Friday, September 9, 2016

"Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention. 
Be astonished. 
Tell about it."
~Mary Oliver

What the hell is an "accidental psychic"? In my case, it's someone who had an experience in childhood which altered the way her brain processes information.  The terms "near-death experience" and "out of body experience" are tossed around loosely these days, and thanks to the pioneers of the 1980s and 90s who wrote about such strange concepts, we have woven these terms into our social lexicon and tend not to sneer or snicker as much as we once did about this sort of witchy-woo-woo talk. Okay....the snickering and sneering still happen. I, too am guilty of cynical eye-rolling during certain conversations about the "new age".

Being a psychic was not a career aspiration, nor did I invest much time into learning how to read energy or memorizing metaphysical parlor tricks with which to astound friends and family. The realization that I possessed a certain ability was present soon after a near-death experience I had when I was eight years old.   At the time of the experience, my mother was not interested in my new-found ability to tune into the feelings of others or to be able to occasionally "see" what was going to happen in the future. I learned quickly that this topic was dangerous territory, and that it was better to observe silently than to share what I was sensing or "reading" in the people around me.

Around the time I turned 13, my mother discovered Catholicism and its tales of  the long-suffering saints as well as a new-found appreciation of and resonance with martyrdom. Once she had hopped aboard the Jesus train, there were many discussions about heaven and hell ("hell is the punishment for our bad choices", she would intone gravely with pointed looks at whomever she believed might possibly be making "bad choices" at the moment) and the placement of a Virgin Mary statue in the basement where she would kneel, pray tearfully and swear she smelled roses. Before the arrival of the Mary statue, the finished basement was where I would go to listen to records and mope about boys I had crushes on who didn't know I existed (or worse, DID know I existed, but didn't care). There was a telephone down there as well, and many hours were spent giggling and gossiping with friends out of the earshot of my mother. Once she began using my sanctuary as her personal prayer room, I moved the stereo into my bedroom and shut the door on her spiritual suffering.

By observing this particular brand of spirituality (a word I was not familiar with in my teen years), I began to turn my nose up at anything that felt religious or full of dogmatic rules. I was still able to feel or sense things about the people around me, but with Mother Martyr in the house, it was not comfortable to do so. I turned the dial on my ability way down in order to avoid feeling my mother's angst (which was fueled by a steady stream of Franzia boxed wine on ice) and my father's simmering rage (which was doused only by regular infusions of Wild Turkey).

When I turned 40, I was invited by a friend to learn a technique called Remote Viewing which is a fancy term for reading the energy of people, places and events. I innocently walked into that workshop not knowing that it would be the thing that would kick the mental door down that I had locked when I was a teen. As I practiced the technique, it felt like I was waking up to who I really was...which was frightening. I was working at a medical office at the time and began to know things about the patients that the doctors seemed clueless about. If I volunteered an opinion about the true origin of someone's neck pain, they would look at me as though I was possessed by demons and quickly change the subject.  On the occasions in which it was discovered that my intuition had been correct, a new look would cross their faces....sometimes confusion, sometimes fear, sometimes astonishment.

Absolutely none of this was comfortable for me. It felt like a re-visitation of my childhood in which I was either tippy-toed around or brushed aside. Except that this time, the Genie was really out of the bottle, and it wasn't going to be silenced or ignored.

A funny thing happens to folks when they believe you have access to information that is hidden from most people. They begin pulling you aside to have whispered conversations about their very private experiences and asking you what you think is going to happen next. They show you a suspicious mole on their shoulder and want to know if it's cancer. They ask you for the winning Lotto numbers. They want to know if George Bush will be re-elected to a second term. They look at you strangely and treat you differently.

On one hand, it was a magnificent thrill ride. Always a reclusive person with an aversion to crowded places and emotional situations, I was now being encouraged to give readings to people who wanted to know about their past lives or future events. At first, I stuck to the Remote Viewing protocol and refused to speak to people face-to-face. I asked them to email me their questions, and I would write out the replies by hand, which was a laborious, exhausting process as some of the sessions rambled for 20 pages or more.

These hand-written readings were proving to be accurate as well as fascinating, but the labor-intensive protocol I was rigidly adhering to was wearing thin. My fear of speaking to someone in person and answering their questions was daunting. What if I gave them the wrong information? What if they didn't like what they heard? What if I had to deliver terrible news about a health situation? All of these fears nearly brought an end to my blossoming business, and I laid awake at night wondering what I was getting myself into.

Fast forward twelve years. I left the medical office in 2002 and allowed myself to claim my gifts of intuitive knowing. I found that the word "psychic" made me cringe and imagine a wacky woman in a caftan and turban, gazing trance-like into a crystal ball, so I refused to use that word and called what I did "Intuitive Guidance". Nobody complained. As the years went on, I had the presence of mind to collect stories from thousands of sessions which seemed incredible to me, and perhaps they will to you as well, Dear Reader.

I hereby invite you on an anecdotal hayride in which names have been changed and situations amalgamated to protect the identities of people who have shared their stories with me.

(Warning: Fragile flowers, Nervous Nellies, anyone about to enter a convent or seminary, those who are mortified by the discussion of sexual proclivities and perversions, offended by raunchy slang and/or profanity or shocked by frank discussions of the various and sundry body parts and their functions are hereby cautioned to click away immediately.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Narcissus Was Here Part I

“I don't care what you think unless it is about me.” 
~Kurt Cobain

Dear Diary:

Year 6  Naive intentions for guiding people towards solutions to their problems degenerating rapidly into simply holding space while they explore depraved fantasies and describe their unappetizing tendencies and behaviors. Apparently, my input is not of much importance since most people do not heed the common sense advice and go on to do whatever they damn well please, then sheepishly report it all back to me at our next session. Also, I seem to have more credibility when I wear mascara.

It’s been said that if you do something fairly well, you will be expected to do that thing at least 10,000 times. At the beginning of the process, that projection doesn’t mean very much since the theory hasn’t actually gelled into a grim reality yet, so you go about your business with a smile on your face until someone asks you how many sessions you think you've done in fourteen years and you astound yourself with some quick calculations that lead you to a staggering five-digit number. This would certainly explain the compassion fatigue.

There is some compelling evidence pointing to the fact that narcissists are attracted to Empaths like fire ants to a Twinkie. Our kind hearts and desire to help can easily be abused by folks who think only of themselves and what they can get out of others. In this job, I have been challenged continually to establish and maintain substantial boundaries, but even with that awareness, a few energy vampires have managed to sneak through the holes in the screen door.

Monkey business

A new client arrives to our appointment fifteen minutes late wearing a too-tight Planet of the Apes t-shirt and complaining about the long line of hipsters at Starbucks. When I ask him to sit down so we can begin our session, he stares at the chair for a few moments and then in a concerned tone says, "You know, chairs were invented by dictators who wanted to control the populace."

Since I am not certain if he's joking, I sit in a chair to demonstrate the relative safety of the furniture, but he pretentiously re-positions a small footstool and is determined to use this as his perch for the next hour rather than conform to the sinister plot of government-controlled seating.

(Dear God, please help me to squelch the urge to roll my eyes, snicker or verbally castrate the assclown sitting across from me.)

Flying on a high-octane venti Caramel Macchiato and possibly amphetamines, he immediately plunges into the deep end with questions about his recent break-up and the importance of finding a new partner who is into open-minded sexual experimentation, but thanks to his choice of low-quality simian apparel, all I can picture is two impassioned chimps and a tire swing. It is explained to me that humans are not naturally monogamous and that when we force ourselves into the moral constraints of committed relationships, our mental well-being will, inevitably suffer.

Save it for the faculty lounge, Dr. Zaius.

We march on through more smug diatribe peppered by the occasional questions he appears to already know the answers to, and at last, it's time to bring our session to a close. As I begin to wrap up our conversation, he interjects from the footstool, “Let’s both close our eyes in order to join forces during an intention ceremony.” In a moment of end-of-session relief, I play along and close my eyes as he begins to call in "spirits from the unseen dimensions" to bless each of us today. When I open one eye to look at the clock, I am horrified to find him massaging his crotch (over the Dockers, thank God) and immediately terminate his masturbation meditation by standing up and announcing that we are finished. Without any sense of shame, he apologizes for being so forward and asks if I want to get coffee and become better acquainted "as friends". First of all (and perhaps most importantly), I don’t drink coffee. Never have, except for a hellish stint as a breakfast waitress at a diner along the Interstate when I was nineteen years old, and even then, I had to load it up with so much milk and sugar that it was nothing more than melted coffee ice cream. Secondly, exactly how is that "casual" conversation going to go after what just happened?

I make a jokey comment about how my husband frowns upon the notion of me dating other men (which is purely speculation. I know for sure that my first husband was not pleased with my extracurricular social life at the end of our marriage, but have not yet tested my current husband's tolerance levels. I am certain that if I did, however, it wouldn't be with this schmuck) and am beyond relieved when he shrugs his shoulders and heads for the door.

I think it's time to raise my rates.

Mid-life madness

A client I haven't seen in several years calls to make an appointment and finds a way to shoehorn in the important news about his recent separation from his wife which triggers an avalanche of sobbing, clueless questions about why she left. This is the main reason why I never answer the phone between sessions, but "Joe" has caught me at a weak moment and is determined to turn a scheduling call into his therapy hour.

When he arrives for his appointment a week later, Joe has pulled himself together and struts through the door a changed man; a man who is aggressively embracing his newfound single status by wearing three hundred dollar jeans and a fedora. I see that he has also traded in his sensible Prius for a red Camaro (is there any other acceptable color for a mid-life crisis vehicle?) and I cringe through the stench of his cologne at the cliché he has become in record time.

We begin talking and I quickly understand that this session is not going to be about Joe's desire to learn why his marriage failed or how he might become a better, wiser person because of the experience. No, today's conversation will be Joe's forum for a self-absorbed, pontificating monologue, the focus of which is refining (with my "help") the wording of his Plenty of Fish and profiles. Also, I will be shown several recent selfies and will be expected to determine which angle of his fifty-three year old physique in tight shorts will attract the most interest.

I glance over his profile and caution him against opening with demands that applicants be under thirty years old with large breasts and a love of walking on the beach. Suddenly I am a copy editor correcting his grammar with a red pen and pulling out the thesaurus to find alternate words for "lonely" and "horny".

When I reach the part of his profile that lists his typical Friday night activities as polishing his African tribal mask collection while whipping up some coq au vin and stargazing, I make a quick downward glance to see if Joe has grown cloven hooves since our last session. What was once a quiet, mousy accountant with a comb-over has morphed into a bad Saturday Night Live sketch.

Joe is listening intently to my suggestions and scribbling notes in what appears to be an old address book. When we reach a stopping point with the dating profile, I make the rookie mistake of asking him what happened with his wife and their marriage of twenty one years, which is all he needs to launch into a marathon filibuster. On and on he rambles about "not getting his needs met" and "not being a priority" until it occurs to me that this is no longer a session, but a hostage situation. To amuse myself, I keep a running mental tally of how often he says "long story short" which works out to eleven times in fifteen minutes.

I only heard from Joe one other time after that encounter. He emailed me to report that he had found the love of his life, a twenty year old "hottie" (his words) named "Destiny" whose primary objective was to get a leading role on General Hospital. Of course he was going to finance her rise to stardom, and in turn, she was going to be his fashion consultant because he had decided to get into modeling.

Other session tidbits:

~Client named "Brad" who thinks of himself as an untouchable, magical demigod refers to himself in third person for the entire session: "Brad would like to record our conversation." "Brad wonders what the outcome will be to his company's merger."

~ Client in his twenties is eager to discuss a potential investment opportunity that was emailed to him: it seems the Prince of Ghana has recently fallen on hard times and needs our help to reestablish his investment holdings. "This is legit, dude! We could get super rich from this, right?"

~Forty year old client is troubled by the fact that his accidentally-pregnant girlfriend has demanded that he pay for the cost of an abortion. The main question is whether or not he is the father of the baby, and when I tell him that it appears as though he is, he sits back in the chair, pensively nodding his head while looking out the window. A moment later, he has made a decision about his financial responsibility and declares that he will split it with her because "half the roll, half the toll".

Flattery can really turn a girl's head. Here are some of the more charming comments bestowed upon me by male clients over the years:

~"I think it would be fun to have sex with you because you can communicate with extra terrestrials."

~"You're really just a cheap therapist, aren't you?"

~"I’m not giving up bread, beer, sugar or Vicodin. Can’t you just put a spell on me to make me feel better?"

~"I don’t need you…I was just curious about what you would say."

~"How often do you think about me? Can I pay you in advance to tell me if you dream about me?"

~"Can you do a psychic prostate exam on me today?"

“To be most effective, flattery is always best applied with a trowel.” 
~Alan Bradley

Monday, June 13, 2016

Of Crystal Skulls and Ouija Boards, Part IV

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
~George Bernard Shaw

I am frequently asked by clients and acquaintances if I can see the future for myself. I tell them that this is comparable to trying to see the back of my own neck. I know it's there and can feel when there's something wrong, but I do need to ask someone else to take a look at it from time to time to make sure there's no suspicious rash or horrific growth forming beneath my hairline. I have experienced some wonderful readings from gifted astrologers and Intuitives over the years, and I have also had some comical encounters which serve as sobering reminders of the strangeness of my profession.

I recently relocated from California to Washington state for reasons which are not entirely clear to me but probably have something to do with the fact that every seventeen years, the planet Uranus does a devilish foxtrot through my house of bad decisions. I had been feeling a strong pull to the north for years, so when some encouraging signs began to appear (signs which, in retrospect, seem sketchy and half-baked), I threw caution to the wind and leaped into the void of the unknown. As part of my self-imposed assimilation process into this new place, I decide to investigate the local metaphysical scene and happen upon what I assume is a bookstore, but instead turns out to be the office space of Mrs. Eucalypta*, a psychic advertising the following services:

-Clairvoyant Readings
-House Clearings
-Exorcisms (animal and human)
-Curse Removals
-Chakra Clearing
-Pet Sitting

And hand-written in purple ink at the bottom of the menu of services taped to her door:

Ask about our weekly speshals specials!!

Against all better judgment and the wisdom I have supposedly gleaned through the decades, I push open a heavy wooden door and find myself in a dimly lit, hazy (gift shop? museum? opium den?) jammed from floor to ceiling with dusty multi-cultural statues on dirty glass shelves, faded plastic flowers exploding out of mismatched pottery urns and inspirational plaques on the wall urging me to Dream! Believe! Hope! Smile!, some of which I have seen recently in the clearance section at Target.

Mrs. Eucalypta materializes out of the shadows, delighted by the hapless fly who has just blundered into her web. She takes me by the hand, leading me further into the gloomy vortex towards a massive metal desk that appears to have done hard time in a WWII bunker. This is where she does her readings, and it's clear by her iron grip that there is no way out at this point. My fate is sealed and there will not be an opportunity for edging towards the door - and freedom - while pretending to browse through the thousands of paperback books lining the walls or examining the snake skeleton specimens in shadow boxes. I am in the wicker chair and being read at the "speshal special low price" of $45 for Tarot and chakra balancing, the "cash only" terms being carefully explained to me right up front. If I do not have cash, Mrs. Eucalypta points to the front corner of the room where an ATM will provide the necessary funds for our adventure.

Even though the smoldering incense is creating a thick fog, I am able to make out the enormous diamonds this woman is wearing on every finger. I soon learn (because a mere fifteen of the forty minutes spent in this place is about me; the rest is a rambling diatribe about her complicated life) that her father purchased miles of commercial real estate in Malibu back in the 70s at rock-bottom prices and now happily hands cash to anyone in the family who asks for it as long as they are not on drugs. I then hear a little something about each of her seven children before she asks me to shuffle the Tarot deck in such a perplexing and complicated manner that she has to bark at me that I'm "doing it wrong" three times.

Once the cards are shuffled to her satisfaction, Mrs. Eucalypta lays them out and clears her throat as though she is about to make an important speech. She inquires repeatedly if I work for "the government". Each time I say that I do not, nor have I ever worked for any branch of the government. She continues to prompt me, saying that if I was in the military, that counts as government. I assure her that this is the farthest thing from what I do for a living. Switching gears, she asks if I am thinking of signing a contract. I affirm that yes, I am hoping for a publishing contract. She says excitedly, "Are you writing something for the government?"

Now I am casting furtive glances at the front door and thinking of plausible excuses for why I must leave immediately (left the iron on/water running in the bathtub/tea kettle boiling/worried that the dog might eat my homework). She insists, shaking her head and staring at the cards, that I have dark, abusive men all around me who want to control me, which is also the furthest thing from the truth. Finally she asks what I do for a living and I divulge that I also do psychic readings to which she replies with a snort, "Good luck with that. You are much more suited to a government job with benefits."

I can't say for sure if my chakras were balanced during our session, but I can report that her little white dog, which she hastily ditched into the bathroom when I arrived, never stopped barking or scratching at the door, so maybe my annoyance with that situation forced one of my errant energy centers back into alignment.

During the scant fifteen minutes we are speaking about me, I learn the following things about myself while suffocating on Nag Champa fumes:

1. This is the lifetime in which I will be unlucky in love. Probably because I broke so many hearts in my previous life, Mrs. Eucalypta surmises while squinting at the cards and drumming her manicured nails on the desk, this will be my karmic payback. I am told that I may as well get comfortable with the fact that I will never have a satisfactory romantic relationship. It's my cross to bear, she explains smugly, no doubt thinking of her fantastic husband, their phenomenal sex life and freedom from financial burdens and her seven perfectly well-adjusted children.

2. I am a carbon copy of my mother. Like it or not, I am her spiritual twin and will live out my life in the same way she is living out hers, which means I am destined to own a modular home in a retirement community in Florida, hoarding family photos, dying my hair an unnatural shade of auburn and refusing to speak to my adult children. Why fight it any longer! Today I might as well begin drinking boxed wine and collecting small dogs with matted hair that I can fuss over in front of company when I'm not weeping in the bathroom from hurt feelings.

3. I should have been born a boy. This news is delivered with a look one would receive from the convenience store guy who tells you that your card has been declined, forcing you to dig around in the bottom of your purse for enough money to buy the Snickers bar you so desperately need. Apparently, there was some cosmic mix-up with the genetics, resulting in my female attributes which, according to Mrs. Eucalypta, has been the root of most, if not all of my problems in this lifetime (see revelation #1).

Prior to this fiasco, there were other notable encounters through the years:

~During a reading with a woman living and working out of an Airstream parked on rural property, a cow with runny eyes continually peeks in the windows, licking the screens and judging my choices in life.

~At the same reading, it is determined (by the psychic, not the cow) that I must drink a shot of Peach Schnapps to clear my throat chakra of the memory of being decapitated in another lifetime. She takes a shot, too, just in case my bad karma wants to wipe its ass on her dress.

~A Tarot card reading which starts off just fine, but quickly deteriorates when the psychic dissolves into tears and begins a long-winded story with too many details about her cheating boyfriend, an empty bank account and a raging case of herpes. By the end of the hour, I am counseling her, and yet she still charges me for the reading.

~The Sedona psychic who carries on animated conversations with invisible (to me, anyway) entities in the corner of the room who are supplying him with bits and pieces of information about me, all of which are wrong. I bring the session to a halt when he asks if he can touch my bare feet in order to "remove the demons" from my body.

*Not her real fake name

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Spotlight Effect Part I

"Fame exhausts me."
~Alice Walker

People often ask me how I do the psychic thing. I'd love to be able to share a magic formula with them, but truthfully it's a lot like a microwave oven. I have absolutely no idea how the machinery works; I just shove a plate of food in, push a random combination of mysterious buttons and pray to God that nothing explodes in my face. Every. Single. Time.

A little history

I attended a smallish high school in Southern California where the limited number of kids auditioning for plays practically guaranteed that we would all get whatever parts we wanted even though none of us had any real talent to speak of. It always sounded so glamorous at first: memorizing lines, evening rehearsals in the school auditorium/cafeteria, standing on stage emoting with all the subtlety and finesse of a rhinoceros who doesn't know what to do with his hands. But then opening night would arrive and my dry mouth and pounding heart would remind me that I am terrified to speak to groups of people, and that no matter how many hours I spent committing my lines to memory, they would all fly out of my head that dreadful moment when the curtain went up.

In my junior year, our drama class put on a play called Godspell which (for those of you who have been spared the atrocity) is a musical rehashing of Jesus' valiant attempt to teach a ragtag bunch of groupies about the meaning of life in the days leading up to his gruesome demise. In this version of the timeworn saga, Jesus wears a Superman t-shirt and modified clown face paint which gives the rest of the cast permission to dress like homeless beatniks who enjoy shoplifting from Goodwill.

When I nervously tell my mother that I have a part in this unconventional production, a wall of icy silence descends as the significance of my announcement sinks in to her newly-Catholic brain. Reading the warning signs on her face, I scramble to justify the necessity of my participation and that, after all, it's a family-friendly story about crucifixion and resurrection! And we SING! And (the cherry on the negotiation cake) it all comes directly from the BIBLE!!

I tiptoe through two days of the silent treatment and worse-than-usual meals as Mother Martyr "thinks it over" while she tearfully prays for the strength to deal with a teenage daughter who has somehow blundered into the drama club. In her religious reasoning, unless someone is begetting offspring through miraculous interactions with a burning bush, sacrificing a family member or being eaten alive by locusts, it simply doesn't count as a Bible story.

After a lengthy phone conversation with my drama teacher in which he assures her repeatedly that it's all very wholesome and no demonic forces are involved (I know this because I am listening in on the extension phone in the basement), my mother cautiously agrees --"with concerned reservations" -- to my participation in the play. Immense relief washes over me as I realize that I will not need to bow out of the production due to my mother's histrionic belief that I am selling my soul (at garage sale prices) to Satan.  In the weeks that follow, she occasionally asks me to sing one of the songs or recite from a monologue, and when I oblige, she clears her throat and says without eye contact, "that's nice. You should practice more."

It's finally opening night and as I am cavorting across the stage in my absurd costume and greasy stage makeup while the anorexic boy playing Jesus dies a melodramatic death on a wobbly scaffolding, I catch a glimpse of my disapproving mother in the second row of folding metal chairs. She is scowling and already rehearsing in her mind the conversation she will have with our priest to plan the exorcism I'll need the moment this travesty is over. Also, it's entirely possible that we will have to move out of town to escape the embarrassment she thinks this will cause her.

Sadly, this episode sets the tone for all of my future public speaking engagements.

Front-page Folly

The year is 2006 and cable television is engaged in a serious flirtation with shows about paranormal activities. Everywhere you turn, someone is waving a crucifix around attempting to taunt an angry ghost in an abandoned prison, uncovering evidence of alien activity in a pyramid, or wandering through haunted houses with special equipment, debunking footsteps in the hallway as air in the pipes. Also, vampires are considered to be ultra-sexy fringe dwellers (the decidedly unsexy zombie apocalypse is still years away) lurking around in forests and high school parking lots, wearing key pieces from the Hot Topic fall collection and seducing pretty young women with plunging necklines and heaving bosoms. The public's appetite for spooky stuff is growing, and the media is eager to deliver the goods.

By now, I have been conducting sessions for three years and am beginning to settle into a routine with a small client base who find me by word of mouth. I am still mystified to be stumbling around in this career and startled when someone reports that a "prediction" I made came true. I deftly change the subject when anyone asks if I teach workshops or speak to groups, and have no desire to advertise my services to the general public. In addition to realizing for the first time that I am actually an introvert, I find that I'm firmly in the grip of impostor syndrome and shrink away from connecting with anyone involved in the wacky goings-on of the metaphysical community.

As cosmic jokes go, this is the perfect atmosphere for what happens next. A reporter at the local newspaper has been working on a story about the public's current infatuation with the paranormal and my name has crossed her desk three times from different sources. She calls and leaves a message on the answering machine asking for an interview with "Susette-the-psychic". I shock myself by returning her call and agreeing to a meeting with her and a photographer. I wonder why photographs are necessary as the anxious adrenaline begins to course through my veins. Is she hoping that I'll levitate above the coffee table or summon ghosts from the hall closet? I distract myself by worrying about how to conceal the nervous blotchy condition on my neck and chest which presents itself in most photographs taken of me. Almost immediately after hanging up, I regret agreeing to the interview and begin to concoct reasons for why I need get out of it.

Thanks to the intervention of well-meaning friends and family members who believe I should go through with it, I do not cancel the appointment, and the reporter and photographer show up at the agreed-upon time on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon. I greet them with sweat soaking through my blouse and launch into nervous gibberish, already trying to explain myself and what I do before they're even in the house.

While the reporter and I get settled on the couch, the photographer takes a good, long look at me from head to toe before roaming around the house in search of good light and appropriate angles for the daunting task of shooting photos of yet another woman with double chin challenges.

I should be used to it by now, but the reporter is looking at me with a mixture of skepticism, curiosity and a little fear which sets me on edge. It occurs to me that this thing could easily go sideways; she has the power to write anything, good or bad, and the entire community will accept her words as truth. My mouth goes dry and I become conscious of my every word and movement, imagining how she must be seeing me, given the fact that she is not a believer in any sort of paranormal or mystical event - a tidbit she discloses at the very beginning of our conversation.

As she asks me the usual questions about how I do what I do, what my childhood was like and if I can "see things" like Lotto numbers, I can tell that she is waiting for me to astound her by reading her mind or striking up a lively conversation with her dead Grandmother. Neither of these things happen and I feel as though I am wasting her time with my uninteresting and probably fictional abilities.

After a thorough search of the property, the photographer has finally found a place to take my picture, and as I pose awkwardly on the stairs by the window waiting for instruction from him, he clicks a few shots and then announces that he's finished. While packing up his equipment, he asks with a smirk if I know who will win the 2008 Presidential election. I tell him that I don't, and he makes a sarcastic "uh huh" sound as he leaves the house. The mood in the room is heavy with unmet expectations, and I recall bitterly my mother's hollow advice about needing more practice. It's a dark and somber day when the opinion of your adversary turns out to have merit.

About a week later, an evenhanded, unbiased article featuring my interview runs on the front page of the Sunday "Living" section of the newspaper. It's all very neutral and includes interviews with others from the metaphysical community talking about how psychics can come out of hiding now that paranormal events are being seen as mainstream. The startling part is the gigantic color photo of me that accompanies the article, taking up nearly half the page. By some miraculous stroke of luck, the light and angle of the photo work in my favor and someone has thoughtfully cropped the image to hide the sweat marks under my arms.

By Monday evening, there are thirty nine messages on my answering machine from people wanting to schedule sessions. Some leave comments about the photo, saying that I look "angelic" and "serene", while someone from Arizona (how did she see the damn thing, anyway?) thinks I look "otherworldly". A man with a gravelly voice asks if I would like to accompany him to New Mexico in search of extra terrestrials, and more than a few are tearfully asking if I can communicate with dead animals or help them to find their mother's safety deposit box keys.

Weirdest of all (at least for the moment) is the woman wearing a straw hat and bedroom slippers who recognizes me in the cat food aisle of the grocery store the following week and asks if she can touch my hand so that her migraine headaches will finally stop. I tell her that she has mistaken me for someone else and slink from the store with my head down. My career as a psychic has officially begun.