“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic.” — Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire
That Blanche DuBois. She may have been some hot mess (and pure Oscar-bait for Vivien Leigh, who won her second one for portraying her in the 1951 film version of Tennessee Williams’ classic stage play), but I’ll give her this: The woman knew what she wanted. As aspirations go, hers was a lofty but worthwhile one. It’s what every big dreamer (and I would certainly fall into that category) desires.
It’s what fictional characters in daytime soap operas seem to want, too. In the past few weeks, I’ve heard at least three of them (Neil and the mysterious Rose on The Young and the Restless, and Rafe on General Hospital) quote or paraphrase Blanche’s take on magic and realism.
But what is this magic that they — we — are searching for? When you think about it, it’s not so different from God, or the big Love with a capital L. Christians seek everlasting life through their faith in God. Romantics pursue their own brand of immortality through everlasting love. Meanwhile, dreamers crave transcendence through magic.
None of these intangible conduits to happiness are particularly steeped in realism. The existence of God has yet to be proven. Nobody has ever been able to define love. And many are convinced that what David Blaine and David Copperfield do is just elaborate trickery. In most minds, magic, whether it’s the brand that entertains and enthralls audiences and makes certain practitioners of it extremely rich, or the force of supernature to which Blanche was referring, has nothing to do with realism.
But why do they have to be mutually exclusive? Why can’t magic and realism co-exist, side by side? Why can’t we have both? If man can take flight, create a machine that fits into the palm of your hand that allows you to pull up any information you need and communicate with people all over the world, is it such a stretch to believe in love, or God, or magic? (And for the record, I definitely believe in two of those things, and I’ll probably never completely rule out the third one until death proves me right or wrong.)
Reality would truly bite without magic, and without reality, there’d be no magic, just commonplace transcendence, which wouldn’t be transcendent at all. Consider the artistic aspect, a painting like Vincent Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters. It’s one of his most magical works of art, yet it depicts the cold, hard facts of poverty at its most sobering, utter realism. Or revisit Woody Allen’s 1978 masterpiece Interiors, a film that mined cinematic magic (in my humble opinion) from some of the harshest aspects of stark reality — infidelity, familial strife, jealousy, envy and suicide. Or listen to any beautiful song sung blue — magic and realism in music.
Just like pleasure doesn’t pack quite the same punch without pain to give it context, magic is most powerful when it’s framed by reality. For me, it’s in the little things, all indisputably “real”: art, a long shower during which the water temperature and pressure are just right, a massage that hits all the right spots and knots, riding down a bumpy, treacherous, two-lane dirt road through the stunning Cambodian countryside, a baby’s smile, the eyes of a child, an unexpected phone call or email from someone you were just thinking about.
Like happiness, I don’t believe it’s sustainable over the course of a lifetime. It comes and goes, in waves. I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by magic all the time anyway. I wouldn’t want to fall madly in love and spend all day staring into another person’s eyes. I want to look away, go out into the cold, cruel world and come home at the end of the day to a haven from the raging storm outside.
I want realism with a side of magic. Yes, yes, magic moments. But realism has to be the main course. That may mean occasional servings of pain, heartache and despair, but those are the very flavors that make magic, when it comes along to spice up reality and light up our lives, all the more magical.