20 Question Tuesday: 196 - Andrew Mayne

It is rare when I get to ask 20 questions to someone that I don’t really know and with whom I have only marginal connections or reasons for connections.  This is going to be a fun 20 Questions because my base knowledge of Andrew Mayne is fairly limited.  Andrew is a magician, an author, and an all around raconteur.  Andrew came to my attention through his association with the podcast, NSFW Show on the TWiT network.  I followed him from that bizarre association to the Weird Things podcast (not the Weird Thongs podcast, I don’t recognize anyone from that podcast) and then following him via the twitters.  I had the wonderful occasion to see him at a local speaking engagement in Columbus, Ohio in 2011.  He is quite the talent.  So without further ado, on to the Questions:

This is a question I often start off with now, just because it gives some good fodder for later.  I got a degree in geography, specifically cartography, so a geographic story is always interesting to me. I was born in Oklahoma City, moved to Montgomery, AL, grew up in Birmingham, AL, went to school in Kent, OH and settled down in Columbus, OH.   
Question 1: What is your geographic story?

I was born in Opelika, Alabama (a US News & World Report best city in America) and moved to Eugene, then Portland, Oregon until I was 12 and we moved to a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, FL. After high school I became a full time stage magician and lived on cruise ships and spent half a year in Japan. I then lived in Las Vegas for a little while. After that I lived in Orlando for a year before finally settling down (sort of) in Fort Lauderdale for several years. I spend a lot of time in LA now and in recent years spent half my time in Santa Monica.

So, even though I spent most of my formative youth in Birmingham, I truly and completely consider Columbus to be my home. Question 2: Of all the places you have lived, which one do you consider home? why?

I love Los Angeles. It’s where most of my friends and favorite places are.

Interesting, I would not have called that answer in 10 years. I am not sure where I would have thought, but in my limited knowledge of your whereabouts, I have rarely heard you wax eloquent about Los Angeles. On to some more meaty questions.

Question 3: If you could change the “stage magician” title, which title would you prefer? Magician, Illusionist, Wizard, Charlatan, Sorcerer, Hood-winker, Eldritch Mage, Diabolist, or another of your choice…  Would you choose a different title for other magicians you know? Are you willing to name names and give titles?

I like the idea of each person choosing what works best for them. When I was a teenager I decided I was going to be an ‘illusionist’ because it was bigger than a magician. In our trade, an illusionist is a magician that does all the huge magic like levitating girls and sawing them in half. And that was what my magic act pretty much was.

David Copperfield has always owned the title though. He’s the consummate illusionist. Just about every modern notion of large stage magic has been influenced by him.

Right now, I think I like wizard for myself. Sometimes as a joke I’ll call myself a Wizard-American. Probably all the Harry Potter books on the brain.

For some reason, I thought you would gravitate to “wizard.”  Who doesn’t want to be a wizard?  I mean, come on!  A wizard.  That would be awesome.  So, from now on I will refer to you as “The wizard, Andrew Mayne.”

Public Enemy Zero….

So, again, on a completely different direction (it all comes together later).  Question 4: Cake or Pie? Which kind and why?

Cake. I’m a recovering cupcake addict. It’s my vice of choice whenever I travel. I like a good pie, but seriously, I’m nuts about cake. I was just at a wedding with a friend and secretly glad that her dietary restrictions meant that I was going to get two slices of wedding cake. It’s that bad. The mere thought of it makes me contemplate bad things. Like dressing up as a clown and crashing a birthday party. And I HATE clowns. Why did you have to ask me that question? Now I’ve got to go find some big shoes and a red nose…

I ask that question to everyone, because the answers are so educational.  It is interesting, the pie lovers tend to love pie, but the cake lovers tend to be willing to kill for cake.  There is a subtle but sociopathic difference… When I was a kid, my mom decorated cakes as a side business… there was always cake in my house, and better than that there was always frosting.  I used to put frosting on everything.  Between two Pop-Tarts, on peanut butter cookies, as a dip for Oreos, on Krispy Kreme doughnuts, cheesecake…So much frosting…. I could share the frosting recipe with you (because store bought frosting is a teasing filthy liar), but it would clearly ruin you. Honestly, I should not continue thinking about the frosting lest I spiral out of control as well.

Just to keep you off balance, and get off the topic of cakes and frosting, I will be shifting focus again, rest assured we will come back to cake though, because it always comes back to cake.  Question 4: When you do an illusion or some close work of some kind, what is the driving force for you? Is it the reaction of your audience, the intellectual stimulation of accomplishing the feat? What do you, as a practitioner of the dark arts, gather from doing magic?

All of the above. There’s a creative part of me that always wants to solve problems and make something new. There’s also a part of me that loves attention. Put the two together and it you have an attention seeking creative monster.

From what I understand about you in my Internet stalking and “research,” you no longer have a stage act with which you tour, but you still seem to be within the magic community.  Question 5: So what made you decide to stop touring as a magician?

The Internet can be misleading. When I have the time, I still perform. I’ve performed in casinos and a few spots overseas in the last year. I’ll be doing some stage magic in Europe and then the Mediterranean in a few months.

I’m lucky to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on shows, depending if it’s someplace I want to travel. When I got into producing it changed a lot of things for me and gave me more freedom in that regard. I didn’t have to be locked up on a cruise ship for six months at a time.

“The Internet can be misleading.” I am not sure I like your tone, sir!  The Internet is the last bastion of unbiased knowledge, and I will hear no more truck about it, sir… No more truck.

Question 6: So, what are the 1 or 2 places that you would drop everything to perform in, if the opportunity arises?  Have you performed in these places before?

After you’ve had hundreds of Japanese women scream ‘Anderu’, what else is there? Maybe the White House. Specifically the Nixon White House. That’d be pretty cool. I could say, “For my next trick, Dick,” and Nixon would have to give me an awkward laugh because I’m a guest and on stage and in charge. Haldeman would give me an angry look from offstage and then I’d like vanish back into the future. Nixon would freak out and demand they hide the tapes that recorded my appearance.There would be several minutes of missing time because of me. He’d get all paranoid that it was some kind of trick and get some goons to go knocking on doors. All he’d know is what I whispered to him right before I vanished. ‘Watergate.’ And that’s what happened. I mean that’s what could have happened…Um, what was the question? Ever read G. Gordon Liddy’s biography?

Now, your vanishing, I am sure, would be done with quite the flourish.  At least it better have…  And in my mental picture of this, you are wearing a tux, cape, top hat, and white gloves… can you grow a moustache: a big, bushy, handlebar moustache… because that facial hair assemblage is in the picture as well… in fact… Question 7: Can you grow a big, bushy handlebar moustache?

Given a glacial amount of time.

At least, if you are given an epoch of time, you could do it.  One of my co-workers, the angriest man alive, is partially angry  because he cannot grow facial hair except for one quarter-sized area on in the center of his left cheek (to be clear though, he is also partially angry because he cannot find a good fat free ranch dressing, and because someone ate a peanut butter sandwich the other day)…  Such an angry angry man, but that is a story for another time.  

You seem to run pretty fluidly in the skeptics community (concerning paranormal and unexplained things).  In a previous 20 Questions Tuesday I did with Chris Corrigan he described a skeptic as someone with both a high degree of hope and a high degree of doubt (of course this version of skeptic was not necessarily about the paranormal or unexplained).  So, I offer this up to you as a partial definition of a skeptic, in what I call… Question 8: Do you agree that one potential definition of a skeptic is someone with a high degree of hope yet tempers that hope with a high degree of doubt?

For me, I tend to quantize it a little bit more. Besides belief and doubt, there’s just not knowing. Is there intelligent life in outer space? I don’t know. I don’t really have doubt or hope. It’s one of those complex questions we can only have a firm position in either way based upon one extreme emotional opinion or the other. I have counterarguments for the doubtful and hopeful.

“I don’t know”, is something smart people hate to say. Especially skeptics. The problem is that leads us to a kind of scientism where we embrace something that has the most trappings of scientific veracity, but isn’t necessarily true.

Anthropomorphic climate change is a great example of that. We can start with some very basic, easy to demonstrate facts like how CO2 absorbs infrared energy and extrapolate that into potential scenarios where excess CO2 could raise the planet’s temperature.  But the question of by how much and with what consequences is a really complex problem lots of people pretend to understand; yet a specialist in upper atmosphere climate may have little more grasp than an educated layperson on what the implications are for sea level change and things like bacteria-influenced hydrological cycles.

We trust our scientist friends because they say it’s true. Or at least the most outspoken ones say so. What’s fascinating is when you separate them from the politics and ideology and ask specific questions about their own area of expertise, you find out it’s a really complex problem with so many variables, that they even tend to take a lot of things on faith.

That’s where we get into dangerous and unscientific terminology like “consensus” or adopt strange interpretations of the precautionary principle. Experts in one narrow field then decide they’re perfectly capable of offering opinions in disciplines they have no real insight into and start proffering political and economic solutions.

We then get into a kind of siege mentality and start looking at anybody who doesn’t agree with our kind of hope or doubt as an out group and resort to name calling and strawman arguments. When you call everyone who is unconvinced or has questions about the evidence a denier or a flat earther, you’ve lost the legitimacy science offers.

I always get into trouble when I bring this up because people assume I have a strong opinion on this. I really don’t. It’s a very complex question that is beyond my ability to understand.

On one hand, you have people who won’t accept any amount of evidence that man can influence climate. On the other, you have people who accept the political positions and politically shaped scientific consensus without question, saying things like “The debate is over.” We’re still testing relativity one hundred years later. No physicist in their right mind would say the debate is over.

We’re now getting a very dangerous theme of linking acceptance of anthropomorphic climate change with evolution. One is a very open ended question shaped by politics and the other something you can observe on a laboratory bench and easily test.

If you’re a student of history it’s especially disturbing because when evolution was linked to politics, you had highly educated people and even moral by most standards, advocating eugenics as a way to solve the problems of poverty. Even Margaret Sanger, who I think is one of the most important people of the 20th Century (founder of Planned Parenthood) was a supporter of this idea.

We think that if we’re rational and moral, our beliefs can’t be corrupted if we have the power to make decisions for others. The tragedy is that more people died in the 20th century from well-meaning futurists who believed science was on their side than from all the wars combined. The Soviets bet the literal farm on Lysenko’s ‘scientific’ ideas and millions starved. China’s Great Leap Forward also embraced Lysenkoism and a naive concept of industrialization. Even the Nazi concentration camps were based on a “scientific” view about euthanasia and genetic hygiene. These ideas don’t start in a vacuum. Someone comes along with an ideology that finds it compatible and begins to promote it. The next thing you know you get government mandated agriculture practices decided by someone who has never been on a farm, backyard metal furnaces based on a hoax or carbon markets lobbied by Enron.

This isn’t to say science betrayed us. In fact, the opposite, we betray science when we use it to push our political and philosophical ideologies onto others and refuse to apply them to our own positions.

So back to your original question. “I don’t know”, is a very healthy position for a skeptic. I don’t know the answer to a lot of things. But I’m happy to lay out what would convince me.

I’ll just add that a sign of a healthy field of inquiry is its willingness to entertain and communicate with people who are skeptical. When people want to shut anyone out, not just the ones on the extreme end, that’s a warning sign to me.

Well thought out as usual.  It is interesting… after hearing you speak on all the Weird Things podcasts, I can kind of hear your voice saying that expository text.  I think what I was trying to get at about the “hope v doubt” piece is that I think deep in the marrow of a skeptic is the hope that some of these paranormal mysteries and science fiction fantasies are possibly true, but the burden of proof is in line with other observed scientific facts.  I think, for you, deep down, you would love for the yeti to be a real thing, but you don’t want hoaxers (or even ardent believers) bringing that weak ass game into your house and calling it truth.

Growing up in Alabama, I have had the occasion to converse with some people who ascribe to creationism, and I have had the occasion as a geographer to have conversations with people who believe the earth is, indeed, flat. Rarely, in my experience of those conversations, does the discourse stay at a civil level, because so much of one’s identity is wrapped up in those particular ideas.  But that is neither here nor there…

Grendel’s Shadow

Going back to the hopeful skeptic idea, Question 10: Is there a paranormal thing (a cryptid, alien contact, ESP, conspiracy theory, ghosts, etc..) that you, deep down in your heart of hearts are hopeful for? Or if there isn’t, which of the myriad of paranomal stuff would be the coolest if it were real?.  If you do have one you are hoping for, is it also the coolest?

In my mind paranormal is something that runs counter to how we believe science works. So I’d leave cryptids, aliens and conspiracy theories off that list. When you step back for a moment and take a broader view of these ideas, you come to some interesting realizations.

Bigfoot is real and alive and well, from my way of looking at things. For most of modern man’s 200,000 year history we lived side-by-side with other bipedal intelligent apes. We may call them Neanderthals, Denisovans (a newly discovered species) or Homo floresiensis. But they fit many of the descriptions.

We’ve always had stories of the ‘wild man’ in the forest because they’ve been there for most of our history. If you go to South America you’ll find the use of jade in burial rituals along with other cultural holdovers from when their ancestors migrated from Asia 20,000 years ago. Seeing how long those concepts can last, it’s not difficult to imagine that our bigfoot and yeti mythos is based in very real cultural memories of Neanderthals and other members of the Homo genus.

Bigfoot alive today because we find Neanderthal genes in the genome of people whose ancestors migrated out of Africa. Even the Denisovans have passed on their genes to a group of people living in Melanesia.

As far as what I hope for, I don’t really hold out for any one thing coming true. I think the universe we’re creating with science is far more interesting. I prefer a universe with no other intelligent life, because that means it’s ours to do with as we please. A Manifest Destiny where invaders and natives don’t kill each other.

Imagine what the future would be like 1000 or even just 500 years from now when we create our own cambrian explosion of artificial life and spread out to far reaches of our galaxy. If the speed of light holds up, it’ll create a fascinating universe of different cultures isolated by time. History up until now will seem like a footnote. That’s when the real story of civilization begins.

So in answer to the question, none of the above. Alien contact is a far more boring idea to me than when we turn on the first artificially intelligent being. If we want to meet Mr. Spock, we just build him. Or we tell the computers to surprise us.

Side note: I’d like to point out that I’m very doubtful (and obviously not hopeful) we’ll ever encounter intelligent alien life. I used to think it was inevitable, but then I realized that we were conflating the argument for life elsewhere in the universe with intelligent life. There’s a big difference. There’s been life on earth for 3 billion years. As far as we know (excluding sentient squids that left no artifacts) intelligent life in the form of man and our Homo relatives, is less than a 2.5 million years old. 3.8 billion years is a long time to wait for intelligent life to show up.

I’m not saying it can’t or hasn’t happened elsewhere, only that we need to look at our own history to realize how difficult  it really is.

Your take on extra terrestrial intelligence really is interesting … it reminds me very much of the Douglas Adams definition of intelligent life where he looks at the total of life in the universe and the vast expanse of area in the universe, an intelligent life density, if you will.  With all life being finite and the universe being infinite (in his system) the density of intelligent life was 0… I should probably break open my Guide again to find that passage instead of relying on my faulty think mellon.  I personally think that there is intelligent life out there, but the vast distance of space will ensure that the intelligent life never comes into contact with each other… I think there will only ever be inklings of other intelligent life out there without ever having any confirmation of that fact.

and now for something completely different… Question 11:  Is your toothbrush the same color as your favorite color? If not, why not, you can buy toothbrushes in pretty much any color… why wouldn’t you get your toothbrush in your favorite color? Have you no pride, man?  If so, is it a coincidence or was your toothbrush color/favorite color mashup intentional.

I buy whatever is the handiest. I never even think about color. Am I missing out on something.

Ah, Practicality, thy name is Andrew. You are definitely a practical, practical man.  Either that or your favorite color is some weird color like puce or persimmon.  I am going to go with your favorite color being… let’s say… gamboge.  There just isn’t a gamboge toothbrush out there, and for very good reason. Seriously, gamboge is a horrible color, and frankly I am surprised it is your favorite color considering the practically billions and billions of colors out there.

Question 12: How would you finish the following statement, “I find myself to mostly be ______.” And how would your friends finish the similar statement “I find Andrew to mostly be ______.”

…full of myself.
…full of himself.

Interesting, usually there is some discrepancy between the two perspectives… I guess that by the time you realize that you are “Full of yourself” everybody else has already gotten seats on that train.

When I was in sports and did sporty things I had some rituals to prepare myself for the game at hand… a very specific method of preparation to get me ready for the competition.  So… Question 13: I know you are not superstitious, but do you have any “rituals” to get you in a correct mental space for your writing/ magic/ mountain climbing?

I wear a long sleeve shirt to protect my elbows as I write (I tend to sit for long periods while writing). I also have my headphones on and listen to a soundtrack.

That is quite the ritual you have there.  Seriously, could you be more superstitious?

I have found through many conversations (whether it is conscious or unconscious), there is a central question at the core of everyone that personally drives that person. For me, the current question that is driving me revolves around where I am professionally and how my current vocation does not seem to fit well.  I cannot quite put it into words, but I understand the overall direction of the question is “How can I align my thoughts and feelings into a more fulfilling professional life that more closely reflects my personal philosophy.”

Question 14: What is the internal question that is driving you?

How can I be living up to my creative potential? Happiness for me is creativity and traction. I’m always trying to push myself further and streamline my life towards the things that make me happiest.

I like to create and I like to see those things I create get traction in the universe. Everything else it a matter of scale.

That difference in scale really can be a kick in the teeth though.  And seriously, and I say this with love and affection born of 14 previous questions and some foreknowledge of you, I think it will be difficult for you to live up to your creative potential because you seem to have near boundless creativity, and that is near impossible to live up to.  I have to say though that I enjoy watching your efforts, because they’re great.  Anyone else want some Frosted Flakes, or is that just me.

The Chronological Man

Question 15:  What new creative endeavor do you want to do of which you are having a difficult time gaining traction and momentum?

I’m doing what I want to be doing right now (writing). My biggest problem is finding enough hours in the day. I’ve turned down opportunities I would have jumped at a year ago, just to focus on writing.

It is amazing how when one finds, what some people call, a calling that one finds there is not enough time in the day.  I haven’t quite found that for my work-life just yet… one day though.. one day and I will be neglecting my wife and ignoring my children, but that time it will be because I am intensely focused on something professional.

Associated with creative endeavors is the fact that coupled with all of the various successes are a boat load of disappointments.  That is how success works unless it is a fluke.

Question 16: How do you deal with disappointment?

I only worry about things I can control. It gives me far more focus on what I should be responsible for and lets me deal with things that might be frustrating but worrying about won’t help. It sounds simplistic, but it’s how I live my life.

Sometimes the simplest philosophies are the best.  I personally ascribe to my Mother-in-Law’s mantra of, “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.”  It has come in more handy than one might think.  

And now something silly Question 17: What is your favorite kind of footwear?  For example, I am partial to hybrid hikers/street shoes, primary made by either Merrell or Keen (that being said, I also love Tsubos, but I need to get my feet back to snuff first)

I wear a pair of Nike trainers all the time. I walk a lot.

Well, turnabout is fair play, so here it goes…. Question 18: Do you have any questions for me?

Where do you want to be in five years?

Well, don’t pull any punches there.  I think the first thing that I must come to grips with is that where ever I THINK I am going to be in 5 years is most likely no where near where I will actually BE in five years.  Look back at any five year period and I am sure the statement holds true.  So, keeping that in mind, and keeping the axiom I learned in my mathematical modeling (I do my le turn on the catwalk, on the catwalk, yeah) class, “It is better to have a general answer to a specific question, than a specific answer to a general question,” I will be intentionally vague in my answer.  I will be more creatively fulfilled.  I will be happier with who I am.  I will be doing something more substantial with this “20 Questions Tuesday” part of my life.  How that shape actually turns out is a completely different subset of this collection of loose thoughts.  

And back to you… Question 19: What are you taking away from this set of 20 Questions that you did not bring in with you?

How cowardly you would answer question number 18. Also, how uncomfortable I’ve become in my old age talking about myself.

Okay, Okay, I will go a bit more deeper into my hedges about the 5 year plan.  I am currently in a pretty significant state of flux.  I dislike my job, and more importantly I dislike my chosen vocation.  It is unfulfilling and dullness surrounded by uninspiring and angry people. I am seriously contemplating some more education for a major shift in my professional life, but, while I find the new educational direction interesting and promising, I lack the information to make a cogent decision about my mid-range goals. In a year, hell in 6 months, I will have more information and will gladly update you on my five year plan. That being said, I have started noticing that this 20 Questions Tuesday piece of my life is becoming more of a driving force than it ever has.  I enjoy doing this… I am starting to be fairly passionate about it.  I am concerned about the quality of product that I am putting out.  I am trying to get more and more significant “gets” for my interviews (you being one of them).  The gist of what I am saying right now is that in five years there are many things about my current professional life that will not be present, but the options that I am leaving myself open to are limitless.  Does that make more sense?  And that being said, your answer to 19 is pretty weak sauce.

Angel Killer

So, I will throw the light back on you, and feel free to be as concrete or philosophical as you want, Question 20: What’s next for you?

I want to write a lot more and expand into different genres. That’ll be difficult because some of the places I want to take my writing aren’t what my fans know me for. It’s kind of scary, but if I want to grow, I have to be willing to expand out into different areas and take some risks.

I want you to push into as many genres as you are comfortable, if nothing to start blurring the lines between them.  This has been more than delightful.  I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did, because I had a great time throughout this process.  I will be eagerly awaiting your next books and wow-ing my kids with the “hypercards trick” I learned from you when you spoke out in Columbus, Ohio.  Next time you are in my cow-town, I will gladly buy some dinner and get you some cake.

To recap:
So, my work with my feet coninues
They are getting better
I know this because I have clearly turned a corner at PT
It is no longer about correcting an injury as much as it is about restrengthening
My legs and my feet are tired… so so tired
Taxes are done
Taxes are really expensive
Oh wells, I like getting my garbage picked up
And having an infrastructure
Even if it is a decrepit and under funded infrastructure
I drove 300 miles for work yesterday
Seriously peeps, subscribe to the Weird Things podcast
It is quite the enjoyable thing
Have a great weekend

Andrew Mayne Books… buy these