Do You Do Black Magic or White Magic?
BY JAMES ALTUCHER
I was at a black tie dinner last Friday, all fresh in my tuxedo and the man sitting to my left was telling me about a new client of his who was initially bought as a sex slave at the age of 14 from her Yugoslavian family by a billionaire.
"Now, after surviving the horror story, she is starting her own airline."
"I just don't know how to market her," he said. "The story is tricky".
"I have an idea," I told him.
The world is a violent and scary place with much mystery hidden behind the cheerful and bland pictures that people hang on their walls.
And then there is my eleven year old, who hasn't yet been introduced to violence and masochism and sex slaves and secrets and has decided that the cruelest thing in life is that I require her to do a "challenge" if she wants a Chromebook laptop for Christmas.
"Now I'm stressed out!" she said, borrowing the mantra she heard many times as a baby from me. "Christmas is about giving. Not about challenges!"
Ok, I said, if Christmas is about giving then how about whatever I give to you, you find someone else to give it to. That would teach you about giving.
And she smiled but didn't answer because she knew that every word was wrapped around a trap.
How about if I just give you a book, I said. Why does it have to be a Chrome...book?
But she knew she could get a book out of me any time. She had my kindle and my Amazon password. Books are largely free for kids.
What was the challenge I was asking of her?
Make a youtube video that would get more than 200 views. Write a piece of fiction that would get more than 100 reads. Get 50 followers on Instagram. Take a course on Codeacademy and become a coder. Take a full course on coursera. Any of these.
"There's not enough time!" she said and she turned away and put on an angry face, hoping that if intellectual argument wouldn't work then at the very least the delicate musical instrument of my emotions could be tuned and played.
"And coders are weird!" Digging in further, knowing that my background was as a coder.
"How about make it a challenge to come up with challenges?" I said. "It doesn't have to be hard."
Claudia said to her, "do you know the story about the fish? You can give someone a fish and they eat for a day. You can teach them to fish and they will eat for the rest of their lives."
Mollie was upset, "That doesn't make any sense! There's no fish here."
And the conversation disappeared like the flame from a lighter. At some point later in life, every day will be a challenge for her and she'll remember this silence.
But the next day she learned some yoga poses with Claudia for a whole hour. And she completed three courses on CodeAcademy. On one of the simple programs she printed out the words, "i have to do this...something about fish...and Christmas.."
The next day she came over, walking from school in the rain. Somehow she wrote 1900 words in a piece of fan fiction and posted it to fanfiction.net. She has more reviews on it now than I have for some of my books.
This is not to brag about her. She's doing a task for a reward. A young wizard can use their magic for both good and evil.
Art is magic without power. Money is magic with a power that can either be intensely electric and charitable or it can be negative.
As she dips her toes into magic she'll eventually learn what to do with it. That I can only teach by example.
We all want love and mastery in our lives. How close or far we get from these two poles often determines our moods. It's almost biological.
I asked Robert Greene, author of the books "The 48 Laws of Power" and "Mastery" if having mastery in a field brings one closer to happiness. I said, "it doesn't seem that people like Mozart were very happy."
And he said, "Oh, I beg to differ. Mozart was immensely happy in the final years of his life." And he gave several other examples.
Robert Greene is a lot smarter than me and I'll publish my discussion with him at another point. We argued on several issues. One where I felt the 48 Laws of Power was more about manipulation and weakness than power , and the above argument about Mastery and happiness.
He said, "but if I wanted to write a book called 'Happiness' I would've written about a guy in Peru smoking dope and having fun but I didn't. I wrote 'Mastery' instead."
Mollie has achieved her mastery for the day and will hopefully continue with codeacademy and fanfiction.net and yoga and become great at all of them. And she'll get her Chromebook. Why not? Better than TV or news or the aggressive shoplifting that I did at her age.
She's still trying to find her place in the world, just like the little gossiping girls in a slumber party she wrote about in her fan fiction. Just like I still am.
"So what's your idea?" said the PR guy in the tuxedo about the sex slave-turned airline owner.
I have no idea. But my challenge before Christmas is to come up with one.
Feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also read my blog here.
Here are some of my posts:
I Need a Check for $1 Million Dollars
The Ten Ways I Lie