No, I haven’t written about the Calgary Folk Festival yet! I haven’t been doing much writing at all. Instead, I’ve been ploughing through changes to my living space before autumn comes and the world freezes up again. While I haven’t been able to take on huge tasks, I’ve been able to take on little projects; a little paint here, a little scrub there.
I’ll get back to the writing during those icy winter months, but this morning, with a nice cup of coffee sitting on the desk, I’ve got to write about ‘magic’. Magic is a word that sums up ideas of wizards in costumes, a deck of cards or hanging upside down in a straight jacket. Or in a darker sense, it can stir up thoughts of evil and acts that are in opposition to all that is good. I use the term ‘magic’ in a very benign sense in reference to those moments when the ‘live-er’ NOTICES the beauty in the ordinary, perhaps for the very first time. It isn’t an easy notion to explain.
While teaching English language arts, I used the book, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury as a source for these sorts of experiences and asked that my students keep a journal set up in the same way as the journal of the protagonist, Douglas Spaulding.
The novel begins with Douglas’s incantation of summer…
Dandelion Wine begins with twelve year old Douglas Spaulding lying in the roof bedroom of his grandparents’ house in the pre-dawn hours of the first day of summer. One night each week Douglas gets to leave his family in their house next door so that in the morning he can make the town come alive. He pretends to be in control of the waking town, sending signals to the street lights to go out, telling people to turn on their lights and wake up, and finally beckoning the sun to rise. Douglas ushers in the summer of 1928.
…and five chapters that invite the reader into the awesomeness of little things, like the springing single strand of a spider web that Douglas feels on his face as he steps into a forest. A summary of chapter six then, from SparkNotes.
Douglas gets out a pad of paper and a pencil while he and Tom are in their bedroom and tells his brother of his plan to keep his own lists. He points out that they do many of the same things each summer, and that a list of those things will make up half of summer but that the second half is made up of the thoughts that you have about those things. As an example he tells Tom how the bottling of dandelion wine is on the first list but that his idea that each time you bottle dandelion wine it puts aside some of 1928 goes on the second list. Tom is confused, so Douglas gives him another example: the first argument and fight he had with his dad is recorded on the first list but on the second list is the thought that kids and adults fight because they are from two different races. Tom understands and tells Douglas that since there are five billion trees and each had a shadow then night must come from all of the shadows coming out.
I began to read aloud to the students (yes…big kids!) during their first class. We began our school year, as Douglas began his summer. And so too, at the conclusion of chapter six, we began keeping our magic journals, dated from the front and from the back, just as Douglas did in his yellow nickel tablet, making two lists of categories: Rites and Ceremonies, then Discoveries and Revelations. I came to label the discoveries and revelations part of the journal as magic.
All these years later, I have students and parents of students, both, who mock the activity and say that back in Junior High they dreaded that journal and sometimes or always ‘invented’ their magic. It’s interesting that life is just like that…we invest in those activities that we have passion for or that delight us. I reached some and that’s all that I can intend to do when I teach…I hope for all, but I am realistic. I know from the fact that I poured over and read each of these entries over years, that there was genuine investment by most of my writers and I’m hoping that the impact will sneak up on those who invested time and energy and positivity into the act of keeping record through those years, that that particular act will somehow be transformative.
I’ll never forget the day that I read a young man’s journal (surprisingly, the male writers sometimes wrote the most thoughtful and sensitive pieces about their ‘ordinary’ days), and his rite or ceremony was the fact that he was sitting at his desk eating lunch. In the back of his journal, under discoveries and revelations, he described his experience of eating a salmon salad sandwich and drinking it down with a cold glass of milk. I am writing about this entry, simply because it actually brought back thoughts of lunches with my parents. I hope that this writer kept his journal because his entries were thoughtful, descriptive and so very tuned in to grace.
I continue to keep a number of journals that were gifted to me at the end of several school years, both beautiful blank journals that a number of students gave me for the purpose of my own writing and also copies of their own personal journals, one of them being that of Barrett Schitka.
Magic has continued to happen for me over the years and I look for my own revelations every single day. It is grace that allows us to see through the drudgery of the ordinary and discover the amazing presence of the divine light in that act or experience.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon assembling Ikea furniture. Does that drum up an image in the reader’s mind? It is so. I was tired. I turned on the ‘tube’ and leaned back and checked my phone while Netflix came to life. There, a note from Emily. I hope she doesn’t mind my sharing it this morning. Emily, it’s not too late to start keeping your magic journal.