A guide to getting everything

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"I think this is going to be a really therapeutic project for me," I said.

But it had been nine seconds and Robert was already drinking a green smoothie, yelling at reporters through his office window and arranging a conference call all at once, because that's the kind of crackerjack editor he is. "Therapeutic?" he said. "I don't care about that. Just write me a good story."

Poof. I'm a witch.

I'd set my experiment to correspond with the lunar cycle, beginning on the full moon of September 12 and ending 30 days later with the next full moon, in October. First, I'd make a list of things I wanted to manifest. Then I'd cast spells and work hard to reorganize my thinking. I'd forego skepticism and practice pathological optimism. I'd ask the universe for things and fully expect to get them. At the end of the experiment, like a scientist, I'd come back and show you everything the universe had given me.

September 12 was one of those full moons that poked out yellow and fuzzy through the clouds, but only sometimes. Since my overarching quest was for magic itself, I chose an incantation from my book, Moon Spells, aimed at "promoting psychic abilities and invoking the power within.

I had to cast a circle and face north. I used the rocks that I collect on walks and store in a Crown Royal bag to build a circle around me on the floor of my apartment. The spell called for odd-colored candles: purple, orange, silver and white, and would you believe it, I had all of them on hand. Other things the spell required: a bell or gong, incense, deep-purple felt and red wine. Each item is designed to engage the senses. For the bell, I plucked the high E string of my guitar and dutifully said out loud, "I hear the power." I smelled the incense and said, "I smell the power." Tasted the red wine: "I taste the power." Caressed the Crown Royal bag and said, "I feel the power"—and here's the humiliating kicker: As instructed, I raised my hands to the ceiling and ended the spell (by the power of Grayskull?) declaring, "I am the power!"

The book suggests that after you blow out your candles and step out of the circle, you should take a few more celebratory sips of your wine, but to really make sure, I went ahead and finished off the bottle.

Figuring out what I wanted to manifest was a little harder. You have to know what you want, and harder still, you have to believe you deserve it. I looked around my filthy attic apartment with the weirdly shaped rooms and low, slanted ceilings. I was single and alone. There was no oven in the kitchen. My bathroom had no sink and no mirror. What do you get the girl who has everything?

I want what people want: a career—in my case, to write and teach for a living. Someday I'd like a husband or something like it. Probably not kids, but a dog, maybe?

I was thinking too big. I didn't want or need any of that stuff to happen right away. The idea was to focus on quick manifestation, tasks that were achievable in the next 30 days.

I imagined my many hooded sweatshirts picking themselves off the floor, folding mid-air and flying onto their shelves. Maybe little mops would sweep through, scrubbing surfaces and making it look like someone other than a dead person lived there. I wrote "clean apartment" on the list and tried to believe that might happen.

Next, I wrote, "Find a new boyfriend" but it looked laughable and far-fetched, even with the weight of the universe on my side. The whole list was complicated further by the fact that I was leaving Missoula in October to go to a writer's colony in the woods of New Hampshire and had no idea if I'd be coming back. I remembered with horror one of the last things my ex had said to me, "Be careful with your love. It's like a loaded fucking gun." I crossed off "Find a boyfriend" and replaced it with "Sexual healing," which probably just meant "masturbate per usual," and from there it all seemed much more attainable.

When I was a little girl, on every birthday cake and shooting star, every single time, I wished for one million dollars. What was the grown-up equivalent of one million dollars, adjusted for inflation?

I settled on "happiness." You're not supposed to be so vague, but I couldn't think of any other way to put it. I shut my eyes and tried to imagine what happiness looked like. My mind was a blank.

My list became a free-associated parade: acceptance letter from The New Yorker, a hotplate, Converse All Stars, psychic powers, my car continuing to work, gemstones, Kombucha. At the top of the list, I wrote "Free ukulele" as the ultimate test. I wanted a ukulele to come out of nowhere and I wanted it to be free. If I could make that happen with my mind, I could do just about anything.

'Tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people—right? I once overheard someone say that there are angels floating around everywhere, eager to do our bidding, if we'd only think to ask for their help. They're especially happy to help you help others. But it's hard to know what, specifically, your friends want and need, apart from what all of us want (love, one million dollars). How often do you even ask yourself that?

I asked my friend Richard. He said he wanted a big-screen TV and to get rid of his car. I thought I was off to a good start until he added, "But this isn't going to work because there's no such thing as magic."

I saw that I'd made a mistake by letting Richard in on the process. His doubt would sully the spell. If I were going to wish things for my friends, I'd have to try to anticipate their needs and do it without their knowing. For this, I really started swinging for the fences: Cory finds a good band to play with. Brett makes friends in Kansas. Mental health for Josh. Men fall hopelessly in love with Alice. Obama passes the American Jobs Bill. Sally the dog heals her wounded foot.

Making a list is easy enough. Believing that any of it is possible is harder. I don't think I realized just how cynical my thinking was until I took the time to shine a flashlight on it. My brain is a veritable museum of self-defeating slogans and deep-seeded beliefs like "There's no place for me in this world," "I'm the size of a rhinoceros and therefore undeserving of real love," "There's never any money," "Life is incredibly painful" and the ultimate: "Nothing matters and nothing ever works out."

Think about it, gentle reader. What horrible, limiting beliefs do you repeat to yourself again and again and again? And how's that working out for you?

It's magic

Weird things started to happen.

Some of my spells came true.

One thing I'd asked for was "Forgiveness from Jack." Jack is a character from "Forgetting Mary Jane." I'd written it just like that, even though that's not his real name. Still, he was sore about the way I'd portrayed him. It was all true, but perhaps indelicate. There's more to people than the drugs they dabble in, but non-fiction is manipulative. In the business, we call it "lies of omission." More than anything, I probably should have told him I was doing it.

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