Having taken a break from writing about making things, I’ve actually been doing more making of things these days. I’ve been conducting interviews for a new documentary play I’m writing about robots, engaging in lots of kitchen experiments (many involving apples and/or pumpkin), building a documentary play with my graduate students at a Boston based college, and taking a creative writing course online. I’ve also done a lot of hanging out in the city with friends and walking around the city alone listening to some new and old favorite songs, snuggled into a cozy lambswool scarf and homemade arm warmers, working on articulating some big thoughts about imagination and creativity and what it means to be a human being. Walking almost always helps me to work out squishy and vague and challenging thoughts and feelings, but I’ve honestly had a harder time than usual working them out into something that I can put words to.
Though these big thoughts still aren’t fully formed, or crystal clear, I should say, I am taking my own advice and not waiting until everything is neat and shiny before sharing. I’m feeling the itch to get blogging a bit more regularly and exploring some new depths in hopes that the specificity of my own stories strikes a chord with someone over this wild world that is the internet and creates a connection that lets you dig deeper into your own magic making, and as the whole thing is a circle, help me dig deeper into my own imagination. I’m diving in and daring to share in hopes that the act of working them out on the page translates to working them out in my head and heart.
Do you ever sense that you are different? That you can sense a certain kind of magic in the world, even if you can't see it or touch it? Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series says it best:
“It has always seemed to me, ever since early childhood, amid all the commonplaces of life, I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never draw it quite aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I caught a glimpse of the enchanting realms beyond - only a glimpse - but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile.”
So how am I defining magic here? Are we talking about supernatural powers? The work of a Las Vegas casino headliner? Something that’s completely mumbo-jumbo?
In her book Big Magic, the inimitable Liz Gilbert says “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
For the purposes of this post, this is the kind of magic I am talking about. I’d go even farther and say that the universe buries strange jewels not only in us, but out in the world, anywhere and everywhere.
I felt this magic as a child. I knew there was magic just as surely as I knew the sun rose every morning and the sky was blue. I didn’t question it and wasn’t aware that anyone else questioned it either. Magic just was.
I wrote and illustrated my own books that I stitched together with yarn and sold in a homemade bookstore (aka my bedroom closet), hung out with imaginary friends on summer afternoons, and searched for hidden treasure at my Grandpa’s century old farmhouse, positive that it existed.
I pretended that I was a character in one of my many beloved books, that I had secret flying abilities that would surely reveal themselves at any time, suspected that I might be reincarnated from the “olden days” as I called them (which explained why I wanted to wear pioneer dresses and read by candlelight alone), and tried to cast spells on my fellow fifth graders to make them score more points in the gym hockey games.
I read My Side of the Mountain in school and went out into the yard to start building a secret hiding place in the large rows of hedges beside the house, imagining tucking myself away there all winter, snug and safe and solitary, save for a raven who would surely come along to be my companion and listen to the stories I was sure to tell near the fire that would burn brightly all winter long.
There were secrets in the wind, in the soil, in the rain, in the constellations, in the pages of the books I devoured, the movies I watched, and in the photographs of the pyramids that I imagined against the inside of my eyelids before falling asleep at night. If only it were possible to take a magic carpet ride through time, I thought, I might have a chance at glimpsing all the magic that has ever been and all that was to come. There seemed to be a serious shortage of human ability to sense all the magic that existed. I wanted to know it all. More than that, I wanted to be a magician myself and make magic that would become part of the fabric of the whole system.
It’s important for me to say that I wasn’t blind to the rough edges of the world; I not only saw that pain and heartache existed, I felt it keenly myself. No, being playful and letting my imagination run on a long (and sometimes non-existent leash) didn’t mean I was in denial about the world as it is. The hurt and the fear and the darkness were strong. I simply felt the presence of slightly stronger forces: beauty, imagination, love, and curiosity.
When you realize that there is magic and that the magic is alive in you, you have a purpose. You see beyond the temporary glitz and grime of the world around you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the newest trend when it comes to shoes or cars or big screen tvs. You have something that can never be bought, stolen, or wear out. You are the magician that is both the medium for the magic and the magic itself at the same time. And when those things are true, the world is yours.
As Frances Hodgson Burnett writes in The Secret Garden:
“Sometimes since I've been in the garden I've looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden - in all the places.”
I continue to feel this way as a so-called adult. I am still that child, sensing the magic that is all around, within and without all things. At times, I can get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of magic I feel from moment to moment - it often feels like spiritual electricity crackling all around, sparks flying between all things at any given time. Like one of those infra-red cameras that can detect the heat of any living thing in its sights when the naked eye can only see darkness, so is the lens through which we can see magic everywhere. Walking down the street, I can viscerally feel the infinite number of ideas just swirling around on the breeze, just waiting for me to choose one, catch it between my fingers, and plant it in the soil, a seed that will sleep in the dark until the spring awakens it and calls forth something fresh and green and tall and alive. Is there anything more satisfying than plucking a new idea from the void and dedicating yourself to birthing it into the world, coaxing it from nothingness into somethingness?
I want to see it all, feel it all, explore every bit, take it and make something of my own from it to add to the massive amount of magic in circulation at any given moment. I want to know where each whisper leads, discover the mysteries of the music I hear, memorize every line of dialogue in a play that makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself. For me, being tuned into the magic feels much like the lyrics from “The Proposal / The Night Was Alive” from Titanic: A New Musical:
“And the night was alive
With a thousand voices
Fighting to be heard
And each and every one of them
Connected to me...
And my life came alive
With a thousand voices
Tapping out each word
Like a thousand people
Joined with a single heartbeat.”
I believe that everyone is creative in some way. It might mean you bring a sense of creativity to your work as an accountant or a pediatric nurse, or the way you choose to decorate your dining room.
I believe that everyone enjoys the fruits of creativity; you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a favorite movie, band, or book.
I believe that there is no degree required to be an artist, and folks who take their broken heart and make it into art are both high school drop-outs and PhDs.
We all have a lot in common with each other when it comes to our inborn desire to enjoy art and play in some way. Creativity and play aren’t special and rare, they are human and abundant.
I believe that there are some of us for whom creating is not a choice; it’s simply the way we are wired. Yup, it takes our time, energy, and maybe even our money, but if we let it go and give it up, we would find ourselves in emotional and spiritual debt, bereft of the very specific sense of joy that only this kind of magic can bring.
I believe that there are some of us for whom creating is a lifeline. People who have, alongside other modalities, created their way out of anxiety, depression, disease, hopelessness, and trauma.
I believe that there are some of us for whom expressing ourselves is tantamount to breathing. We couldn’t stop if we wanted to. For whom making the most of the magic we have to work with is what it means to both survive and thrive in the world. It’s about making the world a place in which we want to live. It’s being an active participant in what unfolds next, not a passive spectator.
For some of us, magic exists in a way that doesn’t just make life nicer and prettier, like a piece of jewelry that we admire for its beauty but don’t need. No, when you say “Yes!” to magic, you have a deep sense of knowing how necessary it is to life, how integral to your being alive. This magic plays a starring, spiritual role in guiding our daily choices and actions. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel fear or get depressed or disorganized or lost at times. It just means that when these things happen (and they will), the magic is still there, waiting for us to tune back into its frequency, that it might act as a compass of sorts, leading us towards what feels meaningful.
We are all born with magic in us and the ability to see the magic that is all around us. But it is every single person’s choice whether or not we cultivate a lifelong relationship with it or leave it behind for more “grown-up” things. Some follow that magic forever and some close their eyes to all of that and because of their own choice to stay asleep, miss out on the magic that lurks right there in their own lives. Some may see it or sense it at some point, often as a child, but at some point, they say “No.” They fool themselves that entering into communion with creativity would at best mean risking naivete. At worst, allowing yourself to be guided by imagination and magic would, as many people believe, result in becoming vulnerable to bad things happening and ultimately result in people feeling that they were at fault for any damage sustained because their embracing of the magic meant that they buried their head in the sand and somehow didn’t prepare for the worst when they had the chance.
These are lies.
Bad things will happen to all of us at some point, and preparing for them doesn’t usually help; in fact, preparing often translates into anxiety and only causes us to armor up against every experience, both those we label as “good” and “bad”. Magic doesn’t stop terrible things from happening to us, it’s true. At the same time, magic doesn’t make our souls more susceptible to being crushed. It doesn’t act as a beacon that attracts all the bad luck in the world our way. In fact, magic hones our ability to make meaning and beauty from the ashes, allowing us to be a Phoenix that can rise again and again and again. It builds trust that whatever we encounter, it’s fuel for what we might forge from the fire of pain. In its highest form, magic doesn’t discriminate between our self-imposed notions of light and dark, positive and negative, good and bad. It is there in it all.
For those that prioritize creativity and imagination over most other things in your life, it can be painful. Not because committing to creating hurts you inherently; I believe the opposite is true. No, being a serial magician can be painful because it often isolates you from other people who don’t see what you see or aren’t willing to look. Refusing to unsee the magic may distance you a bit from the people who haven’t whispered “Yes!”
Before you start thinking that this magic business is about saying you’re somehow special or better than other people, that isn’t the song I’m singing at all. It’s not about a hierarchy, right and wrong, or who wins a cosmic creativity contest. It’s not a competition and it’s not about using magic as a reason to avoid connection, conflict, or people or things that challenge you. It’s simply an honest acknowledgement and accepting of what is. Acknowledging the magic within and without you and letting yourself be pulled where it might lead you accounts for a fundamental difference in how you approach the world and see the people, things, and opportunities around you. The acceptance of these gifts and opportunity means expressing yourself with the hope that it might allow the magic to appear for someone else and at the same time, understanding that you will not always be understood.
People who love to read books might not understand how you could close the door to your children or spouse each day in order to write yours.
People who love movies might not be able to grasp why you would be willing to eat take out food for a week because you are swapping your cooking time for shooting and editing a film of your own.
People who enjoy the theatre may not have any idea why you would be willing to spend evenings away from home at a rehearsal, discovering the ins and outs of a character and bringing a story to life.
We are all invited to share in the magic from the start. Why do some people, then, refuse the call, close the door, say “No!” and move on? Why do some people tend to a broken heart by writing a play, playing the piano, or letting their hand dance across the page with pastels?
I don’t know the answers to these things, and even if I did, I actually don’t think the answers actually matter. What matters is that you honor the magic that you see and feel and have grown and STOP TRYING TO PROVE YOURSELF TO OTHERS. If something you say or sing or draw or design gets into a crack in their heart and allows them to start growing a garden of their own, then so be it, but it’s not your responsibility to prove the existence of the magic you love so well. Getting approval from those who shame, belittle, or doubt your magic and use it as a weapon against you to prove how ignorant, irresponsible, or childish you are is NOT a measure of your worth. It’s a sign of their own uncomfortability with themselves and the gifts they are choosing not to accept and share with the world.
At best, a magical bent makes us a bit odd (think Luna Lovegood here, for all you fellow Harry Potter-heads out there) and at worst, it makes us dangerously naïve.”When are you going to toughen up? Wake up? Get your head out of the clouds? Live in the real world?” they might say.
In my 36 years, I still haven’t experienced a time in which my imagination and desire to create something beautiful has come back to burn me or make me regret being hopeful in the first place. I’m still wondering what those adults meant all those years ago about the “real world” or “having to grow up”, or what some of them still mean now when they say these things. Their threatening prophecies that I would live to regret or be forced to apologize or atone for the magic I love so much have proven to be impotent thus far. I’m not holding my breath for their shameful predictions to come to fruition. These words mean less and less to me, and therefore cannot extinguish the blaze that burns in my bones. I don’t need to fear them. In turn, the words of those kindred spirits I know whose souls similarly burn with the need to imagine and dream and do become kindling for the fire that burns within me. We need each other’s support and love and enthusiasm, both on the days when we have experienced the joy of the whole process and on the days when the compass seems to be spinning wildly. The sense of community between creative souls is also part of the magic.
My fear tells me that people are sick of hearing this kind of “ode to the artists” thing. That’s ok though; those who need or want to hear it can listen freely. It’s not important that others understand why you need to hear that you matter. You do matter. And though it hurts sometimes, it actually doesn’t matter if they get you or not or believe that what you are doing matters. The truth is, if they haven’t agreed to journey with magic, they won’t understand. The sooner we accept that, the less energy we lose in the perpetual pursuit of proving, and the sooner we can harness that precious energy we do have to keep doing what we do best: getting up each day unafraid to look at the heartbreak in ourselves and the world and simultaneously, unafraid to look at the beauty that might be, too.
And if you are someone, like me, that needs to hear this again and again and again? You are welcome here. “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words,” states an anonymous someone. I’ll be that friend.
Take heart. When you say “Yes” to the magic, you enter into the company of so many magicians, past, present, and future. We are all here, seeing, seeking, serving, and stumbling towards what feels meaningful. Just like magic itself, we always have been, always are, and always will be.