strange magiiiiiiic

not sure what to believe

There’s a metaphor I keep getting close to but not reaching, which maybe means it’s fake and I’m forcing it. But isn’t there some magnetic-y thing in pinball machines that, if your ball hits it, sends the ball spinning out in an unpredictable way? Probably I’m wrong, but it doesn’t matter, because the intended metaphor is this: I’ve just gone through a breakup and also am less than a month into a new job, and I keep trying to explain to people that I feel like the pinball spinning out in an unpredictable way. Like I’ve just hit a series of those weird magnetic things in the machine and don’t know where or how I’m gonna spin. It is fine and doesn’t feel bad. It’s kind of fun? But this is my way of saying that things are raw and strange and this has put me in a Rare State (again, not bad).

A friend took me with him tonight to this Broadway show that’s all about deception and mind tricks. It’s called “Secret” (go ahead, look it up, I refuse to do so because I don’t want to spoil anything) and it’s basically a one-man show where a guy in a suit plays tricks that stun the audience each time. The first one is a simple mind game, but things escalate and by the end, the whole show either feels like perfectly performed symphony, or is so neatly tied up so that you end up kinda queasy.

The guy drops the word secret a few times throughout the first act, each time mentioning that “this isn’t why the show’s called ‘Secret,’ I’ll get to that later.” The effect of this, I’m guessing, is that you spend the whole time wondering if you’ll spot or correctly guess what the secret could be. Mirrors on his shoes? Actors planted in the audience? A bug in his ear? Actual magic?

I spent all of my life before moving away to college going to church two days a week (Sundays for big service, Wednesdays for some sort of youth group). I bring this up because it means I have been socialized to sit in a group of people, listen to a fantastical lecture (“sermon”), accept it as true, and look for virtue in the message. So as this guy is doing his tricks—most, if not all, of which rely on the participants being honest—I’m thinking: Ok, the Secret is going to be that humans are, by nature, good, and are not easily prone to bad things like lying or deception. That is how his tricks work, and it also finally settles the stupid argument I had (everyone had) with my boyfriend from ages 19-21.

This is a nice takeaway but it hinges on believing that everyone the guy called up on stage was a genuine audience member, rather than an actor planted in the crowd to make everyone feel like they’ve seen a show. I sat there in my dumb seat and considered this for the whole two-and-a-half hour thing. This sunk into my brain folds so thoroughly that, when I went to the restroom during intermission and saw that someone in another stall left their phone on the sink counter, I thought, oh my god, she’s been planted here to further this illusion that people are good, as is being actively demonstrated by the fact that I am not going to steal this phone.

(I would never steal a phone.)

By the time I left I felt cloudy and weird (my friend just texted to say he feels “fucked up,” and yeah same). Nothing felt (feels?!) “real” to me anymore. I scrolled back through texts on my phone and imagined they were never sent, or worse, that I’d dreamt up fake scenarios to text about. I started to have a less-fun realization during act two, which is that it doesn’t ultimately matter whether it’s real or not, because the actual show is trying to figure out whether you are a person who can believe in either thing. Do you believe that the show is real, and if so, what does that mean? Or do you believe that the show is fake, that it’s just another performance with actors, and what does that mean? Which sort of person would you rather be? The gullible kind or the cynical kind? Would this be more resolved if you kept going back to the show, taking on debt via ticket purchases just to see if repeated viewing provide clarity either way?

I don’t want to Google this fucking thing because I ultimately do not want clues either way. My friend focused his theory that it’s all real on the fact that, if the show were fake and the participants were actors, maintaining that illusion to the point that people keep buying tickets would require a lot of secret-keeping from a lot of people. I centered my theory it was fake on how neatly it was all tied up at the end, how it had maybe gone one trick too far, so that you’d ultimately have to be an idiot to believe it.

I can’t tell which sort of person I’d rather be (a believer in magic or a believer in people’s capacity to keep secrets for the joy of others). There are likely multiple other thought options you can have that just don’t occur to me. I watched (and noticed other people watching) the participants from on stage as they walked out of the theater and out onto 48th Street. Should I have followed them to see where they went? Would that reveal anything? What would I feel now if I had an answer? I can’t believe people pay for this shit.