Sell this Pen to Me

I recently gave a lecture for magicians; it streamed over the internet to interested magi around the world. I spoke on card tricks, coin tricks, audience management and basic philosophies. Fun stuff.

At the end, after three and a half hours of Hannibal dialogue, the producer asked me to submit an effect or routine for a feature called “Free Trick Friday”. I thought it would be appropriate to offer something … a little more valuable.

This was my submission.

Sell This Pen to Me from Chris Hannibal on Vimeo.

The Red Light

Once upon a time I worked the comedy club circuit. I was, at the time, a “strong middle” act. That is, I could set up most any headliner well and get the audience in a good mood and ready for the big guns. I liked the position.

The middle act was on a tight time limit. Sometimes the club would run two or even three sets a night, so timing was critical. The audience had to be cleared and the club cleaned between each set, so going over time could throw the entire night way off schedule. In the back of the room, visible only from the stage, was a red light. When the light popped on, that meant you had exactly five minutes to wrap up and get off stage. If you went over … Your future work was in jeopardy.

As the middle act I learned that there was little time for nonsense. I needed to deliver my best and make it happen in my short time. No time for fear or laziness in that spot. Do you see where I’m going with this?

This subject came to me last night in my room at the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia. I’ve come quite a long way. Yesterday was hell-travel: delayed flights, bad traffic, untrustworthy weather and insensitive airline people. (Hello, USAir) Also, a friend suggested I audition for ‘the biggest loser’. Probably a good idea, promotion wise, but bad timing psychologically. Heh.
I arrived at the venue with just barely enough time to set up and change clothes before hitting the stage. Let’s call last night’s show a B+. It was good, and the audience was very giving, but I’m a pretty harsh critic of my work. Later, alone in my room I was going over all the details of the show and making notes. It struck me that my message from the stage lately has been ‘grasp your dreams’. Do it now, while there’s still time. Life is oh so short and sweet, and there’s no time for fear or laziness … Get in the game and deliver on your gift. I have to tell you: your blessings are there waiting for you.

I promise to do my best to enrich your life until I am enriching your soil.

I am not of this world. I am a red light from God.

The Lessons of Sisyphus

Some 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 life 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.

Strengths

My friend Kozmo shared this story with me:

“I’m working the street one day, and I see a father and son approaching along the path. They looked like good candidates to start Imagebuilding a crowd so I smiled and made eye contact, or attempted to. The father refused to meet my eye, and hustled the young man on by. As they passed I overheard the father tell the boy, ‘There is a man who has made some bad decisions.’ Here’s a guy judging me by where I chose to work, and his assumption of my station. How stupid is that?”

My neighbors are bankers, investment brokers and officers for various companies. It used to be when they found out I was an entertainer, I would eventually get ‘the lecture’. I can’t tell you how many people have gone out of their way to let me know how irresponsible it is of me to not have a ‘steady job’. Like I was neglecting my family and endangering their future by not having stability in my work. Then the recession of 2008 hit us. My neighbors with their stable jobs suddenly found themselves downsized or laid off with nowhere to really turn. My business took a hit, also .. but I had the option, training and experience to take my business outside. I went back to the street and busked for my rent and groceries. We simplified our lifestyle and made it through. Let me ask you: who had more stability and control of their future?

My point is: what you consider a weakness might just be a strength to someone else. (And Vice Versa)  Your gift is within you.

Regarding people like Kozmo and myself: we take care of our families, we get to spend a great amount of time with our loved ones. We don’t have to choose between ‘quantity vs quality’ … we get to have both. When we work, we work hard, and we are dedicated to our craft. Because we have a passion for our gift, we tend to be happier (on the average). Yes, we struggle at times. But we have been through it before, and we know that the tough times are temporary.

We made our decisions, and they were good ones.