Get New Friends

One of the nicest things anyone can say about this site is when they ask if I really perform in the manner I suggest here. "Are these write-ups of actual things you've performed? Or are these, like, allegories or something?"

This is like doing a freestyle rap battle and afterwards someone says, "There's no way you made that up on the spot. You must have pre-written that." Or beating someone so bad at Trivial Pursuit they question whether you memorized the cards. 

If someone finds the effects and presentations I describe here to be unbelievable, I'm flattered by that. I take it as a compliment. No one reads a Cameron Francis ebook and says, "Hmmm... I wonder if he really performs this way." Because it seems perfectly reasonable that one might. 

As I wrote in the "So You're New Here" post:

Do you really do these grand, drawn-out presentations? Don't you ever just do a normal quick trick?

Yes, I really do the presentations I write up. And yes, I do a ton of normal tricks too. But I don't have much to say about those types of presentations so there's really no need for me write about them.

Unless I specifically say, "I haven't performed this," then I have performed it. I may combine multiple performances into one retelling, and I certainly clean up my presentation which is even more rambling and free-flowing than suggested here, but other than that, it's a pretty fair representation of what occurred.

Yes, I perform this way quite regularly. I would say once a week I perform something more involved than the typical trick, and I always like to have at least one little scam on the horizon. If I just had a wife and two close friends I performed for, then I agree, that would be a pretty overwhelming amount of intense effects to make them sit through. But I have a fairly broad social circle and travel a lot meeting new people. Even close friends who I see regularly will have, at most, a dozen "moments" with me throughout the year that involve magic. And only one or two will be long-form tantric magic.

Now, the only reason I'm getting into this is because if this site appeals to you, I don't want you to dismiss it as some sort of inspirational literature. These aren't intended to be thought experiments. I'm saying this is a genuine lifestyle choice you can make. To use magic in a more intimate way for the benefit of the people you spend time with. If you're a funny person then you know the experience of meeting up with someone and having them express gratitude that they get to be around someone who makes them laugh. I enjoy being one of the funny people in my friend's lives. And now, in recent years, I enjoy being someone who can bring a wholly different type of experience to people. 

I think most of the people who question this sort of style are really questioning their own ability to have someone engage with them one-on-one while a trick plays out over more than a few minutes. If all you're familiar with is performing heavily scripted tricks with hacky jokes for an indifferent audience, it's hard to believe that slowing things down and taking out the "bits of business" could make the experience richer and more interesting to people. But I've found it does, and I would not be surprised if there comes a point in the future where the notion of presenting magic in the "traditional" way in casual settings seems as bizarre as doing your stand-up comedy set in someone's living room. When you're interacting with people in real life, you're not an entertainer, this isn't show-biz, and it's alienating to have that dynamic when you perform. (Most of the mockery of magicians in pop-culture is directed at the off-putting "performer" attitude in non-performance situations.)

More traditional performance styles can feel like a lecture, or a demonstration. In an informal situation, presenting magic like that is like pulling out your dick and just talking about it. "This is the shaft. And these are my balls. I have two. As you can see, my dick is really long. But it's also very hard too. That's important. Now I'd like to measure its volume via a water displacement test." And you're just showing them how wonderful your dick is. And their feeling is, "I wish he would just fuck me with that thing." If you're not on stage (literally or figuratively) people don't want a show, they want an experience.

Over the December break I got an email from S.Q. that said, in part:

Since I essentially live with my friends all the time, I perform a lot, and for the same people. However one thing that tends to happen is, just through the fact that I tend to perform the same tricks after a week or so of cycling through different ones, my friends will start to catch on to how I do some of them, or start to watch super closely and try to mess up the effect(this happens somewhat often).  I can't really blame them too much, and I don't think I'm putting off an attitude of being smarter/better than everyone (maybe I am, who knows), I think its just my friends are trying to fuck with me because they know they can.  I end up in a situation where people ask to see a trick, so I show them one, but they either say "I've seen this one already" or try to bust me.  Maybe this happened to you at college.  Do you have any advice you could share that would help me?  Or should I just get less asshole-y friends?

I don't want to address the bulk of the question, which I did in my response to him, I just want to address his final sentence and say, yes, I think it may be time for you to get new friends. And by that I mean the lot of you, not just the letter writer.

If you're unhappy with the dynamic in your magic performances for your friends, and you feel you're struggling against their disinterest or a kind of adversarial relationship where their only interest is in figuring things out, then you need to find new friends to perform for. 

I will tell you what happened from my experience with a similar issue. When I decided I wanted to stretch the boundaries of my magic presentations, I received two different types of responses. Some people were immediately on board and made the transition right along with me and were engrossed in a new kind of interaction. But there were many other people who just weren't into it and didn't get what I was going for. They were too ingrained in our previous relationship where I would half-heartedly goof around and show them a trick and they'd play the part of "audience" and either consume what happened and be done with it or try and figure it out. So when I'd try to do something more involved, they weren't feeling it. So I just stopped performing for these people and I found new friends to perform for. 

And with those new friends I could kind of slowly build up the idea that yes, I do magic tricks, but the way I do them they're going to be little interactive moments between us that require their input. They're mini-happenings that you take part in (not just watch). And it's much easier to establish that concept with a new friend than try and change an existing relationship between you, an old friend, and your old style of performance.

What eventually happened with me is that a lot of my older friends, who I had stopped performing for, would end up hearing a story second-hand about some trick I had performed. And second-hand, from a non-magician, many of these tricks sound completely unreal. And some of them would ask me why I didn't show them stuff anymore and I would be honest and say that I was trying some different sorts of tricks and I didn't get the sense it was the type of thing they'd be into. 

I wasn't trying to be manipulative. I didn't mean it like, "Oh, well I have these new friends and we sort of have a thing going on that I don't think you'd be into." That wasn't my intention, but I see how it could come off that way. And, unsurprisingly, a number of them wanted to be included and became open to a different kind of experience than they had been previously. So that just broadened the population of people who got something out of the style that was slowly evolving in my work.

So if your interaction with friends and magic has grown stale, I definitely recommend finding some new friends to perform for.

Similarly, I recommend finding some new friends within magic if you find your current situation unrewarding.

There's the saying that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. They say this is true in regards to your physicality and health, in regards to your finances, and in regards to your mindset and outlook. Heavy people don't spend all their time with 5 fit people. Motivated people don't surround themselves with unmotivated people. And so on. 

I think this is true in magic too. If you're spending time with people who only care about sleights and the inner workings of magic, it's going to be hard for you to evolve in your presentations. Similarly, if you really want to be the world's greatest gambling cheat, or an expert in magic history, then spending time with someone like me wouldn't help you in either of those pursuits. So try and surround yourself with people who are working in the direction you want to go.

My closest friends in magic are mostly unknown to other magicians, but they're the people I want to spend time with because we have similar goals in how we want to utilize magic. To a greater or lesser extent, most of us appreciate effects that require a more significant investment of time or energy on the performer and spectator's part. For us we've found that these types of effects produce more profound reactions, or at least more interesting reactions. 

My friend Andrew, who does most of the videos for this site and photography for the JAMM, has a phrase that I stole and use all the time. He says he has a "patience fetish." He likes things that take a long time to come together and that idea has had a big influence on the evolution of my style. 

I could write a book of the effects my friends have done, but for now I will share this one. Andrew hired our other friend (and JV1 illustrator, Stasia) to produce a custom deck of tarot cards for him, which she did over the course of a year. Fast forward to a later point in time. Andrew would often meet the girl he was dating at a coffee shop. This coffee shop had a bunch of games and decks of cards for people to amuse themselves with while they consumed their drinks. Andrew had taken to bringing the tarot deck with him in his bag, and planting it somewhere so he could pick it up as if it was just something that happened to be there. He did this two or three times. Perhaps the first time he just spread through them with his girlfriend, looking at the artwork. The next week maybe he did a tarot layout or a trick with them. I don't really know, I haven't heard that part of the story much.

A week or two later, they're in the coffee shop and he picks up the tarot deck. "I want to try something. It's an old gypsy procedure that's supposed to be really powerful and uncannily accurate at identifying a particular card that represents you. And knowing that card can supposedly be very helpful when it comes to navigating certain situations in life. Should we try it?"

So they go through a procedure where she is shuffling, counting and dealing through the cards based on freely chosen numbers that have a personal significance to her. At the end of all these free and random choices she is left with one card, The High Priestess. "I think that's supposed to be a pretty good one," he says. Then he looks up on his phone some more information about it. "Yeah, this is perfect for you. It's representative of wisdom and serenity." He goes on to list the positive attributes of the card and how they relate to her. She agrees it's a good card to have as the card that represents her and her future.

"There's one more thing we need to do. It's a final step where you become imbued with the card's essence and vice versa. It creates a permanent link." He places the card on the table face down and she lays her hand on top of it. "Now close your eyes and wish for anything for your future that you think would be possible if you fully possessed the traits indicated by that card. Don't tell me what it is."

She closes her eyes and makes a wish. 

"Done," she says.

As she takes back the card she notices something. The card has changed. Not to a different card—it's still the High Priestess—but the image has changed. Now the picture... is her. She freaks out. "It's me!" she says.

"Don't be ridiculous. Isn't that what it looked like before? Hmmm... it does kind of look like you.  It's got to be a coincidence, right?" Andrew says.

"She's wearing my scarf!" she squeals.

Time and effort. Yes, he commissioned a custom deck of tarot cards so he could one day commission a separate custom illustration of the girl he was dating by the same artist and seamlessly interweave the two. This is the sort of thing I love. In reality it was a convoluted card force involving a lot of dealing followed by a top change. He turned it into a tarot ritual with a very strange, semi-inspiring Twilight Zone finish.

Once you do these sorts of effects you'll no longer wonder if anyone really performs like this. You'll immediately recognize the pull to want to create these experiences for people. It's not selfless. You'll find how enjoyable it is for you to be the watchmaker setting the gears in motion and watching it all come together. 

And if you're lucky, you'll find five friends like I have in magic (Andrew, Andrew, Mark, Ben and Lana) whose average pushes you in the direction you want to go.

Of course, the difficulty is how you find these friends if you don't currently have them in your life.

Now, I can only speak from my perspective. But if your interests and performance philosophy are similar to mine, my one tip for finding other people—both as spectators and collaborators—who might be interested in this style of performance is to search for creators and not consumers. My job and lifestyle have brought me in contact with a lot of creative, active people and I find them to be, generally, very receptive. (It's also true that a lot of self-proclaimed "artists" are a nightmare to be around, but that's a separate issue.) If you want to broaden your social circle, look to things like local theaters, comedy scenes, filmmakers, open-mic nights, even groups that go out hiking or something like that. People engaged in creative or physical action. You don't have to be an actor or comedian yourself. You can work backstage, or just become known in that community by being a fan or supporter. I've found much higher interest in those types of groups for my style of performing than I have in something like a book club or movie group. Which, don't get me wrong, are great places to meet people as well. But in my experience it takes a little more effort to bring those people into your world for something unusual. Whereas in some place like a local theater or an improv class if you say something like, "You want to check out something a little weird?" It's immediately a reaction of, "Yes! What is it? Let's do this. Let's go!" 

So make new friends. New people to perform for, and perform with. Here... let's start easy. I'll be your friend. Now build from here.