Other than being able to juggle a bit and touch my nose with my tongue, I don’t have any odd talents. There is a long list of things I greatly admire and wish I could do: bagpipe playing, fire eating, sword swallowing, magic in any form, escape artistry, and having psychic abilities (maybe I can get some tips from Debutante Eileen on this one!).
I am very into things that involve special instruments, tools or props. Someone drags a beat up case of any sort out and opens it up before a crowd and I’m hooked. There used to be a guy who performed escapes up on the street in Burlington, Vermont. He’d lay everything out first: handcuffs, ropes, chains, locks, straight jacket, and as he was doing this, a crowd would gather. I loved the act of unpacking — the way he carefully laid each object of restraint out on the white sheet. There was a promise that something wonderful and dramatic was about to happen. This guy was going to let strangers lock him up, truss him, put him in a straight jacket, then, by some miracle, he was going to get free. It was the miracle we were all there to see. Someone was going to do something that seemed impossible.
When I was ten or eleven, my grandmother gave me a magic set. It came with a hat full of secret compartments, a marked deck of cards, a rope trick and some brightly colored scarves. I read the book it came with. I practiced. I stood in front of the bathroom mirror trying desperately to make coins disappear. I was terrible at it. Try as I might, I was clumsy, full of self doubt, and never good at the patter that my book told me was necessary to help distract the audience. The magic hat got stuffed to the back of my closet along with the abandoned rock polisher, chemistry set and a half-finished hooked rug.
Now the only trick I know is the one I do with words, but you know what? It’s enough. I don’t have a box of props: just my little laptop, and some days, only a notebook and pen. But once I get warmed up, I can still work a little magic. I can get the guy into and out of the straight jacket and give him a thousand little histories, and reasons for doing what he does. I can make that once clumsy ten-year-old girl pull white doves from her magic hat. I can write about sword swallowers, even allow myself to become one for a little while without risking internal injuries. And often, when I walk away from the desk, I feel a little like that escape artist — like I’ve just pulled off the impossible.