A Spell to Attract Attention
I have no idea if this still works, or why anyone would want to make use of it, but here it is. If you are really, truly lonely or bored, and just want someone, anyone to talk to you – and aren’t particular – this used to be foolproof. I know from personal experience that it even used to work for young bluestocking introverts who couldn’t get a rote “good morning, may I help you?” out of a bored salesclerk if they handed out cash for the favor. Women who feel themselves turning invisible once they hit middle age might also consider trying it.
However, given the nature of the spell, and the energies you will be playing with, it’s a fairly sad, unsatisfying way to assure yourself that you too merit occasional human contact. But – that’s the culture. No spell can fix that.
It’s an odd spell. Odd in its simplicity. Nobody ever taught it to me. I can’t remember when I learned it. I’m sure I just ended up somehow taking it in over time without understanding what I was doing or why I kept getting the same results. But once I recognized what was going on in the deep structure of the thing, I stopped doing it. It felt too much like wearing a cloak of honey in an ants nest.
Anyway, here’s how it works.
Take one book. The book must be a good thick serious-looking heavy-read type book, not a lightweight commercial bestseller. Hardcovers are best, but not strictly necessary. The air of high seriousness is what matters. Any Complete Works of William Shakespeare will do if the cover is a dull single color, but John Milton: Complete Poems and Major Prose (ed. Merrit Y. Hughes, Indianapolis, Indiana: The Odyssey Press, Inc., a division of The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1957) is better, if you can find a copy. Mine is the twenty-second printing (1981) and it has a dull blue and black cover – perfection! Even better is Criticism: The Major Texts (ed. Walter Jackson Bate, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970) which sports a splendid dull blue-grey cover. I’ve also had success with various Norton anthologies, due to their size.
Do not use an ereader or ipad for this because folks will generally assume you’re just playing or texting and then the spell won’t work. Oh, and it won’t work as well in Europe. In Paris I can promise you it won’t work at all. It used to work reliably in most parts of the USA. I assume it still does.
Now, bring the book anywhere outside your home where there are other people around. A bench designated for public use on a busy street. A restaurant while you are waiting for your meal. Your desk at work while you are on a mandated break. Sometimes it works in public parks, but only if your book looks extremely serious. The spell is sketchy in public parks and commuter trains and airlines. If you must use one of those spaces, make up for it with something really hard and heavy and frightfully academic-looking in your hands. Think 800 page hardcover tome. Or several.
Now read. Just read. Don’t bother anybody. Don’t make a production out of reading; appearing as if you want attention will absolutely work against you. Just make sure your book is visible to casual observers. Watch what happens. As soon as you appear to be engrossed in the page, people you’ve never met before will approach you and talk to you and disrupt your thoughts. It’s like magic!
Mostly they’ll have the sole purpose of setting you straight. Often they’ll want to disrupt your peaceful, solitary activity because they feel threatened. You see, they won’t be friendly (but they might pretend to be), and they’re likely to use discomfiting tones of disbelief and rebuke, but they will initiate contact with you. “You reading?” “You reading that?” “Izzat for school?” I mean, why would an adult spend her free time reading anything that looks like something for school? Or, worse, looks like it might require serious thought and concentration. And why wouldn’t she want to justify herself to weirdly hostile strangers? My personal favorite? “My wife likes to read, she’s always reading.” This one is usually spoken by way of unasked for introduction in a tone of weird self-justification, as if the speaker feels he needs to defend himself.
You would think this spell would fail miserably in English departments, among educated readers, but I once accidentally hit a bull’s eye with it in my graduate English department’s Writing Program. I was sitting alone in my teaching assistant office and reading a hefty political science textbook (the title I now forget, but it must have interested me at the time). One of the Writing Program administrators, who never had cause to say anything to me for the previous half semester, happened to glance through my open door, noticed the topic, entered my office, and grabbed the top of my book, demanding to know what I was reading! Yes, she spoke to me! She squawked all kinds of commentary on my choice to read a political study and what purpose that had for the Writing Program and whether I was going to teach it to freshmen! It attracted attention from her I never had from anybody in the Writing Program before or since. I swear this is true.
You would also think it wouldn’t work in a law school, either, but I got results without really trying by being caught – I mean seen – reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to kill time before a torts class started (this was an unobtrusive 900+ page paperback version). A fellow in my class who never had much to say to me previously couldn’t stop commenting on how could I read a book like that for enjoyment, was I really seriously reading that, and how he couldn’t stand reading something like that. Nobody asked him, of course, but it was that damned spell – my act of serious reading for enjoyment – that drew his attention and caused him to talk to me. At length!
So what is it about serious reading that threatens people so much that they make it their mission to get you to stop doing it in front of them? It’s not simply because it’s unusual to see someone quietly reading a serious book and minding their own business. OK, it is unusual, but folks tend to keep their distance from the unusual. Or, now that everybody has a cell phone and a heavy dose of media-induced paranoia, folks tend to keep their distance while calling the cops.
No, they will approach you because there is a long, deep anti-intellectualism in America. And therefore, seeing an individual reading a thick scholarly or literary book and daring to enjoy it gets interpreted as an unforgivable trespass against the social order. So there will always be some good citizen who will not let you get away with it. Essentially, you’re throwing a stone in the culture and receiving the ripples and fits that return.
That is why the spell works. But knowing where that impulse to disrupt that higher impulse for thought comes from, you probably won’t want to use it either.