An Internship in Magic
As a kid, I had a pet unicorn named Snowball; we were inseparable for years. But as I got older, the open boundary I perceived between magic and reality slowly sealed shut. Without my noticing, Snowball disappeared.
I’d all but forgotten him until last month, when an eight-year-old boy in tiger facepaint strutted up to me, looked me dead in the eyes, and asked, “So what’s the point of all this?”
It was a fair question. He was referring, specifically, to the unicorn art plastered all over the shed at Burnside Park, where the Providence International Arts Festival was in full swing. As part of the Unicorns in Residence project—a city-wide interactive art installation centered on the magical creature for which it’s named—I was recruiting kids to create their own “Missing Unicorn” posters.
Though my main task for the summer is to plan a series of 18 performing arts events in six Providence parks, I often find myself participating in side projects like this one. I like to think of my work as helping to prop open the gateway between magic and reality, and indeed it often feels situated at this nexus. The reality is a binder full of schedules and spreadsheets, contract terms and budget restrictions, and endless chains of email. The magic is what takes root in these details, and ultimately what blooms in the face of a child invited to play.
I didn’t know how to answer Tiger-boy, though. “Well,” I said, improvising, “There’s a unicorn missing in Providence. But we don’t really know what it looks like, because it can look like anything you imagine, right?”
Tiger-boy nodded solemnly, accepting this. “So how do you know so much about unicorns?”
Another good question. Like all kids, Tiger-boy knew intuitively what grownups have spent years empirically proving—that play is very serious business. Inadequate playtime has been linked to potential academic, behavioral, and psychological repercussions down the road. In fact, the role of play in healthy child development is so important that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes it as a right of every child. But with many schools cutting down on playful or creative activities, along with the limited resources many face at home, it can be a difficult right to realize.
So sometimes, to make play happen, you have to work a little magic.
Before I could stop myself, I found myself answering Tiger-boy, “Well, you can’t tell anyone this, but—” here I knelt down to his level, glancing furtively to and fro—“I’m part of the Unicorn FBI.”
His jaw dropped, showing missing teeth like little fangs. “Seriously?”
Okay, so maybe I’m not in the Unicorn FBI. But, to return to Tiger-boy’s original question, that’s not the point. The point is to find magic in reality, to see it as intrinsically part of reality. And I like to think that somewhere, way off in the land of the missing unicorns, Snowball was smiling.