November 5, 2012

Work Hard, Make Magic


This morning, my son made a soda can levitate in our back yard. He assembled the rig last night with some fishing line, then spent a quarter hour after breakfast standing in the dew and waving his hands theatrically around the spinning can.

Everybody loves magic.

You know magic is real, right? It’s simply a matter of perspective. In Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, he talks about chance in this way. Chance is the connections we can’t see between cause and effect. One person buries a treasure in a field. Years later another person plows the field and discovers the treasure… by chance.

When chance is filled with wonder we call it magic.

Do you have a favorite magician? Good magicians hide what happens between the beginning and the ending. I favor minimalism these days. Ricky Jay shows a set of cards, hides them, discovers them again in ways we can’t imagine. Since we don’t know how he finds the cards, we call it magic.

My wife flies through the air across stage, and the children don’t know how she got up there. They call it magic.

Older people in Kerrville see how I share and receive information through my phone. They say it is like magic. (It might as well be for all I understand the insides of this small metal box I carry.)

This weekend our church choir performed Maurice Duruflé: Requiem for the All Saint’s service. Those who attended did not see the weeks of preparation. They did not know about the part specific CDs we all listened to every night, drilling our notes and the dynamics and timing. They did not see the work of our practice, and so our performance seemed magical.

Even better? It was magical. I experienced the work I did for the performance, but not the work of the full choir. Even knowing what I know, even seeing behind the curtain more than most, I was swept away by the music during performance. It was magic.

Like Shakespeare’s Prospero in The Tempest, my son and all of us spend our lives working to make a gloriously insubstantial pageant. It does not matter that our work will not last. This only makes the work itself more precious.

My wife’s Wicked Witch will only live on in my memory and a few photos on Facebook. Requiem has already faded, though I remember my arms tingled when the soprano sang. My son’s soda can still hangs from a tree in our backyard, but he has taken his theatrical hands with him to school where they will write out spelling words and math facts and answers to multiple choice questions.

This weekend, I read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist with a cup of coffee on the back porch. Immediately, I gave the book to my eleven-year-old daughter. “Read this,” I said.

Kleon writes, “It’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are… We learn by pretending to be our heroes.”

My heroes are all magicians.

Like them, we work and work and work our magic in the world. We make and make and make, becoming magicians ourselves, until we can look back on our life like Prospero and say:

…the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on…

Originally Published: November 5, 2012
Category: Work
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