Not A Source of Wisdom

13406845_1241316559236376_4997696774791406979_nOkay, it’s no secret that I am an atheist. And a fairly vocal one at that. But just so you have some background here before I go on to something challenging, you should know that for years I was Christian, grew up going to Church every Sunday, and even attended a Christian school for most of my middle school and junior high years.

So why the change? There are a lot of reason, but the things I’m about to go in to now really do sort of drill down into the heart of it all.

And why am I doing this now? Because the recent tragedies pretty clearly have a motivating factor that I think is core to the whole problem, and this meme ties in to it in such a way that it made my teeth itch.

Yesterday something went past me that talked about the source of the recent mass shootings as being “toxic and violent masculinity.” This really made me mad. It made me mad on two levels; the first being the broad brush misuse of the terms (which I addressed with some people on Facebook and won’t rehash here), the second being what I consider to be the real source of these problems that underly the motivations and education of the people who do commit these mass shootings; bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance.

But what does any of that have to do with this meme?

I think that the source of all of this crap is religious. The point that I have made time and time again is that we are not born with hate. We are taught to hate. We learn hate from authorities in our lives; our parents, our teachers, and our religious leaders.

Where do parents and teachers get their prejudices from? From theirs or from their beliefs. Where do those beliefs come from? Religious leaders and their interpretations of scriptures. And whatever prejudices came along for the ride for them as well.

But we’re afraid to criticize religion in this country. We’re not allowed to. Because to do so automatically condemns us to hell. We’re automatically immoral if we stop and say “hey, this doesn’t make sense.”

And always there is the “God is love” set and the “not all Christians” set and plenty of other apologetics. And that’s why this meme is bugging me.

It’s the perfect example….

Jesus did, in fact, tell people to hate. Luke 14:26. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”

He wasn’t the most all inclusive guy either. Luke 12:51. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

And fairly warlike. Matthew 10: 33-35. “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.…”

If you were raised in a religious tradition that promotes the idea of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as all the same entity then I simply need to point you to the *ENTIRE* Old Testament for examples of God/Jesus/Spirit demanding that his “chosen people” commit the slaughter of others who look different, who love different, who worship different. Even if you don’t follow that whole “Holy Trinity” bit I still refer you to the Old Testament.

And before anyone says “You’re cherry picking” or “not all Christians” I want you think about something.

My point here is exactly “cherry picking”.

It takes about five minutes of effort to find anything you want in the Bible to support either love or hate which is precisely what “all Christians” have been doing for centuries. The doctrinal differences of say, Catholics and Protestants are the results of cherry picking the parts that support the prejudices of the group in question. The Bible has been used to both justify AND condemn war, slavery, abuse, and a host of other crimes equally.

Here is the real challenging part of the thought….

If you are sitting there and reading this and thinking any thought that is even remotely related to “well I would never do those bad things in the Bible” then you and I are much closer than you might realize because you have a moral sense that supersedes the so called moral lessons of the Bible. You can sit there in judgement of GOD and say “this was right and this was wrong.”

If you can do that then you can open yourself to the thought that maybe, just maybe, all that stuff you were taught might not be inspired by the divine, but instead it might be the ramblings of people who had agendas. Or who were taught that “gays are bad” and “women are property” and “slavery is good” and “kill the evil ones in the name of God.”

You might even start to think, like I think, that as long as this kind of toxicity exists in our culture then there will always be people who will think that they are perfectly justified in picking up a gun and slaughtering people who don’t conform to their beliefs. As long as people can justify their actions through the teachings of a “loving God” as merciful killings than these killings will continue.

And let me just add that if you are thinking “well my religion isn’t like this” then you’ve missed the point. Any religion that creates an “us versus them” divide contains the seed that leads to tragedies like these. Any belief system that promotes a “chosen people” automatically sets one group over all the rest, the “haves vs have nots”. That is what radicalization actually is; taking that seed of destruction and growing it in to something powerful enough that it seems reasonable to pick up a gun or strap on a bomb and start killing people.

Now that I’ve said all of these things let me say what is on the other side as I see it.

Yes, there are many perfectly acceptable and even beautiful lessons to be learned from the Bible, or the Koran, or virtually any religious text you care to name. In fact many of them share variations on exactly the same beautiful lessons of love and tolerance and acceptance. If you want to draw your inspiration from those lessons feel free to do so. Much can be learned.

So in a way this meme is actually right even as wrong as it is.  Jesus (if he existed at all, but that’s an entirely different discussion!)  also said that we were supposed to love one another.  That’s a pretty simple lesson.

Just don’t let these lessons supersede your own intelligence. Learn all the lessons together as a cohesive whole. Judge them by your own standards and by the most simple of all lessons –

We’re all humans and we’re all in this together.

Or as so many of my friends have been known to say –

Don’t be a dick.

Magic School Day 2 – Focus on Parlor Magic

LEVITATE ALL THE THINGS!!!!

Today was really wonderful. Yeah, yeah, Santiago, we’ve heard that.

Shut up. This is my blog.  **smile**

Today was really wonderful. I say that as a joke aimed at magicians who might understand that one of the masters of a specific kind of levitation technique is Tommy Wonder and we spent some really good time working on material of his and related stuff. So yeah…. WONDER-FULL…..

heh – I’m a comic genius…..

But we worked on a variety of other levitation types of things, including the prop I brought special to get help with. And I got help, definitely. There are several levitations that I now feel a lot better about that I will be bringing in to my act.

When I was a kid I saw one of the earliest David Copperfield specials on TV and there were two things he did that have literally stayed with me the entire time. One of those things is The Dancing Cane. When I first got in to magic it was one of the first things I wanted to learn and I was actually actively discouraged by magicians and magic dealers who all claimed it was to hard an effect to do.

Several years ago I acquired a custom made Dancing Cane and played with it, and it was pretty difficult but not impossible. I eventually got pretty decent with it, but I never had a really good opportunity to use it either, largely because I just never found a way to fit it in with the rest of my general performance style.

Now I have a way, and it is awesome. And I will say this much – in order to perfect it I will need to be using a cane, fire, and the new sword I had made. Yup, a sword.

***insert maniacal laughter here***

But beyond that I got a lot of great work on The Dancing Cane. Things that I didn’t know even with all the effort I’d put in to it years before, and I will probably be finding a whole variety of ways to work it in now.

But as I said, today was very definitely about levitating all the things, so don’t be to surprised if you start seeing a few other things floating around that you didn’t expect.

I also learned some great things to do to a scroll….the kinds of things that should make some scribes I know cringe. And really, isn’t that worth while? Making scribes freak out when you do evil things to a scroll is funny! You know, folding it up, pouring water in it, generally messing it up….and maybe, if they are nice to me I’ll fix it all in the end….

Or I’ll never get another scroll again.

Maybe not the best plan. We’ll see.

Tomorrow is going to be an early day. I have to head off to the airport early enough to catch a morning flight. I’ll be home by early afternoon. But as they say, no rest for the wicked. I’ll be getting ready to turn right around to head out to an SCA event. Which means not any real time to get anything ready to perform. Or practiced.

But a head full of ideas.

So, signing off for now from this round of Magic School.

20160609_163058LEVITATE ALL THE THINGS!!!!!

Magic School Day 1 – Focus on Parlor Magic

timthumbWow, what a day crammed top full of things!

I know I’ve said this many times before, but today really was. And in this instance it’s only been the first day and I’ve come away with six “new” pieces of magic to add to my act. I say “new” in quotes because like many things in magic, these are not necessarily new creations, but revelations about things that I have long been familiar with but given new life.

Although some of the things are indeed “new” in the sense of totally new to me as well! So I’m very happy about that.

I should back up a bit though. Just so damn excited!

As I mentioned previously, Parlor Magic is really my default venue. I do my best work with this level of show. So when we started today we were told that these two days were going to be much more “practicum” than theory and we were handed a list of classics of Parlor Magic. We were told “pick three” and for the next two days the group would go over them together.

So I managed to narrow the list down to six items…. Yeah, I know, “pick three”, but I also damn well know that we were all doing the same thing; picking a longer list and then listening to each other to see if someone else mentioned something we had on our list so we could mention something else!

Few things are harder to do than to try and be “sneaky” in a group of magicians….

Well, there are only eight of us in the class, and when we were done we ended up with a list of about 10 things we all wanted to cover. This is a pretty damn good balance. And everything I wanted on that list is there! So, to use a phrase, “AWESOME SAUCE!”

Another cool thing is that there are only eight of us! Lots of individual attention. Although we’re having a small problem with that with one student. I’ll get there in a moment.

Also, there are almost as many women as there are men in the class. 3 women, 5 men. Given the usual kinds of percentages I see that is actually remarkable. I like having female students in the same class because female magicians bring a different angle and perspective that is always worthwhile.

As an example, one of the things I brought up earlier in the day was my desire to figure out how to really narrow down the material I use to the kinds of things that fit the direction I’ve been building for myself. However, before we began we did the usual “let us all introduce ourselves and tell everyone a little bit” sort of thing and as I explained all the various things I do (basically the results of everything I’ve learned in the SCA) it seemed to have left an impression on one of the ladies. As we sat at lunch she suggested that rather than try to limit what I do I should embrace as much as I can and use the fact that my life is filled with so much as the inspiration for that.

While I’m not sure that is the best idea for myself, it is an idea worth considering, and it is very clearly a good example of how a female magician looks differently at developing an act. Certainly she left me with much to ponder.

So anyway, yeah, there is a kind of “problem child”.

We have one student in the class who is very enthusiastic. So much so that he has to be constantly reminded to not blurt out. So much so that he has to be constantly reminded that there are other students who spent just as much money as he did to get their time in the school as well.

Now Jeff has spent many years teaching, has taken and certified in management courses, knows and understand group dynamics, and generally is exceptionally skilled in handling situations just like this.

This kid is pushing the limits. I’ve seen Jeff get frustrated on rare occasions, and this one is included.

Still, I can’t fault this kid. I completely understand his enthusiasm. I feel it every time as well. I want to get all the attention and explore the possibilities and the theory and the practical applications with Jeff’s full attention.

There are ways for me to do that. But they are hugely expensive.  Well, more like, expensive enough that I would have to plan for it well in advance.

I still am getting some amazing training, just like usual. And tomorrow is going to be extra awesome because while everything I got today was fantastic, tomorrow will actually be focused on the main items I selected on the list including an opportunity to work with a prop I brought out special just to get some quality brainstorming in.

I’m not sure I could ask for a better group to brainstorm with. Jeff, several female magicians, some long time workers, and even Mr. OverEnthusiastic will all bring some great stuff to the table when we work on developing something for this new prop of mine.

So, that’s day one in a nutshell. Having a great time. Filling my brain with all this wonderful stuff.

I’m looking forward to bring new stuff to my audiences.

Off To Magic School Again

13347019_1226092690736766_424952768965350346_nTime for another in our series “Santiago Learns More Magic Than He Knows What To Do With” in which we find our hero on an airplane heading to Sin City itself, Las Vegas.

Like an idiot I failed to notice that my flight is not direct, but instead is making a stop in Orange County first. Meh. Not a big deal. I don’t have to change planes, and since I was in boarding group “A” this time I’m actually close enough to the front that I’m not even inclined to try and change seats during the stop over. No real point in it.

So, what am I off for this time? A focus seminar on Parlor Magic. What, pray tell, is that? Well I’m glad you asked.

Parlor Magic is what I do. No, really. Probably more than anything else, the magic I do is Parlor Magic, so if you’ve seen me, then you’ve seen it. It’s basically defined by virtue of audience size. My preferred venue is an audience approximately 20 to 40 people. To large to do card tricks for the most part. Not really large enough to be sawing ladies in half.

But Rings, Ropes, Balls (Cups and…), juggling, a wide variety props, the option to do silent or to tell stories, this is a world I like. This is also the world that a lot of magicians refer to as “Packs Small, Plays Big.” This is where we figure out how to take those tiny little things and make them fill a room.

And my mentor, Jeff McBride, well, he’s the expert. This is his thing. This is the guy who packs an act big enough to fill a stage in a case for a pair of sunglasses. I am not exaggerating. His emergency act that he travels with when he is going around the world and there is a chance his bags might get lost (because that never happens, right?) fits in to a case that small and goes with him on the plane. It’s 15 minutes of material.

Now admittedly the guy is so insanely skilled he can pretty much do any damn thing he wants with a couple decks of cards, a handful of coins, a spool of thread, and a stick. But still, that’s packing pretty damn small.

So, can I do that? Well, I’ve gotten pretty good. I have a travel case I can perform out of that is about the size of a decent camera case. I’m not necessarily looking to get smaller either. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a ton more to learn. There always is.

So, off I go. Time to fill the brain with magic. And, as a little bonus, I’ve brought along a little something that I’ve been trying to figure out how I want to use. I like the effect, but there is a variety of staging issues that I am lost on. And who better than Jeff and others in the Las Vegas magic scene to discuss such things with?

Well, I can feel that the plane is making it’s descent, so time to put this away. There will be more my friends. There will be more.

Edited to Add: Yes, if you cough occasionally and looks slightly nauseous people decide to pass the empty seat next to you even though it’s practically right next to the door off the plane.

Heh.

Theft Isn’t Schtick

Let me just state up front for the record that I have zero problems with schtick for SCA events, provided that said schtick is agreed upon by all parties involved. Schtick is a great way to set up rivalries or the usual round of amusing bits leading to a “war”. (Okay, I’ll add the caveat that schtick actually needs to be funny. Far to often it’s boring and uninspired, but I digress.)

But note that I am saying that the schtick has to be agreed upon by ALL parties involved.

Here’s why I say that – a few years back when Rose and I were Baron and Baroness of Darkwood an individual who was returning something precious to Darkwood asked if he could play some schtick in one of our courts as part of the process. I asked what he had in mind and all he said was “trust me”. I took the chance.

It was a seriously big mistake.

His schtick was rude, insulting, humiliating, and made a mockery of things that the entire populace of Darkwood hold very dear to their hearts. Both Rose and I were furious. To this day I will have nothing to do with the jackass who perpetrated the insult. I actually ran in to him the other day and even though this incident was several years ago the moment I saw him my blood started to boil.

So, when it was discovered that the Darkwood Banner (painted by my lady so I have a certain amount of investment in it beyond it being Darkwood) had been stolen out of the Darkwood Castle, a giant wooden structure which boasts among other things a nice lock on the door in order to keep people out of it when no one is around to monitor for safety, and further discovered that not even our current Baron and Baroness had any notion about it, I became extremely angry.

We had already had enough problems with kids climbing up the tower despite the number of times we said “not without an adult”. We found teenagers hiding inside trying to be, well, teenagers. And we discovered that during the week some kids had torn up a part of the castle garden so they would have sticks to play with.

In general there was a certain amount of “taken for granted” attitude towards the work of a great many people.  (To be fair there was also a lot of awe and wonder at how awesome the Castle is and it was deeply appreciated by a lot of people as well.)

Now, it’s not my Barony anymore. Except in a way it is. In exactly the same way as it is for previous Barons, exactly the same way it is for a populace that is fiercely proud of it’s home and it’s people.

One of the people in my household is the primary architect of the castle, a person who is often so relaxed and easy going that one wonders what it takes to get his ire up at all, and he was pretty unamused by this mistreatment as well. He found it in himself to smile and laugh and shrug a lot of it off, but the theft of the banner, the violation of the castle it took to do that was enough to annoy him as well.

We already have enough issues with people stealing at events. Another person in Darkwood had two helms stolen as well. Taken all together these three thefts are three to many. Especially for an organization that places a premium on ideals like Chivalry and Honor.

We in Darkwood spent a solid day guessing and generally feeling a bit violated and insulted. Sure, we pretty much assumed that it was someone thinking they were “funny” and probably trying to find a way to start schtick for a war or something like that, but remember what I said about schtick being agreed upon?

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

We had no real idea until someone, the culprit I assume, dropped the banner off under a Darkwood sunshade on breakdown day, stuffed in to a plastic bag. And then, a pretty pathetic attempt at turning the situation around via an anonymous letter was the only clue left. The banner pole still has not been returned. Sure a pole is a minor detail in the whole scheme of things, but it’s still a theft.

Our current Baron and Baroness, despite their obvious frustrations, have opted to take the high road because they want to believe in the essential good will of others. The simple reality here is that a banner has no real resale value (unlike the stolen helms), and such things have taken place before in other groups for exactly the express purpose of inciting schtick. So for them to be willing to let go of the whole thing and let the game unfold without their express permission/knowledge is probably a safe bet.

Exactly like I thought it was a safe bet.

Though I do feel like they will have an overall better outcome than I did.

Am I over reacting? Entirely possible.

I still think it’s a crappy thing to do, involving someone in something without giving them a chance to, at the very least, participate in the schtick.

There were other banners up there as well, including my own. There was expensive equipment up there being used to light up the top of the castle. Other things could have been stolen. And what I mean by that is not “there were other choices”, but rather what if someone slightly less scrupulous had decided to come back and help themselves to the nice equipment? Someone would have been out some serious money.

And let me reiterate – the Castle was locked. As in a door with a latch and a keyed metal lock. As in a commonly recognized sign for “do not enter.” In the mundane world circumventing a locked door with the intent to steal is “breaking and entering to commit burglary.” If there is no intent to steal it is still illegal trespass. Just because we are all camping together doesn’t mean it’s one big home for everyone. Our individual camps are our homes and those boundaries need to be respected. (See my article “Why Are You In My Camp?”)

This might be the biggest deal to me. I wasn’t comfortable about leaving so much of my camp up and in place because I have been aware of far to many thefts over the past few years. But I decided to go ahead and do it anyway. Yes I took the really vital stuff home and yes there was someone who was in our camp all week long.

But this still disturbed me. Obviously. Still I took a chance and while I didn’t personally lose anything, clearly others did. Truly unfortunate.

One Week Later

Well, here we are a week later and the Mists/Cynagua War has taken place. Only problem is we still have no idea who the culprit was who stole the banner. The content of their note stated that they would reveal themselves at the war but this did not happen.

In the end our Baron and Baroness have elected to let the matter slide but should the culprit reveal themselves they will be told exactly how utterly unfunny this whole situation was. In particular I am disappointed to discover that His Excellency, in a panicked scramble, tried to arrange with the event staff an opportunity for this schtick to be played out so that something could still be recovered from the whole thing.

That didn’t happen.

Schtick isn’t schtick if it leaves one side out of it. In an organization where we generally try to value each other and value honor, this whole thing has left a terrible taste in my mouth. I know that our Baron and Baroness are disappointed, as well they should be.

We’re supposed to be better than this.

At this point all that we can hope is that whoever is responsible will take to heart what they have done and come forward with an apology at least.

I guess we’ll find out.

Those Guys…

13103402_1202730893072946_7686327067367626817_n

Bjorn and I at the top of The Darkwood Castle.  Waldorf and Statler finally got an SCA Balcony.

I am often struck by how frequently my life in the SCA intersects with my life in Performance Magic. Not just because I perform magic at SCA events, which is obvious, but because of how many of the sort of philosophical considerations that I bring with me from each world to the other end up resonating with others in both of those worlds.

The past 10 days have been the celebration of Golden Beltane, the 50th anniversary of the SCA itself. For me personally I have been playing in the SCA for 29 years…. Hold on a moment, I have to sit here and be shocked because I only just now did the math to write that sentence and I’m a little overwhelmed…..

Okay, enough of that.

So, there is a story I heard from a couple of magicians talking about “those guys.” They were referring to magicians that they looked up to, people who inspired them and made them want to get better as performers and artists. While having that discussion between themselves, a young performer walked up to them and asked for autographs and commented about how much they had influenced his magic and desires to be a better performer. Once this young magician walked away the two looked at each other and realized that they had become “those guys” to the next generation.

And it scared them just a little.

The responsibility of being a sort of custodian of inspiration for someone else, anyone else, was rather daunting.

I have long ago embraced the idea that for someone out there I will be the first Peer that they meet. And lately, several times over the past year actually, I have had some people tell me that I have long been an ideal that they would like to live up to, or that I have inspired them in some fashion. Words which came at me from out of the blue and made me feel pretty good about myself.

But, in a rather appropriate kind of way, I had my “those guys” moment on this 50th anniversary of the SCA.

My encampment was host to a good portion of the members of the College of St. Davids. We took care of them by making sure they got fed and had a place to be. They worked for us by doing chores around the camp. A perfectly equitable exchange and one that we have been more than happy to handle in the past.

But there were two moments in particular that made me realize that I really have become one of “those guys.”

On the first weekend one of the college students who had been doing chores for us tried to hand me a few dollars to help defray the cost of the food. I thanked him for it but insisted that he keep his money. For one thing I know that the college kids need to keep as much of their resources as they can. College isn’t cheap! For another, I am in a very nice job these days and between Rose and I, we can afford some generosity. Especially for something like this.

But it also dawned on me a while later that this gesture was one that was inspired by all the generosity and kindness that this young man was seeing around him. He wanted to be a part of that on some level and so he was ready to make the sacrifice he could make.

I’d like to think that we had some small part in inspiring that gesture. Knowing that he made it reassures me that he is well on the road to understanding the deeper lessons the SCA really has to offer.

The second thing that happened that made me realize I was becoming one of “those guys” was thanks in part to my one of my best friends in the SCA, and truthfully just in life, Bjorn. First you need to understand that Bjorn and I have known each other nearly all of that 29 years I’ve been playing this game. When we miss each other at events it is a serious disappointment. If he and I are both at the same event and I don’t get to spend time hanging out with him I don’t feel like I’ve had a good event. Our humor with each other is fast and furious, and many others pretty much need to be around when we’re going at it just because we become the show. We bond over a lot of things, including The Muppets, which has kind of become the best way to understand us in that we have become the Waldorf and Statler of The West Kingdom.

But with all of that in mind, we also have a significantly serious philosophical side. We care deeply about issues of the SCA, of Chivalry, Fealty, Art, and Education. We are endlessly fascinated by questions with no answers because it means we get to explore them, and when the setting is right, as it often is sitting around a camp fire, this is precisely what we do.

We found ourselves in just exactly that setting, surrounded by many of the college kids who were camping with us and we got on to the topic of Fealty. I’m not going to recount that discussion here, mainly because it would be far to difficult to do so. But I will say this much; it was a wonderful discussion and I think that everyone there got something out of it.

But there we were, and during that conversation I realized that I had become one of “those guys”. I had become someone others were listening to for their first real introduction to some of the deeper ideals of the SCA and what they might mean. And I think that Bjorn and I gave everyone there some things to think about and consider. Most importantly I think we gave everyone there an opportunity to realize that there are some questions in the SCA that will never be resolved entirely and that is, in fact, a good thing because then you will always have something to challenge yourself and others with.

You’ll certainly have something to think about and discuss around those late night camp fires. And someday all of those people we had sitting around listening to us explore these ideas will get to have their own opportunity to become “those guys” for another generation.

Isn’t that the way it should be?

Why Don’t You Smile?

Recently I had a conversation with a person whom I consider a good friend though we don’t typically see each other outside of the context of SCA events. When there the general camaraderie is such that we are all more relaxed and friendly with each other, but even so, there is a level of reservation that I keep with any number of people, and a select list of others who “get passed the walls” as it were.

You know how you can be having a perfectly ordinary conversation and all of the sudden you find yourself talking about something a little more “close to the vest” than you expected to find yourself discussing? Yeah, that happened. This person commented that they liked me but they never really understood why they liked me.

At least not until recently when they realized that more often than not they don’t see a smile on my face but they know that when they come and talk to me that they will get a smile out of me, and one that is genuine. So the question came up; “why don’t you smile?”

I’ve known inside myself most of my life why I don’t tend to smile all that much except around various people, but I never had to verbalize it to anyone before, so I struggled a bit to explain.

And then I got home and this was on my TV:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se2MiSCTDZM

Now, I’m not going to say that I am nearly as hard assed as Sherlock Holmes or anything like that, but certain things he says in this scene rang true with me.

First, the simple acknowledgement of who and what he is. “I am not a nice man.” I don’t tend to think of myself as a nice man either. I am “acerbic” and cynical. I also have a sense of wonder and joy that I try to use to counter that. Not exactly a Holmesian trait but there you go.

Next, the acknowledgement that it is unlikely to every change. Yeah, I’m very set in my ways and although one of those ways is to try and embrace changes to make myself a better person I also realize that there are things that will probably always be out of my reach.

Then the acknowledgement that there will be fall out from the kind of person that he is. Yeah, I’ve said it all along that if I f*ck up I’ll do my best to accept responsibility for it and to try and make it right. Holmes has that ethic, we just have different sets of priorities for the things that we’ll take responsibility for.

All of this leads to the statement “I consider you to be exceptional. So I make an exceptional effort to accommodate you.”

Wow. What a powerful statement.

Again, I am not professing in any way to be as intense as Sherlock, but this phrase rang very strong with me and put all of these thoughts in to focus.

I am reserved until I am not. When I have let you in that is because I consider you “exceptional” and I am making that “exceptional effort” because I value you.

I have “resting bitchy face” or whatever you want to call it. I’ve been called out on it my whole life. As a kid I’ve gotten yelled at (and worse a time or two) for “giving looks” when all I was actually doing was sitting there thinking, even to the point of being utterly unaware of what was going on around me. My natural state is largely neutral and when I’m in neutral I often look blank, angry, or worse.

For me to show emotion does take an effort. For me to let you in does take an effort. If there is a smile on my face, if I am laughing with you, it’s because I am comfortable enough to be vulnerable, which in the end is what this is all about.

No, I am not as bad assed as Sherlock, but I can and do identify with what he is saying, and not saying in this speech. The implied compliment as well as the dire warning.

I wish this clip went for another few seconds because the next part is what lands the whole thing. Watson says to him “No one can continue to live with someone like that forever” (or words to that effect) and his response is “To thine ownself Watson….”

I Wonderground

wondergroundIn case you didn’t know this, I fancy myself a magician. I know, big secret.

One of my biggest influences is an incredible magician named Jeff McBride. Jeff is a world class entertainer, magician, and teacher. Teaching magic is a passion of his and he does it well. I have seen a great number of his students go on to become well recognized entertainers and magicians.

One of the things that Jeff does so amazingly well is not just create magic but create magical venues. He finds ways to create space for magic to happen. And that is what Wonderground is all about. Wonderground is a kind of hidden treasure in Las Vegas. You can go to the strip and you can see all kinds of shows, and entertainers of all kinds. You can see big names and get in to crowded spaces with entertainment of every kind including, obviously, magic.

But magic as an art is best served in a somewhat more intimate setting. As awesome as big stage illusions can be, you rarely walk out of a big venue show having experienced the truest level of appreciation for magic. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t go. Far from it. The spectacle of a big stage show is amazing in it’s own right.

But imagine that you and a handful of your closest friends are no more than a couple of feet away from the magic happening right in front of you. Or that magic is happening right in your hands. The shear impossibility becomes that much more spectacular because of it’s intimacy.

That’s what Wonderground provides.

Every third Thursday of the month a little Mediterranean hookah bar and grill gets transformed into a venue where magic and art is all around. Four shows in the evening and every time it’s different because every time there are different performers. Never the same show twice.

So how did I get involved in this?

Well, as you all might remember I went out to Vegas to learn how to do stage hypnosis from Jeff and a professional hypnotist named Richard Nongard. I go out every so often because I need the recharge that being surrounded by these people gives me. It always gets me energized and enthused about my art. Every time I come back I am ready to tackle new challenges. (And yes, I’ve completed the courses in hypnotism. All I have to do is send in my test and get graded to get my certification. Very soon now.)

Well, after I came back from that adventure I got to thinking about Wonderground in general and so I reached out to Jeff and I asked “What caliber of magician are you looking for to be a part of Wonderground?” You see I had it in mind that I could use this opportunity to set the bar for myself. Give myself a training plan to help me get better.

I got a message back from Jeff saying “let’s talk.”

A few days later I’m on the phone with Jeff and 15 minutes later I’m signed up to come out and perform. Basically the conversation with him amounted to “You’re already good enough. When do you want to come out?”

Gulp.

Yeah, okay, I do think I’m pretty good at what I do. I certainly have plenty of people around me who love what I do and are always happy when I perform for them. I perform semi-regularly as part of my SCA activities, and I do take on gigs when I have the time and bandwidth to do it. I consider myself a professional in the sense that paid or not I am going to give the best show I can and always treat every performance as if I was, well, in Vegas.

BUT I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY BEEN A PERFORMER IN VEGAS BEFORE!

So, yeah, insta-nerves. Still, if Jeff thought I was already up to par then surely I was. He would know.

Wonderground works in a very vaudeville style. Multiple acts, every perform gets a set amount of time, and each performer fills their time accordingly. So it was decided that I would be ideally suited to be in the “Parlor” space, which is exactly right. I’m at my best when I can be up in front of an audience of thirty or so people. The material I like to do fills that size space and my voice carries well without the need of amplification thanks to a life time of theater experience. I was told to prepare material for a ten minute slot as the first act in that room.

The first thing I decided was how did I want to present myself. This is always my first consideration because depending on the venue I might be in medieval garb or I might be in modern dress. And lately I’ve been focused on recreating my modern look so it’s been something definitely on my mind.

But I also wanted to stand out from the other magicians and I knew that if I went with my medieval look and material than I would certainly achieve that. So medieval it was.

Next I spent time selecting from the material I do and carefully crafting the stories that I was going to tell. These were stories I already used, but I wanted to revisit them knowing that I was only going to have ten minutes of time. For some reason it never occurred to me that I could simply do less material. I had unconsciously decided that I was going to do three pieces because that was always the case when I knew I would be doing a short set. Usually I allow three to five minutes for each piece so that meant I could be between nine and fifteen minutes. That meant I needed to select carefully and to potentially rewrite my material to meet the ten minute limit.

So that is what I did. Two of the three stories I planned to tell got significant rewrites. The third (which was actually my opening piece) is actually a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, so I really felt that I couldn’t rewrite that, though it was already short enough not to be an issue either.

For months I have been rehearsing the stories in the shower, on my commute, and generally over and over in my head any time I found my thoughts wandering. Eventually I presented to the stories in front of a couple of test audiences and with one or two final tweaks I was ready to go.

Allow me a moment to digress while I wander in to an amusing side note. When I received the contract for this event there was a clause that caught my eye. The clause specified that it was necessary for me to bring a bag of M&M’s to the event. “Even a fun sized bag will do” according to the contract.

Naturally I became curious about this clause. I knew that occasionally some entertainers would slip things like this in their contracts in order to know that it had been read. So I assumed that this was the case and when I asked I was told that was precisely the reason and congratulations for spotting that, not everyone does.

Huh. Maybe it’s because I’m a software engineer in my regular life, or maybe it’s because my wife is a para-legal, but regardless from my perspective you read the contract.

But more amusing for me was to discover that when I arrived at Wonderground for my six o’clock call and handed over the bag of M&M’s to the wonderful young lady who was running things, she was actually startled and commented that no one had every actually done that before in the seven years Wonderground had been running!

Really? A bunch of entertainers, theater people, magicians, comedians, etc, and no one had ever brought the M&M’s? Well, happy to be the first!

From that point on the evening went very much as expected. There was some confusion about when and where I would be performing. There was a lot of energy and creativity and excitement. I got to meet some cool people and see some pretty great stuff.

Each of the two stage sessions were opened by belly dancers who were pretty fun. Belly dancing to some modern rock and roll was amusing. Belly dancing to The Monster Mash and the theme from The Munsters was hilarious.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the close up magic as it was happening at exactly the same time as I was performing in the parlor but I am told it was excellent.

As to the parlor, there were three of us, two of which were new comers to Wonderground. I opened with my stories and magic (video clip below), and was then followed by a young man named James who did some interesting stuff though to me at least I could see his nerves. Wonderground is a very welcoming crowd though and he was received well. Then a very definite pro named Chris Randel came in and he did some really wonderful and funny stuff.

I was complimented on my material. I was told that it was wonderful to see some classics of magic (read: stuff most magicians know how to do) done with an entirely new twist and very creative stories. I was appreciated for adding my own unique flair and style to the material. I was also complimented on the character I brought to the stage. One gentleman in particular commented that I surprised him quite a bit since he had met me earlier and didn’t expect such a complete transformation.

Jeff tells me that he too heard some great feedback regarding my act (he wasn’t there unfortunately, though being at The Magic Castle is a pretty damn good excuse, right? * smile *).

It was an amazing experience. How could it not be?

Will I do it again?

Yup.

After all –

Now, I’ve played Vegas.

Crapaud #1 and Fighting Titles

saluteUh oh, Santiago is on about titles again. (See: Your title doesn’t mean Jack Part 1, Part 2).

Relax. It’s not that bad. Not at all.

First I want to talk about Crapaud. If you aren’t from The West Kingdom then here is a quick description. Crapaud is a once a month tourney that has been running for a long time now. Last night was actually #237, but for me it was #1 as it was the first time I had fought in it. It’s geared towards being run in a tourney format when there are enough fighters on hand, and it’s meant to build a fellowship between fighters that goes a bit beyond the usual. It’s attractive in the sense that there is no real “prize” at the end other than the honor of having won. No job responsibility and every month there is a chance that there will be a new “Crapaud” (the previous winner is still fighting so can ‘defend’ the title).

Also, there is an acknowledgement that comes not from winning but just from being recognized for being in possession of qualities that make you stand out; honorable on the field, some behavior that catches the eye, some gesture of chivalry, things of this nature. And so someone is given that acknowledgement in the form of the title of “le fleur” – the flower of chivalry.

So, all the pomp and circumstance of a full on Crown or Coronet tourney without the responsibility of ruling. A great training ground for fighters, an opportunity to challenge a number of high level fighters, and receive training and feedback from them.

On to procedure. In a regular tourney you line up all the “belts” on one side and all the “unbelts” on the other. At Crapaud the “belts” line up on one side and the “unbelts” line up on the other but they set a precedence by arranging them first by the rank as a members of the Order of the Ash Leaf (and award based on fighting), then by squiring date, and finally by years fighting.

The procedure for ‘balancing the lines’ is to simply skim the top of the unbelts side for as many fighters as necessary and bring them over. Last night it was necessary to take the top three.

I didn’t know any of this last night when I entered the list. The only thing I knew was to line up by years fighting, and although I’ve been fighting for a long time as a rapier fighter, I’ve only got just under two years as a heavy fighter (and really less than half a dozen tournies under my belt). So based on that I put myself towards the end of the line. Seemed perfectly reasonable to me and I was perfectly happy there.

But here’s where things get complicated and this is where we get in to the whole idea about ‘fighting titles.’ The concept of ‘fighting titles’ bothers me on a certain level, but makes perfect sense on another.

You see, I have an Ash Leaf. Technically at Crapaud last night I should have been at the very head of the line as I outranked the person who was there, and as such I would have been immediately crossed over. But as my Ash Leaf was given to me as a rapier fighter I can certainly understand that where I was in line was probably much more correct.

I absolutely agree and support the idea that ‘fighting is fighting’ in the sense that fighters should treat each other as equals regardless of the forms of fighting they engage in. The heavy and rapier communities have been to separated from each other for to long and that has caused gaps in the way they treat each other. Even as I was gearing up to fight last night one person gave me a bit of an obnoxious comment (entirely unaware of how they sounded) that came from their attitude that one form of fighting is ‘superior’ to another.

But by the same token I am not going to insist that my years of experience as a rapier fighter make me ‘worthy’ of being at the head of that line either. Of course I defer to these fighters because they have the experience in these forms of fighting. If they came to me to learn to fight rapier then I would expect them to defer to me because I have the experience over them in that arena. It’s just practical that way.

However, there is a title issue on the field that I do have some problems with and it’s this – just because I pick up a sword (rattan or rapier), I haven’t stopped being a Baron, or a Laurel, or a Pelican. Having titles doesn’t come with a lot of benefits, mostly just responsibilities. But one of the few benefits is that I have a right to be called by the appropriate term – IF I CHOOSE.

On the rapier field I am a GuildMaster, a somewhat fading title these days but is treated as roughly equal to a Whitescarf but focused on the teaching of rapier more than the prowess of it. (And of course now with the Master of Defense peerage that changes things again as well.)

Most of the time on the heavy fighting field I really don’t care. I get that there is a certain inherent ‘ranking’ on the fighting field and that many of our awards are ‘fighting’ awards. As a person who holds an Ash Leaf my “heavy fighting title” is Lord. I haven’t been called that for 16 years.

The danger here is in letting a certain ‘minimization’ mess with your head while you’re fighting. Fighters talk about ‘the head game’ as a very important part of the fight, which is totally understandable. The amount of work I’ve done to earn my titles is not something I want to have dismissed. Understanding that it isn’t being dismissed simply because it isn’t being used in a specific context is key to that idea.

Nevertheless we do invest so much of our identities in what we have achieved in the SCA that sometimes we can be sensitive to the way things are done even when done so unintentionally. And more to the point, determining where in the line I might fit due to a ranking system that doesn’t treat our respective fighting styles equally is a confusing paradox.

For the moment I intend to return to Crapaud. I had a good time and I liked being in a situation where I could experience the tourney format without being concerned for the potential end responsibilities (even someone like my could have a good day and win). There is a lot to be learned here.

And just to round out everything, I want to say that fighting Sir Myric and Enoch Baily was great. I felt like my fights were good. I learned things. I watched the rest of the fights that evening and I think there was a lot of wonderful things to see and learn from that as well. (And as I am currently on The Mists Guard with a challenge to fight as many new people as I can I get to add Myric and Enoch to my list!)

But I’m going to have to come to a decision about where in that lineup I really deserve to be. I’m proud of my Ash Leaf. I was one of the very first people to get it for rapier. But I don’t know how I feel about putting myself in a position where I could be crossed over merely on precedence when there are far more experienced fighters than I.

The Self Esteem Battle

So, I haven’t written in a while. There is a reason for that. Haven’t had an ounce of time. I started a new job which entails a fairly long commute (but it’s a good job and I like what I’m doing so you take the good with the bad), and of course the holiday season has been upon us. Like a plague.

However I haven’t forgotten you people out here who read me and I’ve been thinking about what to write lately.

So I recently got back in touch with a friend of mine from many years ago. A wonderful lady who had a strong impact on me growing up. And apparently I had a pretty significant impact on her as well, so fair is fair.

We were talking not to long ago and she mentioned that she felt she had self esteem issues. Hmmm. Well, honestly in today’s society that is not to uncommon a problem. We are continuously inundated with messages about our relative value, attractiveness, intelligence, etc etc etc. Our news media spends more time focusing on the so called “beautiful people” than it does on the real issues of our day. Everywhere we look we are shown how someone else is more popular, more successful, more whatever, and so we mostly have a constant state of inferiority going.

Except for me.

Okay, so that is utter BS of course, but there are times when I am genuinely surprised by how often I am told by other people that I always seem to “have my shit together” as it were.

“You’re so smart.” “You’re so aware.” “You’re always in control of yourself.”

Uh, no.

Okay, I’m a pretty smart guy. But I know tons of people who are just as smart or smarter than I am. I also know a ton of people who are dumb as rocks.

I’m aware because I’m always watching out for the next thing that is going to come along and bite me in the ass. I’m in control of myself because I’m absolutely terrified of looking and being scared. I’m even more terrified of losing control of myself because I know the terrible things in my head and how much I could hurt someone with them if I wasn’t careful.

And I’m scared. All the damn time. Why? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m not successful, happy, ‘beautiful’, smart enough?

Ever since I can remember I have always been one of those people that has gravitated to the lost soul. Many of my friendships over the years started out as being the person who other people just opened up to, or being the person who saw a lost soul and actually took the time to ask “what’s wrong?”

I really don’t mind being this person. I like to help people. I like to listen to people. It makes me think that in my own small way I am helping to make the world a little better. (At one time I seriously considered going in to psychology and becoming a therapist.)

You know when you have one of those moments where the absolute perfect phrase comes out of your mouth, and it hits you so hard that just roll it around in your head for days? I had that happen. And the thing is, it’s not particularly profound on the surface. It may not even be particularly profound in it’s first few layers. But still I found it interesting enough to want to explore it.

Here it is: Self Esteem is not about who you are, it’s about who you want to be.

This is what got me thinking; I am not satisfied with me right now. I like who I want to be. That’s why I am always working on being a better me. The better me who is my goal is a moving target. Every time I make today’s me better, tomorrows me gets a boost. Tomorrows me raises the bar just a little bit.

It’s about the journey, not the destination.

However most people (myself included) tend to be stuck on who they are right at the moment. It’s a bit of a trap. When we take a blow to our self esteem, it’s a blow to who we are right now, not the person we are trying to be. The person we are right now isn’t good enough, whatever that means. But it’s the shield of who we want to be in the future that can be used to protect us, to support ourselves through the current onslaught.

You have to be able to recognize what is really happening. Is it really an attack on us or just someone else lashing out at us from their own insecurities. If it’s just someone lashing out then that’s their issue and we can shrug it off. If it’s a real issue for us then we need to understand the nature of it.

If it’s a real issue we have to understand that who we are today isn’t a finished product. Who we are today is simply the next step in our evolution. If we take responsibility for ourselves, for our evolution then who we are tomorrow won’t be the same person who took a hit to their self esteem today.

Confession time; I’ve taken a lot of hits to my self esteem recently. This time of year is hard on me for a lot of different reasons. And yes, my life is getting better. Finding a good job is a thing that goes a long way towards helping with that. Spending the coming year on several things for myself that I know make me happy will go a long way towards that as well.

I’ve already begun making plans. Not “resolutions”. Making plans.

Because who I am today is not who I want to be. Who I am tomorrow is going to be better because I am going to make it that way.

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