There was a great tweet that I ran across on my timeline last week.
Adult friendship = 2 people saying “I haven’t seen you in forever! We should really hang out more” over and over again until one of you dies
— Lyndsey Gallant (@apocalynds) July 23, 2017
At the time, I liked it and had a laugh, and went about wasting more time on Twitter. Today, I experienced this exact scenario (without the dying part). It set me thinking.
As someone who followed the expected middle-class American life path (to an extent) by attending a four-year college where I lived in a dorm and had classmates from various parts of the country, the diaspora of my social group began almost immediately upon graduation. It continued as people found jobs out-of-state and followed family or friends or lovers to new opportunities. As a result, I now juggle several different social groups. There are my local friends, the people I see on a regular basis because we live within an hour or two of each other. And then there are the more distant friends, people I only see once or twice a year (if that).
I’ve never been good at initiating social communication. It would be easy to blame this on my depression, but I can’t say with confidence that it’s anything more than a bit of social anxiety. I worry that I’m bothering people by messaging them. That I’m inconveniencing them with conversation. Some of them have expressed the same feelings of reluctance to initiate contact – which means that none of us talk to one another because we’re too worried that we’re being a nuisance.
As part of my resolutions for 2017, I committed to reaching out to the people in my life that I don’t see regularly. I had specific social goals – communicate with at least one person via non-gaming channels at least once a week. I’ve already failed, but periodically I revisit my list of resolutions and am reminded of the goal I set. Overall, I’ve been better this year than in previous years. During my lost year in Arizona, I hardly spoke to any of my friends. Now, I’m a semi-regular participant in group chats, social gatherings, and I even took the initiative to start an online book club to give us all something to talk about together. It may not be every week, but I don’t feel like I’m an outsider in conversations anymore.
It’s easy to say “We should do this more often,” when you’re spending time with a friend you haven’t seen in months. The reality, however, is that we go back to our lives and our routines and before we realize it another year has passed and we’re meeting up at Christmas again. If you truly want to maintain regular contact with friends and acquaintances, you must be willing to be the one reaching out and initiating contact. Be the planner. Set things in motion. I am terrible at this myself, but I know that it is something I can change if I prioritize it. I can say to myself, “Maintaining a more active friendship with so-and-so is important enough to override my aversion to communication.” Does that make it easy? Not in the slightest. It’s still something I have to make a conscious effort to do.
Maybe this is nothing more than a version of “Be the change you want to be in the world.” Instead, it’s “Be the kind of friend you want to have.” People will reciprocate, or they won’t. But I don’t want to reach the end of my life and realize that I let friendships fall to the wayside. I don’t want to regret staying quiet and waiting for people to reach out to me. It’s hard. I still worry that I’m inconveniencing people. I still worry that I’m not important enough.
But I don’t regret starting conversations, and that’s what matters.
Back in July, when my social media feeds blew up around the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I had a brilliant idea to start an online book club with the goal of re-reading the entire series. My justifications were twofold – I would have people to talk with about the books, and framing my re-read as a group effort made me feel slightly less silly about spending time on a series for young readers that I read over ten years ago.
To clarify, I don’t think there’s any shame in reading Harry Potter as an adult. I am reaching a point in my life, however, when I’m trying not to re-read things unless I have a purpose. Hence the Muggle Book Club.
The first time I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was when I was in seventh grade. My Language Arts instructor gave us twenty minutes at the beginning of class every Friday for DEAR (drop everything and read, for those who didn’t grow up in the American public school system when this was a thing). We were supposed to bring our own book to read, but I forgot mine in my locker. Rather than ask to go get it, I picked Sorcerer’s Stone from the shelf of assorted middle-grade fiction and devoured the first chapter. I was hooked.
It became a tradition that every time a new Harry Potter book was due out, my sister pre-ordered me a copy from the bookstore for my birthday. I went to midnight release parties and trivia contests. I wrote fan fiction for the first time, and dove into that wild world of wonder with abandon. I was an active fan (not a rabid one) up until the Deathly Hallows, which released while I was abroad in Germany. Some of the students I was with bought the Bloomsbury edition and discussed it loudly from the back of the tour bus. Although I had been determined to wait until I got back to the States (my sister had preordered my copy, of course), I didn’t want the ending spoiled by inconsiderate travel companions. I bought a copy and read it overnight.
I remember being disappointed, and slowly pulling away from the fandom. I stopped writing fan fiction because suddenly all anyone wanted to read was about Harry’s kids (and I was a Marauders-era girl myself). Sure, I still kicked ass at trivia, and dutifully watched the movies as they released (though, again, I was disenchanted). I knew what house I belonged in (Ravenclaw, obviously), what my Patronus would be (a dog), and could keep up with all but the most enthusiastic of fans. But I had also started college, and there were other things going on in my life. Harry Potter became background noise.
Now, as an adult working in higher education, I am interested in reading the series with a critical eye. Perhaps it’s my Ravenclaw-ish tendencies, but doing literary analysis of something that played such a role in shaping me as a reader and a fan appeals to me. I’m almost thirty, now, and it’s been over ten years since I last read a Harry Potter novel. I have discovered, three chapters into the Philosopher’s Stone, that there are elements I don’t remember noticing. Themes at play that I didn’t catch. Narrative decisions that I can question without feeling unfaithful.
I am discovering that the books I fell in love with as a middle schooler are not perfect, but that examining these flaws and discussing them does not diminish their impact. I still love Harry Potter, and the best compliment I can pay it as a literary work is to examine it in a way I haven’t done with a novel since I was an English major in college.
Like it or not, this series has shaped the pop culture of the past two decades. Whether that influence endures past the life of its author and fans is a question I cannot answer – not without the gift of divination.
Am I going to regress to the point of writing incredibly problematic fan fiction again? Probably not, but this Muggle Book Club is reminding me what it felt like to read Harry Potter for the first time, and the wonder that accompanied that experience. The only difference is that now, I can look past the magic.