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Monday, August 11, 2008

How I went from being a psychic to being a writer too

My Russian grandmother, my Bubbie, Sarah Shapiro, had been well-known in her shtetl for her predictions, cures, potions, and salves. Along with her pale blue eyes that turned up in the corners, I inherited her psychic gift and have been a phone psychic for thirty years.
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My writing career was also launched by a psychic—the late Vincent Ragone, such a brilliant clairvoyant that my name had been on a seven year waiting list to get an appointment with him. In March of 1985, a week before my appointment, he phoned me. <>
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“I’m canceling all my appointments,” he told me. “I’m no longer seeing private clients.” <>
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I was crushed. “Isn’t there something you can tell me?” I asked.
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He waited a beat. “You’re going to publish a love story with Simon & Schuster,” he announced.
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The only writing I had ever done was for term papers and elementary school essays on How I Spent My Summer Vacations. I thought perhaps that he was no longer doing readings because he’d lost his psychic powers. And then I got an image of stitched-together squares of fabric, a quilt. The Memorial Quilt commemorating the victims of Aids.
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“I’m so sorry,” I blurted out.
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He was quiet for a few moments. “You do readings by phone, don’t you?” he asked.
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“Yes.”
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“I can tell everything about everyone else,” he said, “but I hardly ever know anything about myself. I must ask you a question. How much longer do I have?”
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I sucked in my breath. I had never let myself see the time or circumstances of anyone’s death. What if I couldn’t stop? What if I went around seeing it for everyone? For my friends and family? How could I go on? But I had the sense that Vincent, a man who had lived sparely, who, I could tell from the open hand I saw in my mind, had given generously to others, was really asking me how long he had to live for himself, to travel and read and do what he hadn’t gotten a chance to. I got an image of a tombstone with his name on it, but the tears in my eyes were blurring the dates.
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“I know I shouldn’t have asked such a question, but thank you for giving me the answer,” he said.
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What answer? I thought, so startled that I knocked my jaw with the receiver. Had Vincent been able to read the numbers on the tombstone I saw? Or maybe just by having asked out loud he had received his own answer.
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A few months after that phone call, I began to keep a journal, not because of what Vincent had told me. It still seemed preposterous that I would ever write a novel. But doing readings, although exhilarating, is a bit like exhaling. All that’s left is as invisible as carbon dioxide and I needed something I could hold in my hand, look at, a record of my day. After my children began elementary school, I took a poetry workshop just to meet people and ward off loneliness. Over time, my poems became longer and longer and broke from any form. Slowly, over seven years, my novel, Miriam the Medium emerged.
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When I landed an agent, I didn’t tell her about Vincent’s prediction. I was afraid she’d think I was being too controlling. Besides, what if Vincent was wrong about the publisher? Only another psychic could know how fleeting and vaporous psychic images can be, how easy to misinterpret. Clients have come to expect a high level of performance from me. They almost get blasé when I tell them that the cap on their left upper molar doesn’t fit right or that their brother is in hock. I’m the one who is sitting on the edge of my sit, thinking, You mean I’m right? It was a miracle enough for me that I had actually written the book. I just sat back and waited to see what would happen. But when my agent brought me to Simon & Schuster, sitting in the office with all the editors and PR people, I felt a heat on the top of my head and my shoulders as if the sun had somehow burst through the New York office building just to shine on me. I leaned close to my agent.
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“Simon & Schuster is going to buy my book,” I whispered, and they did.
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She credited the prediction to me, but I knew who the credit belonged to. I thanked Vincent Ragone in the dedication to my book.

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