Midwifing Magic: Birthing Miracles in the Age of Reason

I knew what I was in for when I first met Jeff. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he has been madly in love with lady magic since he was seven years old. Since I only met him when he was 28, I knew she had twenty years on me, and that there was no sense in competing with her for his love. Instead, I began to woo her myself, and found that as I learned to speak Jeff’s primary language, doors opened up in his heart and he could let me in to deeper places. Jeff is very focused on his passion for magic. I know that if I ever want his full focused attention on me, all I have to do is pick up a deck of cards, and show him a new false cut, and ask for his feedback. He will instantly, completely engage. The more ways I find to interact with magic, the more ways I find to love my husband.

Creation begins with vision, inspiration and ideas. Cooper Edens, a writer of children’s literature reminds us that: “Our early creativity is fragile and can be easily crushed.” According to The National Women’s Health Information Center, the healthiest babies are often born to the mothers who have the best pre-natal care. In the same way, the strongest, most successful ideas, the ones that actually come to fruition, are often the ones that are treated most gently in the earliest stages.

My primary language is music, when I’m creating a new piece, there are specific things Jeff can do to help me in my process, just as I help him in his. Receiving support is instrumental. When in the early phases of a new song, really, all I want to hear is that I’m doing great, that he likes it, and thinks I should keep going with it. Sometimes I question my own creativity, and run the risk of listening to the voices of self-doubt and judgment that ask: “is this trite? does this sound like every other song I’ve ever written? is this ok? am I ok?” Hearing words of encouragement from a voice outside the imaginary ones in my head, saying: “Wow, I like this, you’re doing great, keep going!” often gives me the nudge I need to move beyond self-doubt, and to relax more deeply into the creative process. In just the same way, when Jeff shows me a card move he’s working on, even without any script or polish, the best thing I can give him is my kind support, and praise. There is plenty of time later for more focused feedback. It is important to recognize and remember that when something is newborn, it is fragile.

Lee Silber, in his book on Time Management stated:

Creativity is fragile; if you don’t nurture it, it can die, leaving you recycling old ideas and pretending they’re fresh.

Birthing can be a long process, many hours, days, weeks and months go into bringing forth new life. As a midwife to magic, I must have patience with the process, and be willing to listen, to watch, to pay careful attention. When Jeff was learning the magazine memory effect, I must have heard every page of TIME magazine fifty times. It becomes something of a game, something we can share in.

As a midwife to magic, I play many roles, one of them is the Muse. The Muse was first seen in Greek mythology and was a being who inspired the creation of literature and art. A Muse is both a guiding spirit as well as a fountainhead of inspiration. They were considered the source of all the knowledge that was contained in lyrics and myths.

So, how do you inspire and nurture creativity? I know there are many different methods; a quick Google search for “how to nurture creativity” returns over a million results in less than half a second. One of the suggestions that consistently comes up is related to the idea of exploring everything that interests you. At the Magic and Mystery School, we often have the students do an exercise in which they list all of their passions on one side of a page, and all the magic effects they know on the other, and then draw lines to make connections. I try to take time on a regular basis to explore- away from the computer, outside of the home… to explore in the world, not via a medium of a book or computer screen, but to go to a museum, or a botanical garden, or around a fire circle, or up a mountain, to seek inspiration and fresh ideas. I often bring Jeff along with me, and this becomes another way for us to grow together. By breaking our normal routines, we open to the possibility of new inspiration, and make room for new revelations to appear.

Great ideas are often born in a flash of inspiration, in the moments between waking and sleeping, sometimes while the mind is focused on other things, like driving, for instance. We’ve learned to keep notebooks and pens at arms reach, all over the house, near the bed, in the car, on the back patio… Being able to capture the idea, even with only a few jotted key words helps to begin the process of making the magic manifest in the real world.

Another way to nurture our creativity is to consciously choose to make time for it. Each morning, when Jeff wakes up, he comes downstairs, starts the coffee brewing, and goes into his rehearsal space to practice three routines. The great Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:

Submit to a daily practice. Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door. Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.

Practice is a way to court the muse of creativity, to show devotion and discipline, to get a little better every day. A new magic effect is like a new baby. Before it is even born, it needs to be given a safe space to gestate. By honoring the time and space taken for practice, I help to create a nurturing environment. Jeff has written that performing magic is mind-altering, both to the performer and the audience. Perhaps it’s related to the biochemicals released into the system when performing; adrenalin, dopamine and oxytocin all can make a person feel good. Just as a woman giving birth is flooded with a variety of biochemicals, so, too is a magician performing magic. It *is* good medicine. If Jeff is having a grumpy sort of day, I’ve been known to tell him to go do some magic for someone, because I know it will improve his mood, and, by extension, make my day more pleasant. Encouraging him to perform is just one of the ways I help to midwife his magical growth.

Another role that comes under the heading of midwife of magic is that of the Witness. Just as a midwife will watch a woman in labor, keeping an eye on the entire process through regular examinations, so, too, do I watch and witness. As a woman in love with a magician, I am in a unique position. I’m the one, primarily, who he has the opportunity to “practice on.” So, I think one of the things Jeff can do to help me to help him is to realize the difference between, “Hey, c’mere, I want to try this on you,” and “My darling, when you have a moment, I have something I’d really love to do for you.” When he does approach me, I want to recognize, that he is offering me a rare and precious gift, to witness the unfolding of his creativity, so this is not a chore, but a newborn window of opportunity.

Once I’ve had the chance to see a new effect, I need to remember that this is an expression of my beloved’s creativity, and it will do me good to respond with care as well, after all, this is the man I love, right?

Just as a midwife will be supportive of a woman who comes in to see her and is already pregnant, I want to be sure to start with positive feedback first. I want my beloved to feel encouraged, not shot down. I’ll tell him what I liked, even if it’s just the idea behind the effect, and then I’ll ask him if he is interested in hearing my other ideas. Sometimes, he’s not ready for feedback, and that’s ok. There’s a difference between just wanting to try something out in front of someone, and wanting feedback from them. If he is ready, then I will tell him, clearly and kindly, in my opinion, what isn’t working. Often, I’ll offer my ideas on how the problem could be solved, whether it’s by shifting his finger position, changing his body posture, clarifying his script, or videotaping a move so he can see what I see. I want to balance my praise and encouragement with the gift of honesty. To allow him to continue performing an effect while flashing or fumbling would be akin to sending a five year old to school with his pants on backwards. I don’t want the “other kids” to laugh, right?

A midwife will tell a mother-to-be to breathe, to push, to not give up, to be strong. In this manner, I am also a Coach. Technique has to come first. If an effect is flashing so badly that the magic is nonexistent, it doesn’t matter how good the script is, or how inspiring the story is, so I watch carefully, seeing what a layperson would see, seeing what a magician would see — giving specific feedback, “try turning your wrist a little more away from me, that way you won’t flash,” encouraging him to video himself, so he can see what I see objectively.

Once the technique is solid, then I also use my skills as a writer and speaker to help craft the script for the effect, making sure that the right words find the right places. Magic spells and incantations, mantras and words of power all get woven together. We often start by following one of Eugene’s suggestions, and audio-recording a run-through of an effect, and then transcribing, word for word, what’s being said. From this starting point, we can edit out and tighten up what’s being said, so that each word has meaning, and every phrase moves the effect forward. As part of my undergraduate degree, I studied public speaking, voice and articulation, and interpretive speaking. So, we pay careful attention to pronunciation, inflection, pauses, and eye contact. All of these help make the final script strong and healthy.

After the technique is perfected and the script is clean, we turn to the feel. I ask him questions, “what sort of response are you hoping to elicit from your audience? where do you see yourself performing this effect? how does this fit into the flow of the whole show?” Sometimes, by asking the right questions, I can help Jeff to find his own answers, which may or may not lead him to make changes in the script, the technique, or both.

It’s all coming from a place of wanting to see him succeed, because I care… because I love him, so I make it a point to offer my feedback kindly. As David Devant said, “All done with kindness.”

Part of what makes my feedback valuable is that I’m genuinely interested in magic. It’s one of the creative activities that Jeff and I share. We have other interests we share as well, like music, ballroom dancing, and fire circles. But when it comes to magic, I have nearly twenty years of experience both onstage and behind the scenes, going to countless magic conventions, witnessing hundreds of magicians both great and… not so great. All of these combine with my sincere desire to assist Jeff in his creative process, just as he does in mine. Together, we have given birth to many magickal children, including the Magic and Mystery School, the Vegas Vortex, the Show Doctor and countless shows all over the world…. Our magical legacy will live on and on. Thank you for being part of it.

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