worry-less

What follows is an idea I’ve been kicking around with for about a month now. I’m not convinced that it’s fully there yet but I think it’s a powerful and lovely concept that has been getting some great reactions. This isn’t something you can do at your walkaround gig, on stage or to your mates down the pub. The effect itself takes place over a couple of days and mainly in your participants dreams.

I don’t present it as a trick, I present it as a gift. Christmas is coming up… I’m just saying.


The Effect

Some tiny people take away your friends worries in her sleep.

The Presentation

I meet my friend Jessica, in a coffee shop. At some point I mention I pull something out of my bag and say I have a gift for her.

“Do you know what this is?”

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Invariably, she says no.

“I stumbled across them recently. I’m not entirely sure how they work, but it’s kind of cool. They’re called Guatemalan Worry People. A friend of mine introduced me to them after a trip through Central America.”

I let her open this small, brightly coloured bag. Inside are some tiny dolls. There’s also a little piece of paper that reads:

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GUATEMALAN WORRY PEOPLE

There’s a story that when the Mayan People of Guatemala have worries, they tell them to the Worry Dolls and then put them under their pillow at night. By morning, the Worry Dolls have taken their worries away. Simply write a word or short sentence that is connected to your worry on a piece of paper and place it into the bag. At night, whisper your worries to the Worry People then place them under your pillow. In the morning, the worry people may have responded and if you are lucky, your worries will be gone.

“So I got these for you, I thought you might like to try it.”

I emphasise, “When I did it, it was a really weird experience. I don’t really get how it worked but it was cool.”

I explain that what you have to do is think about one worry in particular that you would like to address. Just summarise it in a couple of words and write it down. I hand them a piece of paper and pen and say, “Don’t show me what you write, I want to see if this works again so it’s better if I don’t know.”

They write down their worry and place it back inside the bag with the little Worry People.

“You hang onto this, then tonight, just before you go to sleep, take a minute to tell them the full story of your worry to the little people. Just whisper it to them through the bag and place it under your pillow. When you wake up, take the bag and make sure you keep it with you. Bring it with you when we meet up tomorrow and I’ll show you how it works.”

The next day or a few days later…

We meet up and my friend brings out her little Worry People bag.

“Great, thanks for bringing it. You didn’t show it to anyone else did you? Like, no one else knows about it other than you?”

She says no.

“Did you feel any better about your worry in the morning?”

Each time I’ve done this, they’ve said yes.

“I mean, it’s not the biggest secret in the world. I think just talking about your worries helps you realise that maybe they’re not as bad as you thought. I don’t know if this will have worked but let’s see if the worry people got anything out of it.”

I ask her to open the bag and take out the contents. She tips out the little Worry People and her note. I ask, “What was the worry you told them about?”

“That sometimes I feel unhappy and like I’m all alone.”

“What made you worried about that?” I ask.

She says, “I guess I was just feeling a bit sad about my Grandma dying last week and me and Stephen breaking up. I guess I’m just a bit worried about what comes next.”

“Is that what you told them about or what you wrote down?” I ask.

“No, I told them about when I went to sleep. I just wrote that I was worried about feeling alone and unhappy.”

“Open up the paper, let me see…”

Jessica opens up the folded paper and gasps. She reads the paper, instead of her words it is a note written in tiny hand-writing that reads:

Dear Jessica,

We were sorry to hear that sometimes you struggle with feeling alone and unhappy. It can be difficult to put your life into perspective sometimes. The French writer, Marcel Pagnol said the reason people find it so hard to be happy is because they always see the past as better than it was, the present worse than it is and the future less resolved than it will be.

In truth, we Worry People believe you cannot ‘be’ happy, it is something you must ‘do’. Humans default state is unhappiness. If you were to sit alone in a room with nothing to entertain you, by the end of the day you would be unhappy. Happiness is a state of action. It may sound like the worlds stupidest lifehack, but if you want to achieve happiness you have to do things that make you happy. Go for a walk. Read a good book. Call an old friend. Smile at a stranger. Buy yourself an ice cream.

It can be easy to feel alone, especially after losing people close to you in your life. We were sorry to hear about the passing of your grandmother and that you and Stephen parted ways. Sometimes, some alone time can be exactly what you need though. The real joy is, you are never truly alone. You have the comfort and love of your family and the friendship and support of your friends. Funerals can be a sad affair, but there’s a lot of joy to be taken from the coming together of people to celebrate in someone’s life. Take the time to celebrate your own life and enjoy the company of those close to you. You are a special person and you are loved.

Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. We appreciate your honesty and hope you feel better about your worries! x

Jessica’s face goes from shock to intrigue before settling on a teary-eyed smile. She stumbles out the words…

“How did you…? But I never…? How on earth…… Thank you. Thank you. That was really lovely.”

I ask her what the Worry People said to her. She smiles and then gives me a big, wholesome hug.

We share a coffee and both go home feeling better about this terrible planet.

Method

I’ll straight up admit, I don’t have a go-to method for this. I have several methods and I’ve used different ones each time I’ve performed it. I’ll go through them all but they all hinge on one simple move. The thing that sells this is being super clean about it and making sure you never go near the note. It goes without saying, this experience doesn’t really work if you share the same bed as the person you do it with. They’ll think you just tampered with the bag whilst they were asleep. If you want to do this for your wife or girlfriend that you sleep with, just wait until one of you is out of town for the night and you’re sleeping in separate beds. If that literally never happens, make it happen. Book a trip away with your friends. Go visit your family on your own. Give her a break. Stop being so clingy and just let your wife have an affair already.

Anyway, I’ll explain the simple method first.

The worry: Use an impression device to find out what their worry is. I use a ParaPad. Use whatever you want.

The note at the end: Use the info you gained from the impression device to write a nice, personal note. I knew about Jessica’s Grandfather dying recently and her recent break-up. How did I know these things? I’m her friend you fucking moron, I care about my friends and what’s going on in their lives. It wasn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to figure she would talk about those things to the Worry People. Even if she didn’t, it’s worded in a way that she didn’t have to. “We were sorry to hear about…” could mean that she told the Worry People or that they found out some other way. They are, after all, magical little people.

Two of the bags with closely matching Worry People

Two of the bags with closely matching Worry People

Changing her worry for the kind note: I don’t switch in the note. I switch the bags. The key to the trick is to get two bags of Worry People. Make sure the bags match and the actual Worry People inside match. Put your note in one bag and bring it with you when you meet Jessica (although I’d recommend doing it on one of your own friends, Jessica has already seen this). Now we’re going to switch the bags before she opens it up.

The switch: There are several options here but the best one is simply this. When she sits down with you, at some point she will bring out the Worry People and set them on the table. When she does, do the classic sliding off the table switch with one hand. You have your pre-prepared Worry People bag with the note in your right hand. You go to pick her bag up and perform the switch as you slide her bag off the table and into your lap. It should look like this:



There are other switches you can do but this is the cleanest. As soon as I pick it up I hand it straight to her and say “Here, hang onto it. I want to make sure you are the first to open it.”


Other Thoughts

Now I’m not a total dingbat. I don’t for one moment think that my friend believes that these tiny dolls have actually listened to her worries and then responded. She knows that I must have been the one who somehow wrote the note. This in itself is actually the best thing about the trick. At the end, it feels really magical and impossible but she also feels really touched that you took the time to do something so nice.

Imagine the entire effect but with no magic. Your friend tells you she’s worried about something. You go away and write a thoughtful and encouraging letter for her, which you give her the next time you guys meet. She would be touched and happy that you went to that much effort. That’s what we’re going for here. We’re going to do something nice and thoughtful but also create something magical around it. At the end, she’s grateful for you being kind but also moved by the impossibility of the experience. I love the romantic notion of these tiny magical people somehow being this encouraging force for good.



I experimented with the Worry People themselves changing. When she first sees the Worry People I make a deal out of pointing out that they have very neutral faces. Just straight lines for mouths. They look almost sad. We just have a joke about this. I don’t make it a thing, it’s just something I point out and we joke about.

The switched-in bag at the end has identical Worry People but I’ve just drawn their faces so now they are smiling. It’s a small, subtle thing. I don’t point it out, but because I made a point of mentioning their somewhat miserable faces the first time, your friend will absolutely notice.

When I tried this, it was nice and she really liked it. It added to the storytelling arc but I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. I felt like it put heat on the fact the whole bag has changed and it’s content, rather than just the note itself has somehow transformed.



I also tried having the Worry People write back on her actual original note. I liked this a lot. Rather than using an impression device, I just did a simple billet switch to make sure I retain her original note and the one she places in the bag is just a generic, nice note from the Worry People. That way, if she opens the bag early there is still something nice in there for her, even if it isn’t a direct response to the worry she wrote down. I then took her actual note and wrote a response from the worry people on all the blank space of that note and did the switch in at the end.


An example of a tiny letter from  Leafcutter Designs  website. Imagine this as your Worry People’s response.

An example of a tiny letter from Leafcutter Designs website. Imagine this as your Worry People’s response.

I also experimented writing the encouraging note as a tiny little letter, inspired by the trick Sunlight Bumblelily from Issue 4 of The JAMM by The Jerx. I don’t have the necessary props to do this yet so had to improvise somewhat, but I’m planning on ordering a little kit from Leafcutter Designs to do it like this more in future.

I think this will probably feel the most magical way of doing it but I would worry slightly that the letter is so small they might think it’s easier to slip into the bag or something like that. I really like the idea of gluing the envelope to the hand of one of the little Worry People so it looks like he has hand delivered it to your friend.


One time I performed this, it didn’t exactly go to plan. The girl I did it with liked it so much that she really bought into the narrative. She didn’t like the idea of the people being stuck in the bag and having to hear her worries. So she did it that evening then in the morning took the people out of the bag and “set them free”, placing them all on her potted plants to go and “play in the jungle”. She said that she felt better about the worry and thought that would just be the end of it. All I did was encourage her to write her worry down again and try one more time then bring them to me when we met. She said “they already fixed my worry though, can I write a new worry down?”

I said, “of course”. This slightly dampened the effect but it still worked. When we met at her place, she took the Worry People out and put them on the table. I did the switch as I picked up the bag and said “Shall we do this now?” I then said, “actually, let’s have lunch first and then do it, you hang onto these.” She is now hanging onto the switched in bag that has a generic worry written in. I found a moment to run to the bathroom and took out her actual note with her worry on. I read it and thought of a nice response which I wrote out as small and carefully as I could. I prefer doing it at home because I can be more careful and think a bit harder about what I want the note to say. This felt a little rushed but I still managed to come up with a nice response.

After lunch, she took out her bag and put it on the table asking if we should do it now. I simply performed the switch again as I handed it back to her and asked her to open it up.

This did make me think that you could do the switch twice. Once when you first get them to write the note down, switch it so you have their original. Then when you meet up, switch it back. I haven’t decided what I think works best but it’s good to know you can rescue it in most circumstances.


The key thing to this routine is making a switch of the note seem impossible. In their head, the bag was never opened until they themselves open it. It would have been impossible for you to switch any of the contents. I was worried that they’d twig, but the idea that you just switched the whole bag hasn’t occurred to anyone I asked about this. I even performed this to a female magician friend of mine who didn’t guess it. She’s a very good magician and a smart magical thinker yet this baffled her. She couldn’t figure out how I could have switched the notes. Trust me when I say this is not hyperbole… her response to the trick was:

“What? That’s the most magical thing… That’s the best magic you’ve ever done. In fact, that’s the best magic I’ve ever seen. THAT is what magic SHOULD be”.

I’d say that’s a pretty strong review. After she’d settled down, I gave her the props and taught her how to do it. She said she really wanted to do it with her mum for Christmas (the trick you gutter-brained knuckehead).

Every time I’ve done this (bar once), the friend I’ve done it with got a little teary-eyed at the end and was genuinely really touched. Not in a wanky “oh my god you made a rose appear” kind of way but in a genuine, wholesome way.

So there. I think I’m going to try make more magic that feels like that.