Disclaimer: I am aware that David Blaine has faced and is currently facing sexual assault allegations. I do not support people who do this, and in light of any new evidence, I may take down this post. I understand if you do not or cannot read this post in light of this information.
During my favorite creative writing class that I’ve ever participated in, my teacher had us do something called a “Passiontation,” which was basically a presentation about your biggest passion. Now, my passions tend to go in cycles or waves, and to be honest, my biggest passion is the written word (reading it and writing it). Well, I thought that doing a presentation on the written word would be boring since we were all there for a writing class. So I did my presentation on David Blaine, who I had recently become obsessed with at the time.
Now, I wouldn’t say I have a “passion” for David Blaine, or even magic or endurance stunts, but one thing has stuck with me ever since I first saw David Blaine perform on TV—he has literally proven that there is nothing we can’t do if we try. To quote Mary Poppins Returns, “Everything is possible. Even the impossible.”
For the last couple winters, every time I dreaded walking to class in sub-zero temperatures—sometimes telling myself I couldn’t do it—I just told myself that David Blaine stood in a block of ice for three days with way less clothes on than I was wearing. If he can do that, I can spend the ten minutes walking to class in the cold. And thus began what I like to call “David Blaine Perspective.”
The short explanation is this: whenever I feel like I can’t do something, or it will be too hard, or I will mess up, I put it in David Blaine Perspective. He spent 44 days in a glass box suspended over London, so I can deal with being hungry for a couple hours at work. David Blaine allowed a professional fighter to punch him in the stomach, so I can deal with banging my knee on the table and getting a painful bruise. It’s helpful to put things in perspective this way, especially when dealing with pretty pervasive anxiety. Anxiety causes everything to feel like a catastrophe, so I need to remind myself that that’s not true. (If anyone can beat down the Hydra monster, it’s David Blaine.)
Lately, my anxiety has been making me insecure about my social interactions and the way I look. It has been making me doubt my abilities at every little moment. Then, at a staff meeting this past week, someone made a comment about how trying your hardest to solve a problem is all you can do. This made me think of David Blaine, and how, to learn all of those fancy card movements and sleights of hand, he had to start small and mess up a lot. But he’s still confident in his abilities. He still approaches every trick, whether it’s a three-card monte trick or jumping off a hundred-foot pillar after standing on it for 35 hours, with the mindset that he can do it, no matter what. He has prepared.
And if he messes up, he fixes it by doing something new.
For example, there is a trick in his What Is Magic? Netflix special during which he mishears someone. He thought the person’s card was an ace, but she actually said eight. So instead of freaking out and being hard on himself, he merely continued the trick and, lo and behold, her thumb rubbed off the middle of the card to reveal the number 8. If I could recover that quickly after a mistake, I wouldn’t worry so much about mistakes. Being spontaneous in the face of a mistake is not my strong suit, but I’m working on it.
David Blaine’s crazy and amazing magic/endurance also reminds me how much we as humans can endure. We are strong. Our bodies and minds are strong. We just have to have the fortitude and confidence and practice to make them do what we want. Of course, we don’t have control over everything in our bodies and minds, but the things that we do have control over are more plentiful than we think. As someone living with mental illness, it feels powerful to say that my mind is strong. Even if I don’t always think it is. Even if it sometimes works against me.
My mind is strong. And that means a lot to me.
David Blaine says he performs magic to bring out the childlike wonder in people—in everyone—but he also uses his magic to do tangible good in the world. In one of his Netflix specials, he turns one-dollar bills into hundred-dollar bills for a group of people in New Orleans who had suffered losses from Hurricane Katrina. Watching his specials is incredibly heartening, because he approaches so many different types of people and treats them all with the same respect and ability to experience awe.
When looking into his backstory, it’s easy to see why he does this. His mother, who passed away young, always encouraged him as a little kid. She never told him being a magician was impossible or a bad career. She just cheered him on and gave him the confidence to continue learning. And even though a lot of his endurance stunts are probably borne out of the grief he has over losing his mother early, he has taken this confidence in other people to heart. Whether a celebrity, a person full of piercings, a person of color, a person experiencing homelessness, or any other random person on the street, he performs at his top game for them. He has confidence that everyone still has that childlike wonder lurking inside.
I feel lucky to have seen David Blaine perform live. He sewed his mouth shut and stuck an ice pick through his arm and performed amazing feats of mind reading and card tricks and tricks with puzzle pieces. And even though I usually hate uncertainty, I love not knowing the secrets behind his tricks and stunts. Sometimes, the truth is that it’s just real and he can ignore the pain of sticking something all the way through his hand. But it’s just as amazing as being able to trick someone else’s mind. In fact, it must be harder to trick your own mind than it is to trick others’.
Before this turns into a fanperson rant (if it hasn’t already), I just want to say that I know I won’t be able to do the things David Blaine does. Not because I’m incapable, but because it’s not my passion. It’s not what I’m putting my mind to. (Also, David Blaine has said before that he doesn’t fear death. Well, I do. That’s another problem for another day…)
Of all of the mind-boggling and insane things he has done, there is one particular stunt that has stuck with me. David Blaine has spent days underground, held his breath for 20 minutes, stood in an ice block until he had delusions, jumped off a 100-foot tall pillar after standing on it for a day and a half, and stood in place while tons of volts of electricity went through a metal suit he was wearing. All of these stunts have been visually stunning and difficult and beautiful and morbidly entertaining. But the one that stuck with me is the stunt he called “Above the Below.” He spent 44 days in a glass box suspended over the River Thames in London. People below him could watch and wave, but he was up there with nothing to eat and not a lot to drink. He had a journal. He had clothes. That’s it. If this stunt had gone on any longer than it had, David’s organs would have begun failing past the point of repair. He was sick. But afterward, he had so much enlightenment about people and connection and necessities. He parts ways with the crowd by saying, “I love you all,” and is then promptly sent to the hospital.
It’s hard for me to articulate why this was the stunt that has stuck with me for so long. I watched it years after it actually happened. And I’ve watched it several times since. And, to be honest, it is really hard watching someone starve themselves of food and interaction. Fasting for that long is not something anyone should be doing, even for enlightenment…
But during the special, there are clips of people dancing and hanging out on the streets below. And I think that’s what this stunt was really about. Observing humanity coming together when that’s all you can really do. As much as humanity can suck and being alive can be hard, this stunt reminds me that in weird and unfortunate circumstances, people tend to flock together and find joy. They hope for the best for other people. They cheer people on.
So what have we learned today? David Blaine is awesome. Our minds are strong. And humanity is beautiful. I love you all.