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.

Intermission: 2012

A brief intermission. A lot has happened.

It’s happened- it’s 2012 ; it’s the future. It’s time.

I speak to you, my fellow ‘young people’, my fellow, oh, eighty-fives through ninety-twos. You know the sort. We remeber distinctly our first old computers, our ensixty-fours- we remember when one went, for example, ‘on the Internet’. We remember the time when we were (how does one say) discrete. When our image, our person, our ‘authentic self’ was tied up directly in the moment that we lived in.

Minus a few insurance databases or bank records, divided by a few celebrities and public figures, a person existed only in one place. If you wanted to know facts about about a person’s life, or their tastes in shoes or experiences, you would have to have asked them. Maybe a very close friend. You could have called the fixed telephone line in their house at the absolute limit, but it was no substitute for the real thing. The earliest that this crazy far-flung intercommunication action-at-distance thing would have been reasonably possible across continents is now about a hundred years past. Call it 1912.

Too obtuse? Consider your options for attaining, say, a Bible in rural Germany in 1512 and then again in 1612. In the first case, you are paying a fortune. You need to pay someone to get your hand on a copy to transcribe, and then pay for someone to survive the task you put put for them. It probably took a long-ass time. A mere hundred years later, you can simply stroll into any Hölybookprinterßhoppe in town and buy a dozen. It took like a day to make. There’s a stack of them, though it is admittedly revised. Now this is a long time ago, but it’s worth reflecting on the astounding ease of the task in 2012.

In 2012, we are in constant communion. Our lives are accessed without our knowledge, we are snared within the Great Web, that web which desribes the sum total of all interactions, convergences, and breaks with all other people, and those peoples’ relationships with each other. We don’t communicate with our voices anymore. We communicate as we breathe. Automatically. We passively communicate more vividly, richly and in detail than any natural display. If my Facebook, or LinkedIn, or G+ or whatever other plumage doesn’t convey enough, you can e-mail me or message or Skype. Fuck 1912.

God-willing, our great-grandchildren will look back on our hopeless bumbling technical helplessness and laugh. Their lives will be so comfortable, I hope, that they will know no want, or fear of the future. But in 2012, one thing is clear. This world, the world of our parents and our grandparents, set in motion by the actions of our great-grandparents who themselves were born in a world with no electricity, roads, or rails, is attacking that of our grandchildren.

Forget ourselves. We are complicit. We are complicit in the consumerist system and all it takes is ten minutes on Facebook or Friendster whatever to confirm my suspicions. We buy things made in China because they’re cheaper, we put things we can’t afford on credit cards. We do not exist outside the destructive system wasting our resources on trinkets and missiles while the biosphere hangs in the balance. It’s ok. We didn’t make this world. We inherited it.

And so, eightyfives through ninetythrees, the only question that is left is what world our great-grandchildren will inherit from us. Whether it is a blasted hellscape or cozy paradise is up to us. We can’t undone what’s been did, but we can stop it. We are the bridge between the century of the Self, which lost its mind in the trenches, and the century of the Whole, which we are now embarking on. Make no mistake- the whole world, not merely our species but the whole of the biosphere itself is in play.

If we are to fight for our greatgrandkids’ inheritance, of cold winter nights following the long languid turning of the leaves, of truly experiencing the real natural world of our own greatgrandparents and forever back, an experience that all people, by virtue of their existence are blessed with.

If we do not strive actively, in every field, to minimize the harm we do to the world, and redirect the existing systems we are responsible for, there will be nothing else. We know that everything, everything in our modern world is unsustainble, and by definition we don’t have long to correct the problem.

In 2012, I will act as part of the Whole, as a Whole being interacting with the whole world, and with trillions of feather touches steering the avalanche away from the town. I will respect and listen to others. I will give freely of my patience. I will try to understand the way the world works now the better to change it. If I do not, or if I am alone, then all is lost.