Remembrance of Things Past

If you want, you guys can print this post out and I'll sign it sometime for you. Or you can just frame it and put it on your mantle or something. 

When I watch a magician perform, I never identify with the magician. I always identify with the spectator. This is, perhaps, the one uncommon thing I can bring in my analysis of and reflections on magic. I never think, "Oh, how embarrassing for the magician. He screwed up the trick." I think, "Oh, how embarrassing for that spectator. He has to be up there while the magician screws up the trick and then is sent back to his seat having participated in, essentially, a waste of everyone's time." I am, by nature, audience-centric.

Because of this, one of the awkward moments I truly dislike in magic is when the performer gives the spectator some junky "souvenir" of the effect.

With that in mind, I want to talk today about the rules I use for myself in regards to souvenirs. You may get something from them even if you're not an amateur performer like me. I think these rules are good for anyone who performs in situations where people have not specifically come and paid money to see them perform. If you're David Copperfield you can give someone a signed card, or give a groupie a spent rubber, and say, "Here's something to remember me by," and that's fine. 

But if they don't know you and didn't know they were going to be seeing magic, it's a little presumptive to say, "Here, keep this card you signed as a souvenir." Especially given the fact that a lot of magicians aren't doing anything most people care to remember. 

I almost never say to someone, "Here, you can keep this as a souvenir." As an amateur magician it violates the rules I lay out in AATKT. It too strongly suggests that what occurred was a performance (one that can be repeated whenever I like). 

I will often give people something at the end of an effect, but it has to fall into one of these three categories (usually a combination of them). 

Valuable: If I produce a gift for someone, obviously I'll give it to them to keep. I don't really think of these as souvenirs, of course. They're just the product of some magical procedure.

Personal: By this I mean something uniquely personal that was not done by them. In other words, a card that they signed and drew a picture on wouldn't qualify. Do people keep their signed ambitious card forever? Yes, some people do. And they'll have that opportunity. But that's not the type of thing I would tell someone to keep as a souvenir. By personal, I mean something that was created for them and is unique to them. I can't really think of examples in traditional magic tricks, but I have a number of tricks I do that you'll read about here that fall into this category. With these types of "souvenirs" you don't have to suggest people take them. They want them.

Unusual: This includes "magical" souvenirs like Paul Harris' Twilight Angels. It could also just be something that you don't see everyday, like a funkily shaped rubber band, or a complicated bit of origami. "Yes," you say, "but a signed card is also unusual." True, but apply these rules to decide if what you have is unusual enough to be souvenir worthy. 1: Could you go and recreate it with a couple bucks and 15 minutes in a Walmart? If so, it's not a good souvenir.  2. Is it something that would be interesting if it hadn't been part of a magic trick? A bent coin, a ripped card, a post-it with a drawing of a tree on it are all things you don't see every day, but not "unusual" in a sense that makes them inherently souvenir worthy.

Of course, people do keep signed cards and bent coins and post-it notes after I perform. But it means something because I let them decide it's something important to them. I just leave those things in their vicinity after the trick and they snatch them for themselves.

It's like this... Imagine you went out for a great meal at an amazing restaurant. At the end the waiter says, "And you can keep one of those cocktail napkins as a souvenir of your time here." Some people would enjoy that, but those are the people who would already take a cocktail napkin as a souvenir in the first place. For others it's just an awkward exchange where they're like, "Oh, uh, no thanks." Or they take a napkin knowing they'll be throwing it out later.

For some people, the trick is all that matters. And you trying to hawk the detritus from the trick as something to hang onto is just weird. It would be like seeing a ballet and saying, "I need a piece of the dance floor."

Sometimes people don't know they can keep something. In that case, after the effect is over I'll push the item towards them. If they don't pocket it I may say something later like, "Where is your trash?" At that point they'll often stop me. "You're going to throw that out? Wait...Can I keep it?" And sometimes they're like, "Oh, the trash is over there." That doesn't mean they saw the trick or the experience as disposable, it just means they don't care to keep something that may technically just be garbage. If it's not "valuable," "personal," or "unusual," it almost certainly is garbage. A lot of people wouldn't think to hold onto something like that. A bent coin isn't amazing. Having a coin bend in front of your eyes, or in your hand is amazing. That's how some people feel. I'm like that myself. The memory is the valuable thing.

One language thing I'll recommend. Don't use the word souvenir. This may just be an English thing, even just an American English thing—it may even be just a "me" thing—but "souvenir" suggests something you get at the ballpark or at a show. A big foam finger. Or a souvenir t-shirt. Something you pay for. Instead, if I'm going to label the thing, I'd say it's a memento.

I don't work professional situaions, but if I did—tablehopping or walkaround—I would leave the object at the table or in the person's hand, but I wouldn't make any mention of it. If it's meaningful to them, they keep it. If not it gets tossed out. This has to be better than the alternative of using some kind of social pressure for them to keep something that feels like garbage to them. 

Ultimately, my rule is to let THEM decide what's a keepsake and what's trash. This is kind of a life philosophy for me. It's certainly my philosophy with magic, in general. If I have something to give, I don't want to push it on people. Let them want it and come for it.