The Intermission

The Intermission

There's a brief moment right after the first half of a play where one sits in contemplation. The first act is over and the beginning of the end of the play is fast approaching. This solitary moment is often distracted by trips to the bathroom or the concession stands. But the savvy few know that this moment is built into a show to give you time to process what you've just experienced. To allow you a moment to readjust and refocus your perceptions. A moment of false finality. In the hopes that when the real finale comes you revel in it. 

Competing For Your Attention

Seeing a handful of my friends and colleagues appearing on competitive reality TV shows every week has given me a major case of FOMO. I’ve struggled with the notion of auditioning many, many times. I’ll be the first to admit that I often think that by not participating I’m ceasing to stay relevant. I tell myself “It’ll be good exposure” or “my friends and family will see me on TV and know I’m successful!” It stings even more when those same friends and family seem to constantly poke, “why don’t you go on America’s Got Talent?” Their intentions are undoubtedly kindhearted. But the notion lingers — why don’t I?

The intention behind this post is partly to write out my thoughts (as an exercise to better understand them) and partly to continue the discussion with those that might disagree. When it comes to experiencing magic, do shows like Americas Got Talent (or competition shows designed specifically for magicians like Wizard Wars and Penn & Teller Fool Us) do more harm than good, for both its audience and its acts?

At the heart of any reality competition show is, of course, attention. More specifically, mass attention: a way for an artist from, say New York, to stand out from the rest when they normally are drowned out by the noise of the other acts in their big city. It can be a great way to get exposure to the masses, but sadly this attention is often temporary. You could go viral and be on everyone’s screens for a couple days, and in rare cases you could even glean a few great (even well-paid) opportunities from it. But then what? Far too often the desire for immediate attention outweighs the drive to be a more robust artist. Creating long lasting impressions on an audience may take more than a seven-minute stint on a highly edited talent show, especially in magic — which in our culture is already riddled with novelty. Sadly the drive to create sustainable narrative falls to the weigh-side when all you have to do is be a seven minute spectacle.

Take a show like Fool Us, where the judges are legendary professional magicians- surely they have a sense for great magic, right? Absolutely. But sadly that’s not the premise of the show. The show is based on one criteria: fool them. Perform a trick that whizzes by their first guesses and you’re golden. Despite the few fleeting comments from Penn on the artistry of the contestants, it sends a simple message to the masses — are you good enough to fool them? As if, that’s all we have time for.

As my friend, author Douglas Rushkoff notes in his book Present Shock,

“The more of this kind of media we enjoy, the more spectaculary cruel it must be to excite our attention, and the better we get at evading the moral implications of watching the spectacle.”

I’m afraid magic is becoming like most of the quickly consumed content out there: boiled down and exploited for its ability to capture the attention of its audience for the mere fact of capturing their attention; not necessarily to do anything with it. After all, our attention is the most valuable commodity. Much like the scroll culture of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the shift to a shorter, transient, “now-entertainment” must occupy the empty space in our brains. The acts competing for your attention end up concentrating on (and one-upping) what others are doing rather than focusing on the quality of their own artistry. Their art is now made up of these bite sized, undercooked bursts of spectacles. Standing out from the crowd has now become the goal and not just a pleasant result. Talent, I fear, has become formulaic and seems to be defined by how many likes, votes and views can be procured. The shows that promise us the ability to stand out from the noise have now become the noise. But maybe that’s just how it works now and I’m missing out.

 

*Originally posted on Medium on 10/1/2015

3 Books That Will Change Your Mind

Cross-section of the head showing brain and cerebellum, by Jean-Baptiste Marc Bourgery

Cross-section of the head showing brain and cerebellum, by Jean-Baptiste Marc Bourgery

I'll never forget the night I was approached by a couple after my show. They were wide-eyed, elated, and buzzing to ask me a question. Almost simultaneously, they asked if I had any suggestions as to how they could use my techniques to better their connection with one another. It was honestly the sweetest question I've ever been asked (#relationshipgoals) and the fact that both of them came up to me with the same excitement already proved they were deeply connected, and yet they both wanted to work together to be better for each other. A noble pursuit. 

People tend to see a mentalist or mind reader as someone who has an authority on the mind, akin to a neuroscientist or psychotherapist. As much as I'd like to think of myself as a master of all things pertaining to the mind, I'm merely a student. As such, my advice to the couple was from the perspective of someone deeply interested in bettering himself (as it is here with these book recommendations).   

This question of connection is one I've thought a lot about. When I feel less connected to others and the world, I first look at trying to reconnect with my own thoughts. After all, you can't change the world if you can't change your mind. So here are a few books that have been integral for me in helping to shape my outlook on the world and be in better touch with my own mind. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

1. Mindfulness - Ellen J. Langer

 

This book changed my life. I read it nearly a decade ago and I find myself coming back to its ideas time and time again. It's a digestible guide to learning about how to refine your awareness of yourself and the world around you, how to break out of automatic behavior and transcend the human condition. This book (along with another fantastic book of the same title by Thicht Nah Hahn) discusses the many life-altering benefits of being present. It speaks about transcending narrow beliefs, single perspectives, and limited resources. Its suggested practices are in the same family as Loving-Kindness meditation, and it's message is one that might bring you closer to your own thoughts.

 

 
 

Again, deriving a lot of ideas from mindful practices, Fromm presents simple concepts to which one can change their relationship to desires and wants. He cautions about idol worship and blind faith to a practice that promises nirvana with little effort. This book is especially pertinent now because of Fromm's perspective about authoritarian power and untruths.  

“…modern man has many things and uses many things, but he is very little. His feelings and thinking processes are atrophied like unused muscles. He is afraid of any crucial social change because any disturbance in the social balance spells chaos or death-if not physical death, the death of his identity.”
 
 

Aside from voicing inspirational videos which undoubtedly mesmerized you on Facebook, Alan Watts refreshing candor and insightful ideas can most certainly help change your mind. In this book he speaks about something we all struggle with on a daily basis - distraction. His thoughts on mindfulness and happiness are invaluable and I highly recommend it.

“If my happiness at this moment consists largely in reviewing happy memories and expectations, I am but dimly aware of this present. I shall still be dimly aware of the present when the good things that I have been expecting come to pass. For I shall have formed a habit of looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for me to attend to the here and now. If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.”