The Nature of Magic (and the Magic of Nature)

It took me about three weeks to read Maggie Stiefvater’s newest book Call Down the Hawkwhich should say something about how much free time I have these days—and I can’t stop thinking about how one of her characters described the nature of magic:

If you’ve ever looked into a fire and been unable to look away, it’s that. If you’ve ever looked at the mountains and found you’re not breathing, it’s that. If you’ve ever looked at the moon and felt tears in your eyes, it’s that. It’s the stuff between stars, the space between roots, the thing that makes electricity get up in the morning.

[…]

The opposite of magical is not ordinary. The opposite of magical is mankind.

Part of me wonders if this is a direct response to all of the readers (including me) who read The Raven Cycle and wished they lived in a world that had actual magic in it—not like Harry Potter do-a-spell magic, but mystical set-your-intention-and-see-what-responds, draw-a-Tarot-card-and-see-what-it-inspires magic.

But you can only see what responds and what inspires if you have time enough to look.

***

There’s this thing I’ve been trying to do lately, which is basically “no laptop after work,” and the nights I can pull it off are remarkable. The evening stretches into presence, whether it’s me and a group of people singing in a church or me with a book and a candle and a piece of jade in my left hand.

I let myself use my smartphone for podcasts and ebooks and streaming video (the latter because I don’t have a television) but try to stay away from email and social media and web browsers and all the rest of it—which is hard, because that means getting every little fiddly piece of modern life management done during my work breaks, whether I’m ordering groceries, depositing checks, or applying for health insurance (which I really really really need to do this week).

But, as you might have guessed from the fact that it took me three weeks to get through a 480-page book, I don’t get as many no-laptop evenings as I’d like. Sometimes I have to make the choice between “no laptop after work” or “no opportunity to draft MYSTERY BOOK today.” Sometimes it’s more like “if you do not complete your passport renewal application tonight, your passport will expire.”

Which, like, of course adult life has always been like that. I can remember my mother spending her evenings paying bills and balancing the checkbook. You either get those tasks done while you’re “on break” (which can mean feeling like you’ve gone eight hours without a break), or you fit them in after work and on the weekends.

But I don’t yet have the self-discipline to finish my passport renewal application without also deciding to check Feedly and The Washington Post and The New York Times (I have successfully broken the social media cycle, though I may have just substituted feeds and articles for social scrolling), and then the majority of my evening is gone.

And there’s been no magic in it.

Only mankind.

***

We’re coming up on the holidays followed by the fresh start of a new year, which means that I’m thinking about everything I’d like to reshape and recast and resolve and revise and make holy.

Earlier this year, I started doing shutdown rituals at the end of every workday, which really meant turning off email (though I could still use my laptop for literally everything else) and, once I got back from my after-work Les Mills class at the YMCA, lighting a candle.

Now, while there are still a few days left in the year, I’d like to start making a little more space for magic—which seems to mean making more space for nature (yes, plants and candles and baking bread all count as “indoor nature,” also, ask me about the three loaves of bread I’ve ruined in the past week) and more evenings with no laptop and no internet and nothing but the world in front of me.

And then, see what responds. ❤️

 
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