The Three Highlights

This isn’t a magic tip, it’s a life tip. The purpose of the technique is to make essentially anything (a night out, a vacation, your entire life) more enjoyable and memorable.

It’s a simple idea that has paid big dividends in my own life, so some of you may find it valuable as well.

Imagine you’re going to see a band you like. It’s at a small club and you walk in and see a bunch of people recording the show and watching it through their phone cameras. “Ugh,” you think. “These buffoons. Can’t they just be present and enjoy the show? Does everything have to be recorded for posterity?”

Perhaps you don’t feel that way, but that’s always been my somewhat superior attitude. But I’ve had an evolution in that thought process as well, because I realized I was missing out on something. To continue with the concert example, I would find myself a few years later thinking back on some show I saw and—while I had a generally pleasant feeling about it—I had no real concrete memories from the night. I might not even be able to name a single song that I was 100% sure they played.

So yes, I was enjoying the experience more in the moment, but a lot of the particulars of the experience were left in the moment.

On the one hand, I wanted to have more long-term memories from the experiences in my life, but on the other hand I didn’t want to be so caught up in recording and documenting those moments that I became an observer and not a participant.

Is there as a way to get the best of both worlds?

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Here was the route I took for finding out how to retain more of the details of my experiences, while still being immersed in them.

My first thought was, “I should keep a journal. That way I can write down my experiences and relive them later.” My second thought was, “Fuck that noise!” Because there was no way I was going to be doing that. I write this site. I write newsletters and books. And all my “real work” is writing related to. Not only that, but I’m a pretty slow writer. I stop between every sentence and think. I don’t want to do more writing. I wince when people romanticize writing. (“Ah, the sweet sound of graphite scratching on paper as the sun comes up and I record my hopes and dreams for the day on the cream, parchment pages of my hand-sewn journal.”) Almost nothing you have to do for 60 hours a week is going to be enjoyable in your spare time as well. So yeah, I didn’t want to tie myself to the idea of coming home late after a show and then writing a couple formless paragraphs about what just happened.

But then I thought, What if I just kept my mind engaged with looking for three highlights of any experience?

This, as it turned out, was the key. So now, when I would go to a show, I would be on the lookout for these three highlights. And perhaps I would end up with something like this:

  1. When they played [my favorite song] acoustically.

  2. Dancing with the red-haired girl.

  3. The way the drunk guy at the foot of the stage was playing the air drums.

Then I would go home and write down those three highlights in a small notebook with each page dedicated to a different experience.

The writing takes less than a minute. I’m just putting down those three peak moments. I don’t really elaborate on them (unless I feel the need to).

And, as time passes, I can flip through that notebook and remind myself of the highlights of each event. “Ah, yes! That song sounded incredible when performed acoustically. Who would have thought. Oh… shit. That red-haired girl!” Etc.

You might say, “Yes, but doesn’t the act of constantly being on the lookout for ‘highlights’ of an event also pull you out of being in the moment and just experiencing the event?” No. It’s the opposite. It keeps me 100% engaged. I’m fully there. I’m not thinking of anything outside of the event. If it’s a concert, I’m hearing the music, I’m taking in the crowd, I’m observing details about the venue. Every sensory experience: sound, sight, smell, taste, feeling is noted as my brain collects potential highlights. That, in my opinion, is kind of the definition of presence.

Not only that, but it keeps you focusing on the good around you. Which has to be a positive thing for your mental health.

But here’s the best part of this practice…, it’s not just a way for you to enjoy some particular event. It’s something you can apply to your entire life. It’s fractal in nature. You can pull out or zoom in as much as you want and still look for those three highlights

For example, I view my life this way. What are the three highlights of your life? Maybe it’s the family you created, some professional accomplishment, and some personal goal you reached—writing a screenplay, or visiting every continent.

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I keep my mind open to identify the three highlights of my year. Perhaps it’s a trip I took, a person I met, and a book I wrote.

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I keep track of the three highlights of every week. Last week itwas a little party/get-together at my friend Bella’s house, going snowboarding, and visiting a new Thai restaurant.

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I keep track of the the three highlights of any “event” in my life (that I want to remember): any show I see, any party I go to, any holiday spent with people. What were the three highlights of the gathering at Bella’s? The response to the magic trick I performed. This extended riff my friend John went on about us re-making A Christmas Carol that gave me literal stomach pains from laughing so hard. And watching/commenting on the schlocky 1986 horror movie, Chopping Mall.

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I keep track of the three highlights of any media I consume. When I complete a series of TV I note my three favorite episodes or scenes. When I read a book I keep track of my three favorite parts. When I watch a movie I try to come away with three highlights: favorite scenes, memorable quotes, cool visuals, or whatever. This has completely changed how I consume media. I used to think, “Did I read that book or not?” “Did I see that movie?” Now I’m paying more attention in the moment and remembering more afterwards. What were the highlights of Chopping Mall? The weird sex-party in the furniture store. The dumb scene where the kids were calculating how much they’d have to pay the mall back because of the destruction the malls security robots caused tying to kill them (why would they be liable for that?). And when the girl’s head exploded.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it’s not. It’s just one minute per thing. So for me that’s one minute per year/week/event. It’s a couple minutes a day, a few times a week at most.

Now I have a bunch of small notebooks, that I can peruse and see the highlights of all these experiences from the past few years. Small moments I might never have recalled otherwise. A joke someone made. Something I ate. A compliment. A kiss. A weird coincidence. Or whatever. But you don’t have to make an endless list of these things, just the three highlights on whatever scale you want to do it on.

As I said, it’s maybe two minutes a day of actual physical effort (the writing). The real “work” of this comes in giving things your rapt attention. But, honestly, after a while it just becomes like a game you play in your head where you’re collecting these “highlights.”

And what you get in return is that you’re in a constant mindset of presence, appreciation, and adventure. Presence because you’re always engaged. Appreciation because you’re focusing on the positive. And adventure because your mind is concentrated on finding new highlights. Highlights of this afternoon at an amusement park, or [Zoom Out] of this 3-day road-trip, or [Zoom Out] of this week, or [Zoom Out] of this year, or [Zoom Out] of your life.

A Critical Examination of the SAM Membership Card Trick

I have never been a member of the Society of American Magicians. I think I attended a magic auction they held once when I was around 14. It didn’t turn out to be the most enticing group. It was a bunch of old guys with bushy eyebrows, uncomfortably ogling the “fresh meat” that had walked into the room. In that sense it was kind of like what I imagine going to a gay bathhouse would be like. Except the constituency was even older (and possibly gayer). And at the bathhouse—even if it’s not their priority—the clientele is likely subjected to the cleansing properties of water. Based on the B.O. situation in the room at the SAM auction, “bath” wasn’t a word I would associate with that crew.

I don’t believe I’ve attended an SAM function since then. Perhaps I missed out on a wealth of magical knowledge these gentlemen could have bestowed upon me, but I didn’t get that sense. Their skillset seemed to range from “somehow screws up self-working tricks” to “hasn’t quite mastered the paddle move.” It didn’t even seem like they were that into magic. The only real enthusiasm they showed was when someone cracked open a three flavor popcorn tin.

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I don’t know if there’s been an influx of youth in the SAM since then. Magic is obviously having a renaissance, but I don’t know if the magic clubs have been able to capitalize on it.

I have a friend who is a member and will occasionally text me shots from M-U-M Magazine (the magazine for SAM members).

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Hmmm… does he though?

Recently my friend sent me a photo of his membership card…

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Damn… you can’t just uphold the oath, you have to live by it? That’s intense. “Throw out your simpleminded Ten Commandments! You will now live by The Magician’s Oath.

Some live by the golden rule… but not me…. my life is built upon these words of wisdom:

“I shall discourage advertisement in magical publication for any magical apparatus, effect, literature or other materials for which the advertiser does not have commercial rights.”

I think that’s part of the oath. I couldn’t really find the “oath” online. That’s in their code of ethics, at least. And, as I’ve pointed out before, if you harm the chickadee you use in your final load for cups and balls, you’re out of the SAM. But if you make the birthday boy jerk you off…. you can still be a member in good standing. You just point to the code of ethics and—like a man in a movie defending his decision to use a donkey to kick field goals for his football team—you say, “There’s no rule against it!”

But not only do you get this sweet membership card when you join the SAM, you also get this totally mindfucking trick they suggest you perform with the card.

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So you vanish a quarter and make it appear under your membership card. What a brilliantly constructed piece of magic! Sure, you might say this took 6 seconds to think of because you can do the same trick with… oh… say… any object in the world larger than a quarter. But I disagree. Obviously a lot of thought went into this effect.

I am, admittedly, a little confused by the “That’s the last one” bit. It’s written on the card under Jimmy Yoshida’s picture, and is repeated during the effect multiple times. Was this a catchphrase of his? Were they his magic words? I googled it, but nothing came up. Anything you might say in response to “I’m going to eat the last Totino’s Pizza Roll,” seems a bit too informational to be somebody’s magical incantation. But they really seem to be hitting it hard in the presentation.

They also say you can add a “magical dimension” (always a good thing to have in a magic trick, I’ve found) by giving the spectator a choice of four quarters. And they mention using “magician’s force” (which I’m guessing is the same as equivoque/magician’s choice) to force the Hawaii quarter. I can’t quite wrap my mind around how you would use magician’s choice when you’re tied to the, “That’s the last one,” patter line.

Magician: Touch one quarter.
[Spectator touches the Hawaii quarter.]
Magician: That’s the last one!
Spectator: The fuck are you talking about?

or

Magician: Push any two coins towards me.
[Spectator does.]
Magician: Now hand me either coin.
[Spectator hands him the Hawaii quarter.]
Magician: That’s the last one!
Spectator: How so?

Okay, sure, maybe there are some kinks to work out. But it would definitely be worth it. Can you imagine the look on your spectator’s face and what their reaction would be if you wrapped up the trick with that stunning crescendo of a finale as written in the instructions: “That’s the last one — the 50th state quarter representing Jimmy from the Aloha state.”

I can totally picture it! That glow of wonder, and that beautiful look of child-like awe, slowly spreading across their face, as they say: “I’m sorry… what? I’m not following. Who’s Jimmy? What are you talking about?”

Swapping Spit (with Director's Commentary)

A week or so ago we had the first warm spring-esque days in the northeast (it didn’t last long, but that’s okay).

So I’m at a little get-together of eight people at my friend’s house in the suburbs of upstate New York. We’re hanging out on the deck in his backyard, overlooking a little forest area and a creek. As the sun sets and the air chills, most everyone heads back into the house except myself and a girl (woman? whatever… don’t get uptight about this shit) ok… everyone heads back into the house except myself and a strong capable female individual named Laura.

I just met Laura this evening. She’s a short, slim woman, half-Chinese/half-English, and is a practicing lawyer (but the boring kind that works with corporations, not the fun kind that works with murderers) She’s in her early 40s, but tonight she’s in skinny jeans and a pink hoodie and could easily pass for 20 years younger.

We were talking about age and I mentioned how youthful she looked. “I have that natural preservative from the Chinese side of my family. Whatever it is that keeps Asian women looking young,” she said.

“I wish I had a dash of that. I’m just pure pasty white.”

“What’s your ethnicity on your mom’s side?” she asks. I tell her my mom is part Italian, part Austrian and a mix of other things that are pretty white.

“And your dad?”

“He was the Pillsbury Doughboy,” I say.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “That’s really white. That complexion doesn’t hold up over time.”

It’s going well. She’s fun.

“Honestly though, if I had guessed your age I would have said 29,” she says.

“That’s a weirdly specific number,” I say. She shrugs.

I’m momentarily pleased that someone thought I looked a decade plus younger than I am. Then I kind of pieced it together in my head that I pretty much look my age, but I have the attitude and disposition of a 14-year-old. Her guess was probably just an average of those figures.

At one point I start chewing a piece of gum, and after a few seconds she leans in towards me. “Oh wow,” she says, “I haven’t smelled that in ages she says.”

She’s referring to the fact that I’m not chewing “adult” gum. Not like a sensible small, minty nugget of Dentyne. I’m chewing grape Bubblicious. Kid’s gum.

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<Pause>

I chew grape and watermelon Bubblicious a lot. I love that shit. And the smell is so strong and evocative—at least to people of a similar age—that someone almost always comments on it. When you find something that people comment on regularly—something you do, wear, drive, or whatever—try to come up with a way to turn that into a Hook.

I offer her a piece of gum and she gleefully takes it, unwraps it, and pops it in her mouth.

“Did you ever play that game with the wrapper?” I ask.

“Whub gamb?” she says, through a mouthful of gum.

“Oh, you know…,” I say, “I don’t know if it had a name. Hold on.” I jump up and run inside and grab a pen.

I come outside and draw a heart in the center of the empty wrapper.

“Don’t let me see, this has to be a secret. I want you to think of someone you had a crush on when you were young. Like middle school age. Someone you never told anyone about. Got someone?”

She nods. She’s on the edge of her chair. Girls love this junk. So do strong capable females. And so do a lot of guys, for that matter.

“Okay, write their initials in the middle of the heart. I’m going to stand over here, because if I see it, it won’t work.”

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She writes down the initials. I tell her to fold it in half from top to bottom, then from left to right, and again from left to right. “The initials are hidden, yes? So I can come back?”

<Pause>

Man, this sort of thing is a tight-rope. You know, because you’re reading a magic blog, what’s going to happen with those initials. However, I don’t want to telegraph that. And at the same time I need her to remember that there’s no way I could see the initials. At the end I don’t want her thinking, “Wait… could he have read the initials when I wrote them? Was he looking? I wasn’t paying attention.”

In this instance, it’s slightly easier because she doesn’t know a trick is coming. So I’m emphasizing that I need to not be able to see the initials, but she can’t really get ahead of me as to why.

I come back to the table and take the pen and draw an X on one side of the folded gum-wrapper.

“Okay,” I say, “this is a fortune telling game. You probably played it when you were a kid. Whoever’s initials you wrote on the inside, that’s who you’re going to marry. And this game will tell you how your marriage will go. You take the wrapper and shake it up like dice and drop it on the table.” I demonstrate this. “If it lands X-side up, your fortune is the worst option of the three. If it lands X-side down, it’s the middle option. If it lands on the edge like this, then it’s the best option.”

I show her what I mean by putting the wrapper in the three positions.

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I then give her categories with three different options for each and she tosses the wrapper to see which one she gets. For example:

  • Where they’ll live (apartment, house, or mansion)

  • What type of car they’ll have (used Toyota, new Lexus, or chauffeured around in a limousine).

  • What their offspring will be (one average child, three perfect children, two braindead conjoined twins)

Finally we end by asking the wrapper how long their marriage will last (1 year, 20 years, or forever).

Obviously this is stupid nonsense. But it’s mildly amusing fun as the story comes together… “Ah, you’ll live in a mansion, but drive your braindead twins around in your used Toyota.”

<Pause>

I’m taking my cues for this fake fortune telling game from a real one that was played around me growing up called MASH (Mansion Apartment Shack House).

At the end of the game I said, “Oh, there’s something else we can try. We used to do this at camp. Take the wrapper. Don’t unfold it, I don’t want to see. Hold it in your fist. Think of the person whose initials you wrote down and concentrate while chewing the gum. I’ll be right back.”

I go in the house and come back with a lighter.

I tell her to place the wrapper on an overturned bottle cap and I light it on fire. I ask her for the gum from her mouth and I take it and hold it over the flame, in the smoke from the wrapper. After a couple seconds I pop her gum in my mouth.

<Pause>

“Ew, gross!” Okay, nerd, beat it. Look, I come from a time where chewing gum that had been in someone else’s mouth was a kind of an adolescent form of flirting. Like it was a gateway to french kissing. And the whole point of this presentation was to evoke that kind of youthful, carefree foolishness. In this case I was performing for someone whose tongue I hoped to have in my mouth later in the evening, so I sure as shit had no problem chewing her gum. You could come up with another option, of course. I’ll mention another at the end.

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As I chewed her gum, my eyes looked up and scanned back and forth as if I was mentally processing some information I was receiving from the smoke-infused gum.

“Okay… this doesn’t always work… was the guy’s name….J-John? Or Jim? Am I close?”

She had a lovely, expectant, puzzled smile on her face. “Yesssss… kind of,” she said.

“Jason?” I asked.

“Oh. My. God!” she said.

“It’s Jason? Ok. I’m not sure about the last initial.”

I trace with my index finger in the air as if I’m figuring something out as I stare off in the distance. “Is it an L? No. It’s a K.”

“What!” she says. The look on her face shifting from amazement to confusion and back a few times. She sinks down in her seat, put her head back and says, “Aggghhhh!” while stomping her small feet alternately, back and forth like a drumroll. “That’s crazy!”

“Well,” I say, “if the gum wrapper is accurate, you have a nice 20 year relationship with Jason still to come.”

“Ooh!” she says, and her expression changes to one of child-like delight as she plays along, but she quickly drops it. “Wait… I think he’s gay now,” she says.

“Hmmm… well that’s not what the wrapper seemed to suggest,” I mumble.

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Okay, this is 100% social magic. The style of the performance, the nature of the interaction, the pacing of the trick, and the method are all firmly in the social magic camp. If you don’t see the appeal of this—if you’d rather bring out a business card, have them write down a three digit number, and then reveal it—then we’re probably on different paths performance-wise, so don’t be surprised if much of the content on this site doesn’t speak to you.

What this is, essentially, is a holistic, social, billet routine.

It started with me noticing that when I would chew Bubblicious gum, people would often comment about the smell and how they hadn’t smelled it in forever or how it brought them back to when they were young. Using that as a “hook” was then obvious. And I particularly like the idea of using scent as a stimulus to get into an effect.

From there I realized that when you chew a piece of gum you’re left with a natural billet.

And since I often present things as a childhood game or ritual, everything just clicked together. Click. Click. Click.

In a traditional billet effect, the spectator might think: Why is he asking for this particular piece of information? Why am I writing it down? Why can’t I just think of it? Those issues don’t exist here. It wouldn’t make sense to ask any of those questions. All of those actions are perfectly justified by the presentation.

As for the actual method of the method, here’s what I did. On this particular night I hadn’t planned on getting into this trick, I was legitimately just chewing a piece of gum. But when she commented on it, she opened the door. I gave her a piece and then suggested we play the old “fortune telling game.” When I went to get the pen, I unwrapped another piece of gum, folded a duplicate billet from the wrapper, and put an X on one side.

When I got back, I performed the billet switch in the process of demonstrating how to shake and “roll” the wrapper. There wasn’t much technique involved. I had the dupe billet finger palmed in my left hand. I took the wrapper she had written on with my right hand. I brought the two hands together, shook them, and then dropped out the dupe instead of the original which remained in right finger-palm. I could have done something slicker, but there was no reason to. The demonstration of how to “roll” the wrapper is 1000% justified. They haven’t played this game before, so of course you’d demonstrate that part. They don’t even know a trick is coming at this point.

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After that I just pocketed the real billet and popped it open and read it when I went to get the lighter, like 10 minutes later.

Doing the dirty work when you leave the room may seem bold, but keep in mind that in this situation the method is done before they know a magic trick is coming. So it’s not like they’re going to get suspicious. You need a pen. Then you need a lighter. It makes sense you’d go and get those things. If you prefer, of course, you can be prepped before the effect with a dupe, and you can get your peek of the initials during the routine itself. It’s up to you.

If you don’t want to chew the gum then maybe you could stretch it between your hands and act as if you’re looking for the information embedded in the gum in some manner. Yes, that’s still a little gross, but if you’re worried about that, then just don’t do a trick along these lines.

When it comes time to reveal the name I just guess the first two names that come to mind with that initial. If neither of those are correct, I suggest one more. I’ve only done this a few times, but I believe each time I got the name in the first three guesses. If I didn’t, I would just skip to naming both initials. It would be something like, “Is it John or James? Hmmm… maybe Jason? No? Hm, I must be way off. I could have sworn it was a ‘J’ name. Oh… it is? Oh good, I thought so. It feels like J… J.K?”

Now, again, I’m not expecting the majority of you to have the desire to perform this effect exactly as written. But there may be elements you can strip from it. Perhaps the use of a gum wrapper as a “natural” billet. Or using scent or taste as a sensory cue to send someone back to a particular moment in their life and then you can some how “pick up” on a thought while they’re in this regressed state. Or, if nothing else, I hope it’s an example of the concept of social magic (at least my definition of it) which is not just a trick done in a social setting, but a trick that is built on a social interaction and could really only exist in that context (as opposed to in a professional setting).

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Horn Tootin' #1

In yesterday’s post, I was saying how spending your time on message boards and facebook groups may make you less likely to get out there and actually perform. I’m not saying that’s true for everyone. I’m just saying for some people it’s likely to scratch that itch.

However, one positive aspect of message boards that you don’t get on this site is feedback from other people who are trying these things out and having success with them. You kind of only hear my experience and then that’s it. And I never go back and say, “No, seriously, you guys need to really go try this [trick or technique],” because that’s just not my personality. And I’m usually onto something new (even if, in my real life, I’m still performing the trick regularly).

But I realize it can be motivating sometimes to hear from other people who have tried something out and had success with it. So I’m starting a new series that I’ll put up every couple of months or so where I post some email feedback I’ve received about certain tricks/techniques.

As you can probably piece together due to the fact that I run the site anonymously, I’m not someone who requires much praise. I’m facetiously calling this series “Horn Tootin’,” but the purpose is not to try and beat into your head how special I am.

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I’m posting it because I’m hoping it will cause you to go back to something you overlooked or forgot about and inspire you to get out and perform some more.

I’m not going to dip too far back into the email archives, so don’t feel like your words didn’t resonate with me if I don’t post your email. This is just something I thought about doing in the last few weeks and these are some of the emails that came in during that time….

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Yento blew the doors off with my kids and family, and is something they'll be talking about for a long time.  It's also started some threads that will persist when it comes to the weird secret society of magicians that works in the background that will pay off down the line, so that's fun. -- MJ

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I recently decided to try "Memphis" from the JAMM 11 with one of my co-workers. [...] Anyway, later that weekend I got a picture of two people holding the same card and the message "IT FREAKIN' WORKED!  CALL ME NOW!".  I texted back how awesome it was that it worked and that I'd call her the next day and get her feedback (I had set up part of the presentation as something really difficult I was trying in an effort to complete a particularly tricky WWS assignment).  Here was her response:

“Sounds good!  I did it with some family friends too and they loved it.  Awesome way to spend time together!” -- JR

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“A Very Unusual Camera” from JV1 is an effect I’ve been wanting to do for a long time now. It took me a few read throughs of the effect just to really understand it. Initially it seemed like the most complicated trick I’d ever read, but I finally had the chance to perform it this weekend and the way it came across in performance is actually so simple and powerful. […] One of the people in the group I performed for knew some magic and he was convinced someone else must have been in on it or some app was involved. — P.H.

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One more data point for you and your emphasis of presentation over impossibility. I’ve performed Paul Harris’s Perfectionist trick for years. I can say for sure my wife has seen me perform it for other people at least three times in the past. Recently though I performed it with your “gypsy curse” presentation and she has become completely taken with the trick and has asked me to perform it a number of times at different gatherings since. I said to her a few days ago after another performance, “You realize I’ve been doing that trick for years and you saw it multiple times in the past, don’t you?” But she is 100% convinced she hadn’t.

I can’t say I was in agreement with most of the stuff I read on your site initially, but the more things I try out, the more of a convert I’m becoming. —D.A.

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[…] For instance I was able to present Yento to my daughter after I got back from a business trip to Japan. I told her I had been going in small shops in Tokyo and found this small shop of mysteries down a narrow alley where they were selling sealed "Secret Boxes". When I mixed it in with the other souvenirs I got for the family it was a big hit. It wasn't me doing a magic trick, it was a piece of magic from a far off place! -- JC

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I reconnected with a close friend this weekend, having made the trip out to a small gathering for his birthday. His girlfriend, who in the time I've known them has seen no shortage of my old repertoire, spent most of the first hour asking me to "show everyone a trick." I eventually pulled her aside with the "show you something I'm working on," and went into A Firm Background in Remembering. [From The JAMM #2] This was my first time performing something you've written about, and it sincerely was a unique and remarkable experience. I certainly wasn't prepared for either the magnitude or nature of the reaction she presented at the end. It was wild dude. I was able to offer her something that was inherently so distant from being “here's a trick that you won't be able to figure out,” and it was fantastic. So thank you for that, and looking forward to always having this in my pocket from now on.  — J.K.

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Re: TweAK 47

Just read this from 2016. Using a "fake miss" as an equivocal technique is downright brilliant. -NS

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My girlfriend, who is well aware of equivoque, was floored by the built-in effect in volume one. [The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style effect demonstrating 3rd Wave Equivoque from The Jerx, Volume One.] — H.K.

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I also wanted to share a couple highlights of my year that were based upon discovering your blog this past September. First, was on Halloween with my wife and kids ages 7 and 3. I had just finished tiling a room, so it was empty. I explained that some invisible creature had eaten my sandwich and we should try to communicate with it. So we spent the afternoon devising a summoning circle with chalk, candle, rocks, water, etc. It was a fun family arts and crafts project. We lit the candles, the kids would place things in the circle. and things started happening.  A face up/face down deck reordered itself and separated by colors, showing that this was spirit of order. Blank slips of paper folded up with pencil lead wrote messages in answers to questions (with the spirit making verbal jabs at me personally). It culminated with coins and paper clips wrapped in tissue paper transforming in a flash to medallions to help protect against bad dreams if hung above the bed. Obviously, being kids, the medallions were lost within a week, but they still talk about the "House Spirit" months later.

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Yes that is underwear on his head.

The second was a Christmas present for my wife. It used your idea for the Konami Code. I had our two children in different outfits and locations around town, pointing in various directions. I thought my wife would find it cute, but it was actually a very emotional effect. Having so many pictures of people you love doing something special for you is an intense experience, regardless of any magic component. The Konami Code itself allows the magician to take the back seat and not step on the moment, since everything happens in the participant's hands and is derived from their actions. Your performance adds the emotional personal component, the meaningfulness. The reveal photo was one of the three of us, arms outstretched, taken in the same location as she performed the code. So at the reveal we could strike the same pose as the photo. Much better response than the smart watch I also got her. — B.O.

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Why There Isn't A Jerx Message Board

Once every week or so I get an email from someone suggesting I create a message board where people can discuss the things I write about here. There are a bunch of reasons why this will never happen. Here are a few…

1. I’m not so narcissistic that I think, “You know what the world needs? A place for everyone to come together and discuss me and my ideas!” Now, I obviously see something of value in these ideas or I wouldn’t publish them in the first place. But this attitude: “Here’s a blog about my journey and my thoughts and maybe some of it might resonate with you,” is something that feels normal to me. The attitude of, “Here’s some pearls of wisdom, for you all to discuss on the message boards,” doesn’t.

2. I have no desire to oversee a message board or even a Facebook page. That seems like such an unsatisfying way to spend my time. And it ages you. You’ve seen the pics of Steve Brooks before he started the Magic Cafe, right?

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3. The audience for this site is too small to support a lively online community.

4. I’m not interested in hearing every dumb idea you have in regards to something I write. I am interested in the good ideas you have or the strong feelings one way or the other. Requiring you to email me to share your feedback is enough of an obstacle that it filters out the minor praise or disagreements and instead usually leads to people writing who have something they feel is particularly valuable.

5. This site would end up being more reactive. It would just be a bunch of posts like, “Hey, over on the message board some people were wondering if [blah, blah, blah].” And then I’d be reiterating stuff from the message board because I don’t know if you’re following the threads over there. So now I’m spending time trying to keep everyone on the same page. And for the people who are on the message board, now I’m just repeating stuff they already heard and there are just too many different pathways people are on. With this site, there are just two tracks. If you like the site, maybe you come here every day or once a week and catch up on everything. The second track, for people who find they really get some value from the site, is that they sign up to be a supporter and they get all that additional content. That’s enough. You don’t need to feel like there are other conversations going on that you’re not keeping up with and are potentially missing out on.

6. And honestly, I don’t feel like people need another excuse to talk about magic, rather than be out there performing it. If your goal is to give people fun/affecting moments via magic, then talking about it online isn’t helping you. In fact, talking about it is probably demotivating.

I value the internet as a reference and I think it has sped up the “science” behind magic so much, to the degree that we’re getting advancements in methodologies at an incredible rate. However I think it’s probably been a detriment when it comes to just enjoying the moment with another person through magic. (Or through anything, for that matter. ) The advancements in using magic as a social engagement are only going to come from people out performing it in the real world, not chit-chatting online like a bunch of old biddies.

So those are the reasons why there won’t be a Jerx message board.

Now, there is one element of a message board that I think would help with the goal of getting people out and performing more that is missing from this site, and that’s something I hope to address in a new series, the first installment of which will appear tomorrow.

Earn the Elements

“I want you to write down the initials of the person who was your first kiss.”

I’ve been seeing this a lot in mentalism routines lately (or some variation: first crush, first boyfriend). It makes sense because it’s a subject that has strong ties to the “emotional elements” as I’ve been talking about this week. So you would think I’d be all for this sort of thing. And I am. But the problem is, it’s almost always used devoid of any other context.

Imagine this… You operate a train yard. You’ve been having a problem with some assholes coming in and tagging some vile shit on the outside of the train cars.

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I sell a product that easily removes the paint and protects the surface so that it can’t be painted on again. I come to visit you to demonstrate my product. We walk out to one of the train cars and I hand you a can of spray paint. “I’ll show you how it works. Here… I want you to spray paint the initials of your first kiss on the side of this car.” Why would I do that? If I’m demonstrating my paint cleaning product, why does it matter what you paint on the car?

Ok, we get that. Now, following that logic, if I’m demonstrating my mind reading abilities, why does it matter what you’re thinking of?

Well… because… you know, a first kiss is an important moment… so that’s ingrained in someone’s memory… so that would make it easier to read that information from their mind.

Ok., great… just fucking say that then!

But it’s implied.

Maybe. But why leave it that way? If you fully explore why you’re asking for a specific piece of information, that can turn out to be the most interesting part of the presentation. In fact, that can be the presentation.

For example…

“Think of a random four digit number and I’ll read your mind.”

That would be impressive, but because it’s kind of generic, it’s likely not going to stick with an audience in the long term.

“Think of the passcode to your phone and I’ll read your mind.”

Better. This has some stakes to it. But why the passcode to their phone as opposed to just a four digit number? Is it just because it has some stakes to it? If that’s really the only reason it may seem unearned. But if we further explore why the passcode as opposed to a random set of four digits, we might steer ourselves into something more interesting.

“Think of the passcode to your phone and I’ll read your mind.

“You’d think a phone passcode or an ATM pin number or something like that would be the hardest thing to guess because it’s something we put effort in to keeping secret. But actually the act of trying to keep things secret is what creates physical, emotional and psychic clues to information.

“Think of if this way… If you’re cheating on your wife, she may find out about it because of the actions you take to keep it a secret. Maybe your behavior or your attitude changes; you become overly complimentary and generous towards her. Maybe she finds one of those secret text apps on your phone. Maybe you’ve been showering at the hotel after your mid-day encounters and you smell different when you come home. Or whatever. It could be any number of things. But it’s evidence that exists because you were trying to keep something secret.

“On the other hand, think about something you weren’t trying to keep secret. Say… what you had for lunch on the fifth of February. This is something you haven’t been trying to hide, so there are no residual clues from your deception. And therefore it would likely be very difficult for someone to learn that information.

“This happens on the level of the mind as well. The information we’ve spent much of our life guarding becomes some of the easiest information for others to discern because we leave clues .”

That’s written as a soliloquy, but you can imagine how it could easily be a conversation. And not only is it more interesting, conceptually, for someone to think about than a similar trick with no rationale, but it also naturally leads to some other demonstrations if you follow the logic presented in it. (A three-part routine based on this idea will be included in the next book.)

Now, if you’re performing trade show magic, then maybe you don’t have time for a multi-paragraph explanation for why you’re asking for the information you’re asking for. but you can certainly come up with a couple of lines to give things more context. (And if you’re a social magician, then there are a lot of benefits to not interacting with your friends/family the same way a magician would interact with a stranger at a trade-show. )

So we’ve gone from reading their mind of a random four digit number to reading their mind of their phone passcode to providing a much richer explanation of the how and why behind that effect. Each step taken expands the trick

Don’t want to stop there? Okay, here’s a final “emotional element” you can add to a phone passcode reveal. You have to know the person you’re performing for pretty well, and you have to not be considered a creep, generally. Before you start the trick you tell the person to go to the bathroom and take a picture of their dick or tits. That’s it. No, you don’t do this for grandma’s pastor. You do it for people you know who aren’t going to get all shocked and appalled with magic that deals with some mild sexiness. Don’t force someone to do this, of course. With the type of people I hang out with I have multiple options if I ask someone in a social situation to go do this.

It’s not 100% gratuitous (only, like, 85%). I tell them that I’ll read their mind and figure out their passcode. The recent nude in their camera roll is an extra pressure point for them to not want me to gain that access. And—as I explain in the presentation above—that increased pressure to keep the information a secret is what I’ll use to discover their “psychic weakspots” or whatever.

With the right person, or the right crowd, this is wonderfully entertaining. Certainly more so than an identical trick where you discern a random four digit number.

If you don’t know if you’re with the right person or the right crowd, or you don’t know if you’re the sort of person to pull off this kind of interaction, then you’re not. Don’t try it.