Sunday, August 26, 2012

Magic and Illusions


Earlier this week you likened Excuses and Defensiveness to schoolyard chums, skipping off together on a romp.  The connection began with Excuses, those you’d made to yourself and others over the years and those offered to you, not necessarily in any chronology.

You thought, for instance, you were shrewdly avoiding excuses to a writer you much admired to the point of considering her a mentor.  She well knew your schedule as an editor.  You didn’t have to mention that.  Instead, you asked her for advice on making time to write.

Her answer was the essence of simplicity.  “Give up something that takes an hour or so of your time each day.”  She smiled.  “Even if it’s sleep.”

These past several hours, another pair of chums has presented themselves to you for your consideration.  You don’t have any live mentors to share them with.  In consequence, this time at your blog becomes your mentor and sharing ground.  The two are Magic and Illusion.

What to call magic?  It is means of producing a desired result by a combination of occult information, which could be spells, as a result of an incantation or formula, or by control of forces beyond those within the range of human understanding.

Illusion is an appearance or an impression of an event taking place or an ability being demonstrated.  There was some argument about an Israeli, Uri Geller, having psychic abilities.  Indeed, his signature effect seems to have been causing a spoon to bend.  Or perhaps to give the appearance of bending.  Is Geller an entertainer, a practitioner of psycho- and telekinesis?  Is that last question a mere redundancy?

In its way the subject of magic becomes a good index for charting emotional age.  To the young, a well conceived illusion seems absolutely magical, reinforcing belief in wished for extraordinary powers.  Experience may bring with it the sense of cynicism necessary to del with things that seem to defy demonstrable effects.

In some ways, the greater magic resides in something as simple as the sun rising every morning in the east and setting in the west, even though you have enough experience to know this is so and some reasons for understanding why it is so.  Were you to pursue the matter in enough depth, there is probability you’d shift your choice of words from magical to magisterial or perhaps magnificent, both of which are true.

When it comes to mastering some of the conjuror’s tricks, writers are right up there with the better illusionists.  You have a few tricks of your own, the results of experiment and thought and, in some cases, the mischievous results of pure accident.  You seek out writers whom you consider to be superior illusionists, individuals who transport you to places and times you know to be contrived, and yet you forget sometimes to breathe while reading their prose.  By continuous reading, you are in constant contact with writers who have honed their skills of illusion and magical abilities to plateaus where you sometimes reel in envy.  You are pleased for them, but in the most selfish way:  They continue to make it possible for you to believe beyond that Coleridge willing suspension of belief to the point where, as yesterday, when you learned Dennis Lehane has a title forthcoming in October, you had within ten minutes of the discovery placed an order for it.

Reading for pleasure has come to mean that you go over a work until you think you see how the author brought forth an effect that so impressed you.  Seeing—or thinking you see—how an effect it accomplished is cold comfort.  Now, aware it can be done, you have to look for ways to enhance your own sleight of hand coordination.

In some ways, this discussion stays in the terrain of being academic.  You can offer an explanation for a thing, but it does not truly work unless your belief it absolute.  The other element to consider here is belief.  The illusion of magic needs to be so palpable that you have no choice but to believe it, however many rational arguments your brain dishes up.  You have to out believe your rational mind. 

This is no easy trick because, over the years, you’ve managed to see some of the effects. For the longest time, this was the place where you were shut down, your rational mind a combination of The Red Baron and Eddie Rickenbacher, potting away at Fokkers and Spads and Sopwith Camels with uncanny accuracy.   You sometimes discover illusions as though part of the landing pattern at O’Hare or LAX.  You have to find ways to get them clearance to land.

You have to find a way to build illusions that go beyond rational argument.

You have to start with belief, then find ways to prop it up with details and sensual triggers to the point where what the characters want, never mind how trivial it is, seems achingly real.  And then you reach for it.



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