If there’s something someone can do, a superpower, a skill,
and I want it
then I want it in a series of steps
one by one, line by line, plodding right after the other:
Others may want the life-hacks, the workarounds, path of least resistance
I want those inasmuch
as they’re part of the steps,
the line of highest probability
to the goal.
But life doesn’t come with a rulebook.
Systems are messy and
systems are large and
they’re dynamic and of many parts and complex
No one can chart a straight line through the madness
You’d drown in all of the uncertainty
Step by cross by upside-down turn and there will always be secret passages in the corners.
I have a blank rulebook, though.
I have a rulebook, and I have a crayon, and I can peer at each situation as it comes.
Chart paths through the wilderness,
seek aid from the wizards around me.
Learn and write out each new line,
Line by line,
Scribbled out and rewritten and safe.
I wonder what would happen if I believed in magic?
It came up recently, this question.
Someone was trying to teach me something, a superpower,
and I’d seen this superpower before.
I had this superpower, even: I pulled out by crayoned book and showed them.
“See,” I said, pointing.
“I can do it, here are the steps, the rules.”
“No,” they said, “that’s different.
“What you do is similar but different.
“You didn’t follow the rules, here, see?”
I frowned. “The end result is the same.
“The end results are functionally equivalent.
“This is my rulebook, and this part of life was hard and confusing and uncertain,
“and I found a path for me, the best path I could find for me,
“and this is my rulebook and it’s mine and I can do it.”
It was a long fight. Messy.
And finally, hours later, it was framed to me like this:
“No, Monica, just follow these steps. Follow exactly these steps, not
“what you’ve inferred the steps are aimed at,
“how you’ve charted your path through the darkness,
“how you’ve peered and struggled with the world until it’s made sense to you,
“don’t do that, don’t follow your crayon,
“follow these steps exactly
“and it’ll work by magic.”
Life doesn’t work that way, you know.
You can’t just follow the steps people give you.
Any steps outlined are incomplete or idiosyncratic or can’t be fully trusted
You need to know why and how they’re meant to work
Need to think about the intention behind it
Need to know what you’re aiming toward.
You need to find the system that works best for you
Just in case the steps don’t work exactly as predicted
If something works you need to know exactly how the effect is generated;
If something works and doesn’t make sense,
doesn’t have a clear path
seems unscientific, seems mystical, seems magical
Then distrust it, trickery, deception
Nothing works by magic.
“Just do the steps. It’ll work by magic.”
I say, after hours of refusing,
smashing my rulebook against theirs.
If the point isn’t to understand it
If the point is just to have faith,
Okay, I say.
If it’s by magic.
(I now have two superpowers:
one written in crayon in my rulebook,
one copied neatly, line by line, from theirs.)
This morning I woke up with magic.
Dreams are strange, and being dreamlike is strange,
but I didn’t pull myself out of the dreamlike
stayed in it, watched as my hands became foreign objects
following patterns I remembered as important
meaning trailing behind my actions
as I watched my body move.
Everything became overmuch
I’d dialed up sensitivity so much higher
Tastes much, sounds much, shuddering, curious
Each emotion present and disconnected
Reading emails like a different person
Staring at a topic line, sense of real a few seconds late
Writing emails like I was playing myself
Like I was following the bright lines of habits and patterns
Just following those lines in the network of choices
Branching out before me in darkness
Follow the lines, follow the lines.
Pull yourself out of it, Monica, I said,
Get up, move around, change contexts, do a task,
and I did. Pulled out of it, had thinking return to normal
habitual thought patterns in place,
normal, normal, normal.
I was messaging with someone throughout.
He said that it sounded intense
like a deep meditation, trance-like experience.
I said that it probably wasn’t that intense
That it was trickery, deception.
“It sounds like a something to me,” he replied.
“What exactly would be a not-something?
“Like you’re tricking yourself into behaving in a different way?
“If it’s affecting how you’re acting in the world
“How would you distinguish that from a ‘something’?”
I have a rulebook.
My rulebook is how I understand the world,
The steps that I take throughout.
Care goes into my rulebook,
Line by line, entered in crayon.
If something doesn’t make sense
If I don’t understand how it could happen
If I don’t understand how one gets there,
Then it can exist in someone else’s life
But it can barely exist in mine
Is circled and faint and uncertainty and trickery.
Until someone tells me how,
I don’t believe in magic.
“If it feels like a superpower rather than a problem,” he said
“Maybe try reentering the state and focusing on your breathing.
“See what may fall out?”
I can slip a tiny bit in and out of it, just the barest hint
Trying hard to find the goal-state, the paths
Searching intensely for the control knob,
Trying hard, trying, trying.
You know what it’s like, trying to fall asleep?
When you’re trying to hold a certain relaxed mindstate
And you get a wisp of it, and pretend that this is all that you’re thinking
that you’re not simultaneously monitoring
two mindstates running at once, the goal and the observer?
When the only thing that works
is absolute faith
that you’ll fall into the mindstate eventually,
I think magic is that faith
The understanding that everything is a something.
That whether it makes sense or not
whether it has steps or not
whether I can pull out my crayon or not
sometimes it just makes sense to fall.
Not all the time.
It’s important to find one’s bright lines
in the networks of possibilities.
Important to try and strive and search.
Safe to create order.
When it feels like a superpower
And someone hands you a rulebook.
Maybe it has one step in it, just a gesture,
And the gesture is absurd.
Suspension of disbelief
Soothing hand over the skepticism
Calm curiosity in what comes next
and believe in magic.