time travel & longing

“It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry…Why does he go where I cannot follow?”

The first time I read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, I was a senior in college (a Fourth Year for all of you fellow Hoos out there; I’m still down with the lingo). It was spring time, my boyfriend was nearing the end of a nine month deployment and I was nearing the end of what seemed like an endless chapter in life. For me, college was about three years too long. I distinctly remember finishing the book in two days, flipping it over and starting again from the beginning. I could relate so strongly to the sentiments in those pages that I couldn’t let the last page be the end. It felt like a salve on my soul. Still does.

I have always had the sense that I’m waiting for my life to start. Hop scotching through time and space. Always anticipating the next thing, waiting for the ones I love to return to me, waiting to experience life as I think it should be.

“I want something… I want. That’s all. I am wanting.”

Niffenegger uses Henry’s sci-fi genetic disorder of Chrono-Displacement-uncontrollable time travel-to illustrate how longing affects us normal human beings. Those of us rooted in the here and now. But that’s my point. Even us non-CDPs find ourselves either stuck in time, waiting, or disoriented by loss or grief and wasted years and what ifs. Like Henry, we fight to stay here. now.

TTTW tells the story of Clare and Henry. The fits and starts of their life together. For Clare, a love which began at age six and lasts a lifetime, punctuated by his profound absences. While this is primarily a love story between Clare and Henry, Niffenegger explores longing in all of its forms. Henry is repeatedly drawn to watch is mother’s accidental death. Clare’s inability to connect with her mentally ill mother. Clare’s six miscarriages and fierce desire to become a mother. This book is about so much more than the grief that comes from death. It is the grief of life. Of wanting more from life. More from love.

Birds fly through the pages of TTTW. Universally, birds represent freedom. Cranes, crows, goldfinches in tubes, doves, a hawk, starlings, hummingbirds. Clare describes her artwork, a mix of paper-making and aviary sculptures, to be about longing. Young Henry, three years after his mother dies in an icy car accident which alters the course of his childhood, is described as having a thin back and shoulders which “stick out like incipient wings.” Too young and underdeveloped, he is helpless to fly away, to escape his warped life. Birds appear at the junction of every event which disturb the normal flow of life. Which stop Clare and Henry in their tracks. Slows or speeds time to the point that time is both meaningless and overwhelming. Lives are reduced to pin points in time amongst swaths of blurred color. The birds seem to mock the mere humans with their ability to flee at will.

“In fairy tales it’s always the children who have the fine adventures. The mothers have to stay at home and wait for the children to fly in the window.”

There are many ways in which the imbalance of those who go and those who stay can happen. Moves across the world. Emotional distance. Disappearance. Death. Each turn us into a time traveler. Wishing to be here. Be now.



a murder of one.

gioia /joy·ee·ah/          dolore /dul·ore·ay/

First things first. What is gioiadolore? It is Italian for joy and sorrow. More importantly, it is an idea I’ve been batting about since I was a teenager.

One for sorrow, two for mirth. Three for a funeral, four for birth. Five for heaven. Six for hell. Seven for the devil, his own self.

This superstitious nursery rhyme dates back to Britain circa 1780. The saying contends that you can determine your fate by the number of magpies that cross your path. Here in America, we associate this rhyme more with crows because 1) magpies are much less common, and 2) the Counting Crows modernized the rhyme in the song A Murder of One.

One for sorrow. Two for joy. This song has been my favorite since I first heard it playing on mom’s stereo in 1995. At its core, it is damn depressing. But there is still a note of hope and possibility. Dreams and lost love and finding yourself. Change.

When I was younger I thought that being one meant sadness but that having a pair meant automatic joy. I’ve even considered for my second tattoo a pair of crows. One light and one in dark.

Nessun maggior dolore che ricordarsi del tempo felice nella miseria. – Dante Inferno, Canto V 

“There is no greater sorrow than while remembering a time of happiness in your misery.” In college, I was a bit of a Dante nerd. When I came across this gem in Inferno, something struck. The scales are not as black and white as a magpie. One, you get sadness. Two, you get bliss. It is a balance. There is not one without the other.

At the heart of what I’d like to say here, in this forum, is that it is Ok to rage and cry and laugh and experience joy. All together. Recognizing the nugget of joy within the sorrow, within all things is a daily struggle. But it is a worthwhile fight.

what is it with Aberforth and goats?

There is wonder in opening a new book. Possibilities. New friends. New adventures. Reasons to cry and to laugh. Fall in love. Loathe.

Opening a favorite book is like going home. Mom, dad, the pets are all there ready to welcome you and catch up. So familiar and yet slightly changed each visit. New perspectives, a bit more wisdom. Make you fall in love just that much more.

Like many, Harry Potter is a dear friend of mine. In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t dream up a better sister and friend than Ginny Weasley. She’s a badass who makes me smile and cheer and gives me strength. Conversely, Umbridge has my vote for the most vile literary villain. The very thought of her makes my heart pound with absolute disgust and anger. She hits that place in me which has always felt overwhelming empathy for those who are unjustly wronged. And my response to that woman hurting my friends is visceral.

Last month, I decided to re-read the seven Harry Potter books. My goal was to really pay attention to the thoughts I had about the story-the things I noticed and discovered. The emotions I had and which themes emerged for me at this point in my life. I devoured all four thousand two hundred and twenty four pages in fifteen days.

I made some quirky observations about JK Rowling’s frequent use of the word “seriously” in Prisoner of Azkaban. Did some calculations about the size and capacity of the student body of Hogwarts. Does the wizard population remain constant or do many little wizards and witches get shafted on their eleventh birthdays? If boggarts’ true form is unknowable because they always take the form of their viewers worst fear, why not just ask Mad-Eye to look through a dark trunk with his magic eye and reveal the big secret? What is it with Aberforth and goats? Siriusly.

Wondered if the innuendoes were intentional. I mean really, who else was SURE that Ginny caught Percy masturbating in Chamber of Secrets… and not just making out with Penelope Clearwater. How about Mr Dursley asking Dudley in horror if Harry used “his thing” on him in Order of the Phoenix? “Wands are only as powerful as the Wizards who use them. Some wizards just like to boast that theirs are bigger and better.” Wise words, Hermione.

I was once again ravished by the deaths of Hedwig, Sirius and Fred. But this time around, the loss that caused the most anguish was that of Tonks and Lupin. They’d only begun to figure out life and love, had become parents. That Teddy would grow up without parents. That they struggled like the rest of us and death came and screwed it all up. Despair. It brought out all the usual fears in me. What if I finally find a partner that doesn’t care if I have purple hair every now and again and then there is a terrible accident? Or we couldn’t conceive? Life is a raging bitch.

Most surprising was the amount of foreshadowed characters and events that I caught because I know this story. A dusty locket in a cupboard is not just a locket. A ghost flitting by Ron’s sickbed isn’t just another ghost. Harry notes that the barkeep at Hog’s Head is “vaguely familiar.” Realizing that Fred and George’s bewitched snowballs were really hitting Voldemort was a personal giggle moment.

As love grew between Hermione and Ron, Harry and Ginny, I mostly registered disbelief that these folk found their true life partners in middle school. I mean, their relationships are adorable and long-lasting. I just imagine Hermione kicking herself fifteen years down the road for shackling herself to a lug like Ron. We are not the people we were as teenagers. Ok, I’m maybe jealous.

Perhaps the most disturbing crossover between the world of Harry Potter and our own comes from Grindelwald’s slogan “For the greater good” etched into the Nuremgard prison and Hitler’s “Arbeit macht frei” guarding the gates of concentration camps. Grindelwald saw Muggles as inferior and therefore sought to dominate them. Later, Voldemort took that doctrine further to include Muggle-born wizards. An obsession with pure blood. A fear of cultures not our own. Under the leadership of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Ministry of Magic systematically increased the persecution of Muggle-borns starting with a registry, moving to accusations of falsehood and trials, and ending with mass roundups and disappearances. I will say that the similarities to the current mood in America is striking.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. — Edmund Burke

Wherever I got my love of books, I am thankful. Being able to disappear into other worlds is a gift. Being able to use those worlds to help me understand my own is priceless.