Gill Sotu
Ordinary Magic
TEDxSanDiego 2016

It must be magic, because no one can tell me how love really works. How it is able to die daily online and reincarnate in the belly of a laugh, an unexpected embrace, an anticipated first kiss. Now tell me there isn’t magic in this.
It must be magic, because my parents met when they were 11, divorced when I was 11 and then got remarried again when I was 34. I am now 11 anew, still rocking Transformer t-shirts, slightly larger of course, but excited to see my parents hold hands again once more.

Speaking of children and magic, magic and children, my first son Jackson is less than a year old. He wears Batman and swells his chest, protects his mother as his father did when I was his age. I too was the Dark Knight who didn’t require the night to be considered dark.

Chocolate Avenger is what I called myself. My father took it a step further. Don’t tell him I told you this, but he used to wear his sister’s ballerina tights and prance around the house also playing the role of the caped crusader. Three generations of superheroes all pretending to be the good guy, fighting the good fight.

Now, for a living, we all use our words to battle injustice. My father is a high school counselor. I am a socially conscious playwright and poet. My son is the best of all of us. He shrieks when he laughs. When he does, depression suddenly dematerializes from our home. I imagine a big cartoon “Pow” or “Bam” above his head when this happens. Now tell me there isn’t magic in this.

So why is this important? Because ordinary magic is disappearing in our lives at an alarming rate. I know that there are some proud nerds out there who don’t care much for the poetry. I want to give you a John Hopkins statistic. Lisa Yanek, MPH, has found that positive people are 13% less likely to have a heart attack or other coronary event.

Dr. Peterson from the University of Michigan has found that people whose explanatory style is pessimistic, exercise less and smoke and drink more than do optimists. I know you know some of those people. Edward E. Jones from Princeton University has stated that our expectancies not only affect how we see reality but also affect reality itself. The most telling of them all is that Maxim magazine says, if you’re positive, you’ll just have more sex. There you have it.

Ordinary magic. I see it everywhere hiding in plain sight, loving for no good reason, a black man with no fancy education getting to speak to you good people here at TEDxSanDiego, armed with only a disturbingly handsome face and a pocket full of passion. Imagine, 10 years ago, I could barely afford Ramen. Now, for a living, I get to write pretty words. I married an even prettier frugal woman. People no longer laugh at my credit score.

We must change our definition of what we call the miraculous. If you watch a Disney movie, it will have you believe it happens instantaneously. It doesn’t just happen with the snap of a finger or by evoking some kind of incantation. No. It happens in the heart of the realization. True sorcery begins the moment that you recognize that, in your life, some time, you have staggered through hell and you have somehow survived. And, if need be, you can do it again. Tell me there isn’t magic in that.

Why is this so important? Because, in the US, there is death by suicide every 12.9 minutes, the approximate time of a TED talk. Can the things we say to one another save a life? I’m not sure, but I know the things we don’t say to each other can take one. I know there are people sitting right here in this auditorium, sitting next to someone who feels utterly alone, like a frayed arrow sent out into the world, cutting through the silence, who see no magic, who live in the gray, a matrix and are in desperate need of a pill, a blue hug and honest conversation.

Side note, I am having a give one, get one free sale on hugs to anyone who needs it immediately after this session. If anyone else wants to give a hug, feel free. We are letting good people slip away from us through our silence. Sink within themselves, nesting dolls only displaying the beautiful on the outside with their carefully painted smiles. There’s no magic in them. The alchemy of ordinary magic is relationships, a string of connections with small bulbs attached to them invisibly conjoining us together, bringing power and light to our lives.

When my wife was round with child and feeling the most unattractive, they say she was glowing. I have to agree. She was definitely beautiful and still is. We almost gave up on having biological children when we found that life grew inside of her. How many times have you almost given up on something only to be saved at the very last moment? Tell me there isn’t magic in that.
I know that there are some powerful business men in here who don’t care much for science or poetry, and will only listen to other powerful business men. Hopefully one day you’ll listen to powerful business women, too. Baby steps. I was raised by my momma, I know.

The following quotes, gentleman, are for you. “Things work out the best for them who make the best of how things work out.” John Wooden. “You have to trust in something. Your gut. Your destiny. Karma. Life. This approach has never let me down and has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs. “Some people want it to happen. Some wish it would happen. Others make it happen.” Mr. Michael Jordan.

“Keep your head up.” For those who listen to rap music or hip hop, you may think that it was Tupac who first said this. But it was my mom who coined the phrase years earlier, holding up my tear-soaked cheek, repeatedly telling me this while she was going through her own stuff, holding down a $5 an hour job at Walmart, raising two children of her own. All practitioners of ordinary magic. Daily amazement disguised as the mundane.

Listen, we are what we think. Will you focus in your life on the pain or do you believe that your life has the power of the extraordinary? Told in another way, ordinary magic is that part of the music that makes you close your eyes. It makes you remember the sunshine and the car ride, and that one hand sticking out the window, catching and riding the wave.

The volume not loud enough to match the juvenescence pumping through your rebellious veins. That endless energy you didn’t realize was going to leave you in about 10 to 15 years. But you were young then. That didn’t matter. You thought that the music you were listening to was going to save the world, and them who sung it were like minor gods.

You were sitting next to someone that you loved unconditionally because you were still too naïve to formulate conditions, staring at them, knowing that this was the music that was always going to define us. Do you know the song that I’m talking about? Do you remember that moment? Tell me there isn’t magic in that.

I know a lot of people believe in what I’m talking about. But they didn’t have a name for it so they didn’t call it anything. Let’s define it. Ordinary magic: the relationships, love, outlook, the good that makes up the best moment in life.

Why is this so important? Because, for them without magic in their lives, hating something almost feels like a gift. At least they’re feeling something, even hating for something as spiritually insignificant as the color of one’s skin. Gill, you’re going to tell me that ordinary magic is going to stop bigotry? I’m so glad you asked that question. Let me answer it with another one. When was the last time you saw a truly happy racist? I’m talking about a zen confederate. When was the last time?

Believe me when I say this. When you start to search out beauty in your life, it begins to permeate everything in it, including people and cultures alien to you. You start to think, “Do I really want to have this much hate in me? Do I really want to give this much energy to a rage that does not fulfill me?”
How does one develop ordinary magic? You name it. Every change you get.

When someone comes up to you and says, “That’s an amazing coincidence,” you say, “No, that is ordinary magic. Gill talked about this.” That is the thick thing that hangs in the air that makes life bearable.

The thing that allows a person to hug a stranger. It allows a person to finally share their heart with their mother. To forgive their father. To take life as it comes. To accept a compliment without immediately dismissing it. It allows you to feel your ancestors and loved ones gone from this existence, still guiding our decisions, heavy in their presence. It allows you to try something new that, previously, you refused.

It makes some rare people as kind as they are beautiful. It gives us Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson. It gave us hip hop, a billion-dollar industry birthed from the power of unyielding poverty and undeniable creativity. It allows some people addicted to controlled substances, ruining lives around them like a dark vortex a chance at redemption. A do-over. The fact that you can mess up 102 times and, if you ask someone sincerely who loves you, they’ll give you 103, another do-over. Side note, God bless the lying, cheating child who created the do-over. There is magic in all of that.

Ordinary magic. In other words, what I like to call it sometimes is God. You call it whatever you want. I want you here at TEDxSanDiego to recognize it. Call it something. Smile when you see it. For your sake and my sake, never let it go.