Tag Archive | beauty

the magic of magic is that it’s not actually magic

Last night a lovely friend invited Brad and me to one of my absolute favorite Los Angeles treasures, The Magic Castle. Perhaps because it reminds me of The Haunted Mansion, perhaps because it feels like stepping back in time, or perhaps because at every turn you encounter someone who has dedicated their life to illusion. Whatever the reason, I simply adore The Magic Castle.

Magic. What makes it awe-inspiring is knowing that it’s an illusion. Knowing that what appears before your eyes is impossible and yet despite exhaustive analyses, the magician in front of you has made it appear possible. The art and corresponding wonder lie in the excavation of the illusion, and the true beauty lies in not being able to explain: How did he do it? When your mind simply cannot come up with a reasonable or even unreasonable explanation, then this person has inspired wonder with no limits. But it must be illusion to be beautiful.

 If it were actually magic, meaning, a different set of scientific laws that actually occurred in the world, a la Harry Potter or Middle Earth, then it would not be as magnificent, because it would be science. If people flew, we would just live in a world where people flew. Somehow somewhere through some scientific analyses there would be an explanation. Just like there is an explanation for how birds fly. There is an explanation for everything, whether we ever uncover it or not.  BUT, when it only appears that someone flies, knowing that in truth he cannot, and we cannot for the life of us figure out how he did it, the magician has reached beyond the tangible world of science and to our eyes, against all common sense, made something impossible occur. Illusion. Theatre.

Here is where I get heady. And probably a little pretentious sounding. Forgive me, and bear with me. Art is all illusion. Art is not real, but a reflection of reality constructed by an artist to give an appearance of our world outside of the confines within which it actually exists, and through that reflection the artist allows beauty to emerge in a way that it has difficulty doing so outside of art’s comforting embrace. 

 This phenomenon is perfectly exemplified in good theatre, is it not? Our ability to be moved and to feel a sense of wonder lie in knowing that what we witness is an illusion. There is a safety in illusion; a buffer that gives us the ability to reflect. If in watching a production of Hamlet, the actor playing the Dane actually died onstage at the end of play, we would run in horror. We participate in the illusion and thus it sinks deeper in to our souls than the terrifying mystery of actual death. We leave the theatre perhaps a little less afraid of the unknown because, behaving as a life-preserver, our imagination has allowed us to navigate scary uncharted waters.   

 Thus is true of magic. Stripped of what the theatre gives us in the way of storytelling and precise commentary on various elements of the human condition; magic is illusion boiled down to its core. Illusion for illusion’s sake. Perhaps it is not necessarily a form of art but rather a depiction of the very definition of art. We know it’s not real, and we marvel at it all the more. Magic exercises our imagination.

 In a world choked of beauty with every news story of a school shooting or crooked politician, our imaginations need love and care to not get snuffed out by the fear surrounding us. The endless process of status updates and instantaneously seeking whatever information we want through the click of a mouse has almost voided the world of mystery. How much mystery can there be in the Great Pyramids when you can see them for yourself after taking 10 minutes to download Google Earth? I’m not knocking modern technology. I recognize that it’s amazing and I know there’s a difference between viewing an ancient pyramid on your computer screen and touching one; but will that always be the case depending on how good technology gets? It’s important to not have all the answers. We need to maintain some sense of mystery in the world or we’ll stop exploring and imagining.

I find it interesting that whenever I walk into an establishment that feels like the type of place you’re not supposed to have food or drinks, I also feel like I’m probably not supposed to take pictures. As if taking a picture would have the same damaging affect as spilling a soda. I’m so grateful they don’t allow you to take pictures inside The Magic Castle. It’s a relief to be in a place where you know that what you experience will happen in that moment alone, for you and you alone, and won’t be “shared” by 1,000 followers on Instagram. Like a play, only the audience of that particular night gets to see it. This makes it, what can I say, a magical place.

 At the Castle last night a magician from Kansas City performed an age-old illusion. He brought a girl from the audience up on stage, had her lay down on a table, removed the legs of the table and made her levitate before our very eyes. I was awe-struck. I could not figure it out. I still can’t. I know there are thousands of people out there who could explain to me how he did this trick. Magicians have been doing this since there have been magicians. It’s a very famous illusion and I know there is an explanation. Of course there is an explanation. But I don’t want to know. I want to keep wondering. I confess that in not knowing how it was done a little part of me will always wonder if perhaps it was real magic. And I want to believe in magic.

Brad and I in front of the castle for my birthday two years ago

Brad and I in front of the castle for my birthday two years ago

At The Magic Castle last night

At The Magic Castle last night

happy birthday… miss monroe

Today celebrates a few of my favorite things. First of all, June 1st has always excited me as it marks the entree to my birthday month. I can’t help it. I love birthdays. Countdown to June 18th.

Second, June 1st is Marilyn Monroe’s birthday. I feel compelled to pay homage to someone who eternally mystifies me, on what would have been her 85th birthday:

I haven’t always been a Marilyn Monroe fan. Of course I’ve acknowledged her beauty and iconic place in Hollywood history, but she never meant anything to me in a particularly special way, until my third year of college. I took all of three academic classes in my college career (yes, be jealous, hurray for conservatory education!). One of the three was an absolutely incredible philosophy class taught by Professor Kestenbaum. Oh how I loved thee. Imagine the most inspiring, kind, gentle, intelligent, whimsical man. Now imagine that he looks like Santa Claus. That was Professor Kestenbaum. Easily one of the most endearing and inspiring individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to learn from.

On June 1st of that year, Kestenbaum wanted to share something with us. He pulled out the Boston Globe and showed us all a picture of Marilyn Monroe on the front page, commemorating her birthday. A small, inquisitive smile crept over his face as he softly said to the class, looking back and forth from the picture to us, “there really was something sort of, magnificent, about her.” Blushing like a schoolboy, he spoke to us as if he knew Marilyn personally, and yet retained a self-awareness that that feeling of familiarity mixed with awe is exactly what endeared her to the masses. Kestenbaum was a brilliant man. I was enrapt in that moment to see this academic powerhouse dumbstruck by the overpowering beauty of a woman. I guess Arthur Miller knows a thing or two about that.

We focused a great deal in that class on beauty (in a philosophical sense, not physical) and attention to a greater good. The curriculum was heavily wrapped up in metaphysics. Wittgenstein, Iris Murdoch, William James. Kestenbaum was not pointing out that, gee, Marilyn Monroe was just so gorgeous. He wanted to illuminate something deeper and utterly unique about her. Something that would explain why she has become the iconic symbol for icons themselves, for fame, for beauty. Kestenbaum remained intentionally ambiguous as to why he showed us that picture of Marilyn Monroe. He wanted us to meditate on it, and on beauty itself. Of course, in the past 6 years, I have.

Marilyn Monroe displays such yearning in all of her photos. It’s as if she reaches through the camera, trying desperately to feel someone there, but of course there is no one. In every photo she displays the desire to be loved by everyone, in conflict with the need to be cherished by just one. Would it have been possible for someone who so freely belonged to everyone, to belong to anyone? It’s difficult to put into words how Kestenbaum’s mini demonstration struck me that day. I just remember seeing Marilyn Monroe as if for the first time. A light bulb went off and I thought, there is something truly breathtaking about her, having to do with more than just the way she looks. What does it take to give yourself over to a camera like that? Utter narcissism? Pure selflesslessness? At some point do the two become indistinguishable? Call it photogenic, call it natural ability, call it what you will. I think there is something quite transcendent about Miss Monroe. Think about it.

the picture that started her career

Since that day in Philosophy class I’ve read many of her biographies and seen all of her movies. For Monroe-philes out there, I hope you’ve read “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates. It’s an epic, gut-wrenching masterpiece. Oates is so incredibly brilliant. She is the only writer out of many to realize that the  life story of the woman who most infamously represents fame and fantasy must be told through a fictional lens; and in doing so the novel becomes more honest and true than any Monroe biography available on the bookshelf. The book leaves you with such a sadness that someone at once beautiful and grotesque was snuffed out of this world. Why? There are so many answers to that question. To ensure her status as a timeless sex goddess? An icon? Perhaps as a cautionary tale against exploitation? Hollywood? Or perhaps just because a sad sick girl never accepted the love.


The third bit of excitement was that today is apparently National Running Day! Here I am writing a running blog and I get so swept up by Marilyn Monroe that I didn’t even get to the topic of running. Ah well, something to look forward to tomorrow. In the meantime, Happy Birthday Marilyn.

“I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.” -Marilyn Monroe-