I’ve already written an article on Here is Real Magic and who Nate Staniforth is. In a sentence, this is a book that should be read by anyone who is running their own business or is a creative.
Every child has the experience of looking up at the adults of the world and wondering What happened to you? You were my age once. What did you lose between there and here?
If there is such a thing as real, actual magic in this world, surely this is how it works-us, here, creating it for one another.
I read everything I could about Houdini. At some point I acquired a highlighter and, with a dim understanding that its purpose was to mark important passages so I could come back to them later for further study, highlighted an entire biography. When I was done, the whole book was yellow. Every word. It was all important to me.
A good magician works with ideas more than props or tricks, and to communicate ideas you need to know how to use words. I watched Churchill, MLK,JFK, and Reagan, over and over, memorizing their speeches.
Churchill was a master. He preferred short, powerful words because they hit with more force thooan longer ones, and he fired them out at his opponents like cannonballs. I loved the Churchill speeches.
A filmmaker isn’t using special effects to deceive an audience-they’re not the purpose of the film but rather one of many little tools available to help bring the audience into another world in order to tell them something about this one. This is the key. A film can show you the most extraordinary, impossible occurrences and make them look absolutely real, but unless these impossibilities are used in the service of story that can tell us something about ourselves and the plight of the human being in our own world; it’s a bad movie.
Do you want to be a great magician? Anyone can do it. All it takes is your life, your waking, breathing, hoping, hurting, day-in, day-out life.
The antipathy and resentment felt towards magicians is not just because magicians are ridiculous. Sometimes we are, but our society is filled with ridiculous people doing ridiculous things. It doesn’t come just from the hype, the bombast, the over the top showmanship so often associated with the magician’s craft. Hype and bombast are all around us. Look at the music industry. Or reality TV. The anger and I do believe it is anger-toward the modern magician comes from the way even a simple magic trick done well can reach uninvited into the deepest hopes of a person. Sometimes this can be an uncomfortable reminder. People have hard lives, and something like magic that promises a moment of real joy or even a new way of seeing the world threatens to unseat whatever insulation they have managed to erect between themselves and that hardness, whether it’s cynicism, nihilism, escapism, or elitism. The cultural resentment towards magic comes from the sadness found in the space between the universal longing to believe in magic and the overwhelming evidence all around us that there is no such thing. It’s not that a modern audience doesn’t want magic. It’s that they want it so badly but have already decided it’s not there, and dislike being told that maybe they were looking in the wrong place.
Many people can relate to the disillusionment that comes from discovering the grinding day to day reality behind the alluring veneer of a job you’ve always wanted, but this loss carries a special meaning for magicians. A lawyer or a nurse may discover one day that the spark has gone and work that once felt challenging and rewarding has somehow turned to drudgery, but for the magician this is the very heart of the profession that is lost. No one becomes a magician for practical reasons. We get into magic because we love that rush of astonishment and wonder, and when that goes, nothing remains.
Do you want to know the real secret to becoming a great magician? It’s very simple. You just have to care about it more than anyone else would ever consider possible.
When you’re amazed by something, part of that experience is the rapid realization that your previous understanding of existence was too limited to accommodate this new thing you’ve just seen. This could be as mild as witnessing a display of extraordinary skill-say, a Youtube video of a mountain biker racing down an implausibly narrow ridge, deftly maneuvering the bike over the trail with thousand foot sheer drops inches away on either side-and having to suddenly expand your assumptions about human bravery and physical ability. It could be as large as looking up into the depths of the Milky Way one night and realizing with awe and regret that somewhere along the way your working awareness of the universe had shrunk to fit the parameters of your everyday life, that you had inflated the importance of small concerns and ignored your connection to the wider world around you. Big or small, these jolts of expanding awareness are a fundamental component of the experience of wonder. Magic tricks are very good at facilitating these moments. But there’s also an ethical consideration. If your view of reality already allows for the possibility of vanishing coins, or thoughts travelling from one mind to another by magic, or demonic spirits helping the magician to perform miracles, then a magic trick doesn’t expand your view of reality but instead just reinforces it. If you believe in ghosts, and I do a magic trick where you actually feel that you have seen a ghost, I’m not amazing you so much as confirming what you already believe. You might be surprised-surly most people who believe in ghosts have never actually seen one-but I’m really just giving you evidence in support of your convictions. If I don’t share your convictions or am in a position to benefit from them whether or not they’re true, suddenly I’m treading pretty thin ethical ice. A magic trick that feels real and forces you to consider the boundaries of your own certainty is a good thing. But if I convince you to believe a magic trick is real and then encourage you to come to me for spiritual guidance, the ice melts entirely.
Your mind focuses sharply on the immediate-here, now- and for a moment it’s impossible to think of anything else. This is worth remembering. On tour, and in life in general, distraction is the rule rather than the exception.
I’m always doing one thing, thinking about another, and ignoring a long list of other projects, people, ideas, responsibilities, and obligations that need my attention. At home my mind is fractured, divided, running a few different problems at once, and when I do lock in and focus on one thing, it’s not long before I begin to worry that I really should be attending to something else. This makes it almost impossible to really see anything. There’s no time. And if there were time, it would come at the expense of something else who also needs that time.
I had been trying for years to identify exactly why so much of the magic in my culture disappointed me, including my own. The real issue is that so often, magic doesn’t feel true. It doesn’t make you say “Aha! Yes! I remember that! I knew that once.” Years ago I came across the idea that truly great works of art instruct less than they remind. When you listen to Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind or walk through Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, or watch old videos of Micheal Jordan at the height of his powers, the experience is not one of discovering something new but rediscovering something old within yourself. These pieces of art and feats of athleticism are bigger than the artists’ personal experience. They resonate on a universal human level, and we find in them pieces of our own selves that we may have forgotten in the daily business of living.
Life in the world is hard. For some more than others, but for all of us more than we admit, and we deploy different strategies to protect ourselves from this hardness. We make our world smaller so we can control it. We make our world simpler so we can understand it. And we reduce ourselves to this diminished scale so we don’t accidentally stray outside this fictionalized world and see the danger-but also the majesty-lurking just beyond the borders of our certainty. The result is a world and a life largely free from surprise and uncertainty, but also free from seeing things the way they really are. This, at least, is how it is for me. But the danger is that over time we come to see this pale, anemic version of life as the real thing. We feel the weight of the world but not the wonder, and in time we resign ourselves to one and forget the other. Once in a while, we remember. Once in a while something happens-and I have become convinced that it absolutely does not matter what-and we see the cracks in our convictions, and through them a silver of that larger, wider world outside the one we have constructed. The vision we see there either assaults our sense of control and sovereignty and drives us cowering backward to the world of our making, or it exposes that world for the illusion it really is and invites us upward and onward toward the real thing. So if your goal is to bring wonder back into your ordinary daily life, start by recognizing that it’s not ordinary if you don’t want it to be, that it never has been ordinary even if you do want it to be, and that the whole world waits for you to open your eyes and look around you and really see it. But knowing this theoretically and feeling the vitality of it in your bones are two very different things. Everyone is different, and what strikes one person as awesome and wonderful can be obvious and dull for someone else-magicians learn this very early, unfortunately-so consider the following nothing more than a set of starting points that have been useful for me.
There is a fundamental link between wonder and humility. Many of the places people often find wonder-thunderstorms, oceans, the night sky-are also described as “humbling,” and though this word has come to have negative connotation, it shouldn’t. Recognizing that we are very small is nothing more than acknowledging the obvious, and any attempt at posturing or pretending we are not is just another part of that fictional, self-created world we’re trying so hard to take down.
I think you have to grow up twice. The first time happens automatically. Everyone passes from childhood to adulthood, and this transition is marked as much by the moment when the weight of the world overshadows the wonder of the world as it is by the passage of years. Usually you don’t get to choose when it happens. But if this triumph of weight over wonder marks the first passage into adulthood, the second is a rediscovery of that wonder despite sickness, evil, fear, sadness, suffering-despite everything. And this second passage doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a choice, not an inevitability. It’s something you have to deliberately go out to find, and value, and protect. And you can’t just do it once and keep it forever. You have to keep looking.