In the story of Aladdin the evil magician tricks the princess into giving up the magic lamp by posing as a merchant offering a seemingly ridiculous bargain, that of exchanging a brand new lamp for any old ones the princess had just laying around.
This, of course, was so that he could get his hands on the magic lamp and it’s genii.
The implied lesson is that just because it’s old doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Also, you should always know what you have in your hands first before you give it up for something new and shiny.
I have, of late, had cause to consider this notion in light of my magic. The other night I was at a party and I and brought along my “commando bag”, the small bag of effects I can do anywhere, anytime so that I will always be ready to perform. Of course an opportunity arose and I entertained for a pretty decent amount of time.
The problem I ran in to was that I ended up going through all my material. Twice.
Now I suppose in some ways that’s not a big deal. After all, I got to perform and it made some people very happy. And I got in more “flight time” (more than just practice time).
But the material in my “commando bag” is getting old in the sense that I think I need to find some new things to rotate in just so that people aren’t seeing to much of the same stuff over and over again. My first instinct was to look around and see what might be new in the magic world that I might be interested in doing.
That is the wrong instinct.
Sure, it’s good to be paying attention and looking at what is new and different because there might be something worth your attention, but I have a huge library of magic books and boxes of old magic props. It makes more sense to go delving into what I already have in order to fit this particular need.
I don’t need a new lamp. I’ve got plenty of old ones that need some love and attention.
There are many things I could be playing with, even just some old card tricks that I used to do all the time that I could be brushing up. The magic dealers don’t get as much from me as they once did. Not because they don’t produce some good stuff but simply because I should be taking advantage of what I already have and setting myself some hard line limits to what I’m willing to buy.
Individual props can be fun but their value relative to a good book of magic is not nearly the same. And all those unused props I have sitting in boxes? Time to put them to use before I go and buy something different.
I’m not an evil magician looking to swap new lamps for old. I’m an evil magician who is reexamining the value of the old lamps he’s already got.
I talked before about the concept of flight time, that idea that after a certain amount of practice and rehearsal the only way you are going to get better at what you do is simply by doing it. For me this means always being ready to perform magic.
Years ago I didn’t have any particular problem with this. I always had a few things on me and while I was working full time as a magician this was a good thing which got me the occasional gig. But when I stopped working full time I started falling out of practice, which turned into a spiral of not wanting to perform because I haven’t been practicing, etc etc etc. I’m sure you can see where that leads.
In the book The Show Doctor by Jeff McBride this concept of flight time is discussed a great deal as is the idea of “the commando act.”
The Commando Act described by Jeff is essentially a ‘ready to go’ bag with everything you need to be able to perform at a moment’s notice. Now for me that’s not too difficult. Most of the magic I perform is up close and personal which means I need only a few small props which fit into an easy to grab bag. For other performers this might be a bit more difficult.
I’ve started carrying this around and it has helped. I’ve performed in a few places now but after this past weekend I realized I was still playing it safe. I had been performing for people who already knew me and were therefore safe. They would be supportive no matter what.
This past weekend I attended a birthday party for my nephews, two very young kids.
No, I didn’t perform for the kids. I generally don’t because most of the magic I do isn’t really designed for kids. I performed for several of the parents and for friends of my brother whose kids they are.
I’d had a bit of an introduction in the sense that my mother started hyping me up to some of the other adults there. But in essence I had to work myself up and approach someone and say “so you want to see a magic trick?” Which is, by the way, one of the most lame ways to start to gather an audience. I really need to work on my approaches.
In any case there I was approaching a person who was for all intents and purposes a complete stranger to me. Heck, even though I asked her name at that point I honestly don’t recall what it is now.
Everything went perfectly. I performed for about twenty minutes essentially holding court over my small gathering of parents grateful for a distraction.
It really isn’t a case of not believing that the concept of flight time would work. I know that it does. I’ve seen it in action plenty of times. But taking the first hard push is the hurdle I needed to jumpstart myself and the results were completely worth it. The magic flowed from my finger tips and I heard through the rest of the day “magic is real” from an especially appreciative spectator.
If you’ve been considering my words, if you’ve been considering engaging in this flight time concept to help motivate yourself and further develop mastery of your own artistic skills I can whole heartedly recommend it. I felt accomplished and gratified and I certainly had no problem walking out of the house this morning to travel to my mundane daily grind with my commando bag in hand just on the off chance that an opportunity might present itself for me to show off just a little bit more.
Okay, stop laughing. Yes, I commit sins all the time. Can we move on now? At least keep the giggling to a minimum.
The sin I’m speaking of has to do with books. For me books have always been sacred no matter the content. The concept of a book is sacred and as such I am always careful with my books. I do my best to minimize damage to the spine of the book. I don’t fold over or dog ear pages. I don’t curl over paperback covers.
And I absolutely positively *DO NOT WRITE* inside a book unless it is a workbook or technical manual where highlighting and note taking are expected.
I recently picked up a book from one of my magic mentors, Jeff McBride, called “The Show Doctor.” This book is written mostly as a sort of philosophical and practical advice column for magicians and would-be magicians, providing information and advice on a lot of different issues that come up for us. On my recent trip to Virginia (yes, I was caught in Hurricane Sandy during my stay) I read most of “The Show Doctor” and I can say that I have really been learning a hell of a lot from it.
One of the things that Jeff talks about is his bookshelf and his books. And he points out that you can tell the ones he loves the most by how “loved” they are. Broken spines. Dog eared pages. Worn out covers.
And the writing. Oh the humanity, scrawls on the pages.
It got me to thinking. The truth is most magic books are “workbooks and technical manuals.” The very books I have not hesitated to highlight and write comments inside of in the past.
So why have I hesitated to treat my magic books the same way? I suppose the easiest explanation is that I wasn’t viewing them the same way. I was viewing them as “research” books and I’d be damned if I would ever scrawl notes inside a book like that from the public library. I’m pretty sure the library cops would hunt me down for such a crime.
That and returning a book a day late.
On the plane as I read those words I had a kind of revelation about how I was treating my magic books. Yes, there are definitely some which will never be blemished by the stroke of a pencil or pen. But others could be. The more technical manual type of book seems open to such things just as the technical manuals of my computer industry experience are.
In fact “The Show Doctor” was all but begging for it. Advice, practical solutions to problems of performance, new routines to play with. “The Show Doctor” is the book for being written in.
I read Jeff’s words about his library and I moved on. I read several more pages but his comments kept haunting me. I looked at the notebook I had with me that I had been jotting down notes from the book about things I wanted to check on.
Forgive me Publisher for I have sinned.
I made a decision and I went back, took up a pencil (I still couldn’t use a pen) and began noting things directly in the book. I began to underline the phrases that were jumping out at me and smacking me upside the head. I drew brackets around paragraphs. I put asterisks and exclamations in the margins for particularly important things.
I have become a book sinner.
But I guess I’m alright with that. I don’t believe in a great publisher in the sky and besides, Jeff said it was okay.