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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » From The Wizards Cave - by Bill Palmer » » Reason or Excuse? What's yours? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Bill Palmer
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Why do we do things a certain way? Why do we settle for being less than we can be? Why do we give up? What can motivate us to do better than we do?

All of these things are relevant to the way we learn, practice, discuss and perform magic.

Usually, when we perform something a certain way -- for example, when we do a sleight or a move in a less than naturla manner, it's because that's the way we learned it, either from another magician, a book or a video. We become accustomed to performing a move the way we do it, often without considering the context of it. For example, a beginner might ask, "How do you do a French drop?"

That's not as easy a question to answer as it might seem. There are many considerations. One is how to hold the hands in such a position that they appear to be natural. Another is how do you make it appear as if you have really taken the object to be vanished. Another is what you are going to do with the hand that is supposed to be holding the object. All of this is part of the context of the sleight. Done well, a French drop can be used as a method for passing a coin through a table top. This is actually much stronger than simply vanishing a coin. It looks magical, yet it eliminates the obvious answer as to where the coin must be once it has vanished. Instead of pointing to the other hand, the spectator sees that the coin has apparently passed through the table top. If you don't learn the French drop in a context that involves it in a routine, it loses a lot of its effectiveness and meaning. This is true of most other sleights, as well.

When learning a new sleight, you need to know how the hands would actually look if you were actually doing the move "for real." For example, if you are practicing the French drop, you should practice actually taking the coin into your hand to learn how the hand looks and feels with a coin in it. This is true of all moves. They must look like a real movement.

Sometimes when we learn a new move, we pick up the habits and gestures of the person or video we learned it from. This may not be good. When learning a new move, you need to understand each stage of it, why the hands do the things they do, and the purpose of each portion of the move.

This brings us to the learning process itself. Until the 1970's almost all magic teaching was done by books or by magicians. There were a few instructional films but they were very scarce. By the end of the 1980's videos were commonplace, and by the turn of the century, DVD's had really begun to take over for tapes. The quality of DVD's was generally much higher, the images sharper, and the ease of location of material on a given DVD was far easier. But it also became easier to make your own DVD. All you needed was a digital camera and a DVD burner -- total outlay nowadays can be as little as $500 -- and you have your own digital studio...more or less.

But back in the old days when I learned most of my stuff, it was books and teachers. That was about all we had. We actually read Bobo, Erdnase and all that other hard stuff that has all that good material in it. I'm not saying we DID all of it, but at least we read it. And Tarbell was a complete education in magic (fairly much!) all by itself. If you couldn't read, you needed a teacher.

And that brings us to the next part of the story.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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The Story of David

David was a particularly interesting kid when I first met him. Soft spoken, but talented, David performed close-up and did some clowning. He was a nice kid. Now he is a nice man.

But David had been diagnosed as having a learning disability. That was his reason for barely having a third grade reading comprehension when he went into his junior year in High School. The school districts in our part of the country had been encouraged to pass kids even if they couldn't do the work. And David got caught in the trap. So here he was, almost college age, and he could barely read.

Enter the other hero of the story -- the late Ralph Ehntholt. Ralph was a local magician, a friend of David, one of the best clowns I ever knew, and David's magic teacher. One day, Ralph said to David, "Well, I've taught you everything I can. Now you have to get the rest of your knowledge from books."

"But I can't read magic books. They are far too difficult for me."

Ralph stood his ground. "I'm sorry, David, but that's the way it is. Here's The Tarbell Course in Magic, v. 1. That's a great book to learn from." It was one of the hardest things Ralph ever did in his life.

David had been bitten badly by the magic bug. So he started with Tarbell 1. By the end of that year, he had read the complete course, and, more important, he had raised his reading level from a third grade level to college proficiency. He was the talk of the Pasadena TX Independent School District. He may have been misdiagnosed. He would be the first to tell you that he had believed that he had a learning disability ... until he learned to read.

He had a very low opinion of that diagnosis, as you can well imagine.

I once was asked by a group at the Houston Independent School District to perform for a group of children who had been similarly diagnosed. I asked for permission to bring David along with me, so they could see what he could do. I got permission from both the Houston district and the Pasadena district to do what happened next.

I brought David into the classroom with me. I did a couple of tricks and then turned him loose. He did a brilliant matrix routine, followed by the coins through the table. Then he did something I wasn't expecting. He said, "I used to be just like you. I was lazy. I believed them when they said I couldn't learn, because it was easier to believe it than to do anything about it. Get off your butts and learn to read."

Maybe some of those kids had genuine learning disabilities. I used to teach music, and I found that there were many students who simply would not practice. They outnumbered the ones with real learning disabilities by far. I learned that I had to motivate them, in order to get them to learn. That old "carrot and stick" principle -- that's what it takes.

There are problems that can slow learning down. Dyslexia is one of them. Amblyopia, which can sometimes produce dyslexia, is another. ADHD and/or ADD is another source of trouble, but there are many kids who are diagnosed as having an attention defecit disorder when all they have is a lack of motivation. Any kid who can concentrate on a video game can concentrate on a class subject. The teacher just needs to make it as attractive as the game.

By the way, David went on to college, and is now involved in the field of electronics. He sometimes performs at trade shows.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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But I Can't Learn Magic From a Book

Usually this one is followed by "I'm too visually oriented."

There are several reasons that a given person may have trouble learning from a book.

1) The book may have a bad description, a wrong description, or may not be written clearly. This happens sometimes.

2) You may not be ready to learn the routine you are trying to learn. If you are a beginner, and you are trying to learn a trick that requires a classic pass, a classic force, several faro shuffles and the Mercury card fold, you may be biting off more than you can chew.

3) You might be trying to learn too much at one time.

4) You might not understand what you are reading.

After all, the collective intelligence of the magic community did not cease to exist when the first videos came out. Maybe you need to learn how to learn from a book.

Here are some ideas that will help you.

1) Read through the description of the trick or routine.

2) Write down the instructions in a notebook. This will help you clarify what you need to know and do.

3) Make a list of the requirements of the routine. These include props, tables, moves and sleights.

4) Get all the requirements together.

5) Learn the moves and their contexts.

6) Divide the routine into small parts. Let's assume there are 8 parts.

7) Learn part 1. Practice it thoroughly. Then learn part 2. Practice it thoroughly.

8) Practice parts 1 and 2 together, until they flow together as they should.

9) Learn part 3. Practice it thoroughly. Then learn part 4. Practice it thoroughly.

10) Practice parts 3 and 4 together, until they flow together as they should.

11) Now practice parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 together until they flow together properly.

12) Now learn parts 5 and 6, the same way you learned parts 1 and 2. Practice them together.

13) Learn parts 7 and 9, the same way you learned parts 3 and 4. Practice them together.

14) Then practice parts 5,6,7, and 8 together, just as you did parts 1-4.

15) Now, practice parts 1 - 8 together, so they flow together like the routine you wanted to do.

If there is a script involved, record the script and practice each step along with the recording, before you try doing it with the spoken words. By the time you have reached step 15, you will know the script as well as you know the moves.

These steps will give you a clear understanding of what you are trying to accomplish, and more important, you will learn to perform each part of the routine with the same proficiency as the first part.

I borrowed this technique from my father's music teaching method. It works.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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If you have made it this far, bravo!

Learning a trick, whether from a video or a book, requires several things. To paraphrase Erdnase, you must have a clear understanding of the objectives and a clear knowledge of how to achieve them. And that is what you practice.

Don't assume that because something looks easy to a person who has been doing it for several years that it is actually easy to do. It may be easy for that person, but it may have taken him a long time to learn.

That's why I recommend breaking these things down into small components.

Once you learn how to get through the basic moves of any routine, you must do two things. You must practice them, and you must rehearse them.

What's the difference?

When you are practicing, you can do small parts of a routine -- a sleight here, a move there, etc. Rehearsal means that you start at the beginning and work through to the end without stopping. You remember any rough spots, then go back and practice them until they are no longer rough.

So, how do you make it look smooth?

1) Eliminate any excess movement.
2) Avoid "hand-washing."
3) Make sure your gestures and movements fit you, not Copperfield or anyone else.
4) Practice until it becomes boring, then practice until it becomes beautiful.

Magic is the art that conceals art.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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Your Interface With the Rest of the World of Magic

Many of us are not members of any kind of magic club. Or if we are, we still tend to congregate around the "cyber water cooler" of the Magic Café. There's a big difference, though. When you are face to face with someone, you can read their facial expressions, and you can hear their voice inflections. You can't do that on the forums, yet.

So, your writing is what people will judge you by.

Give yourself a head start. Don't use "chatroom English." The use of "u" for "you" and "tnx" for "thanks" makes the writer look like a child or a functional illiterate. The use of "ppl" for "people" looks careless and thoughtless. You save three keystrokes by writing "ppl," and in saving those three keystrokes, you lose respect from many of your readers.

If you have a visual handicap, as I do, and you have a tendency to misspell words, run your posts through the spell checker on your word processing program. If you keep your word processing program open, you can spellcheck a post in a matter of seconds.

When you are posting, don't blame others for what you consider your shortcomings. It's really easy to do. Just accept yourself the way you are, and most of us will do the same.

And above all, stretch yourself. Look what David accomplished once he realized he was going to have to learn to read in order to learn more magic. He overcame three things:
1) A learning disability
2) A lack of support from his family and teachers
3) A lack of motivation.

I'll admit that there are times that you need to realize that you may have bitten off more than you can chew. But if you don't try, how do you know what you can do?
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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I am really surprised and gratified at the response I have gotten from these recent postings. There was no hate mail. I was almost expecting some, but I think most of the people on this forum realize that I want to help people, not hurt them, or even hurt their feelings.

One of the responders is a teacher. He liked the way that I showed how to break things down into little parts. He uses a similar system in his classroom work. His students have commented on how well it works for them.

I had trouble with physics in college. After I nearly flunked it, I hired a tutor. He started with, "First you break the problem down into its smallest parts." He showed me a few simple tricks for analyzing a problem. It worked. I passed the course.

Another responder is a person who has a family member with a visual problem that made it difficult for her to read. She overcame it. You can't let things like this stop you from being a complete person. You roll with the punches and do what you can to overcome it. Major strides have been made recently in the field of overcoming dyslexia. It can be done.

I mentioned my own visual problem. I don't discuss it much on the forum, but I'll make an exception. Nineteen years ago, I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma in my right eye. I had two surgeries 72 hours apart to implant and remove a radiation pack. I've had five laser surgeries since then. I still have the eye, but I'm missing most of the macula in that eye and about half of the retina. I still get enough information that I can see in three dimensions, but my right eye doesn't have what it takes to be my dominant eye any longer. So I had to relearn how to drive, walk, shoot, reach for food, play the banjo and pick up props -- basically anything that involved accurate vision. My right eye also wanders a bit, so now I sometimes pick up part of one word with one eye and another word with the other -- or I'll pick up parts of two sentences. Sometimes this makes for very humorous reading! It did make it difficult for me to translate magic books, but I figured out how to overcome the problem. If I'm working with an actual book, I photocopy it, blow it up to twice normal size and work with it hanging from a clip near my monitor. If I get it as a Word doc, I open it, increase the font size, then translate it a paragraph at a time. You learn to cope.

But there are things I can't do any more. I can't sightread music like I used to. If I had a job that required that I dispense anything that required precise measurements I would have to spend a lot of time checking my work. The liability insurance for any employer would be astronomical. So I don't do work like that. I made my own work.

That's when you know the difference between real disabilities and artificial limitations. Sometimes it's the insurance companies that tell us what to do. Is this fair?

The next installment will help you decide.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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Sometimes, When They Say It's For Your Own Good --
It Really IS For Your Own Good.

One of my jobs before I became a full-time magician was that I played banjo, guitar, mandolin, keyboards and saxophone in a band -- not simultaneously -- one at a time. One of the bass players I worked with was a fellow who was an incredible marksman. He could throw a knife like Jim Bowie, throw darts like he had crawled out of an English pub, shoot a group of three shots at 100 yards with "iron sights" that you could cover with a silver dollar, and he was a dead shot on a pool table. He had always wanted to be a policeman, but the folks in Beaumont, where he was from, wouldn't hire him. Robert had lost an eye when he was a kid.

He argued with them about it. He was a better shot than anyone on the force. He was a big guy, so nobody was going to try to beat him up. They told him that their insurance wouldn't cover him.

He was not happy about that. It was a dream of his. He said, "Old Jim over there only has one eye, why is he still working for you?"

"He lost his eye on the job. Now he has a desk job. You don't want that."

So, for a brief while, Robert became a collection agent for a finance company.

One afternoon, he knocked on the door of a trailer. The woman who came to the door had a shotgun in her hand -- a double barreled 12 gauge. She held it right up to Robert's nose and said, "Get the Hell out of here, or I'll blow your head off!" (Actually, her language was somewhat more colorful than that, but you get the idea!)

He could see down the barrel of the shotgun, and he could tell from the daylight coming in at the breech, that the gun was not loaded. Calmly, he reached up, took hold of the barrel of the gun and wrenched it out of her hand. Then he realized that since he only had one eye, he was only looking down one barrel.

The other barrel was loaded.

His disability and refusal to acknowledge it nearly cost him his life.

He went back to the office, turned in his identification, and moved to Houston, where I met him.

Sometimes when life seems unfair, it isn't. Someone is telling you to reconsider your options.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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Evidently, there have been a couple of people on the forum who felt that I was picking on them in the previous posts in this thread. While I was inspired to post these things by a series of statements I saw in a couple of threads elsewhere, I certainly wasn't trying to single out any particular person.

The people who had positive experiences conquering their own problems, or those who had relatives or friends who had done this were extremely gratified that I posted this.

I spent a bit of time working with people in a support group for those who have addictive behavior problems -- everything from food to hard drugs. There is a term that people in Oxford-based 12 step programs use to refer to the feelings that those who are addicts have, that they are the only one who understands their problems -- they think they are "terminally unique." And since nobody else has their exact set of problems, nobody understands how to solve them.

So they crawl into bed, turn the electric blanket up to 9, and assume the foetal position. (thanks, George Carlin!) You can't fix the problem until you
1) recognize it
2) get off your duff and do something about it.

But people do things about it when they have an idea what to do.

Autism used to be the kind of problem that people would not discuss in front of their friends. It was untreatable. Now, big strides have been made in the treatment of this disability, and people who are autistic are doing very amazing things.

Jason McElwain is the prime example of this. A 17 year old autistic at Greece-Athena High School near Rochester NY, he sank six 3 point baskets and one 2 pointer in the last four minutes of a game. Fifteen years ago, this would never have happened.

People are stretching the boundaries of their limitations every day.

If you think you can't do something, don't give up. Work at it.

The people you surprise the most when you succeed will be the people who put you down now.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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The Truth About ADHD (from my perspective)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has become one of those "diseases du jour" for elementary school kids. Most normal children have a certain tendency to let their minds wander when subjects become boring. This is especially true with intelligent children -- I mean those with really high intelligence. Boys seem to be more prone to this kind of daydreaming and woolgathering than girls are.

So, when little Johnny's mind wanders, and the teacher asks him a question, he either doesn't know the answer or the teacher pegs him as having ADHD. After "extensive testing" by a school nurse, the diagnosis is made and the kid is turned into a zombie by Ritalin®.

There is a link here that discusses the over-prescription of Ritalin. http://www.add-adhd-help-center.com/ritalin_side_effects.htm

The fact is that the root causes of behavioral problems are not being addressed.

I propose a simple test for ADD-ADHD. Put the kid on a video game and see how long he plays it. A kid who can play a video game for 30 minutes to 2 hours does not have an attention deficit problem.

But he may have a behavioral problem.

Those can be cured, but it requires actual parental attention to do it.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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So, what does this post about ADD-ADHD have to do with magic? What gives me the right to even discuss such a sensitive topic?

Well, there are a couple of things.

1) If I were 20 years younger, chances are that I would have been one of those kids who was put on Ritalin. I exhibited many of the symptoms that would have gotten me sent for an examination. It would have been a judgment call, and a close one, at that.

2) My brother had severe behavioral problems, caused by certain prescription drugs he took when he was a child. I've seen what it did to him. It wasn't Ritalin, it was something similar, though.

3) My brother-in-law was the principal of a local high school. He is also an author of a math book that is used all over the US. He managed to get his school brought from the bottom of the heap to a very respectable high position in academic achievement by instituting programs that rewarded achievement.

He made certain that these drugs weren't being dispensed like candy in his school. As a result, he had students that were actually not zombies! I was the entertainment at one of the awards programs for his high school the year after he retired. To see the number of students who had achieved excellent marks on their qualification tests was really gratifying. It was an across the board improvement.

I was impressed with what he and his staff had accomplished.

At some point, the students realized they had to take responsibility for their own actions. This is an unusual thing these days.

And this brings us back to the magic.

When you start working a show with a wide range of people, you may find people who have not taken the responsibility to answer for their own actions. They may not want to pay attention to what you are doing. They may blurt out inappropriate remarks. They may find magic antagonistic. What can you do?

1) Make your magic interesting.
2) Make your magic look natural.
3) Involve people from the audience.
4) Give them something to do.
5) Have a good, simple, understandable plot line.
6) Be good-natured.
7) Convince yourself that they are not your enemy -- they are your audience.
8) Let them know that you like them.

And most of all.

Be sincere.
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
Bill Palmer
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Remember Sam Goldwyn's famous statement:

"The most important thing is sincerity...once you can fake that, you've got it made!"
"The Swatter"

Founder of CODBAMMC

My Chickasaw name is "Throws Money at Cups."

www.cupsandballsmuseum.com
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