Practical Magic Week Part 2: Three Analogies

Imagine you met someone who was into LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) and he was saying to you, "I'm a 12th level mage and so I only dine on elf meat and I turn invisible at 2am and 2pm or whenever I encounter a princess. My dragon's name is Vincent and we live on the Isle of Valderloo where there has been a fairy uprising for the past 1600 years."

Now imagine you meet someone who is into LARPing and instead he talks to you about trying to track down some period-appropriate buttons for his jacket on ebay, and how there was this big argument at the last gathering because some people wanted a gluten-free menu and others were up in arms that they wouldn't have had such a thing in the Middle Ages, and how at the last weekend-long gathering the two rival kings were caught having sex in a sleeping bag, or whatever. 

In the first scenario you may find it interesting to hear about this fictional life, but you won't connect with that person on any level (unless you're a fellow LARPer) because it's all fantasy. He's not giving you anything to relate to. In the second scenario you can connect with this person because he's expressing his love for this hobby in a manner that allows you to draw correlations to things in your life. 

I mentioned yesterday about breaking down the barriers between you and your audience. Try to put things in a context they understand. Not by anthropomorphizing your props, like you would with a child. But by giving them insights into this notoriously clandestine hobby. You might think that will "break the spell" in some way. But it doesn't. What breaks the spell is saying, "This is the most powerful ace and all the other aces follow it." That's pure fantasy. And worse, it's dull and boring fantasy. I mean at least with the LARPer there was a fairy uprising. By giving people ways to help understand magic and ways to understand you, you are giving them ways to connect to the experience. And I've found that this makes the actual magic effects you do more powerful, because it's harder for them to dismiss the whole thing as weird, or childish, or un-understandable. 

Here are three analogies I've used in the past which help to give insight into magic as a performing art, or justify a process, or explain the limits of your "powers."

1. "Do you come up with these tricks yourself?" 

I would not be surprised if this is a common analogy to use. But I haven't personally read it before and I think it really helps people understand a little about where tricks come from and what your role is in the process.

When someone asks, "Do you come up with these tricks yourself?" 

My answer is, "A lot of them I do, yes. And some of them are like my versions of effects that have been around for years. There can be many different ways of accomplishing the same effects. Some magicians specialize in messing with what your brain processes, some in messing with what your eyes see,  and some in messing with what your mind remembers. So there can be all sorts of ways to achieve the same effect. Think of it like recipes. There are 1000 different recipes for chicken parmesan. A real chef is probably going to have her own particular recipe for that dish. And a truly great chef will have a lot of recipes for things no one else have even thought to create. It's kind of like that in magic too. I would say about half of the things I do are unique to me. 45% are my version -- my recipe -- for an already established effect. And then 5% of those things are just me doing another person's trick. You can be a great chef, but there are times where you come across a perfect recipe and don't want to change a thing. Here, let me show you one of those perfect effects now..."

2.  "If you can read minds, how come you didn't know I put my testicles in your milk?"

I don't do too much traditional mindreading these days. Or effects where I'm picking up body language hints or something like that. But in the past when I did I could sometimes sense a strange energy at the end. If you're performing for friends, family, co-workers, or anyone you might see again in real life, they're often left with one of two thoughts:

"Who the fuck is he kidding. I know he can't read minds."


"Can he really do this? I don't want him constantly analyzing me."

Here is an analogy I use to address both situations i.e., those who know I can't read minds or those who are concerned I might be able to. So if someone says, "If you can read minds, how come you didn't know I put my testicles in your milk?" Or if they say, "So are you just always analyzing everything someone says and trying to look into their minds?"

I say, "That's not really how it works. It's not just something you can do all the time. It's something you have to focus your mind to do. Like, try this, I want you to pay attention to how many Ts are in the words in the following sentence. Ready? [Slowly] 'I went to the store and got some toothpaste." Any idea? Six? No it was eight. Reading minds is like tallying the letters when someone speaks. Except not just the Ts, but every letter. It's something you can train yourself to do, but it's so mentally taxing that it's just not something you would go around doing unnecessarily. So don't worry, your thoughts are safe." (Or, "So yeah, I didn't know you put your testicles in my milk. I'm not always 'on.'"

3. "If you're reading my mind, why do I have to write it down?"

This is a question a lot of mentalists worry about a lot. The concern about this question demonstrates a profound lack of creativity in the mentalism community. First a lack of creativity about coming up with rationalizations for writing something down. And second a lack of creativity with coming up with presentations that aren't such direct lines between method and effect. Yes, if you have someone write something down and then you immediately tear it up while kind of obviously looking at it, it's not much of a stretch to figure out that you just read what they wrote down. So much of mentalism is "You write it down, I secretly read it, then I write it down." That's a failure of structure. 

Regardless... if someone were to ask me why they needed to write something down one of the things I might say is, "Do you really want to get into it? It's kind of complicated. Okay, have you seen the studies on how writing something down increases the likelihood of you remembering it? Well, that's because when you write something down you need to link the spatial part of your brain -- the part that you use when making marks on paper -- to the verbal part of your brain. It's like when you take notes during class as opposed to just listening to the teacher. Anyway, it's the link between the spatial and verbal parts of your brain that I'm able to tune into."

"Oh, so it always has to be written down?" they might ask.

"No, not necessarily. It's just a more difficult process. We can try it without writing anything down. It helps if you can see the word in some form even if you don't write it down [then I'd go into a bulletproof version of the Hoy book test I do] or if you just want to think of something I could probably figure it out but it wouldn't come to me as a full word [progressive anagram]."

The beauty of this is that it not only clarifies an effect but it also justifies the process of it and the different processes of the follow-up effects.