Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ten Years Later: Seattle Shout-Outs, Metro Edition

On August 27, 2001, I flew from New York City to Seattle. I moved, sight unseen (site unseen!), to a duplex across the street from I-5, with 3 gals I'd never met, one of whom was also going to be in my AmeriCorps program. I'll barely celebrate my 10th anniversary in Seattle when it will be time to move again, this time for grad school.

These upcoming events - the anniversary and the move - as well as a friend's recent post about her one-year anniversary here - have put me in a contemplative mood. And the recent announcement that a 17 percent cut to Metro bus service will be averted has me in a thank-you-public-transit frame of mind. So, born of that mix:

To the other downtown-bound Metro riders at the corner of Eastlake and Lynn on the morning of September 11, 2001: I still think about you sometimes and am grateful for your combination of sobriety, sympathy, and dark humor, and the way, when the bus finally arrived, we all sat at the back, strangers compelled to stay together.

To the Metro driver whose sign read Ryerson Base but who stopped at the Ballard Bridge and picked me and a man up anyway, drove us downtown, and deposited us exactly where we wanted to go even though those places weren't bus stops: you are awesome.

To the driver who spontaneously let my friends and me turn your 44 into a party bus, complete with flashing interior lights, dancing in the aisles, and Right Said Fred accompaniment on the PA: you are even awesomer.

To every driver who saw me in their rear view mirror, running and running late, and stopped: your ordinary kindness makes the world a better place.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Harry Potter and the Audacious Author

Over (non-butter)beers the other night, a friend and I discussed the recent ending of the "Harry Potter" franchise and sundry related topics, including J.K. Rowling's 2007 outing of her Dumbledore character as gay. I remember that at the time I was outraged that an author would impose a vision of a character retroactively; if it wasn't explicit in the book, I railed to my roommates (designated innocent bystanders to my rants, 2002-2007), it by definition couldn't be declared true. A gay Dumbledore was a legitimate interpretation, based on the text, but nothing more.

Reading Edward Rothstein's appraisal of the situation made me feel instantly calmer; I wasn't alone (and he thought of perspectives I hadn't considered). For example:

The pure-bloods here are blinded by their pride, but Harry and his friends see something more profound, a threat that goes beyond self-interest and identity. This is why Dumbledore’s supposed gayness is ultimately as unimportant as Ron’s shabby clothes. These wounded outsiders recognize the nature of evil, and finally that is what matters.

Whatever you think of Rowling's statement, it does feel like a particularly noticeable piece of a larger picture. Now not only do authors add to their works by producing new books, but between those there are infinite opportunities (and, some would argue, necessities) for self-promotion and production: multi-media interviews, articles, columns, blog posts, and more. And sure it helps to be a Rowling if you want people to pay attention, but anyone can seek (and find) an audience, however small. And if your job (as mine is about to be) is to analyze a work, how much of this extra information do you incorporate - or leave aside? If your assignment is a book published in 2009 and you find a blog entry by that author from last week - is that relevant?

One of the nice things about a series ending is that you can look back on it, whole, and see patterns and themes and know it's complete. You can talk about it as an entity in a way you can't while it's still in progress. Even with a single work, editors can insert new or restore old material into it in later versions and those can both inform and exist separately from the earlier editions. (You see this in everything from E.T.'s 20th anniversary edition replacing police officer's guns with walkie-talkies to the 1995 edition of The Diary of a Young Girl restoring entries dealing with sexuality that Otto Frank had omitted from the original). But when an author says after publication, "My character is X," well, what should we call that? Pulling a Rowling?