I can still vividly recall picking up a Harry Potter book for the first time. I was young, between the ages of 3 and 5, and had always been an advanced reader. I loved so many books before I discovered Rowling’s enchanting world, but no protagonist had called to me before as the now iconic bespectacled wizard we all know and love.
In a Media City (remember video stores?) at a mall in a nearby town from mine, I picked up the first in the series and read about Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number 4 Privet Drive. I got as far as a page and a half, when my parents beckoned me to leave. I put that book back on the shelf, but Harry would never leave my heart in the years to come.
I was incredibly obsessed reading and rereading the books, they had not even come out in theaters yet, so I was in a smaller group of hardcore fans in the US. I started a club with a couple other kids, playing Hogwarts and running the castle from the type of parking lot snowbanks that come from days of plowing. Those are mountains to first and second graders.
What I loved so very much about the books, and craved so deeply was the message of love that permeates throughout the story. Love being the strongest, most mysterious magic of all.
And I was rooting for Harry so, because I identified with him in a very deep way that I only partially understood at the time. As a child it was the characters of both him and Matilda that resonated with me the most. The former being such an enormous piece of literature that the books were still coming out when I was in high school. I literally grew up with this kid.
As a child myself, I experienced a very severe type of emotional neglect. I was provided for, and not too badly physically abused, but the mental and psychological mistreatment was much worse. I no longer blame my parents for what has happened, as they merely have been trapped in the same emotionally problematic cycle as they experienced as children. I just happened to be lucky enough to recognize and break those patterns.
When we are children, we see so little of life sometimes, beyond our parents’ influence. There is no such thing as “do as I say, not as I do” for a child. But it is only recently that the scope of human concern has extended to these types of matters. Concerns such as mental illness, therapy, psychiatry and other consciousness-driven practices have evolved dramatically in the past years, but were not addressed during my parents’ time.
For most of my early life I felt like a little kid trapped in the broom closet under the stairs, with no one but my tormentors for company. It is often tragic how our very early experiences in life can shape us in negative ways when not addressed properly, or without the right resources to get help.
So I found my own coping mechanisms in the books I would devour. And it would be a tumultuous relationship between me, my parents, and my books. Countless times I would be punished from reading them or, one memorable time, my mother threw away my set of the four hardcover books that were out in the Harry Potter series (all but one I had bought with my own money, at eleven), two of the supplementary books by J.K. Rowling, and a themed poster and T-shirt, all the rest of which she and my father had paid for.
And why would my mom do this to my most cherished belongings? She read a chain e-mail from some probably well-meaning religious person about girls pretending to do magic on slugs. Imagine the horror of using your imagination. So the “church” calls Witchcraft and my mom grabs the trash bags. Luckily, in the long break between the fourth and fifth books, the Pope gave Harry the okay, and all was well in the universe. Except my mother never replacing any of that stuff. Like I said, emotions are not healthy in my family.
I grew up thinking my mom loves God more than me, and I still think it’s true. My parents worship the Bible as if it was literal, which they believe it is. There are more framed photos of Jesus on the walls than me or my two brothers, and half the surfaces look like shrines. Whatever the Roman Catholic church says is law, no ifs, ands, or buts. We had to pray the rosary weekly, after having gone to church on Sunday and confession on Saturday. I was grounded for two weeks for wanting to be Buddhist in high school. Which isn’t even a religion.
But through all of it, the fights, the name calling, and the hurt, somehow I always made sure I had books, Harry most of all. I must have read those ones over a hundred times, and they represented the embodiment of hope to me. They were always somehow optimistic, even through the darkest times.
It was at one point when I was in third or fourth grade, and having yet to comprehend that a series will inevitably end, I was committed to taking over the story for J.K. Rowling after she died. What I really was trying to say, in not such a grim way, was that I was deeply inspired by her writing, and would amazed to be able to do what she was doing. Even then, I did grasp the extra ordinariness of her ability to create this entire, detailed world that all worked together somehow.
And around this time up until 6th grade, I really did love to write. I really think it was all the reading I did. I was so sheltered that it was my only form of escape for a long time. And reading, as many of you know, is the best way to become a good writer. As far as I can remember I have always had a unique voice to my writing. I used to get amazing grades on written prompts, and nothing less than perfect on standardized testing for essay writing. I would keep many journals and notebooks and lists, and anything I could write, I would.
Unfortunately, my father was the next one to administer a less than savory behavior towards my possessions. Family vacations were not so much relaxing as intensely stressful for everyone. All but one of my immediate family of five definitely has some form of bipolar syndrome. And we clash sometimes. But no one used to clash more than my father and I. It is messed up, and I know some people won’t understand, that in a way that was our way of telling each other that we loved each other.
I know it is so unhealthy, but when you are not emotionally mature enough to be able to have good confrontation with others, the arguments become the only signs of love. Hate is so close to love it is uncanny, and they can manifest under the guises of each other at any time within a dysfunctional family dynamic.
One particular family vacation would close the coffin on my writing for a long time afterwards. I was 13 I want to say. Figuring out the whole makeup thing, learning how to style my hair, getting slowly over the awkward phase. About to enter high school so still very nervous but trying to gain some confidence from my somewhat emerging looks.
This would be the last family vacation I would be invited to. We used to go to Maine to stay on the beach for a week. This time we had rented a bungalow for a week and a half on Moody St. And quite moody it was. I was very emotional and unhappy at that time, not quite sure why I was that way, but sure it was my parents’ fault. They saw a very rebellious young girl who they didn’t want to see grow up and start to think for herself. I could be wrong, though, memory often does that to a person.
All I know is, my father and I were just constantly fighting the entire time. I was also keeping a notebook that I had been filling rapidly. I used to channel so much energy into the writing. My aspirations, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see and do in life. I had big dreams, but I was also very protective of these things I would write, for fear of being ridiculed. I had actually gotten into a little bit of trouble here and there with my writing in the past as well, and that probably contributed to it.
At this time I was a very depressed person. I had so many feelings inside me that were just begging to be let out, but I didn’t know how to express them the right way verbally. Hence, the writing. However, my father felt he had the right to know what was so wrong with me. He was concerned, but not going about it with the proper method. Caring turned to anger in an instant and I didn’t trust him at the time. Children don’t forget to easily. So as we were arriving back home from that vacation from hell, a fight breaks out between him and me about what I have been writing and hiding in my notebook.
I’m not like writing about drugs or anything bad for that age, I am just putting my heart and soul into the pages. All the things I can’t let out around my parents, or can’t say to anyone around me. So I panic at the thought of my inner thoughts being exposed and rush inside the house before my father, as he demands I let him see my papers. I rip them out of the notebook and put them in the shredder, heart pounding madly.
It reminds me of the time my first grade teacher made me throw a love note to my mother away in class because I just had to finish the last couple touches after break was over. My mom used to be rock to protect me from my dad, but after a while I just got blamed for their fights.
Although my notebook was safe, my dad was quick enough to get in my bedroom, lock the door, and search for my diary, which was under my mattress I believe. The first spot he looked probably. And I got to run around outside the house and watch him read my most private thoughts. For me, at the time, there was no greater violation.
My father then turns around and gives me hell for using swear words and badmouthing him and my mother in my diary. Instead of thinking, hey maybe this child has some legitimate concerns and problems and I should question my parenting, he basically crushes my odds of writing anything besides school-related assignments for the next seven years.
I began purposefully writing again here and there throughout high school, but perfectionism was my largest obstacle. The fear of writing the wrong thing turns into a lack of writing at all. Finally I met the most wonderful boy a year and a half ago, who taught me more about myself than almost anyone else I think, and in such a short time.
I unleashed on this poor guy the remaining vestiges of my childhood coming back to haunt me. I showed him my love by fighting with him incessantly. I was verbally abusive, disrespectful, and just plain mean. And then I realized: I was my father. I got dumped, because my ex had enough self-respect to not take my shit, and I absolutely urged him to do so when I was not in a manic state. I went back on my meds, stabilized, and experience guilt to this day for hurting such a kind-hearted person so spitefully.
He helped me so much through my lowest times. I actually literally landed on concrete with my ass when I fell out of a window when my rage got the better of me. So, yeah I’d call that rock bottom. I was a mess of pent up emotions and feelings that I couldn’t express properly or healthily. But when I was at my very worst, and truly wanting to give up on life, he helped me hold on. He told me again and again to write. Just write anything, don’t judge myself and just do it.
At first it was incredibly difficult. I have always had a strange appreciation for an unmarked page, and getting over that honestly took time. I had to rack my brains to find something to say. It is not that I couldn’t really think of anything but rather felt reluctant to put anything down that wasn’t perfect. And such a mistake that is. Eventually, I learned to just write whatever pops into my head without thinking too much about it.
Gradually, I would get better with my writing. What started off as just a few lists became poetry, essays, commentaries, even the start of a short story and a couple novels. And the best thing, the very best, is that writing, afterwards, makes me feel the same as if I have been reading someone else’s work all along. Just the unbiased joy of taking part in the creative process, whether audience or artist.
Actually, I lied. The real best thing was getting to know myself. Going from numbly plodding my way through life, to realizing all the negative self-talk and reversing it, discovering that I have every right to forge my own path to happiness, and that I don’t have to rely on anyone else to plot it for me.
Before I started regularly writing again, I used to think I was a victim of circumstance. Oh, I lived in an unhappy time in an unhappy world. This is life, they tell you, that’s just the way it is and no one ever said it had to be fair. The world keeps us so busy that our internal dialogue is riddled with rapid, racing thoughts of what we ought to do and what we need to have to be happy and what society wants us to think.
But writing, well that takes a form of concentration that can be a meditative state all on its own. But first, it requires the quieting of the mind. Removing all the external influences swirling around up there. Everyone else’ thoughts placed into your mind through advertising, social media, and every other cause or group. Letting everything go, and seeing what remains in its place.
And what remains is self-awareness. The one thing that unites us all as living beings. To write consistently and honestly, I have to keep seeing behind the ego, to the peace and tranquility of the joy that is inherent in simply existing. Writing regularly enforces the habit of simply seeing what is and translating it back to the world as objectively as possible, while still adding our own personal touch.
I’ve recently decided to make the commitment to write daily no matter what. One day all I wrote was just the date on the page, but it was still something, and that is key to developing good habits. Writing is leading me back to my roots, and I think someday I will probably make money off of my talent for it, but for now I am letting it guide me along a personal journey I need to have first. Writing every day helps me remember what my goals are, because they have such a funny habit of slipping out of my mind as quickly as I can commit to them. Writing makes me choose where my interests truly lay, written out, for me to inspect.
Since I started writing again, I have made some radical changes in my life I wouldn’t have considered just a little while ago. I feel like I know myself again, especially when I am writing these types of memoir-like narratives. Writing about the past is the surest way for me personally to shed the old skin and come out with the new.
Endeavoring to understand that which we don’t want to think about is painful. But it is even worse to hope the problems will go away on their own. A plan is necessary to reach a goal, and self-awareness and examination are the way to formulate a good one.
I have made a transition over the years from the magical fantasy world of Harry Potter to absolutely loving to read nonfiction and memoirs, probably leading to my interest in the writing of them as well. Although, I will need a good fiction book from time to time to cleanse the palate, which is where Stephen King nearly always comes into play.
I think J.K. Rowling taught me how to love before I even truly knew what it meant. I write because she inspired me to. I write because we are all in this together whether we know it or not. And most importantly, I write for love. The love of reading, words, and writing. Because at the end of the day, love is the only thing that truly matters.