I heard that over 7,000 bricks were used just to create the entrance to the Harry Potter attraction, Diagon Alley, at Universal Studios. My family and I were just there last week, but I didn’t count the bricks to audit the rumor. Nor do I know the significance of this alley in the lore. I’ve never read the books, and I think I’ve seen half of the movies. Maybe more. True fans can decide where all this puts me—if anywhere—on a Harry Potter fan spectrum, but I can tell you that even the most calloused muggle can have their mind blown by walking through that secret brick entrance. Mine was.
Once through the wall we were immediately confronted with roofs and dormers and belfries and chimneys and an arguably life-size dragon belching real flames. No matter where I looked, somebody years before had already planned for me to, closely as I pleased. The attention to detail was almost neurotic. We spent hours casting spells in front of Londonesque windows, waving wands to make feather pens write in midair and cauldrons of water to tip and spill. Children and adults, at least one for every brick in the entrance, bumped into and slid past one another as they shuffled from store to store. Some wore robes because they worked there, some wore robes because, though it was 95 degrees in the shade, living in this world is all they've ever wanted. At one point I felt converted and thought maybe I'll read the series this summer.
I stood waiting for my son to come out of the restroom—which has John Williams’s score piped in so that even one’s excretion can seem magical. As I waited the crowd shifted and a small circle opened around me, revealing the gray cobblestone under our feet. The stones weren’t perfectly flat, causing the street to roll and swell, suggesting more antiquity than the history of Orlando can bear. Just then a scene popped into my mind, one not included anywhere in the park:
JK Rowling sitting down at a typewriter.
She may have written the books on some computer, but a typewriter click clacking the goings-on at Hogwarts seemed more quaint. I saw her in my imagination sitting down, hovering in that moment before anything happened. Her taking a breath first, like one does before diving in after years of worrying about the depth of the pool. As I stood on countess, uneven cobblestones laid by workers who never met her, I saw JK and her hot tea and a stack of plain white paper, cracking her knuckles palms-away. I don't really know how it all happened of course. I just know that at one point, after wondering if she could, or should, she really did sit down and decide to start. One woman—less than a billionth of the species—dared to take mental images and feelings and launch them into our shared ether. Having no idea how it would be received, or if it would even suit her own tastes, she began. And now, by God, here were all these bricks and stones and employees and $8 butterbeers.
Then a second thought rushed into my head, and I hope it’s already rushed without guilt or shame into yours:
What thing swirling in my mind, no matter the value I think it might or might not have, should I say yes to? What needs to graduate from a nervous theory, protected by defensible excuses, to a thing others can touch and see and smell? What world could I make for others to live in, or be inspired by, or in which to find some hope and courage or something to smile about, by the simple act of beginning—and, then, waking up tomorrow and beginning again?
If it has to be on the level of Harry Potter to be considered worth doing, we’re all doomed to depressing failure. I doubt I’ll ever provoke engineers to pave a town with one of my yarns. But if it’s just enough something to matter to anyone outside our heads, no matter who or how many, then it’s enough to sit down, or stand up, or get into whatever position your particular doing demands—and begin.
"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default." –JK Rowling