Dear Jerxy: What's Your Origin Story?

Dear Jerxy: I'm curious how you got into magic in the first place. Your approach seems a little different than the norm. Is there another magician who inspired your way of performing/thinking about magic? Thanks!

Writing Your Biography in Wolverhampton

Dear Writing:

This is going to be an underwhelming answer, I'm sure. No, there isn't really another magician who has inspired my point of view. 

The story of how people get into magic is almost universally dull. "Well, I was 8-years old," they'll say, "and I got a magic set for Christmas." Ooooohhhh... okay. Well, that explains it. 

Yes, I had a magic set when I was young. I also had fucking Perfection. But that didn't make me spend the rest of my life shoving little shapes into similarly shaped depressions. (Oh dear god, I just found the explanation for my sex addiction.)

Everyone had a magic set, just like everyone had legos, and everyone had a nerf football. I think when we ask, "How did you get into magic?" what we're asking is what was it about magic that captured you as a young boy or girl. Possession of a magic set doesn't really answer the question. Millions of kids have magic sets, so using that to explain your interest in magic is like if I said, "What got you into carpentry?" and you said, "My dad owned a hammer."

What got me into magic is that I was a genuine, Dennis the Menace style, little troublemaking kid.

When I was 7, my friend's dad taught me how to vanish a cigarette. I carried this information with me and would use it from time to time when I could snag someone's cigarette, but it wasn't some big life-changing moment for me. Cut to next Halloween and I've dumped my candy all over the floor and I'm doing the cigarette vanish with a roll of Smarties (the American version -- chalky candy in a cigarette size roll). Now it's the next summer, and I'm a candy-hungry, rambunctious 8-year old, with no money, walking around the little convenience store on the edge of my neighborhood. I looked at the container of Smarties and thought, "What if instead of vanishing the Smarties completely, I did the 'vanish' but then pretended to place them back in with the rest of the candy?" And thus began my notorious weeks-long career as The Cylindrical Three-Inch-Long Candy Bandit. 

The cigarette vanish was only good for a few things, so I knew I had to expand my repertoire if I wanted to work my way up to some Bonkers or a Zagnut bar. So I Dewey Decimal'd my way over to the magic section at my public library and found The Amateur Magician's Handbook by Henry Hay. When I cracked open the book I fell in love with the art of magic. No, I'm just kidding, I just saw a whole bunch of more ways to shoplift. I even imagined myself as an adult, walking into a jewelry store, asking to see their most expensive diamond ring, doing a DeManche change for an identical but worthless ring, and then walking out. That would just be how I would make a living, I figured. Stealing million dollar rings with "amateur" sleight-of-hand.

My life of crime was not meant to be, however. You see, I lived in a neighborhood that was teeming with kids. It is one of the things I am most grateful for in my life, to have been born in a middle-class suburban neighborhood full of young families in a time before video games and computers had really taken hold in the culture. My entire youth was endless games of street football, basketball, tag, hide and go seek, snow forts, elaborate Star Wars and GI Joe battles, go-kart races, and dirt clod wars on the site of new housing construction. And it was at the end of one of these long, sticky, summer days, when a bunch of us were strewn out on someone's front yard, under the stars, that I taught about a dozen guys how to steal candy (or, as you would think of it, the basics of sleight of hand). This, as it turns out, was a mistake. You see, one thief in town can slip by unnoticed, but a dozen? Well, it turns out that the guy who owned the convenience store was catching on to a seemingly peculiar fad that had popped up amongst 7-11 year old boys in the waning weeks of that summer. Kids would come in, pick up some candy, transfer it to their other hand, and put it back with the rest. Then they'd shove their hands in their pockets and leave. A parade of kids all with some burning desire to pick up candy and take a look at it for a moment before heading out. Then one day we showed up to the store and there was a big sign, "No Unaccompanied Minors." And thus ended our mini-Ocean's 11 heist team. Which is just as well, as my budding conscience would have prevented me from ripping people off soon anyway.

But that is where the sleight-of-hand seed was planted and I always found myself coming back to that section of the library to check out the magic books. I didn't perform much but I was always fascinated with things that weren't what they seemed so I read a lot about magic, con men, pranks, hoaxes, and anything like that. 

I do sometimes wonder if it was my unusual introduction to magic that caused me to approach it in what feels like a different way from they typical perspective. But I don't think that's it. When I watch some of these live lectures I often hear people say that what got them into magic is that they were "painfully shy" or they weren't good in social situations and that magic was a tool for them to get to know people or interact with them. I get that, but that was never the case for me. I've always been completely at ease around people. I was the funny kid, I was smart, played lacrosse and rugby for my high school, but I was also involved with the "nerdy" extracurriculars like marching band and theater. So I had friends across the social strata. And I connect well with people naturally. So for me to say, "Can I show you a trick?" that wasn't a way to connect with people, in fact it usually just got in the way of the interaction we had already established. So I learned early on that anything that was about me or my skill was less interesting to those people than just hanging out with them like a normal human being. And if I wanted to do magic that built on our interaction, I needed to make the centerpiece them, or the moment, or the experience. It took me 20 years to figure out ways to consistently do that and this site is, in part, an exploration of that process.

Here's the thing, a lot of you who got into magic as a social crutch no longer need it as one, yet you continue to perform in the same style you did when you first started. A style that is meant to be about you and your incredible abilities. A style that is alright when you're the quiet or socially awkward kid because it pulls you out of your shell. But if you've evolved past that stage in your life, then performing in that same style will keep you from developing further in that area. The leg braces that once helped you walk will also be the things that keep you from running.