This past January was my second-anniversary in magic. That is to say, it was my second second-anniversary. My first second-anniversary was back in 1982, and I celebrated it by auditioning at the Magic Castle to become a magician member.

It took me two years to go from being a long-time magic enthusiast to performing in front of the Academy’s membership committee. Those were two years of focused study. I worked hard, drilling in riffle shuffle techniques, card counts, bottom dealing, blind cuts and shuffles, card slights and subtleties. I also practiced dice stacking, a bit of magical juggling which was not commonly performed and thus might entertain the membership committee more than just another card trick. I’ll never know if it was the cards or dice or both together, but I ended my second year in magic a magician member of the Academy of Magical Arts and Sciences.

Then life, work, and family, intervened. I remained a magician member of the Magic Castle, paying my dues annually, but I rarely made it up to Hollywood to see the shows, let alone perform. There was just so much else that demanded attention and energies. My magic was put on hold for 35 years.

At the end of 2017, I retired. All at once the demands on my time went from overwhelming to zero. I took stock, thought about what I want to do, and realized I still had that spark inside me to perform and share the impossible.

So, I picked up a deck of cards, intending to refresh my digital dexterity over a few weeks, perhaps a month or two, of regular practice. That was not to be. Arthritis and stenosing tenosynovitis (aka trigger finger) had progressed such that my old material was now firmly in the past. I tried. I tried diligently. But in the end, I had to admit I was unlikely ever again to fling my fingers in those secret sleights. Oh, I could do some things some of the time, but reliably enough to perform? Unlikely.

I took stock. What could I do? There was a lot of magic I had never attempted to learn. Maybe I should explore some of that? Apparatus magic, mentalism, ring and rope perhaps? I started rereading works from my dusty library. I pulled down the Fitzkee trilogy, Nelms’s Magic and Showmanship, and Ganson’s Routined Manipulation books, looking for magic better suited to my reduced abilities.

Before, in the 1980s, I had had a laser focus on learning about cards and, to a lesser extent, dice. That was a youthful passion with all the excesses of an able youth. But I was no longer young or able. Along with nimbleness of finger, I had lost my certainty of intent. Beyond the desire to perform again, I had no idea of just what magic I wanted to perform. I had no real direction for my studies.

I discovered the internet. That is, I discovered the wealth of magical performances, discussion groups, blogs, and dealer sites offering miracles for purchase, all available for viewing on the internet. I acquired more books and videos, and the occasional dealer’s phantasm. But I was still without any sense of who I wanted to be as a magician.

One day, I came across The Amazing Johnathan’s “Burn Unit” video podcasts. On one of them (#32) http://www.burnunit.tv/wp/jeff-mcbride/ , Johnathan interviewed Jeff McBride. In the interview, Jeff mentioned his Magic and Mystery School. Over the next few weeks, the idea of getting professional guidance for my return to magic crept into my thoughts. So, I looked up the Mystery School website and started seriously considering the possibilities. On my own, I was floundering. Was performing magic no longer a practical goal? Perhaps the Mystery School could help me figure things out.

In August of 2018, eight months after retiring, I attended my first Master Class. I had spent the prior three months selecting, conceptualizing, scripting, constructing, and rehearsing a 10-minute performance piece. I had no idea what to expect from the class. I had hopes and I had fears. Who was I to take a Master Class? I was so short of mastery of anything magical anymore. But the Master Class best fit my schedule and was within my budget, so I enrolled.

That class was a truly inspiring experience. Jeff and Abigail have opened their home and hearts, and, with all the Mystery School staff, they have created an amazing place to learn magic. Most importantly they have created a safe space to try and fail. Negative anticipation of failure is destructive. It is destructive of self and it is destructive of art. But constructive failure is essential for growth and learning. The Mystery School’s greatest strength may be that it provides for safe failure.

Don’t get me wrong, the lessons themselves are intense, packed with magical knowledge, both hands-on and theoretical. The instructors are all amazing, knowledgeable professionals, and each lesson is layered with such depth of material that magicians at all levels can come away with valuable new insights into our art and new skills to practice and perfect.

At the end of that class, I was emotionally wrung out. It had caused me to reach inside myself for magic connections beyond expectation. I was exhausted and bulging with magic. It was like a Thanksgiving dinner spent with people you truly enjoyed being with, at which you had eaten all you could, but even so barely sampled the feast laid out before you.

My strongest feeling coming away from the class was gratitude. You see, I came to the class doubting if I could be a magician again and left it knowing that I could.

Two years after returning to magic, with Jeff’s guidance, and through the Mystery School experience, I now perform regularly at the Magic Castle. I’ve got a solid 20-minute set and am working on another to showcase more of my close-up magic. That’s so much more than I could imagine two years ago.


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