Would you like to experience some real magic? Okay, watch carefully now…house. See! Exciting isn’t it? What? You missed it? Try this one…tree. That had to do it. Gee, if I have to explain it that defeats the purpose of the magic doesn’t it? Or does it? Let me try one where the hat doesn’t quite come out of the rabbit. That was sly of me, of course, to phrase it that way. You knew what I was talking about even though I jumbled the metaphor. I am of course writing about writing, and how it’s magical that I can use certain symbols and instantly your brain knows what I am referring to. That’s magic in any sense of the word.
But suppose I would have said “House”? “House” is a television show many people watch, but it is ending this season. In ten years I could write this same essay and say “House” and someone might remember the show but there would be a generation of readers who had never heard of it. They would have a reference to a building, much like you did when I said “house”. The magic is not always precise. But this leads us both backwards and forward when we look at it, for we can see where we have to go for us both to be looking at a dwelling or a doctor. And in this, we can see where we have been.
Written language has likely been around longer than we know. Symbols, like the ones you are interpreting right now, began simply, like numbers to show how much of something. A clan, a tribe, a group of humans looking to survive longer than the present generation must have some way of planning, of taking stock, of knowing how much they will need to do something. Calendars need to be made. Accounting has to be invented. There has to be a symbolic language as well as a spoken language. And that symbolic language has to be able to be interpreted by others.
If you and I were in a cave and we had just been watching wild horses play, let’s suppose you decided to draw upon the walls of the cave your interpretation of the horses. Horses are not two dimensional animals, but after you’ve gotten a horse head drawn, would I see it as the head of a horse? If you painted a perfect horse head then whatever the body looked like I would still guess horse, wouldn’t I? But the painting of a horse means horse and I knew it meant what it did mean, very much like you knew what I meant when I said house. And maybe House.
When I said tree what did you think of? Okay, now that you’ve thought about this being magic, let’s take it out for a spin, shall we? Pine tree, oak tree, weeping willow, seedling, sapling, Joshua tree, and dead tree. What images in your mind did the words create? Did you think of trees you have seen or known? When you read “Joshua tree” did you think of an Irish band? Tell me this isn’t magic! You do not know me! We’ve never met! Yet with these symbols I can conjure images and thought in your mind at will! How is this different from something that is supernatural? How is this not magic?
Now, suppose I was to try to make fun of your horse drawing, which by the way, I would never do, and I told you that looked as much like a horse as Sarah Jessica Parker. Whoa Nelly! Now, because we have already symbolize the horse we can then start to magically take those symbols and superimposed them on people and objects never mean to be horsed around in the first place. We have created the archetype, a sort of a loose standard by which we will declare some clouds to be shaped like bunnies and come clouds to be shaped like Edgar Allen Poe. In a symbol, we have created reality as we choose to believe it exists, even though we all truly know there are no clouds shaped like rabbits.
Subconsciously, you create objects out of clouds. You’ve done this since you were a little kid. You stare long enough and you’ll see things no one else has seen before and no one will ever see again. That’s a form of magic you ought to take into adulthood with you. I did.
But words are different than clouds, unless we’re talking about poetry, and you know, we should. Poems are made up of the hard symbols, the letters we use that we cannot change without damaging the words, and poems are made entirely of the clouds, where we change the position and meter of words, and suddenly a few words about a waterfall and an apple take on a whole new meaning that involves events that are never mentioned in the poem. I’ve read poems without so much as hint at sexual behavior that left me seriously in need of a cold shower but there it was.
Magic, my friends, is entirely in the words of the beholder.
A man I know named Tommy has delivered newspapers for vending machines for the better part of half a century. Each paper is exactly the same, printed the same way, and has thousands of words on the paper, and faithfully, Tommy loads his truck and he drops the stacks of papers off, and Tommy sleeps during the day. That man has deposited more words in the same places for years, and I will bet you he has never once wondered how many or why those words mean something or how it all came to be. Reproduced in mass, the magic is diluted sometimes, and we ought to recognize this as a fact.
We ought to take time to create magic. We ought to practice the oldest trick in the book, the rabbit and hat routine, just to see if we can make it work. There is a reason this trick is still around. I used it earlier, remember. Did it work for you?