Friday, March 20, 2015

Harry Potter / HPMOR fever

The Whompton women are serious fantasy readers.  Samantha and I have matching sets of the same series on bookshelves in the basement – you think that we’d consolidate down, but then we wouldn’t have the option of re-reading them at the same time! – and one of those matching sets is Harry Potter.  Once Raina became old enough to handle the increasingly dark nature of the story line and she had been exposed to better writing ahead of time so she wouldn’t think JK Rowling was the pinnacle of all story tellers, I gave her permission to read my HP copies. 

She raced through the stories as expected, asked questions when she was confused, tried to finagle spoilers out of the adults, and concluded the series in a little over a week.  Then it was time to break out the movies.  Over the course of the last three months or so, we watched HP 1 – 7.5 (skipping #2 for “it was too terrible to willingly endure again” reasons) and we finished the movie series this week.  Lola joined us on these viewing ventures.  She was similarly captivated by the HP experience, scared by parts of the storyline, and empathetically cried when Dobby died in HP 7.  Lola has not read the books, obviously, so she had lots of questions about the plot, why the characters acted the way they did, why the plot advanced in certain ways, why the girls didn’t feature more in the storyline, etc. 

Lola had many of the same complaints that any savvy reader has of the HP series: namely, JK Rowling relies on ridiculous, unbelievable events to advance plot and the Harry/Hermione/Ron trio seem ill-suited to actually be together for the long term.  Watching the movies again sharply defined these flaws.  (Also, we all agree that HP 5 is the best movie of the eight.  You should watch it and ignore the others.)

During the three month course of movie watching, the Whomptons were exposed to a superbly better Harry Potter storyline: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (  HPMOR is a serially released fanfiction story based in the HP universe but centered on the question “What would happen if Harry had been lovingly raised by scientists before he went to Hogwarts?”  The characters are multi-dimensional, the plot significantly more interesting, and the writing is incredibly funny, emotionally moving, and well-developed.  One should be familiar with the HP universe to fully appreciate all the embedded references in the fanfic, but that should hold no one back from this story. 

I LOVED this story.  I binge-read the 2000 pages in the space of three weeks and then immediately went back and began reading it again.  My fellow Whomptons tired of asking me what I was doing and getting the same response “I’m reading HPMOR – go away.”  So Samantha joined in, then Raina, and then Eric.  This is a monumental achievement in Whompton land because 1. Eric rarely reads books and 2. All four chapter-book-reading Whomptons were reading the same thing at the same time.  That has never happened before.  This morning I asked Eric what he was doing and he essentially said “I’m reading HPMOR – go away!”  It was awesome.  J  HPMOR concluded its run in March, releasing a new chapter about each day until the finale on 14 March; Samantha and I have completed reads #2 and Eric and Raina are really close to finishing read #1.  I’m really looking forward to having a full family conversation about the story.  (I’d also love to have a conversation with you, if you choose to read it.)

The girls added one more HP layer of their own.  Lola found a Harry Potter inspired Lego book at the library: 100+ pages of HP characters and scenery constructed out of Legos.  Raina and Lola took that inspiration and have erected their own Lego-Hogwarts and have been storytelling themselves.  They have spent a good 15 Spring Break hours creating their own HP universe and crafting non-canon stories.  It’s awesome to see their imagination at work, their continuous compromise as they work together to build and interweave their story lines, and their sustained attention on their own creation.  Don’t believe in Csikszentmihalyi’s statement about flow?!  My girls forgot that we had agreed to go to the City Museum and they worked for 6 hours straight – 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. – while they played.  Eventually I reminded them that they should eat and they had lunch at 2.  They also decided to create their own life-size paper representations of the characters – we now have five foot tall Ron, Ginny, Harry, and Hermione characters – and each has a special communication with a butterfly (rather than a phoenix).  Other kids may have traveled out of town for Spring Break, but my girls have traveled the scope of their imagination.  Every parent should wish for something so amazing to occur! 

HP fever is in full swing over here.  I’m grateful to JK Rowling and Eliezer Yudkowsky for crafting such inspiring works!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Small kindnesses

The Whomptons moved into our home 13 years ago in March.  We were 23 then and we fully recognized that we had selected a neighborhood with older residents.  They all had children in college (or older) and most had retired from their primary employer.  Eric and I assumed the current residents would soon move out or move away and we’d have new families – new younger families like us -- as neighbors.  As a result, we were initially dismissive of our neighbors because they did not match up with our “ideal neighbor” image. 

I’m embarrassed by how mean-spirited our mentality was -- 23 year old Whomptons were not very kind or empathetic, clearly.  What’s obvious to us now is that life does not shut down at retirement and many folks do not leave their homes as soon as they get older.  We were so idiotic then.  And what’s abundantly obvious to us now is that our neighbors are amazingly awesome and we don’t want them to leave.  Like ever.  Unfortunately, a lot of this is out of our control.  Our neighbors are in their 70’s with various health problems and their bodies are slowly betraying them; like all folks, they have their pride and do not want to be a burden on others.  The Whomptons don’t have the capacity to change this reality, however, we can make small differences in making life easier for them.

So, each time it snows, we shovel their driveways, front walk, and the space in front of their mailboxes.  We have to suit up and shovel our own driveway, so it’s not too much extra effort for us to shovel two more.  If it snows badly enough, school gets cancelled for us, so we have more time to shovel; also, we have plenty of folks to help with three adults and two kids.  (A few years back, we bought snow shovels for each child.  That was a worthy investment.) 

On our end, it seems like such a small kindness to offer; even so, our neighbors are overwhelmingly grateful each time.  One neighbor is particularly astounded that we shovel her drive and she keeps asking “How can I thank you?  You won’t let me do anything for you!”  She said effectively this same thing to Samantha and me this weekend when I told her it was going to snow and we would take care of it for her.  My honest response left us both in tears:  “You repay us so much in friendship.  And this little thing means you get to stay here and be our neighbor for longer.  So you can count on us to shovel your walk, driveway, and the path in front of your mailbox for a long time to come.”

Saturday night and again Sunday morning, Samantha and I suited up and started shoveling.  Five minutes later, Lola popped out in her snow pants and boots, grabbed a shovel, and got to work.  Because everybody helps, and we’re all better when we work together and look out for one another.  That's what having a community is all about, and we're grateful to be a part.