I have always hated magic tricks. It always seemed silly — verging on evil — to practice and practice and practice something for the purpose of fooling other people. Even when I was a kid I had strong feelings about it. Some magic tricks were funny, like when my dad pretended to take off the top knuckle/tip of his thumb. I could tell he was joking around, but when someone would say, “Nothing up my sleeve,” even before I knew how to say “fuck this” I was saying it inside.

But there was an exception, a really miraculous beautiful amazing fantastic out-of-this-world, unexpected moment of REAL magic.

It was a gloomy early January day in San Diego, late 1990s, during the time I still lived in the hood. I had tons of work to do to get ready for the semester that was about to start. I was flat ass broke as well. It was before I started teaching at San Diego State, so finances were always very grim a couple months of the year with NO income. By afternoon, I wanted OUT, but I didn’t have time to go to Mission Trails. I decided to take Bonnie, a beautiful golden Akita mix I was dog-sitting for a colleague who was spending a year in Korea, to a spot called Chollas Lake, one of the small reservoirs designed in the 30s to provide water to a city no one imagined would grow as it did.

The place itself is nice in a simple way. It’s a .8 mile loop around a small lake. It was frequented by lots of people, families and couples, joggers, people on dates and a GREAT flock of geese. There were picnic areas and a pier for fishing and launching small boats. There was a small playground. It isn’t in a fancy part of San Diego so it’s not a fancy place, no La Jolla or Del Mar, just a simple park, with a trail shaded by eucalyptus trees a couple miles from my house.

I was grumpy when I got behind the wheel. What was the point? Every day I did the best I could but it was always the same, struggling to make ends meet, teaching seven classes, grading thousands of papers every semester, never getting tenure. I was a failure but it was too late in life to change. The guy I was enamored of viewed me as a friend — maybe even a sister! — and had his sights set on someone 20 years younger who thought he was a relic. My brother was messed up and godnose where. NOTHING got better EVER. I turned the key and pulled out of the driveway. I was tired to death of the same-old, same-old. The sky spit rain. Bonnie calmly lay in the back of the Escort station wagon, glad to be going somewhere with me alone.

About halfway there, driving through the next neighborhood, a planned community from the 50s, winding streets and secret routes, I saw a kid holding a sign he’d painted in red on cardboard. Beside him was a table with a bunch of stuff neatly laid out on it. The sign said;

Free Magic Show.

I knew his whole story, then. He’d gotten a magic kit for Christmas, and he’d been practicing. His family and friends were sick of watching him, and he thought he was ready to (literally) take it to the streets. I was charmed — and taught. I realized that the moment we’re born that’s what we get.

And I wasn’t grumpy any more. Bonnie and I had a wonderful walk and said “Hi!” to lots of people, watched the geese, walked five miles, and saw a hawk.

In 2011, when I realized I was going to have to self-publish Martin of Gfenn, I looked at the “simple” instructions on Lulu (the platform I used), and I realized I’d better do a practice book. I assembled some essays from the blogs I was writing at the time on Blogger and made a book of essays. It was fun but a little scary — I don’t know why, maybe in the way all new things are scary.

My dear friend, George Reading, was still alive, and he offered to read the book and write a review. He loved my writing so I figured a review written by a person who loved my writing and understood me was a good beginning. As I read George’s email with this little paragraph in it, I saw how the people in our lives might be the best magic in the free magic show.


I think of all the stories from my life that I relate here or in something like My Everest as adventures from the Free Magic Show. In the little box where Createspace asks, Publisher? I type “Free Magic Show Publications.”


17 thoughts on “Magic

  1. Mr. Reading is absolutely correct! As are you! The free magic show IS the people in our lives. When we open to them, let them in freely, we experience “their” experience as well as our own. Love that you wrote this, Martha. A badly needed reminder, for me, at least. So easy to focus on what’s missing, what’s not right, never seeing the “right” we are in the midst of. Thank you.

  2. I love those words, the title tells it all. Perhaps we all have a little magic show inside us, we just have to discover it.

  3. When do you go for surgery, Martha? My Mom had a knee replacement this morning and is recovering nicely. A little reassurance for you with hopes your mild anxiety may be somewhat allayed.

    • Ach, Denny, my surgery is next Monday. I wish your mom all the best as she recovers! I know she’ll be in a lot less pain — a friend has had knee replacement surgery and is the No 1 Poster Child for it.

      • Thank you, Denny! It’s going to be great. I can’t hike very much now, and I’m looking forward to finally getting on the mountain trails near Heaven (home) as hiking with my dogs is my raison d’etre. 🙂 Your mom and I are lucky to be alive now. Even 50 years ago, this wouldn’t be possible.

    • George was a news correspondent. One day at lunch — me, his wife, a friend of mine, George — George asked me what I had wanted to be when I grew up. I said I had no idea, but my mom wanted me to be an international news correspondent so she gave me a typewriter when I graduated high school. George said, “A typewriter? She wanted you to be a secretary. If she had wanted you to be an international news correspondent, she should have given you a one way ticket to Turkey and told you to write your way home.”

      At some point in our friendship I began to see George as a kind of dad. He was born the same year as my father, something we talked about often. His tenderness, tough-love encouragement, understanding and belief in me I. had only known from one other person in my life — my own father. His wife — who was my colleague for a short time — was 17 years older than I. One day, we had gone out for lunch and were having an amazing conversation and she said, “I can’t believe I had to wait so long for you to show up, but at least you did.” She was a devout and practicing Hindu and really believed in reincarnation. But there is a small circle of people in my life that I do feel I’ve known forever, so maybe…

      Here’s George’s story if you and Garry are interested in who he was. ❤

  4. Great story. Two kinds of magic here, one from a base of deception–using distraction and sleight of hand to create an illusion. The other, its opposite, is from being present and available, seeing what is there–kid with his sign and magic stuff on the street. The magic of surprise, of getting snapped out of our habits of awareness or mood so that we have an unanticipated shift or outcome. Different tricksters. And the kid, waiting to do his set tricks, did big magic for you that day.

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