Review: The Arte of Glamour

20130221-105454.jpg Deborah
first book on magic is called The
Arte of Glamour
. The foreword is by Gordon
White, of the blog Rune Soup.
Glamour is a complex concept in magic. Originally, the word meant
or means something like “enchantment or magic,” and then gradually
morphed toward “outward seeming”, and then morphed still further
towards its current meaning, along the lines of “the quality of
being beautiful, exciting and attractive, which excites attention
and notice,” as in a way for the external appearance of something
to fail to match its internal reality. One casts a glamour spell,
in other words, to delude the observers into believing things about
yourself or another that simply are not true. The Fairy Godmother
in Cinderella, for example, casts a glamour
over her charge, to make a prince fall in love with a woman who
isn’t quite real. Except. Except, of course,
that the glamour cast is so effective, because it raises
Cinderella’s own self-worth, and breaks the chains that bind her
mind.  Her self-worth is battered by ugly stepsisters — whose
glamour serves to clothe the outward form of beauty, but does not
cover over or hide inner self-worth; and yet the glamour makes the
outward appearance of Cinderella match the inner beauty. It makes
her confident enough to dance with princes, to be the belle of the
ball, and to leave on her own terms — not as concubine to a spoiled
prince, but as suitable quarry for the royal hunt for a queen —
embodying both the power of the throne and the future bearer of
royal heirs.  This is not to suggest that Cinderella’s sole
power is as a baby-making machine, of course — only that this
option is open to her as to no one else at the royal ball…
because her outward appearance and her inner character have been
brought into alignment.  Glamour, in other words, is a magic
not exclusively to change outward appearances, although it can be
used that way.  Even more so, though, it is a magic to bring
the inner character and the outward appearance into alignment.
 As the Steve Martin character says to Rick Moranis
in My Blue
you gotta change from the outside in!”  The Fairy Godmother’s
glamourie on Cinderella is one such bit of
serious spellcraft — change the outward appearance so the inner
beauty shines through; change the outward accessories so that the
inner character is revealed; change the mode of travel so that the
capacity for regal mercy is apparent to all. So, to say that
glamour magic is only about fixing up one’s outward appearance is
to cast aspersions on the whole art.  And this glamour is not
about transforming pumpkins into coaches, or mice into coachmen, or
rags into sumptuous gowns, but about transforming one’s magic with
sumptuousness and sensuality — not, strictly speaking, sexuality,
but rather the play and interplay of senses and sensory experience
upon one’s daily life.  And THAT
what Deb is about doing — to your magic, to your
life, to your friends (and, in my case to my students), and to your
world. Accordingly, there is only one pumpkin in Deb’s book.
 And for her, the spell here is a vehicle for transforming
one’s arrival at a party from awkward guest to mistress of the
seasonally-appropriate sensory-overload experience.  No mice,
but plenty of ideas about how to transform rags to riches on a
budget. For there is a Cinderella story threaded through what she
writes in this book.  In Cinderella’s time, to be the
fireplace-ash collector was to be lowest among the low; today, we
don’t think much of people whose job it is to handle baby fluids
like puke and burp on a regular basis.  And yet, Deb shows us
how she’s been able to transform such complicated and demanding
labor through a ritual and spiritual practice that raises her
quality of life, that makes her queen of her own
dominion, and look good doing it.
That requires vision.  It requires even greater vision — and
more than that, a degree or three of self-discipline — to bring
that vision to fruition in a way that others can read it and learn
from it and experience it themselves. As I read through
The Arte of
 the first time, I thought of
six or eight people I knew whose magical practice would be
strengthened by reading it. Then, as I finished it, I thought,
“Actually, all those people already practice their magic
this way.  I just never quite noticed before, that this is how
they work…” 
It was as if Deb helped me take the
blinders off, and helped me see that magic didn’t have to be one
way alone, all candles and incense and stentorian commands — it was
also cocktails in a wood-paneled bar with a live jazz quartet, it
was learning to tie a new knot in a beautiful silk tie, it was
helping to paint a friend’s house on a weeknight alternating with
poetry and food and conversation
because COLOR! and SENSUALITY! and POETRY!
 FOOD! matter.  They
matter a lot. One of Deb’s big concepts is La Dolce
— The Sweet Life.  The Creamy Life, almost.
 A lot of the Puritan values we grow up with in New England
are ritualistically opposed to anything resembling the sweet life.
 Instead, we get a long litany of work hard, be
content with your lot in life, if things are rotten you must have
deserved it, God wants you to be miserable here so you can have a
happy life there, you were destined for what you get.

 If Deb serves to remind me of anything today, it’s that
there’s huge value in recognizing that the 4o-hour work-week is a
magical construct which serves almost everyone else except you, the
one who has to live in it. Yet the quality of our lives matters. It
doesn’t matter if we’re peasants in 14th century France or
modern-day wage slaves — the girl who buys a tortoiseshell comb
from a wandering pedlar’s pack is after as much glamour  as I
am when I buy a new purple and dark blue tie for Thursdays.
 We need a bit of richness in our lives, and we need a bit of
sensuality and color and… frankly… splendour.  We don’t
have to live beyond our means to achieve this kind of magic; we DO
have to find ways to look for it, to manage it, and to create it
where it is lacking. And Deb gives you permission to fail at this.
 Not every spell will work.  Not every glamourous outfit
will survive contact with the party (grease drippings and paint on
a new pair of pants, alas!) Not every delicious potluck party will
go according to plan.  You won’t like every cocktail, and the
jazz quartet is playing too loud.  There are days when you
will be a hot wreck of emotion because something you planned
meticulously and deliciously to be a feast for the senses is in
fact a bunch of rapidly-cooling food at a party that no one showed
up for. But Cinderella would have gone to the ball anyway. Even if
her fairy godmother hadn’t shown up, to cast a spell and throw a
glamour over everything she glanced at, Cinderella made her own
plans. She had a dress picked out from the Salvation Army, and
modified to suit her needs.  She wouldn’t have been the
bellest belle at the ball, but she would have gone.  Her shoes
were shined, and she had a tip for the bartender ready in her Vera
Bradley purse (that matched the fabric of her belt in color). Deb’s
best gifts are these, though she hardly calls them that: pluck,
courage, risk-taking, risk-management, adventurism. What my
mother’s mother used to call sportiness.  “Go on, girl.
 Go out. Be a sport.  Who knows? Maybe your date tonight
has a tall friend.”  There are always risks to take in calling
something magic when it doesn’t look especially like “woo”, and
even in calling it magic at all. But Deb,
and Deb’s book, says, “Go on, be a sport.  The Ladies are
waiting. The bartender tonight makes a great cosmo, and the
saxophonist is awesome.  This is your life.  Live a
little. Find your own sweet life.” A Note for
Non-Magical Teachers
I don’t know how much or how
many of my readership left have been sticking with me since 2009,
and the days when I was an up-and-coming teacher-blogger (I’ve left
a lot of that behind in the last few years, haven’t I? Thanks for
sticking around).  You may be wondering about the relevance of
a book about magic to your classroom, where there’s no magic unless
someone does a Harry Potter book report.
 Here’s my thoughts on a takeaway on that. One of the big
thoughts I’ve exported from magic to my own classroom is the
concept of Darshan: we benefit in
our daily lives by being in the presence of a great teacher.
 Being in their physical presence helps us absorb their habits
and modes of thought.  And the research on teachers bears this
out — students in great classrooms, in the company of great
teachers, make amazing progress in a relatively short time.
 (We’ll leave aside the other research that shows that
teachers can have an awesome year one year, and help their kids
make great progress; and be absolutely appalling the next year — as
my friend Sou says, “sometimes the chemistry can be amazing, but
the timing is wrong, and it just can’t work out”).  But I
think that we, as teachers, have to believe that a kid in our
classroom takes away from us some of our ideas about success, and
dress, and habits of life.  If we bring a brown-bag lunch to
school with a bag of potato chips and a sloppily made sandwich,
that conveys one message; a bento box with quality food conveys
another.  And parents and school districts expect us, in part,
to convey quality messages to our students even through our
non-verbal cues. So, in part, Deb’s book is about learning to ramp
up the quality of one’s non-verbal cues, both to yourself and to
those around you.  I don’t think you have to do any of the
altar work or the magical spells work she suggests in order to
radically improve the quality of
the Darshan energy you put out; you
don’t have to do “woo” magic to benefit from the kind of mind-set
rearrangement she suggests here.
 And doing the lesser levels of
work she suggests will help you do better at speaking to your own
students about the non-verbal cues they send to themselves and to
each other through what they wear, how they dress, and how they
choose to live.  If you find yourself wondering how you’re
going to make ends meet, or wonder what’s becoming of the culture
in which we live, then I think Deb’s book has some important things
to teach us, as teachers — she’s saying (as much through what she
doesn’t say as what she does) that as the educators of today’s
youth, we have a responsibility to teach kids that their outer
messages can reflect or even change inner character — as much as
inner character is broadcast through our outward glamourie.
 The average teachers’ guide doesn’t ask us to think about
that or teach about that, and yet we have to teach “that stuff” on
a fairly regular basis, through dress codes and our own outward
presentation to our students. Deb is saying, it’s important for
folks individually to be thinking about this stuff for ourselves.
 I’d add to that, it’s important for us as teachers, that we
try to be thinking about the effects of our non-verbal cues upon
the children we teach.  For they will inherit the earth, and
our non-verbal messages wind up becoming part of their long-range
symphony of the senses.  We should be conscious about how and
what messages we broadcast, and Deb’s book is a great way to begin
thinking about the issues anew. Rating:
★★★★★, for practical advice and for a sense of an overall theory of
glamour workings.

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