On premonitions, scams, & the precarious dream to become an author
Do you need to know what the sign looked like? It was neon. It was violet. It was flickering. PSYCHIC, it glowed: that singular word.
That was all it needed to say.
I was a young unknown writer in the big city and for months on end, possibly years, I was aware of this sign as I walked that particular corner. Sometimes I’d stand across the street, observing the dark plate-glass window. Curtains were pulled from end to end, shielding whatever went on inside, so all there was to see was the dark surface and the magnetic purple glow. I’d been brave enough, or naïve enough, to leave my small town and aim to be an author. I’d been brave enough to fall in love, to begin to trust another person wholly, to go broke horribly, to go into debt for a dream, to think that was a viable life option, to think someone like me should go to a school only rich people can afford, to risk everything and anything responsible and steady (and maybe I shouldn’t use the word “brave” to describe such things), yet for a long time I wasn’t brave enough to enter that establishment and hear my fortune.
It’s not because I was a skeptic, a close-minded nonbeliever. Oh no, I believed. I believed that inside that storefront, behind those pulled curtains, someone might tell me something about my precarious future and it would be the bad news I was afraid to hear.
But there came a day when I was walking past that corner and I had the money in my pocket, right there, in reach of my hand, as if meant to be. Exactly the amount posted on the door. This was a long time ago, and I think it was ten dollars. I was walking by that violet-lit corner on a free afternoon with ten dollars cash in my pocket—I had to go in.
My memory has blurred the location, which feels mystical even now as I think of it. This corner was on my way to my post office box—the address I gave out when submitting my short stories to literary journals (yes, answers still often came by mail, I told you this was a long time ago)—and so sometimes the post office held a piece of surprise benevolence and a rare yes, but more often in it was a box that spat up rejections, a box of doom. If the psychic was near my post office, then it must have been on Fourth Avenue. It was near the dentist where I would have my wisdom teeth removed, but not exactly. Was it 10th Street? Was it 11th? Possibly. Yes. It could have been. I think it was. Though maybe it’s best if I don’t pinpoint it for sure.
I pushed in a darkened glass door and entered at last.
There was no music. There was no chime. Only one person was in the dim, musky-smelling room.
It was a woman, younger than I expected, maybe even my age. She sat me down at a round table covered in scarves. I was struck by a few things at once and here my memory is clear: How ordinary she looked in her baggy jeans and saggy sweatshirt and dirty blond ponytail, a dreary look of boredom on her unpainted face. How small the room was, in fact, much smaller than the wall of windows made it seem, like a large storage closet. And how now I’d entered, now I’d sat at the table and allowed her to take my hands, it was too late, I couldn’t say never mind, I had to go through with it, I couldn’t leave.
Also, by then she had my ten dollars.
Maybe what struck me more than anything was this: If a psychic is truly psychic, with powers of sight behind metaphorical curtains I don’t even know are there… might she have found a way to a better her own life by now and not be so dour, so bored?
Still, I was there. It didn’t matter the aesthetics or that I could vanish into the ether and no one knew where I was. I was about to hear where my life would lead, if this gamble would pay out, if my dream would come true.
What was my question?
I wanted to be specific. I wanted to ask if I would become a published writer one day, if I would ever publish an actual book. I wanted to ask this question that meant absolutely everything to me, but in that dim dusty room, the curtains closed so no beautiful violet light peeked through, I couldn’t make my mouth ask it. I had split in half. One part of me was rising with doubt. But the hidden half of me, the child crouched under the scarved table, still believed in what was about to happen and she wanted to know. So I did ask, but as I remember, I kept it simple. I made it vague.
What is coming for me? What is my destiny? What will I be?
It’s impossible now to re-create the conversation as too many years have passed. Memory gives only bits: hands in my hands, uncomfortably warm, the biting scent of too much singed incense and the way it can cling to the walls of your throat, that burn, and then the thing she revealed next. The confounding, disappointing thing.
She did see my future! An image was coming. There was something in the dark void of wherever it was she went when she closed her eyes that she needed to share.
She said she saw my career ahead, and I perked up, my heart lifting, the future spines of the future books I hoped to one day usher into the light lining up behind my shoulders like eager ghosts.
I would become a video editor, she said.
That’s what she saw.
It was such a specific relegation of a role, so definite, so… disconnected to me, and random, and yet she was sure. Wouldn’t it have been better to be a bit more vague with a girl’s future, so she might find her way toward believing in it? But no. She was adamant that’s all she saw. Am I a video editor now? she asked me. No, I said. But I must work in video, she said, in movies, in film? No, I said. Do you mean books? I asked, thinking maybe she meant book editor and may have misspoken. But she said no. Not books. She was sure it was video, she saw moving images on a screen, that’s what she saw.
The ten-dollar reading was over, but if I wanted her to do a tarot spread to find out more, the costs were listed on the wall.
I left the curtained room. I did not pay more. I remember feeling guilty (losing ten dollars was very felt for me then), but also angry. At myself for being so trusting, for being duped, for hoping someone would spool out a glorious fate for me like a brightly unrolled carpet, for caring, for doubting and then worrying that this vision might actually be true and it meant I wouldn’t make it, I’d fail, I’d never publish a book at all.
All I can say is I walked home that day so adamant I would never ever ever become a video editor or get any job that was anywhere connected to anything involving video, because if I did it would be the nail in the coffin that meant I would never become a writer. And I wouldn’t let it happen. I couldn’t. I would make my own destiny. I would prove this random woman who called herself a psychic (and while we were at it every litmag that was rejecting me) wrong.
I used to think that finding out my destiny would lock the track down, and allow me to run toward my rainbowed horizon with open arms, not worrying about stumbling because I knew I’d get there since it had been foretold. If she’d only said she saw books in my future, I wonder if it would have helped me believe in myself enough and take the steps to make it true. But in fact, it’s the opposite that happened. With the rejections coming in, and the glimpse of the future indicating it was not to be, I became even more defiant that it would happen. That I would make it happen. Even if it wasn’t my destiny. That psychic was wrong. Anyone who said I couldn’t do it was wrong.
When someone tells you something is not yours to have, don’t you often think, but why not? Don’t you sometimes then want it even more?
The psychic played me for ten dollars, sure. But that experience also helped cement it in my mind. I would publish books. I would determine my own future.
Now let’s jump ahead.
One afternoon this summer, my partner (the same person I fell in love with all those years ago) came into my writing room while I was prepping for a novel-writing workshop I was about to teach. I was at my desk facing out into the room, which is where I sit now as I type these words. Behind me is a tall bookshelf nestled into the wall and on it are all the books I’ve written and published: the duplicates of all my author copies, spine after spine after spine. This is what the image on my laptop screen showed as well: me in my chair, and behind my shoulders on the shelves climbing up to the ceiling, the books I wrote.
I was working on putting together a short introductory video of myself talking about writing for an online class I was teaching. I’d just watched a tutorial on how to do the basics of iMovie, and I was fiddling with the trims and the titles and restraining myself from doing too many fancy fades.
My partner smiled at me strangely. “Hey, do you know what you are?” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“A video editor.”
And out of nowhere I remembered that violet sign, and the tiny room, and the hands taking my hands, and what I heard, and together we laughed and we laughed.
Because after all this, all these years later, I suppose this one hot afternoon in June of 2022 proves that poor sad psychic right. My destiny foretold on Fourth Avenue did come true.