Do You Believe in Magic?

Rational decisions sometimes bow to unconscious habits. If knocking on wood makes you think the action might help affect your outcome, it might. In his article for the New York Times – In Defense of Superstition – Matt Hutson suggests psychological benefits to believing in magical thinking – despite the possibility that it may not really exist. What you believe to be true may be more powerful than reality.

Hutson cites the idea that “luck is in your hands.” Knocking on wood may not really add luck to your situation, but the action may “produce an illusion of control…enhance self-confidence…improving {your} performance…{thus} indirectly affecting {your} fate.” Participants who were given lucky charms actually performed better on tests. Believing in fate – “everything happens for a reason” – makes surviving life’s inadvertent traumas easier. And, if objects have the “essence” of its previous owner, could a pen once used by Jane Austen break your writer’s block?

Hutson has a new book with more possibilities for using magical thinking to get through life – The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane. The unconscious is powerful, and what can it hurt to believe in magic? Hutson says…

on some deep level, we all do – {it} does not make you stupid, ignorant or crazy. It makes you human.”

Why not? I plan to read the book and, in the meantime, keep rubbing the Buddha’s belly, watering my bamboo plant, and looking for rainbows. Do you think Jonathan Franzen would let me sit in his “battered green office chair” for inspiration?

The Buddha in the Attic

Almost like a mesmerizing chant, Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic will hypnotize you with its lilting monologue and heart-wrenching imagery.  The voices of Japanese “picture brides” explain their epic journey in eight chapters from their expectations and fears on their journey to America on the boat, to the disappointing reality of their new lives, and finally, as they disappear into the World War II Japanese internment camps.

With many stories blended into one voice, the tale becomes an everywoman’s cry.  The fast pace of the action has no plot but as the women move from “first night” to the fields, to giving birth and raising children, I was forced to pause now and then, to digest the enormity of their struggle.  The book is deceptively small – a little over a hundred pages – but more would render the reader helpless and overwhelmed.  The last chapter – “A Disappearance” – suddenly shifts voice to the townspeople who express their shock, then  anger, and finally acceptance of the Japanese internment – “The Japanese have disappeared from our town.”

Beautifully conceived, The Buddha in the Attic is not the typical trite story retold so many time in novels of picture brides, but a searing poetic testament to the Japanese women who were lured into an unexpected life in a strange country, without the comfort of their customs and language – and endured.   Read it and weep.