The function of the artist is to provide what life does not.”

Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction


Those people who recognize that imagination is reality’s master we call ‘sages,’ and those act upon it, we call ‘artists.’”

Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All


JUNE 11, 2011. No guts, no glory. Pursuers of any great goal can tell you that.


In the human psyche, from the moment a newborn baby emerges into the light of day, he/she has a desire for magic.


We are told this is an early fetish that fades away as the experience of the world sets in. As maturity evolves. As practical reality is better understood.


In most areas of psychology, sensible adjustment to practical reality is a great prize to be won by the patient. It marks the passage from child to adult. It is hailed as a therapeutic triumph.


In truth, the desire for magic never goes away, and the longer it is buried, the greater the price a person pays.


A vaccine against a disease can mask the visible signs of that disease, but under the surface, the immune system is carrying on a low-level chronic war against toxic elements of the vaccine. And the effects of the war can manifest in odd forms.


So it is with the inoculation of reality aimed at suppressing magic.


One of the byproducts of the “reality shot” is depression.


The person feels cut off from the very feeling and urge he once considered a hallmark of life. Therefore, chronic sadness. And of course, one can explain that sadness in a variety of distracting ways, none of which gets to the heart of the matter.


It is assumed that so-called primitive cultures placed magic front and center because they couldn’t do better. They couldn’t formulate a “true and rational” religion with a church and monks and collection plate and a European choir and an array of pedophiles. They couldn’t fathom what real science was. They couldn’t invent plastic-coated shiny candies in twelve colors in a box.


Their impulse for magic had to be defamed and reduced and discredited. Why? Obviously, because the Westerners who were poking through their cultures like demented professors had already discredited magic in themselves—they had put it on a dusty shelf in a room in a cellar beyond the reach of their own memory. But they couldn’t leave it alone. They had to keep worrying it, scratching it, and so they journeyed thousands of miles to find it somewhere else—and then they scoffed at it.


Let me give you a succinct sentence: I’M INTERESTED IN YOUR MAGIC, NOT MINE.


That sums up a great deal of human experience. In fact, it gives birth to organized religion, the attempt to promote a distant metaphysical geo-location where every bit of magic takes place, under the tutelage of a great authority. His magic, not yours.


And we wonder why, under the banner of religion, there has been so much killing. It’s because, at a deep level, the adherents know they’ve sold their souls and they’re depressed, angry, resentful, remorseful, and they want to assuage and expiate their guilt through violence.


The urge for magic is forever.


And yet the charade goes on. While paying homage and lip service to ordinary practical reality seasoned with a bit of fairy-tale religion, people actually want to change reality, they want to work it like putty in their hands, they want to reveal their latent paranormal power, they want to get outside reality, they want to create realities that, by conventional standards, are deemed impossible.


They want to find and use their own magic.


In our modern culture, we’re taught that everything is learned. That, you could say, is the underlying assumption of education. It has far-reaching consequences. It leads to the SYSTEMATIZING OF THE MIND. The mind is shaped to accommodate this premise.


If I want to know something, I have to learn it. Somebody has to teach it to me. They will teach it as a system. I will learn the system. I will elevate the very notion of systems.”


In the long run, that’s a heavy loser. That’ll get you a lump of coal in a sock, a spiritual cardboard box to live in, on a side alley in Vegas, after you’ve dropped your whole stash in the casinos.


In fact, Vegas is a pretty good metaphor for what I’m talking about here. I love the place. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve experienced magic in the big rooms with no clocks. Video poker, dice in a cage, I’m good. But I notice the casinos have that one big thing on their side: time. Time, the cardinal part of the ordinary-reality illusion. It sinks in. It makes its presence known. It’s not really the odds that beat you in Vegas, it’s time itself, the wearing away of the stone. If you stay at the tables long enough, you’ll lose. The statistical probabilities set in. The averages average out. The norm takes control. The neutral blandness spreads. You end up trying to decide whether you want to keep sitting there, tick-tock, losing, or you want to eat a fairly dismal meal or take in a fairly dismal show. Tick-tock.


The bosses’ magic in Vegas is no-magic. That’s their strength. They wait, and they collect.


So what happens. Everybody tries to learn a system. To beat the house. A system will create magic.


Good luck.


I don’t have any magic of my own. I can’t beat the house. So I have to learn a system of magic. Not mine. Somebody else’s.”


As I reconstruct the legend of Merlin, one of my favorite guys, I put him in my sights as the one who taught himself magic by abandoning all systems. That was his genius. Don’t misunderstand. He didn’t turn himself into a blithering idiot. He just stepped outside systems. He went down roads based on his own naked desire to make magic. That was the car he drove.


To modern man, this makes no sense. His highway is different. It comes into existence only through learning about structures built by someone else. “Show me that someone else. Otherwise, I’m lost. I don’t know how to proceed. I can’t navigate.”


This is a joke. It’s a confession that the great and basic desire (making magic) doesn’t lead to anything. It’s like saying, “I’m on the launching pad, I’m sitting in the most powerful rocket ever built, and I have no idea what to do. I want to get out into space, but I’m clueless. You mean this thing I’m sitting in can actually take me into space? No, that doesn’t sound right. That makes no sense at all.”


Yeah. Well.


So he gets out of the rocket, he enrolls at Harvard, he studies anthropology for six years, he flies to a jungle in South America, he digs up remnants of a lost culture, he infers they performed arcane ceremonies six times a week, he writes monographs—and he concludes they were a very picturesque society with fascinating customs and totems, and their brand of magic can best be understood as an inevitable consequence of their matriarchal organization, which itself was an accommodation to rainfall levels. The actualmagic was nothing. It was about as important as ants carrying little packages of material into their hill.


The anthropologist takes two Paxil and goes off to teach a class on the meaning of ancient eyebrow trimming in Tierra Del Fuego.


The rocket is still on the pad. It’s waiting.





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