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From Art Muscle

                             Magic, Mess & Art          

by Mike Zetteler




     Surely, as a rational person, I'm beyond being
affected by magic.  And yet, some stubbornly contested
domestic battles were clarified for me -- a
practitioner of neatness -- when I read somewhere that
my partner -- if not a slob, somewhat less than tidy --
and I were both using our habits as a form of control
over the terrors of fate.  In short, magic.
     She (actually, several of them over the years), in
essence demonstrated her independence from destiny,
from age, from death and the need to (in the eyes of
some) choose a career and a respectable mate. Scattered
scarves, dirty ashtrays, discarded newspapers, dishes
in the sink:  What does it matter?  She was alive now,
here in the present, and if she doesn't acknowledge the
future it won't get her.
     Of course, I trailed behind, emptying cat boxes,
diligently piling clothes on her dresser, straightening
magazine stacks, keeping tables and counters clear.
     My unanswered plea, the cry of all neatniks:  Why
can't you see it takes no effort to do this as you go
along, rather than save it up for a tremendous push
before company is coming or you're finally overwhelmed
into spending a fine Saturday morning getting out from
under?
     Still, with my passion for order (alphabetized
spice rack, book spines aligned parallel with the front
of the shelf, everything in the fridge returned to its
designated spot), is my behavior ultimately directed
to the same end?
     I am told that it is. In short, I am showing that
I am in control of my universe,  making magic to keep
unwanted influences at bay.  (I don't remember who said
so, but no matter; it's pretty common knowledge.)
     The funny thing is, as a rational person who
perhaps takes rationality to an extreme where it serves
no purpose except to preserve the principle of having a
system for everything, I can accept this explanation as
just another signal that there should be reasons for
doing things -- but the partner was usually enraged at
the suggestion she was practicing supernatural thinking
and that our behavior had a common root, aversion to
being controlled by the inevitable.
     This, of course, is just another symptom, and it
gets more convoluted.  I am by no means a prisoner of
my routines, since if they don't produce for me I have
meta-systems to evade what would otherwise become 
intolerably burdensome.
       As a temporary worker, a longshoreman free to
check out or work extra hours, a cab driver who made my
own schedule, a banquet bartender on call but allowed
to turn down gigs, I have avoided most of my adult life
responding to the iron laws of regular employment and
the hours that go with it (not to mention the decent
paychecks).
     In short, though I may follow one of several
customary routines when I arise (including type of food
depending on the day of the week), I generally get up
when I want, and sometimes not at all, choosing to
start on a case of bargain beer in bed.
     Now, there are myriad causes for any type of
behavior:  genetic, familial, rebellion against family,
personal history and influences, and so forth, and
magical thinking certainly is not always the key.  But
when it exists, it does have implications for any art
involved.
     Though inclined now towards journalism as a
freelance writer, I've published a bit in other areas
as well -- poetry, fiction -- and believe they, as well
as the urge to reportage, spring out of, again, a
desire to find order and meaning in events and be of
them, experience them, while not making a commitment
to any way of life in particular.
     Reporting -- any form of re-creational writing
about events, including fiction and probably the visual
arts as well -- is a heightened form of existence in
which mundane details take on a significance only a few
(the artist/magician and his cabal/audience)
appreciate.  At the same time, one can step back into
the timeless arena of the creative life where ordinary
occupations, and their attendant arcs of productivity,
decline and retirement, their inevitable social
rigidities, don't apply.
     This may lead to loneliness, substance abuse and
poverty, but as Robert Stone wrote of alcoholism in A
Hall of Mirrors, "It's a way of ending the day."
     Oddly enough, those misguided spirits who thrive
on disorder in their personal lives often make good
journalists and artists.  Many reporters, novelists,
painters and such are notoriously chaotic, though they 
may be meticulous in their products (others relied on a 
Maxwell Perkins to make them acceptable).
     I have to conclude that they are capable of
relying on two forms of magic at the same time, one
artistic and one individual, and more power to them as
long as I don't have to cope with their excesses. 
Because it happens that two of the women I alluded to
became good reporters themselves, with the
regimentation any such profession brings with it to
well beyond the entry level, at least.
     This means responding to the alarm clock every
working day and only scheduled vacations each year,
while I am free to lounge around and write the
occasional article such as this one.
     Neither approach is inherently superior, of
course; it is just that from the time in my twenties
when I finished a night at the can company on second
shift and was doing my laundry at three a.m. near Downer
Ave., eating George Webb's cheeseburgers and drinking a
six-pack while reading a book of French symbolist
poetry for a course at UWM, that the words of Verlaine,
written in an entirely different context, have
resonated for me: "Dive deep, leap clear."
     If you can do it, it may be good or destructive --
or both -- but it's surely the essence of magical
living, and art lets you do both.
                                                    Zonyx the Dancing Scorpio:   Art Muscle Page             



(A slightly different version of this essay appeared in Art Muscle, February/March 1994,
which examines the uses of magic in art.)

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