I Want to Believe: Skepticism, magic, and the truth that’s out there

It was a long, hot, busy summer this year. Having the apartment to myself for a week or so, with a Netflix account at hand, and some evenings where I didn’t have the energy to do much besides sit on the couch sweating meant that I finally started watching The X-Files, only twenty years after everyone else in the world. Spoiler alert: I LOVE IT.

Mulder and Scully.

The man, the myth, the monotone, and yet another tiny hypercompetent FBI agent. I have a type.

I should have known long ago that X-Files would be up my alley. Aside from the fact that it’s had an obvious long-lasting impact on American genre TV (Supernatural springing to mind immediately, with Hannibal close behind), it’s about a subject that I’ve always loved: unexplained phenomena.

I went through an extended period as a pre-teen/early teen where I read everything I could get my hands on about ghosts, aliens, cryptozoology, urban legends, mysterious disappearances, psychic powers. Ghosts were of particular interest; the theatre community I was part of at the time loved ghost stories, and I believed every single one I was told, to the point of evangelism and even clumsily faking a haunting for a week or so. It didn’t occur to me until years and years later that I could, and probably should, fact-check the stories about “oh yeah a person died violently in this very theater back in the ’80s.” The stories mattered more, the thrill up my spine and the possibility that one day I could have an unexplainable encounter.

I was a credulous kid. Except I was also a magician. Continue reading

They’re called ILLUSIONS, Michael. [The 2013 Room Clean, pt. 2]


A magician’s bag. The only props here that I actually used were the Hot Rods.

From top, l to r: A set of cards that are a mystery to me; a chain with a lock that is also a mystery; thumb tip with scarf; sponge bunnies. More mysterious cards; a close-up Hot Rod; a similar Hot Rod-style prop. Even more mysterious cards; a set of Chinese linking rings I never learned; yet another Hot Rod.

My years as a kid magician were a particularly weird but particularly profitable period in my theatrical career. I don’t talk about being a magician often because then people say “Do a magic trick!” and I remember basically none of my old tricks. But it did culminate in me being on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in February of 2000.

I can’t decide whether I hope that video will work or whether I hope it won’t. It was one hell of an experience for a twelve-year-old, I’ll tell you that.