Practical Magic

20 June 2017 Mariann B

Practical Magic

Photograph by istock

Most of us are not ambitious enough; we settle when a goal is well within our reach. And the reason for this? Intimidation and fear.

For me, it began in Grade 1 when the tuckshop lady had a meltdown because I took too long to decide what to buy for playlunch. The children shunned me and the teacher assigned me to the remedial group on day one.

The putdowns continued in my first job when I started in journalism. They instantly decided I wasn’t Pulitzer Prize material and forced me to write advertorials. Oh, how I hated those advertorials!

The editor bellowed to an advertising rep at the back, “You want someone to do an article about that lumber yard and the timber merchant, Woody Wilson? Send Mariann, she’s as thick as two planks!”

You need to guard your self-esteem from those who want to bring you down because they can cause great anxiety, a fancy name for fear.

A neighbour used to come over regularly to bring me her discards in a magnanimous gesture. A pair of worn-out shoes, a ragged overcoat and shirts that were once white. Stuff that an opportunity shop would refuse on the grounds that they were too shabby. This went on, but the last straw was when she confided to me she would divorce her husband – and offered him up as perfect for me. I told her in no uncertain terms she should repurpose him elsewhere.

The fear never leaves you but you learn to manage it. Even use it as fuel. The stronger the fear, the higher you have to set the bar and do something really scary before attempting the original goal. I once read you should multiply your effort tenfold to dramatically increase the result. That’s so…marginal. You need to tackle something really daunting, outrageously so. When you return to the original project it will seem like a pushover.

That is the essence of the “Magic Method” I’ve developed.

I needed a mentor, someone who would make me do things I never dreamed I could. So, I enrolled in this writing boot camp called Take a Quantum Leap With Your Creative Writing. The lecturer, who had a fanatical gleam in his eyes, wanted us to surpass that dinosaur, Shakespeare.

“So Mariann, what have you got for us today?” he asked in a deceptively loving voice. “A short story? I’m impressed. Now I want you to rewrite it in an iambic pentameter. I’ll give you 10 minutes!”

No, he wasn’t kidding. After that, writing a novel seemed like a piece of cake.

The other day I took my cat, Alfie, to the vet because he goes on hunger strikes when he doesn’t get his way. The vet said Alfie was fine, but he appeared frustrated. Frustrated? That over-indulged fur face?

“Alfie is exceptionally intelligent,” the vet observed. “I wonder if he gets enough stimulation. Those generic cat toys aren’t challenging enough.”

So, she sat me down and drew a diagram of a contraption that would keep my cat amused all day. It had levers, bells and balls of various sizes. Because I don’t have Alfie’s high IQ, I couldn’t even follow the diagram let alone make the thing. I felt in disgrace, as one does during a tense parent-teacher interview.

Stuff this, I thought. I don’t have the time. Gotta go and make a fortune before I hire my genius cat a tutor.

This encounter made me feel so enraged, I worked like a demon on my goal of the moment.

At one time after losing my job I was desperate to work again. It occurred to me I didn’t need permission to apply for jobs I’m not qualified to do. This was a sort of precursor for the “Magic Method”.

Thanks to my new mindset, I landed a beauty. All I had to do was teach a bunch of girls how to type. I walked around and patted them on the head while they slaved over their typing manuals (this was before the computer age).

“You’re all doing great,” I crooned. “Keep up the good work!”

It took the company nine months to figure out I couldn’t type at all. On the day I was sprung, one of the girls asked me how to use a stencil (a what?).

Surviving this was a life changer; I feel permanently pumped up. Recently a friend told me she wanted to upgrade her modest house. I tore off the picture of a mansion from her vision board and replaced it with a photo of the Taj Mahal. You gotta aim high!

So am I rich and famous yet because of the “Magic Method”? Not quite, but it’s all relative, isn’t it? You should have met me before I started.

Right now, I’m studying the Rich List as reported by The Financial Review. How those moguls operate, their philosophy and financial strategies. As a result, I’ll be sure to pay next month’s electricity bill. In full!

by Mariann B

Mariann B sells The Big Issue in Melbourne. 

This article first appeared in Ed#539 of The Big Issue