Mini Adventure Mapping with Xandra Robinson-Burns of Heroine Training

I met a magical cartographer at Granger Leadership Academy in March 2019.

Xandra Robinson-Burns is an essayist who runs Heroine Training, providing lessons on how to apply love of fiction and magic to daily life, becoming the heroine of your own story. I was introduced to her by Grace Gordon, who said firmly, “You will love each other.” Xandra told me that my book had been recommended to her by her Jane Austen mentor. (Jane Austen mentor? Magic already.)

At GLA, Xandra was offering 10-minute “mini adventure mapping” sessions:

Bring me an obstacle, and I’ll help you turn it into a mini adventure. It can be big or small. I’ll help you narrow it down to a daily life scale and get you excited about facing it (yes really!).

I brought Xandra a fairly big obstacle. I need to write Chapter 9 of Snape: A Definitive Reading so I can include it in the second edition.

At present, the book has eight chapters, one for each of the Harry Potter novels and one for “The Prince’s Tale.” In the month that the Snape book was published, July 2016, the script to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was also published, to decidedly mixed reviews. Cursed Child adds to Snape’s story and completes it. I should write that ninth chapter, revise the earlier eight chapters, and release the second edition. I want to. Once I write it, my publisher can go ahead with the German translation and the audiobook. But for the past two years, I have not started writing this ninth chapter.

Xandra asked what obstacle was in my way. I said for one thing, I feel like I’m the only person in the world who loves Cursed Child and thinks it was brilliantly written. I don’t know if I can stick to focusing on Snape for Chapter 9, as I did for the other eight chapters. I’m afraid I’ll be tempted to digress into my comprehensive reading of the entirety of Cursed Child, instead.

Xandra, who has studied literature at Oxford and has a background in theater, said she would have liked to see Cursed Child condensed into a single three-hour play. Ohhhh…yes, I can see how that would work. She asked me, “Can you tell me what you love about Cursed Child — ”

“Yes,” I started to say.

“— briefly?”

I laughed and said no, not briefly. Over half an hour later, we had to take a break for programming.

We met again the next morning and resumed discussing how big I’m afraid the Cursed Child chapter will be. Xandra asked why I had to try to condense this chapter. Couldn’t it be its own book?

In considering that question, I discovered that I think it would take about 2.5 chapters to cover what I have to say about Cursed Child and Snape’s story in it. It’s not a whole book in itself. Primarily, I want to discuss the posthumous shift in Snape’s characterization. Famously, before his death, all of Snape’s words and actions could be interpreted in at least two opposing ways. In Cursed Child, that double characterization became a single, unequivocal one, a character shown to have a steadfast and knowable self.

Xandra had already helped me define my obstacles better.

I said my obstacle to beginning the writing is that I can’t imagine starting unless I know I have a full six weeks to immerse myself in the thoughts and the writing, interrupted by nothing at all. This method would be neither sustainable nor good for my family; I ought to take pauses for, say, meals.

But I am always scared of being interrupted midthought. So many nascent and tenuous notions rush my mind simultaneously, and it takes time to articulate and record them, one by one, in some sort of retrievable form. If I’m interrupted, some will dissipate permanently, and I feel grief over the loss. I will have to make my arguments using whatever wisps I managed to capture, stretching them over the holes left by the missing ideas and hoping they don’t tear. When I try to recover the thoughts I had before interruption, I might retrieve 45% of them, if I have the time and leisure to start the immersion over again completely, without interruption.

It does sometimes happen that I have the uninterrupted time to get down every single interconnected thought. I can tell when it’s worked and I have everything. My feelings subside into calm. It is not an impossible thing, what I want.

Xandra suggested that I write notes to myself about the fleeting ideas, maybe on Post-Its. I’ve tried that, but sometimes, when I reread what I jotted down, I have no idea what I meant. Xandra brainstormed a few different ways to make these notes less cryptic. What about pictures?  Yes! I could draw pictures as well as write code words! That might be a different way to help myself remember how some ideas connect, and the novelty of adding a graphic element would make it a fresh and fun challenge. Xandra had formulated a mini adventure for me.

She said she kept getting the image of Dumbledore’s Pensieve for me, a way to store thoughts until I could resume them. This image settled uneasily for me, though. Pensieves aren’t secure. It makes me nervous to think about how Dumbledore left his Pensieve unguarded when he was called away and failed to close the cabinet door, so that the light of his thoughts caught Harry’s attention. It makes me nervous to remember the one mistake Snape ever made in his usually impenetrable defenses. Rushing to care for Montague, the Slytherin student who nearly died in the Vanishing Cabinets, Snape left Harry unattended with the Pensieve full of the three memories that would get them all killed if Voldemort read them in Harry’s thoughts.

“Pensieves can’t be secured,” I said to Xandra.

Delicately, she asked, “Is that an issue?”

Yes! Xandra had asked the right question! She had identified my real obstacle.

So I need to feel secure that my Pensieve can emit a glow without attracting the attention of someone who will heedlessly violate my boundaries and disrupt my thinking. I know why this is important to me. It’s not enough to imagine putting a cover on the Pensieve or tucking it away in a cabinet. Thoughts cannot be protected from intruders that way.

I will need a secure box. Something that is strong with magic and cannot be violated. Carved wood, maybe, or set with gems, human-wrought and not fragile at all. Secure not because it has locks but because of my own calm.

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I tried to picture the box more clearly. One inviolable image that came to mind was the locked door in the Department of Mysteries, the one I associate with Snape, the one that melts the magical knife that Sirius gave Harry. But that was about love and this is about ideas; not the same. I looked up carved wooden boxes for sale and discovered the phenomenon of treasure chests with some sort of octopus decoration. Normally, I would bond with octopuses, but they’re the opposite of what I need here, those wily escape artists who cannot be contained.

Ah. I’ve got it. I have a plush toy lobster who is majestically secure in his armor, an enlightened being. I bought him for myself on my eighteenth birthday. He can sit calmly atop my box for me and none will be able to pass him.

I don’t know yet what box I will use. It might be something I already have. I will have to tidy my space and look through my things. Xandra has some inspiring KonMari videos on her site. I’ll know it when I find the right box. It doesn’t have to be right away. It’s a mini adventure and can take a little time.

Xandra left, but I continued to get new ideas from the adventure mapping. I thought about containing my Cursed Child thoughts within a chapter of reasonable length. I would start by drafting my Cursed Child general reading first, then move to a close-up on Snape…

Oh. Wait. I could do two chapters. I don’t have to stop with a Chapter 9 if I have more to say.

The meaning of Snape changed in 2016, the year my first edition was published.

Alan Rickman died that year. Cursed Child debuted onstage and in print. Hate groups rose to greater prominence in the U.S. and Europe, groups similar to the one that Snape joined as a young man and later gave his life to dismantle. At his trial in 2019, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, explained his loyalty to Trump in terms that resembled why teen Snape would have been drawn to Voldemort: “Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating. When you were in his presence, you felt like you were involved in something greater than yourself — that you were somehow changing the world.” In the current political climate, people who have renounced hatred and use their insider knowledge to bring hate groups down, as the Snape character did in fiction, are more vital than ever.

Ah-ha. This would be a good topic for a talk, and writing that talk could help narrow down what I want to include in the book.

So I can do one chapter on Severus Snape and the Cursed Child and another on the posthumous Snape. Like an Epilogue, if you will.

Thank you to Xandra for identifying my true obstacle and mapping out this adventure for me.

Want your own mini adventure mapping?  Xandra Robinson-Burns offers them online through Floo powder or Skype.  Email xandra (at) to set one up.

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Granger Leadership Academy 2019: Hogwarts House comments

Hello, alums of Granger Leadership Academy 2019!  Thank you to those who were part of our discussion on March 23, “The Functional, Thriving Activist.”  A few people have asked about the descriptions of ourselves, by House, that some fellow volunteers and I came up with when we were figuring out effective ways to work together.  Here are the notes I was using.

Hogwarts Houses:  Manage Your Volunteer Group Through the Magic of Sorting

I’m part of a volunteer group that has used our Hogwarts House affiliations to help us figure out good ways to work together while recognizing each other’s strengths and personalities.  We got the idea to do this after an incident when our group was mocked publicly by people doing similar work.  We had to discuss whether to respond and how.  This is the kind of thing I recall us saying, greatly paraphrased.  Can you guess the Hogwarts House of each speaker?

  • “I know I shouldn’t do this, but I really want to start an anonymous account and point out all the stuff theydo wrong.  I used to like them, but now I want to beat them.  Our next project will be so good, it’ll be their worst nightmare.  I don’t care how long it takes, I won’t rest until it’s perfect.”
  • “This makes me so angry.  I want to call them out on it.  Who cares if it burns bridges?  Anyone who’d side with them, I don’t want on my side anyway.  They’re being such jerks.”
  • “Honestly, I think we should take the high road.  I hate confrontation.  My stomach is in knots.”
  • “I strongly recommend a P.R. tactic of making no acknowledgment.  If we argue, people won’t care who was right or wrong; they’ll dislike us both.  We’ll just go on letting our work speak for itself.”

After several discussions where we were amused to find how predictable all of our responses were, some of us began to use our House affiliations as shorthand.  Others in our group had not Sorted themselves before and asked us to help them figure it out.  There were two reasons they wanted to do this as a group discussion rather than, say, taking the Sorting quiz on Pottermore:  It was a fun way for us to get to know each other, and online Sorting quizzes have a fundamental shortcoming.  You can answer a bunch of questions and get a result that still doesn’t feel like you.  But the Sorting Hat of the stories looks into your head, sees you, and then engages you in a dialogue about yourself and what you find important.  You have both the experience of recognition and the element of choice, of self-identification, which is a combination that makes the Sorting powerful magic.  Talking about ourselves with fellow volunteers, hearing what they thought our House should be, and why, and then identifying ourselves — that process comes closer to being Sorted by the hat.

In the climactic battle of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, there’s a moment when Harry thinks “help me,” and then Fawkes the phoenix appears with the Sorting Hat.  Harry jams the hat on his head and the Sword of Gryffindor clunks out of it.  Later, Dumbledore tells him that only a true Gryffindor could have pulled the sword out of the hat.  I’ve suggested to people that when Harry thinks “help me,” the Sorting Hat is a way of saying, “Help is coming…but who are you? What kind of help would work for you?”  Pulling the sword out of the hat doesn’t mean that Harry has proven himself worthy or that being a Gryffindor is better than anything else.  It means that the Sorting Hat is something that can help you look inside yourself and know what it would take for you to get your brain un-jammed.

If you’re someone like Harry, and a surge of adrenaline can help you overcome your numbness and fear to do what you must, then the sword of Gryffindor might come from the hat.  If you’re like me, a mess in crisis until there’s a chance to think, the hat might give you Ravenclaw’s diadem.  If you’re a Slytherin, maybe the hat would give you Slytherin’s locket and you would remember, “I will survive this.  I know I will eventually survive this,” and that would get you through.  If you’re a Hufflepuff, maybe Hufflepuff’s cup would remind you that even if you’re in mortal danger, you’re fighting for what’s just and right, for humble things that belong to everyone, and that will keep you going.

It’s not a test or a judgment.  It’s just a scan to see how you’re wired and give you the help that will reach you.

Here are some things that members of our group found about how we work together, according to House.  It’s only based on the few of us, so other people from these Houses might be entirely different!  But we found these things helpful to keep in mind.

Gryffindors:  Tons of energy, willing to listen and change their minds, sometimes chafe at apologizing for the sake of diplomacy rather than right or wrong, tend to be angry and self-righteous but will withdraw to think about things when asked to.

Ravenclaws:  We can change our minds when presented with evidence or persuasive cost/benefit analysis.  Emphasize that emotional cost to the group and to the public image is a factor just as much as pure logic.  Sometimes have to be talked down from overambitious, overly detailed projects. But if we say we’ll do a huge project on our own, let us.  Always communicate with us; silence makes us panic.

Hufflepuffs:  Exclusion or hierarchy seem to be missing the bigger picture to Hufflepuffs.  Hufflepuffs remind me of the gold light connecting the phoenix feather wands:  they tend to focus on ways that we are all the same at the core.  There is a drawback to this perspective, though.  The Hufflepuffs I know can’t always believe that others feel genuinely differently from how they do.  This can be an issue in activism when dealing with true evil, so Hufflepuffs have to be careful about that.

Slytherins:  Expect to be misunderstood.  Expect to have the worst assumed about them and therefore sometimes give up before they should.  Their hurt can look standoffish or superior.  It’s not; that’s their defense.  Often, they have good motives mistaken for bad.  Most sensitive of the Houses.

Ways we help each other out, by type

Based on these findings, we adjusted our approach to each personality type to help ourselves function more smoothly as a group.  Our goal was to see and accommodate everyone so spirits stayed high and so did creativity, output, and enjoyment of working with each other.

Slytherins:  We took seriously that slights wounded them deeply, even if they were too proud to show it — open acknowledgment worked better for them than telling them to get over it or rise above it.  They may not look it, but they need protectiveness most of all.

Gryffindors:  To save themselves and the rest of us, they suggested instituting a 24-hour policy before acting on any heated matter.  During that time, as many of us as possible would chime in, and the Gryffindors could reassess with cooler heads.  They themselves proposed this.

Hufflepuffs:  They warned us that they sometimes err too far on the side of people-pleasing, to their own regret.  Through this group, I learned something about Hufflepuffs:  they’re the most likely to keep quiet about their own discomfort.  They’re the most likely to get physically ill from holding it in.  They’re afraid they’re unimportant or being silly, or feel they ought to get over things privately, so they just keep their heads down and work even harder.  So by the time they finally do speak out, they’ve been dwelling on their grievances for much longer and it’s harder to get through to them.  We made a concerted effort to encourage the Hufflepuffs to state their misgivings early, early, early.  We had to make a note of it to ask them directly.  Sometimes, if it made things easier for them, we encouraged them to email one person privately first so they didn’t silence themselves for fear of whining.

Ravenclaws:  We tend to think that more information is better and have to be told when more is just overwhelming.  We go nuts when people aren’t communicating.  Uncertainty or incomplete information feel intolerable to us; it’s better to spell things out for us, just so we’re clear, rather than assuming we will “get the hint” or “everyone’s on the same page.”  Sometimes we change our minds and decide to contribute more work, even after we’ve said no, if we’re accidentally allowed to overhear how other people are doing things.


Strategies based on our strengths

Gryffindors are amazing at leading the charge, especially when things are going well.  We call on them to be our visionaries.  They are fairly low maintenance but do require pep talks and respond well to them.

Slytherins are amazing at strategy and energy when things are not going well.  They like to come from behind.  They are motivated by competitiveness and pure vengeance, both hot and cold.  Calls to their competitiveness to be more productive are a win-win and improved their morale and feeling of affection for team members.  Our Slytherins are the ones who are determined to top themselves every year, at risk to their own health, or who drop everything when there’s a hit to our community to produce a masterpiece of scholarship and refutation.

Hufflepuffs really do take on the thankless grunt work.  They have an attitude of “Someone’s got to do it” — they can’t let things fail.  The rest of us try to even things out by recognizing what they’re doing and identifying everything they don’t like to do so we can chip in and take care of the rest of it before they overwork themselves.  The Hufflepuffs in our group produce breathtaking things — but they can’t relax to produce them if they worry that there’s something important going undone.

Ravenclaws are good at editing.  We can do it precisely and without sentiment.  We can pinpoint what’s important and what can go.  This makes us good for PR.  We have good memories for what has caused controversy in the past, we can reframe, and we can also judge when to change a good policy because it’s too emotionally costly to some members of our group.