Mailbag #104

In last month’s Love Letters you wrote this about a trick:

It looks crazy good. It just requires a thread hook-up that’s slightly more complicated than a Loop, so it’s nothing I’d ever be likely to do.

I’m somewhat surprised by this attitude since you write up other tricks where you go all-out. Why not go all-out for a thread hook-up? What’s the deciding factor in when you’ll put in the effort and when you won’t? —TD

For me, it’s helpful to think of magic as falling into two categories:

  • Short, fun moments of magic.

  • Longer, immersive magical experiences.

For immersive magical experiences, I will put in a ton of time and energy to make them work because the full encounter tends to stick with people long-term.

But when it comes to short, off-the-cuff, moments of magic, then I prioritize how convenient they are for me to perform. These effects are going to be less planned out and more spontaneous. So, ideally, they’ll be more-or-less impromptu.

The trick you’re referring to was a version of the Dancing Cane done with a straw. While I thought it looked really great, it required a special set-up specifically for that trick. Which means I’d have to leave the house with the intentions of doing a “dancing straw” trick. I’m just never going to be in that mindset.

Now, perhaps some day I’ll come up with an idea for a grand magical experience where floating a straw is the climax of the story. In that case, I’d put the energy into it learning it.

But for a casual moment of “hey, look at this,” then I’m not looking for a trick that I have to be unusually prepared for.

This kind of flows into the next question as well…

I’ve been meeting with a “productivity specialist” and the question he wants me to answer for myself is what areas of my life I find myself wasting the most time. I’ve been asking others that question, and I thought I’d ask you as well. When it comes to creating or performing magic, what areas are you wasting the most time/energy?—TP

A month or so ago, I found out they made tiny little Skittles.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was in a store that sold obscure snacks from around the world and I learned that they also make giant Skittles.

And so I bought them and spent a few hours coming up with a handling where a Skittle would shrink and grow, change color, etc.

I worked on it for a few days and showed it to a couple of people and their reaction was…

They liked it. It was a nice, quick visual moment. But there was nothing about it that truly captured their imaginations.

This type of primarily visual magic is fun for the eyes, and it can really rock a kid’s brain, but I’ve never had much luck with it connecting with an adult audience. I know this. In fact, I’ve written posts about the limits of visual magic. And yet, there is a part of my brain that is still 10-years old and expects so much more from these tricks than they’re really capable of producing.

It’s still worth it to me to know some tricks like this. I think “eye candy” should be a part of anyone’s repertoire. But if it requires a big investment of time or money or for me to carry around stuff (like a mini skittle, a giant skittle, and a bag of skittles that I’ve rejiggered into a change-bag)—then, for me, it’s a waste of time and energy.

It goes back to what I was talking about in the previous question. I don’t want to invest too much in something that doesn’t amount to too much more than a “fun moment.” But I find myself falling into that trap often, and when I do, it usually ends up feeling like a “waste” of my time and energy.

I'm excited to perform some version of your Stackless Slates trick [which appeared in an old newsletter and with a different handling in the 2022 book] In addition to performing for adults, I'd like to perform it for some kids. However, I'm not comfortable doing spirit-based performances with kids for reasons that I assume are obvious. “Uncle Colin” is already pretty weird due to his unusual hobbies like magic. I know you don't specialize in performing for kids, but that demographic is an important part of my social magic audience at this point. I'm wondering if you have any ideas of alternate presentation stories that work well with tricks that typically use “ghosts”. I realize forcing this change will likely dull the impact, but I'd rather do a great trick for a hungry audience at lesser potency than not do it at all. —CC

Hmm… I feel like “ghost stories” are perfectly appropriate for kids. In fact, that’s usually the audience for ghost stories, so personally I wouldn’t hesitate to do a “light” take on that theme with them.

But, if you want to get away from that all together, then the “entity” behind that trick could be:

  • Fairies

  • Trained Fleas

  • Your “imaginary friend.”

  • An invisible Bigfoot who lives in your closet (have one of the kids toss the “slates” in the closet and then have the kid remove them later). If you could rig up some growling sounds to play while you wait outside the closet, that would be…