Thursday, September 25, 2014

What the hell just happened to Harry Potter?

It’s one of those news stories you hope can’t be real. A writer in the fan fiction world , claiming to be an evangelical Christian, has rewritten Harry Potter. It may be satire. I hope it’s satire, but sometimes it’s so hard to tell. I mean, I want to believe that no halfway intelligent person in the world would think that Harry Potter is satanic, let alone that this dross is an improvement, but you should never underestimate people’s capacity for stupidity.



Here’s an exchange between Harry and Hermione:

"This is the boys' dormitory," the devout young woman explained kindly; and she gestured to the heavy, oak door beside them. "I would show you inside; but I would hate to cause a scandal."
"I understand," Harry declared graciously. Too many young men these days pressure young women into things undesired and forbidden. It is the mark of a true, old-fashioned gentleman to respect the fact that every young woman is another man's future wife. And we all know that it would be a dreadful, terrible sin to bring another man's wife into intimacy. Why does modern culture suddenly treat that as okay simply because he does not have her yet? Man's laws may permit it; but the laws of the Lord are not bound by time.

And here’s Harry "defending" women when Malfoy says they shouldn’t have careers because they are stupid:

"Women shouldn't not have careers because women are stupid!" Harry shouted indignantly. "Women are not stupid at all! Women should not have careers because women are nurturing and loving and their gifts serve them best in the home!"

Thanks so much, Harry. Nice to know you've got my back.

But it’s this line that really makes me hope it’s satire. Aunt Petunia is explaining to Hagrid that she doesn’t want Harry to go to Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles:

“Thank you very much for your concern, sir, but he does not need your religion, he has science and socialism and birthdays.” 

Genius.

I like the fan fiction world. I love it, in fact. But I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite this weird before. And I’m saying that as someone who knows what “sour skittles” means. (You might not want to Google that at work.) And this is much, much weirder than that.

So far Snopes has this one listed as "mixture". The rewritten story is absolutely real, but nobody seems to know if it’s taking the piss or not.

Check it out here at fanfiction.net, and let me know what you think.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Unreliable Memories

In a previous blog post I talked a little about how memory is a strange thing. A magical ship full of books turns out, after a talk with my mum and a bit of Googling, to be the MV Logos, a missionary ship.

Missionaries.

Sometimes it even sounds made up to me, that I lived in a place of volcanos and cargo cults and earthquakes, a place that missionaries visited, and we had a houseboy…and could I in fact sound any more like the British in India?

Arawa.
Source: my amazing paradise.
Scrolling through the photos on this post was like revisiting my childhood.

My mum loves to tell a story about when my sister Kath was high school geography and they were studying Papua New Guinea. Every day Kath came home and filled her in:

Today we learned that there are over 800 languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, but I already knew that because we lived there.

Today we learned the copper and gold are the main exports of Papua New Guinea, but I already knew that because we lived there.

And so on.

Until one day she raced home, aghast: Mum! Did you know that Papua New Guinea is a third world country?

We didn’t, of course, because we’d lived there. We were kids. Kids don’t pick up on stuff like that, necessarily. Kids take things as they come. Some people lived in houses like we did, and some people lived in dirt-floor huts in the bush. To Kath and me that was a fact, and there was nothing remarkable about it at all.

I remember when I jumped off the bed and Dad failed to catch me, and I went face-first into the corner of a trunk, that there was a lot of blood. There was also a trip to the hospital and a heap of medication. I remember that when Nick, our houseboy, slashed his leg open cutting the grass with his machete, Dad drove him to the hospital too. Except Nick wasn’t a four-year-old white kid with parents who were rich by local standards. So Dad had to help the hospital staff hold him down while the gaping wound in his leg was stitched up. No anaesthetic.

So I guess that New Guinea might have been a third world country for most of its population—the sort of place that missionaries still visit—but not for the expats. We were doing okay.

Maybe this is where my love of unreliable narrators comes from. Because we are all unreliable narrators, to some extent. It’s why police can interview four different people who witnessed the exact same event, and get four completely different statements.

Memory is incredibly malleable. It’s not a matter of playing back images. Our minds are not editing rooms where we can play back the footage, freeze it, and zoom in. Everything we take in is subject to so many different layers of interpretation and bias before we even begin to process it into memory, that by the time it comes to relating it, it may bear no resemblance to what actually happened. We don’t just regurgitate memories, we interpret them and reshape them first.  And that’s okay. That’s human nature. It’s an important part of what makes us what we are. We are always trying to make sense of things, not just to experience, but to understand.

And I think, for most of us, it’s a part of why we write as well.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dog Days

Twelve years ago, I got a dog. Last week, I had that dog put to sleep, and it will be a long time before I stop missing her. But I thought I’d share the story of how I got her.

A baby photo of Cleo

I’d wanted a puppy for a long time. Except my mum said I couldn’t get one while I was still living out the back of her place. So I bought my own house. I’m sure people buy houses for dumber, more juvenile reasons, but I’ve yet to hear one. But it’s okay, I like my house.

Anyway. I wanted a yellow Labrador. The yellow Lab we’d had when I was growing up had been the sweetest, most loving, most patient dog in the world. Also, I wanted a breed I could pretty much trust. And Labs are total sooks.

One day, I saw puppies advertised in the paper. I phoned the lady up. Yes, they had one female yellow Lab left, and yes, they could keep her for me for a few hours.

Road trip!

In hindsight, I could have waited for a dog to become available somewhere around the city. But I didn’t, and ten minutes later I was knocking on Mum’s door asking if I could borrow her car because it was more roadworthy than mine, and also if she could come with me on a drive to Euramo, 200 kilometres north along the highway. And I really, really needed her to come, because someone had to hold my puppy on the way home…

You know, that woman spent my entire childhood telling me I couldn’t have any more puppies, kittens, mice or, that one time, a monkey. And guess what? Suddenly she was looking at her allegedly adult daughter, and what could she say? So she only shook her head, gave me the car keys and climbed into the passenger seat.

Euramo is a tiny little town which it turns out is famous for one thing: it is the UFO capital of North Queensland. I did not know this at the time, but I do feel it explains a lot.

When we got there, I met Cleo for the first time. So, so cute. A round little yellow lab who, when she lay down, had a protruding layer of puppy fat that made it appear as though she was squashing a smaller, less fortunate puppy underneath her. Of course it was love. And of course I was going to take her, but not until I did some due diligence and met her mother.

Her mother was lovely, sedate, and I suspect secretly relieved I was taking one of the pups. Beautiful temperament, I told my mum, and my mum begrudgingly agreed.

I paid the money. I got my puppy. And then, on the way out, I passed a large cage with a very hyperactive Lab in it. I have never in my life seen a Lab that could jump that high, and from a standing start. He was like Tigger. On crack. And he barked every time he hit his high point.

“Henry!” the lady said. “Henry! Henry! Henry!

Bounce. Bark. Bounce. Bark. Bounce. Bark bark bark.

“He’s excitable,” my mother said.

“Oh yes,” said the lady, and then patted Cleo on the head. “He’s the father.”

My mother looked horrified.

“It’s too late now,” I whispered. “I’ve already paid.”

Luckily Cleo took after her mother: short and round. She might have been as silly as a wheel, like Henry, but she never had the reach to bounce as high as he did. She could, however, knock dishes of cat food off the kitchen counter right up until the end, despite her arthritis. I think I knew things were getting serious when she didn’t even try anymore. Luckily Grub, the cat, could be relied upon to knock it down onto the floor for her. Teamwork.

On the drive back from Euramo, Mum held Cleo in her lap and made me promise to take her to dog training. I did, for weeks, until I was too embarrassed to continue. After all that time she was still the only dog there who confused “Sit!” for “Fling yourself onto the ground, show everyone your belly, wriggle like you've got ants in your pants, and get tangled in your lead.” 

In the end, she only ever responded to two commands. And only occasionally. One was, “You sit, you drop, I rub your belly.” Which isn’t a command, I guess, as much as a negotiation. The other was “Swap!” which was shorthand for “Please don’t eat whatever you’ve just stolen. Look! Here are some cat biscuits to bribe you with!” 

But she was very good at living with a shift worker. “Cleo," I could tell her at any time of day. “It's bed time.” And she’d wander into my room with me and go to sleep.

We never did figure out that owner/dog hierarchy.

Once, we were sitting on the couch watching TV and – bang!—a car backfired in the street. We both jumped, and stared at each other wide-eyed.

“You go and check it out,” I whispered at last. “You’re the dog.”

But I don’t think she believed me.



Friday, September 12, 2014

The Book Ship

Memory is an interesting thing. Today when I was at work I caught a bit of a TV segment on mobile libraries. Basically, busses that drive around full of books. We used to have a mobile library in my city, but I haven’t seen it pulled in up at the park for a while. Maybe we don’t have it anymore.

So, catching a few minutes of that program, I suddenly remembered something similar, but altogether more magical, from my childhood:

A ship full of books.

Maybe a boat. I was about five. It seemed as big as a cargo ship to me, but probably wasn’t. It seemed magical too, but it probably wasn't. 

source

We were living in Arawa at the time – a town that has been pretty much wiped off the map thanks to the civil war in Bougainville – but if there was a ship, it would have come to the port at Kieta. I don’t remember much about the drive to Kieta. Just lots of jungle, and, after a sharp turn, a clearing at the edge of the road with a single hut in it. There were always chickens outside that hut and, sometimes, an old man sitting on a stump outside.

I knew we were halfway to Kieta, or halfway home, when we passed that hut sitting in a clearing carved out of the jungle.

The book ship was special. It was a big deal. I don’t know who ran it – some sort of missionary group, maybe – but to step inside was to feel overwhelmed by choice. I’d never seen so many books. It was probably every book in the world!

There weren’t any book shops in Arawa. The local supermarket – Ples Bilong Sun Kamap – stocked Golden Books, but Golden Books lose their lure quite quickly, don’t they? There’s not much of a challenge in a Golden Book. And the books we got from school weren’t very exciting either. I still hate Sam, Pam, Digger the dog and Nat the cat.

So to step onto a ship full of books – rows and rows of shelves, bigger than any library I could remember – was like stepping into a magical wonderland. It was like a birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. I chose a picture book about cats. I still have it somewhere, even though the dustcover has been torn and the pages are stained and dog-eared. I loved that book so much when I was a kid. Looking back, it’s not the book I love as much as the story of how I got that book – that mysterious ship full of books that arrived one day and was gone the next, vanishing on the glittering blue waters of the Pacific like a dream.



*** 

And thanks so much to everyone who left a comment on my post about losing Cleo. Seriously, anyone who thinks that online friendships aren't as important as "real" ones, is doing it wrong. My co-writer Jill sent me a picture she took of Cleo when she was visiting Australia last November. It was Cleo sneaking into the guest room wearing her "I love you. Do you have food?" face. 



She wore that face 90% of the time. It worked well for her. 




Monday, September 8, 2014

Ouch

Well, this isn't the sort of post I'd intended to kickstart the blogging again, but...well, it's what happened. 

On paper, a dog shouldn’t mean so much. But often things aren’t the same on paper as they are in your heart.

Today I had to get Cleo put to sleep. The vet said it could take up to a minute, but it was a matter of seconds, really. She was old, and she was hurting, and she went very quickly.

So I’m a mess, of course.

Twelve years is a long time. I think it will take me a while to be able to go to sleep without listening for her claws clicking across the floors, as she’d flop down beside my bed with a long sigh before snoring like a chainsaw.


Cleo and her BFF Grub being accidentally photogenic recently.

Once upon a time – and I’ve probably told this story before – Cleo ate Christmas.

It was my first year in my own house, and I was going to make the latticed veranda beautiful. I went and spent a lot of money on Christmas lights and decorations, then spent hours threading them through the lattice. Hours, getting the spacing just right. My arms and shoulders were killing me by the time I was finished. I flicked the lights on once to make sure they worked.

God, it would look so good at night when I turned them on. I could hardly wait!

Then, studying the molding above the front door, I thought to myself, That would look great with a piece of tinsel above it.

I went inside to get some tinsel.

And, in the thirty seconds I was gone, the dog chewed through the power cord for the lights. Hours of painstaking work with a chair and a step ladder… ruined.

“We are never doing Christmas again!”

I pulled all the lights and the tinsel and the decorations down while I ranted and raved and had a meltdown, and the dog just sat and placidly watched me go insane.

“Never again!”

We did, of course. Lots of times. And Cleo never really lost the uncanny ability to hone in on the things I least wanted eaten, and eat them. My brother-in-law’s new expensive sunglasses. Books. Yummy crunchy CDs. Any bra she could reach.

She was fun and stupid and lazy and sneaky and sweet and stinky and happy and naughty and bouncy.

I’m going to miss her like hell.



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