Homing Hopper

“Where did THAT come from?”  I’m often asked this question not because I made an object like automobile appear in thin air but because, when I am asked to contribute creative solutions, my comments or suggestions at first glance appear to come out of nowhere.

I found myself asking myself the same question while screening Brian Johnson’s film Yes and No at the Toronto International Film Festival, and again after meeting Dennis Lee, the poet whose words inspired the cinematic treatment, at the post-screening party.

I already knew the answer, at least in some respect. The work came from their imagination and, more importantly, from the knowledge both Brian and Dennis had in store, knowledge that allowed their imaginations to create tangible works rather than thoughts that just swirled inside their brains.

Inventive but pragmatic solutions require someone with both imagination and knowledge. And, as Timothy Williamson points on his article in the New York Times, knowledge – far from being something that inhibits creativity – makes the imagination focused and productive.  He writes,

“Constraining imagination by knowledge does not make it redundant. We rarely know an explicit formula that tells us what to do in a complex situation. We have to work out what to do by thinking through the possibilities in ways that are simultaneously imaginative and realistic, and not less imaginative when more realistic. Knowledge, far from limiting imagination, enables it to serve its central function.”

Stewart James was one of the most prolific creators of magic in the twentieth century.  He created over a thousand magical pieces while most other magicians were lucky to create a dozen. Among his many innovations was the “Headline Prediction”. Stewart was the first to create and perform this sort of prediction.  His initial prediction and one that generated a great deal of publicity, was: ”Germany invades Poland”. That’s right, Stewart correctly predicted the outbreak of World War II!

I’ve written extensively about Stewart and his many modes of generating ideas in Advantage Play. Stewart had a myriad of techniques – idea kindlers – to generate ideas. All, however, were based on a foundation of knowledge. Stewart was extremely well versed in the principles and practice of magic. As far as Stewart was concerned, solutions pre-existed.  He simply had to explore his subconscious to find them. So, he regarded himself as an explorer like Christopher Columbus. Instead of looking for the New World, however, Stewart explored the uncharted areas of his imagination. He knew it was a  dangerous journey though, and easy to lose one’s way in the imagination. He saw first-hand some of his closest creative friends lose their minds as they spent too much time in their imagination.

Stewart used his superior knowledge of principles, practices and procedures as the constellations that guided his explorations. They also brought him home. He thought he could discover even more solutions, however, if he had a Homing Hopper as his guide.

A Homing Hopper, of course, was a product of Stewart’s imagination. It was a hybrid creature: part Homing Pigeon and part Grasshopper. The Grasshopper could jump from idea to idea, safe in the knowledge that it would never get lost in the depths of the imagination because the Homing Pigeon would bring the mind back to safe ground.

One pundit said that Stewart was in his own little world, but that was okay because they knew him there. I feel the same way.

31 Faces North

I shouldn’t complain, although I do: too many projects, and all of them interesting.

As soon as the Masters of Magic Series finished – it closed the Luminato Festival – I was on an airplane to perform in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  It was my first visit to the Rock, but one that was all too short.  I was on another plane the next day to do a show that night in beautiful Banff, Alberta.  Although not coast-to-coast, something I’ve done before – a morning keynote presentation in Boston, an afternoon keynote in Vancouver and then back to Toronto for the evening – it was a great reminder of the size, beauty and diversity of the country. Signal Hill and the Banff Springs are both as majestic as the mountain ranges on which they are situated.

I am now, however, on to another project – 31 Faces North.  This is an invitation-only assembly of 40 of the world’s premier performers of sleight-of-hand.  This will be our 8th year co-hosting the conference with Allan Slaight, the Canadian media mogul and magician.

I’ve certainly spoken or performed at hundreds of conferences over the course of my career. 31 Faces North, however, is unique. Allan and I were inspired to host the conference by the late P. Howard Lyons. Howard was a prominent accountant by trade, but one with a passion for jazz, science fiction and magic. Allan and I first met some thirty years ago at Howard’s conference, “The Ibidem Event”.  The conference was named after an avant-garde magic magazine – yes, there was such a thing – that Howard published called Ibidem. In addition to the eclectic and thought-provoking magic, each magazine featured a cover created and individually silk-screened by Howard’s wife, Pat Patterson. Howard died in 1987.

Howard’s idea for a conference was to have three gourmet meals a day, and an open bar for four consecutive days, and minimal scheduled events. Delegates would just sit around, eat, drink and share knowledge. The event was staged at the Oban Inn at Niagara-on-the-Lake, and the delegates took over the entire inn. I was invited when I was quite young because Howard believed that it was important to broker knowledge. It certainly changed my life as I met many people there who not only became fast friends, but who also mentored me personally and professionally.

Well, fast forward to 2002 when Allan and I were discussing Howard, and the “Ibidem Event”. It was time, we thought, to resurrect the concept. Although many in the magic community believe we called the event 31 Faces North in honor of Howard and Allan’s magical muse Stewart James, and Stewart’s legendary feat 51 Faces North, the truth is that Allan and I set up chairs in the room and discovered that it could comfortably accommodate 31 people.  As all of the chairs were facing north, the name became 31 Faces North. The play on Stewart’s title was just a lovely coincidence.

We expanded the facility in the intervening years, and now accommodate about 40 attendees. The spirit, however, remains the same.  It is four days of the world’s best magicians – and a handful of the next generation – hanging around, sharing sustenance and secrets, and all for the love of magic.

In off the porch

shapeimage_1“Is this just some passing fancy or do you really love magic?”

“No,” I said with every ounce of enthusiasm I could muster,  “I really love magic. I really love it.”

That was my response to Stewart James’ query.  I was in my early twenties – perhaps twenty-one or two, and had been invited back to his home –Aberystwyth – down the street from the Riverview Country Inn and his Get-Together in Courtright, Ontario.

I didn’t realize it at the time but, as Howard Lyons who accompanied me later told me, it was an honour to have even been invited. Not only had I made it from the motel to the porch, and then to the kitchen table, I was now upstairs in Stewart’s Inner Sanctum.  Howard told me that Karl Fulves, who had visited  Stewart for about a week, never made it in off the porch.

“No”, I told Stewart.  “I really love magic.”  And I still do, some twenty-six or so years later.

And now it is my turn, for those interested, to invite you into my Inner Sanctum.  I hope this Blog will be akin to Stewart’s “Talking Table”, where I can report on the conversations I have with my imaginary friends – and you – about magic.

All I ask is that you love it.