Once on a private R and D trip to a magic shop, I approached the manager with something like “What’s new?” that translated “Any new illusions or trick effects?”
“Nothing under the sun!”
To the point, ten years later the leading exponent of “new” stage magic got an “empty” box with a diagonal mirror in it by me so deftly that I had to buy a ticket to his next performance to catch it.
Magicians of every stripe walking life’s myriad paths work the marvels of their inventions—creativity—in other footsteps, even when those vestigial prints become dance diagrams. Soured camel milk: yogurt; shelter: plaster; decoration: color; perception: image; migration: wheel. Only later: Yoplait, fresco, gears. Dinosaurs, then combustion engines. In the circus and theater I learned the religion of stretching around acrobats and dancers. Einstein translated that for all of us, humbly describing the so-called “scientific method” as “Doing one’s damnedest with one’s mind.”
Instinctively though, keenly aware that we build successive cultures on the shoulders of our predecessors, we sense there is something blessed in these danced tracings, stretchings and “damnedest” doings. There is more than just a connection of dots. Buried somewhere in the electric neural surprises that constitute original insight, we suspect there is a nano-second of the new, and ignition of a fire that hasn’t already sparked. For those instances, we risk blasphemy in the face of Genesis and none too creatively pilfer the word—even the concept—creation.
Whatever it is and however it works, our ability to imagine and effect the new, the fresh-- vision in darkness, sound in silence, presence in a vacuum—even life in death, are the keystones of humanity. Our loftiest notions and aspirations spring from such instincts in us: religion, philosophy, education, art, family and the cultures we enable to protect such pursuits.
But some folks are better at all those insightful moments and impulses than the rest of us. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deal ourselves short; we know we have the capacity to own surprise, no matter how it is set up. Humble as they are, those private “Aha!” moments are life-signs at once prodding and tugging us to accept even our footsteps as a blessed dance. That moment when we actually realize how the dots connect is powerful not unlike the power in the long ago connectings of stars in the night sky. Cognition, even re-cognition, those moments of knowing, are precious. We need to treasure them, no matter how modest they are. They whisper value and promise of human mentality.
A fellow circus magician once taught me something very akin to pastoral care of an audience. Instead of clobbering his audience with the surprise finish of an illusion, he had found success with a gentler celebration of the effect’s climax. “I say something like, ‘Well, that’s what I thought too. Imagine my surprise when I found out—’ and then you reveal the shock finish.”—Why was it successful? The audience found themselves sharing with the actor-playing-magician the enchanted privilege of wonder, and the challenge of what yet is possible.
I’m pretty sure that’s why we go to magic shows. However crass the exercise, we get to encounter our capacity for wonder, challenge, and possibility. Those are the reflexes that lift us in museums, lecture and concert halls, cathedrals, and most importantly, the truly sacred moments of selfhood.