Becoming a Magician

“One of my heuristics for growth is to seek out the magicians, and find the magic. Often without noticing, your progress in aspects of life or all of it unconsciously becomes linear. You made a certain amount of money last year, so you aim to make some ‘reasonable’ proportion more this year. But you are largely using the same tools to get 2x as you used to get x, and so you end up with diminishing marginal returns as you wring the remaining juice out of the initial strategy. The ‘describe the version of you that seems impossible right now’ trick I described above is largely an attempt to bypass that part of my brain that dismisses the work of magicians as crazy and starts allowing it to make the necessary shifts required to become the kind of magician I am envisioning.

The way to extraordinary growth and changes often involves a fundamental ontological or ‘lens’ shift in how you see the world. Magicians are wearing not just better, but fundamentally differently shaped lenses to the rest of us. And regardless of your skills and experience, it is likely that you are a magician to someone else. As someone who has a well-defined felt sense of how various foods affects their body, and can cook simple, healthy food well, I can seem like a magician to someone lacking a similar mental framework who ricochets between spartan self-denial and uncontrollable junk binges.

Meeting magicians is the first step to becoming one – when you are attempting to learn implicit knowledge that by definition you don’t understand, it is important to have a bunch of examples in front of you to feed your brain’s pattern-recognition systems. This will start to change your worldview without the controlling ‘you’ explicitly approving or denying every new belief or framework. Magicians or their work often seem to have a subconscious glow that I am drawn to, particularly if they use a type of magic that I recognise is on my critical path and thus something I’m currently seeking. Concrete steps I take to find them include asking my most interesting friends to introduce me to their most interesting friends, going down similar rabbit holes with the bibliographies of books that excite me, and generally living in ‘explore’ mode at various points in life, while recognising that not every avenue will lead to a jackpot.”

-“Becoming a magician.” Autotranslucence. March 30, 2018.

I liked this blog piece a lot. It’s kind of a description of the destination of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

No Special Magic

“I had an aged Volvo once (this is not irrelevant), and I was on holiday in Ireland in the summer, as I usually am, and the boot — which you call the trunk — jammed. I went in to the local garage man in my Kerry village and said, “I suppose I should take it to a Volvo dealer.” He lifted up a monkey wrench and hit the back of the car where the boot was jammed with a great belt. As he hit it (and it did spring open), he said, “In matters like this, Volvo dealers wield no special magic.”

-Tyler Cowen interviewing Roy Foster, “Roy Foster on Ireland’s Many Unmade Futures.” Conversations With Tyler. April 6, 2022.

Enjoyed the whole discussion, but since I collect little stories, I was particularly charmed by this bit.

Eric by Tom Manning

“When we are clear-eyed about the fact that what we think of as our individual self is really a hodgepodge of artifice, and not really our self, that can be both freeing and terrifying. Our ego constantly chases fleeting needs, which is why an identity based on that ego is fleeting, and happiness based on feeding that ego is fleeting. I think true happiness is probably only attained by the release of ego, which is ironically our ego’s greatest fear. In Eric, I try to capture the horror and freedom of what it might be like to actually erase your ego. It’s all in the book’s opening quote from the Beach Boys: ‘Hang on to your ego / hang on but I know that you’re gonna lose the fight.'”

—Tom Manning quoted in an interview with Sarah Heston, “Magical Los Angeles: An Interview with Tom Manning.” The Los Angeles Review of Books. September 29, 2018.

You can order Eric (or his other graphic novel Runoff) via the author’s website, or ask your local library to order or get it on loan.

Becoming Dangerous 

Becoming Dangerous: A book about ritual and resistance “is a nonfiction book of deeply personal essays by marginalised people using the intersection of feminism, witchcraft, and resistance to summon power and become fearsome in a world that would prefer them afraid. With contributions from twenty witchy femmes, queer conjurers, and magical rebels, BECOMING DANGEROUS is a book of intelligent and challenging essays that will resonate with anyone who’s ever looked for answers outside the typical places.” 

Kickstarter for the project ends October 20, 2017.