For more than a year I’ve been spending time with people who believe, really believe, that beauty is greater than force. “Beauty over power,” the saying goes. This is a complex message related strongly to their fundamental philosophies but it’s nonetheless a lesson I’ve reflected on countless times in my own life. This simple statement challenges assumptions of the road to success – how do I expect to succeed? how do I expect to achieve my goal? – and calls essential attention to the way that one’s emotional priorities affect reactions to force. More importantly for me, it challenges me with the question, “When did I start believing that force was strongest?”
Like you, I’ve been sitting in a morass of my own powerlessness for several months now. I saw directly and clearly that my magic – the power that was supposed to be able to solve all my problems – failed to have any apparent affect at all. Although several people have chosen to take this outcome as an indication that new tactics must be developed, I’m still weighed down with some pretty heavy depression and haven’t been able to really think through my next step.
Force didn’t work. Coordinated, organized force didn’t work. Independent, improvised force didn’t work. Direct and focused force didn’t work; neither did more subtle and indirect mayhem. Force from familiar allies didn’t work, force from distant climbs didn’t work – the option to plow through the problem didn’t get the hoped-for result.
For all we’re taught about crafting successful spells, I’m not sure if we’re taught very much about coping with defeat.
My tactic was wrong. Sure, I’m witch enough to power through the small obstacles in my small life, but force has never been my strong suit. I’m neither a war witch nor healer, which are what my friends tend to be. I’m something else and that’s sometimes hard to remember. Not hard in the sense that I forget, but hard in the sense that maybe I want to think of myself as something else. And sure, I can take many roles (and have) and be successful enough that I’m still standing but by choice, nature, or circumstance I’m part of a different division. There are many essential players in a battle – soldiers and medics are only two.
I’m also an artist – specifically, I’m an author. I’m also a clothing designer, book maker, and unapologetic dabbler in any medium I can get my hands on. Many artists are stepping up in a way that says, “I know that art is powerful, and I will make more art than ever before and I will make better art than ever before.” I heard them and believed them and ignored them. I believe in the power of art – of beauty broadly – and still chose to use a power that was more obvious, more direct, more apropos *even though I knew I wasn’t good at it*. Somewhere not too deep down I was saying, “Yeah yeah, art is powerful, sure OK. This is the time for something different, though.” That’s the belief I chose for the basis of my actions and I failed. That failure has led to a deep and complex depression and it’s shaken my confidence in myself as a magical being. (And yes, I keep thinking how nice it would be to jettison all the fairy stories and just go back to a nice rationalist view of reality and use tactics only informed by a realistic view of reality – but I can’t.)
Failure is inevitable and essential in both battle and art. For all the times that you succeed and achieve the end you desired there were uncountable opportunities for things to turn out differently. Knowing that failure could sit on the other end of any unfolding chain of possibilities can’t prevent the attempt; otherwise nothing gets done and there are lessons to be learned even in failure. All of the “good” things I’ve made have sat on top of mountains of “bad” things. I’m rarely convinced that my “good” things are “good”, merely broadly adequate. In this case, however, I refused to even consider failure because I knew that doing so would prevent me from taking action at all. I’ve had much to learn in the past four months, not the least of which is fear management.
But now that saying, “beauty over power”. Beauty – desire, appeal, aesthetics, relationship – all these things have the ability to reorient our emotional selves so fundamentally that power – force, coercion, pinch, and press – simply don’t have the same effects. A goddess I knew as the every embodiment of dynamic, powerful force transformed into a being of radiant, pristine loveliness, a poised and perfect goddess shining out a transcendent sweetness and purity that still brings me to my knees. From the no-nonsense sword to the delicate and miniscule noose and goad. Then from these tiny implements – sharp and arresting in their own right – a flute emerged and trembling I knew that beauty is stronger than force. Underneath the trappings of power is the profound gravity of desire – and desire is something I understand.
I can’t commit myself to beauty – I’m not good at commitment – but reflecting on these things has given me a spark of internal heat I haven’t had for quite a while. I can believe in the potency of beauty and all it embodies and chose to use what tools I’m best at or I can continue to ignore this knowledge in favor of actions that might be satisfyingly familiar to my crude understanding of success. In other words – am I willing to change my mind about what success looks like in order to effectively use the tools I’m already good at, or do I stick with the overculture paradigm that tells me stories about force that have turned out not to be true?