‘The best Defence Against the Dark Arts’

I asked Lily to write the word beautiful in her journal and then draw an X through it.

I said be careful about using this word in your writing (she used it twice in the same paragraph), and we talked about why — the ‘show me, don’t tell me’ adage — but she protested that JK Rowling uses that same word sometimes and I said OK, but you can do better than that — which triggered a spasm about whether or not she could write better than JK Rowling and her total disbelief and then saying dad, you look a bit like Lupin.

In 11th grade, my handwriting changed from lower case to all caps, as if to state the urgency of my words, or a desperate need to be noticed. It was the act of keeping a daily journal and having my teacher read it that stretched my writing, knowing someone else was reading what I wrote and enjoying it, writing comments of praise and encouragement and meaning it.

I started declaring myself a writer, and this carried me out of high school into college and the real world with all the expectation of a Roman candle launched on the Fourth of July, the drama of a shell dropped into a tube then casting itself into the dark, only to be followed by a long period of silence as everyone waits to see what it will do.

We made it through the first week of homeschooling with the kids believing in us as teachers I think, me relying on a strange purple tunic I found in the house that has a professorial air to it — and why not rely on costumes to convince the audience you’re someone else?

Lily said Lupin was the best Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, the best I think because he helped kids find confidence in themselves — the best defence, a good offence.

And after morning class, I take Charlotte out to recess at the nearby Spielplatz where they’ve got a climbing structure shaped like a pyramid, a spiderweb of interconnected nautical rope you can climb for a good view of the village it’s so high, and I get a little sick looking down from the top — definitely not something you’d find in the States, and it causes me to wonder what would happen if she let go and fell, but I tell myself the ropes would act as a kind of web and she’d just get a bad friction burn before landing on the pebbles below. She’s fearless, just needs a little nudge sometimes, like all of us.

IMG_0107And after, we return for reading time — Dawn continues on with a kid’s version of the history of the world, now in the Egyptian empire — the girls climb onto my lap and I close my eyes, feeling them wrap themselves around me and imagining I’m a tree, my only job is to support them as they climb — to provide them shelter, sometimes fruit.

I take the dog for a walk — and we’ve dropped the names we’ve given to both of them now, so they’re just ‘the dog’ and ‘the cat,’ lowercase, to distance ourselves from them emotionally since they seem more like my mom’s pets now, how she dotes on them and talks to them in funny voices with eye gestures and secrets between them, kind of makes me sick, but so we take the dog for a walk and the cat follows along, bouncing like a puppet, uneasy in its terrain and a bit clumsy like it’s animated by some unseen hand — and the sky has gone from blue to white Zinfandel, better for a painting than anything I’d ever put in my mouth, like a Maxfield Parrish print with nymphs lazing by the pool — and the cat follows us all the way around the medieval village with the dog sometimes stopping to look back and make sure she’s still there, which makes me wonder if I’m a witch too, like my mom — or if the cat just follows anyone with a familiar scent — if they even belong to anyone, and that’s perhaps what makes them so spirited, they’ve only got themselves to worry about.


Categories: writing

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17 replies

  1. That Roman candle image: Boom! Great stuff. All of this.
    I started all-caps in Grade 5, in imitation of Mr. Lamers, our teacher. It stuck. But now I find my caps are as sloppy as my cursive. Penmanship atrophy.


    • I’m not in the least self-conscious about my self-conscious caps. I can’t stand caps in email, typed at me, won’t even go there (rarely) in parody while writing — I think Eggers did it a lot in his first book, but I got used to it. And it isn’t it nice to think, that like a dead animal you might wear on your shoulders with such flare, you get used to these things? Here’s looking at YOU babe.


  2. i like the costume approach to life and as for the animals, they are pretty true to themselves, independent, no matter what we think, and i think sometimes we wish we were more like them.


    • I like this idea of having familiars, and the Harry Potter thing with the Patronus. And it’s weird, how our cat follows us through the town. It stumps passersby who comment on it in German, happened just now. And like a child I half-worry about her getting hit by a car (more than half) and I’m happy to hear the plastic cat flap swing open to know she’s in safe. But it’s weird, alright.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely post. (I’d say it was beautiful but er, um). Lots of lovely imagery.


    • Thanks Cali – I’m a dick. Trying to not be so, and couch it in careful terms, but think it’s important I do what I can to share what I can, because why not. You just can’t go on saying beautiful-this and beautiful-that. Or if you can, good on you! Glad you liked the post.


  4. Love the Roman candle reference–don’t we all start off that way, with so much fizz and pop and potential for danger and explosion? (I was only truly comfortable identifying myself as a writer two years ago, fwiw. Sometimes I still hesitate). I went the e.e. cummings lower case i route for a long time–I suppose the opposite of CAPS LOCK in a way–but I love all the niggly details of that sort of thing.


    • Ah, glad you liked that image, thanks Dina — that moment where everyone looks up in the sky, waiting. And I think we have a bunch in common, I’m glad to know you. Caps and lowercase, like everything in how we talk to one another comes down to tone. I’m learning that under the great counsel of my dear wife, and her patient coaching of me. Seems we never really figure it out, feels that way, but good to enjoy the ride nonetheless. Hope you’re having some pleasant weather in DK this weekend. Fall’s started here, like that, and I’m taking it with relish — hosting a friend from Manchester and his 3-year-old: boy energy, you know that well. All good!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I really appreciated this post. You are a grand writer, friend. We are a homeschooling family too. Hope the rest of your time in Germany is spent well.


  6. I agree with Lily. Lupin was definitely the best Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher. Not only did he instil confidence in his teachers, and wasn’t totally bonkers, he also had a dark secret. That made him vulnerable, and kind and way more interesting. Your Lily is a smart girl. And she’s got a terrific dad by the sounds of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a lovely comment Angela, thank you. I had fun writing this, it’s a nice memory and I’m glad you enjoyed it too. I am a real fan of Lupin, so many of the characters and the actors from the film. We had a chance to see the set outside of London at Warner Brothers studio, where the kids literally grew up, there for 10 years. And of course it was odd seeing the costume mannequin for Snape, in his potions room. Thank you for visiting and I’m glad to meet you. Bill


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