When I was in seventh grade, I wrote, memorized and performed a poem called "I Believe In Magic" for the dramatic arts festival my middle school had. I'm no poet now, and I don't claim I was one then either; the poem had a weak singsong rhythm, contrived rhymes, and all the other characteristics that now make me reach for the downvote button. To my credit, I certainly had the notion of parallel structure down cold, although that could probably just have been attributed to the repetitive nature of the poem. Perhaps most embarrassing of all, I dedicated the poem to several fantasy novelists, some of whom now make me cringe.

Nevertheless, I was chosen as one of the few people in my class to progress to the next level of the poetry reading competition; apparently my peers approved of my poem, or perhaps of my reading of it. "I believe in magic!" I would boom (inasmuch as I could boom, given that my voice had not lowered yet) at the beginning of every stanza, startling them. Perhaps I didn't make it past the first elimination round because the surprise had gone. But I did believe in magic then, or I wanted to anyway, and it may be that the fact that I meant what I said mattered even more than the seventh-grade booming did. That was the year I started acting. I think my teacher sensed my enthusiasm and my wanting to be in the spotlight, and by the end of the year I had hammed my way through the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, now my least favorite Shakespeare play (but not because it was the first one from which I ever performed).

The next year, I participated in the dramatic arts festival again. That year, however, I was required to make my poem fit a theme, some corny thing about community at my middle school or something absurd like that. The poem that resulted was horribly shitty even by my standards then, with a contrived ending which was obviously twisted to fit the theme. Mercifully, I don't remember a word of that poem now, and for that matter I couldn't memorize it then either, didn't like it enough to put in the effort. I was embarrassed to have written it, embarrassed to have to perform it, and embarrassed that I kept forgetting the words in front of my class. I didn't get to (i.e. have to) perform it again, and I'm sure I was thankful for it.

That poem didn't have a word of magic in it, and the way it was hammered and beaten into its final, sad form after the exuberant overdone-ness of the previous year could be taken as a metaphor for my life so far, because I don't really believe in magic now, either. Too much science and experience has led me to believe that any beliefs about magic in the past can be attributed to a lack of knowledge of what was really going on. Now we know better. We know that lightning bolts are not magical fury from some wrathful god in the sky; we know that the huge bones in the ground are from dinosaurs, not dragons. And I know now that while the fantasy writers who inspired "I Believe In Magic" wrote about worlds which share many characteristics with our own, magic is not one of them. Perhaps, in later ages in those books, people discovered laws of the physics of their world that explained what they called magic for so long. Or maybe magic was one of those laws. As far as magic in this world goes, we know now that books are the only place you'll find it.

It would be too easy to end the story here, let you walk away with the wrong message, that real life and its rules and conformities crush the magic out of you, make you a non-believer, steal the wonder and the drama from you. And maybe, to some extent, that's true. But I don't want to believe that. Hopefully you don't want to believe it either. And anyway, I left something out.

That same year which might have been so symbolic of the final crushing of my artistic spirit was also the year in which, after some very liberal script cutting on the part of the teacher in charge, I ended up playing the title character in a 45-minute rendition of Hamlet. This performance was at my school, on the same night that I would have performed my poem had it not sucked ass. Even 45 minutes of Hamlet was more than I could handle; while I had enough of a feel for what was going on that I could get past the typical middle school monotone Shakespeare reading, I couldn't memorize that many lines, much less do anything that an experienced person would call acting. It's hard to stay in character when you're forgetting lines. For that matter, I don't even know how we did the sword fight. But none of that really matters.

During those two years, I was starting to trade one kind of magic for another. I still believe that that new kind of magic exists. This world still contains a lot of amazing things.