The Unorganized Mind


This one’s a bit of a ramble. I haven’t posted in several months and I’m brain dumping a few thoughts, trepidations, reflection points; all that fun stuff.

I’ve found myself in a rut. Not an uninterested, unmotivated, self-deprecating style rut, but a highly unfocused rut. My efforts to lock down a proper “Twisting the Aces” routine by Guy Hollingsworth has taken a back seat, and my progress to finishing Strong Magic have fallen short. Both works remain highly respected from my point of view, but I learned the hard way that one needs to protect oneself from committing to overly-challenging efforts straight out of the gate.

I’ve amassed an incredible library of books and DVD’s, I literally have no reason to fall short on productive practice towards an exciting future of creation and shared experiences. Except that I have every reason to fall short because I’ve taken on too much too soon. I’ve even written about this, Trust the Process, but I lost complete sight of that. The process is as follow…start practicing “Twisting the Aces”, order a new book, read the introductions and flip through the pages, go back to “Twisting the Aces”, a new book comes in the mail, skim read that, etc etc. This is no way to make progress, because there’s simply too many squirrels to catch; I have zero focus and no accountability. Magic is a hobby for me, and I’m letting the fact that it’s a hobby wiggle in excuses to mindfully practice. My family and work uphold the upmost priority, but I’ve found magic to be a critical balancing point to my sanity and creative processes both within and beyond magic itself.

I decided to educate myself and seek an understanding for my lack of progress by picking up “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload” by Daniel Levitin. Getting to the root cause of the problem was critical, and I had to take a step back and grasp conceptually what was driving my challenges. This is a monster book, I didn’t finish it, but the concepts I did grasp gave me the insights I desired to understand where and why I went wrong, interesting concepts to ponder, and what’s next for me.

Memory is fallible not because of storage limitations but rather retrieval limitation.
I’ve thought a lot about memory as I read magic books, wondering how many magicians actually remember every single effect, method, essay, and noted personal revelation. There is also the mnemonic consideration, those who can memorize a deck of cards, or sometimes two or three. Not only that, but memorize the shuffle sequence to get into a stack from new deck order, or how to get into one stack from another. Magic is hard, really hard; but these memory feats are accomplished, and therefore these daunting considerations are achievable, one just needs to be constructive and intentional when studying and practicing.

Think about studying magic as a concept, in my opinion it needs to be in the same framework as studying for school. The content isn’t meant to read leisurely, it’s meant to be understood and applied, to be studied and reflected upon. Don’t read a magic book for pleasure if you want to seriously grasp both your goals of growing your knowledge and self-reflection, and give the respect the author deserves. Reading with intention increases one’s ability to retrieve those bits of information, as it brings substance to thoughts as it ties the authors perspective into our own.

Unproductive and loss of drive can result from decision overload.
This is an obvious ‘hind-sight’ thought, my early failure is 100% a result of acquiring too much knowledge too soon, filling my office with a massive decision-overload environment. My advice to anyone starting out in magic, start with a classic and study the hell out of it. Don’t purchase another book until you’ve grasped the concepts and demonstrated those learnings to a close friend/spouse/family member and someone within the magic community. Your close friend can spot your bullshit, and the magic community can help improve your technique: you need both sides. Study the classics with a high sense of intention and thoroughness, then move on to new content to keep a pulse on the pace and direction of innovation, and then jump back to the classics. I’ve touched on this before (Same Content, Different Perspective), content consumed will take on different meanings throughout your life, so don’t miss the opportunity for deeper reflection points as you further grasp the concepts set forth by the classics. I am very thankful and excited for Steve’s Card Magic Course review on the Royal Road to Card Magic, as it will give me the discipline I need.

“The formation of categories in humans is guided by a cognitive principle of wanting to encode as much information as possible with the least possible effort”.   This was gold for me, a concept I translated as an approach to reading magic books. Consider how this process could improve your focus, goals, and effectiveness of reading a magic book.

  1. To start reading a magic book, read the table of contents and NOT the introductions…just yet. You need your own perspective a chance to conclude your own thoughts of the work, so don’t give anyone else a chance to guide you in a potentially different path with their introductions. For the record, I love introductions, so this is difficult for me. Flip through the book to gain a sense of how it’s organized. At times this is as far as many of us get when we’re getting a few books a month. This process sets our expectations of the content and flow of the book, giving us potential trigger points.
  2. Now comes the categorizing part, in that you read each effect and skim the methods to bucket each effect into categories (Appearance, Disappearance, Transformation, Penetration, Escape, Anti-Gravity, Psychic Powers) (Packet, Sandwich, Gambling, self-working, pick a card find a card, trick with gimmicks, borrowed deck, mentalism, etc, etc) and by techniques required to complete the effect. This sounds daunting, but not only does it give you a chance to prioritize your focus depending on your interests, style, brand as a magician, but it gives you a chance to prioritize the consumption of the content itself.
  3. My last point is going to cause an uprising…take notes in your magic books… These are your books, respect your thoughts and reflections by documenting them while they are pumping through your veins, don’t over engineer the process with notes in a separate notebook. How fascinating would it be to look back at your thought process within the text you were studying 10 years ago; the growth you could witness and leverage would be insanely helpful. The worth of your library is not within the work of the author, it’s your work put into the book; so cherish it and “de-value” those books! A final thought to consider, if you fear documenting within your precious magic book will de-value them, consider advancing your magic to the point where your notated magic books are worth well beyond their market price.

Categorization is a very efficient process for us, but don’t forget about the ‘yang of the yin’ to how your brain functions; the day-dreaming or default mode.  This takes place when what you’re doing/reading/watching doesn’t require a categorization by your consciousness.  Default brain mode is believed to be your normal state, as your brain isn’t being taxed to categorize.  This mode is when categories aren’t the priority, and when your ah ha moments or best ideas often generate.  This is your thinking outside the box mode, so work on finding ways to enter this state when you need to think creatively….do something completely different from what you need a solution on.” This is a straight quote from the book, most people understand this but neglect to leverage it the busier and more stressed they get. Stuck on the best technique to accomplish an effect, then take a walk in a new/strange place, read about something completely unrelated, or just talk to a stranger.  The idea is on the cusp of being discovered, just wait…

“Memory is fiction…Memory is not just a replaying, but a rewriting”.  This statement has implications of both our own thoughts, but also the thoughts of our spectators.     Also a point that reflection or taking note of important events/situation immediately is important so we can in fact remember the FACTS. This idea ties back to the categorization point, in that it is more difficult to remember things that commonly happen vs out of the ordinary things, because if events/things happen that are commonplace, then our brains will naturally categorize and not pull in the finer details. We can however often remember the first time something happened, because that moment is unique to us. An emotion tied to the event can cause us to remember better…ties to the old phrase of ‘people remember not what you said, but how you made them feel’. Focusing on making people feel something is everything in magic.

Jotting things down as you think of them (paper or electronic) is a form of ‘clearing the mind’, an important practice to leave room for other important tasks.   “Your mind will remind you of all kinds of things when you can do nothing about them, and merely thinking of your concerns does not at all equate to making any progress on them”. Interesting to think about clearing your mind and capitalizing on the moments when your mind takes you towards ideas/problems…consider taking advantage as your mind is telling you to work on that one thing. Chances are you need to clear your mind of that idea to free up space for the next idea, and progress whatever that idea is. Be very conscious of this when studying, practicing, rehearsing, performing. Andi Gladwin talks a lot about this process, I recommend working through the Vanishing Inc blogs and consider his Astonishing Essay.

Right, too much information, I’ve hit full circle. If you stuck with me this far, thank you. I included a picture of a coffee spill, and I felt that summarized my shortcoming quite well. Queue up my terrible metaphor….Coffee drinkers fill up their cup with hot coffee, eagerly anticipate the taste, the much needed caffeine, and the ritual of sipping it as you start your day. My experience got me a few sips in before my coffee spilled, so now I am cleaning up the proverbial mess I made and pouring myself another damn cup.

Trust the Process, Chase the Pay Off

Card College and Royal Road to Card Magic

Jean Huggard and Frederick Braue gave us the Royal Road to Card Magic, Roberto Giobbi gave us the Card College series, and countless other magicians gave us entry points into the study of magic. Many (most?) join these authors on the road to learning the techniques, sleights, theory, and methods; all paving a growth path towards more powerful effects and better learning as they become more astute to the language and processes of learning magic.

Some take a different approach. Some jump to the more challenging methods due to over confidence or more often than not, ignorance. I’ve learned there are two types of magicians out there: those who know magic conceptually and those who know magic through practice and performance. Conceptual ‘magicians’ are the content hoarders, they build a library of books/videos very quickly as the bug bit them a little too hard and a little too fast; and they become lost before they even get started. The content acquired shouldn’t go to waste, if the conceptual are lucky they will remain engaged in the learning process and work through the material obtained.

Those who know magic through practice and performance may have reached this stage early into their journey, and course-corrected. Or, they trusted the process of the Huggards, the Giobbi’s, or others who thoughtfully paved a learning path: and those magicians trusted those writing these books. I boldly took on the challenge of tackling Hollingsworth’s Waving the Aces as a beginner, and a month into my study I haven’t made much progress. At the same time I’ve continued to work through the Card College series, the Steve Faulkner Card Magic Course, and the Royal Road to Card Magic, my dedication split isn’t giving the process a fair shake. I’m testing the limits of the process, challenging it, and the lesson is coming into view: trust the process.

The path leading to the forks in the road littered with shiny objects (squirrel?) are distractions from a great path. My approach will course-correct and I will learn a technique, study a method, perform it several times until reliance to reference the source is lost, and performance of the trick becomes second nature. I realize now I can’t afford to jump ahead, the foundational work is too important for my learning process. I’m not saying I can’t be exposed to new material, in fact grazing new and different material is important to understand what else is out there, to learn what’s possible. But I must resist the urge to study new material outside of my learning path, I can’t jeopardize the process; I need to trust the process.

You also need to understand and experience the end results, to “taste the leather” as I’ve once heard it referenced. You need to find opportunities to position yourself to practice the art, to perform magic for another human being, to chase the pay off. The pay off is sharing a moment of astonishment, catching a glimpse of disbelief from a close friend or family member so they can witness your studies coming into fruition.

Building confidence to perform doesn’t solely live with the trick itself, but also with the lead into asking a potential ‘audience’ to see a trick you’ve worked so hard on.  You initiate the experience, you perform, and you complete the process by thanking that individual (or individuals) for their time.  The pay off will be that reciprocation of a thank you to you, the performer, for the entertainment.
The shared experience will feed a new magician’s appetite to learn more, and the building of confidence will stretch the desire to see how else they can astonish an audience.  Learning to trust the process will lay the foundations of a strong magician, and the chasing of these moments of payoff will continue the momentum to get better, challenge oneself, and become the magician you want to be.