Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Magical Thinking

Apart from wanting to have a magical piece of wood that could be used as my double, like the one given to a girl in my German story book, I never wished for any particular magical power. This wasn’t because I didn’t believe in magic, but because magic was something I lived by and within most of the time. It must have been an elevated kind of magic, the sort you don’t necessarily use for crude personal gain or to make life easier, more congenial – because life was not easy or congenial. When we came back to England from Germany, I was a strange creature moving from one place to another, changing schools with each move, each new place putting me at one more remove and making me stranger. I lost my father en route because my parents separated: first he was on tour, running around on all fours being a pantomime cat, then when he came to back to London he lived in a bedsit. My mother was distracted, career-building, unpredictable, there were girls from Scandinavia, Germany and Spain to look after me and my sister and they were bored, resentful, unpredictable. My school-teachers were sometimes well-meaning, sometimes not, and it was easy to do something that would get you into trouble. There was nothing surer than magic.

I carried it inside me. Story books helped, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, though only a few of them carried the DNA of magic. Magical Thinking is a reductionist or pejorative term sometimes used by psychoanalytic therapists to describe the strategies used by insecure individuals to ward of anxiety etc. Magical thinking was sure ground beneath my feet and represented the hidden light that lay just beneath the surface of things and sometimes broke out, like a shining behind cloud, or like song that you feel in your breast. It came from the heart rather than the head and radiated down to my fingertips, keeping my hands warm. You could say it was a faculty I developed in extremis, but none the less real for that.

When I was nine I would go into the room I shared with my sister and look out of the window in the direction of London Zoo from where one could hear the wolves howling. A new breed had been brought in from Russia. They looked out of the bars of their cages and found nothing they recognised but the wide black sky and the moon.
I looked out at The Dog, and the Plough, and the Hunter, and all,
And the star of the sailor, and Mars
and pictured the pail that was half full of water and stars, and all was in place, packed tight, the magic, nothing missing. It was the coldest winter for over twenty years and in the new year, in February, a poet who lived nearby put her head in a gas oven and died. She was Sylvia Plath, but I didn’t know about her yet. She and I had the same doctor and she probably went to the same playground, with her two small children, that I went to.

If you lived without any magic at all, life was just boiled cabbage and gristle for lunch, a cold home-coming, a beige carpet with ugly stains in the shape of cockroaches. I made a post box out of an old biscuit tin – cut a slit into its lid, damaged a knife in the process, threw the knife away to lose the evidence (my mother kept wondering but never knew where it had got to, her best kitchen knife). I posted notes through the slit – messages (to whom?) saying, when the moon is blue your wish will come true (meaning that the moon would without a shadow of a doubt sometimes be blue, for it was written, yes in my own hand, and I had seen it in my mind’s eye); and messages that were simply the titles of books I had read: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, What Katy Did, Five Children and It, The Borrowers, The Wind on the Moon, Das Doppelte Lottchen, Peterchen’s Mondfahrt – and lines from A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Dark brown is the river, golden is the sand


Montag said...

Thanks for this post.
I was going to say something affectionately wise, but this whole thing about "magic" is a pretty deep I shall have to wait.

Reading the Signs said...

It is deep forest, Montag, and the magic referred to here is but one slender branch. Do not get lost in the forest before bringing your piece of wisdom here.

Kahless said...

What happened to the notes you posted?

Reading the Signs said...

I can't remember, Kahless. I once took it to the local park and some kids tried to make off with it (thinking perhaps to find biscuits). I and a friend ran after them and got it back.

Digitalesse said...

A beautiful recollection, Signs.

As a child, I lived in the realms of my imagination. In my mind's eye, there were many hidden places inside my home, that I'd somehow pass through the wall and find winding corridors and secret rooms. If I could imagine it to be true, then it was true.

When I played with my friends, we could invent a whole world, and I could see this imaginary world every bit as clearly as the real world.

When I was at my worst with ME, housebound and bedbound, my imagination was my best friend.

Is this magic? To me, life without a momentary dream would be just too dull. Whatever it is, I believe that it fuels our hearts and our minds to seek out a more fulfilling life, to create our art, to guide us through the imagination of another human being whether through their literature, music or the visual arts. Even a conversation with a friend can be a wonderful journey.

Magic, I believe, is all around us, all the time.

Anna MR said...

Hei Signs, I don't say wise things, but I thought this was a lovely post. I still do.

Mwahs all round.

Anna MR said...

Alright - I can't leave this untold. The word ver is comemas. A very special day on the calendar, shortly after Candlemas.

Just in case there are unbelievers in our midst, I have left a (slightly blurred) bit of photographic evidence of this international day of celebration under my name.

Happy Comemas, Signs.

Anna MR said...

Okay. This will be my final say on matters wvl, for I don't want to become a wvl bore. But now it's dumbo.

I'm trying not to be offended.

Reading the Signs said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Digi. I'm not quite sure myself just what I mean by magic here. The imagination is involved, certainly, and the power that words have to evoke. But something other than that also, which isn't easily named. I felt as you did, that if I could imagine something to be true, then it was true - and opened some kind of door.

I think you are absolutely right - magic is around us all the time.

Reading the Signs said...

Anna, you carry wisdom in your being, what need therefore to say Wise Things? The WVLs are being very cheeky (I have noticed this increasingly), but sometimes they do seem to know things and the comemas is surely a small reminder that come-as-you-are is perfectly acceptble in House of Signs. Although it may also be a new religious festival.

I have this creeping feeling that the dumbo might actually be a reference to me. Brushing that thought away, Anna, as one does.