Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I don't care...

Heard at a magic club meeting: "I don't care if I fool them, as long as I entertain them." Really? I submit that if you're not fooling them you're not doing magic. You may be juggling, or doing comedy, or doing drama, or some other performance art, but you're not doing magic. Nothing wrong with this unless you're billing yourself as a magician. If you want to be a magician you'd better care if you fool them, sparky. That's not all you need to do by any means, and in fact it's just a starting point. But if you want to be a magician it's an essential starting point. I can only imagine my mechanic saying, "I didn't fix the car, but I got it clean!"

The problem is easy to spot. In fact, it was defined in the first three words of the offending statement: "I don't care..."

Sunday, September 24, 2006


In memory of my grandmother, who died a little more than a year ago, I'm reposting this. It appeared on a previous blog of mine, posted on March 4, 2005. I've been thinking about family quite a bit lately, so I figured this deserved a re-airing.


I recently completed a trip. I drove over 1400 miles and traveled more than thirty years back in time.

I was born in Scottsbluff, a small town in far western Nebraska. I don't remember when I was last there, but I know I wasn't driving yet so it's been more than thirty years.

My grandmother is moving into an assisted living facility so she contacted a number of us to go through her belongings and see if we wanted anything. She already lives at the facility but she's moving from the 'independent' section to the 'assisted' section. She's 88 ("snowmen" if you play poker) and due to the vagaries of insurance it's hard to get immediate care if you need it in the independent apartments. In the assisted living section assistance is a button push away. So she sends out the call and I finagle some time off of work and off we go a la Herbert George Wells.

Teresa and I board the cats on Saturday in anticipation of getting an early start on Sunday. Oops. I was hoping to get out no earlier than 8:00, but we weren't on the road until 10:00. Mapquest said it would take us about 12 hours but, knowing how I drive, I mentally add a couple of hours to that estimate.

The weather, at least, was cooperative. We had a little drizzle in Kansas but otherwise Mother Nature was at her best. I remember building snow forts when I was a kid that would last for weeks, and seeing frequent drifts that were taller than I was, so an extended forecast of mid-50s to low-60s kind of astounded me. I later found out it astounded the locals as well.

We made it to Sidney, NE that first day, 9:00 Central time, but somewhere along the way we had meandered into Mountain time so everyone else thought it was 8:00. Sidney is only about two hours from Scottsbluff but my eyes were starting to play tricks on me so it was time to stop. (I love to drive and Teresa hates to drive, so I did all the driving all the way there and all the way back. But hey, that's nuthin'. We traveled about 4000 miles on our honeymoon and I drove all but 200 miles of it.)

I wasn't sure what to expect when we got there. We have a small apartment, already crammed full - me with my magic, Teresa with quilting, and both of us with books - so I knew we couldn't take much, and certainly nothing big. But hey, it may be my last chance to see grandma.

It's really strange watching someone go through the accumulations of their life, deciding what is important and what is expendable as they figure things will end soon. Some of the choices were obvious and others were less so. Grandma has buried a husband and two children, one of them my mother, and she saved memories from each.

I remember when my uncle died when I was very young. We lived in Omaha then. Uncle Joel's number had come up in the draft. The way I heard the story, my grandparents were upstairs and they heard a pop. Apparently it didn't sound like a gun. They went to investigate and found him on the basement floor, one of my grandfather's rifles still in his hands. We drove to the funeral, but my brothers and I didn't attend. I remember lots of strangers offering condolences, but I was really too young to understand. He was my favorite uncle. Grandma saved some clippings from the memorial service, but not much else.

My mom, her daughter, died just before Thanksgiving in 2003. (I hate November/December. I've had more friends and family die in those two months than in all the others combined. I'm certain that when I go it will be in November.) Again, there were some items from a memorial service but not much else. She decided to pitch a bunch of old photos.

She kept a number of things from her husband, who died several years ago. He painted, so she kept some of his paintings. She also kept a number of photographs. She reminisced a lot about him. I had to bite my tongue - he severely abused my mother, a cycle she perpetuated with her children. I understand how these cycles get carried on, and it's the reason I don't have any children despite Teresa and I having just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary.

88 years old and everything she owns now fits in half of a very small room. She seemed remarkable unsentimental in getting rid of the rest. She would speak lovingly of a copper tea set she and her husband picked up on a cruise to Acapulco, then beg us to take it off her hands. Wedding pictures (hers, her childrens', her grandchildrens') - pitched. Most of her clothes - gone. Ditto with furniture, jewelry, knick-knacks, kitchen utensils and a whole lot of other stuff you really don't realize you accumulate until you need to get rid of it.

I ended up with a microwave, a few photos (including a picture of me in my hippie days - young, hair past my shoulders, and [sigh] thin), and some new thoughts to process.

I look around as I type this and I'm surrounded by stuff. Way more stuff than I need. Certainly more stuff than our 850 square foot apartment can comfortably accommodate. And to what end? When I'm 88 (assuming I haven't expired some November prior to that), I'll just have to call someone - and I won't even have grandkids... not having children does that - and unsentimentally have them cart most of it away.

I think I'll start early. I've already quit buying new magic. I think I'll be giving some of the old stuff away. Not all of it, mind you, but right now I have way more than I need to keep me busy to the end of my days, even if I make it way past 88.

The trip also reaffirmed my love for magic. Teresa and I ate in the care center's communal dining room Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I performed those final two days. On Tuesday people were at first hesitant, but after they saw what I could do they warmed up. On Wednesday I hadn't planned on performing at all but several tables requested me so hey, what can you do when your public beckons? One lady kept following me around, acting as my announcer/ PR person/#1 fan.

I mentioned a Zen saying in a post several months ago - the one that says you can't step in the same river twice. I think my river just radically changed course.

...and grandma? As little as Teresa and I did, grandma just kept thanking us for how much we helped. We showed up, we met her friends, we shared memories, we made sure she was ok. I'm pretty sure these meant more to her than any of the stuff she has ever accumulated.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Slightly distracting

I got an email regarding my father-in-law regarding his leukemia. I didn't know much about leukemia, so I didn't know the seriousness of his condition, since grades and treatability can vary widely. One phrase from the email jumped out:

"Dr. Xxxxxx re-emphasized the fact that there is currently no cure for acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and that the average life span from point of diagnosis is 6 to 12 months. It has already been over a month since diagnosis occurred."

I'm not going to be worth shit at work today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The things magicians forget

I've seen magicians become inbred. They get caught up in their own jargon, thought processes and rationales. They forget how to relate to the real world. Some examples:
1. More phases does not necessarily make for a better routine.
2. Tuxedos
3. That thing in your hand is not a "silk". It's a handkerchief, a scarf, a scrap of fabric, a shawl for a midget... but in the real world, it's not a "silk". Especially when it's rayon.
4. I have yet to meet a spectator who thinks sleights are cool. Don't show them off to non-magicians.
5. To paraphrase Maskelyne & Devant, don't get on stage unless you have something to say. And, "I'm cooler than you because I can do this and you can't," isn't very interesting to most people. Not to mention it's not true.
6. An act where lots of cards are selected but revealed in different ways does not constitute variety.
7. Don't say, "I have an ordinary..." deck of cards, coin, whatever, unless you're parodying bad magicians.
8. Dove pans

Now, the above list is not cast in stone. Max Maven was quoted as saying, "The only rule of theater that can't be broken is - there are no rules of theater that can't be broken." Break a rule for the right reasons and you can be a genius. But break one just to break one and you're not a genius or a rebel, you're a moron.

Today's Fun Link: Visions Online.
This site sometimes educates me, sometimes makes me laugh, sometimes pisses me off, but never bores me.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A poem (not by me)

Name the poet, get a gold star for the day (whee). Guess why I might have posted this particular poem, get two gold stars (double whee):

Eye and Tooth

My whole eye was sunset red,
the old cut cornea throbbed,
I saw things darkly,
as through an unwashed goldfish globe.

I lay all day on my bed.
I chain-smoked through the night,
learning to flinch
at the flash of the matchlight.

Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

My eyes throb.
Nothing can dislodge
the house with my first tooth
noosed in a knot to the doorknob.

Nothing can dislodge
the triangular blotch
of rot on the red roof,
a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.

No ease from the eye
of the sharp-shinned hawk in the birdbook there,
with reddish-brown buffalo hair
on its shanks, one asectic talon

clasping the abstract imperial sky.
It says:
an eye for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth.

No ease for the boy at the keyhole,
his telescope,
when the women's white bodies flashed
in the bathroom. Young, my eyes began to fail.

Nothing! No oil
for the eye, nothing to pour
on those waters or flames.
I am tired. Everyone's tired of my turmoil.