Asking the Right Questions

Let's talk about something related to the magic community and the way we learn and study magic. Specifically I'd like to address something that happened when I put the following video online: 

It got a few thousand views in different places (YouTube, Facebook) and made its rounds in certain circuits on the Internet, which was very nice. About what I'd expect for a video like this. 
Then there's the response. I try to read every single comment. On forums, on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, in private messages, etc. When a video gets a lot of response I can't always keep up with the comments and read everything but I try, because I'm so curious about what people have to say about my work. Instant feedback from your audience can teach you a lot about what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong.

From the non-magic community, the response was mostly "how?! What the #%"! that's impossible!" and so on. 

From the magic community, however, the comments left were interesting, and I'm not sure I mean only in a good way. Some of the comments were just "Great job, that's a beautiful effect, can't wait for more" and the like, which I really appreciate and it's just so wonderful to hear.
But one type of comment seemed to show up much more frequently than others...

 

I got so many comments and messages that were extremely method-centered. I don't get why THAT is the one thing you take away from a performance when you see a magician perform? Especially being a magician yourself. If I saw someone do a piece of magic that had a profound effect on their spectator, I'd be inclined to say "Wow, that was really well done. Love your presence and performance style. Looks like you gave your audience an experience they'll remember for a long time!". Never in my wildest dreams would I make a comment on the method, or even have the audacity to ask for how it's done or take a guess at how it's done. I think it's so disgustingly rude and lazy that I had to dedicate an entire blog post to it. 

But of course this isn't new. It's a age old symptom in the magic world. One of many. I just think this is one of those things that isn't talked about enough, and maybe isn't taken seriously enough. 

I responded to a lot of these people, and basically I told them in private, the short version of what this blog post is about. About how it's a journey that we have to go on to discover this material. It's very hard to say that to someone and not come off as an asshole, but hopefully I gave people the right idea. Yes, I could just tell you, but you wouldn't really learn anything from it in the long run. I'm doing you a favor, you just don't know it yet. 

Michael Weber has a funny term for a typical symptom in the magic community, he dubs it "See-sickness". When magicians see someone doing a trick, specifically a trick that fools them and gets great reactions and with which they're not already familiar, they instantly feel compelled to go out and do the same thing themselves. They see something, and then they have to go do it themselves. 

I think the material we choose to perform is extremely personal. When I see a fellow magician perform, I'm aware of the fact that he has spent years of his life searching out old books and tracking down his heroes and mentors to learn material and gain knowledge and resources. His material is a result of who he is as a magician, things he's picked up here and there. Some might be commercially available, some might be in a book, some might be his own, but the blend of it and the way that it is performed is uniquely his or hers. 

The search for good material that suits you as as performer takes you on an amazing journey where you learn new things about magic and about yourself along the way, and it is my claim that you need that journey in order to be a proficient performer and to truly know your material. 

So with that in mind, does it now seem a little shitty and lazy to ask questions like "How'd you do that? Where did you find that? I wanna do that! I'm guessing you use smoke and mirrors to accomplish this!" when you see someone perform? I thought so. I think so too. 

So why do so many people feel entitled to know? Even if a trick fools you and you're not familiar with it.. Shouldn't that be the most wonderful thing in the world? Why wouldn't you just want to hold on to that? Being fooled and not knowing how something works is the most rewarding thing ever when you're pretty deep into magic and familiar with a lot of principles. 

I get that it's frustrating that someone else has a nice trick and you don't, and you want to do it, but at the same time, remember that they worked for it. They went out looking for it, and they found it. Shouldn't that inspire you to do the same, to go on the same journey? If you do, you'll end up finding material that will elicit those same feelings in other magicians. 

One could be devil's advocate and point out that, if magicians are discouraged from asking questions, then how will they ever learn anything? I don't think we're ever discouraged from asking questions, but I think it's a matter of asking the right questions. Instead of "Where did you find that? What is that trick called? How do you do that?", which seems to be lazy questions asked by someone wanting to have to do as little work as possible, you could ask questions such as "Which performers do you look up to? Who is a magician more people should study? What's a good book to read for an intermediate card magician? What's a good book if you're interested in gambling effects?" . I think those kinds of questions are much more important, and also much more helpful, because it lets you discover things for yourself in a way you would have missed out on if someone just blurted the method out to you so you could go do it yourself. 

And when it comes to asking questions that are related either to books, learning resources, methods or whatever it may be, please show some discretion and ask in private. It's easy enough to get in touch with people these days. My contact information including email is on this website and in every video description and social media profile I have. With most forums and social media outlets there are ways to send a private message. Don't be that guy who asks a trick/method specific question in the comments. I'm never going to reply to you if you do. However, if you show some discretion and send an email, I just might. I know this is true for me, and it might be true for other magicians too. I'm much more inclined to share something in real life. If you approach me in real life at a convention or something, I am often happy to sit down and share it. Online I'm much more picky. You're behind a screen, I don't know you and I don't know what your intentions are. If you leave a comment asking where to find a particular trick, I don't care. It doesn't show any initiative. Taking that extra step and writing an email and explaining why you're looking for that particular version of it gets you a little closer. It shows initiative, it shows interest, and it shows discretion. That, along with asking the right questions, is really important in the field of magic.

A final disclaimer. The trick in question, the Think of a Card trick.. It's very well known within the magic community, and I'm sure A LOT of you reading this blog will be more than familiar with it. Those in the know will know exactly what trick it is and they will probably also understand why so many other magicians are obsessed with finding out about it. But it's still a matter of principles, I think. Even if it's relatively well known within its subgenre of magic, aspiring magicians should still have to go on that journey to discover it for themselves. I remember the first time I saw it performed. It was probably in 2004 or 2005. It melted my mind.
I wouldn't discover it for myself until 2007 or 2008, and it wouldn't be until a year after that before I understood that that trick I saw a bunch of years ago was the same trick I now knew. But I'm so happy I went on that journey, because it allowed me to learn so much more along the way. Things that are still with me today. Many of my friends perform this piece, but I think they all came to find it and discover it in their own way, and that's what's so beautiful about it. Because everyone tackles it a little differently and everyone appreciates it for their own reasons.

But the most important thing I learnt was to ask the right questions. 

There is a comments section below. Put it to good use if you are so inclined. Thank you for reading.

Allan