The Secret to Happiness Part Two

Hey, everyone. This is the final post in Season Two of The Jerx. Will there be a Season Three? We'll see. There are more details on the future of this site at the bottom of this post.

This is a follow-up to this post on the secret of living a happy life. 

I'll repeat the two caveats that I started the previous post with.

1. I'm not trying to explain a mindset that I adopted, I'm trying to explain (via analogy) a mindset that I'm fortunate to have been born with. That's not something I take any pride in, by the way. I realize it's just a quirk of some chemical imbalance that allows me to be naturally pretty joyful about life. Now, maybe the fact I didn't adopt this mindset means it's something that can't be adopted. Maybe what I have to say would be more valuable if I had struggled through depression. I don't know. I think there is still some insight to be gained even if I didn't have to work for it. Perhaps even more than if I had to work for it. If you're trying to lose weight, it's probably valuable to learn tips and techniques from someone who has lost weight themselves. But if you could find a way to relate to the mindset of someone who was naturally thin and healthy, that might be even more beneficial.

2. Happiness is strange in the sense that it's something everyone strives for, but when you're genuinely happy, the reaction you often get from other people is, "Haha, look at this idiot. He's not living his life in a constant state of agitation and self-doubt!" So be prepared for that reaction when you embrace happiness. 

My first post on the Secret to Happiness  dealt with the mindset I use when handling difficulty, adversity, and obstacles. Honestly, I think that's the most important element to happiness. However, there is another aspect to happiness that is less about the defensive game of how to handle difficulty and more about the offensive game of pursuing goals and objectives.

In regards to that area of life I suggest you:

Treat Your Life Like a Heist Movie

There are three elements here that I think are important.

1. Heist movies involve an audacious goal.
2. Heist movies involve meticulous planning.
3. In Heist movies, obstacles are plot points.

Audacious Goals

The best heist movies have the criminals pursuing a goal that seems almost impossible. What I'm suggesting is that you pick one ludicrously ambitious goal that is technically possible but wildly unlikely, and then dedicate yourself to achieving that goal. (I don't mean you have to dedicate all your free time to it. I mean it's something you work towards consistently, a little each day.)

Here are some examples of audacious goals:

"I'm going to write a book." No. That's too realistic. Any idiot can write a book. I've written two.
"I'm going to write a book that will stay at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list for a year." That's more like it.

No: "I'm going to open a restaurant."
Yes: "I'm going to open a restaurant that will eventually be named the best restaurant in the world."

No: "I'm going to get in better shape."
Yes: "I'm going to play in the NBA."

No: "I'm going to get married and have kids."
Yes: "I'm going to start a family that is so close and loving that one day a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie will be made about how great we are."

You'll notice that each realistic goal is a part of the ludicrous goal. I'm not suggesting you change the direction of your goals. Just amplify them.

But how does having a goal you'll likely never achieve lead to happiness?

Well, I think humans are happiest when they are pursuing some sort of goal that is in alignment with their interests. And I think genuinely pursuing a goal leads to more stable, long-term happiness than even achieving goals does. 

If your goal is to win the Super Bowl and then you do, you probably have a spike of happiness that fades over time. If you don't come up with some new goal to replace that, then your happiness is tied to your achievement and that's in the rearview mirror.

The pursuit of a goal is always pushing you forward. That momentum is a key to happiness. The happiest people I know are looking ahead with hope and anticipation. 

Okay, but why make the goals unachievable? Why not set a realistic goal, meet it. Set another one, meet it. And so on?

I don't see a benefit to that. It certainly wouldn't be a very interesting heist movie to watch someone steal $20 over and over. This isn't about the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing something. It's about the happiness that comes in working towards something. 

You're not locked into this one unrealistic goal. If your interests or priorities change, you can change the goal at any point in time. 

If your goal is realistic and you achieve it, but it's not the way you imagined it to be, then achieving your goal can actually feel like a negative thing. "I wanted to write a novel, and I wrote one, and it sucks, and now I'm miserable." And maybe you never write one again. But if your goal is to write the #1 New York Times Bestseller, and you write a shitty novel, that's okay. This is just one step along the way to writing that bestseller. Like in a heist movie, this was a dry run. If your goal was to write a novel and you write a bad one, that may feel like a failure. But if your goal is to write a bestseller then this is a big goal with many steps to it. Writing a bad novel is one of those steps. It's part of the learning process. Maybe you need to write 20 bad novels first. Who knows. You make up the steps to this heist as you go along. And you can celebrate the completion of each step along the way and not be let down by the fact that it didn't turn out exactly as you had hoped because it's always just a step of a work in progress.

This may sound like horseshit to you, but I can say that I've received confirmation on this idea from a number of people who have achieved their "dream." For the past 10-15 years I've watched a bunch of my friends in the entertainment industry succeed at a goal they had set out for themselves. Whether that be getting on Saturday Night Live, becoming the lead on a sitcom, getting a comedy special on a major network, or making millions of dollars on youtube. And yet, I've had personal conversations with them and all of them have told me that the mid-2000s when they were grinding it out with their friends and constantly writing and working on new material and doing shows for a couple dozen people, those were the happiest times of their lives. 

When I tell these people I have a theory that achievement doesn't lead to happiness, and that it's the pursuit of a big goal that brings joy, there is almost a universal understanding and agreement on their part. They all get the idea that there is some sort of magic in pursuing a long-shot.

That's not to say you shouldn't take happiness from your achievements. You should wring all the happiness from everything. If I fold over an omelette cleanly I'm pretty pumped for a couple of days. What I'm saying is, linking your happiness to achieving some goal is probably not a good strategy.

Meticulous Planning

You have your audacious goal, now you break it down into as many steps as possible. Let's say your goal is to be the first person to win a Tony award for a magic show. What are the steps? The more steps, the better. This may be something you work on for the next 70 years. You need to work on your magic, your writing, your stagecraft. Maybe you take some online classes or night classes somewhere. You need to see more theater shows and meet people involved in the theater. You need to write a show that you put up in a local theater, then you take it to a bigger city, then eventually NYC. Once you're in NYC you'll start in a small theater, move to an off-Broadway show, then... finally... you get your Broadway show! But that one doesn't get the Tony. So now you start over again with a new show. And so on, and so on. Each of these steps has 100 sub-steps.

I said the happiest people I know have hope and anticipation for the future. Plans are a manifestation of hope and anticipation.

Make spreadsheets and fill notebooks with your plans. Allow them to be rambling and meandering. Maybe to get your Broadway show you'll have to seduce Neil Patrick Harris, so you take two years to get in the best shape of your life and then arrange it so you bump into him randomly at the Magic Castle and then you accidentally drop something and when you go to pick it up, your trousers split (along the seam you weakened) exposing your bare, beautifully toned buttocks. Ah... but he doesn't take the bait! So now you have to find another Broadway producer. But she's more into abs so you spend three months on those.

A lot of you, maybe most of you, are wondering what the hell I'm going on about. Why plan for a goal that's almost impossible to achieve? You're never going to win a Tony for a magic show so what is the point of putting in effort to try? Isn't that wasted effort?

No. Because you're not picking an arbitrary audacious goal. You're picking an audacious goal that's in line with your interests.

If your goal is to win a Tony for your magic show, then you are probably going to die having not achieved your goal. But perhaps because you pursued that unreasonable goal, you die having written three different theatrical magic shows that you put up in smaller theaters in other cities. And you have beautifully toned buttocks and rippling abs. In the pursuit of this audacious goal you will have a bunch of other achievements and accomplishments along the way. 

The goal is kind of meaningless. It's the MacGuffin. It just keeps the plot moving. The plot being your life. 

Obstacles Are Plot Points

In a heist movie, the alarm goes off and the SWAT team comes in and our heroes are dragged out of the building. This seems like the dissolution of their plan. 

But no! Those guys in the SWAT outfits are actually other members of the crew who are sneaking out our heroes right in front of everyone. 

When things go wrong in a heist movie it becomes an opportunity for the characters to outmaneuver the problem with cleverness. Or that thing that has gone wrong is actually part of the bigger plan. Or, it only looks like something has gone wrong because what you thought was the plan was actually cover for an even bigger and crazier plan. 

You're writing this movie, so you can see the obstacles you encounter as any one of these things. But you shouldn't bemoan them because the movie would be meaningless without them. The obstacles are what give you a chance to show your cleverness or your resilience. That is what my first post on happiness was about.

Here's a heist movie no one would watch. This group decides to rob a bank. "Hey, no one is in the bank," the ringleader says. "Check this out, the vault is unlocked." Then they go in the vault, put the money in duffel bags and leave in their van. The obstacles are what makes this all interesting.


"But I don't want to be famous or write bestsellers." That's fine. Neither do I. You can have audacious goals about family, or making friends, or even living a life of leisure. 

"But I don't have time for pursuing such a goal. I have a job and a family." I'm not talking about putting hours into this goal every day. You can find 20-30 minutes somewhere in your day to do some work in an area of your interest with an eye towards a long-shot goal. And if it does take off in some way then yes, maybe you'll need to devote more time to it, but that's something you can choose to do or not. And that's a good problem to have.

"But if I pursue an unreachable goal I'm guaranteed to die unfulfilled." Well, what would be wrong with that? That means you get to come back as a ghost because you have unfinished business. And that's cool as shit. But no, I don't really think you'll die unfulfilled. (So if you want to come back as a ghost, you'll need to make sure they build a shopping mall on your burial ground or something.) Here's the thing, the goal is just a goof. It's a little adventure you're pursuing. And it's something you got into knowing the outcome was unlikely. And this isn't about fulfillment, it's about happiness. What I see in the people who seem the least happy is they don't have anything they're chasing, nothing they're planning for. They've either attained some reasonable goal, or given up on the unreasonable ones they had when they were younger. They're kind of muddling through their job and their relationship. On the flip-side, I don't know anyone who is really unhappy who is pursuing some big goal. So for your mental health, to keep you young at heart and happy, I recommend spending 30 minutes a day working on some audacious plan. And if that turns out to be an actual bank heist, I want my cut for inspiring you.

Season Three

In the next week or so, an email will go out to the supporters of Season Two of the Jerx to see if there's interest in another year. The email will include the details on the planned rewards and all that. If there's support for another year then I'll start up again in a few weeks. If not, then I won't. Simple!

Now, this is more of my bad business sense, but the reason I'm leaving it in the hands of the previous year's supporters and not making a public post here about it is because I feel like they're the ones who should have the say. If this site is still providing value for the people who have backed it for a year or more, then it's still worth doing for me. But if they didn't find it worth their investment, then it's probably not. 

If we end up doing another year, then there will be an opportunity for new people to support the site and get the rewards later in the year. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I'll update you on what's to come at the end of the month. Either way, you're the best. Thanks for reading. And have a dope 2018. 

Gardyloo #45

A Critical Examination of a Flattering Critique

Earlier this week over email, someone accused me of writing the following critique of this site on the Magic Cafe.

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If you're reading this on your phone and that's too small, it says (the spelling and grammar errors are his, not mine):

The Jerx is great, but many of his ideas are not original as some people here seems to think.
His ideas for example with Ring Flight and doing an effect like an experiement has been written by T.A.Waters in his big book.
Stopping time has been done by David Berglas long time ago.
Knowing things by taste has been done by a guy on Jay Leno in the 90's. Even Lee Earle mentioned it in his magazine.
And when the Jerx writes about the mixing of methods, as if this is a new notion, I wonder if has never heard of an effects like The Linking Rings or The Ambitious Card.

I get why they thought it was suspicious. It's phrased as a criticism, but it's actually incredibly complimentary. At least that's how I took it.

Look, I've written like 600+ essays, articles, and effects over the past 2.5 years. And in all that content these are the examples of "many" of my idea being "not original."

1. I wrote a one-paragraph description once of how I do ring-flight without any presentation at all. The whole purpose of which was to disconnect it from being part of a magic trick. In TA waters book he writes about doing ring flight as a kicker at the end of a psychometry routine. The only similarity I see is that we both register confusion rather than "ta-dah!" at the moment the effect occurs. But in a broader sense, the ideas are at the complete opposite ends of the presentational spectrum.  

2. This is correct. I did not invent the idea of stopping time. (I don't think David Berglas did either.)

3. I've never written a trick about "knowing things by taste." I have written a trick about being able to read what someone wrote with your tongue by eliminating all your other senses. I'm going to guess this is probably not what was done on the Jay Leno show in the 90s. Although it's possible. 

4. I haven't written about "mixing methods as if this is a new notion." I have written about combining methodsbut didn't suggest it was new. I said it was "undervalued." And I was writing about how two weak methods could create a strong method. This, again, is the opposite of what he's suggesting. With the ambitious card or linking rings, you're talking about doing multiple methods to do the same effect over and over. But you can't use multiple weak methods in a sequence or you're just upping the possibility of getting busted. What I was writing about was blending methods to create one effect.

So, as I said, I found the post on the Cafe wildly flattering. He was trying to make the point that many of my ideas are "not original" and the best example he had of that, amongst hundreds of posts, was that I didn't create the concept of stopping time. (Full disclosure, I didn't create the concept of ESP, hallucinations, spectral visions, synchronicity, or any of the other presentational ideas I've explored in my work.)

Speaking of "not original," I have a notebook full of card tricks that I've come up with, and while some of them are pretty good, I don't really ever publish them anywhere because I just assume every good card trick idea has been thought of before. And doing the research required to figure out if a card trick is original or not feels like a lot of work for not much reward, that's why you don't see much of that sort of thing here.

However I'm making an exception to that with the trick below because I've been doing it a bit recently and it gets a lot of bang for the buck in the sense that you get two pretty hard hitting magical moments for one relatively simple move. 

It's something I came up with myself but I would not be at all surprised if it's something that's in, like, Stars of Magic or something. Or maybe it's the first thing everyone thinks of when they learn this move. That's why I'm burying it here in this post. If it's not at least somewhat original, I can just delete it.

Here's what you need, going from the top down. A red deck of cards. A double-backed red card. 4 blue backed aces. Hold a pinky break over the double-backer. Spread the cards in order to have four cards touched and out-jogged for half their length. Do a Vernon strip-out addition type thing to remove the four selected cards as well as everything under your break. Turn everything over on top of the deck to show the spectator has found the four aces. From there you can go into changing the back color (or revealing something written on the back of the aces, or changing the aces into other cards (if you use double-facers instead of blue-backed aces) or whatever.)


Again, I don't post many traditional card tricks here, but I wanted to offer this one up in case it's not something everyone already knows. It gets a much bigger response than I would have anticipated. I think because of how straightforward it is. It's a kind of unusual trick in the sense that everything the audience perceives is actually happening. They do freely select any four cards. Those exact cards are out-jogged from the deck. And then those cards are turned over on top of the deck. Yes, something additional happens that they don't perceive, but everything they do perceive does actually happen, which I think is somewhat rare with a visual card trick like this.

I've decided I'm going to give the 450 Minutes treatment (15 minutes of practice, every day for a month) to dice stacking. What I like about dice stacking is mainly how stupid and pointless it is. I like that fact that it serves no practical purpose. Even if a guy came into your house and said "Stack these dice or I kill your whole family," it still would be quicker just to stack them with your hand than shaking a cup back and forth. 

I'm not sure when I'm going to start, but it will probably be some time next week.

First, let's establish a baseline for my skill at dice stacking at this point in time. (1).gif

Ellusionist recently re-released a trick by James Brown (not that one) called Pot of Jam. It's an effect where you have two coins and one goes in your pocket and then it comes back to your hand a couple times and then it ends with the production of a "pot of jam" (like, a little jelly jar, I guess). 

A friend of mine asked me if I had a better idea for the final load. The pot of jam thing doesn't really resonate with either of us. Maybe because we're not British. But even then, it doesn't seem so much like a willful arbitrary choice so much as it seems like something he may have settled on for lack of any other idea.

So, if like my friend you like the routine, and would prefer to use an ending that had some thematic cohesiveness, I have an idea. Do a google search for tiny piggy bank. Or search "piggy bank keychain." There are a bunch of those out there that you can have your business details printed on, if you perform professionally. You can give them away for about 50 cents, or less than a dollar if you crammed them full of pennies, which would be the way I'd go.

The original routine isn't really my style, so I haven't put much thought into this potential variation. I just think there are probably better presentational options with coins and a piggy bank than with coins and a pot of jam.

That is, again, unless you want something arbitrary, in which case I think there are better options than a pot of jam. Say, fart putty or a squirrel's head wrapped in a sheet from your old school newspaper, for example. 

(My first idea, because the trick would use a dime and penny in the US (I think) is that you would keep referring to it as the Eleven Cents trick. And you'd have the audience repeat that a few times like, "And of course the dime comes back to my hand because it's the...?" Eleven Cents Trick, they reply. Then at the end you'd ask them what you had in your hand and they'd say a dime or penny or both. And you'd be like, "A dime and a penny? Did you forget what this trick is called?" And they'd say, "The Eleven Cents Trick" and you'd be like, "Clean your ears out, dumb-dumb. It's the Lemon Scent trick." And you'd open your hand to show a small lemon. Eh... I give that one a C-.)

We'll be doing another series of focus group tests next month in Manhattan. One thing I want to test is how often people notice discrepancies like an Elmsley count that displays the ace of hearts twice instead of an ace of hearts and an ace of diamonds. Or one of those tricks where you supposedly show the four jacks singly, but really you just show the same two jacks twice. I have this theory that people notice this stuff more often than they say. But I don't know if that's true or not. 

Then the question becomes, at what rate of failure do you not use tricks with such a discrepancy? If 1/3rd of people notice it, do you not use such a trick? Probably. But what if it's 10%? I guess I'll wait to see what type of results we get before I concern myself with that question.

The final JAMM comes out tomorrow.

Here's an email I received from a "friend" of mine a couple months ago.


Attached is an ebook I bought for $22. It's 12 pages long and there is no formatting or any effort put into the presentation of the material. It has one trick in it which is not very good. I repeat, this guy made $22 off of me. And he doesn't write a magic blog for free on top of that.

Toodleloo, sucker!

This has been a kind of running joke with some of my friends who laugh at my business acumen when it comes to this site. The main theme of these emails is that I end up wasting time and money by doing the JAMM like I did, in the format of a magazine paying for models and photography and so on. Their theory is most people just care about the tricks so I could have easily just written them up and copied and pasted them into a word document and sent it out unadorned once a month. Or charged more. Or not included a deck. Or something.

This is probably all true, but as I've said before, I'm not good at the business part of this. That's okay, though, because my goal has never been to minimize costs and maximize profits. It's only been to produce content I find cool or interesting or fun and that has some value for people. 

And when I look at the covers for this year of The JAMM, I'm pretty psyched with how that all turned out and I'm glad I didn't half-ass it and just copy and paste a couple routines into an email every month. 

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Is it the greatest magic magazine of all time? Well, I'm biased of course, but I think I agree with all future magic historians when I say, "Undoubtedly, yes."

In the last issue I'll be mentioning the names of the people who assisted in the production of the magazine, but I want to give a general thanks to them here as well. Thanks!

Introducing, The Jerx Deck

[This is not an advertisement. All the decks are spoken for, other than a few that will be going in The Vault as part of my retirement plan.]

Starting next week, the physical reward for those who supported the Jerx, Season Two will start shipping: the first Jerx Deck.

For this deck, I wanted to stick pretty close to the esthetic of the blog so the design and illustration is based upon the work Stasia Burrington has done for this site and The Jerx, Volume 1. Which, in turn, is obviously based on the masthead for Annemann's, The Jinx which was done by Chris Carven. (Thanks to Max Maven for tracking down that illustration credit for me.)

I also owe a big thanks to Bill Kalush and The Expert Playing Card Company, both for lowering their minimum order, dealing with the incompetence of myself and the people helping me out who had never worked on this type of project before, and for pushing the deck through the process quickly so I could have it out around the new year.

Here it is, The Jerx Deck #1.


The deck is black and white with a classic finish on the cards, housed in a beautiful uncoated matte paper tuck box. I'm not sure what all that means either.


I know what you're thinking. "Oh, Andy, is this one of those decks you have to liberally butter in order to be able to do your moves?"


Not at all. These babies will glide right out of the box, first time, every time. (If you need to do a sleight other than the glide, then I suggest you use another deck of cards, hot-shot.)

While the faces are standard, the deck does feature custom jokers as well as the ace of spades.


I also did that self-indulgent, narcissistic thing where I put my own face on one of the court cards. Here's me...


That might look like a normal card face, but that's actually what I look like in real life. I'm a dainty little fop with pale skin and dull lifeless hair that hangs to my shoulders and I constantly have the 500-stare of a Vietnam vet.

Finally, we all know a big problem in the premium card industry is people going out and creating their own bootleg playing cards with an office copy machine. We've all had it happen to us where we open a deck of cards that we've paid big money for, we start dealing through them and then realize, "Wait... I think this deck may have be printed on regular copy paper and then cut with a pair of scissors." To combat deck piracy, each case has this admonishment, inspired by the words in Harry Lorayne's Apocalypse magazine...

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Coming Up

The Jerx Decks are in and the first images of them will be posted tomorrow. (This weekend an email will go out to those of you who will be receiving the deck. That will link to a form to collect your current mailing address, and the deck will start shipping next week.)

Thursday, the final JAMM cover will be posted.

Friday, an extra long edition of Gardyloo.

Saturday night, the final JAMM will arrive in subscribers email boxes.

Monday, in what will be the last post of Season 2,  and potentially the final post altogether, I won't be talking magic. Instead I will return to my erstwhile lifestyle blog, The Splooge, with a sequel to this post. Yes, the Secret to Happiness Part Two.

My 2018 Focus

Happy New Year, everyone.

In 2017 I performed 2140 magic tricks (not different tricks, but 2140 total). Approximately 10% of those performances were me half-assedly muddling through new tricks for other magicians, but the other 90% were all actual performance for real people.

I kept track of every individual performance in a spreadsheet. I tracked the name of the trick, who I performed it for, about how long it took, their reaction (on a scale of 1-10), the presentation and/or style of presentation, and any memorable comments they made. The final thing I tracked was—if they mentioned the effect again—how long after the initial performance they mentioned it. 

When 2017 began I was thinking about my goals in performing and what ways there were to quantify my success with those goals.

My main goal, put as succinctly as possible, was to give people a magical experience that resonated with them. What do I mean by "magical experience"? Well, I don't know. It's hard to say because the nature of the phrase suggests that it's probably something not easily definable.

I can tell you what I didn't mean, though. I didn't mean that I just wanted to fool people. 

Real people don't use the phrase "that was magical" to mean "I was fooled." So I wanted to use it in the real person way. I wanted to fool them in service of an enchanting, other-worldly moment. 

Those types of moments aren't quantifiable, but you know them when you're experiencing them. 

But one thing I could track, to a certain extent, was resonance. When someone talks to me, or texts me, or calls me long after the trick and mentions it, I can make note of it. When 6 months after a performance someone tells me they had a dream about it, that can be seen as a data point. Even on a shorter time scale, if someone brings up a trick later that same night, that's obviously a more enduring trick for them than something they never think of or mention again.

And the idea behind tracking this was to identify what aspects of a trick might make that magic feeling linger. Would something visual endure more than something cerebral? Is something mildly magical that happens in their hands remembered longer than something incredibly magical that happens in mine? Or is it the other way around? Is a card trick more memorable than a coin trick? Or are they equally forgettable?

This is the type of stuff that fascinates me, and I feel I have no way of knowing without studying it.

The first pattern I saw emerge was that almost all memorable tricks were strong, but not all strong tricks were memorable. For example, doing a color change with a card can get a gasp or even a minor freakout, and might score an 8 on my subjective reaction scale. But I don't usually have people come up to me weeks later saying, "Hey, remember when you changed that card?" 

Now, you could say, "Well, just because they didn't mention it again doesn't mean they don't remember it." That's true. So, "memorable" is probably an inexact word. I should stick with resonant/enduring. 

So, what was the common thread that I found ran through lasting magical experiences? I'll get to that in a moment. It's going to be something I plan on focusing on in 2018. I want to take a bit of a detour first, because I feel like what I'm getting to is something that's often botched by magicians who consider themselves to be "thinkers" who are "pushing magic forward."

We all agree that a lot of magic can come across as meaningless. "Here are some coins. They change. Now they go to this hand. Now they disappear." It can be a cool thing to watch but it can often feel very inconsequential. Especially if you're performing for people who have seen other tricks from you before.

Many magicians recognize this and they think, "I don't want to do meaningless magic. I'm going to give my magic meaning!" Often though, the result of that effort is magic presentations that are much more awkward and off-putting than someone mumbling their way through a dull narration of which hand they're putting the coin in. Why is that?

Let's consider this question:

How do you give your magic meaning?

It's a trick question.

You can’t give your magic meaning. Meaning isn’t given, it’s taken.

The audience provides the meaning. 

What you can do is imbue your presentation with things they can take meaning from. But when you start giving them the meaning, that's when you turn people off. A poem, or a novel, or a movie that beats you over the head with what it's about is generally considered not great art. It's bad art in magic too. If you're like, "You were able to separate the reds cards from the black cards because you can do anything you set your mind to. You just need to have faith in yourself and you can achieve anything!" You're creating a situation where you're trying to force them to get some meaning from something.

(This sort of thing is particularly hideous because they know it's a trick. So you trying to use it as evidence of some positive attribute of theirs is sad and condescending. It would be like if you printed their picture on the cover of a Playboy magazine with "Playmate of the Year" on it and then tried to use that as evidence of how pretty they are when everyone involved knows its fake.)

The nice thing I've found is this: The elements that make a trick stick with people long-term are also the elements that make an effect fertile ground for a spectator to discover some meaning. These things are connected (unsurprisingly). 

When I looked at the effects I performed in 2017 that people continually brought up again and again over time, they weren't the most visual effects, they weren't the most interesting effects, they weren't the funniest effects, they weren't even the most surprising effects. 

The tricks that stayed with people were the ones with an interactive, present-tense narrative that engaged them emotionally.

Let me break that down as best I can.

Interactive: The person you're performing for is a part of what's unfolding. They're not just watching you do something.

Narrative: The most memorable tricks had an element of story to them. The least memorable didn't. Those types of tricks can still be impressive tricks. But they're demonstrations. Like watching a plate spinner. You probably don't fondly remember a plate spinner over and over throughout your life, because that demonstration isn't really connected to anything.

Present-tense: The "narrative" is happening in the moment. You're not telling a story about something symbolically with cards or coins. And you're not relating a story from your past. The story is unfolding in the moment. Let's break this down further:

  1. Symbolic story: "Once, in an old kingdom, there was the group of poor workers. They'll be represented by these low cards. They always dreamed of becoming rich and powerful so they could help those around them. One day they found a magic crystal and when they touched this magic crystal they turned into kings and queens."
  2. Relating a story from the past: "One time I was at this poker game at a bar I used to go to. I was losing a ton of money and this old bedraggled woman approached me during a bathroom break. She sold me this crystal for a dollar and said it would help me in the game. During my next hand I was dealt a 2 and a 7 offsuit. But I took my crystal and rubbed it against the cards like this and they changed to aces!"
  3. Present-tense: You're flicking a crystal around on the coffee table and your friend asks you what it is. "Oh, it's stupid. There was an ad for it in the back of a poker magazine I was reading. They sell all sorts of dumb 'lucky' items. I occasionally pick something up because I'm a little superstitious that way. This one actually came with instructions, which made me laugh. It would be like instructions for a lucky rabbit's foot or some shit. Let me see if I can find them. I might have thrown them out." Then you return with some instructions and follow them with your friend "just for a laugh" and in the process a bad hand changes to a good hand, or maybe whatever position on the table the spectator places the crystal is always dealt the best hand or something like that. 

It's the final part of that phrase, the part about "engaging them emotionally" that I think is the most interesting, the most complicated, and the part that I think is open to misinterpretation and abuse. 

Often when magicians try to inject emotion into their presentations they do so in a way that is very manipulative (invoking someone's dead relatives; or saying things like "this will work because you and I have a deep connection") or in a very grandiose "let's give our magic meaning" kind of way.

That's not the sort of thing I'm talking about. I just think there has to be some small emotional elements to an effect if you want it to be resonant.

I wouldn't have always thought this. For a long time I believed that what set magic apart from all the other arts was its ability to surprise. Therefore, what we should put our emphasis on, is the nature of that surprise.

But what I'm finding is that "surprise" isn't really a lasting emotion. It's not a sticky emotion. It's nature is fleeting. So, yes, there should be a surprise, but there should also be an emotional element to the presentation so that it sticks with people as time passes.

You might say, "Of course, there should be an emotional element to our magic. What's new or intriguing about that? People like Eugene Burger and Robert Neale preached that for decades."

Yeah.... that's not the sort of thing I'm talking about. Burger and Neale would put emotional elements into performances of magic in a highly theatrical way. You can see that in this performance of Neale's A Room for Death. That's an example of telling a story using the props as symbols. (And, to be honest, I think I must be too dumb to understand what that story means. So, Death comes and stays in your room and nothing at all changes the next day? Uh...what's the issue?)

I think that type of performance is fine for a theatrical show, but is awkward, at best, in a casual situation. Because...well...there's nothing casual about it. It comes off as a planned soliloquy because that's exactly what it is.

What I'm talking about is seeding your effects with narrative elements that have emotional content (those elements are what I mentioned above as being the things people can take meaning from) and then presenting the effect with the pacing and context of a genuine human interaction.

If this sounds unclear, it's because I'm unclear about it. This site was never meant to be me lecturing you because I know all the answers. It's about my journey working on these things and testing these ideas out. And I'm just saying that in 2018 I'm going to be thinking a lot about utilizing emotion in the presentation of magic. This is something I actually already feel I'm pretty good at, but it's not something I've thought much about directly, only tangentially.

Here's an example of the type of thing I'm talking about. It's a silly example but it will serve the purpose.

I performed the Bob Farmer "Little Hand" effect 13 times in 2017. This is a trick where a little doll's hand comes out from between your hands and grabs a coin.


It's the dumbest thing you'll ever do, but you'd be surprised how strongly people react to it. I'm not even sure if they see it as a trick or just a goof or what, but people genuinely flip out over it.

Now, seven of the times I performed the trick, I did so in a relatively quick, straightforward way. Similar to the way I've seen Michael Ammar perform the trick. Just like, "Hey, want to see how I make a coin disappear?" That sort of thing. Even with that little thought in presentation, people love it. But, only one time in those seven did someone mention the trick again after a few minutes had passed. 

In six of the 13 performance, I gave the trick a much longer build up. It would go something like this. I'm hanging out with someone and at some point I start poking my tongue around in my mouth a little, like I'm trying to dislodge a bit of food from a molar. Then I sort of lean in to my friend and say, "Did I ever tell you about Kip?" 

Then I launch into a story in a way that is so overly serious that it's obvious I'm goofing around, at least to the people who know me.

"When I was a kid I always had this lump in the roof of my mouth. And as I grew it got bigger but it never really got in the way of anything, so my parents and the dentist never really had me do anything about it. Then, about the time my wisdom teeth came in, this lump grew to the point where it was getting in the way of my eating and talking. So I went to an oral surgeon to get it examined and removed"

"I didn't know what it was. I thought maybe it was some kind of tumor or something. I had no clue. When I would poke the lump with my tongue I could feel, like... stuff in there."

I should stop at this point and say this isn't a great presentation if you're hoping to hook up with the person you're performing for. It's a little gross.

"So they completely numbed the roof of my mouth. And I remember watching as the dentist went into my mouth with scalpel. And even though I was numbed to the pain, I could still feel the sensation as he sliced the scalpel along the roof of my mouth."

Here I mime slowly dragging a scalpel. People shiver at the thought.

"And then he spread out the skin." Again, I continue to mime this. 

"And I could feel this...stuff fall into my mouth. You see... it was a tumor of a sort. It's a tumor called a teratoma. And it was made up of hair and teeth that had grown in me from a twin that I absorbed while I was in the womb."

Here I change tone dramatically from the hushed voice I've been using to relay this horror story to something really upbeat.

"So yeah, his name's Kip and he's just kind of floating around in me. He's actually a really cool guy. Real chill. You'd like him. He's a good dude. Collects coins. Loves the ladies."

Then I pause, and go back to a hushed tone.

"Do you want to meet him?" I say, with what I hope is an evil twinkle in my eye.

Forget that you know where this is going and put yourself in a layperson's shoes. What could possibly happen next? I love this moment.

When they say yes I go off to get a coin. "He collects coins. We might be able to lure him out with one."

I come back with the coin (and the gimmick) and then cup my hands and wait. I wait a good 20 or 30 seconds. The tension is ridiculous. 

Then I whisper to my friend. "Say something. If he knows a woman is out here he's more likely to show up. He's kind of a playboy. Just be like, 'Oh, gee, it sure would be nice if Kip showed up. Would be great to meet him.'" 

After a little cajoling she says the line. And we wait a little longer, staring at my hands. Finally, something starts coming out. She jumps. It's a little hand. It grabs the coin and scurries back from where it came.

The reaction is priceless. The build up of tension leading to that moment is just bonkers.

But there's more to it than that. I performed the trick that way six times in 2017 and in five of those cases, the person I performed it for brought the trick up again at a later point. Often many times: hours, days, weeks, and even months later. They would want me to do it for someone else or they'd just mention some aspect of the whole thing that stuck with them.

This version was significantly more resonant. And it's my belief that the resonance came from the fact that it was—as I mentioned above— an interactive present-tense narrative that engaged them emotionally.

Although there was a long backstory, the effect happened in the present moment and they were involved in that part of the story.

As for the emotional element, I think there's a lot there. There is, of course, the horror and disgust of the backstory. But also just the concept of, essentially, killing your sibling in the womb has some emotional weight, as does the idea that he lives within you still. Those things could be (and have been) the subject of novels and movies. And then there is the much greater tension and relief in this trick when performed this way.

This is what I mean by "seeding" your presentation with emotional elements. I don't know what exactly the person is going to latch onto, but I want to give them things the can latch onto besides, "I was fooled."

You might never perform this trick this way. It might just not be for you. But I wanted to give you a very explicit example of what I meant by inserting emotion into an effect. I would say a lot of the other stuff I'm working on in this regard is much more pleasant. 

Now you have a choice to make. You can click this link and go to the google image result for teratoma. Or you can live your life without ever making that mistake and you won't have to deal with that disgusting shit rattling around in your brain.

So yeah, that's going to be a big focus in my own experimentation in 2018: emotion. It's pretty much a natural outgrowth of stuff I've talked about on this site since the beginning. But now I plan to look at in a more structured way. We'll see where it leads.