Britt’s Tidbits: Criss Angel, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Self-Care

When you’re scrolling through Instagram and one of those cute little self-care infographics pops up on someone’s Story, how do you react? Do you experience a moment of clarity and peace, thinking about how you’re going to make time for your earthly temple after turning off your phone? Or are you hit with a pang of rage?

For quite some time, I was a member of the latter camp. On a good day, I might swipe past the post nonchalantly, believing it wasn’t geared towards me—but on a bad day, I’d feel an inexplicable rush of fury. “Why would they think that I, Brittany Menjivar, would buy a bath bomb?” I would fume, as if whoever was on the other end of the iPhone should be familiar with my storied reputation.

I never thought to question this mentality—until Criss Angel swooped in, arms akimbo, highlights ablaze. 

***

When I say that I used to hate self-care, you might take me for a stoic. That couldn’t be further from the truth. My friends will tell you that I’m prone to speaking in impassioned tones, and I have a very intimate relationship with my diary. Nay, I didn’t see myself as beyond emotion, but beyond relaxation. I was the friend who encouraged people to do the cotton-eyed-joe to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” in the buttery on a Sunday night, the cousin who was always down for a spontaneous ice cream run, the sister who would drop everything to FaceTime you at 2 a.m. If I were to admit that I needed to “chill,” to “wind down” every now and then, I would shatter the superhuman image that I had created for the world—and for myself.

Alas, during quarantine, I experienced the shocking and painful revelation that I was not some obscure DC Comics heroine nor an ancient Salvadorian deity reincarnate, but a mortal girl. Countless hours on Zoom and days without leaving the house began to take a toll on me. My sleep schedule slipped out of my hands until I was fully nocturnal—and it was obvious from the bags under my eyes. My appetite became screwed up to the point that some days I only felt the need for a single sandwich and other days I pawed at Takis like a frisky raccoon. I slept through the last meeting of my favorite class and sent my professor a long-winded email pouring my heart out—and then realized that the course actually had one session remaining. When I found myself giving in to naps—a practice I had long dismissed as “for the weak”—I knew subconsciously that I needed an intervention. That intervention came in the form of 2000s icon Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos, otherwise known as Criss Angel.

If you know who Criss Angel is, you know who Criss Angel is. If not, I’ve got quite the task on my hands. I’ll start by explaining that Criss Angel is a TV magician/stuntman who was popular from approximately 2005 to 2014. Criss Angel was no David Blaine, no Penn and Teller. His show, Criss Angel: Mindfreak, began with a nu-metal theme song. He wore guyliner and flashy cross necklaces. He pulled stunts like burying himself alive and getting run over by a car while lying on a bed of nails. He was the personification of post-millennium celebratory excess, and he was a star. 

I hadn’t ever watched Criss Angel when he was popular. I had known who he was: his Mindfreak Ultimate Magic Kit had stared back at me from the shelves of many a toy store, and rumors of his sick tricks had occasionally made the rounds. However, I had never seen an episode of his show. When a clip appeared in my YouTube suggestions while I was procrastinating on an article, I gave it a click—and I was astounded. 

Soon, I was going down the rabbit hole. Criss Angel was levitating! Criss Angel was conjuring up a scorpion! Criss Angel was getting run over by a car while lying on a bed of nails! I wanted more. I looked up Criss Angel: Mindfreak episodes and found that the network had made most of the show available for free online. Just what “the doctor” ordered, “the doctor” being the part of my soul that was crying out for me to stop destroying my health. 

It turned out that Criss Angel: Mindfreak was the perfect quarantine program. A clear product of the 2000s—an era of nostalgia and childish cheer—the show was already removed enough from the current reality that it served as a pleasant escape. Yet its magic element elevated it to an entirely new level. Not only was Criss an impressive illusionist; whenever he did something totally impossible like hovering above a canyon, the show itself treated the event as if it had actually occurred, which was both amusing and weirdly endearing. The stunts were lovable for a different reason: they were classic “you can do whatever you put your mind to” feel-good fodder, which I was very much in need of given the quarantine blues. “When you think like a child, your mind is free and anything is possible,” Criss Angel said in not one but two Mindfreak episodes. Even though I couldn’t exactly run out into the streets and follow my wildest dreams during lockdown, the message was appreciated.

At first, I watched the series with a slight sense of guilt. Shouldn’t I be powering through that music review I’m supposed to turn in by the end of the week? Shouldn’t I be working out, even though it’s already 1 a.m.?

In the end, I succumbed. I was miles away from my friends, I no longer had the peace and quiet I had taken for granted at school, and the planet was being ravaged by a pandemic. I could set aside another twenty minutes of my night for the best darn virtual magic show I’d  ever seen. 

***

“Britt,” my friend said when I told him about my new pastime, “you’re forgetting the teachings of Schopenhauer.” He then referred me to the following quote: “In order to read what is good one must make it a condition never to read what is bad; for life is short, and both time and strength limited.” If he were alive, he’d say the same thing about movies and TV, and he’d say it to me, he joked.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “Watching Criss Angel isn’t part of my cinema time. I consider it a form of self-care.”

At the time, I meant the words facetiously. Only after the syllables left my lips did I realize I had been telling the truth. 

Before my conversion, I had been the kind of person who frequently listened to a designated “grinding” playlist and wouldn’t poke reality tv with a very long stick. Watching movies and TV was “research” for my screenwriting career or procrastination. I had gotten so caught up in the mindset of making time for productivity, making time for others, making time for whatever was important, that I had neglected the little emo in the mirror. Only then did I realize that self-care didn’t have to mean bath bombs, ASMR, and other things that I had brushed off as “not my style”: it could mean watching a man with pop punk hair magically pull a scorpion out of a girl’s arm every now and then. 

Could it be possible that the Mindfreak had freaked my mind, for the better?

***

I will admit that the peak of my Mindfreak phase has passed—I don’t binge the show with the same fervor as I did earlier in the year. Yet I still enjoy an episode here and there, and I’m still riding the high of the realization that “caring” about “yourself” isn’t only for people who enjoy baths. I’ve finally begun setting aside time to relax on my own, and I couldn’t be happier.

Sure, my sleep schedule is still a little wacky, and I don’t always feel 10/10. But my skin’s clearer, and my baseline stress level has fallen like the New Year’s Eve disco ball. I no longer see self-care as an admission of weakness, but as an invitation to tap into my future strength. Even Criss Angel made time with his beloved cat Hammie between illusions.

Who knows? This shift might even be the beginning of a greater transformation. I’ve bought three face masks in the past few weeks… but don’t count on me trying a bath bomb.

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