demystifying magic

Belief is an odd thing. Folk will see a close-up magician at the mall and come with 101 variations as to how he must have done this trick (all guesses probably wrong) and yet they’ll see David Copperfield fly on stage and tell everyone about it and wonder in amazement, “how, oh how, did he do it?”. I’ll give you a clue: he was on stage, his stage. Folk will say, “yeah, the magic with the coins… that isn’t really magic” and in the same breath talk about that tarot card reader and how amazing he was, or how their psychic told them they used to have a cat named Mary. The guy beside the Charminar telling people when they were born and when they’ll die is supernaturally endowed while the scrawny kid telling people the card in their mind is “just doing tricks”.

Sometimes we have difficulties separating what is true from what we want to be true. Most of those mentioned above use similar techniques. Some of them use exactly the same techniques. Yet the belief ranges widely and oddly.

To demonstrate, here is one of my absolutely favourite magicians performing an effect. This exact effect was performed by David Blaine on one of his specials. It’s interesting to note the leverage and the pull each magician gets out of his performance. Here’s David Williamson:

He’s doing more than just performing magic there. There’s a lot of interaction going on – a lot of it impromptu, some of it disgusting… hahaha. He does a lot: the fake moustache/beards, the high fives, the insulting his audience, etc, etc. But don’t let his crazy demeanour fool you, this guy has created some amazing magic. Basically, he’s super awesome.

Here’s David Blaine doing the same effect on one of his specials. Note Blaine’s audience here and also how he plays his personality into the effect.

David Blaine’s show reruns on TV every so often and he rakes up millions of viewers and millions of dollars. Same effect. David Williamson’s TV appearance was probably a decade before Blaine’s. Some folk will swear by Blaine’s magic. “Yo, did you see him float in the air!!!”, hahahahaha. Seriously people, it’s television. Superman ain’t really flying either.

This is not to down play Blaine’s technique. He’s got chops, for sure. But Williamson is in a whole different league. Williamson is of the magicians that create the magic magicians like Blaine and Copperfield perform. Williamson also has a fantastic sense of humour.

Here’s Williamson making a fun video clip during a magic conference:

Haha, so much fun.

I think I’ll want to do some actual analysis of some magic videos in the future. David Stone, Gregory Wilson and David Williamson as some of the magicians to analyze.

on thinking and doing

teetering on the edge I am,
teeter teeter

I have a headache. I need to wrap my head around it, but it seems to have me wrapped. I suspect that it is a symptom of thought, or of desire, or some combination thereof. But it is there. I can feel it.

I remember simpler times, when I just did things. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t thinking, I was, but that thinking happened in the process of doing. A shift occurred somewhere along the lines. The process of thinking overtook the process of doing. Maybe I was just done with doing, seeing as how I had already done it. Maybe not.

On the commute to and from work I started to read tech books (back in 04/05) even when I didn’t have any immediate use to draw from them. Some of them were on the deep tech aspects and others on the design aspects. It was basically a knowledge store, I wasn’t using this information for anything, I was just collecting it. At lot of it came in handy, when something was crashing or breaking, or when someone asked me a question a window would open up in the brain and I’d either know the answer, or know where to find it. Better yet, being able to combine two separate ideas to devise a possible new use. All this is good, but at some point all this thought collected and got to a point where I couldn’t implement the ideas I was holding (or maybe I felt I couldn’t). This was/is problematic.

It’s not like I didn’t try doing things. I’d load up the machine and get ready to string together ideas in code, and then I’d feel a thousand pulls from a thousand ideas, leaving me in a state of paralysis. Overload, crash and retreat. I would think things and not do things. So I’d leave things incomplete. This incompleteness is not particularly new, I can’t remember a personal project that I’ve “completed” to completion even when I was doing things. But now I would barely get started and get stuck. What is this state of “completeness” anyway? Maybe I started to believe there was such a thing as “complete”, and knowing I could not get there prevented me from doing anything?

I found myself going through this cycle with magic as well. First I learnt and did, then I read and read and read. When you read volumes of books with titles like “The Structural Conception of Magic” you tend to place more thought into magic. How can you not? And it’s great, I love that aspect of magic as well, it’s fascinatingly fantastic. But if you’re like me, to a large degree it prevents you from doing. Oh and there’ll be no false modesty here, I am very good at this magic thing.

I can see an effect and like it for what it is, but you can’t see an effect the same way after you’ve changed your frame of thinking on it. This has nothing to do with the secret of the effect or “how it is done”, far from it (anyone who really has a feel for magic should know that the secret is far from the Most Important Thing). So while I did magic the last couple of years, I wasn’t really there, I wasn’t in the magic, not as much. Hah, and I’ve only been doing this for 3 years now. All of this, of course, is going on in my mind alone, not like anyone else sees it or cares, nor should they.

But of late I’ve started to get that feel back, that feeling of raw excitement, an inexplicable trembling passion. I was watching a couple of my favourite magicians, stuff I’ve seen before, stuff I’ve done before, and l was very moved by the magic. It was exciting and fun. What I feel magic should be like, the flow and the feel. So awesome, so fluid. It occurred to me, how do they do it? These are people who have done magic for decades, thought and thunk, written books, performed thousands and thousands of times professionally and otherwise, they have forgotten more about magic than I will ever know in my lifetime. How do they do it? This applies to all the software monkeys too, they’ve designed and redesigned, built and torn, they have more knowledge in their left pinky nail than I will ever scratch. How do they balance this thought and action?

What should be my approach in comparison? Why am I in paralysis? Why am I not in a state of doing what I love?

It’s foolishness.

totter totter


Did my fingers slip during that shuffle? Is their card where I want it?

People are still chattering all around us and the music is still playing loud. I had moved these sounds into my periphery, but now I’ve moved them beyond that. There is nothing but uncertainty in this moment, this moment is as silent as stone.

So I’m supposed to show them a card that isn’t their chosen card? But what if I turn it over and it is their chosen card?

“No! That’s not the card!!!”

So far so good. Now I have to make their card appear. Will it appear?

“Well, if this isn’t your card, then what’s the one on the table?”, I point to the card on that table. Everyone turns their heads to look at it. It has been sitting there a while. I keep pointing to the card. Indicating that someone should turn it over.

Someone does.

Well? Is this it? Is this your card? Please be the card. Please be the card.

A few seconds of silence. I could hold out my hand and feel the silence coming down. I can’t do anything to change it. It’s falling on my hand, but it is not in my hands.

Then, suddenly, an eruption of wonder.


“Wow! How is that possible? That was amazing!”

Yes it was. It was as much a miracle for me as it was for you.


Was this a trick? Could have fooled me.

thoughts on magic and music

I can play a rusty ‘happy birthday’ on the guitar now. It’s fairly simple, nothing too complicated. Holding the guitar and playing a few notes, I can already begin to feel a similarity to when I started with magic. Get a deck of cards, tune it, then practise. This is the same with a guitar.

It takes time, you develop muscle memory and you just go. You forget all the details about finger positioning and think about other things, but when you start, it’s the details of the technique that you concentrate on. There’s always this urge to learn more and more, when really you only need to get down (perfect?) a few basic moves. Again, this applied to both magic and music.

Persistence, it takes persistence. Lots of it. There’s no other way around it, there is no instant gratification. Anyone can pluck a string and spread a deck, but not everyone can do it in a smooth and beautiful fashion, that takes time.

It’s interesting how there are similarities in practising, but differences in the performances and the reactions. I feel that music has the ability to go/last beyond the author/creator, more so than magic. Also the creators of magic are often looking for a shock value, and the shock value lasts that one time. On the other hand, with music and songs, you can hear them over and over to get that effect. With most magic it’s a one time thing, but it need not be. Often you’ll hear magicians talking about how their trick will fool people. If you want to fool people, you probably will, but so what? Instead magic effects (not tricks), like music, should be about sharing something beautiful. So instead of creating magic with the idea of fooling someone, magic ought to be created on the basis of beauty and rhythm. Which is why I love reading essays about magic by Ascanio and Juan Tamariz.

Most magicians don’t create their own effects, instead they learn what other magicians have done. This is fine, I have no issues with this. Often you will end up putting something of yourself into the effect, making it yours in ways. I suppose this is what good singers do with songs as well. I haven’t devised many magic routines of my own, just a few. There’s only one that I do on a regular basis. That routine came about when I was doing flourishes on the RT and a few people asked me to do some magic for them. I had no idea what I was going to do, even as I asked them to pick a card. I just went with the flow, piecing bits of magic together to arrive at an actual routine. I like how that worked out. Like musicians, magicians also have jam sessions.

Anyway, it seems like I’ll be spending quite a bit of time with the guitar. Also, watch this space for more happy birthday related material (bollywood style). =P

phir koi jaadu hai

Interesting morning today.

At McCowan RT station I spotted an old friend who I haven’t seen for over a year, and the last time I saw him was on the subway as well. We were both entering the RT at the same time, I paused and motioned to let him in first, he thanked me, but didn’t recognize me. So I followed him and sat across him, “Hello Joshua!”.

He gave me this, “you can’t be Adnan, wait you are Adnan!” look. Then he did say out loud, “Your hair, look at your hair, it’s never been this long! the beard I’m used to, but the hair!”. But it was neat, getting to catch up with him, we went through high school and university together (different programs in university though).

“I see you’re still wearing your iron ring”, he tells me. Actually, I lost my original iron ring while bowling a year ago. It just flew off  during a release and we couldn’t find it. So only just last Friday did I go to the Iron Camp One and get a replacement ring. Like the original this one is also actual iron (and not stainless steel), and it’s also half a size smaller (so it won’t slip off so easily).

We moved onto the subway train, still catching up. We talked about where the last year went, and how we spent it pretending to be busy. Joshua used to love playing the cello, so I asked him whether he was still playing music. He wasn’t, being busy being the excuse again. He asked me if I was still doing magic, “not as much as I was doing before, in fact I just recently started carrying a deck of cards again!”.

I pulled out the deck and started to do some flourishes and fans. I was sitting near the subway doors, Josh sitting in the middle seat and there was a lady sitting beside Josh. I did what’s called a colour change to one of the cards and this caused both Josh and the lady to react… in words. “Hey, that was amazing! you’re a magician!”, she says. “In certain moments, yes”, I smiled back.

I continued to do flourishes, and when I did a one handed fan with half the deck, she literally reached over and grabbed my hand in delight! I’ve had people grab my hand in the middle of an effect to disrupt it, but not in sheer excitement. I continued to do more flourishes, and then put the cards away. Then the three of us got into a discussion about magic, and how the lady thought she’d never be able to do it. I told her with enough training and practise that she too could do magic, she would have none of it though. “You kids on the computers and keyboards, I could never have that type of dexterity”. Yes, yes you could. I had no idea I could do magic before I started either. That’s how it works.

She started to talk about professions, “yes we work with/in computers” we said. She mentioned her 25 year old son who did his undergrad from York in music and was going on to do a masters. She was worried about how he would make a living/money with his music degree but was much relieved that he was doing a masters and would possibly go into teaching. She went on to talk about her 21 year old son who into business.

I started to notice how sometimes I don’t make friends, I make strangers. Josh and the lady both were getting off a couple of stations before me, but as they were leaving the lady couldn’t help but pat me on the shoulder a couple of times saying, “thank you so much, you made our day”. Hmmm… you just made mine, thank you! and God bless your soul!  =). I also like how she said “our” and not “my”. That’s neat.

I haven’t posted a magic story in a while.  Initially even when something happened I refrained from posting it, and then I wasn’t doing much magic for something to happen.

We’ll see what happens next…

performing personality

I am an introvert. If I were to take a snapshot of me right now, I’d have me confused, I would be unsure, in fact, I would be sure that I was an extrovert.

I’m very shy with new people. But they wouldn’t know it, I think I’d have them fooled. Hmmm… some folk would recognize me for an introvert, but I gather most would not. I’m sometimes even shy with people I’ve known for a while.

It’s not as bad when you type and communicate over the web, IM, and email. It’s the spoken word that scares me.

There is such an immense and intense battle within, that I have to win each time, as I transform thought into spoken words. And this just for normal conversations. When I am on stage performing a skit, at a podium during a debate or in front of a crowd doing magic, it is like a war of nuclear proportions inside of me.

The more passionate I am about something the more difficult I find to get my message through. Even under normal times, I will start to stutter, start to spew out incomprehensible sentences. Such a fight and struggle just to say a few simple sane words. It’s as if that split moment starts to crumble right before me, the moment passes outside of the realm of my control. Yet, somehow I breathe and somehow I survive.

Then why is it so difficult the second time around?

I barely use the phone, I don’t like using the phone. Phone calls require talking – spoken words.

It wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of the performers out there were also extreme introverts. I’m definitely not unique in what I go through, so I wonder how people do it. I don’t create moments, I find myself in a moment and go along for the ride.

Sigh… breathe… okay.

So I found this personality test (no sign up or sign in required), which I thought was interesting not because of the gadgetry but because of the detailed nature of the questioning. It doesn’t ask you whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, it does an assessment based on your answers. There is also a PersonalDNA Facebook application.

magic for kids…

Hmmm… not sure how I feel about this right now. I did a little “show” for a group of scouts, a number of adults were present as well. Scouts were aged 7 to 13 years old.

I’m actually disappointed in myself. I wasn’t able to get the children into it. I chose the wrong effects I think. I probably shouldn’t have taken out a deck of cards… Messing up a few effect didn’t help either I think. Overall I think I was getting more gasps than claps, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing with children. I didn’t give them a reason to be excited.

I chickened out. I planned to do the cups and balls, but I ended with a not so great card effect. I chickened out. That sucks.

It wasn’t all bad, I gave out a magic wand to a scout who volunteered for the first effect. Handed out candy at the end, probably the most memorable part of the entire thing. Maybe I should have done that at the start. hah. or lol.

Although at the end, three scouts gathered around me and started asking questions. “Are you going to be back?”, “Is this the only time you’ll be here this year?”. That was nice.

One of them really wanted to know how one of the tricks was done. I told him it took a lot of practice and telling him how it’s done isn’t going to do anything. I told him I would show him something else and tell him how it’s done. After I was done, I explained the power of misdirection and how it enhances your magic. He was misdirected even as I explained the trick.

I hope some of the children enjoyed it, I’m pretty sure there were some who didn’t. Which means I didn’t do my job. So I am disappointed at that. I don’t know if I’m made for doing magic for children.

That and I chickened out.


A Passion For Magic

Wow, has it really been 9 months? In this entry I’ll go over my thoughts on magic and where I am with my magic.

My passion for magic is equal to or greater than my passion for software. For the geeks, the following conditional is always true:

adnan.getMagic().passionLevel() >= adnan.getSoftware().passionLevel()

Please talk to me if you’d like the full source code… anyway.

Why greater?

Magic is greater because it allows me to connect to people at a completely different level. It allows me to reconnect with people I already know, but also allows me to immediately connect to people I don’t know, those that are strangers.
A couple of months ago while I was still taking the TTC (Toronto’s Transit System), on the RT I was doing “my thing” with my cards. Some card flourishes and some effects. There was an elderly lady who was sitting across me, and I noticed from the corner of my eye that the card flourishes had caught her attention. I started doing a magical effect, and when I was done I noticed that she was uncontrolably smiling, and looking to the person on her left. I never touched her, didn’t say a word, didn’t even make eye contact, yet the magic was able to bring out some type of emotion in her. That’s powerful. That is the beauty of magic. And let’s not forget that group of 15 kids (about 11-12 years old) who were chanting “One more time” as their fists made circles in the air. They wanted me to do one more magical effect before I left the subway car.

I’m 23 years old, I don’t feel as if I’ve done anything in my life worth anything. Magic somewhat fills that void.

Is magic real? Do you believe in magic?

Is magic real? It depends on how you define magic, and how you define real.

If you define real magic as a human being having supernatural powers which allow her to control things beyond her natural control, then no. That magic is not real. If I could do that real magic, then no children in Africa would starve. Hell, no one here in Toronto would starve.

But that’s not how I define magic. So I do believe magic is real. The look of wonder on people’s faces is real, the hint of astonishment in their eyes is real, their gasps are real, the bursts of emotion are real, the reactions are real. The magic is real. The magic I do becomes real.

My magic

When I first started magic, I couldn’t wait to get out and show people. Now I’m exactly the opposite. Even when someone asks to see something, I refuse.

There is a difference in doing tricks and performing magic. I want to perform magic, but I know that for some, in their mind, I will always be doing tricks. I would rather touch a heart than trick a mind. If you think that’s not possible, you’re wrong. If someone feels tricked because of something I did, then I’ve failed as a magician. Unless of course, that someone will always see anything I do as a trick.

I want my magic to have more meaning. Unfortunately the image I’ve setup for myself doesn’t really lend itself to easily perform meaningful magic. Not every effect I perform will have meaning, some will just be eye-candy. I need to pick and choose when I slip in a meaningful effect, and pick and choose those who I do it for.

I stopped doing magic for that reason, I wanted it to mean more, only because it means so much to me. It irritates me to no end when someone makes a joke about it, belittles it, or even tries to “figure it out”. The last thing I think about is “how it’s done”, it’s not about that, it’s about the beauty of what you see. At least for me it is.

Even if people don’t draw any meaning from my magic, at the least I want them walking away thinking that they just saw something beautiful, not just something “cool”, but something beautiful.

The best compliments I’ve gotten from my magic are not “wow, how did you do that?” or “you’re very clever” or anything along those lines. The best compliment I’ve gotten is, “You’re gifted” or “You have a gift”. Wow, what a wonderful thing to say, I thank those who’ve said that, and those that think that. The other best compliment I’ve gotten is, “What’s your name again?”, often said by strangers as I’m walking away. They may forget the next day, or even in the next hour, but for that moment, they need to know.

Performing Magic

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while now is actually using my magic for some sort of good. This is for when I snap out of my lack of magic, and back into the “magic zone”. I want to start volunteering at hospitals, old age homes and other such places where I can do magic, maybe even schools, libraries or some such. I can’t just walk in and start doing random “tricks”, I would have to sit down, think, and prepare a show. I’ll be doing that once I get time off everything else, and I’m not sure how long that will take. But that’s in the grand plan.