Rambles | Stuck
By Steve Faulkner - Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Again, I found myself stuck, staring at a wall of magic books in a kind of concentrated paralysis. To an observer, this may have looked like I was considering what to read. But I was way past that point. I must have been standing there for about ten minutes, hands floating around the books like a couple of metal detectors trying to find the Holy Grail. It's a ridiculous dance I find myself carrying out embarrassingly often. And much of the time, due to frustration, the search will be fruitless.
I remember a simpler time. My magic library consisted of The Magic of Michael Ammar, The Royal Road to Card Magic and the Australian Magician's Handbook (no, I'm not Australian, but that's where it all started for me, and they do the same stuff).
Even then, I remember looking through the books and not really knowing where to go next. I was getting familiar with cards and coins, but still had a lot to learn. I gradually cobbled together what can be optimistically called a 'set' The success of this was down to two things:
An obvious idea of what I wanted to achieve - Do a gig - and,
Mentorship. My friend Peter Wardell recommended certain tricks to learn and, importantly, the ones not to. For example, from the Ammar book, The Crazy Man's Handcuffs and not the Linking Hair Bands thing.
The possibilities seemed endless and exciting. Without guidance and a plan, I would have wasted a lot of time. And that was with just three books!
During this time, something got its claws into me, and I was soon losing sleep at the thought of my next trip to International Magic or Davenports. Seeing entire shelves full of books, and the potential learning they contained, was so intoxicating. I fantasised about the magician I would become if I had just a fraction of that collection.
Be careful what you wish for.
Fast forward more years than I'm happy with, and I'm staring at my own collection with no goal or mentor, but a huge appetite for learning. Nothing wrong with that, but without a specific purpose, abundance can be exhausting. I had noticed that this was happening more often during Lockdown, probably because, due to childcare, focused time alone has become less frequent. Scarcity has created a kind of panic similar to one that I had previously experienced once in New York, where I had only three hours to explore a city I had wanted to visit my entire life. It should have been a brilliant three hours. It wasn't.
A tipping point was reached, and for my own sanity, something had to change.
It was time to practice what I preach and make a plan. To stop 'doing' and start 'thinking'. But not the urgent 'I've got twenty minutes to learn one of these 2500 (probably) tricks', but more the considered planning that involves visualising where I want to be and making an informed decision. I decided to choose just one book, take it from the office and start working through it. This is, of course, the image I have when I buy any magic book. It never happens.
There were some criteria to meet. It would need to be enjoyable and result in a higher level of skill that would need to be transferable to different contexts and routines. This was going to take time, so it required a decent return on investment. It would also need to not be to perform or review. This one was for me.
So this, and the guilt of spending over $300, helped me to decide on Steve Forte's 'Gambling Sleight of Hand'. Even as I lifted it out of the bookcase, my eyes were darting, around looking for an alternative.
The result of this laughably challenging process is that I've probably learned more in the last few weeks that I have in the previous few years.
Looking back, I remember that this is how it really started for me. After those first three books, I decided to work through Roberto Giobbi's Card College cover to cover. It's been something I've wanted to do again for years. I still have so much to learn, and if I want to make progress, I need to understand what has stopped me?
I think it's been a false belief that these decisions are irreversible. A fear of experimentation; That if I commit to one thing, I can't change my mind because that would be failing in some way. And I haven't got time to fail. However, paradoxically, if we don't accept the trial and error of our learning process, we will get stuck, just as I did in front of those shelves, for years. False starts are part of it. Yes, I've learned new tricks, routines and moves over the last decade, but I'd forgotten what it was like to sit in front of the same book, nearly every evening, mindfully working through, with no rush to finish. And surprisingly, I still have time to learn separate routines and moves. Time has a funny way of tricking us onto thinking we don't have enough of it. Action will only reveal the truth.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, with an abundance of books, downloads and DVDs, I advise you to take a little time to consider where you want to be. And remember, you can always change your mind.
Clearly, I'm still buying magic books, that train has left the station. And life is too short to do all of my reading this way. But I'm hoping that revisiting this approach will train me to work through more material in this purposeful, mindful way. It's essential to play, but mastery also requires serious study. I believe that the key is maintaining the balance of both. I'll let you know how I get on.
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