It’s one of those touchstones of ancient charlatanism that has thrived beyond its medieval origins; a term that smacks of old world wizardry while holding its own in a contemporary tongue.


As a precursor to the modern physician, the alchemist conjured any number of potions to ward off evil, subdue ailments and summon great fortune, and all with the wave of a wand. Ah, for the grand old days when a pharmacist could exorcise devils and regrow hair with the same elixir.

Then there’s the alchemy of affection, the essence of all that enchants, arriving readymade to seduce and satisfy. This rarified promise of handcrafted magic still intoxicates as we pine for its spell in whatever mystical form it assumes. Internet dating aside, there is something to be said for the allure of romance, the only real magic in which any of us wittingly invest ourselves. Fools that we are, oh to be subdued by beauty, ensnared by lust and shackled in the throes of love’s torturous trance.

Alchemy exists to transform a thing without value into something precious. It’s little wonder that such a seductive notion still holds sway after so many centuries. And who among us wouldn’t grasp with both hands at the thread of hope that happiness can actually be conjured from the bubbling crucibles of our most secret dreams?









X Marks the Spot

Left center breast, heart thudding in a panic.

However many saddened souls decry its effect, there is no defying the truth of its power when love comes to call.

Whatever I say here is high grade, raw and unretouched experience. And still I know not a damned thing about it. I’ve come close to love a couple of times but not like the advertising promotes.

The negatarians push their crusty philosophy that it’s not a lack of affection, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages. While both are quite necessary for pheromones to play power politics with the heart, they remain two halves of the same whole. To imply that either friendship or affection alone is responsible for a happy outcome is to discount a vast combination of additional variables. It’s like saying carbon and hydrogen alone make up the earth. But there are 102 other elements involved here, guys. And those are just the ones we know about.

In other words, it’s way more complicated than just two emotional elements — I’m talkin’ to you, Mr. Nietzsche.

There is as much charm as foolishness required for love. As much reason as whimsy, stupidity as sex appeal, grandeur as groveling, and as much patience as rage. Every single blessed one of these gestures of insecure pride are mandatory for the fully realized romantic encounter to take flight.

And what a glorious defiance of gravity it can be. The first blush of love is the thunderous and showy confidence of a roman candle responding to a single desperate flare gun sending a stream of sparks through the night.

Love defies reasonability itself. That’s why the term “romantic comedy” is itself the redundancy of the ages.

I personally am nothing special. I am a singular, unattached mass of intuition who bears no more evidence of these beliefs than the tightly clenched knot of scar tissue in my torso.

And yet it beats.

With hope.

Hope that one day very soon these throbbing little beats of expectation will be met with a perfectly reflective drumming — the sympathetic pulse of another. Yes, dear ones, unlike love, optimism is a more definable, defendable virtue but I’m not prepared to get into that here. Let us simply agree that hope is a happy, healthy puppy and love is a multi-tentacled mythical creature that would confuse the hell out of Medusa.

As Robert Fulghum asserted, “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness — and call it love — true love.”

Scripture speaks of love being patient and kind. I believe this is true but also radically truncated. For love is many, many more indefinable things. It is cruelly timid, embraceably wicked, fearless, cunning and vain. Love is the substance of so many contradictions that it is impossible to define it singularly for any two people. But for each of us we know too well its powers over us personally.

As the years accumulate I hear more and more loudly the ticking of my watch. I readily wish for complete vulnerability and the absolute fabrication that is romantic alchemy. I secretly seek the unreasonably impossible, with much the same confidence that a six-year-old child trusts in the truth of buried pirate treasure. Fool that I am, I will always invest myself in the mystical belief that X marks the spot.

Now if only I could find a reliable compass.





The human experience thrives on a convincing act of magic. At least mine does. One of the most emotionally staggering of all magic tricks is the sudden appearance of a fully formed person — a baby being born.

Of course it follows that the greatest disappearing act of all is death. Once the light in a person’s eyes evaporates into eternity, no investigation of hidden wires, trap doors or sleight of hand can account for its secrets. Search and ponder as you may, but in the end we are at the mercy of our ignorance.

To be sure, anyone who employs practical magic must be skilled in the art of misdirection. The element of trickery must be elegantly masked to generate an effective illusion.

But what about the magic of human interaction?

It occurs to me how easily interchangeable are the stages of a relationship with the categories of traditional magic tricks  — many of the same illusory practices apply:

.                              MAGIC                                                           ROMANCE
• Producing something from nothing              (Two people meet and hit it off)
• Teleportation from one place to another      (A growing together in affection)
• Prediction of an outcome                               (Partners project their dreams on each other)
• Levitation in defiance of gravity                     (Romantic love)
• Transformation from one state to another   (Suspicions and doubts develop)
• Penetration of one object through another  (Sex, or a knife through the heart)
• Restoration of a destroyed object                  (Making up after a fight, or therapy)
• Escape from a restraining device                   (Losing inhibitions, or coming clean on a lie)
• Vanishing                                                         (The breakup, or divorce)

However closely these mechanisms of magic and romance may seem to parallel each other, many would not conceive of romance as being the more unreal of the two.

Consider that, even though traditional illusionism is widely acknowledged to consist of intellectual puzzles and riddles, the audience still wants more than anything to believe the magic is genuine. Why else would they pay good money to experience something they know is fake to begin with?

Sound like any relationships you know?

If secrets behind these tricks were to be revealed, captivation would fall away and, robbed of our amazement, we’d be disappointed that we were so easily taken in.

Stage magic?

Or love?

Our wishes, wants, hopes and dreams are the pilot lights of true prestidigitation. In our finest goals we discover the alchemy of our aspirations.

Where Robert Heinlein remarked coldly that “One man’s magic is another man’s engineering”, an optimist may counter with Danielle Steele’s hopeful notion —  “If you can see the magic in a fairy tale, you can face the future.”

Personally, I’ll go with Erich Fromm who observed, “In love, the paradox occurs that two beings become one — and yet remain two.”

For my money, that’s as good as magic gets.

The end of awe is the beginning of hubris. And with hubris, innocence fades, excitement wanes, and love diminishes.

But the foundational root of all real magic is the wonderment we first experienced as children, wide-eyed to everything new in the world — breathtaking music, a child’s first sneeze, the opening of a tulip, a staggering sunset, the allure of a lover’s eyes, the flush from a first kiss.

With each of these enchantments something in you understands that genuine magic is more the province of the soul than of the mind. Any rational account of one’s life requires the inclusion of the mysterious.

Despite the occasional employment of smoke and mirrors, I still very much believe in magic.