More Lynda Barry at https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/author/lynda-barry
Every once in a while I like to catch up and share the titles of conjuring books I’ve been reading, so here’s what I’ve been enjoying the last couple of months—and a little product review at the end as well:
1. Scripting Magic, Volume 2: Pete McCabe’s first volume, Scripting Magic, was one of my all-time favorite magic books. It contained scripts for dozens of excellent magic tricks, and what’s more, it told you why they were good scripts and compared them to the not-so-good examples. Anyone reading them could improve the effects they already did by following the advice in the book. Now, in Volume 2, McCabe continues with more wonderful tricks and scripts—including examples from America’s Got Talent winner Derek Hughes, and the script of Houdini’s performance of the Water Torture Cell. McCabe tells you not only what makes a good script, but also helps you to understand how to come up with a premise, and how to flesh it out. It’s terrific advice, but even if you choose to ignore it, there are some very good tricks here including “Pleasure To Burn” ( a fifty-two to one card equivoque) and the holiday-themed “Catching a Leprechaun.” While it’s always great to learn new sleights (and McCabe teaches a few here in the context of a given effect) probably no investment of time will improve one’s magic so much as focusing on script and presentation.
2. Malini and His Magic: Dai Vernon was always humble about the debt he owed to the magicians whose work he studied, including Emil Jarrow and Nate Leipzig, but none impressed him more than Max Malini. I’ve written about Malini before, but it is hard to overestimate what an important influence he was on Vernon’s generation of magicians. In an age where magicians mainly entertained with large illusions on stage, Malini changed the paradigm. Whether he was entertaining on the stage of a large theater, a hotel ballroom, or an intimate dinner party of the rich and famous, he needed only a couple of decks of cards and some silverware to make his presence unforgettable. In Malini and His Magic, editor Lewis Ganson collated Vernon and others’ thoughts and memories of Malini in order to produce a slim but valuable volume. It starts off with some basic biographical information, and then describes the presentation and methods of Malini’s full evening show, the highlight of which was his card stabbing routine. Later chapters deal with Malini’s more informal shows, and it’s wonderful to read about how audacious his effects and methods were. Malini was also quite a self-promoter, and not a small amount of his success was his ability to “schmooze” and make friends with wealthy patrons. The one secret that remains is the famous dinner table production of a block of ice from a lady’s hat. While Vernon describes the production and one aspect of the method, he admits that he does not know how Malini loaded up. That will have to be a mystery to all but Ricky Jay, who you can see perform the astonishing trick for a skeptical journalist in the documentary film Deceptive Practice. (Hmm, I just got an idea of what may have happened.)
3. Our friend Ron Chavis is now well along with the publication of his “Official Magazine for Mentalists,” Mystic Descendant, having released a solid four quarterly issues to round out the first year. The magazine continues with its friendly, good-natured, bar-room mate outlook, and as I have mentioned before, it focuses mainly on the casual performance of mentalism, with a focus on storytelling. I’ve finally caught up with the fourth issue, and in it you’ll find a lovely true story about a seance that unexpectedly turns into a tribute to a recently deceased mentalist; a presentation of an effect that leaves warm feelings of a spectator’s meaningful relationship; and an interview with South American mentalist Mauricio Jaramillo who talks about preparing for the time when things go wrong in performance. It’s light, pleasant reading, that may well stimulate mentalism thoughts of your own; if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, you can go to http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/mysticdescendant to order any issue.
4. On some of the internet magicians’ forums, you’ll find endless discussion of what are the best cards to use, and it may seem amusing to run into spirited online discussions that go into scores of pages on whether blue-backed or red-backed cards are best to use. A lot of magicians take such things quite seriously. Anyway, much virtual ink has also been spilled about what brand of cards is most suitable for card magic. For the past few years, the product of a relative newcomer in the field, the Phoenix deck by Card-Shark, has found favor with many magicians. I like Phoenix cards a lot, but I recently became aware of the new release by the US Playing Card Company of a special edition of their Maiden Back cards. I’ve been using them for a few months now, and I really like them, maybe more than the Phoenix cards. Here’s what I think the advantages of them are:
So if this sounds like something you might be interested in, I’d advise you to try a brick soon, as I don’t really see how they can keep selling them at this price. Happy magishing.
So, I was having my weekly freak out about what will happen if I die tomorrow—not that I have any indication that that is going to occur—and I realized that what I was worried about the most, besides my family, was my writing.
Specifically, what about the novel that I’ve been working on for the last five years, the one that’s still sitting on my computer? My nightmare is that it just stays there with no one even knowing that it’s there. Oh, my family knows I’ve been working on it all this time—how could they not with all the agita around it?—but they don’t know what file it is, or what version is the latest, and probably they’ll have other things to think of when I drop dead, so what am I going to do? It’s strange: we finally got around to making a will, so my family is okay; but I worry about my characters. I’m worried that they will not have a chance to live. It’s a crazy feeling, but it’s a real one. I want them to have a home if they don’t find one before I’m gone. I wonder if other writers experience this. Like Pirandello’s characters, my modest creations want to have a chance to play out their stories, too.
I mean, I have been doing due diligence, sending out my manuscript and query letters, but who knows if anyone will bite? A few close calls, but still nothing. But I believe in this book and these characters, and while I know the book is not going to appeal to everyone, I say immodestly that it is good and deserves to be read by those who would enjoy it.
So I finally figured out a way to lessen my anxiety around this whole thing. I decided that I would self-publish one copy, one copy that I could leave behind, so that when I go, at least there will be some tangible evidence of what I’ve been doing these last few years. It’s kind of amazing to me the effort it takes to write a novel, good or bad. At least, the effort it took me. I don’t claim it to be anything great, but I don’t want it just to disappear.
I went onto a popular online self-publishing site, Lulu.com, having no experience at all how this was going to play out. I assumed that I would have to order a hundred or more copies to get this done. It’s not really what I wanted to do, but I figured, okay, if I have a stack of these left in my office when I kick the bucket, they can give them out at my funeral or something. When I actually went to the website, though, I was pleasantly surprised. You don’t have to order a hundred copies. You could order fifty, or fifteen, or for goodness sake, you could just order one. Yes, one’s the ticket: that’s just what I wanted. Just one to document that I was here, that somewhere in my life I did this thing, and here it is.
The whole process was not too difficult to navigate. There’s a bit of a learning curve but if you follow the directions on the website, you can create your book without too much trouble. The first thing you do is choose the format for your published book: hardbound, softbound, paper quality, different sizes, and so on. I chose a 6×9 perfect bound paperback. If you eventually decide that you want to publish the book commercially, they recommend you ask for the premium paper. This option also provides you with an ISBN number should you ever decide to go commercial with the book. Next, you download a Word template from the website and import the Word document of your manuscript into it. You then upload that file back to Lulu, and they return a pdf that shows exactly how the manuscript will look when published.
When you’re happy with what you see, then it’s time to choose a cover. There is a very easy and flexible Cover Wizard which allows you to choose from a number of attractive looking cover themes. If you like, you can add photos to your front cover; also, on the back cover, you can add an author’s photo and any text you wish. In addition, the book automatically prints with the title of the book and the author’s name on the spine. Since I am not interested right now in publishing, I did not opt for any photos or even back cover text, so I just chose an abstract cover design that I thought was attractive.
At this point you can order your masterpiece, any amount from one proof copy to hundreds. There is a discount in the price per book as the quantity goes up, but I was amazed at how inexpensive it was, even for the one proof copy I wished to purchase. For a 250 page softcover, premium paper, with a designed cover, it only cost $6, plus $5 for shipping. In other words, it cost less than a paperback at the local book store, even with shipping.
I sent off my order and the book arrived about 10 days later. It was very exciting ripping open the package, and seeing the book. It looked and felt great—it was not just a cheap knock off. It was commercial grade paper, cover, and binding. I was very pleased with that. And when I read through my book, I was ready to weep, because the story actually worked as a book. It’s one thing to read a manuscript as a file on your computer, or a collection of printed out loose papers, but when you read it as a bound book, it is a whole different experience. I kept turning the pages, and kept feeling like I had done it. Of course, what I also found were typos and pages mis-formatted, even after literally dozens and dozens of revisions. My biggest mistake was something I thought I had accurately accounted for, but I was wrong—not all of the major chapter sections and title pages started on a right hand page. But I wasn’t too worried, because the cost of re-doing a proof was cheap enough that I didn’t mind just correcting the file, re-uploading it, and ordering a new proof. That’s what I did, and ten days later I was greeted by the new corrected copy.
I have to say this whole experience really helped me to put my mind to rest. Even if you’re not as neurotic as I am, preparing to keel over at any moment, I think that if you are shopping around a manuscript you would benefit from ordering a proof copy of your work. You will see mistakes and typos in a way that you may well have missed in electronic or loose manuscript form. If you do get an agent and a publisher, wonderful; but if not, you have the option of either buying copies from Lulu and selling them yourself, or you can have the book advertised on Lulu’s website. They will do print on demand if you wish, so that they only print the number of books that are actually ordered; Lulu, of course, takes a substantial cut of the cover price that way. You also have the option of listing the book on Amazon in a similar print on demand deal, but in that case, Amazon takes such a large cut, that it hardly pays for the author.
So, if my family is reading this, now you know what that book is that’s sitting next to my will…but I sure hope you get to read it before then.
The first line of Hamlet, like many first lines of Shakespeare, announces the theme: “Who’s there?” For Denmark, like the countries we inhabit, is a place where no one is sure who is watching whom, who the enemy is, or on a more metaphysical plane, who makes up the person one calls oneself. Identities are questioned from the outside and the inside. Who and what is real? Can we know others? Can others know us? Can we know ourselves?
Denmark is a prison says Hamlet. It’s a country that seems to be perpetually at War. In such a world, where the enemy can sneak upon you at any moment, nothing is private. The State dominates through surveillance of actions and thoughts. The dangerous one is the one who keeps to him or herself. The notion of privacy has disappeared.
In No Place to Hide, Glenn Greenwald’s book concerning the revelation of ongoing, illegal, mass warrantless surveillance by the American government, he makes a point that is often overlooked: it is not possible for human beings to grow and develop normally in a society where there is no privacy. Privacy is a necessary condition for being able to try out different versions of ourselves, to both invent and to find out just who we are. To keep sane.
But Denmark is a prison.
In a government where the will of the people is feared, the alarm must sound for Hamlet—Claudius warily declares that “madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” Hamlet feigns madness as protection, to save his true self from scrutiny. Madness acts as a protective shell, the soul’s attempt to keep from being “too much in the sun.” There is no place for Hamlet to feel his feelings without the glare of the court on him. Even his most intimate conversations with Ophelia are watched. Like the sacred ceremony being recorded by an anthropologist, sacredness evaporates. There is no room for the sacred under such conditions, even though humans must have such a place or go mad. The early Shakespeare commentators asked whether Hamlet was really mad or only feigning it. He is both: he feigns madness and is driven mad by his panopticon society.
Hamlet eludes. He puts on an antic disposition. He play acts. What is a human being that s/he can act? For centuries, actors were reviled and cursed, classified with beggars, thieves and prostitutes. They were shapeshifters, untrustworthy, not what they seemed. Worse, an actor seems to have no center. Indeed, Borges once wrote that that was Shakespeare’s glory and curse—Shakespeare was everything and nothing. Everything because he was nothing.
Denmark is a prison. It’s a prison because there is nowhere to hide. A place becomes a prison when there is nowhere to be alone, no way to find out who you are. You are constantly being defined by others, being told who you are, who you must be, what you must do.
But the actor escapes definition. The actor is subversive of the whole notion of fixed identity; subversive of the notion of control. It’s, paradoxically, in the act of acting that Hamlet finds the truth and frees himself.
When we wonder whether art can be revolutionary, an act of resistance, it serves well to remember that every government in the world throughout history has sought to control its art. Surely that must be a salve to those who are not certain whether their efforts are useful. We don’t always know what kind of art will be effective or not, but the possibility that art can be a strong weapon always exists, even when it may be in ways we don’t always fully understand. The actor on the stage is always the promise that we contain multitudes and have the capacity to transform ourselves and society.
The play’s the thing.
I wonder how some people can talk so much. For me, it’s really difficult. I mean, if I must, I can, but it’s a big effort. Now it’s true that I am used to speaking in public, and I am used to being on a stage; but that’s script reading, not talking; it’s a world of difference. And the same with writing: some writers cannot stop writing. They keep their detailed diaries and journals, often from a young age, with an enviable fluency. On the other hand, writers like myself have to be chained to the chair and desk while writing. I kind of understand this difference in writers. With a writer, the voluble ones have the advantage of being able to get that first draft done quickly, and they don’t agonize over every word. But, still, those writers understand that a first draft is just a first draft. They know and accept that it’s not going to come out right that first time. But what I don’t understand is how some people can keep talking, since it’s not just a first draft, and there’s no chance to edit it once it’s out there. It’s already published–in a matter of speaking. Or is that it? Do they simply trust that they can keep talking and revise themselves in the moment?
I don’t know what I am writing until I write it. This essay itself has gone through many drafts (not enough!), and each time I’m discovering what it is I want to say. But I almost never allow myself that same luxury as a speaker. I almost never surprise myself as a speaker. Do others?
When I do radio I much prefer to edit interviews than do live radio, because I think the listener deserves more than my unedited wanderings. I am not a fan of poetry that reads like unedited diary musings. That seems inartistic to me. I don’t expect anyone to make any sense of my first drafts. The only time that I allow myself to speak without thinking first is during an acting improv, because to me, the stage is a very safe place, and I never have to take responsibility for what a character says.
But real life? No, I will not allow that. Do the talkers do what I do in an improv and silence their inner critic (or does it not exist for them)? Or does the inner critic work so quickly that they don’t worry about what comes out? Or are they confident that they can just keep talking, and in so doing revise as they talk? Maybe that’s what explains the compulsive quality of some of the non-stop talkers I’ve known. Are they revising, revising, and refusing to stop until the final product seems right? Or is it that they simply do not care that there may be some unwanted leakage? In the end, my attempts to manage myself are futile anyway, and maybe I just feel more wary and ashamed than I need to feel. The talkers have such a trust in themselves and their ideas, and there seems to be no border between their inside and outside. I don’t know how to be so transparent.
But I also see that talking is used as a defense, just as silence is used as a defense. Is it that the talker cannot imagine silence being used as a defense any more than the quiet one can understand the use of talking as a defense? Choose your weapon.
Still, I don’t even understand the biology and physics of the non-stop talker. How, I wonder to myself, is it physically possible for a person to be like a record player, putting the needle on the phonograph record and having it play straight through non-stop? Is the person doing in public what I am doing privately in my head all the time? Maybe those words are not meant for the public but for the talker? Is it that the talker cannot hear his or her own self-talk unless it’s spoken out loud?
Shakespeare talks a lot about talking. And his characters can certainly talk–to themselves and to others. But he makes fun of Polonius for babbling too much, and the silky flowing words of the King, Claudius, are treacherous ones. Yet Hamlet, who speaks more lines than any other character in Shakespeare, speaks with restraint in public. When questioned about his malaise he offers up only, “I am too much in the sun,” and “I lack advancement,” and, of course, his succinct book review: “Words, words, words.” The true bulk of his lines are thoughts which he shares only with himself–and the audience who paid to hear them.
I think that even if I wanted to change the way I was, I could not do it.
Is the truth in the stream of consciousness or the reflection upon it? Which is our deepest self?
Let’s say good-bye to the old year with two pensive haikus from David Bader’s Haikus for Jews:
BLT on Toast–
the rabbi takes his first bite,
then the lightening bolt.
The same kimono
the top geishas are wearing–
got it at Loehmann’s.
Agatha Christie, the Queen of mystery stories, not only wrote dozens of novels, but over 150 short stories as well. Recently, four of her short stories were read at New York’s Symphony Space, as part of the estimable radio series Selected Shorts, featuring a cast of well-known actors, and including commentary by essayist Fran Leibowitz. Click on the grey triangle above to hear my review, as broadcast yesterday on WBAI radio’s Arts Express.
Long time anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott talks with me in this radio interview, broadcast yesterday on WBAI’s Arts Express program, about the continuing danger and threat of nuclear war; the relationship of the nuclear power industry to the nuclear weapons industry; and what ordinary people can do to stop the nuclear madness.
Caldicott, named by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the most influential women of the 20th century, has just edited a new book, Sleepwalking to Armageddon, a short but sobering compilation of essays that outlines where the world stands now in relation to the nuclear danger, and what must be done.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
“Every one leaving the Palace was searched, no matter on what side he was. There were priceless treasures all about and it was a great temptation to pick up souvenirs…”
A hundred years ago this month, The Russian Winter Palace was taken over by the Bolsheviks as the culminating act of the Russian Revolution. American journalist Louise Bryant was an eyewitness to these events, and wrote about them in her exciting memoir of the period, Six Red Months in Russia.
Mary Murphy and I produced this 10-minute radio segment featuring readings from Bryant’s memoir, broadcast yesterday on the Arts Express program on WBAI-FM.
Click on the grey triangle above to listen.
Thanks to everybody who participated in the contest. I had an enjoyable time reading the entries. There were some really great stories told. Here are the three winners:
First Prize goes to Daniel Doyle for his hilarious story about a chimp gone ape, complete with the requisite bite in the ass. It’s a classic. Maybe if you see him in person someday he’ll tell you about it. He chose as his prize a copy of Marlo Without Tears by Jon Racherbaumer.
Second Prize goes to Alfred Dowaliby who told a wonderful magician-in-trouble story. While Alfred was working aboard a cruise ship, fortune played a dirty trick—but instinct took over, and he emerged a hero. Extra points for a side portrait of his boss, Bill Malone. He chose as his prize Volume 5 of Richard Osterlind’s Mind Mysteries DVD.
Third Prize goes to Gallagher Hayes who told a touching and philosophical story of a misunderstanding that led him to the wrong place at the wrong time; but he still had the unstinting support of his beloved wife. He chose as his prize a copy of The Magic of Milt Kort by Stephen Minch.
Thanks again to all who entered. Sometime next week, everyone who participated will receive a pdf compilation of all the stories that were sent in
See you next year?
I was happy to welcome back poet Constance Norgren yesterday to the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 NY to read from her latest collection of previously unpublished poems, Late In The Day. Click on the grey triangle above for some wonderful short poems.
Before Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth had already written two very accomplished novels: Letting Go and When She was Good. I’ve previously written about my appreciation of the former novel, but When She was Good is an equally intriguing, though quite different book.
In this novel unpleasant, not one of the eight major characters, neither man nor woman, is someone with whom the reader can sympathize. It is Philip Roth’s Ship of Fools. Each character is deeply flawed, but not in the grand tragic manner—for their lives are far too small, shallow, and petty to be tragic. Their problem is that they are ordinary human beings trying to make a life, dealing the best they can with their inevitable inadequacies.
The novel, set in small town, post-war America of the nineteen-fifties, describes the life of Roy Basart, just back from the service, his future uncertain, a young man of more desire than ability. He is at that awkward age in his early twenties when he is expected to become serious, find a career, marry, and make a family. He meets and marries a young woman, Lucy Nelson, whose life has been shaped by her alcoholic father. Lucy vows that she will never be the weak-willed woman her mother was, and that her child will have what she never had—a stable home, with a father who earns a steady living. But it is exactly her impatient and uncompromising will that leads her and all in her path to misery.
For her husband Roy is no hero, but an ordinary man with a wandering will who dreams of becoming an artistic photographer, though his head is full of cliches and other people’s ideas. His parents are strait-laced paragons of local virtue, emblematic of small town prejudice and narrow-mindedness. Lucy’s father, the ne’er-do-well alcoholic, beats Lucy’s forgiving mother, and in the defining action of the book, Lucy calls the police on her father, vowing that she will never forgive him.
Roth’s power as a writer is evident from the very beginning. His method of turning on the tape recorder and letting it run is in full effect here, as it was in his previous novel, Letting Go. Roth lets his characters talk—and talk and talk—but it is his brilliance as a writer that it is this talk that reveals everything we need to know about a character’s personality. The talk here is not just the talk between people, but the self-talk used to convince themselves. More than anything else, this book is about the power that we have for deceiving ourselves. There is not a character in the book who is not full of delusion, misconceptions fueled and propagated by what they say to themselves. Talk, for Roth, is not so much to persuade others, but to persuade ourselves of our own goodness, and especially of the reasonableness of the compromises we’ve had to make. In Shakespeare, it takes the most brilliant evocative words and imagery to persuade others; in Roth, it only takes the most mundane and unimaginative words repeated endlessly to persuade ourselves. The cliches that fill our self-talk are what allow us to continue our self-deceptions.
Not that the characters aren’t transparently foolish to others as well. Lucy can barely contain her sarcasm at the hypocrisy and blindness of her family. She is merciless in her dissection of their faults and expects them to live up to higher standards. She demands that they exert themselves more forcefully. But in her own relentless expression of her will, she comes to disaster. In her uncompromising demand for her own way at all times, she drives away the people closest to her, including her husband and child.
Roth clearly believes that it is inhuman to expect people to live without compromises, to believe in one’s own certainty, and to demand that others live that way, too. But Roth does not let the other side off the hook either. Lucy has good reason to be disgusted at the mediocrity and slackness of others. For much of the book, Lucy seems to be the most reasonable character out of all of them. It is really only in the last part of the novel where Roth chooses sides, and then he comes down heavily against Lucy. As if the reader might miss the point, Roth, in an uncharacteristically overdetermined way, has Lucy die in a frozen patch of snow, a result of her unrelenting obsession. It’s a misstep, I think, by Roth: in real life, such situations don’t usually lead to such histrionic endings, but continue with the dull repetition of recriminations and petty bickering on both sides. It’s surprising that Roth doesn’t just allow that, after being such a faithful observer of his characters’ lives.
While the book is a tragedy of personality, it also exists within a specific social and political milieu. It contains more than a little influence of Sinclair Lewis’s 1920s Babbit and Main Street: rural and suburban America coming of age under capitalism; however, in this later work, the post-world War II context is clearly the McCarthy era with its stilted vision of success, and its strictures on what people may say to themselves and others. The unspoken subtext of the novel is the inability to achieve the American dream: the dream is a fake, shored up by anti-communism. Roy has some inklings that maybe socialism is not as bad as everyone says, but it is no more than a vague thought, ultimately just a talking point for himself, another excuse for his own personal failures.
Strikingly, this is one of the few books by Roth where Jews and Jewish culture play no obvious part. Still, in a way, it’s a parable of Old Testament judgement versus New Testament mercy. Lucy represents the vengeful willful God of the Old Testament, while her grandfather, mother, and husband lean towards the charity and forgiveness of the New Testament. They are in a sense competing strategies for survival. But both ways under American capitalism in this novel lead to tragedy. There is no way to be. Neither ruthless will, nor temperate charity, can insure happiness or survival.
Because Roth as a novelist is as uncompromising as Lucy is as a person, the book can feel pitiless. Roth refuses to turn his head away from what he sees and hears. But the skills with which the 33-year-old Roth delineated the knots of relationship is bracing in its own way. To lay it all out on the table without flinching is a powerful achievement, and left this reader, at least, more sober and in a more reflective state about his own life.
The Devil is back, and the Devil is all in the details.
The Devil, in the guise of card man Greg Chapman, has returned with a new volume of mischievous pasteboard knowledge, Details of Deception: Artifice and Entertainment with Cards. If you thought Greg’s first book, The Devil’s Staircase, was a tour de force of gambling-themed card magic ideas, you’ll be even more delighted with this follow-up. The new book can certainly stand alone as a contribution to the literature, but when seen as a companion book to its predecessor, it really makes its full impact. (Full disclosure: I gladly did some proofreading on this as well as the earlier book.)
Dai Vernon liked to quote Da Vinci, “Details make perfection, but perfection is no detail.” Vernon knew that especially in the art of magic, the difference between the right detail and the wrong detail could mean the difference between success and failure. As Teller once pointed out, magic is very binary in the sense that an effect either fools an audience or it doesn’t. There’s no “sorta” or half pregnant in magic. A slight detail can be the difference between the audience experiencing a sense of verisimilitude or not.
Greg takes on a relatively narrow slice of the magic universe and focuses sharply on the details that make a difference. As he did in his first book, Greg here first introduces the tools he will be discussing: the peek, the key card, the stack, the crimp, even the humble ribbon spread. If you think you know everything about those tools, odds are, you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Greg’s focus as he circles back to these subjects is always how to get ahead while maintaining naturalness in action and speech. To this end, Greg is all about learning how to feel comfortable in one’s habitual environment—in Greg’s case, at the card table. His style is low-key, innocent, and absolutely fooling.
The second chapter of the book introduces effects which require little to no set-up (except for, in one case, the introduction of a gaffed card). Some of them, such as “Rubaway Switch” and “OHSD Switch” are transposition effects which can also be used as utility moves. Others, such as “Any Pair” and “Card at Number,” are basically self-working tricks with a strong impact. And with just a little more faro-ing effort, “The Accomplice” and “PUnDoM” are impressive quick demos of card control.
The following two chapters are, for me, the heart of the book. In the chapter entitled Stacks, Greg goes into greater detail regarding the tools that he mentioned at the beginning of the book. There is a lengthy and invaluable discussion of estimation that opens the chapter, and I can say that for me personally, it took a skill that seemed mysterious and out of my reach, and turned it into something achievable and usable. Greg even provides outs for those times when one’s estimations are a little off. I don’t have to tell anybody who does MD work what a valuable skill estimation is to have.
Equally useful to me was Greg’s discussion of the Ribbon Spread. It really opened my eyes to the devious uses to which this ubiquitous little flourish can be put. In the sections on peeks, shiners, and deck switches, there is also much of use: not only concerning the sleight-of-hand aspects of the moves, but also the timing and body gestalt as well.
The next chapter is devoted to memorized deck routines. There is a clever ACAAN, which has some important features: the spectator can genuinely name any card, and also has a wide range of numbers from which to choose. More importantly, the spectator can do the final countdown deal to the card. And . . . the method is essentially sleightless. Other tricks that I especially like in this section are “One Card Missing,” a snappy determination of a card missing from a deck under seemingly impossible conditions, and “That Old Trick,” a discovery of a selected four-of-a-kind that is quite enjoyable to perform, and is a painless and safe way to practice your Mexican Turnover.
The last chapter of the book is called Second Thoughts. It is a detailed mini-treatise on how to perform Greg’s version of a push-off second. This is painstaking, nuanced work, and probably will most interest those who can’t afford the slightest inkling of suspicion. If that sounds up your alley, there are lots of diagrams, advice, and encouragement here for those who decide to tread the path. The good news for the rest of us is that Greg includes in this section an excellent gambling deal effect, “Stacked To Win,” which while requiring some quick thinking and quick second dealing, actually demands less skill than the overall impression of the effect conveys.
Greg ends the book with a wonderful Cards to Pocket that will likely fool most magicians. It incorporates a very clever, efficient gaff. I don’t know if the gaff is original to Greg, but I’ve never seen it before, and I can well imagine its use in other situations as well.
If you have any interest in improving your card magic skills, I highly recommend that you sit down to a deal with the Devil, Greg Chapman’s Details of Deception.
Yesterday, WBAI-FM radio’s Arts Express broadcast part two of my interview with Peter Frase, author of the new book Four Futures.
Frase has an intriguing set of ideas about what the future might look like after capitalism destructs, given the ecological constraints of abundance/scarcity and the political constraints of equality/inequality. In this final segment we talk about what might happen if the world’s resources turn out to be strictly limited.
Click on the grey triangle above to tune in.
You can listen to Part One here:
Yesterday, WBAI-FM radio’s Arts Express broadcast part one of my interview with Peter Frase, author of the new book Four Futures. Frase has an intriguing set of ideas about what the future might look like after capitalism destructs, given the ecological constraints of abundance/scarcity and the political constraints of equality/inequality.
Click on the grey triangle above to tune in.
You can listen to Part Two here:
What an odd and thought-provoking play.
The play as advertised on the title page of its First Quarto publication declares its putative genre: a Pleasant Conceited Comedy. And so it is for four and a half acts. Not only is it based on a simple comedy plot conceit—four royal gents, including the King of Navarre, try to forswear thoughts of women, but give up as soon as four women visitors, including the Princess of France, arrive—but the copious wordplay, wealth of literary allusions, and satirical sallies aimed at the pretensions of the educated classes, indicate the young “upstart crow” of a playwright calling attention to his easy gifts, leaving his calling card with not a little hubris. The play is drunk with puns and verbal sparring, and with parodies of those who would spend so much time twisting words into what they’re not. Shakespeare juggles the words, plot, and characters with due ostentation, like a strolling player with four balls in the air at once. There is no hiding art with art here: his art is all out there on display.
The play at first seems to share a theme that most of Shakespeare’s comedies embody: love makes us all mad and makes us do silly, out of character things. And like many of the other comedies, Love’s Labour’s Lost employs many of the same comic plot devices with its verbal sparring between lovers, disguises, mistaken identities, and maskings and unmaskings.
And this is how the play goes for four and a half acts. The men woo the ladies, the ladies demur, the men disguise themselves and try to trick the ladies, but the women get their own back by swapping identities among themselves during a masked entertainment. Finally the duplicities are uncovered and the women triumph, embarrassing the men, getting the men to admit their faults and their love. It’s just at this juncture in the other comedies where there would be a laughing, a forgiving, and the men and women would conclude by dancing a merry jig, with weddings in the air. That’s what the theatrical clock anyway says should happen here, given the stage time left to wrap up.
But here instead in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare does an extraordinary thing. A messenger delivers the news from France that the Princess’s father has died. The news casts a terrible pall on the proceedings and causes the women to withdraw completely. Even though the men earnestly declare their love for the women as honestly as they can, the women will have none of it; they are too perturbed by sorrow and get ready to go back home to France. It’s a remarkable moment; it’s as if someone had come out and said to the audience, sorry folks, there’s no comedy tonight, one of the actors has died. . .we tried to keep your sorrows at bay for the last few hours, but unhappy reality always creeps in, and so it has again. The women must go home to mourn; they say that they will be back in twelve months, but only if the men can prove they have become better people, and have done genuine social penance in that time. And we are left hanging.
In construction, Love’s Labour’s Lost is unique in the Shakespeare canon. Although other Shakespeare plays shift gears in the final moments as Love’s Labour’s Lost does, those other so-called “problem plays” —Measure for Measure, Cymbeline, and All’s Well that Ends Well, for example—do so in a decidedly different way. Those plays start off as apparent tragedies, and then suddenly by a happy turn of events, often due to an act of bold and generous forgiveness, lovers are reconciled, friendships are repaired, and the world is righted once again. But not so in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Its construction is the very opposite of the problem plays. It seems to have every intention of being a comedy, but in the last moments the play morphs into sadness, snatched from the jaws of happiness. As far as I know, Shakespeare doesn’t do that anywhere else.
In another play, the unhappy turn of events at the end might serve as a plot twist in the middle of the play, only to be merrily overcome by the end. But no such luck in Love’s Labour’s Lost. The time is out of joint. One of the men announces quite openly to the other players (and the audience):
Our wooing doth not end like an old play:
Jack hath not Gill. These ladies’ courtesy
Might well have made our sport a comedy.
Come, sir, it wants a twelvemonth an’ a day,
And then ’twill end.
That’s too long for a play.
The play ends with a song, not by the assembled would-be lovers, but by players representing Spring and Winter, introduced by Armado, a foolish visiting nobleman. The song about spring warns married couples that they are subject to being cuckolded, while the song about winter reminds the assembled of all the chores and drudgery that the cold weather brings, albeit bringing perhaps a kind of small domestic satisfaction. When the songs are over Armado says in a bittersweet curtain speech, “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo.” Mercury traditionally was the deliverer of messages, while Apollo was the God of art, music and poetry. It was as if Shakespeare were saying, as an artist he could ease you with the comforts of art, but he couldn’t close his eyes to what life could bring at any moment. One unfortunate message is enough to turn any happiness upside down. It is an odd, odd ending for a comedy. The curtain comes down as Armado says, “You that way, we this way.”
Who is Armado addressing that line to? Who is the “you” and the “we”? The men and the women of the play? The audience and the actors? Or Shakespeare and everybody else? For community and the very act of storytelling seem to be at root the very essence of comedy, yet Shakespeare insists on ending with a separation.
It was an audacious jump. Shakespeare wanted to go “that way,” differently from the “this way” of others. He could set a plot in motion as well as any other trifling theatrical, he could parry and thrust his wit as sharply as any of his peers. But in the end he wanted something different. By this time, he had already thrown Aristotle out the window—no precious Unities of time and place for him, the world was too encompassing for that—but he now also wanted to do away with false endings that spoke of finality, when the truth was that everything one knows can change in an instant, and happiness can turn into sadness in a heartbeat.
What could have prompted such a desire in the playwright at this time? The Quarto title page may provide a clue. It was printed in 1598, but the notice on the page declares that it had been performed for the Queen the previous Christmas in 1597. So it’s not unlikely that the play was composed around 1596-1597. But in 1596, the successful London playwright got a visit from Mercury himself with the news from Stratford-On-Avon: Shakespeare’s only son, eleven-year-old Hamnet, had died. Was it this awful blow that turned a sunny comedy into a darker meditation on the ephemeral nature of life? I think it must be so.
What must Will’s audiences have thought of the play? It was thought well enough of, that it was published in several Quarto and Folio editions. But perhaps that was for the more literary-minded, because actual productions of the play after its initial performances were few and far between until the 20th century. I think, ultimately, that the play was not a crowd-pleaser. In short order, the practical-minded impresario Shakespeare eventually came to his senses, and never wrote such a bitter comedy again. In truth, the very comedic form which Love’s Labour’s Lost subverts is exactly the kind of comedy that Shakespeare then goes ahead and writes for the next decade. He never seeks to end a comedy in such a melancholy way again. So figuratively he writes with one hand behind his back, and the titles give his contempt away: As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night or What You Will— that’s what you want from Will, that’s what you will get.
He never did write a comedy like Love’s Labour’s Lost again, although certainly he expressed the darker side of his nature in the tragedies and the histories. He retired after 37 plays, a wealthy man, with a newly minted coat-of-arms, to his house in Stratford-on-Avon. But Love’s Labour’s Lost stands as a bold experiment in form by a young playwright near the peak of his powers who once allowed Mercury’s harsh words to interrupt Apollo’s song.
The final scene of Othello, set in Desdemona’s bed chamber where Othello, standing over Desdemona while she sleeps, decides to kill her.
Performed here on the 1944 audio record by Paul Robeson as Othello, Uta Hagen as his doomed wife Desdemona, Jose Ferrer as the evil Iago, who falsely convinces Othello of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness, and Edith King as Iago’s wife, Emilia, who realizes with horror what her husband has done. I don’t think I’ll ever hear a better rendition.
Thanks to YouTuber Xenu
Andy is now well into year two of The Jerx, and Issue #4 of the JAMM monthly newsletter. While the first year’s blog had quite a number of very strong effects, some of which made it into The Jerx book, the second year saves most of the tricks for the newsletter. Now the blog is for the most part Andy’s attempts to flesh out a theory of amateur performance (interspersed with ads in support of his website). Leaving aside the newsletter for now, I thought I’d link to some of my favorite second-year blog posts.
A few things first, though. Number one: I have no idea what sort of human being Andy is in his other lives, but in his Jerx life, he has been, contrary to the expectations of many skeptical magicians, a model citizen. He has delivered everything that he has promised—two books, a monthly newsletter, other paraphernalia, and most importantly in my opinion, his blog—in a timely manner. While this is the normal expectation in most spheres of commerce, sadly, for some reason in the magic world, it’s too often the exception rather than the rule. So although Andy would probably cringe at the designation, he has been a man of integrity.
Number two: I’m sort of done with telling folks how good some of this stuff is. There’s enough for free on the blog to decide whether it’s your kind of thing or not. Andy takes a kind of cost-analysis approach to his magic that basically asks: what investment of time/money/practice will best improve the experience of magic for the audience? Andy’s real strength is that when he puts forth an idea, he really explores it and puts it into practice, rather than just giving lip service to the concept. But because improved audience impact often has nothing to do with issues of method, and rather results from focusing more on presentational issues, some will bypass The Jerx. All I can do is shrug my shoulders.
So, here are some of the Year Two blog posts I’ve enjoyed:
I had long known of Langston Hughes’s poems, but I didn’t know until very recently what a delightful speaker and storyteller he was. In this audio clip he is talking to a group of graduate students in Berkeley about his upbringing. What a lovely man. Click on the grey triangle above to hear.
The audio clip is just the beginning of a one-hour Hughes talk from an astounding collection of over 1300 hours of audio from the archives of Pacifica Radio. The collection is called Voices That Change The World. It’s not cheap, but on the 64GB flash drive (you get two for the price of one) there is an extraordinary range of audio from the most remarkable people of the last fifty years—singers, poets, writers, politicians, artists, scientists, religious figures, audio books. It’s an amazing resource.
And if you buy one, please mark down that you’re donating for the Arts Express program.
Othello demands from Iago the ocular proof, and I’ve spent the last month or so providing such, in a manner of speaking. I’ve been proofreading and copy editing an excellent new magic book, Details of Deception, by Greg Chapman, and I’m quite enjoying the process. That must seem a strange thing to say for such a potentially tedious assignment, but the book is so intriguing, and the author such a gentleman (not always the case in the niche world of conjuring), that I was glad to take on the assignment.
I’ve written before about some of the challenges of copy editing and writing a book of magic. Stephen Minch, one of the great writers and publishers of magic literature, has given magic writers a unique style guide. Because of magic’s technical nature, the text of a book about card magic in some ways more closely resembles that of a car repair manual than that of, say, a novel; so by all means if you are about to embark on writing a magic book, your first stop should be Minch’s guide. You can download it for free here.
I’d like to just briefly mention a few other practical things that I’ve learned to watch out for in an endeavor like this. Much of this can be applied to non-magic literature as well:
I hope these few pointers will be helpful. But more, I think if you’re a card person you’re really going to like this book. I hope you find it a good read.