Bill And Norma Deeble – An Appreciation

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When I was 13-years old I won the International Jugglers Association’s junior championships. This was a big deal to me but meant nothing to the world outside of the juggling community. My parents, however, made sure that our local newspaper, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, new about it. They even made sure that my best friend and 2nd-place finisher Rick Coleman was mentioned as well as our mutual coach and friend, Randy Pryor.

For 44 years they’ve been doing things like that for me. The only thing I can say with absolute confidence is that I have caused them much more grief than they have caused me – and all they do is love me up.

Thank you, mom and dad. I am proud to call you my friends, not just my parents.

Bill and Norma Deeble where they met and have spent much of their lives together - on a golf course.

Bill and Norma Deeble where they met and have spent much of their lives together – on a golf course.


Dealing with Change

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Soccer fans know that that an injury on the field generally does not stop the game clock. Instead, “injury time” is tacked-on at the conclusion of the 90-minutes of regulation.

Similarly in life – or in your career – injuries do not stop the clock. I learned this the hard way many years ago while riding a tall unicycle through a doorway: I hit my head on the cross-beam and in an instant I went from world-champion juggler to a particularly-clumsy beginner. Because while the swelling on my forehead lasted only a few hours, the life-long casualty was my right arm, which simply stopped receiving the signals my brain would send it.

My friends – some of them world-class jugglers themselves – were fascinated. It was as if everyone was suddenly trying to set me up on a blind date. One had me attempting to juggle while clamping a small pillow in my right armpit, in order to “See what happens”. Another fashioned a rubber sling to help me ape the now-lost throwing motion of conventional juggling.

It was an anxious time for me. I was expecting my first child and for a time believed that I was experiencing some kind of psycho-somatic illness which, I hoped, would vanish once I was able to “work through” my life-altering transition to fatherhood and the greatly-increased financial obligation associated with it. I also read books on neurology and visited several neurologists, the last of whom removed his wedding ring, held it behind his back and then asked me in all seriousness to “Guess which hand it’s in”.

In hindsight, it was a good thing that I couldn’t tell life to “Stop!” while I reinvented myself into… what? I didn’t even know and had no time to figure it out: I had shows to do, contracts to honor, money to make.

The injury, more than anything, shaped me as a performer. “Shaped” isn’t really the right word: it essentially changed my occupation. The years I put into learning to juggle five balls was now for naught. My time would now be spent learning to catch an olive on a toothpick in my mouth, kicking a billiard ball into my eye socket and juggling slow-falling plastic grocery sacks.

Before my injury, audiences would ask “How do you do all that stuff?”. These days they ask “How did you think up all that stuff?” My answer is: “I had no choice”.

My talk, Winning With A Bad Hand, is the story of how I learned to roll with the punches. But more importantly, how to punch back.

Questions? Comments? Angry screed? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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How To Catch An Olive On A Toothpick Clenched Between Your Teeth

This is the only trick for which I have a mantra, inspired by boastful NFL wide receivers: “Just get it in my area”. By “my” area, I mean, of course, the toothpick’s area. “Why not aim for it to land specifically on the toothpick?” For one thing, this trick is aScreen Shot 2013-08-12 at 5.12.03 PM fickle one and the olive landing on the toothpick is no guarantor that it will stick. More importantly, it’s too much pressure: actually stating my ultimate aim in black-and-white that takes my focus off the process, which, if executed well, usually takes care of the objective.

Again, when I stick to the process, the result usually follows. Mechanically, there are only three things I focus on: clenching the toothpick at a 90 degree angle, tossing the olive in a relaxed, moderate arc and positioning my mouth (not the toothpick!) beneath the descending olive. Accomplish those three things  and it’s more likely than not you’ll havesuccess.

And if you fail, best have something funny to say and nail it on the next try.

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How I Got This Way

(This article originally appeared at eJuggle, the official publication of the International Jugglers’ Association).

My biggest stroke of luck was to grow up a short distance from a magic club called The Long Beach Mystics.

The Long Beach (largest non-county seat city in the U.S!) that my parents grew up in was sometimes called “The Des Moines of the west coast” because of it’s lack of what we now call “diversity”. But by the time I was born diversity had already arrived and would really begin to unpack over the next decade.

With large black, Mexican, Armenian, Vietnamese and numerous South Pacific Islander populations, Long Beach, by the time I got to high schoool, was home to the largest Cambodian population of any city outside of Cambodia. Our section of the city, though, still resembled the strictly suburban version of itself from the 1950’s. I could hope our backyard fence and be in famously Republican Orange County in ten minutes.

The clubhouse of the Mystics was a little over a mile beyond the Orange County line in Los Alamitos, a fact that seemed to cause no one any confusion or consternation. The magic shop in front was just that – a front – because the real magic took place in the back. Passing the glass counter of card and coin tricks and entering the door beyond it revealed a room of about equal size as the magic shop. It was a very little theater and one that served our purpose: bravely walking on stage to perform our routines, receive feedback and implement what worked. Rinse, wash, repeat.

If the club’s philosophy had a bias it was undoubtedly and unapologetically providing entertainment value. I don’t recall much talk about how to fool other magicians. Making a trick a lot more fickle in order to make it a little more entertaining was frowned upon. As I write these words I am impressed at how this last lesson has informed my minimalist approach to performing. Keep It Simple, Stupid. This was the popular refrain when one of us got so wrapped up in the technical aspects of a trick or routine that we began to lose sight of what mattered most: the audience’s enjoyment. During my first few years as a Mystic, I evolved from magician to juggler yet the same principles applies. The question “Wouldn’t it be more impressive to juggle five balls instead of four when I do this gag?” was met with the same skeptical silence that movie directors should receive when they ask “How can we employ this new technology?”

Once, after seeing us perform a show featuring shoddy music editing, Mark Kalin was moved to give a lecture teaching the techniques of avoiding such amateur mistakes. Passion.

As I grew into my teens, these lessons stayed with me, although I would gradually and characteristically take credit for them myself. It was not until two decades later, when I began performing regularly at The Magic Castle , that others made me realize what, exactly, I had my hands on as a kid.

“I didn’t know you were a Mystic!” I am told by incredulous magicians after seeing The Mystics – A 50 Year Legacy. After viewing the dvd (featuring a heavily-sedated interview which I do not recall giving), I was humbled by the awesome generosity of mentors like Stan Allen, Kevin James, Mike Caveney, Randy Pryor, Dana Daniels and many others: they wanted me to be great.

I was in good hands with The Long Beach Mystics – thanks, guys.