Dear Friends in Magic,
Spring has sprung! Here in D.C., the cherry blossoms are out in force and everyone has a bounce in their step. As you move into this season of fresh air and new growth, I want to share...
A BIG IDEA
In Growing in the Art of Magic, Eugene Burger says that one of the most essential tools for magicians is the notebook: “a place to write our ideas as they come to us,” a place to “record our magical dreams.” When I discussed this in a recent online class, several participants had never used a notebook and asked how to do it.
Good question! If you have never kept an artist’s notebook, it can feel difficult to get started. “Do I just buy a notebook and write stuff?” Not exactly. Having used and taught about this for so many years, I want to say a few things to guide your work with this tool.
First, as Eugene says, a notebook is the best way to capture our creative ideas and visions so they won't get lost in the ether. When light-bulb insights arrive, they feel so bright we will never forget them. This is an illusion. As Buddhists teach, ideas are elusive and impermanent. Unless we transform them into words, they come and go with the wind.
A notebook is also the place to keep track of information that might serve us down the line: promising routines, techniques, presentation ideas, script lines, references, show order drafts… you name it. I like to remind our students that, “In the age of information overload the focused shall inherit the earth.” A magic notebook serves as a perfect lens to keep us focused.
In The Creative Habit, legendary choreographer Twyla Tharp says the two essential functions of a notebook are storage and retrieval. Understanding this vastly improved my notebook practice, so I want to briefly discuss each of these.
Storage means you have to capture your ideas and insights exactly when they arise; thus, your “notebook” system needs travels with you. Obviously, smartphones are promising in this regard: you can keep audio or typed notes, or you can use an app, like Evernote.
Having said that, digital note keeping simply doesn’t work for me. I want less screen time in my life, not more. And I always forget the digital notes I’ve made: without the embodied act of writing and drawing, those notes are nearly as ephemeral as thought. Thus, I am back to carrying a thin notebook (sized 7” x 10” x 1/8” from Muji). This goes in my shoulder bag just about everywhere I go. If I happen to not have my bag when an idea occurs, I send myself an email and write it down later.
Retrieval is equally important. For years, I was spending way too much time paging through notebooks to find a reference, trick, or script draft. And to be fair, some apps have a search function that helps us find old notes. But my current system serves perfectly well. As in the photo below, I write a table of contents for each notebook on the cover so I can quickly see what’s inside. I also put a rubber band around the four or five notebooks for a given year. All of which substantially improves my ability to access old notes.
As you can tell, having a notebook requires intention and attention, which is why most artists talk about it as a practice. But I can’t imagine my work and career as a magician without this essential tool. If you don’t already use one I encourage you to try it for a while to see what grows!
IN THE STUDIO
Last time, I announced that my full-evening show, Magical Life, will have a run during the 2022 season at the Rhapsody Theater in Chicago. Any day now, Ricardo Rosenkranz, owner and executive producer, will announce that the theater is opening in mid-May with shows on different days by two fantastic performers, so you might keep your ear to ground about tickets for those. In my next installment, I will have the dates for my own run and will let you know. Very exciting!
Also, I am in preparation for the FISM magic convention in late July. I have been booked as one of the artists and will both be delivering a main-stage lecture and delivering daily programs with Jeff McBride in the Magic & Mystery School installation. Registrations for FISM are still available, and I hope to be with you there. Here is my promo video:
IT’S NOT MAGIC, BUT…
I recently read a book that connected deeply with me as a magician, business person, and plain-ol’ human being. I am still buzzing from all the great ideas it generated. Here are just a few of its gentle reminders:
** “You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”
** “Most people don’t remember names, for the simple reason that they don’t take the time and energy necessary [for it].”
** “When we are right, let’s try to win people gently… when we are wrong—and that will be surprisingly often—let’s admit our mistakes quickly and with enthusiasm.”
** “Do you know someone you would like to change… and improve? Good! I am all in favor of it. But why not begin with yourself?”
The book is full of gems like these—pithy insights that sometimes caused me to put my hand on my heart in recognition or humility, or simply to reflect on the big idea.
Earlier, I said I “read” this book; in fact, I re-read it for something like the fifth time. With that additional clue, you might have figured out I am referring to the 1936 classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Yes, many of Dale Carnegie’s references are dated. Sure, his exemplars of human kindness and civility harken to an earlier era: Lincoln, Charles Schwab, and FDR (among others). But those details are simply window dressing: behind them are vital truths for us today about being a better person and genuinely improving our interactions with others.
If you haven’t read How to Win Friends… forget about what you think you know about it—the book will frequently surprise you. If you have already read it, perhaps this spring season is a good time for a refresher!
HAPPENING AT THE PRESS
Previously, I mentioned that supplies are dwindling on Eugene Burger’s 2017 book, Teaching Magic. (I suspect the book will be OOP when I next write.) I just discovered the same is true with Robert Neale’s first book with me, Magic Matters.
Magic Matters has a fond place in my heart. My goal was to produce a book of Bob’s tricks and essays that would measure up to the high bar of his The Magic Mirror. Along with forty-four routines, Magic Matters features some of Bob’s most important essays, including his outstanding reflections on bizarre magick, “Seeing the Dark.”
If you, like me, are a fan of Neale and don’t have Magic Matters, this is probably the time to get one by going here.
Department of Corrections: Speaking of Bob… after sending his book Magic Inside Out to the printer in 2020, I started frequently performing chapter one’s “Dream Door”—a beautiful piece of gift magic that folds up and fits in your wallet. This experience led to several practical insights about making the prop and performing the piece. I added what I learned to Bob’s original chapter in a write-up of the routine for M-U-M Magazine: “Dream Door 2.0.” You can find that here.
Thank you for being part of my community of thoughtful magicians. Please share this newsletter with friends who you know might enjoy it. As always, I love to hear what’s on your mind.
Best Wishes, Larry Hass
Dean of McBride’s Magic & Mystery School
Publisher, Theory and Art of Magic Press