three would be my favorite, and I'm hard put to come up with anything I'd change.

In other news: Harry Potter stamps!!! Now—who on earth would you want to send a letter with this on it?:
Two words: TAX RETURN. Hahaha.
Source: Mugglenet.

Also, you can go to Starbucks and get them to make you a butterbeer. Sort of. I still think butterbeer recipes need to have at least trace amounts of alcohol present in order to qualify. But I'm picky like that.

On to this week's reading! But first: why didn't I see this one in time for the last book???


* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapters 2-4

This Katy Perry parody by BYU students is hilarious and adorable. I love it.

Potential Discussion Points:

So much of these three chapters is simple mystery-building, which is why I took them all together. By the end of it, at least Harry understands the Ministry of Magic's uncharacteristic graciousness, but Rowling's dropping details right and left that set up the end of the book. It's hard to comment much on those right now. Here are a few things we can talk about, however.

1. The late Margaret Thatcher. I've always respected her, though admittedly from too much distance to have hard confidence in my feelings. But it's almost taken for canon in Potter fandom that "Aunt Marge" is intended as a pointed mockery of Dame Thatcher and of conservative politicians in general.

Art by heatherlynnharris
On account of which, the Aunt Marge chapter is one of the more politically charged segments of the Potter series, which I kind of wish I didn't know. As story alone, these are a workable few scenes in long-standing children's literature tradition: tough orphan pitted against comically horrible adult guardians. That's an odd tradition, maybe; taking a serious look at the things Aunt Marge does and says to Harry will make the hand twitch toward the phone for a call to CPS. But it works inside the schoolboy-story tradition nonetheless.

Once anyone starts tying something like this too specifically to modern politics, however, it gets mean. Maybe some of the Marge and Vernon Dursley statements are a fair parody of some of the more extreme and mouthy conservatism, but it's certainly not a fair presentation of conservatives in general. Though possibly I'd just find the satire more bearable if groups like the Harry Potter Alliance weren't so desperately prone to presuming that this sort of thing is serious and accurate and that they're therefore justified in writing all conservatives off as monsters.

Disclaimer: I'm politically disenfranchised, to the point where I sometimes don't vote. Part of the reason is that neither side treats the other fairly. Oh, what a rough world we live in....

2. Critique of excess. The final Aunt Marge scene, with the overflow of food and alcohol and criticism of those who need to rely on charity—outside of the party lines, there's some human truth behind the hyperbole here.

Art by Ry-Spirit
3. Harry, free in Diagon Alley. I love this little section, where Harry, used to being practically jailed in cupboards and rooms in the Dursley household, discovers real freedom for the first time in the magical world. Having gone through a similar experience on the spiritual level, his delight gets me right in the feels.

Art by Liza Phoenix
4. Cassandra Vablatsky. The name is almost certainly a reference to Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society. Considering that Rowling has said "New ageism leaves me completely cold," this is perhaps the first playful hint of the nature of Harry's upcoming Divination classes, which Rowling has some fun with in this book.

Death omens, by the bye, are something it would be best if I never know anything about. The Flourish and Blotts shopkeeper is right when he says that reading Death Omens: What to Do when You Know the Worst is Coming will make you start seeing them everywhere. I totally would.

5. "You sometimes have to join forces with those you would rather avoid." Leaving aside the fact that Molly seems conveniently ignorant in this scene for narrative purposes, Arthur's statement is... one of the other reasons I have a hard time with politics. :P We won't meet the Azkaban guards till next week, but considering how horrible they are when we do meet them, I think this is definitely fair game for a real scrapper of a debate about ethics. The stationing of SPOILER-sucking SPOILERS around a school full of adventurous children, even in defense against a murderer who is planning to break into the school with a particular victim in mind, is dangerous almost to the point of insanity. I think Dumbledore knows this, and I'm not sure why he caves here... but the Ministry of Magic is involved, and again, politics.

* * *

Batteries not included.
There are other things we could talk about—the Knight Bus, the loquacious Stan Shunpike, the Invisible Book of Invisibility (which always makes me think of The Emperor's New Clothes), and the fact that if you really thought about the names in Rowling's story they'd be spoilers half the time, which says a lot for Rowling's powers of misdirection, which are on full display here—I'll let you guess where and how. :)

But this post has already been delayed long enough, so—converse away!