Magic vs. How Stuff Works

An enigma for some. For others, it just smells pretty.

Times my son has asked to dismantle my perfume bottle: 47

Times I have wanted to take my perfume bottle apart: 0

Times I have read a book without bothering to take it apart: 542 million (or so)

So there I was, sleeping, like you do in the middle of the night. And it was good. No one had come to stand beside the bed and weird me out like creepy ghosty shadows who appear to tell me they are sick or scared or hear the windchimes on the front porch and might I want to go and take them down so they don’t blow away in the tornadic winds?

But then I heard a man’s voice. And he was talking. A lot. And it wasn’t my man, because my man has an English accent, and I would know it anywhere, even downstairs, slightly muffled. And when I turned over to wake up my man to tell him to go look into it, he wasn’t there.

Yes, it was a bit of a concern.

So I creep halfway down the stairs and peek around the corner and see my man crouched down, in the dark, in the middle of the den, wearing not much, being lectured on how to perform magic tricks. Would you be worried?

It’s 2 a.m. It’s dark. The whole scene has a “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” vibe (even though I never saw that, because my parents thought I was too young). And my husband is quietly cursing and clicking things. I’d like to say this sort of scene is a rarity, but I’d be lying.

All of the electronic-y, computer-y, mechanical-ly mayhem that takes place in our house is because our son (genetically, from my husband) has an irrepressible need to find out how stuff works. He studies card tricks, shows me the trick, then asks if I want to know how he does it. I tell him that I’d rather keep the magic alive. This is partly because I have a mind like a sieve about card tricks, and if he tells me, I’ll probably forget anyway.

He wants to know how everything works. He even, on a daily basis, asks me if he can take my (Christmas present to myself!) bottle of Kenzo Amour apart.

He is not interested, not even remotely, in scent. But from inside the opaque fuschia bottle holding one ounce of liquid comes a tiny voice that (I have to imagine) says to him, “Take me apart. See what I look like inside. My atomizer is really neat.” Here is our conversation, varied only slightly, each morning before I have my cup of coffee:

“How will you know when you’re about to run out?”

“I won’t.”

“But why did they do that?”

“Because it doesn’t matter.”

“But what will you do when you get to the end?”

“Buy more.”

“Can’t I just take it apart so we can pour it into a clear bottle? Then I can see what’s inside.”


Every morning. Really. And I can say to you that when I saw that bottle in the store, my only thoughts were, “pretty” and “oooh, smells good.”

I am a simple person. And I like to believe in magic and things I can’t understand. I may be the only one on the entire planet, but when I can’t figure something out, the mystique is actually a selling point. When I read a book, I am able to suspend disbelief because it’s a central tenet of my life. I love to get sunk in, way in, to a book to the point where I can’t stop thinking about it.

But as a writer, this is also a problem. I am trying to take notes from my “how stuff works” family and writer friends who excel at picking apart plot devices and scene dissolves. Too many times, I have read books and loved every second. When I finish, I couldn’t tell you how Elizabeth Berg dropped into that conversation and then switched the action seamlessly to another character. Or how Suzanne Collins was able to keep the tension so strong throughout an entire series.

Dyson’s appliance slogan is still mine: “I believe things should work properly.” But I’m also taking it to heart that great design, plot, conversation and description deserve to be picked apart. Maybe I’m starting to hear that little voice, too: “Take me apart. See what I look like inside.”

But my son still needs to keep his little paws off my perfume.

2 thoughts on “Magic vs. How Stuff Works

  1. Holly says:

    HA! 2 a.m. card tricks? I bet the males of your household were exhausted yesterday!

  2. David Gentry says:

    You are doing pretty darn well with your writing to not to have to worry about analyzing how to do it. I am not going to send you any more “How to Write” columns. Keep going with your writing and live with the mystery!

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