The Autobiography of a Magician
A MemoirLadies and Gentlemen, Benjamin Garth!
“I’m going to give you $100 worth of entertainment. I will show you astounding feats of prestidigitation, mesmerizing feats of the mind and tantalizing feats of bravery. My name is Benjamin Garth. I will be your magician for this evening.” At the age of fifteen, that was how I began my shows. I don’t know what I meant by tantalizing feats of bravery. I must of thought it sounded cool back then. At fifteen I hadn’t learned to eat fire, I wasn’t performing escape magic and there was no physical stunt in my act. What was brave was telling a lawyer I was worth $100 for an hour of my time. I liked telling my audiences how much I was getting paid because it raised their expectations. Unlike a movie, raised expectations for a live performance are regularly met.
Benjamin Garth was my stage name. I discovered the courage to charge $100 for an appearance by Benjamin Garth, the mesmerizing and tantalizing magician. Howard Campbell was a geek who had the greasiest hair on campus and spent most of his time in the computer room of John Burroughs Junior High School. At fifteen I would’ve found it incredulous that I’d grow up to be an advertising executive, a Senior Vice President of a half-billion-dollar advertising account. Yet, as I look back at my fifteen-year-old self through the eyes of a marketer, it all makes sense. I intentionally repeated the word feats. I wanted to be known as a performer of feats more than I wanted to be seen as a great conjurer. I was concerned with framing an audience’s perception of me.
Magic and marketing are two sides of the same coin, both practitioners take elements of truth and create a reality the audience would not have seen had we not told them what to look at. But I’m grouping all marketers into a single mindset. I mean to be talking about the marketers who create the communications architecture or the actual ads. I am a communication strategist. I am the Carl Rove of brands.
I am a magician. I’m not speaking of my profession. It has been several years since I was paid to do a card trick or give that kind of show. I mean magician the way some of my friends say, “I am a lesbian.” The way we see the world isn’t a choice. Despite growing up white-American-male, I have rarely assumed others see the world the way I do. I see systems and intuit alternative realities. Most of the time, this is effortless, the way a math prodigy can be shown a formula and he knows the answer without knowing how he got there.
To muggles, the ability to make something out of nothing is magic. It is the muggle who sees nothing. The magician sees equities and texture invisible to muggles. The difference between muggles and magicians is similar to the difference between baboons and chimpanzees—baboons enviously watch chimpanzees get ants out of an anthill with a stick. The difference is that baboons will never learn to get ants out of an anthill with a stick where a muggle can learn to use a tool. Magicians create tools.
Mastery is a telltale sign of a magical mind. However, obsessive compulsions can also lead to mastery while obsessive-compulsive thoughts rarely lead to tool invention. There is a loosening of associations that doesn’t happen with OC thinking.
There are many kinds of magicians. I never enjoyed playing dungeons and dragons, but I enjoyed the structure of the game. Characters had specialized skills. The more closely a need matched the skills of a character, the more likely they were to succeed at a given task. However, many characters can do many similar tasks, the difference is in the proclivity to succeed.
In corporateland, there are relatively few magicians but many gurus. I’m called upon for answers that are outside my expertise. Magicians are problem solvers. Know yourself. Objectively, know your strengths and weaknesses. The biggest problem to solve is if you are the person to solve the problem you face. If you aren’t the right resource, employ the best guru you can find. Gurus are often colloquially called magicians or wizards. Let them have these labels.
In my experience, more harm than good comes from being called a magician or a wizard. I deny these labels and say I got lucky because somebody said something that helped me think of it differently. I hope to point out important safety tips to magicians. I’ll depict what it was like for me to grow up magician, what powers I have and what powers I crave.
My goal is to create a portrait of a magician as a young man. I want to write something I would’ve wanted to read when I was seventeen. I don’t know why. I doubt my altruistic nature. Maybe my self-serving goal is to soothe my seventeen-year-old self. Maybe my goal is to become gain Achilles status among young minds that I respect. My guess is that there are lessons within the words that I actually need to learn for myself, that you, my dear reader, are merely an excuse for me to teach these things to myself.
When I am at a loss for action, and not enjoying being still, I overcome my anxiety by studying similar systems to what I’m endeavoring to master. Presently, I’m writing my autobiography—not a personal essay, but my whole autobiography. For this endeavor, my autobiography, I’m rereading Aristotle’s Poetics: “A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be.”
Once Upon A Time…
My dad was playing drums and my mom was carrying a philosophy book when my mom mistook my dad as a musician and my dad mistook my mom as a disciplined thinker. I speculate that my parents got married, at least partially, to get validation of the difficulty of their own parents to each other; each had dysfunctional parents of opposite political extremes. My dad’s dad was dead and his mom was a narcissistic champagne-sipping socialist engaged to a blacklisted communist. My mom’s dad was the youngest kernel in the history of the Air Force. Her mom was docile, placating the misplaced rages of the very conservative patriarch.
My parents married. My sister was born. Drum-roll please. On January 31, 1968, the world turned up-side-down, then in-side-out and I was born screaming in America. From what I’ve read, this was the beginning of the end of American naiveté. We were told that freedom, truth and justice were replacing corruption and evil. This was the Age of Aquarius, the dawn of a new era of humanity.
I was told I could be anything I wanted—a fireman, a policeman, doctor, even the president. But like many kids growing up on a steady diet of Sesame Street, I knew I was special—that love and acceptance were what lead to a life of happiness and I wanted to be a trombone player. I didn’t much care for music, at least not as much as my parents respected music, and the trombone looked like the most interesting instrument to play.
I was born Howard Benjamin Garth Campbell. My mom wanted to give me an additional middle name of Siddhartha, but my father suggested that 27 letters was more than enough of a name. My mother loved Herman Hessé’s book Siddhartha. I became Little Siddhartha. Nice try dad with that number thing but Mom decided it was my name. I am grateful Siddhartha wasn’t my first name—that would’ve changed the way people interacted with me.
Shortly after I was brought home from the hospital, my father went MIA for a few days. I’m confident my mother invited my father to leave. My early home life was not emotionally calm. I had my first head trauma at only a few months old when a cab got into an accident and my head cracked the windshield. I was taken to the hospital and things checked out okay. I wish my parents had sued for a modicum of money that could have been placed into a trust fund for me to have when I turned 18. Nope. My father made sure the cabbie was okay and was sorry he might have gotten shaken up.
My parents moved to Michigan. When I was young my mom said they moved because I was allergic to the smog in the city. As I’ve grown older and asked both parents, I’ve learned that my allergies were more of a contributing factor than the sole reason for their move. I think my dad landing a job teaching in Ann Arbor may have been a stronger contributing factor.
I don’t know what kind of magician you are. Chances are you’re a magician—only magicians and religious fundamentalists seek out books on magicians. I’ve been the type of magician that has always been told how smart I am. I don’t know if this is a blessing or a curse. Actually, it’s neither. It just is. Eventually, I’ll get around to talking about how I’ve made a living as an adult magician. Then, I can talk about the different types of magicians I’ve met. I am the type they called gifted from a young age. For a fuller understanding of my very young childhood, please read Drama of the Gifted Child. In short, I didn’t have the common emotional mirroring from my mom. My mom had her emotions and it was beneficial for me to learn how I could dance with her emotions to keep her stable. I learned how to navigate my mom as other toddlers were learning to manipulate their moms. My mom compelled me to learn foresight before I could speak. Thank you mom.
I don’t have many memories of my babyhood. I remember glimpses of a preschool in New York, and a few glimpses from Michigan: a neighbor’s house and their pet bunny, an Easter egg hunt and having my picture taken with my sister for a holiday card. Michigan was the end of my happy childhood. My parents separated. My sister and I went with our emotionally volatile mom. Our dad couldn’t handle her. It makes perfect sense that a six and three-year-old will be fine with her.
I met a second-cousin-once-removed last summer. I had met her once before at a wedding. I never really spent any time with her. She referenced my mom as having always been crazy. I asked her if she always knew that. She said yes. Then, she said, “You mean nobody ever told you?” Fuck them all. I asked. I remember saying, “I don’t think my mom is normal.” Nobody validated my assessment as a kid. I guess the ones I asked either couldn’t see it or were too afraid I would rat them out or something. I explained to my cousin that I’d only come to grips with my mom’s insanity in my late twenties.
Child services should have stepped-in. No good can come from a mom talking with her 14-year-old-son about her contemplating suicide. Mom, I’m sorry you hurt that much. Dad, grandparents, immediate relatives, you vacuous surface bullshitters, could you not see? The answer is no. Willful blindness is very powerful and it is messy to get involved and it isn’t as bad as all that and when kids are fed and warm how bad can it really be when there are kids starving in the world?
Alls well that ends well. Right? I’m a Senior Vice President for the largest independent ad agency in the South East. The benefit of my upbringing is that it helped mold a mind that thinks differently and there are markets for minds that think different.
Shamans have existed as far back as history allows our sight. Historians project Shamans back beyond that. There will always be a need for a Shaman. And, the more people that repeat that notion, the easier it will be for people like us to find work.
Hippies & Idealists
By the time I was four, when my memory becomes consistent, I was living in Idyllwild, California, a mountain community above Palm Springs. I remember being at a hippie party with a bunch of naked people. I remember wanting to stare at the naked women’s pussies but feeling I didn’t want to get caught staring. People who say kids don’t have a concept of sexuality at that age should speak for themselves. I didn’t know what did what or what things were called but I knew what I otherwise wasn’t allowed to look at and I wanted to see it. Maybe that’s not sexuality. Maybe that’s just a curious mind. But from a young age I have wanted to see pussy. Thank you to all the women who have helped to this end, starting back in the spring of ’72.
I went to a cult daycare that summer. The thing about belonging to a cult is that nobody walks around calling it a cult. It was just a bunch of very friendly people who ate organic foods and offered low-cost childcare. My mom may not have known it was a cult. The difference between a cult and a religion is the size of their bank account. If this cult had any less money they wouldn’t have had clout to be called a cult. Being a cult means the organization is on the radar of the traditional money redistribution networks, the larger organization that use guilt or fear to extract their donations. There are thousands of groups that apply these techniques that aren’t large enough or centrally organized enough to be called a cult.
At this cult, we put white energy into our food before we ate it. Not a bad practice as far as cult habits go. I still occasionally put white energy into my food. The mind of a four-year-old is impressionable.
Idyllwild was a safe place in a safe time. Kindergarteners walked to school by themselves.
I’m not very good with static symbols—writing words, painting, choosing clothing; these are not skills for which I have been well paid. I’ve consistently been well paid for my ability to perform, to present ideas in captivating and persuasive ways. I fear the creation of this manuscript draws on my shortcomings and prohibits me leveraging my strengths.
That previous paragraph was a trick. Many readers will find that paragraph endearing. Some will be flattered that I trusted them enough to show my vulnerabilities. Others will be drawn in because they will see themselves in those limitations.
We are narcissistic animals. When we see ourselves, we enjoy gazing at ourselves. When we are welcomed to say, I’m prettier than that, we are also looking at ourselves.
See, if I were better at written words, the previous couple paragraphs would have been much easier to understand.
Magicians tend to be dysfunctional. An Achilles heal became an expression because it described more than a mythical man from the Trojan War. Most magicians are more dysfunctional than extraordinary wielders of power, that’s why we tend to bond together. We need refuge from the confederacy of dunces.
Have you ever seen a ghost or a UFO? I saw both when I was four. I saw the image of a woman in a Victorian dress evaporate through a door and I saw a disc image trailing a plane. The ghost I saw alone. The UFO I saw with four other kids. I don’t know enough of how the mind works or the nature of reality to know how to label these memories. I know I was confident I saw them at the time.