A few years ago, while on an extended trip to Asia, I made a stop in the Kingdom of Bhutan. I attended an archery exhibition (the shared national passion), visited a small public school, and toured a monastery with a Buddhist Monk who lectured me about serenity and peacefulness as he constantly juggled incoming calls on his new cell phone. I also got a surprise lesson in passion from two Bhutanese twenty-somethings.
We tend to believe that we live in the great age of celebrity. In truth, the public has always been interested in the talents and foibles of the rich and famous, even in those days before Twitter and Snapchat. Everyone wanted to know the deep dark secrets of Ben Franklin. But, yes, the intensity has been turned up. No matter how superficial and salacious the media coverage, we can’t seem to get enough. We want to get behind the facade, behind the curtain, we must know everything about the insults, the riches, the breakups, the breakdowns and the secrets that celebrities try to hide.
The Olympics are a whole different world. As the years have gone on, they have become a television show; a billion people around the world watch for three weeks as many of the world’s greatest athletes compete in impossibly diverse sports, from the familiar running and swimming races, to exotic fencing duels, to perhaps foreign games like team handball or water polo. On television, this makes sense because we are used to bouncing from one thing to the next on television. Now you’re watching gymnasts do impossible tumbles. Then you’re watching boxers hammer away at each other. Then it is a rowing competition. Television creates the order.
There is a scene in the quirky but wonderful documentary California Typewriter, where actor Tom Hanks talks about how he types almost every day. He types notes to friends. He types memos. He types short stories. Hanks has been outspoken about his passion for typewriters; he gives typewriters away to any friend who expresses even the slightest interest. He has even created an app called Hanx Writer which tries to recreate the typewriting experience for iPad users.
Sometime many years ago, if I remember right, my mother played around a bit with some paint-by-numbers sets. It’s hard to remember the specifics because, through the years, she has been drawn to many small obsessions. There was the crossword puzzle phase, the jigsaw puzzle phase, the Sudoku phase, the Harlequin Romance phase, the needlepoint phase, the clipping coupons phase, the soap opera phase, the Candy Crush phase, the refund phase … so wait, to give you an idea of what I’m talking about let’s focus on the refund thing for a moment.
A couple of years ago, a curious thing started happening to my teenage daughter … and, though I did not know it at the time, the same thing was happening to teen-aged boys and girls (as well as adults) all across America.
There’s a famous book in magic called The Royal Road to Card Magic. It was written a long time ago by an Australian magician named Jean Hugard, and it is considered by many to be the essential book of card magic. It is a somewhat difficult book, filled with detailed instruction of precisely how to do various card tricks, flourishes, and so on. But it is also about a philosophy of performing magic.