Journal Entry: September 28, 2009

Wednesday after work we met K– and N– at Johnny’s Charcoal Broiler — carrying on a tradition started the first time T– took AB to church, and we ate there for lunch. The food was delicious, of course, and it was a fun time getting together with friends.

Afterward, everybody but K– and me walked over to church for Wednesday night classes. K– came over to my place to help me with T–‘s broken computer. He had a hard drive caddy handy, with connections for all manner of hard drive, and in no time at all he had the data from T–‘s laptop copied over to mine. That solved the biggest of T–‘s fears (lost photos and work documents), but of course the laptop was still broken.

After church the family came back home, and we spent the evening watching TV while I played WoW.

Thursday I had to prepare a tutorial/lecture for my students, and I spent a significant chunk of time after work reviewing it and getting it posted to the website. I also spent much of the day (and evening) reviewing the students’ submissions for the first document packet, and fielding questions from them (by email, of course).

Karla made us some incredible quesadillas for dinner. D– came over for that, and to play some WoW with me, but mostly to pick up T–‘s dead computer and take it home with him. He spent the evening getting it resurrected (with the help of a spare hard drive he had sitting around, which probably saved me a hundred bucks), and getting the OS back on it.

Apart from that, Thursday night was more TV, and more WoW. We chilled, and caught our breath.

Friday I met Toby for lunch, and we discussed (among other things) a document conversion project I’ve got to get done for work. He had volunteered to help with that when they came to visit at the hospital, and this was my first opportunity to provide him with more detailed information. He sounded optimistic that he could get it done, and we made arrangements to meet at his place Sunday evening.

Then in the afternoon I got home from work a little bit early, so I was there when D– brought T–‘s laptop by, and I installed a few more programs for her, and now it’s better than new.

D– had to go back to work, but he agreed to meet us for dinner. Half an hours after he left, Mom and Dad got in from Little Rock. We introduced them to Alexander (or XP, as he’ll be known hereabouts in the future), then spent some time socializing while we waited for my sister and her family to come over. A little after five we piled into a bunch of vehicles, and headed over to Mama Roja for dinner.

As we were waiting for our table, T– turned to me and said with some surprise, “Can you believe it’s been nine days since we’ve been here?” Her Mom rocked our world by pointing out it had actually been two whole weeks. Craziness.

Anyway, it was a crowded, busy table, but we all had delicious food and enjoyed the opportunity to talk. Afterward, T–‘s parents left from the restaurant to head home, and everyone else came over to our place.

I took Mom up to Homeland to pick up the necessary supplies, then when we got back to the house I mixed up a pitcher of rum margaritas. They went over pretty well, but T– and I had a hankering for the real thing, so as soon as the pitcher was empty I filled it up again, with tequila this time, and we had a grand ol’ time.

Saturday morning T– and Mom headed up to Edmond (with XP in tow) for pedicures with my sister, and Dad headed to Edmond for a conference at Memorial Road Church of Christ on an educational framework called Journeylands. That left me at home with AB. We played in her room, we spent half an hour or so on my laptop playing the Memory game, we read from her books, and we practiced telling each other stories.

Then T– called to tell me we were all supposed to meet Dad for lunch at Jason’s Deli, so I had AB watch some TV while I got ready, and then we rapidly got her dressed (and I made a humorous attempt at putting her hair in a ponytail), and headed north.

Lunch was awesome, and afterward T– and Mom took AB with them to go shopping for baby stuff. Dad headed back to his conference, so that left me alone. I ran home, took care of some stuff on my laptop, and then headed back out again for our monthly writer’s group at Courtney’s.

That probably deserves its own post (as it’s gotten in the past), but I’m feeling lazy now and I was sleepy and distracted then, so I couldn’t do it justice anyway. Shawn was missing, so it was just the three of us. We started out talking about dreams (and nightmares), and I told the story of my first nightmare (the killer shark in the apartment swimming pool), and my most recent (last week, when T– walked away from our marriage because I left her to fend for herself when we found ourselves caught in a swamp surrounded by killer snakes and spiders).

Then from there we talked more about our creative influences, how we come up with titles, and how we cope with the constant temptation to jump to new projects — leaving old ones unfinished. We also talked about another OKC writer’s group we might try to crash sometime, and a potential addition to our group, and traditional versus non-traditional publishers. I also dragged the conversation toward magic in the real world for a bit, and we each seized that opportunity to feel a little bit foolish.

Then it was 4:30, and time to split up. I got home just after Dad, and Mom was still there with AB (who was taking a nap). T– was already up at the church, getting ready for a crop, and she had XP with her.

So it was just me and Mom and Dad, and I took the opportunity to ask them for some advice and analysis on parenting. Specifically, I wanted to know how much change I should expect in AB in the coming years. I feel like we’ve weathered the differentiation called “the terrible twos” at this point — we’ve seen it, we’ve found ways to address it, and at this point, though her rebellion can be frustrating at times, it isn’t baffling. It’s predictable, and addressable, and I feel like we both know who she is.

So my question was, how many more major change events are there, in early childhood development? I was relieved when Mom and Dad both agreed there really aren’t any. We can reasonably expect AB to be pretty much the person she is now for most of the next nine years. I’m happy with that answer. I like the person she is.

They also had some good information about how to handle the challenges of her differentiation events in her teenage years, but I really didn’t enjoy thinking about that. Not that I’m worried about the rebellion or family drama or anything…I just don’t like thinking about her being a teenager. It feels far too close, and that’s only a handful of years before she’s gone. Miserable thought, that.

Anyway, that took up most of an hour, and then I went and woke AB up so she could go to the church with Mom. A few minutes later K– came over, having dropped his baby off there, too. We ordered a couple pizzas and loaded up Beatles: Rock Band. An hour or so later, my brother-in-law called to ask if he could come join us, and we rocked out for two hours before he and K– had to go pick up their little ones.

Right around then Mom and my older sister came home with AB, and after she went down to bed the rest of us played some more Rock Band. I mixed up a pitcher of strawberry daiquiris for us, too, and we all had a good time. By the time T– got home my sister was gone (to stay at my little sister’s place), and Mom and Dad were in bed, so it was just me still awake, playing WoW.

I didn’t stay up too late, though. I was tired, so I went to bed around 11:30 with no regrets.

Sunday morning we had a full house getting ready for church, and all of us running a little bit late, but we managed to get ourselves together somehow and showed up no more than five minutes later for service.

The sermon was on the various social values of hymns in a congregation, and before Rob was done Dad leaned over and said, “I want you to introduce me to your preach after church.” Turned out that was a sermon Dad had been wanting to preach for years, and while he’d heard lots of sermons on the topic, he’d never heard anyone express the real benefits and perspective that Rob gave in his sermon.

So we caught Rob after church (after waiting through an impressive line), and Dad got to compliment and thanks Rob for his sermon, and Rob got invite Dad to come give a marriage and family seminar to Britton Road sometime — something he’s been wanting to talk with Dad about for a while. So that’s pretty cool.

Then afterward we all went over my sister’s place for an Italian-themed lunch of salad, chicken pasta, and cheesecake for dessert. Everyone agreed the food was incredibly good. AB and her older cousin weren’t getting along terribly well, though — probably because they were both in severe need of a nap — so we split up and went back home to put AB to bed. Mom and Dad decided to head home around the same time, too, so we got them packed up and said our goodbyes.

And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the house was quiet. For the first time in ten days.

T– watched some Law and Order, I played some WoW, and then AB woke up from her nap and the spell was broken. We grabbed some McDonalds for dinner, and then all too soon it was time for me to head down to Norman for my meeting with Toby.

I didn’t want to go. I was tired and worn out, and it’s not a short drive, but I had made a commitment. And, after all, Toby was doing a favor for me. I showed up, and found out he had, in fact, finished it. He walked me through the code, teaching me what it did (so I could make little modifications on my own), and it’s one of those things where it’s fascinating in its simplicity. He did a really fantastic job. And after a quick test run (and double-checking how the output looked in Word), I was able to put the work stuff aside and we had some time to just talk. That was fun. He’s in the same boat I am — having to work with a new baby at home — but in spite of all the chaos, and petty problems at work, and weird happenings with rent houses in Tulsa…in spite of all that, we’re both doing pretty well. It was fun to get to hear that, and say that, and just to talk programming with my programming teacher for an hour or so.

Then I drove back home, in the weary dark, and crawled into bed and said good night to my weekend.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

September Seventeen (a poem)

You’re Alexander, son.
You’re born, you’re named, you’re blessed to be a king.
It’s up to you to choose where you end up,
But already you’ve conquered hearts, and bent some lives to you–
At two weeks old.

You’re Alexander, son.
You’re stronger than you ought to be, but only just begun.
There’s power in your name and mighty destiny bestowed,
And world enough for you to shape your dreams
And make them real.

You’re Alexander, son.
I’ve known your name for decades. Since I was a boy myself
I’ve known I’d shake your hand, and look you in the eye
And teach you how to cope, or hope — to break or make the world,
And trust in God.

You’re Alexander, son.
With riches already in store, the wealth of nations at your hand
In all the loving wisdom of your friends — a hundred friends
All waiting, all breathless, on that first day when you were born.
Yours to the end.

You’re Alexander, son.
And you could conquer states, or you could light unrighteous dark,
Could tame some scary wilderness we don’t yet know exists,
Or live a quiet, happy life at home. It matters not.
We will love you.

My Tens of Thousands

I’m an observant person. I’m introspective and extrapolative. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the world really is, and how that information should affect my decisions. I call this careful consideration my “governing intellect” — not that it does a ton of governing. It ends up being more a source of guilt (that I don’t follow my reason) than a helpful tutor. But still, I sometimes heed its advice — and sometimes to my own detriment.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, the Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side.” I’m not a proud man. I went and I sat. The man had some interesting things to say.

I have always lived a charmed life. This has manifested in mundane ways (a happy, prosperous family environment, an upbringing with a strong emphasis on education, and an inborn talent with the written word), and in ways mystical (I’ve never lost real money in a game of poker).

I’ve long recognized this effect in my life, and rarely taken it for granted. I remember reading the Odyssey early in high school and recognizing an easy familiarity with Odysseus, beloved of Athene. He was clever and careful, but even so, he had help. Things ever fell his way. So also with me.

In our own lore there’s another like him, and I’ve also often compared myself to King David. Chosen and blessed, set apart to do great things, I had nothing to fear from even the mightiest of enemies. That became my refrain. I can’t count the times I’ve whispered under my breath, “Lord, let me pass unseen through the camp of my enemies.”

He took me aside recently, though, and reprimanded me. That has been too much my attitude. When a university-level teaching job fell into my lap — money we sorely needed and an opportunity many people invest years of their lives just to apply for — I spent days and weeks and months just worrying, just hoping that I could survive. I just wanted to get through it, hopefully without drawing any attention to myself, and make it to December in one piece.

Oh humble yes, he said, but humble son of God!

There is so much more to David than the slinking thief, discreetly hemming his king’s old cape. An heir is made not just to survive, but to reign. I’ve spent years hiding in my dirty cave, with nary an adversary on the plains below. Anointed and appointed, spending all my gracious charms on nervous getting by, when my role is so much greater. I should be capturing cities to swell my empire. I should be conquering to preserve my name, and to lift up the names of my sons. I’ve spent long enough as a shepherd, I should long since have become a king.

That failing is on me. The opportunities to rise up are always there — served up to me on royal finery, and squandered in my timidity even as I proclaim that I’m trembling in fear of the Parable of the Talents. The Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side, and we’ll make cautious reason our footstool, because there are far more interesting things going on than your boring old reality.”

I can’t wait to see my Jerusalem.

Greatness: The Dream House

A Postmodern Short Story

Facebook has recently put me back in touch with an old high school friend, G–. He was never a close companion on the scale of D– or Brad or Mike, but we shared classes and we shared conversations for most of six years, so I was glad to see his name and face show up under the enigmatic, “People you might know.”

I added him to my friends list right away, and when he confirmed he immediately followed up with an email offering a quick summation of his lifestate, and I responded with one of my own. Then he wrote back, saying, “Man it’s good to hear from you! I’d completely lost track, but I’ve never forgotten all the crazy conversations we used to have. Are you still playing part-time philosopher, or have you finally joined the flock?”

I hesitated over my answer, and finally wrote back, “Still just as crazy, but I hide it better. My big obsession since college is radical social constructionism, which suggests we collectively shape our reality by our expectations. It goes deeper than that, but that’s a good snapshot.”

I sent that off and put the ball in his court. If he wanted to ask me for more clarification, he could. In the process he would bring down an avalanche of information from me, but at least that way it would be on his hands. If he wanted to let it go, safe in the knowledge that I still had some weird notions ready to hand, he could. He surprised me, though. He wrote back and said, “No way! That is a good summary, but I know all about it. Weird that we would still end up talking about the same ideas after all this time….”

So it turned out I was the one who couldn’t leave it at that. I’ve known a lot of people who get social constructionism when I explain it to them, but never one yet who was already familiar with it. And I sure didn’t expect G– to be the first one! He’d always been willing to listen, stupefied, while I rambled on, but he was never the real philosopher himself. So I asked him for his story, and it was a good one.

He graduated with me in the spring of ninety-eight, and while I went off to Little Rock for the summer and then to Oklahoma for college, he stayed in Wichita and spent a few months working on a roofing crew to save up his tuition. When he got into WSU in the fall, he held onto that job. It paid well, and he liked the work.

So one weekend he was working on this rotted out roof over on the West Side, tearing out ruined plywood and rebuilding the frame while the irritated homeowner tapped his foot down in the front lawn, wanting them to be done. It was a big job, though, and they ended up working until well after midnight, tacking down new shingles by the light of flood lamps so they could do another job the next day. Sunday morning he got up, went to work, and showed up at a home halfway across town to find the same homeowner standing by the curb talking to his boss.

G– pondered on that while he worked, and when his first break rolled around he struck up a conversation with the client. Turned out the guy flipped houses for a living, and both of these were projects he hoped to clear in a couple weeks. That piqued G–‘s curiosity, and I guess the fellow liked G– because he gave him a business card and told him to keep in touch. G– did, and at the older man’s direction he spent all his free time that fall going to seminars, reading books on the topic, listening to tapes, and checking out videos that all promised the guaranteed secret to financial independence through home sales. By the end of his first semester he was ready to give up roofing and studying and become a real estate man.

By that point he really felt like he knew what he was doing. Nineteen, with no money, no degree, and still working his high school job, he was sure he was ready to make the investment. So he did his research, and over finals week, between tests, he closed on a 2/1/1 FSBO west of Tyler that he knew was worth a twelve percent profit. It cost him sixty thousand dollars and he had the whole Christmas break to get it fixed up and listed.

So he drove out on a Sunday morning in his crappy little pickup, armed with nothing but a little toolchest he could carry easily with one hand. There may have been a power drill, too, but that would be pushing it. He eyed the dead lawn critically, the gutter hanging loose over the front porch, as he approached up the walk and turned his sixty thousand-dollar key in the twelve-dollar Wal-Mart lock. Then he pushed the door open, but it caught fast at three inches. The chain was on. Not only that, but he could smell incense burning in the house, and a moment later he heard someone moving around inside. He took a step back, checked the address, but this was the right place. He’d been here before after all, for the inspections, and the house had been empty then.

He probably should have been afraid, but young men are fools. He pounded on the open door, loud as he could, and called out, “Hey! Hey! Who’s there?”

A woman’s voice answered him indistinctly, and a moment later she floated into view. Her haid was black, pulled up on one side in a complicated braid. Her eyes were green, and she was wearing nothing but a threadbare white towel. That stopped him short.

She didn’t show any sign of embarrassment or remorse. She just smiled politely and said, “Well? What’s all the fuss?”

“This is my house,” he stammered, his anger coming back a bit. “I came out here to do some work on it–“

“Good,” she said. “You need a new water heater.”

“I need to know what you’re doing here,” he said. “This is my house.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s mine.”

He frowned, and his heart started pounding. He knew all about liens and he’d spent a week reading about squatters’ rights, but he hadn’t really expected problems at this place. He’d cleared the title two days ago. His stomach knotted at the thought of the legal expenses it would take to get this sorted out. He shook his head, trying not to think about it, and said, “How do you figure?”

She just smiled and said, “Magic.” He stared, blank, and she slipped the chain off the door and withdrew into the room. He pushed in and found a beanbag chair and a tiny, ancient black and white TV plugged in by the front door. A spill of worn paperbacks lined the wall — the tattered carpet their only bookshelf — and a stick of incense burned in its holder atop a battered minifridge on the far wall. He took it all in at a glance, and felt his rage rise up again.

“What is all this?”

She shrugged one shoulder without losing the towel and said, “My stuff.”

“Why?” he asked. “Why this house?” He felt a desperate fear, and wondered if his dad could help him out of it.

“I had a lovely dream that took place here,” she said. “Well, not exactly this house, but one close enough. And I was driving down the road last week and saw the sign out front and I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s my house.'”

“But it’s not yours,” he wailed. “It’s mine. I saw the sign, and then I bought the freaking house.”

She smiled and turned away. “That’s a kind of magic,” she said. “Money. But mine’s better.”

“And what’s yours?” he said, as he dug the cell phone out of his pocket.

“Desire,” she purred, turning back to him. “Anticipation. Faith.” She gestured to the room around her with a long, slender arm. “This is going to be my house. I can make it mine by sheer force of will.”

She caught his hand and dragged him back toward the hall. “This will be my room,” she said, opening the door on the smaller of the two. “Just enough room for a twin bed and four bookcases.” Then she turned him around and pushed open the door to the master bedroom with one toe.

The walls in there were angry red, the wookwork stained almost black. Bringing that room to a neutral color was a chore G– was dreading, but it had a dreadfully oppressive feel as it was. It didn’t seem to get through to her, though, because the girl danced into the room and said, “This will be the kids’ room. Lots of space to play. Can’t you just imagine?”

“Listen,” he said, “if you want to buy it, I’ll have the house on the market soon–“

She shook her head. “No you won’t,” she said. “Not this house. Besides, I don’t have any money.”

“You don’t need any,” he said. “I’ve got a great guy. I’ll give you his number.”

She just shook her head again. “I’m not interested.”

“Then you have to get out.” It was hard to be stern with her, but he had work to do. “Today. Now. Or I’ll call the cops.” He wasn’t entirely sure he could do that, but she didn’t call his bluff.

She sighed, and her shoulders fell, and she said, “Fine. I’ll go. Can I use your phone? I need my dad to bring his truck if I’m going to get all this stuff out.”

He grumbled about that, too, but if it got her gone he could spare the minutes. He waited there with her while she made the call, heard her ask the man on the other end to bring the truck, and then he got his phone back. “Good,” he said. “Umm…thanks. Now you can get dressed or whatever. I’m just going to get started–“

“Fine,” she said, and disappeared into the guest bedroom. He just stood for a moment, stunned, staring at the closed door. He thought about calling his dad, but decided to wait. He didn’t want her to overhear any part of that conversation.

Instead he went to the front door and got his tools. He had a handful of little projects from the inspectors, and he had planned to knock those out quickly and then spend the rest of the day planning his big renovation. He pulled the list from his back pocket, unfolded it, and picked the first item: busted faceplates in kitchen and laundry room. He had a couple cheap tan light switch and outlet covers in his tool chest, so he grabbed those and a flat-head screwdriver and got to work.

Thirty minutes later he was out front with his pickup pulled up in the yard so he could stand on the hood to reach the gutter. He had three long gutter spikes between his teeth and a hammer on his belt, but all his attention was on the warped bit of sharp-edged sheet metal in his hands. He couldn’t get the dangling section to match back up to the piece still on the wall.

Below him the screen door screamed open before it banged against the wall, and G– mentally added two items to his list: oil the hinges, and reattach the hydraulic arm. Then he glanced down at the pretty trespasser. She was wearing patched jeans and a worn brown sweater now, with flip-flops for shoes in spite of the cold. He growled, “You still here?” but the nails between his teeth garbled his words. She giggled and held up a thick paper cup. Sweet-smelling steam curled off the top of it.

“He’ll be here any minute now,” she said. “Hot tea?”

He just shook his head, amazed at her aplomb, but after a moment he relented. He climbed down off the hood of his truck and let go the dangling gutter. It creaked ominously, but it didn’t fall. He took the offered cup, then sank down on the front steps. “Thanks,” he said.

She moved around in front of him, fists on her hips, and waited until he looked up to meet his eyes. “I’m not a bad person,” she said softly.

“No,” he said, biting off the words. “You’re just crazy.”

She took a step back as though he’d hit her. For the first time since he’d shown up she looked upset. “I’m not crazy!”

“You can’t just move into someone else’s house because you want to.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said. “But I didn’t. I moved into my house–“

“This is not your house!”

“As you see it,” she said, then held up a hand to forestall his argument. “Okay, and the cops, too. I can’t suppress that kind of authority.”

He took a slow sip of his tea, then set the cup aside. He leaned back and looked up at her, finally curious. “What are you talking about?”

She frowned, as though she didn’t understand the question, and he shook his head. “You were talking about magic earlier,” he said. “Now it’s ‘suppressing authority.’ You don’t look a crazy person–“

She stomped her foot. “I’m not crazy!”

“Then what are you talking about?” He glanced up at the dangling gutter and knew he’d rather hear her story than get back to that. “Spill it.”

“Have you ever heard of Phenomenology?” she asked. “Brain in a vat?” He shook his head and she sank down on her heels in front of him. “Your whole universe is a model built inside your head, using your experiences, your expectations, and tiny electrical pulses from your nerves to populate it. Everything you see is just a message from your eyes to your brain, and based on that little spark of lighting your brain adds to the model however it sees fit. Everything you touch, every word you hear me saying–“

“Okay,” he said. “What’s the point?”

“It’s all a dream,” she said. “Your reality is a dream. Your brain is making it up, all the time, and you just go along with it. If you wanted to, though, you could change it. Take control of the dream. Put your mind to work for you and start producing reality instead of just consuming it.” She was breathing faster now, and her eyes were wide. He couldn’t help smiling at her enthusiasm.

“See,” he said, “that’s where you start to sound crazy.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s the hard part,” she said. “When dreams overlap. When my world and your world come into contact, and they’re not the same, we have to negotiate a common ground.”

“And how would you do that?”

“Talking,” she said. “That’s the purest magic, rhetoric. Money works, too, like you said. And force.” She turned up her nose. “You invoked force, and I retreated, and your dream won out over mine.” She rose back to her feet, unfolding gracefully, and reached out to touch the fallen gutter with a tender hand. There was sadness in her eyes. “I lose my dream house,” she said, “and you get this dump. Congratulations.” As she said it her dad pulled up to the curb behind her. He honked the horn once and she glanced back over her shoulder. “I’ll be gone in a minute,” she said, and disappeared into the house.

After that there wasn’t much excitement to the project. G– got down to work. He fixed the easy stuff quickly, but after that things ground to a halt. He got into the attic to examine the ductwork and found termites in the ceiling. He pulled up carpet to check out the hardwoods and found water damage down to the subfloor. Christmas break came and went. When the lease on his apartment expired in the spring, he moved into the house so he could work on it full-time over the summer.

In spite of his difficulties, he kept an eye on the real estate market, still committed to his plan. In June he bought another place and sold it in July. In August he bought and sold two places, one of them in the same neighborhood as his starter house. He finally settled into a rhythm, learned the eccentricities of the local market, and got pretty good at what he did. He never could sell that first 2/1/1, though.

Then on a Thursday night, two years later, he was at Barnes and Noble grabbing a book on plumbing when he spotted her in one of the comfy chairs reading a trashy fantasy novel. He fell down into the chair next to her and when she didn’t look up he said, “Hey, squatter.”

That got her attention. She blinked at him for a moment, then grinned sarcastically and answered, “Hey there, cops.”

“That’s me,” he said. “What’s happening?”

“The kingdom’s crumbling and the lord goes off to war,” she said. “You?”

“Better than that.” He grinned. “Want to know something funny? I never did sell that house.”

She tilted her head, considering him, and said, “If you’re looking to unload it, I still don’t have any money.” She opened the book back up, ready to forget him.

He blinked, and coughed an awkward laugh. “Umm…no,” he said. “That’s not what I…. Listen, do you think you’d want to go out to dinner?’

Again he got that long, quiet stare, but then she nodded. “Sure,” she said. “Where did you have in mind?” They did Mexican, and then the Olive Garden on Saturday, and burgers next Friday before they went bowling. And then in April they got married. He finished college, and two years after that they started a family with twins on the first try. He spent a weekend moving furniture, painting, getting the kids’ room ready. And as he put the finishing touches on the new nursery — their old master bedroom, but they would need the extra space for two cribs, two dressers, and oh, the mountain of toys — he laughed out loud and went to find her in the living room, curled up with a book.

“It’s about done,” he told her.

She looked up at him absently, then saw the look on his face and her eyes narrowed. “Why are you smiling?”

“Remember the day we met?” he said, sinking down next to her on the couch. “Here?” She nodded, and he went on. “You said the master bedroom would be your kids’ room. Standing there in a towel, you told me that with a straight face.” She nodded again and he smiled. “Well, it’s done,” he said. “It came out just like said. Isn’t that crazy?”

But she just smiled, and laughed, and told him, “No. It’s just as it should be.”

Greatness: The Forms of Magic

There are various kinds of magic. Essentially, it is just this: changing the world to suit your desire. It can be done gradually with tools, and then is considered no kind of magic at all, but just “doing stuff.”

As I said before, sorcery or bulldozers. It’s all the same, really.

I would try to define it differently, but really there’s nothing other than “not by normal means” that will do. I can add that in — “changing your world, not by normal means, to suit your desire.”

The simplest method is expectation — expect the future to be more suited to you than the present, and wait for that to come true. It allows for failures in faith because, instead of being one instantaneous flash forcing a change to reality, it’s more of a constant nagging, incessantly requesting a little something and reality, eventually, will give way.

You see expectation in many religions, as well as the “Power of Positive Thinking” guys, and it has been sanctified by the Scientologists. I believe in the power of scientology, because it’s nothing other than optimistic expectation (with some symbolism to power it). At least, from what little I know about it.

Not far behind expectation is symbolism. It is a very common kind of magic, and absolutely central to the idea of Social Constructionism. Symbolism uses an easily manipulable symbol (concrete or abstract) to reference a less manipulable object (concrete or abstract). Once a sufficient similarity has been established between symbol and object, manipulating one affects the other.

The ultimate example of this is language itself. We use word-symbols to reference reality and, by changing and using names, we are able to alter reality. I’m doing it right now, and every one of you is under my spell (at least for a moment, until you manipulate your own word-symbols right back into the shape you want them).

I highly recommend symbolism — it’s the story-teller’s main craft. The purpose of myths, archetypes, and legends is to provide a single symbol for a highly abstact (but highly significant) concept. By saying, “Man can be this” and putting forth Odysseus or King David or, yeah, Jesus, you can then use the symbol in direct details in ways you couldn’t trying to describe all the vast kinds of Man.

(Yeah, that’s why I capitolize it, I’m doing that very thing.)

One of the most commonly-used and absolutely dreadful kinds of magic is the symbolism of self-image. We have this idea that “I am this” and “I am this bad” and “I have these weaknesses,” and we create an entirely imaginary symbol that we call “I” — and let me tell you, self-image is a LOT more manipulable than an actual person — and we twist it and turn it and, over time, become as people more and more like the symbol.

There’s a good counterpart to the same thing, naturally. We just don’t use it NEAR enough….

I’m not positive on this, but I’m fairly confident Man is not the only creature capable of manipulating the void. I don’t know whether I draw this from the Bible, or just from Milton, but it seems like Satan and all his demons have the same faculty. I imagine the demons are those angels, Heavenly beings with the capacity to shape reality but not the ability (because there is nothing intangible in Heaven, all of it is Real Truth, all of it is Established), and so they abandoned Heaven, in their pride, for the opportunity to muck about.

I don’t imagine they’re any more powerful than we are. Probably less so. But they’re also mostly Outside — they have SEEN Real Truth, so they have no trouble recognizing how very much of reality is entirely insubstantial. So they have an easier time of it.

And that gives them the illusion of great power, superhuman strength, and so throughout time people have turned to demons (faeries, what have you), asking them to change the world for US. And that is the same as sacrificing your authority over reality in order to have one, for the moment, more like what you want. You’re stepping OUT of your constructed world, into theirs. A dangerous place to be.

This is probably closer to what you think of as magic. It’s a systematic manipulation of reality based on a pre-defined Symbol structure. I really like the classical elements (Earth, Fire, Air, Water), so I’ll use it as an example. Wizardry describes all of reality as a combination of these symbol-pieces and suggests that if you manipulate just the BASE pieces, everything else will fall into place.

You can add to the Air in a bird, and it will fly higher, or add to its Earth and it will drop like a stone.

Eventually, Wizardry becomes basically mathematical, at which point it becomes kinda boring. And, yeah, you guessed it, I’d refer to all of modern Science as precisely this.

Sorcery is really just something I like to imagine for my novels. I can’t really conceive of it existing. Sorcery is the manipulation of Real Things. Changing or controlling the base energies and powers that are reflected in our Constructed realities. Sure, God could do it, but he’s got no reason to. Even if there were sorcery, it would still only allow for manipulation of Real Things, whereas God holds the power to CREATE them, giving him still the trump card.

That said…I haven’t gotten NEARLY far enough in this conversation for you (or even me) to clearly picture what a Real Thing might be like, or how it could be manipulated (other than manipulating its reflection, which is just normal, everyday magic).