Tag Archives: Friendship

Summer Camp

I do one 'kids show' a year, and I wish I could do many more, as long as they were as gratifying, as heartwarming, as the Charlotte MDA Summer Camp. Every summer for the past 11 years, I've been invited to entertain the campers and the counselors one evening, and every time I leave, I'm struck by how lucky I am to have been there.

The children and youth that attend have various forms of muscular dystrophy, but their enthusiasm is unmatched in any audience I've had the privilege to work for. Yes, it's your typical summer camp. There are multiple activities and campfires and sing alongs and home sickness and stomach bugs and everything that makes camp a silver memory that many of us treasure for our lifetime. It's so much more than that, though. As you might imagine, working with the individual challenges of each camper is a daunting endeavor, yet it's done with humor, energy, and style. So much grace …

And there's love. Man, the love in that place is so thick you could spread it on toast. The staff and the counselors bring their best for the campers and everyone looks out for everyone else. Maybe I'm gushing a little, but I'm sincere.

The past three years I arrived wrapped up in my own troubles, and they vanish within the first few minutes. I leave invigorated, happy, and hopeful. And moved. Lifted so high, emotionally.

I'm not …. writing about this to brag, or promote my image. I want to impress on you the value of giving of your ability. Taking your talent, your time, your vitality and using it to enrich the lives of those who need it and see so little in their world. It could be anything, any cause, listen to your heart. Believe this: it's been worth any 'sacrifice' I've had to make in order to be there.

The love you need is where you plant it.

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Joy in the Moment

There are days I wake up and feel like Sisyphus.

Do you know who I mean?

Sisyphus was an ancient mythological figure punished for all eternity to roll a boulder up a steep mountain, only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he reaches the top. Albert Camus called him an absurd hero; he struggled perpetually and without any hope of success.

That describes me on some days. Broken promises, lack of perceived ‘progress’, low bank accounts and good old self doubt are my boulder. I struggle daily to push it forward and upward, only to watch it roll back at day’s end. In the reality of my profession, the boulder is mine. I am aided and supported by an amazing set of friends and family, but the responsibility is on my shoulders. Sometimes this burden is crushing.

When times like this occur, I stop and breathe. I count my blessings and I look at my situation from a different attitude. Picture Sisyphus smiling.

The idea is so simple: here is Sisyphus, the wretch, interminably pushing his boulder up the hill, watching it roll down and repeating.  In my mind he was always completely defeated, hopeless.  And then, as I read Camus’ book on the ‘Myth of Sisyphus’, everything about the picture changed.  Imagining Sisyphus smiling, embracing his situation as his reality, not wanting a different past or a different future, but accepting the present, the scene totally rearranged itself.  He was no longer hopeless, but happy in his acceptance of the situation.

He must, in order to accept the absurdity of the situation, adjust his attitude and fulfill what has been put before him.

On the road to your dreams, there are certain absurd truths you must acknowledge. You must work as hard and as tirelessly as you can. There is no guarantee of success, but the burden and the struggle contain a successful measure of their own. To simply be doing what you love, and to master it, may be enough. Our ultimate fate is all the same, so why be miserable? Live your passion in the task at hand, and find satisfaction in your minor successes and your crushing failures.

Like Sisyphus, some see no other option than the mountain and the rock. Burdened with obligations, lack of control, hopelessness, low expectations and no alternatives, they continue to toil in dead-end jobs and uninspiring environments.

You, however, can see opportunity in obligation, freedom in failure and hope in hopelessness. You are unique, as are your burdens. Keep shouldering on, and be thankful for the journey.

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Pregame (in brief)

I am often asked how I got started. Here it is, in brief.

It was the summer of 1992, and I was working full time, writing scripts and performing for a themed resort in South Carolina. I shared a tiny office with Ted Loring. Ted is an incredible friend to me, still.

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One of the characters we created was a street magician … someone to play to the resort guests and entice them to come see the formal shows. I visited a local magic shop and learned a few very rudimentary routines.

The job vanished quite suddenly and I took that character to the actual streets of Charlotte … and, 24 years later, here I am.

Cleaning out some drawers, I found my old employee pass. This kid had no clue to the future: two beautiful daughters to feed, both parents and Grandma  Hilda still living, and a road just beginning.

If I could tell him anything right now, I wouldn’t. The road unfolds just as it should and I wouldn’t change even the painful parts. It crafted me, and it is still saving hearts.

Your road is taking you somewhere, if you keep your feet faithfully to it. Strengthen your ability, craft it to your passion and keep the faith.

You’re really going somewhere, and the view along the way is breathtaking.

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marbles

Knuckle down or Quitsies?

My law and your ducks … mostly prits and cats-eyes; my aim is true and your hold is beauty.

No stomps, you are free and the circ is not your limit. Bombies are cool, you’re strongest on your stage, and I love your style on a leaning topper.

Colored magic glass – the first valuable gems I owned. (and I scooped most of ‘em!)

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Validation

I believe that my work is important, vital even, to some people.

My fellow entertainers and I bring relief to the machine. Levity to buoy the spirit and return it to flying … or soaring. We inspire, we enlighten, we save lives at our very best. We change them, too.

One of the most difficult things for me to handle is praise. I don’t know how to accept it graciously. I feel gratitude and thankfulness for those that take time to tell me their thoughts on the show and how it moved them, I just don’t know how to respond properly.

A friend recently wrote the following on Facebook about meeting me and getting to know me offstage. (We recently worked together in a play about Jack the Ripper called ‘Whitechapel’)

“I knew of you long before i actually met you… but Whitechapel sealed the deal.
Upon first seeing you, I thought: “He really sold his soul to the devil for magic.” And that’s amazing. And pure. And true. And omg that was amazing.
What do i like most about you? You aren’t afraid to bare your absolute soul to the world. You are an artist in the truest form. There was a day, i think it was the second to last or maybe the last day of Whitechapel, i parked next to you over off of 36th by Rat’s Nest, i got out of my car to wave hi to you in your van. You were listening to music, I’m not sure what song, but you were crying. Sobbing. I knew things were difficult at the time…with life and things, but to see you expose the emotions so fully, so unabashed, so freely brought me peace. Knowing that it’s ok to bare our troubles in such a way, to music even. I will never forget the day you made me love being human.”

I will never forget the day you made me love being human.
On the one hand, how do I express how grateful and happy I am that I was able to give her such a gift? On the other … words and letters like this let me know that I’m on the right road, doing the right thing, and using my gifts well.

Don’t be afraid to live fully. And love who you are.

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With Great Power …

… Comes great responsibility. Right?

Well, of course. But what about a little power … or power you don’t realize you have? I’m going out on a limb here and I’m going to state that your main responsibility is to be true to yourself and the journey you are on. Because, honestly: you don’t know who you’re affecting and how.

How’s that for vague? Let me give you an example, a really powerful one. Now understand, things like this are happening to me all the time to a lesser or greater degree. It comes with the territory of being a public figure … of putting your heart out there. Hear this and understand the potential behind it: You AFFECT … You CHANGE THE VERY LIVES of people every day. Every. Day.

When I first got into the corporate entertainment arena (that is to say, when I earned my way in) I had a very regular client, Rob. He worked for a great company that used me in varying degrees on a regular basis and we established a close working relationship. He liked my performance style so much that he started bringing his family in to see me at my regular restaurant gig. I could just about count on seeing them every week.

Now, Rob had a young son: Roddy. Roddy became an instant fan and I would strive to do something new for him weekly. I could always make them laugh and … well, it was just a really good moment in my working week to see them coming in. As I’ve stated before, I think I have more friends amoung my audience than I do ‘fans’. I get close, you know? Rob would even have parties at the beach and put me and my family up just to get a show for his friends and clients.

Alright so, passage of time: I move on from restaurants and Rob changes companies and people slowly drift apart, sometimes. Jump head about 14 years and out of the blue Rob calls me up to perform at Roddy’s 22nd birthday. Absolutely. Let’s make this happen. I won’t mention how hearing that Roddy was turning 22 made me realize jut how fast time goes …

The party was awesome and raucous and I had a bunch of fun (as usual) while doing my work. It seems Roddy has embraced being a race car driver and he’s an up and coming star in his field. He works hard and he’s really good at what he does. Bonus points: he’s following his passion. There’s a good possibility that he’ll be the star of a TV show being pitched to major networks, based on his charisma and skill in his chosen profession. Kudos, right?

Toward the end of the night, Roddy sought me out and we had a very brief but very moving discussion. Roddy told me that he had two secrets to his success. The first was to surround himself with positive, talented people. People with skill and vision, but(most importantly) with a great attitude toward life. The kind of people that believe in you even when you think you don’t belong or you feel you aren’t capable of something. They stick with you and keep you motivated to move forward.

The second thing was: Me. Hannibal. #cardmonkey from his childhood. He told me that when things seemed very tough and dark and he felt like giving up … he would think of me. Out there doing magic tricks night after night and grinding my way toward excellence. The thought of me NOT GIVING UP gave him the courage to push through just a little bit longer.

Responsibility. What you are and what you do affect people. The tenacity to keep going when it seems everyone is against you. Performing night after night after day after week after month after year … gave a boy with a dream the inspiration to become a man on the move. I was overwhelmed. I still am. I’m grateful and I’m massively humbled.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence, either. The longer I work at this it seems the more people I meet who tell me that something I said or did (or didn’t do) gave them a gift of some kind. The desire to strive for something difficult, the insite to look within themselves for beauty and greatness, the courage to LIVE for another day.

And all I can say to them (and you) is: I didn’t intend to be a role model. I just do what I do to the best of my ability and I hope it tells you a good story. Ironically these incidents have given me will and courage, too. The thought that I can’t give up … that someone I don’t even know is counting on me.

I know. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who just does card tricks, right? Only (dear friends) let me state this: I am not incidental. Neither are you. You are unique and you possess a passion somewhere within you that can literally change and save lives and possibly the world. That is a great power, and with great power …

You know.

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Taking Umbrage

At the request and gentle urging of my trusted beloveds, I began searching for a therapist. One that could understand my unique situation … a little background is needed, I suppose.

I’ve lived with depression for as long as I can remember. It’s not like a cloak that I shrug on and off: more a tattoo that is always there, but sometimes burns and itches like it was still healing. Due to some intense stress over the past 8 months or so, it has redoubled its hold on me, and my sorrow it so great sometimes it worries even my friends.

The Contest is a big one. I’m voluntarily putting my art up to be judged in comparison to others’ works. I had vowed to never do it again, but … peer pressure and pride.
Robin’s suicide. The man I patterned my drive after. He couldn’t make it. His sorrow took him. For all my brave talk about picking up the flag … I’m a fraud. I’m not fit to tie his shoes and … he couldn’t hold on.
Cancer … yeah.
Dawn’s sickness. Slow coming yet sudden in the swiftness in which it took her down. I felt helpless and was then accused of not acting fast enough. This is most likely correct. I’m going to shoulder the blame.
Success. Overwhelming and undeserved, I’m still waiting for the fraud police to show up.

So, I received a recommendation from a trusted friend and made an appointment. I’m going to call her Brady.

She and I seemed to hit it off right away. My first thought in seeing her was that she resembled a very distinct villain from the world of Harry Potter. How cute. How funny.

We started off with her asking some very pointed, direct questions. Events from childhood, life status of my parents, grandparents … tragedy, joys, triumphs and failures. We spoke in plain, raw words for nearly 45 minutes. It was very comforting. We were able to communicate much quicker than other therapists I’ve spoken too. After a short pause, she began speaking.

It seems … I have a generational curse. Now, my health is tied into this. My sickness is hereditary, probably. Something, some defect in my DNA triggered this sickness. It’s probably been in my bloodline for centuries.

My traumas, from the divorce of my parents to the suicide of my hero are my burdens … and my Art is God’s gift to me to help me deal with these burdens. Not eradicate, not heal … deal with.

All the depression, the anxiety, the sorrow … I caused these things by not giving my gifts as a sacrifice to the Holy Spirit.They are entirely, securely, totally mine to bear forever. I own them.

This was all caused by … wait for it … a deal made with Satan. (now, Brady didn’t use the word ‘Satan’, that would be too direct. The phrase repeated was ‘The Enemy’. I swear, you really could hear the quotes around it.) Someone, somewhere, sometime in my bloodline made a pact, whether explicit or implicit with him … and the curse shall be visited even unto the last generation.

The cure may be found in a rigorous treatment of Splankna, acupuncture and chiropractic medicine.

Disclosure here, folks: I don’t believe in the treatment. on the other hand, I don’t have any serious doubts about the diagnosis.

But what I DID get from the meeting was: my misery is real and it’s a part of me because I absolutely deserve it. An honest to goodness professional confirmed what my father first told me when I was eight.

So i went and visited my old ‘hometown’, which isn’t really that far away. I put my feet in the lake in the spot I was baptized in. I felt cold water and … not much else. Same as the first time. (I appreciate the water much more now than I used to, so I did take time to watch for a little while.) I went to the bleachers in the ballpark. On this spot, some forty one years ago, my father (in a very kind, loving voice) proclaimed to me that I could never really hope to amount to anything worthwhile. I was doomed to be a failure and a burden. It was a shame, he said, because he had certainly hoped for a real son to share his interests with.

I feel worse than when I went in, and that can’t be right, can it?

What I’ve written here is just the surface. I can’t bring myself to type all that I’m really dealing with. (Yes … I AM dealing with it. There’s no cause for alarm, please don’t misread my words)
I can’t express it to my family, or my best friend. Not the depth of feelings.

I have work on the stage that still needs to be done. There are things I consider important that I want to say.

But right now? Right now I’m just sad.

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