Sunday, July 31, 2016

Finding magic in the real world.

There's a dragonfly hanging around the parking lot of my apartment building. I've been seeing it every afternoon when I come home from work. Usually it simply crosses my field of vision, but sometimes it zips past me to really make sure it gets my attention.

I tend to think of dragonflies as liminal creatures, right on the border between reality and the fantastic. Part of it is their appearance: their bulbous heads, long, slender tails, and iridescent wings make them look less of this world and more of some unaccountable one. Part of it is the way they zip through the air, ducking and hovering in ways that we think we might be able to understand, if only we could read them as well as (or better than!) we read other humans.

Dragonflies need to stay near water, because that's where they lay their eggs. The element of water is linked with the emotions, which might make dragonflies suspect to the rational-minded. And in fact, many cultures have superstitions, most of them unflattering, about dragonflies. I wrote a story about them once -- or rather, I wrote a story in which dragonflies play a significant role. I made the main character a news reporter partly so I had an excuse to do a brain-dump of all the fascinating things I learned about them. (The story's called "Lulie." You can buy it for 99 cents at Amazon.)

But my story was strictly fantasy; the dragonflies in it were real, but they carried a magical message that my main character, Artie, resisted all the way. If "Lulie" had been magic realism, Artie would have been a very different character, and the dragonflies' message would have been less overt than Come down to the family farm and meet your cousin by the light of the moon. It would have been less insistent, more intriguing, and more of an answer to a deeper dilemma Artie himself was wrestling with.

Because magic realism works best, I think, with characters who are on the verge of something: a difficult transition from childhood to adolescence; an insistent need to escape an intolerable situation, whether domestic (physical or emotional abuse) or on a wider scale (war, racial hatred, etc.); or a cognitive dissonance that may be close to manifesting as mental illness (the movie Birdman comes to mind). The characters have to be open enough to magic to not shy away from it. They need to be in a liminal frame of mind.

I've been sufficiently intrigued by my dragonfly friend to investigate why he or she has been trying to get my attention (other than as a subject for this blog post, I mean). In Animal Speak, Ted Andrews says Dragonfly, as a totem, is about the power of light:
Dragonflies remind us that we are light and can reflect the light in powerful ways if we choose to do so. "Let there be light" is the divine prompting to use the creative imagination as a force within your life.
Tomorrow is Lughnasadh, the Pagan first harvest. For those of us in North America, the celebration comes at the height of summer. On this Lughnasadh eve, I'm going to try to remember to let my light shine. I hope you do the same.


This post is part of the 2016 Magic Realism Blog Hop. In fact, it may be the final post, time-wise, in this year's hop -- which means you can click through the list below and catch them all at once! Big thanks again to Zoe Brooks for organizing another intriguing hop.

These moments of hoppy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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