Monday, July 25, 2011

imagine all the people

When I was little, I envied my brother furiously for his imagination.

Well into middle school — maybe even high school? — I could hear him in his room, his voice pitched in battle as his Legos or action figures fought for dominion. He built elaborate scenes with the Legos, worked out why this group was warring with another; everything down to the last detail.

I watched this, scoffing outwardly even as I despaired inside. Why couldn't I get myself into that dream world? I remember literally forcing myself to play with some plastic figures — Disney characters, my favorites, even if I didn't play with them often — and making myself do their voices and trying to make them interact. I believe I threw them down in frustration when I realized that I couldn't get past the fact that it wasn't real. I had Barbie, too, but while I enjoyed all her outfits and accessories, she wasn't really talking to Ken and never would be.

As I grew up, I had to admit that I had some imagination; I could write, couldn't I, and that took something. Poems and beginnings of short stories (though never ends) came fairly easily as I moved through late-high school and college.

And now I find where all my imagination was hiding, what it was waiting for, and I'm wishing I could've swapped with Mark and played with those stupid Legos instead.

I've covered cops&courts a handful of times now for the paper here in Yakivegas, and I do not like it. I can't see it, as my coworker told me he does, as "words on a page." These are people; that was a real little girl who had her pants pulled down by an uncle who molested her; that was a real man who drowned in his backyard pool when going out for his evening swim; and that was a real 17-year-old boy today who shot himself with a shotgun after his older brother died last week.

Maybe all those years of watching every crime TV show on USA Network are finally catching up with me. But although it's getting easier — death, it seems, bothers me less than violation — I still can't turn these crimes into words on a page.

Today, for instance. I got to work and got passed a story on an apparent homicide that happened outside a school. A teenage boy, shot in the head; close-range so they couldn't identify his face. Then in the afternoon, the coroner says it hasn't been ruled a homicide or a suicide. Then we look up his name, see if he's in our archives, and we find his 25-year-old brother died last week, apparently of non-suspicious causes.

My unstoppable imagination supplies the details: I picture the 17-year-old brother, sobbing around his house while his family tries to console him, tell him that his brother's in a better place now. Or maybe he was silent, sitting in his room and not saying a word, just utterly convinced that the world had ended. I picture his siblings' fruitless attempts to reach out, to reach him, to let him know that he was not alone and that things will get better one day.

This was the first time it's really hit me how selfish suicide is. I picture his parents — robbed of two sons in less than a week. I picture the weight of grief on them as they try to hold up the remaining four siblings. I picture the numbness. I picture what my parents would do if something like that happened — and try to force it from my mind.

And the fact that my work, the very reason I'm forced to learn the details of these cases inside and out, may be worsening the problem makes it feel even less worth it. We didn't name the suicide victim, but the slimy TV news reporter did, and now that family has to put up with shame and questions on top of grief. People will be shaking their heads and saying, "That poor boy, if only the family had been there for him," when really the family must have done all it could.

Do I make it better, when I tell these people's stories? Do I make it worse? Most of the stories I do, especially now in education, are positive; people respond wanting to help, wanting to make a difference, or they respond with nothing and at least don't tip the scales one way or the other. But when I bare someone's personal life for all to see — even my criminals, when I post details of their police reports that will now follow them anytime anyone does a Google search — what good does it do?

Never fear; there's no danger I'll give up the reporter thing. I still love it, aside from a few brutally graphic police reports, and I'm not apt to give up anytime soon.

I just hope it's making a positive difference in the world. That's all we really have, isn't it? To leave the world better than when we entered and hope we're remembered kindly, if at all.

Love always,

Thursday, July 14, 2011

team harry

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 hits screens in two hours. Today I interviewed a 16-year-old girl who arrived at the movie theater at 5:30 p.m. yesterday - that's about 31 hours early. She and her friends have been staging Horcrux scavenger hunts, wizarding duels, a Triwizard Tournament....5 years younger than me; they were in 1st grade when the books started, and Harry Potter is still a big enough part of their lives that they'll wait all day on concrete.

This is so silly - I'm admitting that; I admit that this melodramatic, wistful blog post about fictional characters is dumb and sappy and unoriginal - but I so wanted to ditch out on work and just join them there. Watch the first Harry Potter movie, when they were all such babies, and talk about our favorite parts of the books and exclaim over spectacular plot points.

Because it's not just some dumb kid series - these books really did shape our childhood. I came on board a year or two late; I remember reading the first 3 in 5th grade, lent me by a classmate to whom I am forever indebted for getting me into the series in the first place. I loved the 2nd book, mostly because I'd wanted a pet snake for ages and imagined how cool it would be if I were a Parseltongue. I wrote out the warning posted at the entrance to Gringotts and put it on my bedroom door, hoping to ward off any intruding little brother.

Then that first agonizing wait for the 4th book to come out, and then actually reading the Goblet of Fire - it really was a turning point in my growing up. I remember the point when Cedric dies - so casually, so lacking in fanfare or acknowledgement; just "Kill the spare," and he's lying spread-eagle on his back a few yards away. I slammed my book shut and threw it across the floor - I remember curling up on the couch in my family room, sobbing as if my heart would break, because people were not supposed to die like that. It just didn't happen in the kids books I was used to reading. That grew me up, at least in my story sense.

Then I remember putting off reading the Order of the Phoenix because my next-door neighbor & best friend said it was depressing (Sirius is his favorite character) and I couldn't handle any more depressing. And I remember finally reading it and kicking things as I growled inwardly at Umbridge. To this day, I don't think I've ever hated anyone more than her.

I remember reading the Half-Blood Prince while we were in Scotland for the drama festival - it had come out a month earlier but I had put it off for some reason. I borrowed it from Dylan and raced through it as we stood in line for plays all over Edinburgh. I remember the cobblestoned street beside the sidewalk I sat down on when Dumbledore died and I wanted to cry but didn't want to do it in public. Dumbledore died! That wasn't supposed to happen, either.

And I remember the last book - my favorite book - came out on the last night we were at Seaside in Oregon after I graduated from high school. My education is stacked with Harry Potter milestones. (Haven't forgotten, either, the magazine page that got passed around my AP Lit class of Daniel Radcliffe in Equus. He's too pale, and the whole thing kind of creeped me out, but still intriguing.) We drove through Portland on our way home, and stopped at Powells - it had been 2 years then since I'd read the 6th, and I was hazy on Horcrux details, so in an aisle filled to bursting with Harry Potter books, I asked two strangers to remind me what happened. I love fellow book nerds.

I was not to be pulled away from that book for anything that day. I read it the whole car ride home, then wrenched myself away from it to go to a winery that evening with Mrs. Maldonado, where she'd brought me to listen to some poet (I'm afraid I was even less gracious to that poet than I would have been under normal circumstances; still, even under normal circumstances, I'm pretty sure she sucked). I couldn't stand it for long, so she actually let me drive her car back home, where I raced through another 100 pages before going back to pick her up. And I finished by midnight that night, because I never would have been able to go to sleep anyway.

I remember running into Mary Crow the next morning in the parking lot of my church, exclaiming over the Narnia-like scene when McGonnagall calls the statues to life and they go tromping off to protect the school. Mary stayed up finishing it, too; I remember she said she was about to give in and sleep when she turned to "The Prince's Tale" and couldn't stop. "I KNEW Snape loved Lily! I KNEW it!" she cried.

And there's just something magical about the series, nothing to do with the spells and enchantments. There's something magical in growing up with the characters, in maturing as they mature, in facing greater challenges in real life even as the fictional villains turn darker and harder to vanquish.

And we have to say goodbye to the series again. I was never attached to the movies; I'm a purist, and I hated the way things got left out, even small details, so I stopped watching after the 2nd. But I went to part 1 of the 7th movie this fall - at 3 in the morning the night it came out, sitting next to boys who thought Hermione was hot and kept making comments to that effect. It was so well done - they used all that lag time in the Horcrux search to just take the characters to beautiful parts of the world with sweeping vistas and lonely horizons. That movie pulled me in, attached me again.

But this is the end. All those posters - "It all ends July 15" - really, it does. No other series has spanned so much of my lifetime, or captured so much of my imagination, save Narnia, and that's in a different category for me.

No, Harry Potter is in a category all its own. And this end of it all - I tear up reading reviews, for goodness' sake; I'm going to bawl at the actual movie this weekend - but it's fitting that after all those Harry Potter milestones throughout my childhood, the series is over and the characters must move on just as I'm leaving behind my safety-netted existence and pushing off into the world of independent adulthood.

I find myself resenting the idea that in a few years, the new generation is going to have a different series that they're devoted to - that they'll claim is better than any other. We all know they'll be wrong.

Oh, how I wish I could just go back and be a kid again, reading these books for the first time. I miss that wide-eyed wonder.

Love always,