Anti-Semantic Magic

Close-up of Moss insect: one of the world’s most wondrous creatures

I posted a survey on facebook the other day which included this statement and question:
“It’s been said that art and craft are magical, but not magic.
I believe that makes no sense… nothing can be magical without magic. What do you think?”

One of my favorite answers was:
“Too woohoo for me.”

While I don’t consider the pragmatic mind a deficit, I truly feel for those who don’t experience the magic of life. For those who have been taught that magic “just ain’t right” due to exposure to religious dogma or those who equate magic only with rainbows, unicorns, fairies and anything else unmanly… I write this treatise in hopes that you will discover that magic is very much alive and present in your life and that it’s okay to accept, utilize and appreciate this magic.

Semantics enter the picture here in a very BIG way. Semantics in this instance means that people assign more than one meaning to a word. This can cause confusion and sometimes disagreement. I consider myself anti-semantic, because I’m not comfortable with ambiguity to the extent that people can’t understand one another when speaking the same language. I accept the principle of semantics, I’m just not a fan of how it breeds misunderstandings.

“Magic” means many things to many people. I’m going to approximate my definition so that you’ll see the logic behind my assertion.

“Because we have imagination, magic is inevitable.”

Magic to me is anything that makes us wonder. Here is a short list of such things:

  • Magnets
  • The colors and designs of stones, flowers, and insects
  • Flight
  • The love our pets share with us
  • Sleeping babies
  • Sunsets and Sunrises
  • Nature
  • The number nine

These things often get me wondering. Often when I witness them, I am in awe or I feel some very deep emotions. Magnets make me curious. Why do they attract? Our best scientists cannot answer why they attract, they can only come up with amazing uses for their mysterious qualities.

Whenever you multiply the number nine and add the digits together the sum is always nine. Nine times nine equals eighty-one, eight plus one is nine (9×9=81, 8+1=9). It works every time no matter which numbers you use with the number nine.

These things that just are, are extraordinarily magical.

We might say that there are levels of magic (or things that make us wonder) ranging from the mundane, everyday variety to the undeniably miraculous.

The highest, most purest form of magic, in my opinion, is making things. In the illusory world of stage magicians, one turns a bouquet of flowers into a bird that flies out of the magician’s hands. Creators take raw materials and behold! Before your very eyes the raw materials transform into something beautiful, whimsical, or extremely contemplative.

This is magic. It exists, it surrounds us and the world is a better place for it.

Imagine for a moment that you had no imagination. Seriously! Like you had no facility for thinking about how things might be. Imagination is the exclusive tool that generates reality. As I often say, everything that exists now was once just an idea in somebody’s imagination. Because we have imagination, magic is inevitable.

If my assertion is true and magic is a natural part of our everyday lives and instrumental for the ongoing benefit of our species, what could ever make it “too whoohoo”?

What do you think?

Aim High in Steering


I nervously shut the driver’s side door and felt trapped behind the wheel the first time my dad tried to teach me to drive a car. Four years later I would learn the most important lesson of my life. I had a problem that first day though. My problem was that I was looking at the road as close to the front of the car as I could. That seemed to be the most crucial place to look. Right there where the rubber meets the road. If I could have seen under the car I’m sure I would’ve summoned all my concentration on that area. My driving was terrible. My dad said I was all over the road. And he was right.

Four years later I took Drivers Ed in high school. The instructor introduced a concept I had not been exposed to before. He said, “Aim high in steering. If you look way up at the horizon where the road converges or goes over a hill, you will automatically see all of the rest of the road between here and there. You’ll drive nice and straight.” And he was right.

Now I use that phrase to help me live my everyday life. Instead of looking at right where I am, as close as I can get to my current circumstances, I aim high in steering. Of course, in order for this kind of thinking to benefit us, we first have to realize we actually are in the driver’s seat. We have control of how those circumstances evolve. Every thought, word, and deed leads to what’s coming next. I’ve had dreams where I’m sitting in the back seat of a car having an exciting conversation with someone, I look up and no one is driving the car. I usually get a small pang of panic at that point in the dream. So let’s admit, we are in the driver’s seat and we are indeed driving our lives.

The excitement reigns when we realize that the current circumstances we are living out are a product of all our thoughts, words, and deeds up to that point. At the point we are looking around us and noticing how things are, nothing is changeable. It’s already been made manifest. So we are looking too close to the car and our lives are swerving all over the road! Look further ahead. Use that reality generator called your imagination and imagine how you’d like it to be. Spend time in reverie. Daydream. Now you’re aiming higher. Now you’ve got your eye on the prize and no matter how far up ahead on the horizon it is, if you keep aiming there, you’ll get there. And you’ll enjoy the ride.

Just think, by merely utilizing our imagination we can drive our lives more efficiently and arrive at places we really want to go. By ignoring the use of our imagination and just letting everything run on default, we live a much more haphazard life (dangerous to ourselves and others) and maybe even miss out on destinations we were hoping to include on this trip. I just love knowing that!

On Deck

There is a place in baseball where the next batter stands and gets ready to step up to bat when his turn comes. That person is said to be “on deck”.

We experience different thoughts all day long and those thoughts, which affect our mood, can either come randomly, or we can have a hand in creating them.

An interesting way of changing or creating a mood for yourself is to imagine a scenario. If you’ve never played baseball before, please forgive the metaphor. But if you have, then you know what it feels like to be on deck.

You’re stepping up because you’re about to do something to help the team (at least that’s your hope). Maybe you’re about to experience exhilarating glory by hitting the ball way out of the park. Or maybe you’re about to suffer a shameful embarrassment by hitting a pop fly and causing another “out” for your team. But there’s no turning back now. You’re on deck!

If you’ve been procrastinating on a project that you’d really like to see happen, no need to jump out there where all the fear of failure is. Just step on deck. Get ready. The readier you are, the more confident you feel about stepping up to bat. Stay on deck as long as you need to, but notice the difference between the way you feel when you are successfully procrastinating (doing nothing toward your goal) and when you actually step on deck. BIG difference!

The Brink

I remember the three and a half mile hikes we used to take down into Feather Falls… all the way down hill. When you came to the overlook, a large wooden deck placing you just over the edge of the canyon so you could witness the Feather River plunge to the rock floor 640 feet below, there was a secret.  If you did not turn left to walk out onto the overlook, there was a secret trail to the right. No one knew it was there because it began three feet higher up a hill than the ground of the standard trail, obscured by bushes and long dry weeds.

When you clamored up that first impossible step, the trail went on and as you walked you’d see signs—warning signs that read: Caution, Brink of Falls! Stay behind the Fence! And sure enough there was an eight foot tall chain-link fence erected long enough ago that the rust had set in and it was no longer (if ever) a pretty sight. But the brave and the anarchist hikers who came before us saw fit to take bolt cutters to many of the fence’s weak points and cut wide gates to freedom. So those of us with whatever gusto it takes, could go right up to the brink of the falls. From there, the roar was deafening. But I found an even better secret.

If one were to hike up the river, just around the next bend, one would come across a fallen tree. A giant of a fir tree that had plummeted straight across the river who knows how many centuries ago. But it still had its bark, petrified somewhat by the weather and it was a wide and welcoming bridge to the other side of the river.

Once you crossed this mammoth tree-bridge, you were free to explore a land that many have never set foot upon.

Turning left and heading back toward the brink of the falls, there was an unusual rock formation. It was the peak of the hill and from the ground it rose up about ten feet from the trail. Half way up, a solid rock slice of bread (or so it appeared) was slightly removed from the mother rock, like a piece of toast sticking out of a sideways toaster. Behind this slice of stone where it used to be connected to the mother rock, was a one foot by two foot hole from one side of the pyre to the other. This produced a shelf where the rock had slid out a little bit over the canyon. It was possible to step up onto this rock, take seat and dangle your feet over the edge. It was the best seat in the house.

Looking to your left you’d witness 4,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Feather River fly out over the brink of the falls and down to the canyon floor. At about the eleven o’clock position you could see the observation deck and all the tiny tourists marveling at the site just to your left. And straight out westward you’d see the canyon stretch for miles, the river winding its way thru the gorge which sliced through the Sierra Nevada mountains eons ago.

Here’s what I’ve learned from those trips to the brink of the falls; this feeling of nearing the brink, which contains a large measure of anticipation, readiness, and pure adventure is a valuable feeling. It is a feeling you can bring to bear on any one of life’s many situations. It is a state of being. The first time I ventured up onto that secret trail, I had no idea what lie before me. I anticipated something big and very possibly dangerous. The closer I got to the brink of the falls the more excited I got to see what was there, to take in the sights and the smells and the sounds of all Nature’s fury as an entire river came rushing off a precipice and fell through mid-air only to crash on the rocks below and continue its journey toward the sea.

Sometimes we can get in touch with that feeling of excitement and adventure without the hike to the falls. We can feel that way about a project we are about to embark upon.

“The state of mind revered most by the Muse is a mind filled to the brim with notions of adventure.”

Just imagine the brink. Imagine nearing the brink and see what kinds of inspiration find you.

We’re On a Mission From God

One of the best lines in all the movies I’ve ever seen was delivered by Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers.

“We’re on a mission from God.”

Such a powerful statement and most likely true in our lives much more often than we suspect.

But growing up Christian there were very mixed signals about uttering such words. To think of oneself as in league with God in any way was considered blasphemous. Some of us were led to believe we are far too profane to ever have a relationship with God. And I see solid evidence of the same admonition happening today. It’s like walking on eggshells when you can’t express your feelings about the relationship you have with God outside of an accepted set of phrases.

When I first read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?” I began to wonder if he didn’t have a very good point.

What I’m trying to say is that we, as creators, often feel compelled to create. Although I cannot claim to know, there may be a strong chance that those compulsions come directly from God. So when we’re making what we’re making, we may well be on a mission from God.

I want you to walk away convinced that it is more than okay to be on a mission from God. I want you to be able to feel it when inspiration comes barreling thru your heart and you feel that ultra-conviction to follow that inspiration and create what has been delivered to you to create. And then I want you to be able to proclaim that mission to anyone who will listen, because I believe that is exactly what’s happening. You’re on a mission from God!

Say it often. Feel it. Believe it. Even if only to yourself… we really are on a mission from God.

Who Am I Talking To?

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Myself?

I read a blog the other day and I noticed something down-right peculiar. The writer kept assuming that everyone of his readers were exactly like he. That every bias and opinion and aesthetic that he held was equally shared by all. And so I began to judge this person. And that is a good thing because I have trained myself to hold up a mirror the second I begin to judge anyone.

I ask myself, “Am I like this in any way?” and I am surprised at the high percentage of times that I answer yes to that question. Then I realized,  “Oh my GOD!” I shouted it to myself at that very moment, “I do this in spades!” (meaning I do it at the highest level possible, I do it all the time).

I suppose it’s not too much of a surprise since we can only see the world from inside ourselves. Needing to rely on our senses, emotions, ideas and whatnot to experience everything around us is bound to make us a tad self-centric.

I spent a little more time analyzing the phenomenon, I actually assume the world feels exactly like I do on every topic. I remember when I was 16 years old…

It’s three forty-five in the morning, pitch black night outside and Dad is shouting, “Get out of the house!” By the time I regain some semblance of consciousness, he’s pulling me up by the arm and telling me the house is on fire and we have to get out. I sit up into a solid bank of thick, black smoke and start to choke. I cannot see. When I bend down to grab my pajamas I can see again. So I quickly dress in my pajamas and crawl as fast as I can toward the door in order to remain beneath the deathly, blinding, toxic smoke.

It had rained for three days leading up to this November night/morning, but it had froze on this night, so we are standing in bare feet on ice and cold mud watching a fire consume everything we have ever possessed, including my puppy and all our family photos.

To be left owning nothing except a pair of pajamas is probably devastating at any age. I just happen to be alive in that awkward stage of overwhelming adolescent hormones, questions about life and authority, and the need to fit in at any cost.

The community Seventh Day Adventist church starts a collection and the next day we have clothes (however ill-fitting) and food (mostly cans) for the coming Thanksgiving holiday. We move in with my grandparents who, thankfully, have room for us.

The next day I go to school. Mostly to show my parents how strong I am… to show them how resilient and unshakable I am. But when I arrive at school, no one asks me if I am okay. No one consoles me or shows any sympathy and I watch them all going about their business as if nothing has even happened. Never mind the fact that I have not announced my dilemma. That there is no way on earth that any of them can know my circumstances in the first place. I just expect them all to know and to treat me accordingly.

What a wake-up call!

I know this sounds odd, but I suspect there is a default state that we all live from that parallels this outlook. Unless we consciously think about it, we just assume that everyone around us knows what we know and has experienced the lion’s share of what we have experienced.

Hopefully I’m wrong and this is just another perfect example of self-centric thinking. But if I am right, even just for myself, then I have to know who I’m talking to. I have to realize you have NOT had the exact same experiences as me. You do NOT know everything I know. I must be mindful and speak to you with respect for the experiences you may have had which differ from mine and the mindset you may have that differs from mine.

This experience of reading a blog, judging, mirroring, and realizing how it sounds when self-centric generalizations come from others has shown me that we do not really write for others. We write for the benefit of ourselves. We write to better understand ourselves on the deepest levels.

I suspect that even self-help books benefit their authors more than anyone else. If we happen to benefit from reading someone else’s ideas, it’s all the better of course. And I pray that others may benefit from the things I write. But I must remember to ask myself, “Who am I talking to?” and realize it’s not just me.

Can you relate? I would love to hear your take on it. Please leave a comment.

Make Them Marvel

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If you’re an artist, you may remember the kids in grade school marveling over one of your drawings. This is big stuff! When someone looks at what you’ve done… and gasps in excitement, you know you are somehow onto something.

I experienced my first brush with magic in second grade. The teacher asked us all what we did for fun last summer. I, myself had experienced my first Carnival. Not the big one in Rio, the small one in Oregon with the air hanging thick with the smell of spun sugar and waffle cones mixed with cigarette smoke from overly tattooed Carnies, and the super loud music and flashing lights coming from noisy, chaotic rides.

I grabbed the nearest crayon (red) and drew all the rides I could remember. The next day, when our teacher handed our assignments back to us, she said, “Congratulations! You’ve won second place!” There was a shiny red ribbon attached to my paper which clearly read SECOND PLACE.

This was somewhat exciting (although I had no idea what a “second place” even was). But not near as life changing as the words that came next:

“You’re quite the artist.”

Something registered inside me at that moment.

When I got home and shared the good news with Mom & Dad, they both said, almost in unison, “Well! You’re quite the artist!”

There it was a again.
It was a credential. It was a possible profession. It was a proclamation of my talent and I swallowed it hook, line and sinker! I believed them.

I spent a lot of time that night on my way to sleep thinking about the new turn of events. Mostly I remembered the look on my teacher’s and my parent’s faces. It was a look of astonishment and surprise. It was a look of deep interest. And these were adults! I saw something rare, I saw the unmistakable look of curiosity, awe, and wonder in their eyes. I really hadn’t seen that very often in the eyes of adults.

And so there grew in me a seed. Not just the one that would produce an artist, but one that made me desire, on the deepest level, to make them marvel.

Now my first question for any project I begin is “Will it make them marvel?”
Will I see that look in someone’s eyes again?

It may sound like I am talking about approval seeking behavior. There could conceivably be a parallel drawn between what I’m talking about here and approval seeking. But I can assure you I am not seeking approval, I’m seeking the evidence of magic. I’m seeking the immortal sign of wonder and curiosity again and again with each project I birth. It is such a strong force in me that it is nearly all I can concentrate on as I ready myself for the next piece.

I want to encourage you to do the same, no matter what your medium (auto repair, hair styling, accounting, or art-making)… just ask yourself,

“Will it make them marvel?”