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     I am an amateur magician. Or maybe I’m a hobbyist. The difference can be subtle. Sometimes in my head I forget I’m an amateur and I see myself on a stage in front of an adoring audience, but then I remember I’m in the shower. And no one is actually laughing at my jokes. In fact the sound I hear is my wife banging on the bathroom door and yelling, “Who are you talking to?”


    Yes, I’m an amateur, but I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Nor am I embarrassed by the fact that every time I do perform a magic trick it doesn’t always “kill.” (Occasionally it merely maims.) And sometimes my sleights are not terribly subtle and often my timing isn’t as precise as when I rehearsed it in front of the family dog. But the truth is I still had fun doing it.


     Let’s face it, performing magic can be a humbling experience and I think that’s a healthy thing. It reminds us that we’re mortal and flawed and that’s okay because even the most accomplished and experienced performer makes mistakes; musicians hit the wrong notes, jugglers drop balls, and that so-called invisible thread breaks sometimes. Stuff happens even to the best of the best. But think about it this way: people have literally died trying to do magic; folks have drowned trying to escape from milk cans and others have unfortunately done a lethal version of the Bullet Catch. So what’s so bad if I drop the deck of cards while trying to show off my one handed shuffle, or fumble my final load doing the Cups and Balls? It’s not a matter of life and death. Besides, there’s an interesting axiom in magic: the more you screw up, the better you get at your “outs.”


     I suspect the reason many readers of The Linking Ring love magic like I do has little to do with grand aspirations (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with that). I think many of us learn, practice, and perform because it gives us, and hopefully our spectators, pleasure. The truth is I like making people laugh, and though I might not fool Penn and Teller, I often do fool those I perform for. 


     One of the highest compliments I ever received when I was the principal of an elementary school, was when one of my students’ fathers said to me, “You’re the only principal I ever heard of where the kids want to get sent down to the office.” Let me clarify: It’s not that I didn’t mete out consequences for bad behavior, but I did learn that even the angriest and most troubled kids in the school could be distracted and calmed by a card or coin trick. And again for clarification I didn’t say, “So you cursed out the teacher and punched out the kid sitting next to you? Never mind, pick a card.” No, it didn’t happen like that, but I did find that magic itself is a powerful form of misdirection, a means of helping others forget about their troubles even if it’s for just a little while.


     So as I said, I’m an amateur, and a proud one at that. I may not perform before large crowds or even not so large crowds, but if you measure success in terms of the joy you’ve brought to others (and yourself), then I think I’ve been a very successful entertainer. Or another way to look at it is this, if joy were money, I’d be a rich man.

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