Wonderstruck / by Liz Brown

Somewhere between sandboxes and cubicles, life stops surprising us. Out of necessity—and granted, sometimes complacency—our lives becomes more routine than magical. We have bills due at the same time every month. Most of us have jobs that require us to be at a certain place at a certain time. Life loses most of the mystery of unpredictability.

Jamie Tworkoski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, is a wonderful wordsmith, genuine and articulate. I like honest people. He wrote a piece a couple years ago called “There is Still Some Time.” He talks about identity and hopelessness and hope and he has one line that has stuck with me: “There is still some time to be surprised.”

Sometimes we seek to be surprised. We visit haunted houses and plan birthday parties and vacations, and we hope for magic. Sometimes we forget how to be surprised. We want to have all the answers, all the reasons, all the possible endings. We want to choose our own adventure. But sometimes, despite our efforts towards surety, surprise finds us. Wonder finds us.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Mickey posted on Instagram about a magic show. Eager to try something new, I replied and a week later I walked into the Temple Theater for the first time, not sure precisely what I was getting myself into. Frankly, I didn’t really want to know in advance. I don’t usually watch movie trailers anymore; I want to enter a story with fresh eyes. So I knew very little about this magic show, other than the magician Nate Staniforth used to have a show on the Discovery channel.

I didn’t even know what to wear. Usually when I shoot a concert, I’ll look up the band to see what they’re wearing, so I can dress somewhat appropriately. (I’ve been the person wearing teal and orange at a metal show, and I learned my lesson.) So I looked googled the show: Nate was well-dressed, but not presumptuous, and I decided that my usual simple t-shirt with nice jeans would be alright. I added lipstick, just to dress it up. As it turns out, that was perfectly fine.

Though I wasn’t necessarily skeptical going into the evening, I was cautious. I’d heard sort of magician horror stories: things like hypnosis or situations where folks were made to do uncomfortable things. That’s not my cup of tea. My friend and I sat down, just as Mickey introduced the night with these words: “There is no age limit to being astonished.” And within the first five minutes of the show, Nate set me at ease. 

The next week, we sat down and I talked to him later about his life and job.

In our conversation, I mentioned that the only magician stereotype I could think of really was the sort that did tricks for children at birthday parties. I wish I’d written down what he said next, but I was too busy listening, so I’ll paraphrase it the best I can. “My favourite part of performing at children’s parties are the adults standing at the back. They have the biggest reaction. The people who have forgotten how to be surprised are the ones most likely to be surprised by mystery.”

That first night, as I sat in the 3rd tiered row, unsure of what was coming, a little excited, a little nervous, I felt a new emotion creep in: wonder. Nate did his first trick. I had no idea how he did it. I went back the next week: I still don’t have any idea. My jaw dropped and I turned to my friend, grinning and eyes widening. How was this real?

A few years ago, Taylor Swift released a song about a boy from Minnesota with the line: “I’m wonderstruck.” He coined the word and she sang it from stages to arenas. I love when people create words for feelings. She sang about a crush, but I think you can be wonderstruck by other things, too. When the lights rose at the end of that evening, when I stood up in the tiered room of the Temple Theater, I know what that word meant. I felt it.

We seek to be surprised. Part of me wished to know how it all worked, but most of me was soaring on that unexpected feeling of being surprised by magic. Halfway through the show, I was seriously considering volunteering for something. If you don’t realize how big of a deal this is: I’m an introvert. I never raised my hand in college and I certainly didn’t volunteer for anything. But in that short amount of time, Nate had gained my trust, no small feat for a stranger. 

How did he do this? I could tell he valued people. He asked for the name of every volunteer and remembered it. He talked to us like we were his friends, like we were important. We weren’t props—we were part of his story. When Nate and I met the next week, we didn’t meet to talk. We met for portraits (for this story). But when I walked in, he sat down and patted the row of red cushioned seats next to him, motioning for me to sit. He asked thoughtful questions about my life and photography; I learned that there is a close-knit magician community. I learned that Nate has traveled the world doing magic.

It reminded me of a pause during his show, where he said: “Mystery is the universal language.” I’d never thought of that. People are everywhere. Surprise is everywhere. It transcends age and culture and language. At the shows I went to, there were children. There were folks my age. There were folks old enough to by my grandparents. I saw older people laughing, children grinning: all amazed.

We all have the chance to be wonderstruck. I’d never considered the art of surprise, the art of wonder before. The wonder of mystery. We want to know that there is still something unknown, something worthy of awe and surprise. We long for it, I think. It’s a glimpse of something bigger than ourself, in the best way. That in our daily lives, there are still things to be discovered. That magic is real, even just for one night.

That evening I left my adult life and bills and routine behind. I didn’t check my phone for two hours. I didn’t want to. My imagination, like the Grinch’s heart, grew three sizes that day. If you want to be surprised, to be wonderstruck, to feel a little more wide-eyed about life: check out Nate’s show. I’m not being paid to say this—I mean it. Thank you, Nate, for surprising me. For the wonder of the unknown and the mystery of magic.