Do You Believe in Magic?

When I graced the campus of Spring Arbor University as an admissions rep, I ran into many students who believed in magic. They strolled into my office and sat across my desk from me with wide-eyed expectations and dreams of changing the world. When I throw around the word “magic,” I don’t mean the Harry Potterish sort of cartoony witchcraft that casts spells and defines good witches and bad witches. I’m referencing the “modern magic” that defines our lives every single day.

Most of us, vegetarians not included, love chicken. We drive over to the super market, scan the aisles, and choose between chicken thighs, breasts, legs, wings, rotisserie wholes, halfs, and so on. If I ever visited a friend and they asked me to go out back and chop a chicken’s head off for dinner, I’d cringe slightly and might think, “This is creepy…” Creepy? Woah. Isn’t it a little bit creepier to think that I can go to the supermarket and grab chicken out of a freezer because whole factories with hundreds of people working on stainless steel assembly lines devote themselves entirely to chicken hacking, slicing, dicing, and packaging? That’s creepy.

Let’s take it a little bit further. The “Green Movement.” I’m not talking about an Iranian revolution. This is about environmentalism. I want to keep the planet healthy as much as the next environmentalist, but most of the people I know who are “green” have an Apple Computer, an iphone, and one car per each person in the household, not to mention multiple other technological toys like flat screen tv’s, dvd players, etc. Is our society more “green” than it was in the 80’s? The 80’s were the days of the Cosby’s, one TV and phone per household, and no personal computers or cell phones. My “green” friends are probably much less friendly to the environment than my parents or grandparents were. They just don’t think about where all of their gadgets are coming from. To them, their devices are magic. As long as they don’t have a “gas guzzler,” they’re “green.” Well, yippee skippee!

Convenience often has an unseen price, and because of that, I find myself subconsciously thinking, “Things just happen.” This “wish upon a star” mentality often bleeds into every area of my life. After viewing a life-changing movie, I’ve often whispered, “I wish I could make a great movie like that!” Or after leaving tear stains on each page of a beautifully crafted novel, I’ll wipe my eyes, and exclaim, “I wish I could write a novel like that.” It’s easy to wish for those things, because wishes help me ignore the behind-the-scenes work involved. The idea of magic is way more comfortable than the idea of work.

At Spring Arbor, some of the high school seniors that sat across from me were “wishers.” They had big dreams and a small work ethic. They threw pennies into the wishing well of their dreams and expected to gain a fortune of fulfillment and happiness. The equations that they drew up for their lives day in and day out could only leave them with a sum of mediocrity and unmet expectations. They wanted a proverbial rabbit, but they kept trying to pull it out of a top hat instead of just going to the farm or pet store and buying one.

Their mentality was sometimes reinforced by parents who never made them work for anything, so they have come to believe, “The world owes me something.” Other times it’s reinforced by a social structure that sets up government as God. Are you hungry? The government has food stamps. Are you out of work? The government has welfare. Are you homeless? The government can provide a place for you. Are you sick? The government can give you health care. Do you need an education? The government has financial aid. When the government wants to cut some of these programs, lots of people get mad. They view the programs as a right, without acknowledging that the money has to come from somewhere or somebody. Their perspective is perverted because they don’t see where the money’s coming from. Money may not grow on trees in public, but they’re convinced that there’s a secret orchard of money trees growing somewhere in the halls of Congress or The Federal Reserve. It’s like… magic.

As a freshman in college, I thought like that too! I was the stupid kid who stayed up ’til three in the morning playing NFL Blitz on Nintendo ’64 and watching movies. I also bounced multiple checks because I was too lazy to walk across the street to my bank and make the needed deposits. When I look back on the kid that I used to be, I want to shake him and yell, “Things don’t just happen! You gotta make an effort!” My momma always says, “Forgetting is not a good excuse!” I would add to that and say, “Negligence is unacceptable.” I was reminded of that two days ago when Gabe, my best friend and landlord, said, “Dude, it’s unacceptable to have trash piling up in the kitchen!” I said something lame like, “I didn’t see it there,” which was a horrible excuse. I didn’t see it there, because I just assumed someone would take it out. Nothing’s magic. Trash doesn’t get taken out through “Bibbiddy Bobbiddy, Boo!” Someone takes it out, while everyone else thinks, “Eh, it’s magic.” Turns out Gabe isn’t always excited to be magician numero uno.

These last few years, it’s been a privilege for me to peek behind the curtain of music industry. Hundreds of hours of writing songs + hundreds of hours of practicing your instrument + hundreds of hours of refining your voice + thousands of dollars in music production, art, and photography + thousands of hours in promotion, strategizing, and refining = drumroll please…. 1 album. Before I became a songwriter, I thought 1 album happened in a few days. Now I know that it takes months.

Two days ago, I finished a Folger’s Jingle video for the Folger’s Jingle Contest. I spent four hours writing the lyrics & melody, an hour practicing the guitar part, four hours recording the song,  three hours driving back and forth to the studio, a hundred bucks buying props, three hours organizing schedules, five hours filming the music video, ten hours editing the music video, and nine hours color correcting it. That’s just what I did, not to mention the hours put in by Ben & Allie Goodrow, David Buchanan, Jason Thiede, and Jake Rye. The video/short film lasts for 67 magical seconds.

Do I believe in luck anymore? No. I believe that luck is preparation colliding with opportunity. Even American Idol contestants have a worked a lifetime to refine the voice that you hear for twenty seconds. It’s not luck that gets them there. It’s a combination of talents and hard work. Do I believe in magic? No. Magic is only a well-crafted illusion that hard work creates behind-the-scenes. If you want somethin,’ stop wishin’ on a star to make your dreams come true. Start workin,’ prayin,’ and trustin’ God because the world owes you nothing.

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4 thoughts on “Do You Believe in Magic?

  1. “Hard work never killed anyone, but why take a chance?” – Edgar Bergen

    Pretty funny quote until you think about how it may accurately reflect the attitude of the slothfulness in each one of us.

    “The one thing that matters is the effort. It continues, whereas the end to be attained is but an illusion of the climber, as he fares on and on from crest to crest; and once the goal is reached it has no meaning.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands, translated from French by Stuart Gilbert

    “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” ~Thomas Jefferson

  2. I’ve really enjoyed reading all your posts, but this one in particular struck me. I didn’t invest as much in the Folgers contest as you did, but I did get a new piece of equipment that allowed me to start recording “scratch tracks” of songs that have been rattling around in my head (and that I’ve gotten together in even more rudimentary form on my keyboard) for years. I really like my job, but I do think that if someone offered me a position to be a songwriter, it would be the sort of job I would stay up all night for just because of the enjoyment I get out of it. I sometimes wonder when it will be time to try to finally learn how to play an instrument, and make an actual effort to see if anyone will like them. I always have this persistent (but almost certainly fruitless) hope that someone in a position of power will happen upon them and lift me up “magically.” But I know that’s highly unlikely, and that if I want it to happen, I would have to do things to make it happen. Your post really resonated with me; thank you for your thoughts and efforts!

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