The Welcome Blanket Project

Welcome to the U.S.  Truly, welcome.

It’s part of American culture to value homemade gifts the most.  We treasure knowing that the giver thought of the recipient and made something special for them.  I know this is not the finest hour for Americans, but I hope we can remember that we have dear, good qualities in us, too, as a people.

The Welcome Blanket Project exhibits gifts of handmade blankets, 40″ square, in museum shows and then partners with organizations to distribute the blankets to U.S.  refugees and immigrants.  Blankets may be quilted, woven, knitted, crocheted, or otherwise handcrafted.  When I saw the call for donations, I remembered how the quilt-like collage art on the album cover (see below) of Deus Sex Machina:  Or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla by Sons of an Illustrious Father had made me long to make quilts again, as I did in the 1990s.

deus sex machina

So today, I made a welcome blanket that drew from the colors of that album cover for inspiration.

soaif dsm welcome blanket

I knew it had to be a nine-patch quilt because a nine-patch grid is the structure of the band’s last two albums, Deus Sex Machina and Revol:  nine songs per album, three sets of three, all three band members singing lead and writing songs.

A nine-patch quilt pattern is like a tic-tac-toe board, three rows of three blocks apiece, all the same size.  Below are two of the nine-patch blocks from the quilt, the upper leftmost one and the upper central one.

Each patch is 4″ square.  Each nine-patch block is 12″ square.  The quilt itself is made of 9 nine-patch blocks, 36″ square, plus a 2″ border all around to reach the recommended 40″ size for welcome blankets.  (The dark blue patch in the right photo above, bottom row, is an intricate reverse-appliqué that I purchased from a Hmong artisan in Philadelphia, 20 years ago.)

My daughters and I have sent other welcome blankets, as well, ten in total.  My 10-year-old’s gift shows sea, mountains, and sky.  She designed it, chose and cut out the fabrics, pinned and basted them down, and ironed.  The gray of the sky is the reverse of the navy blue flannel for the mountains.  I quilted and bound it to finish.

20180823_145811

This was my 14-year-old’s first crochet project.  She taught herself from YouTube tutorials.

geeklet crochet welcome blanket

Progress shots of one of the other welcome blankets we sent.  The girls helped by ironing, basting, and sometimes helping to arrange the 4″ blocks.

welcome blanket patch stack

welcome blanket layout

welcome blanket arrow quilt

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Watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway

My 14-year-old child and I were fortunate enough to get tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway on Wednesday, August 15, 2018.  Several members of the original London cast performed, including Anthony Boyle’s career-making turn as Scorpius Malfoy and Noma Dumezweni as the first, but not the last, black Hermione.

The cast’s chemistry and timing were exceptional.  Many viewers have reported preferring the experience of watching the stage play over reading the script, since the story is made to be shown onstage rather than read and imagined.  I agreed with this take in several instances:  Ron, who comes off as a buffoon on the page, was more grounded onstage.  The tenderness between Ron and Hermione was more evident.  I could see some chemistry between Scorpius and Rose, whereas on the page, it feels flat to me.  Hermione’s towering ill temper as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is a home run.

The visuals are stunning.  The dementors are beautiful, even if frightening.  The classic gold and black glow of Dumbledore’s portrait evokes just the right majesty.  And if any costume makers feel like making me a version of Hermione’s costume with that lustrous purple pleated skirt, I’m all for it.

I may be remembering this wrong, but I think when I saw the play in London last August, Scorpius and Albus faced away from the audience when catching their first glimpse of Hogwarts from the forest, so that we shared their perspective.  On Wednesday, I found it striking when Scorpius and Albus faced forward while struck speechless by Hogwarts, unable to deny its beauty even though they had both suffered there.  They looked into the audience and marveled.  We were Hogwarts.  They were looking at us.  All of us watching them, rapt:  we were the magic.  That gave me chills.

My favorite revelation was watching Scorpius, Albus, and Delphi turn themselves into Harry, Ron, and Hermione for the scene with the bookcase.  It had been a thrilling scene to read in the script, but watching it onstage confronted me powerfully with just how badly Albus must have wanted to know how it felt to be his father.  Nothing in Albus’s life has the glamour or daring of the tales of his father’s adolescence, and he and Scorpius think of themselves as losers who mess things up.  But if they pretend to be Harry and friends, they can magic themselves into different people who are accustomed to nonstop adventures and quests.  There’s so much longing in their Polyjuice transformation.

Is it worth the trouble and expense to see Cursed Child?  If you’re a Harry Potter fan, yes.  Even if you hate the script or the plot.  The magic works.  You’ll feel it.

Cursed Child: Six Allegories

Modified from comments delivered at LeakyCon, Dallas, TX, August 10, 2018.

 

Welcome to “Coming to Terms with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”  My name is Lorrie Kim and I’m the author of Snape:  A Definitive Reading.  I got the idea for this session because I was seeing a lot of Potter fans feeling conflict about this play.  Disappointed, angry, or betrayed by it – but not able to put it aside or make peace with it.  Sometimes when you don’t love something, you can just stop reading, or move on, or dismiss it.  But sometimes that doesn’t happen.  I wanted to have a gentle, supportive discussion in which we hear from each other and try to find if there are ways we can come to terms with this play, feel at peace with how we feel about it.  I don’t have any conclusions prepared; I just wanted to see, if we talked about this in an open, supportive way, where it will take us.

 

Six allegories that make Cursed Child meaningful to me:

 

Allegory 1.  Harry’s gifts to his children

 

He gives James the Invisibility Cloak — Sirius and Remus taught him enough about his father to parent his Gryffindor son.  He gives Lily the fairy wings — Snape taught him enough about his mother’s ability to fly that he could pass that on to his daughter. But Albus, bullied as the “Slytherin squib,” needs “specific love,” everyday comfort and advocacy:  Harry never learned that.  All he can give Albus is a shabby old blanket.  That’s all Harry got:  15 months of parental love.  No, it’s not enough.  But everything Harry got, he will give to Albus.

 

Allegory 2.  Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow

 

One of the riddles in Hermione’s bookcase says:

 

I am the creature you have not seen.

I am you. I am me. The echo unforeseen.

Sometimes in front, sometimes behind,

A constant companion, for we are entwined.

 

In 1938, psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

 

Harry’s shadow has always been Voldemort, and when his fears form the “dangerous black cloud around Albus,” he hears Voldemort again.  In response, Albus forms his own shadow, Delphi.  His subconscious forms her into existence when he develops issues with his father.  Hermione tries to check out Delphi’s background, but says, “There’s no record of her.  She’s a shadow.

 

Jung said:  “If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it.”

 

If the adults understand what’s hurting the kids, they can restore the past to peace.

 

Jung said:  “Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications.”

 

Delphi has ever-changing, mutually contradictory stories.  She went to school.  She didn’t go to school.  She’s Diggory’s niece.  She’s Voldemort’s daughter.  She has a tattoo.  She can fly.  Every modification reflects a change in what Albus must work through regarding his father.

 

Jung said:  “But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

 

If the adults can’t connect emotionally with the kids, the kids’ distress will continue to dictate their families’ dynamics.  Harry and his friends want Delphi to come into the light, come into consciousness, so Albus’s deepest concerns can be recognized.

 

Jung said in 1945:  “A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”

 

Harry attributes this “dangerous black cloud” not to himself but to the return of Voldemort, or werewolves, or hapless little Scorpius Malfoy.  His shadow self is in control.  This is what it looks like when the part of Voldemort that’s in him has a voice.  That’s why Harry sounds “out of character” when, for example, he orders McGonagall to track Albus using the Marauder’s Map.

 

Allegory 3.  Who is the Cursed Child?

 

Projection creates cursed children.  In adult Harry’s dream about the Dursleys running away from his Hogwarts letters, Petunia says, “The boy has cursed us!”  In a later dream, Petunia tells lies about James and Lily, and Harry hears Voldemort’s voice:  “I smell guilt, there is a stench of guilt upon the air.”  That’s what Voldemort said to his Death Eaters when he regained his body in Goblet of Fire, the rage of a child at the caretaker who has abandoned him.  It is the same warning as Dumbledore’s Howler to Petunia:  “Remember my last.”

 

There are three steps to the magic spell of creating cursed children — or adults, for that matter:  mistreat them, realize that we did, and punish them for knowing it.  Cursed Child  made me understand, finally, what it means that Voldemort’s Killing Curse “rebounded on him”:  when Voldemort saw that he had orphaned baby Harry, he identified with the baby, the only time we ever see him experiencing empathy, and he realized he had scarred someone for life as he had been scarred.  His Avada Kedavra on baby Harry was the only time that his attack on another person made him feel and understand the pain he had caused.  It made him remember his own pain and connect the two.  This triggering of his own trauma is enough to send him beyond death into the forest.

 

Adult Harry, in Cursed Child, has less damage than Voldemort — but he, too, is triggered against his will into the memories of his own trauma, the things that Voldemort stole from him when he was a baby and the truth that the Dursleys withheld from him as a child.  That’s what it means to say that Voldemort is back in Harry’s head, that his scar hurts again.  Nothing but seeing this old trauma damage his own child could spur Harry to go this deep into his own past, and he has to decide whether it’s too painful and he will sacrifice his relationship with his son, or if he will do what he’s never been able to do before and fully comprehend – relive – the murder of his parents.

 

Allegory 4.  Time-Turners are about psychological process, not science fiction

 

As with Rowling’s other magical devices, such as the Elder Wand, which can change ownership without even being touched, I understand Time-Turners best as symbolic, as allegorical.  As Hermione learned, there are two rules for using a Time-Turner:  change nothing, and you must not be seen.  There are safeguards.  When you go into the past, be anchored by a friend or guide; third-year Harry is anchored by Hermione, Hermione by McGonagall or Dumbledore.  The purpose of a Time-Turner is for you to be able to relive a moment from the past from a different perspective:  greater age and experience, but also literally from a different perspective, as Harry did with seeing himself cast a Patronus at dementors from the opposite bank of a lake.  What you gain in understanding from this new perspective, and the support of a friend, can have the power to save an innocent life — maybe more than one — and set people free.

 

If you are stuck in the past, especially because of trauma, and you revisit the past for a different perspective, supported by trusted people, that is the dynamic that Rowling encodes into the device of the Time-Turner.  As with all super-magical objects in Potterverse, such as the Deathly Hallows or the Sorcerer’s Stone in the Mirror of Erised, Time-Turners work best for people who use them to help others, not for personal gain.  Scorpius and Albus go into the past without any training, intending to “change everything,” and are seen.  When they are trapped in time by Delphi, Draco offers his own secret Time-Turner because he knows Harry will use it properly:  to reconnect with Scorpius and Albus, understanding how the Time-Turner is meant to work, and then to make good-faith efforts to gain new perspective on his own past so he can relieve its ill effects on Albus’s life.

 

Allegory 5.  The Alternate Universes are imagined by Albus and Scorpius

 

The boys try to work through their relationships with their fathers by going back in time — allegory for trying to understand where Draco and Harry are coming from, Albus looking for the real Harry behind the legend or Scorpius envisioning a world in which Malfoys are leaders.  The adults interact with these AUs because that’s what parents do, negotiate with the images their teenagers have of them.

 

This explains anomalies like Cedric Diggory becoming a Death Eater.  We readers met Cedric through teen Harry; only someone who never knew Cedric could think he’d become a Death Eater because of whatever scenario a 14-year-old boy could invent, ballooning into the sky like Aunt Marge, completely wrong in tone for anything associated with the Cedric that people knew when he was alive.  It explains why Ludo Bagman says “Mr. Dragon” in the Triwizard task. He knew the dragons were nesting mothers.  That’s not the real Ludo Bagman; it’s just Albus imagining the scene and gendering the dragon as male because he’s working through his father issues.  It explains how anyone trying to work out when or how Bellatrix and Voldemort could have reproduced runs into uncomfortable logistical questions.  Unlike us, Albus never got to know either of them; he didn’t know Bellatrix attacked children or that Voldemort was barely human, so he can ascribe parental sentiment to them more easily than we can.  All of the AUs as imagined by Albus and Scorpius contain only elements that they would have heard or read of, second-hand:  the same spells, the same people or incidents, but slightly misunderstood or misremembered, sometimes absurdly so, and I think the absurdity is intentional and meant to be a clue.

 

Allegory 6.  Albus’s feelings toward Harry

 

Delphi says to Voldemort what Albus would find too painful to say to Harry:  “I have devoted my life to being a child you could be proud of.”

 

Delphi attacks Harry with the cry, “Are you crawling away from me?  Harry Potter.  Hero of the wizarding world.  Crawling away like a rat.”  A teenage boy might well be this angry at a father who doesn’t have the guts to face his own child’s anger.

 

Voldemort was obsessed with Harry Potter because his entire life, Harry was the only force he’d ever encountered that was stronger than the power of his own murderous rage.  He was Voldemort’s only hope for help in containing and limiting that rage.  Albus, through Delphi, is able to express murderous rage to Harry as Voldemort, and still be loved.  This gives Albus the security to understand Harry’s effort in fighting through his own darkness to be a parent.  The use of a Time-Turner to witness Voldemort’s attack is an allegory to mean that Harry and Albus returned to the past to gain new perspective, supported by loved ones.  Then Delphi disappears because Albus no longer needs her.  Quote:  “And slowly what was there is no longer there.”

 

Snape Celebration! [and trivia] at LeakyCon 2018

This is a modified version of a panel titled “Snape Celebration! Talk and Trivia” delivered at LeakyCon, Dallas, TX, on August 11, 2018.

Welcome to a celebration of Snape.  I love Snape, but I’m going a little dark in this talk.

Here are some of the complicated reasons I celebrate Snape.

He’s not materialistic.  Like Dumbledore, Harry, and Draco, and unlike Voldemort, he’s fit to “own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it.”  He teaches self-sufficiency:  wandless, nonverbal magic, which you need if you’re part of a resistance.

He’s always there when you need him.

He always knows what to do.

His character arc goes toward doing what is right and not what is easy, such as killing the only person remaining in the world who knew the best of him.

The fandom disagrees bitterly over this character, probably more than any other.  Yet we all read the same books and watched the same movies.  It’s not like there are two series of Harry Potter books, one pro-Snape and one anti-Snape; a single set of words created this character.  How was it done?  The author wrote this double agent, who rose to become the right-hand man of both generals on opposing sides of a war, as a character of almost perfect ambiguity.  Every sentence of his, every action, has at least two possible and contradictory interpretations.  This creates vastly more facets and more interpretations than most characters have, and more ways for readers to despise him or identify with him.

With Harry, Snape, and Voldemort, we get the question:  What do you do when you’re born, through no fault of your own, into a life where you don’t get enough love?  Harry starts out blameless and ends up realistically flawed but still true to himself; that was his challenge.  Voldemort doesn’t change much.  He nearly dies of emotion the first time he tries to kill Harry and he actually dies of emotion the last time.

Snape changes.  He goes from petty and oppressive to self-sacrificing and protective.  Every step along the way is difficult for him.  It does not come naturally.  Harry’s struggle was created by outside evil; it was forced on him as an innocent baby.  But what if you’re a person who brought struggle onto yourself by your own actions?  Your story doesn’t end after you commit a crime; you have to keep choosing what to do with your life, as Snape did with Dumbledore on the mountaintop after Lily’s death.  Not all of us are blameless inside.  Some of us have done harm, and we get to read this story, too.  You don’t have to feel beautiful or good or even innocent to do the right thing.  Anyone can choose to do the right thing, and to know who you really are on the inside, even if others can’t see it.

 

Who here read Harry Potter for the first time before November 2016?  Who here has read it since November 2016?  Is there anyone here who read it for the first time after that U.S. election?

When I first read of Snape’s Worst Memory, calling Lily a mudblood, the threat of ethnic cleansing didn’t feel as immediate to me, living in the U.S., as it does now.  At the time, I had to think through, intellectually, how frightening it must have been for Lily, knowing what Death Eaters wanted to do to Muggle-borns.  It doesn’t feel as hypothetical right now.  For the past two years, it’s been much easier to imagine feeling stricken that Voldemort’s followers were gaining power, then discovering that someone who considered themself my friend was attending their rallies, calling me by their hateful rhetoric, or magnanimously refraining from doing so because they considered me some sort of exception.  Story elements I had previously read as allegorical now seem, increasingly, to be grimly realistic, moving Harry Potter from fairy tale to nonfiction.  The Muggle-born Registration Commission is exactly what has been proposed for some ethnic and religious minorities in the U.S.  Incarceration without trial, suppression of the press, and above all, Voldemort’s signature tactic — attacks on children and destruction of the parent-child bond — yes, we have always had these things in the U.S., but not like this.

Do you remember when Snape begs Dumbledore to protect Lily?  Dumbledore asks the leading question:

 

“Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?”

“I have — I have asked him —”

“You disgust me,” said Dumbledore, and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice.  Snape seemed to shrink a little.  “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child?  They can die, as long as you have what you want?”

 

The first time I read that exchange, I was taken aback.  It seemed almost unfair; it’s the harshest thing Dumbledore says in the series to anybody, including people who have committed worse crimes.  But now, considering the current crisis of family separation at U.S. borders, the implications of 20-year-old Snape’s oblivious thinking are glaring to me.  Family separation is precisely what the Harry Potter series is about.  The crime that Rowling did not name — whatever Tom Riddle did to the two other orphans in the cave, so that even though nothing happened, they were never the same after that — is exactly the kind of damage we’re seeing in children after weeks or months of government abuse.  Like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, and other dystopias, the Harry Potter series has assumed greater relevance in U.S. cultural discourse in the past two years.  Snape as a reformed fascist who devotes the second half of his life to bringing down his former ideology gives me one fictional answer to the question:  What would it take for people spreading hate to realize what they have done?  What would that look like?

I know many in HP fandom dislike Snape and some seem worried, I think, that any sympathetic discussion of this fictional character might lead to excusing his harmful deeds or to having to forgive them.  I agree that excusing or minimizing harm is damaging in itself.  This is the point of Unforgivables in Potterverse, and Snape calling Lily a mudblood falls into that category — in “The Prince’s Tale,” Rowling refers to it as “the unforgivable word.”  Once you commit an Unforgivable, it cannot and should not be forgiven by others.  The victim owes you nothing.  They can choose to understand, but without excusing, and with no obligation to communicate or forgive.  It is your work, if you choose, to reintegrate your soul through remorse.

Snape is the one character in the series whom we witness as he experiences the near-fatal pain of true remorse.  Ugly-crying in Sirius Black’s bedroom, reading all the evidence of the love and normal family life that he destroyed for a baby, with the birthday teas and the cat and the ugly vase from relatives and the toy broom from the godfather — he reintegrates his soul, after splitting it with the killing of Dumbledore, by casting the excruciatingly painful magic that Hermione described:  “You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done.”

I think that was brave.  Most of us, at some point, hurt other people.  Really feeling what we’ve done requires courage.

Snape embodies the quality of protectiveness without affection. And I think that’s one of the hardest lessons that Rowling wrote into the series.  Of course we rush to save the ones we love, especially the vulnerable.  What about people we don’t know?  The ones we dislike?  The ones who would attack us if they could?

Several characters explore this question.  Snape resents having to protect Harry, but he finds it easier to be protective toward Harry after he gains emotional strength from doing the same for Draco, whom he does like.  Snape doesn’t just save Draco’s life; he sings shut Draco’s wounds with enormous care.  This healing tenderness gives Draco the emotional strength to recognize Dumbledore’s offer to protect his parents as love magic; he lowers his wand.  In the Triwizard tournament, Harry rescues Ron and the emotional strength of that relief makes it easier for him to rescue a child he doesn’t know — literally easier, since Ron helps him.  Ron and Harry try to drag Wormtail’s silver hand away from his throat.  Dumbledore carries Umbridge out of the forest.  They help Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle with the Fiendfyre, and Ron yells, “IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I’LL KILL YOU, HARRY!”  In the final battle, when a Death Eater threatens Draco, Harry Stuns the Death Eater and then Ron punches Draco from under the Invisibility Cloak.  Protectiveness without affection.

This is the point of the redemption scenes in Potterverse stopping short of reconciliation.  Snape never does like Harry; Draco and Harry nod at each other on the platform, but they don’t become friends or start dating; Dumbledore never sees Grindelwald again after defeating him in 1945.  Protecting our loved ones is instinct; extending protection to those we dislike, or those who attack us, or those we feel guilty about having hurt, requires more.  Snape learned to do that before he died — Snape refused to die until he accomplished that — Snape strengthened Harry in his final effort to offer redemption to Voldemort by giving Harry memories of Lily’s love.  Not easy, and I think it’s safe to say that Snape, and JK Rowling, didn’t make it look easy.  For the greatness of that achievement, I celebrate this character.