i write for inner peace.
The face I make when I watch magic is the face of an old man who has seen it all, the face shared by those rowboat men from the Pixar short “Luna”, over-set in their ways. It’s the wrinkled forehead in front of too many minds I've made up. It’s the stare of judges. There was once a child behind new eyes. Now, I watch the impossible with a serious expression- a game face locked in by a mindset. Per Hemmingway, if the wonders written are bad, I’ll hate them. If they are good, I’ll hate them all the more out of envy. Magic keeps people young, but it has made me grow old, and frankly tired, of the same tacky entertainment. A magic show is like a dated amusement park. I want to see something real. Wonder is beyond intellectual puzzles and technical moves, mindless jokes or man-made gimmicks. These days, my squinted eyes seek the kind of soulful magic created by the lights of skylines. I smile at the sight of patterns; big pictures revealed; footsteps taken on a resolved Way toward places unseen and the mysteries therein. The beautiful unknown: that is what Magic is. It’s what’s beyond the same old illusory acts we’ve been fooling ourselves with, the effect of which fades gracefully with the passage of time.
Express your truth. Audiences latch onto authenticity, and the closer you get to exuding exactly what's on your mind, in your heart, and part of your soul, the easier it becomes for them to see you and truly connect. In cooking, true ingredients taste better than artificial ones. True stories turn into legends. True love endures. I've learned that the closer you get to your truth- God, dreams, convictions, or whatever it is you believe with no doubts- the closer your audience will get to you. Your expertise on this personal truth will be what they recline into, until you and them are moving through your show as one.
Perform with emotion. I've often recited lines I've said many shows over without a second thought or feeling toward each one. How can an audience feel if I'm in robot-delivery mode? Feel every word you say, listening to it as you say it and letting its energy affect you visibly and audibly. Hold none of this back from within. Lay out each emotion on stage for all to see. The audience will contagiously pick them up. Performing is vibing, and the group-feel dynamic that will fill the room will prime it for a standing O.
Establish the value of what you bring: the "payoff" of each effect, routine, and moment. Don't let them wait long- deliver the payoff rhythmically as music does to those who dance. Give the audience that blank-space chance to recognize its value, and pay for it with their true reactions before moving onward to the next act. Sometimes, magicians frame moments as throw-away gags or cheap tricks. Don't do this. Offer each moment genuinely, and watch them pay you back in similar fashion as karma returned. If you're consistent, the audience will without hesitation consistently give you what you're asking. Ask for a standing O. And as your show comes to an end, leave them slightly hanging with a payoff demand for one more. Let them ask for it. And when you concede, they will feel like you gave beyond yourself.
With your audience is fully connected, filled with emotion, and receiving every bit of value you bring to them, a standing O victory will be yours.
There's an excerpt from the classic novel "The Catcher In the Rye" where the main character Holden Caufield says something along the lines of him refusing to read a book unless it was at least 100 years old. He used this time-test as a measuring stick for a story's merit. Similar things can be said of other disciplines- a monument in architecture, a recipe passed down for generations, or a school of martial arts flourishing long after its master's time.
In the art of magic, there is much division between "old" vs. "new". At conventions, old-heads oil-and-water away from the flashy fedora cliques. Bookworms behind their spectacles bemoan instant-downloaders for taking the quicker way to mastery. Even entire swaths of the community somehow become segregated: the old file into their weekly bagel shop jams as the young turn away to their phone cameras and post videos of themselves doing magic on social media.
There's a gold nugget somewhere in the middle of this supposed old and new; a hidden bridge between the two cities. The classical school of magic doesn't invalidate the modern, nor vice versa- both are connected as one family's generation precedes the other by blood and gene. To bring them together at table, I feel like the visual aesthetic of the new can help punctuate the subtle depth of the old and inter-mingle for a balanced attack on the mind of our art's spectators. Jeet Kune Do takes from all styles, old and new, as water has no age and no form. Harmonized, the masters and the students of this art form can become one.
To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened to the myriad of things.
-Dogen, Zen Priest
I know nothing
of the way, but I'm on it-
a current bound for the coast,
a soul bound for birth,
the blur of a face on a night train bound for Orlando
from a hermitage in what might as well be the mountains
with a hometown name I made up-
The House of Flying Cards,
I used to tell them-
overlooking their communities off the edge of their map,
the glow of their windows and the jam sessions
buzzing within as distant as their stars above.
I train alone not on the shoulders,
but in the shadows, of their giants,
by the window of this train rattling toward their skyline-
no ID tag, unregistered, and therefore
I represent the null and the void, I'll tell them,
and state in the manner of Samurai from long ago
my truth and mission:
I came not to be fooled, or to see moves,
but to be moved;
not to be puzzled, or to see them puzzling each other
to a stumped standstill:
I came to see the big picture
these puzzle pieces complete.
I don't want to buy their tricks, gimmicks, or gadgets,
but to discover their priceless secrets
hidden beneath the leaves
of these pages as notes are jotted upon them
in a frayed composition book of nameless effects,
unpublished poetry, and un-booked show scripts no one will see.
I didn't come for their autographs, their passport-like stamps
of name-validating approval, or the music of their praises sung out loud:
I seek new ears with which to hear their perspectives.
As I'm nameless, I'm also formless,
so I seek impact
with each outlook-breaking act
they can hit me between the eyes with.
In the tradition of travelers, I seek new eyes
with which to stay awake and read
the stories behind the names of their greatest teachers,
the gleam of their souls behind those stories
as they tell it in a bar just before last call.
As I'm no one, I seek for a moment to become one
with this lost magic civilization of which I've exiled myself from,
no ID, cup emptied,
I'll have it filled to the brim with another beer,
the cheers of our reunion
breaking the night and all the silence between.
A popular and much varied plot in coin magic wherein a quantity of coins (usually four) is placed on a table, then penetrates to the underside, falling into the magician's hand or a receptacle such as a glass. One of the first descriptions of this plot was in Nouvelle Magie Blanche Devoilee written by Jean-Nicolas Ponsin in 1853
-Genii Magazine Magipedia
It's a poem
about moving through the darkness
in search of the bright side.
The trick is to keep it together
as rainy days hit the street,
hit rock bottom.
What lies beneath
but our honest reflection,
cast out against the water
like coins down a well,
each wish echoed
As evening shadows close in,
we'll see we're halfway through:
a way out is revealed
as if by moonlight
in the middle of the downpour,
as we move beneath it
with nowhere to go except
through the darkness
where we'll find a bright start.
Magic is bigger than the magician. We don’t create- we discover, and share those luminescent discoveries with fellow onlookers of this hidden art in the sky. We stand in its temple-like theaters with reverence, admiring of its mysteries and partaking in its rituals. We do acts- but by our acts alone are we not to be redeemed, or praised. The bond between our audience brings this magic to life, relationship strength tested over the course of a show which may as well be a lifetime of fleeting moments. We cross paths with messengers and teachers with the zeal of apostles, scribbling our observations down in our dusty notebooks in languages only we would understand. Performing becomes an act of karmic charity- the giving of a deep, holy joy that only magic can resurrect back into this skeptic-tank world that mocks it. Still as silly as it seems, we serve this magic, not the other way around- self-servitude as sin, selflessness as salvation. We save the best for last- the finales, kicker-endings, and encores. All praise we get is deferred to this limitless art in the sky and its thousand-year history; its eternal story of man doing the impossible, of discovering infinity. We are not almighty magicians. We are magic dust and to that we shall return, falling slow-mo as if in a dream, wands in hand and capes tied to our backs, lighting the darkness.
I. Don't do magic for popularity
II. Don't compromise content honor for sales
III. Pass down secrets to few over sell them to many
IV. Value principles over effects and special moves
V. Express Heaven over impress the world
VI. Don't let androids and other robotic devices replace a live audience
VII. Seek feedback over praise, unnerved by either
VIII. Compete only with yourself
IX. Don't hate magic
X. Vanish the ego
XI. Use magic as a Way to polish the soul and reflect God
XII. Put yourself last
XIII. Know you're dreaming
My relationship with magic is that of an ancient oak tree. As the years pass, I visit it less and less, but it continues growing, roots wrapping into the earth, branches spreading overhead and toward heaven for as long as the wind doesn’t take it. I stop by seasonally, not even to water it, but simply to gaze up at the heights to which it goes from its trunk, like how one would visit a temple, eyes fixed on the steeples and stained glass above. I’d climb the tree on slower days, maybe just to let a few feet off the ground and not go as high as I used to, if only to take in the view of what it was like in childhood and gaze back at the wind swept road from which I came. I would spend some time there, in my own bubble among the leaves suspended above the earth. No one would notice strange man in tree, as I would go about this as casually as one would sit at a bus stop bench. That child in me would emerge from treetop meditation, jumping back to the grounded reality, and onward I would go back toward the city where trees like the ones of magic are replaced with buildings and traffic and lost time. But I would turn back for a second, and see the tree waving overhead in the wind that doesn’t take it, but rather keeps it moving, restless, full of life and sound. Magic will be fine, growing on its own even if I don’t do another gig or score another reaction or pick up another deck of cards. It’s like the forest spirit Totoro, ever-present and watchful, seen by few whose eyes haven't aged from squinting at too many tomorrows; something hidden I can take my wife and daughter to in days to come and have childhood-style picnics beside. We could sleep beneath the stars. We could climb it and catch age-vanishing views of dawn.
Why perform? Magic is the art of invisibility- of move's unseen and secrets well kept. Spotlit acts are distant echoes of what was inscribed in hiding, behind walls and over mirrors, with no words said or praises uttered. Magic is largely a behind-the-scenes discipline, a collection of gears turning gears to acheive something as perennial as a clock hand's rhythmic tick forward. Underground activity here is its nature. But out of dormant instinct or as if by gravity, performances fall out of hiding and into broad daylight, into point-blank lines of sight, into recorded video frames or onto the tongues of strangers who take our stories to the far corners of the Earth. We move and mine underneath, and come up for air regardless of if people are watching closely with gems to show for or dust to brush off. Magic is as unglamorous a profession as a miner. You don't pay to watch miners. You pay to see gems, the worthwhiles, reflecting the universe and all its mysteries under the spotlights of stages few and far between. So we perform soley for air- to air out our impossibilities into the spaces between distant strangers, into the blank canvases of eyes closely watching for the inconceivable. Magic is a part of our being. These performances are the breaths.
Hope to see you when we take the next one:
Gizzi's Coffeehouse | 2275 S Federal Hwy, Delray Beach, FL 33483
Doors at 6pm | Show at 6:30pm
$12 pre-order | $15 door | (1) drink min.
Tickets at http://thehouseofflyingcards.com/shows
Magic competitions are a tricky thing. Judging and scoring one is like attempting to assign numbers to the human spirit, or monetary values to a person’s words, actions, and deeds. It’s not as clear-cut as sport, where a field goal is indisputably two points, or a race, where your position at the finish line is self-evident.
Competition itself brings out the best in any discipline, and sharpens it to a sword-like point towards the steady pursuit of victory, whatever the competitor is told constitutes that targeted destination. Competitions of Magic are valid enough in the realm of sword-sharpening, but I disagree with the conventional scoring methods, or what is held as valuable enough to measure the worth of one’s magic.
Tradition holds things like deceptiveness, originality, appearance, entertainment value, and showmanship as elements of a powerful mage. If I were to judge magic, I would vanish these boundaries that I feel limit the growth of the art and may blindfold its practitioners into cutting down false targets. These would be my scoring categories:
These are the criterion upon which I would score a Magic competition, and let the numbers I would attempt to assign them be erased like symbols in the sand on a windy day. I hope mages in high places will use my criterion for a competition one day. That would unlock a hidden level of magicians unseen since ancient times when the magician was in fact a character of transformation and not just a player in an act.
Best wishes to all the competitors out there. May the results of your endeavors polish your soul as much as your swords!
The Move Unseen
A blog for magic.