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Musings 11: Addiction

During my early years as a street performer I spent a lot of time tiptoeing around junkies, drunks, and sex fiends that made up street life.  Addicts and their vices of choice were a hazard of daily life and one I successfully steered clear.  

Addiction was something I didn’t much empathise with.  The rapture of a crowd’s applause, the sense of achievement of a practised  trick pulled off to perfection, the self worth realised at a plan well played.  These things were what I craved from ordinary people, tourists, children, anyone who would give me a little of their time.

The distractions, as I saw them, only hindered my goals.  I watched those who let their addictions rule their lives and pitied them the waste of potential, of energy and spirit.  I watched as people became husks. Single-minded zombies that would do whatever it took to feed their craving for a few hours.  They ceased to be people to me, just hazards, and cadavers that didn’t know it was time to lie down. I am not proud of these thoughts, they are what they are.

Hadn’t Houdini done without drink?  Didn’t Lustig write in his Ten Commandments, Never be drunk?  Why would I be any different?  Indeed, it could be said I pursued the magical arts with an addict’s focus, but with the achievement of indisputable results no one would have considered it pitiful or a waste of energy and potential.  In fact, my skills in sleight of hand are seen as a credit to me, if I may say.

Then I was made aware of Spiral Dust, a substance not of this world, that allowed insights into places beyond and into the basic stuff that makes all things.  I pursued knowledge about Spiral Dust as an extension to my life-long search for the magical arts and knew that my efforts were not seen as wasteful, but would be of credit to me when the time was right.  I reasoned that if I could control the effects of the dust, then I would be directly linked to the energies of the universe, and finally have the powers of real magic.

I had reasons to fear the consequences of using such a substance. They are internal to me and I feared facing again those events I would not want my enemies to experience.  I long for them to stay safely locked away behind forgotten memory. There would be no reason to take the dust if, as it was thought, the dust was an internal not an external voyage.

So, the one step I did not take for the longest time was to actually use the substance.  I told myself I did not know enough, it would not pay to rush such a process. I asked the experts, searched the archives, even hunted out dubious characters to gain what they knew.  No one knew what the dust was truly capable of, though tantalising theories were expounded.  

It was one such theory, based on good science, that finally convinced me to try.  The same companion that discovered the theory also supported limited experimentation, I had my pusher.  I admit to trepidation over the experiment, even with all the processes and procedures for safety. I was stepping into an unknown world and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  To be the first to really make strides in understanding of the dust, and above all the tantalising idea that I alone could control the experience.

Maybe all addicts think that.  Maybe they all conspire against themselves into thinking that for them, it will be different.  I believe I must have. I was wrong.

As an experiment it was a complete success.  The data was collected, the experience recorded, no serious side effects witnessed or experienced, no physical addiction.  The fact that I could not ‘touch the infinite’ or control my experience as I had hoped was of little consequence to those around me.  They were pleased that they had not created a junkie or even worse damaged the experimental subject.  

But, I have changed.  

I am haunted by the feeling of…weightlessness.  Not just the physical sense of floating, but also of a weightless mind and spirit. In that 20 minutes, I was free of fear and frustration.  Past memories, present difficulties, future dangers did not exist in that space and I discovered the appeal of oblivion. In the dream of the dust I was nothing and everything.  

Now my everyday is heavy and onerous in comparison to memory of weightlessness.  Even the thought of those who supported me in my pursuits are tainted. You only have to see the evidence of my own words.  These are my friends, those I am coming to consider family. In my mind I make them mad scientists toying with their powerless victim.  

I said I would not have had it any other way and that still holds true.  There is no one I would wish this burden onto. If there had been a way of finding out this knowledge without taking the dust I…no I wanted to experience it for myself, with my own senses, in my own mind.  

There is no going back now.  I find I am an addict and now understand that addiction is for life. 

Musings 10: Tourists

I am a citizen of the world.  Born of a nation that would have seen me dead in a ditch.  Kidnapped (in the nicest way) to Northern Europe where my mere presence was an embarrassment.  Palmed off to an ally that accepted me like all refugees to that country, as requiring assimilation.  And assimilate I did. You wouldn’t know me from a native Brit, but I’ve never really belonged there.  Though my accent is pure London I am all too aware that it’s a borrowed tongue.

Recently, I had reason to think on this issue in a larger scale.  What if you were a citizen of planet Earth, roaming worlds like some of us roam countries.

Language has no correlations to anything in your experience, so understanding the words doesn’t mean understanding the meaning or the intent.  

Imagine culture shock when you’re not even the same species as your hosts.  Gestures take on a whole new meaning when there’s more digits to express them.

Food and drink that may be incompatible. Bali Belly would look like a mind stomach complaint.

No embassies to run to , hardly any other travellers to ask advice. Like early explorers into untouched lands, you are alone.

And you, unable to obfuscate, the glaring fact that you do not belong. 

Of course, if we can travel to these amazing worlds, so can residents of these worlds come here.  Getting a better view on the scale of border control? Maybe you already met some of these visitors.

Did that Japanese lady who asked directions to the beach have gills? The gentleman in the all you can eat restaurant, was that double chins or double mouths?Was that a hooked-nose the guy in the bar was sporting actually a nose or was it a beak?

So, what sort of host are we being to our interplanetary visitors?  And, maybe a more interesting question, what incompatibles are they bringing with them?

Musings 9: A small universe…

I’m not a fool, I know that right now my life is pretty good.  I have a place is relatively safe, I have companions, some more agreeable than others.  I have a job that is mind -alteringly amazing as well as terrifying and deadly all at the same time.  It could be said that I’ve landed on my feet.

And then a figure from my past steps in.  Now I know people say “…it’s a small world…”  to explain how you can meet best friends fiance on a trip to the centre of Africa, fall in love, break up their relationship and destroy three lives. It happens.  But in my case…lets say its more of a ‘small universe’.

When I first came to the US I worked for a mob boss called Louis (as in the French Kings) Astra.  He called himself ‘The King of the Stars’ and no one laughed. No one forgot to call him Mr Astra and if he asked them to call him Louis they never forgot the pronounciation.  He was that tough a guy. He ran nightclubs.
At one called ‘The Last Shot’ (both meanings appropriate there) I would do my close work sleight of hand to tables of customers. To these nightclubs a Mr Elvin Lightfeather would sometimes come and see the boss.  

I know my boss had people killed. I saw is henchmen’s handy work on occassion.  Hell, I know the boss wasn’t afraid of the wet work himself. And to Mr Lightfeather he was grovelling obsequiousness. Lightfoot was a guy that the tough-guys fear.

After I saw how little Mr Astra thought of life, I got out.  I’m not ashamed to admit it, I ran. So imagine my horror when months later, in literally the last place I could even imagine, Mr Elvin Lightfeather is on the other side of a door threshold to me.  This is the man, that the man I run from is scared of. I admit it, I panicked. I slammed the door in his face and ran. 

 It didn’t go so well.

When my past caught up before, only I took the brunt, I only had to worry about me.  Now, there are three others who are now in Lightfeather’s sights.  I don’t know if this time running from my past it going to be enough.

Musings 8: To Magic or not to Magic

Magic is a cliche for all the things that people don’t understand.  

“Oh, look that light bulb lit up just like magic when you flicked that switch.”

“You can find out who won the football on your phone! Magic!”

“I want a unicorn that poops magic, mummy.  And I want it now!”

Bah, humbug!

Not even what I do is magic.  Illusion, deception, sleight of hand, misdirection. The make-believe we fall into when someone ‘seems’ to do the impossible right in front of us.  Science and art made to deceive. I even met my fair share of fake swarmies or table-rapping ‘psychics’. The saddest among them are those who actually believe their own stories, who have created the show and bought it for reals.  At least the cynical fortune tellers on their 1800 numbers and email chat lines do their deceiving honestly.

Yeah, I’ve looked and seen with my own eyes the fine fishing line, the secret compartments, the intricately worked out routines, done a few myself.  But in all that glitz and sparkle there is not one speck of magic.

If I had to give my definition of magic it would be the ability to control the energies around us and use them to do wonders that would be impossible for the mortal human.   I guess, by that definition the lighting of the bulb by electricity derived from renewable or nonrenewable means would be magic to a primitive, but doesn’t that prove my point.  

Even if we could meet Merlin tomorrow and he did some wonder of his art, couldn’t someone with an open mind, a little help and time work out how he did it?  And as soon as it is worked out…the magic is gone, it is just a process that can be learnt and achieved by anyone with the rights skills and resources.

No, there is no magic.  No magic for me.

Musings 7: An interesting word

Interesting.  Adjective.  

  1.  To arouse curiosity, warrant attention
  2. Something to say when you don’t want to say what you’re thinking.

Funny word.  

I find people interesting.  How they think and perceive the world.  For how they see things is how they see themselves.  As an illusionist, perception is a large part of what I do. Presenting and displaying what I want them to see, and disguising and hiding what I want them to ignore.  Sometimes it’s amazing how easy it is.

Which makes it all very interesting.

And yet, what has happened to that happy little word.  It has become a place holder for thoughts better not said out loud, a pause for thought that haven’t even been formed yet.


“That’s interesting.”

“What an interesting question.”

Interesting is now a verbal misdirection, providing the speaker  with a way of hiding their words, and given the listener something positive to focus on so they can ignore the obvious social embarrasment to come.  

People are so interesting.

Musings 6: To thy own self…

“Wherever you go, there you are.” is one of the most accurate and infuriating phrases to ever be spoken.  There is no escaping you. Which is a shame as I often think that people spend thousands of dollars on holidays in a vain attempt to get away from themselves.  How much easier to simply say, 

“I’m not going to be you for a while.  I’ll be back when I feel better about us.”

I’ve sort of made a career out of attempting just that.  Divorcing the old life (sometimes only a few months old) and starting something new with a new name and new attitude. Another better phrase that the first is,

“People see you, how you see yourself”.  Come in with a smile and a confident attitude and people see you as some that gets things done. Come in with an air of authority, expecting compliance then they’ll see you as someone with a plan who knows where they’re going.

Unfortunately, the first statement still holds true, and the new you is too fresh, too frail to stand up to a lot of scrutiny. When people start asking the questions that the new shelf can’t answer, when the veneer is just a little too transparent, it’s time to find another  self and move on again. This has been my life since…certainly since I was 16 years old, but it could have begun earlier.

It is an exhausting life, reinventing oneself.

Just recently, a job opportunity has allowed me to acquire new selves in far flung locations.  And not just new identities but whole new…let’s say ways of being. Now I know there are some philosopher’s out there that would say that because I take my mind and memories with me that I am essentially the same person (, but I hold out hope. 

What if the body also defines the person and therefore the identity? 

I guess the main problem with the phrase, “Where you go, there you are” is that often you’re also the only one there.  I’m starting to wonder, if you take people along with you if it makes a difference.

Musings 6: The Ten Commandment of Con Men

I have found myself in the position of being a mentor to a new protege and it made me think about the best advice I ever received. Beside Houdini’s great example of working at his passion 17 hours a day mind, body and spirit, Count Victor Lustig summed up a cons life in his Ten Commandment of Con Men.

  1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that get’s a con man his coups)
  2. Never look bored
  3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinion, then agree with them
  4. Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones
  5. Hint at sex talk, but never follow up unless the other person shows a strong interest
  6. Never discuss illness, unless some special interest is shown
  7. Never pry into personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually)
  8. Never boast – just let your importance be quietly obvious
  9. Never be untidy
  10. Never be drunk

As he was eventually undone by cheating on his life partner two other points should be added that Lustig never got a chance to learn.

11. Never underestimate anyone, arrogance has no place in a con

12. Never betray a partner or Never have a partner to betray.

Musings 5: Free Will

As a magician there is very little chance that I will not give you exactly the card I want to give you.  If I am doing a card trick and force a card on a volunteer, does that person have free will? They certainly feel like they do in the moment of selecting and drawing the card. And the better I do my job, the more adamant they feel about their choice being their own.

On the back of a few things that have happened of late, I’ve been thinking about free will.  What does it mean to have free will? How do I know when I have it?

Libertarian philosophers will tell you that if you ‘feel’ you have a choice then you had free will. But, what about my example.  I provide the illusion of choice. You believe that you have made a random choice, 52:1. If the person making the choice doesn’t know they have no choice at all; do they still have free will?

Another philosopher called Churchland has a slightly different idea. She believes that some things are determined, that means they will always happen, but there is free will.  She states that you shouldn’t think of it as ‘free will’, but more as ‘How much control do I have?”

So, in my example, I will ask for a volunteer. 

They have control to be part of the trick or not, 

I will select someone that will suit my needs.

If I need to I will choose someone.

  I control the deck and what it contains.

I control how I present the deck.

They do select a card

Often the card I give them will not be the one they selected

Usually they only feel they have a say on where the card goes.

How much control do they really have?

Let’s say, an event occurred that meant I needed to leave town in a hurry.  I would have options of transport: car, plane or Greyhound. No cash for car, the airport is watched so onto the buses with scheduled times and locations. Already my choices are limited.  Now, I could have gone anywhere, the Greyhound route network is extensive, but some destinations are like unchosen cards, they are there but seem unworthy somehow. This choosing provided only one logical option; which I took ‘feeling’ I had free will at the time.

I’m looking back on the last few days of my life and wonder how much free will I had. How much of my life am I really in control of?  And if not me, whose really holding the deck?

Musings 4: The probability of impossible

Probabilities are part of a magicians bag of tricks.  The magic behind the ‘magic’. The probability of drawing a particular card from a deck is 52:1.  The probability of drawing four particular cards from a standard deck look like:

1/52 x 1/51 x1/50 x 1/49 = 4/6497400  or 1,624,350:1

A magician narrows the odds in their favour sorting, palming or forcing the card until there is very little probability of failure.  

My… friends and I were recently told we are part of a group of rare individuals.  Think of it like a rare gift, a random very rare gift. 

How rare?  

Well, that’s what started me thinking.  Hard numbers have been hard to come by so I’ve had to guesstimate a few.  I know of about 30 individuals who may also have the gift. Thirty in a city the size of New Orleans.  Of finding someone with the gift in that population, the probability is 13109:1. Very rare indeed.

Now the four of us were found a the same time so the math for that looks something like:

1/13109 x 1/13109 x 1/13109 x 1/13109 =

4/1661041836086161 or 415,260,459,021,540:1

That’s hundreds of trillions to 1 chance of finding all four of us at the same time.  When you consider, two of us are…out of towners the odds of finding us all together are not worth speaking about.

So, what do I deduce from this?

Well, probability could be wrong, or at least my maths.  Maybe the gift is not as rare as they would like to think.  That’s how my friends will probably want to think of it.  

I think like a magician.  I think about ways of shortening the odds, palming or forcing the individuals where I want them, making situations that concentrates those individuals and put them right where I want them. That’s worth a ponder.  

Whose controlling the hand to bring four individuals together on a dark rainy night in the middle of nowhere?  Who has that sort of influence and power?


For what purpose?