Modus Operandi

I have always wanted to go to Hogwarts. Not the lookalike castle at Universal Studios in Florida. The real deal. As it is, my letter never came, sadly. None of this has anything to do with why I am not strictly a Harry Potter fan.

Because I’m not. A Harry Potter fan, that is. I don’t fangirl over Draco Malfoy in dirty dreams the way I might fall for Peeta in The Hunger Games. I don’t spend my spare time practicing the accio spell to bring the TV remote closer to myself (I should, though). I’ve never hung a Harry Potter poster in my room, though Divergent has had its place. I have, however, spent a fair share of my life trying to figure out how to use my time more productively the way Hermione uses a Time Turner to get the most out of the Hogwarts curriculum.

The first time I remember reading a Harry Potter book, I was in the fourth grade. The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh books didn’t even exist yet. The girl next to me was reading the same book, The Chamber of Secrets. All I wanted in that moment during Silent Reading, was to read faster than her. Nevermind the fact that I hadn’t even read the first book yet. All I know is that I’m reading and apples are disappearing out of a magical cabinet. I don’t understand the rules of reading yet, let alone the rules of magic. The only thing I knew was that I had to finish this book before the girl next to me finished her book.

The point is I’ve never been a diehard Harry Potter fan. I’ve only read the books once. I watch the movies religiously. I won’t tell you what the Death Eater scenes do to me. I’ve had to pause the films to finish a spell, if you know what I mean. I know for a fact that if I were sorted into a house, I’d be Gryffindor. What I do love are books. Period. People get so excited to learn this fact when Christmas arrives. Because I love books, and Harry Potter is a franchise, they automatically assume that I must love Harry Potter. As a result, I’ve gotten chocolate frogs and wands and Hedwig Funko dolls and all kinds of Harry Potter paraphernalia. My daughter, bless her heart, accidentally broke Harry’s wand on the one Funko doll of him I had. I can’t even explain why I was upset. I should have thanked her. She was one. I think I was just upset that Hedwig no longer had a partner. Now all I had was a damn owl that didn’t make sense without Harry.

I don’t have any excuse for these people.

It’s remarkable how often I deny being a Harry Potter fan and how often my mind is programmed to the Harry Potter channel. JK Rowling has become a part of the cultural collective consciousness. Even I cannot escape her. I frequently hear voices, not unlike Harry Potter hearing the basilisk talking to him throughout The Chamber of Secrets. I was going through a rough patch at the time, and what do the voices tell me?

“Find your Patronus, Jackie.” That’s it. Depression reminds me very much of the description of Dementors sucking the happiness right out of you.

“Find your Patronus.” As it happens, I had no idea what my Patronus would look like. At first, I was hoping for something like a very sexy, handsome man come to save me. That is a Patronus I’d like to see again and again. Dirty dreams, like situations of peril, seem to require some sort of Patronus to get the job done. 

Apparently the Patronus seems to be an animal, I thought more seriously and was thinking perhaps I’d have a fox. Foxes seem slick enough to get themselves out of any problem. I thought I might like to have a fox as a Patronus.

Since I’m not experienced in this area of divining what Patronus would come to me once I wave my wand, I took a test. I got an owl. Talk about anticlimactic. Can an owl spot prey from hundreds of feet in the air and scoop them up for dinner in a heartbeat?

Yes, yes they can. I don’t want an owl, though. I wanted to be something a little more, I don’t know, fearsome and predatory. An owl is not scary.

One time I spent all of the money I saved from doing chores to buy a book at the Scholastic Book Fair. It was all I had in the world, a whopping $20 or so. I bought one of the Harry Potter books, not knowing what else I should spend my money on. Well, it turns out my mother decided to become “born again” right around the time I bought the book. One day our family was Catholic, and the next day I woke up, and we were Christians. She found me reading Harry Potter on the floor one day. I had been highlighting “important” passages and copying them down into a notebook. My mother, Umbridge that she was, declared there was to be no witchcraft in the house. I’m not sure she realized the books were a part of the “fantasy” genre. And so she took my book. She threw my book, and my $20, into the garbage.

Just like that. It was probably a first edition, now I shall never know. She threw out a fortune in the name of Jesus Christ. It has been 20 years and I still have a grudge against her for this act of treachery. It was Fahrenheit 451 come to life.

For the same reason, I was forced to read Breaking Dawn in a single night under the covers, as if being under the covers would prevent anyone who walked into my room at 2am from seeing what I was doing. It is also why, when my mother had a doctor’s appointment, I logged on the Internet via Wii, to watch a pirated version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Thank God for video cameras in movie theaters. A lost art, truly. My parents password, as luck would have it, was 1111.  I simply went into the settings to change the year to 1983 so that my activity wouldn’t be logged for the same day in 2000 and something.

This was before Parents knew where the Settings were.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Vampires, witches, and wizards were contraband in our house. One did what she had to. How I got the password is a short story in and of itself. I had a convenient red digital camera that was set to record when I asked them to log me on. It took several attempts before I had the angle just right.

One does what she has to.

It’s remarkable how often my life coincides with the Harry Potter phenomenon-menon. Not too long ago, I went through a particular rite of passage granted to those on the verge of 30 years of age. In other words, I hit a midlife crisis. And Hagrid showed up. Twenty years late. On my doorstep. No warning. Uninvited. 

“What the hell are you doing here?” (His name isn’t Hagrid, and he doesn’t actually like being outside, and I‘m 99.9% positive he wants nothing to do with beasts of any kind. Also: he hates September for some ungodly reason.)

Like a vision, he tells me: “You’re a writer, Jackie.” And I’m like:

“I’m a wh-what?” For the next twelve months, he slipped me polyjuice potions, until I could no longer even tell who or what I was. I was sort of hoping he’d walk me into a vault with some kind of fortune the parents I never knew left behind for me.

No such luck. He came bearing the news that I was a writer, and I knew immediately I had to go out and squander any semblance of talent whatsoever.

So here I am writing this post, while Hagrid side-eyes me from a corner, begging me to take a prophylactic before I go too far.

How to Not Die

If you’re looking for a new way to torture an enemy or someone you know, you might consider social deprivation. A new study has investigated the results of social deprivation in a group of monkeys, and the results are not optimistic.

Say goodbye to self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and independence. Humans are programmed to operate best when in the company of other humans. I suppose this is good news for anyone who is already in a codependent relationship. You’re ahead of the rest of us.

No matter what your feelings are, humans remain social animals. You cannot avoid it. Socialization is a requirement, it is not a suggestion, unless you want to die sooner than everybody else. You can thank Dean Ornish. He reviewed the literature on the relationship between social isolation and human mortality, and he found that you will die three to five times sooner than the average person from all causes if you continue to live out a life in isolation.

When Thoreau said he was off to live a life in solitude to “front only the essential facts of life,” he failed to mention how close his neighbors lived (about a mile distant), and how liberally he dined and socialized with them. By no means did he actually carry out his life in any semblance of true solitude. Thoreau is a romantic hero, an emblem of idealism no real human could ever hope to emulate.

Not only are you more likely to die from lack of social contact, but Gary Kraemer has found several other adverse effects of living alone he has termed isolation syndrome. Seeing as we have evolved from monkeys, it makes sense that he has used monkeys for the basis of his experiment. He found monkeys raised alone exhibited far from typical monkey behavior. For one thing, they failed to engage in reciprocal interactions with other monkeys. 

In between savage attacks, they’re unable to find a mate or provide any sort of mammalian affection for their young. The monkeys reared in isolation were also prone to fighting to the death. If you don’t die from isolation, you are going to die from someone who has lived in isolation. In no scenario do you win.

However, violence towards other monkeys isn’t enough. The monkeys in isolation also had a brutal tendency to bite off their own arms, bang their head against the wall, and gouge out their eyes.  The conclusion: without external guidance on behavior from other humans, you will self-destruct. Premature death awaits you.

There’s also an easy solution to avoiding inevitable death: simply find a human you like and attach yourself. Try to avoid scratching, clawing, or otherwise poking out their eyes, and I’d say you’re off to an auspicious start to a life of near immortality.

Whatever you do, avoid isolation at all costs.