Once again I’m doing some of the days of the 31 Days of Magic out of order. Today I’m doing Day 29, “Personal Concerns”. Now, normally this means things like fingernails and hair and other very personal parts of people that they’ve shed recently in a spell.
For me, tonight, it meant that when I was at a party tonight, I kept making an effort to turn conversations around me to questions of Making, to creativity, to design, to inventiveness, to imagination. These are my personal concerns. I’m interested in what people think of these subjects, and I want people to talk about them in public spaces and private spaces, to be thinking about them, and doing them.
The conversations were interesting. One revolved around I and my conversant’s efforts (separately) to learn basic carpentry skills. Another revolved around the question of which magics to learn, and why, and what was the role of occult philosophy (both the what and the why) in our studies. Another conversation focused on electronic music, and the power of computers to construct music with increasing exactness. This led into a conversation about belly dance, which then led into a brief digression on the subject of Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. In another knot of people, we talked about inventing new cocktails, and how the standard bartending training both aids and hinders one’s inventiveness about new drinks. A group of us discussed the qualitative and quantitative differences between a piece of furniture carved and assembled using only hand tools, against one where the joiner used power tools.
There were also three lengthy discussions about teaching. One young woman described her efforts to write a sex-education curriculum for women in a residential program for mental illness; another friend discussed his challenges in designing a curriculum for a relatively-new middle-school music program. And this led back into a discussion about magic — and how often it’s the case that a genuine self-training program in magic requires three to five years of study and experimentation — about the same amount of time to develop a middle school music program.
Finally, a rather taciturn Maker that I respect a great deal opened up about his current challenges in puppetry; how he’s being taken back to his original training to design a series of puppets for a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream that draw on marionette string-systems, the first such design he’s built in twenty years. He also described a moving stage piece he’s doing for another school’s production, which a bit more abstracted from the thing its supposed to represent than he’d like. My fellow apprentice-carpenter and I listened with rapt attention as he described some of the technical challenges involved.
And checking in with another friend, I heard about her dance training, her recovery from relatively recent injuries, and her growing business plan to organize her own work while also making an effort not to compete with some of her friends and colleagues from other dance schools in the area. The business of being in creative fields, whether carpentry or set design, dance or painting, music or holistic-artisanship computer programming, is fraught with perils — considering the question of competition with the same people you think of as your friends wasn’t something I’d ever considered too deeply before.
And, of course, someone asked me about my poetry work, which led to an impromptu drawing lesson. And the drawing lesson ended when our host approached with a drink which he’d concocted and invented himself. We toasted him and his creation, and then the toast led into a discussion of someone’s summer marriage plans at a nearby farm, and the creative plans needed to make invitations, stage the wedding and reception, and otherwise make the coming happy day a success.
I must admit. I don’t think this is at all what the originator of the 31 Days of Magic had in mind. I think they were imagining I’d be using fingernail clippings, or frail garlands of hair, in a magical spell. But I feel that my purpose was well-served tonight: A lot of people that I’m friends with, whom I don’t think of as conscious creatives necessarily, demonstrated that they think about Creativity ALL. THE. TIME. It informs everyone’s life process. Everyone relies on it for their professional work, for their personal work, for their self-identity. It’s a deeply personal concern — while at the same time being a cultural and spiritual resource that is endlessly renewed.
And, in this extended community, nearly everyone thinks of their creative powers as magic.
This isn’t the post I originally wrote; it’s not the post I planned to write, either. But it’s the post that came through, and that I feel I was directed to write. My “personal concerns” turned out not to be particularly personal at all. Rather, they were almost universal among the party-goers, who had gathered together in order to celebrate a journey of creative discovery about to be undertaken by the guests of honor.
And I think that’s sort of the point: Your personal concerns are actually universal concerns. Hair, fingernails, skin dust, what have you… it’s more or less the same as the desire for health, wealth, peace, and adventure that we all share. Share your personal, deep concerns with others, and you’ll find that others see the world with similar eyes. It’s a small magic, but one well worth study and practice.