How to Find Modern Day Magic
“I can’t be a wizard; I’m just, I’m just Harry!” she quoted, with a bemused smile as she walked into another room.
This was Madeline’s response when I asked her to provide a definition of magic. Now, before you read into Madeline’s response too deeply, I had better assure you that she is confident, hopeful and quite capable of becoming a wizard herself. So my analysis of this quoted statement and the following connection have really nothing to do with the quoter and more to do with society at large. Just so you can fully understand the context.
So now, on to Harry. Harry’s very modest insistence that he cannot be a wizard can be seen in the parallel (and less modest) way adults claim to have outgrown magic.
Growing up can be perhaps less lovely than we’d imagined as children, if we imagined it at all.
As time passes, reality shows itself in a harsher light and grapples with our dreams. Post-education lives are governed less by adventure and more by regiment and predictability. How did I get here? you think to yourself. What happened to the eight year-old girl who asked Santa for a Mystery Date board game for Christmas, and who replaced her with the woman married to the horrible-sweater wearing Neil?
Just like the characters of “The Santa Clause,” many have forgotten their own ability to believe in magic. But like Dorothy realizes at the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” we all have the ability, we just have to learn it for ourselves.
From a person who believes in the ethereal power of glitter, here’s a list of how to encounter magic in everyday life:
1. Be brave.
I went to a place called Bolsa for brunch once. Teresa’s chilaquiles and the bottomless mimosas were enough to create a memorable experience, but what stands out even more than the chorizo and champagne pairing was the group right next to our table. A group of eight characters each appeared as though they materialized from somewhere else. One could have been the Mad Hatter, another the queen of Narnia, another yet Alexei Karenin - each unique enough to turn heads, yet too understated to have recently stepped off of a stage. Though other brunchers stared, this assemblage seemed sublimely unconcerned. Maybe it was no grand feat for them to abide in public in such a noticeably different way, I can’t pretend to know.
I do know that their blithe nonchalance inspired me.
I was a ringmaster last Halloween, as part of a complete circus (alongside an elephant, bearded lady, and swirl of cotton candy). And in order to be a ringmaster, I had to carry on a top hat on the plane to Chicago. Though this top hat is a beloved and prized possession, too many years of eating publicly after a dance competition with residual show makeup makes me a bit reticent to do anything visibly out of the ordinary. But I wore it anyway. And you know what? People stared. But they also wanted to be my friend! And for me, that is magical.
2. Learn your way around it.
Much like the old adage to be a great writer, you must be an avid reader, my new adage is to be an outlandish and inquisitive being, you must pay attention to stories of enchantment. You are most likely familiar with science fiction, but what about other genres that include magic? I was first introduced to the concept of magical realism (which is a portrayal of unreal/magical aspects in an otherwise realistic setting, without an explanation) through an obscure little movie, The Three Lives of Thomasina, which is a darling telling of a cat’s journey through life and death, told by the cat herself. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a more recent and perhaps relevant example of this very concept. You won’t find potions or wands or pots of gold in this type of story, but you will find enchantment. Fairy tales will always have a strong hold on my heart, but the seamless integration of whimsical into reality fascinates me the most.
3. Seek out adventure, and magic will follow.
I will tell you right here that I experienced many a magical moment throughout college. Nearly every week held feelings like the gust of an inches-away train sweeping back my hair in the dead of night. Or fits of laughter that occupied my body so fully that my lungs could have just packed up and left as a result of labor exploitation. Tea parties so perfect, I would not have been surprised if Mary Poppins herself had waltzed through the door and joined us. These moments of relational splendor weren’t found on accident. They were cultivated.
Post-college has certainly been more of a challenge to create these spaces of opportunity, but showing up is half the battle. Last week I experienced the fantastical Neverland come to life in Peter Pan 360’s performance. Watching the high-flying characters soar past Big Ben and the tower bridge expanded every wide eye and dropped every jaw in that tent. (And might have even inspired a few tears in the author here.)
4. “Pick up pennies.”
This is a joke, brought to you by Madeline. Unless of course, you paid attention above, learned your way around magic and discovered that finding a penny is actually the apex of magical moments. Then you should definitely pick up pennies.
Magic to me is both the quality of a thing so lovely it seems somehow removed from the world and the resplendent experience of engaging with imagination. As Roald Dahl wrote, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”
I hope you believe in magic if you ever forgot, and I hope you let it transform you when you do find it. Because while you might think this whole idea is silly or juvenile, anytime we slow down and allow our hearts to experience joy and peace, we become the most empathetic, truest versions of ourselves. I believe that is mischief managed.