I have an uneasy relationship with the future. I am not the only one. If I were, there would be no such thing as divination in the form of astrology, tarot cards, chicken bones and of course the Magic 8 Ball.
Last week, I bought a Magic 8 Ball. Why? Because I never had one before and it held for me mystery and nostalgia. Everyone else around me seemed to have had one at some point. Can anyone ever forget the episode of Friends where Ross repeatedly consults his Magic 8 Ball in regards to Rachel?
The Magic 8 Ball has been around since the fifties thanks to Mattel, but I don’t recall it being in vogue in my ‘hood until the late 70s (we were still lost in our Ouija boards).
So, I wanted a Magic 8 Ball, but not urgently just curiously. I even asked for one for my birthday to my sensible husband, who promptly ignored the request and got me a pedicure, a meal out and flowers. I didn’t miss the Magic 8 Ball. But, suddenly I was invited to a grand opening party of my friend Gary’s newest toy store, The Toy Box (Toy Jungle chain) and the opportunity presented itself.
The way the Magic 8 Ball is packaged you can use it in the store and test it before you buy it. So, I decide to ask a stupid test question: will it still be raining when I leave the store? Its answer: all indications pointed to yes. I realized right there that this was a stupid question because since I was at a party I wasn’t sure when I was going to be leaving, so it was not a question I could verify a correct answer to right away. It also meant I would have to buy the Magic 8 Ball in order to see if the question was correct or be caught for shoplifting. So I buy it. I leave the store an hour later and it is still raining. All things look good, except for the fact that it really is raining hard and I have no umbrella. However, I do live in Vancouver and the weather forecast is probably about as accurate as a Magic 8 Ball and rain is always a good bet. A better bet is to carry an umbrella.
As I took my treasure home, the quintessential adult kid with a new toy to play with, I start to ruminate on my first, big, important question. My first thought was I’d ask: will my screenplay be bought? It is currently under option so it’s important to me to go to the next step and sell it and see it produced. My next thought is, what if the answer is negative and the answer influences me negatively and I give up on trying to sell the screenplay. Better not ask that question. I should ask questions where I have little influence over the subject.
So I went down that path, trying to find a question that was important to me but I have very little control over the outcome so if the answer is negative I won’t be influenced to change my ways, possibly in a self-fulfilling prophesy kind of way. If you are following this, I salute you. Now, I suddenly realize how many things I actually have influence over.
Will my book sell well?
Will I have a good meeting next week?
Will I be able to help my family with their present problems?
All of these kinds of questions I have a lot of influence over and I wanted to think positively about them and keep that power. I did not want the Magic 8 Ball to come out with an answer that may affect my thoughts or actions in a detrimental way. Clearly these questions were off the table.
So I moved to questions where I had absolutely no control over. At least I was thinking I did. If you ask, for example, will I win the lottery, the very minimum you have to do is buy a lottery ticket. And, don’t you have to buy the ticket first to ask a question? You again have influence, or an active role at least in the outcome. Was I going to rush out and buy a lottery ticket just to ask the Magic 8 Ball if I was going to win it? No. Truth be told I don’t even think I want to win a lottery. That is not my idea of fulfillment.
Other things that were both important to me and I thought I might not have influence over the outcomes, were for other people. Will my friend, who has the big “C,” ‘s health return? Do I really want to ask that question? Would the answer influence how I talk to them, or even if I wanted to talk to them? Would they know on the phone by the tone in my voice that I had a psychic indication positive or negative? Was I supposed to put my friends health in the frivolity of the Magic 8 Ball?
Pretty soon after going through all the questions that really make a difference to me, but I have no control over, I came back to one. The one I started with. The weather. Anything considered an act of God. Once again, I was pretty sure we had weather forecasts for this exact reason. And even if forecasts weren’t always correct, they weren’t vague either. That’s right, I went all the way from desiring the Magic 8 Ball, to finally getting one and realizing I could not use it.
The silver lining was seeing, not into the future, but seeing that I do have an influence in life, however great or subtle it is, over, many, many things and I use it everyday without even thinking. And you do too.
Maybe I always knew the Magic 8 Ball was going to be too good to be true, because I never took it out of its package. I will not take it back to the store. It is not defective. But perhaps I will give it to someone who needs to learn that the future is at their feet more than they realized.
Kathrin Lake is the author of Writing with Cold Feet, and leads Writing Retreats in Mexico every January and February through the Vancouver School of Writing http://vancouverschoolofwriting.com/events/writing-retreats/. She also teaches Yoga for Writers at her retreats. See http://kathrinlake.com for more information.