The Magician

I’m going through a month-long healing phase after my body has finally shut down from a two-month manic period. With that time, I’ve discovered the writing I created but was too scared to edit and publish. 


She has been practicing her sleight of hand for years now.

It’s almost second nature, at this point. She smiles, catches their eyes with a snap and a whip of her fingers. It appears all flash and no substance, but then she makes the card appear when it seemed impossible The audience is astonished. Bamboozled, really, because they were so sure they could not be fooled. That there was no way she’d actually get the right card.

It doesn’t really matter, though. She’s moved onto the next trick.

What they don’t see is the hours of practice that goes into the moment where the Magician makes something out of nothing.  They do not notice the red-rimmed eyes, tired from staring into the mirror and watching the same trick over and over again. The Magician is trying to make sure it is perfect for the audience. It has to be perfect for the audience.

They do not hear the ringing in her ears from years of listening to cries and catcalls instead of the sound of her own breath. They have failed to notice her skin, dull and red, from the make-up she wipes off in streaks each night, slumped over her dressing room table, barely able to move. They do not care that there are times where she is unable to focus her eyes before going on stage– she knows the gauzy film between her brain and the world it should be perceiving is problematic, but she also knows that she has to go out and perform.

The audience needs its show. They must be entertained.

So she goes out, night after night, honing her “craft,” learning to read the room. When she feels like she’s losing them, she slap-dashes something together and throws another coin into thin air, pulls another rabbit out of her hat, changes the mark to a more forgiving body on stage with her. It doesn’t matter what it takes. Stand on the back of the bucking horse? Sure! Swallow swords, eyes watering as she wide-grin-smiles toward the crowd? Of course! Anything so that she does not lose them. She cannot lose them.

Because she knows what happens when the crowds go home, and she is left in the dressing room, alone.

She sinks, slowly, into the chair. The table is in disarray– make-up is strewn, long smudgy splashes of color on a faded, white, wooden top. The makings of a face finger-painted on to a splintered canvas– the metaphor is almost too painfully obvious, even to her, who has lived without subtlety for years now.

There, in her solitude, when the memory of the crowd roars in her ears like the ocean, there is no one to distract her, no one to look at, no one who she must bamboozle. She is in a standoff only with herself. There is nothing to face but her own existence in that moment.

Why?

The question sits there, unmoving. No sparkle, no flash. There is no magic trick that will satiate the audience who is witness to her own brokenness. There is no bucking bronco or sword to swallow that will turn her gaze away in the mirror. There is only the heavy question, the ball and chain tethered to her. She sees it reflect back at her in the shine of her eyes, the creases in her skin.

Why?

She sighs, tears the question away from the mirror and places her head in her hands. Instinctively, her fingers reach into her chest pocket and pull out a card. It’s one of the few times she can ever answer anyone properly– showing them the card they were thinking of.

She holds it up to the mirror, tries to fake a smile.

Is this your card? 

She flicks it to the floor, reaches in, and grabs another.

How about this one?

She flicks that one away.

She stops mid-reach. Her eyes finally connect back with her self.

Her card will never be pulled.

 

 

 

Photo by Calamic Photography

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Bad Writing and Broken Hearts

Below is a piece I’m working on. I don’t know how it’s going, but I’m having a hard time working on anything. 


I like telling stories.

That doesn’t make me special. I’m a sometimes-writer and full-time English teacher. I have spent years fitting events into narrative structures: dynamic characters, dramatic tension, nuanced relationships wind through conflict and still end with a neat resolution. My world, most days, is spent somehow trying to craft something that fits into a narrative.

I thought this was just craft, something I did on paper or in the classroom until someone reminded of a small, white lie I had written about them. When I apologized, they simply said, “You like making things fit your story.” It wasn’t mean, they were just making an observation. At that moment, it clicked.

I have been telling myself stories for years.

Nearly every relationship I’ve had is subjected to hours in the tumble-dry cycle of day-dreams. I take the smallest tidbits, find the narrative and fill it with so much hot air it floats away with the rest of my imagination.

My narrative habit has been curling its way through my brain, around my heart, and into my actions since childhood. A gossamer string, my desire to adapt my perception of reality– then manipulate that reality to my perception– has been woven into my life since long before I could understand it.

It’s in adolescent journal entries describing, in excruciating detail, the real meaning behind my crush putting his hand briefly on the back of my chair as he talked to someone else. It’s being sure that, when his “ocean blue eyes, like a stormy sea” (a line, no doubt, purloined from some bad fanfic I had read on the internet) locked with mine, it was because he was seeing something deeper in me. It’s embedded into the fabric of time I’d spend skulking around corners at school, hoping to “accidentally” run into some guy.

When, somehow, I would convince that crush to actually date me– with obvious flirtation, with praises and pretty words– I was still creating storylines for them that would, eventually, end.

Storyline: A young Mormon missionary falls in love with a Catholic girl. He proposes. She says yes. He goes on his mission and, somehow, when he returns, they find a way to work through their religious issues and have a happy life.

In reality, six months after he left, the heady high of my first kiss and first love had worn off. I was sixteen when he gave me a ring. I was seventeen when I sent my missionary a Dear-John-email (we weren’t allowed to call or see them in person, or I swear I would have). He begged me to accept his God into my heart and make things work. I overlooked his messages. I returned his ring and most other gifts he left me. 

He’s married now, I think. He blocked me on Facebook.

I did this a few more times in high school: the track star who tutored me in math and left me when he realized our time was up. I threw a fit (this was not part of my story) and sobbed, though deep down I agreed. The fellow thespian, who I badgered to go out with me my senior year. He wrote some nasty things about me, we made peace and parted ways. He recently married man in San Francisco

This, of course, is natural for many high schoolers. As a teacher now, I see myself in so many sixteen-year-olds skulking around corners, hoping to bump into someone. I see the students hoping to find validation in me as their teacher or their friends or some relationship, and sigh and tilt my head and wonder how anyone put up with me at that age.

What is more difficult to realize is that I didn’t leave the practice behind in my school like I thought I did. I see now that I have been weaving webs of stories and heartaches long past my graduation.

It can only whisper back at us. It can no longer roar.

It’s astounding, really, how quickly the human mind is able to go into damage control. The body is often the star of regeneration, regrowth, and healing; we celebrate the body’s ability to accept and become attached to new parts, grow back bits of ourselves that have been stolen and hacked off, or mimic the actions and feelings of a limb when we are left wanting.

The body can even take over when the worst happens. The main functions for the body itself to survive– blood-pumping heartbeats, air-filling breaths– are programmed to continue no matter what is happening in the outside world. Without choosing too, the body works within itself to make sure it keeps on living.

The human mind, however, works differently. A sponge of information, the mind rarely needs to work to attach itself to new ideas or memories. Instead, we constantly take in everything surrounding us. We are bombarded by a seemingly unending stream of images, soundbytes, voices, words, numbers opinions beliefs emotions faces tacticsideashopesstragegiesfantasiesdesires. The mind is consistently full and racing to process, file, and respond to all of these things.

When disaster–or at least an intense shake-up of the normal day’s happenings– occurs however, the mind must make a switch. There is too much going on, and it becomes like the body and begins to triage. It prioritizes the necessities that must remain with you on the other side of this moment, this temporary crisis.

The basic facts of the memory remain: the date, time and place, the clinically bare images that swoop through when you try and piece together something; the heart of the memory still beats and the lungs still take in shallows breaths of air. Maybe the eyes flutter and a slash of color or hint of scent peek through.

There are other things, though, that the mind decides is no longer safe to keep as a memory. Things that were too intense or too emotional or just too damn vivid to live on in our mind’s eye, and the mind proceeds to slowly rob us of them. Even if it’s something we may desire to keep, there are some things that are perhaps no longer worth knowing. To know them, to feel them, to wrap oneself in the blanket of that memory would be too raw, too confusing, or too painful to keep.

So it fades.

Morning comes, and the first gray-yellow rays sunshine creep in through your windows. Just as the sun comes up, it sheds light on the memories of the previous day. The colors are less vivid when stripped of their once-black background. The memory that had so powerfully ran through your mind in crazy loops, begins to slow, then walk, then fade quietly into the background. We open our eyes to reality again, and we re-align and re-adjust to what was once normal, or what now is normal. The mind accepts the occurrences of the previous day and, if possible, moves past them. When we try to recall the memory, it can only whisper back at us. It can no longer roar.

Are we angry at the mind for taking these memories away? Or, deep down, do we appreciate the mind for taking some of the responsibility off of ourselves?

Remembering is often considered such a sacred thing, something that we should be holding ourselves accountable to as often as we can. Perhaps, the mind robs us of these thoughts because it knows that, deep down, we may not really want to remember.


4 years old, but I still love this piece a lot.