For a Magic 2013

so it seems to be in vogue to post one of those ‘end of the year’, or, as I prefer it, ‘start of the year’ posts. i’ve seen some good ones, some funny ones- this one here, however, will probably be the weirdest because i want to say a few words about magic. now full disclosure up front here- i’ve spent the better part of the last week rereading the harry potter books. i’ve been immersed. it’s the first time since it came out that i read the last one. it made me think; more importantly, it made me feel. now i don’t mean this to trivialize what ideas will follow, but to offer them a bit of context. first things first, though: here’s an anecdote.

once upon a time there was a fantasy fiction course, taught by a professor who led off with the idea that in order to serve a story- a good story- magic must be believable. sounds crazy! how can magic be believable? seeing the looks on her students’ faces, she offered to demonstrate ‘real’ magic to her students- she singled one out, somewhere in the middle of the auditorium, and said to him: “stand up”. the student stood. “that,” the professor is supposed to have said, “is magic.” the professor caused action at a distance- without touching the student, without exerting any physical force on him, she caused him to stand.

this is the crux of it. we are all then wizards and witches, because we carry this power with us everywhere, at all times. we use it constantly, every day. there are some things that we make with our hands- some things we can sculpt and build and create by acting on matter. our creation is tangible and sits before us. we can point to it and there is no need for words because its form is self-evident. its characteristics and behaviour are bound by predictable physical laws which manifest identically to all observers. there are other things, however, that cannot be sculpted and built and created this way. relationships. communities. we cannot physically force each other to change our thoughts, to master our feelings- we can manipulate the body of another, but it is only magic that allows us to manipulate the soul.

this is manipulation sans malice ni rancune, in the way a carpenter manipulates her tool, and the process, obviously, works both ways. we are radically permeable to each other- every syllable, every pause, every sigh, every stutter has an impact. i speak and my words have an impact- i am spoken to and i am impacted. we are all better for what others have given us, far beyond physical objects and trinkets: the parts of themselves others have given us through their words. this magic is ancient and it is subtle. no one can predict the consequences of a given incantation, because ideas have lives of their own once uttered, and because they interact with each other and with ourselves in a complex- a staggeringly complex- web of interactions.

there is magic in us. there is magic in the decision to attend a party, or to leave it. there is magic in the decision to go to work, or to quit it. there is magic in waking up in a lovers’ arms and saying good morning- there is magic in saying goodbye. magic exists on a spectrum- we can imagine the dark arts as those ideas/words/thoughts/looks/communications which serve to isolate, knock down, destroy, and defile others, and noble magic as those incantations which unite, build up, create, and honour them. like everything this is not a binary operation, and like all magic such judgments are tied precisely to the time place and season. but while we can’t describe it- can’t quite put our fingers on it, can’t quite nail it down in its entirety- we can perceive it.

this magic is the rush of fire in a soldier’s gut when her general speaks. it is the electric thrill of learning the name of a stranger. it is the proud glory of free expression- of giving form to the abstract, of transforming an idea, without physical, independent existence, into an utterance, which forms it and allows it to propagate. words change the world. we are permeated with magic every moment of our lives: but so much of that magic which transpires around us is so banal, so uninteresting, that we stop noticing it.

over 2012, i have been bewitched by more than a few spells. i have hurt and been hurt. i have described and been described. i have greeted and said goodbye. all of these experiences which have changed me so deeply, the ones i will always remember, were spoken. at the beginning of the year, in this space, i resolved to enter this year as a ‘whole person’- leaving it, i see it is not just myself which is whole, but my surroundings as well. to borrow obi-wan kenobi’s formulation: this ‘discursive magic’ surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds us together.

and so for 2013 i will simply resolve to be aware of this magic, and to the best of my ability, to use it for good. i know that saying ‘good morning’ can be the difference between jumping in front of the metro and heading into work. i know that saying ‘keep going’ can be the difference between falling asleep in a snowbank and making it safely home. i know that saying ‘i love you’… well, i know that that is magic of the most powerful sort. i will be conscious of it, and i hope that you, reader, will be too. tell others. you don’t need to borrow my flowery incantations, but remember the spell i have cast in these lines. this conjuration you are reading, like all the millions of others conjured around you, and those which you yourself conjure, can not leave you unchanged.

i will speak the truth, even to myself. i will speak kindness, even when i am hurt. i will ask questions and embrace that hearing the answers will change me. i will know my questions will change others. i will be aware of how small my part is, but join my voice enthusiastically to the choir. we know, and have known for a long time now, that things are changing, but we are not riding into disaster unarmed. we have ourselves, and we have each other: we have big dreams, big ideas, and between us everything we need to make them real. sometimes it seems like things are out of control, and frankly for the most part they are, but that shouldn’t bother us, for magic is subtle and will lead us where we’re meant to go.

all my very best for 2013.

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