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.