Long day at work

seattle-night-skyVendors were handing fresh strawberries to pedestrians on street corners to celebrate the first day of spring, as I wove through busy intersections on my way to work. Ocean air was tangibly fresh and salty, and drew my eyes to the harbor. The pacific skyline was filled with giant orange cranes hoisting containers on and off railroad cars, as tug boats with blue roofs, white framed windows and bright yellow hulls pulled barges in and out of dock. Waterfowl played above the cool waters that lapped against the shore, incoming fog shrouded a distant beach.

I took a short cut through serpentine streets, as they descended through well groomed neighborhoods, past banked rhododendron hedges and white azaleas. Mt Rainier filled the horizon, as I eased into downtown traffic and finally to a parking place.

I was doing readings in a restaurant during happy hour to make extra cash. The uncluttered white walls and subtle curves of the restaurants’ interior had a calming effect. It was unpretentious and relaxed. I made my way to the long bar in the lounge and settled in under sepia toned lights. Happy hour had begun. Cozy wooden tables were already filled with conversation, cocktails and the energy of letting down after a busy day.

I moved to the coat rack and hung up my purple jacket. I wore purple high heeled shoes with a matching skirt, and a green silk blouse. I was in my purple phase. My hair was gathered and twisted away from my face with a decorative hair stick, emerald-like gems cascaded from each ear. I slipped a fake wedding ring on my hand to avoid propositions, and looked around the room to see how many numbers had been placed on tables. I was happy to see I had very few.

My first customer defined the word gentleman. He had white hair, wore a three piece suit, lavender shirt and soft yellow tie. A bright red handkerchief sprang from his left breast pocket. His face was narrow and intelligent, his eyes deep brown. He flashed a smile that was both tender and curious as I walked to his table. Extending my hand, he shifted a glass of white wine between long artistic fingers, until his right hand became free to meet my own. I pulled out a chair and sat across from him.

So, you’re the card reader, he said, My friends have given me amusing reports of your talents. I thought I would see for myself.

Amusing? I questioned.

You seem to have a skill that is insightful and yet based on chance. I understand your readings are accurate. I find that curious, amusing and improbable.

I liked him immediately, and decided to begin reading. You’re a man who has become successful by using your wits, I told him, but I see decisions being made just as often from your heart, a desire to be fair in all things and most importantly, an active intuition. What I do, is not so different from what you do. You define your abilities as hunches or gut feelings, but it is the same wisdom. You are better than most at knowing who to trust, and what deal to back away from. That is not logic, but the feeling that informs wisdom. We operate in the same way, so you must be amusing as well.

Fair enough, he said. Can I buy you a drink?

Music played in the background as the bartender scurried from one customer to the next. I was grateful for the quiet volume of the music, because Saturday night’s bartender preferred a louder variety of popular music and cranked up the sound. On those nights I went home with a headache after screaming my readings above lyrics about a Pink Cadillac.

I don’t drink, I told him. Odd isn’t it? A card reader who works in a bar and doesn’t drink. Thanks anyway.

Are you morally opposed to alcohol?

Not at all. My body just won’t accept it. It makes me feel ill. It’s the same with coffee. I might as well drop acid as drink a cup of coffee.

He smiled, but I could tell that my last remark made him uncomfortable. I was immediately sorry I’d said it. I didn’t want to give him the idea I was a drug head. He was already taking a risk. He looked at me with penetrating deep brown eyes that held such intensity, that I began to wonder who was reading whom.

You are a curiosity to me, he said kindly.

That makes two of us, I replied. I am a curiosity to myself. If you figure me out, let me know. I’d appreciate it.

He laughed and our connection deepened. The waiter came over to see if he wanted more wine, but was waved away.

Alright, he said. Let’s see what information you glean from those astounding cards of yours. He shuffled the deck like a man used to playing poker, then handed them back. I began placing them on the table when he covered my hand to stop me.

You don’t need these cards, do you? he smiled. Can you read for me without them?

Of course, I said, I already have. The cards just make it quick and easy. I like to use them because they give my customers visual images to go away with, which most people remember longer than words. I can do it with or without the cards, I  repeated, which do you prefer?

All right, he said, turn them over. We had entered a contest driven by his curiosity. I turned over The Emperor, the Five of Pentacles and Ten of Pentacles. The symbols on the cards have a way of lighting up for me, so I can understand which aspects of the card holds the most importance. The face of the Emperor filled with light, the cane pictured in the five and the coins of the ten. I began to read:

I see another white haired man in the card of the Emperor, a close friend, someone with fullness of face and a more casual approach to both attire and his work life than you have. You share conservative views and a long history.

My eyes caught the figure of a man, leaning on a crutch in the five of pentacles. He is pictured outside on the street, as if kept away from the good things he desires.

I’m thinking your friend is in poor health right now, and that you are concerned for him. There is respect in the friendship that has been built on years of trust. He is going through a difficult time and you want to help.

My eyes moved to the ten of pentacles, a card filled with money and images of family.

He’s been a friend for so long, you are almost like brothers. I’m thinking that you share a business life, and that you are very affected by his suffering. The cards show recovery and a return to prosperity, so I wouldn’t worry.

He confirmed my reading and sat in silence. I had a sense that he lived alone, while his friend enjoyed both wife and family.

Has your wife died? I asked. He nodded and I felt an accepted loneliness he no longer questioned.  I envisioned him raising from his bed in a well-ordered house, and going into a drawing room, where he sat by the window enjoying strong morning coffee and the New York Times. The table’s companion chair remained empty, as a reminder of his wife’s absence. In the evening I saw him going to a dimly lit study and settling into a leather armchair with a half finished book. The patterns and traces of his life invisibly defined and seized him in a way that had become unnoticed.

We talked casually for a few moments before I excused myself.

I’m sorry for your loss, I said, referring to his wife. He smiled in return, Thank you. I appreicate the information about my friend. I returned his smile knowing that it had not been the information about his friend that had brought comfort, but a sense of being truly seen, heard and understood without judgment. It’s not perdictions we crave, but soul recognition. I collected my fee and moved to the next table.

 I glanced over at the next numbered table and saw a balding man with glasses in a brown cotton shirt, sitting next to a much younger woman. They were draining the last drops of Belgium ale as they pushed back their chairs to leave.

Sorry, they said, as I approached. We’re running late and have decided to move on.

I was glad for the break and headed toward the salad bar to fortify myself for the evening ahead. I was sprinkling blue cheese and olive oil on a plate of greens when Julia walked in.

Oh good, she said, You’re back. I want a reading as soon as you’re done eating. It’s very important.

Julia was a tall thin attorney whose wallet overflowed with hundred dollar bills. She slipped off her white business jacket and settled in a corner table with her friend, Jan. Julia liked white, the way I liked purple. She looked chic and Barbie doll like in linen. Silver bracelets rattled on her right arm, and black and white sling back heels graced her feet. Her best friend, Jan, was her opposite. Jan was tough, liked wearing heavy boots and jeans, chain smoked and rarely smiled. The waiter delivered the usual salt-rimmed margarita to Julia, and a gin and tonic ‘straight up’ to Jan.

Here we go again, I thought, cornering stray pieces of arugula with my fork and hurrying the last traces of salad into my mouth. The bartender inspected a glass in the overhead light, frowned at specks of dust, and polished it clean with a bar towel. He nodded his head in Julia’s direction to indicate that she was my next client, then smiled, knowing how frustrated I felt after reading for her. We shared a moment of silent understanding, before I took my dishes to the clearing cart and went to the table.

Jan never stayed for Julia’s readings, That woman freaks me out!  True to form, she excused herself as I approached, pulled up a nearby stool and settled into more comfortable conversation with the bartender about politics and economics.

She wanted no part of Julia’s “woo- woo – personal growth experience,” and had no idea how someone with a rational mind could believe such non-sense, let alone pay to hear it. The bright flame of her match was replaced by the glow of Jan’s next cigarette, as blue smoke drifted into the air and encircled her head.

            Oh, Karen, Julia said, with positive excitement. I want to read about Karl. I’ve just met him and we have a date this Friday. She held up a picture torn from a magazine of a stocky Lebanese man with olive skin and spiked dark hair. He’s a chef, she continued, a famous chef.

I mentally fortified myself as I sat under the  glow of the wall light and examined her photo. Let’s not read about this guy tonight, I suggested. How is your work going?

She gave me a puzzled look and began fidgeting impatiently with her napkin. I have a big case pending, which you know, and have to travel again next week for another deposition. Work is fine. I want to talk about Karl, she repeated, moving into her forceful attorney mode.

Julia always wanted to talk about the next man, but I could no longer indulge her. She was radiant in her excitement, but my obvious reluctance stopped her in mid-speech.

I can’t do this anymore, I confessed, because the men are not the issue. They’re a diversion. For me to continue reading about each new man is a disservice to both of us. I think you know that.

A look of cold despair crossed her face, an unsettling sense of delusion. She began to lobby me once more. Julia did not allow herself to think of her past, although it festered in the depth of her soul. She wanted to focus on external relationships and staying in control, the very qualities that made her a excellent attorney.

This man is different, she continued. I’m sure he’s the right one.

I was unyielding, knowing from experience that she would become rapidly suspicious, jealous and finally cold toward him in a few short weeks.

When Julia came for her first reading a year ago, I was surprised by her past. She was a frightened child whose mother valued material things and worked excessively to acquire them. Her father had abandoned the family at an early age. In their absence, Julia looked to her uncle to provide the love and connection she needed. When she was in elementary school her uncle disappeared, and she was the one to find his body. He had killed himself a week earliest in a small trailer and the body had decomposed in summer heat. In a moment of unguarded vulnerability, she described the overwhelming smell that came from the trailer, and the sound of buzzing flies that blanketed the screen door.

Julia could not allow love in her life, as much as she craved it, because she believed it would end in abandonment. She knew she could not stand a repeat performance of loss, so she abandoned the men in her life first, before they could abandon her. Her friend, Jan was a reflection of the tough person she wanted to be, but could not achieve.

Julia gave me a ‘what am I paying you for,’ look and continued. Please, just put the cards out. I need to know.

I put the cards away and restated my message, It’s time to address this issue at its core, I said gently. You need a good therapist. You have post traumatic stress, and no man is going to fix that.

But, she continued, if I can’t talk to my psychic about these things, who can I talk to?

A therapist or a shaman, I repeated. This is not for your psychic, Julia. See someone else.  She pushed her chair from the table, paid her tab and went away.  I had no doubt she’d come back another day with the same questions about another man. 

That evening, I did readings about impending legal battles, custody cases, internal political disputes and for a secretary who believed she was being stalked. I even read for a woman persistent enough to have tracked me from the television station to the restaurant.  Her face was especially sad. She wore loose knit clothes over a large framed body and had deep lines in her face that showed years of stress and toil.

As she and I sat together, it became clear that she was looking for future predictions of the National Inquirer type. She’d come for a reading because she wanted her future told, without taking responsibility for anything it might hold. When I repeatedly brought her back to a path of action and accountability, she recoiled. In the end, she threw down her money and left saying, You’re nothing like you were on television!

I smiled to myself as I packed up my things.  I guess that was my worst fear, to have someone tell me I’m horrible at what I do, but because of the painful place that birthed her comment, I didn’t take it in. To be read for, a person needs to be open to being seen, and to the possibility of new thought, which requires the courage to change.

I was relieved to finish work when I packed up my things and headed for the door. My thoughts were racing from the people I had seen and the energies taken in.

tugboatThe lights of Seattle shown on downtown office buildings, as I pushed open the door and stepped outside.  The night air teemed with the wet, green smells of marine life, as I stopped to breath the cool night air, trying to be more present, trying to release the visions and stories I had so intimately held. The bobbing procession of tug boats and fishing fleets were at rest under evening shades of purple and pink, as I cut through alleys that led out of downtown and back up the hill to Mt Baker. I was grateful for my car, but missed visiting the salmonberry, quince and little violets I once walked past on my way to the bus. The lights of downtown faded with each mile I traveled, and the maple lined boulevards skirting Lake Washington rose in the headlights. My little Datsun wound around residential streets until it came to rest in front of my storefront perched at the crest of the hill.

 I held the energies of my clients too strongly to go to sleep, so I went to Rip’s market to pick up the evening paper. Rip and I were visiting about our work days, when a man from the neighborhood burst through the door, pulled a gun from the folds of his jacket and handed it to Rip.  Here, take this, he said. I just shot my wife. Better call the police. 

 Seattle was a city of extremes and it was taking a toll. Some mornings I would stand in a welfare line to receive free rice and cheese, and the same evening dine on pheasant in the wealthy homes of grateful clients on ‘millionaire hill.’ I felt myself being ripped apart by the intensity of Seattle’s urban environment, and decided it was time to move back to Portland.

Boeing Aircraft

sky-bikeEvery year Boeing Aircraft invites psychics to come and read for their employees. The aircraft company is a quick drive south from Seattle on Interstate 5. Acres of new planes can be seen along the freeway, lined up on Boeing field waiting for delivery. Inside the main building, we post our photographs with a brief description of what we offer in the lobby.  Employees pick the person they’d like to see, put their name on a waiting list, then enter with questions that fall into categories which include love, money, health, family and business.

The reading room itself is large and warehouse-like with tables placed in rows. Some thirty psychics with various skills offered service. It was a marathon client week-end that paid well and provided a catered lunch. I brought a table covering, business cards, some favorite stones and plucked a single red rose from the twelve near my bed.

One of my first clients was a young woman who had recently lost her father. She came to inquire about including his spirit in their Christmas holiday. She was looking for a ritual, although she did not know how to put her request into words. I remember this reading especially, because it was an instance when I got sidetracked and momentarily betrayed myself. To answer her question, I closed my eyes and waited for images. The scene that appeared showed the family pulling an empty chair, his easy chair, into an intimate circle near the tree. Then I saw the young woman placing a fisherman’s cap on the seat. But as I began to deliver the information my mental sentries jumped forward. I always see them like little soldiers with rifles on their shoulders, red uniforms and tall black boots. It is their job to discredit the information that comes from the realm of spirit, because they work for the mind. They are employed by all that is rational and concrete.

Hey, they say, What’s this doing here? This has no worth. We didn’t approve this? They stepped forward at the very moment I was delivering my message, grabbed the information about his cap and pulled it away. This is too specific, they said. Do you want to look like a fool? What if they don’t have his hat? Be safe! Be careful! Be general! Replace that word. Use the word garment instead. Then you can’t get into trouble. Why get into trouble?

The censors had me in their grasp and had reworked my delivery so quickly I barely knew what had happened. I would recommend, I told her, making a circle near the Christmas tree, include his favorite chair and place a garment on it. Use something that belonged to him and felt special.

She looked at me, clearly pleased. Great! she said. We’ll do that. I can put his hat on the chair. We still have his fishing cap.

I am better than most at keeping the sentries at bay, but every once in a while, when I least expect it, they take me down. 

The other reading I remember from the 40 short readings I must have done that week-end was for a young woman about to be married. She was having nightmares and irrational fears. She wanted to marry in her husband’s faith, but something inside her would sabotage the meeting each time they were supposed to enter the sanctuary. When I asked spirit for information, I found a vivid past life. I saw her seated outside a temple in a country with a dry climate. People were wearing flowing silk robes as they entered a tall building. It was her job to wash their feet before they entered. The building was a holy place. She knelt by the entrance doing her job as they prepared to enter sacred space.

I think you had a job washing people’s feet outside a temple in a hot place like Egypt, I told her. It’s something you did every day. It humbled you and irritated you at the same time.

Oh, she interrupted, I hate peoples feet. I am so funny that way. I can’t stand to look at them and even feel that way about my husband’s feet. They repel me.  I tell him when we are in bed to keep his feet on his own side of the bed.

In that lifetime you were not allowed to enter the temple, I continued. You have a soul memory of that, even though it has been unconscious, it is still powerfully in place. That belief is keeping you out of your husband’s church. Talk with yourself and make a clear distinction between now and then. It is time for you to enter the sacred space of your marriage. You get to enter the temple now. You get to be happy and walk at his side.

She was visibly relieved but still curious. What’s a soul memory?

A soul memory is an unconscious knowing that we carry from one lifetime to the next, that can affect us profoundly. We may not be able to bring it forward on our own, but once it comes into awareness, there is always a deep and settling recognition of the truth it holds. Uncovering and embracing that knowledge brings freedom. 

At the end of the week-end, I gathered my belongings, and noticed that the rose on my table had turned color. I held it to the light in disbelief. Must be the lighting in here, I told myself, carefully packing it away. But when I got home and returned the rose to the vase, which held it’s original family, I was struck by what had happened. The rose had turned from vibrant red to a deep shade of purple. The only explanation was that the spiritual energy of 30 psychics had absorbed in the water and again in the rose, turning it the color of the crown chakra, which was the energy center we were all using.

Low Point

cliff-with-girlLife piled too high on my shoulders in Seattle. I could not make ends meet and felt doomed to poverty, exhaustion and a life of struggle. In desperation, I made an appointment with a psychic I had never met. Surely a kindred spirit could help me align with my future in a new and authentic way.

At the allotted hour, I opened the door to a small house on a back street that had the word psychic flashing in neon lights. I was welcomed by a small Romanian woman and ushered into a dark house with religious pictures on every wall. These were not the gentle pictures of Mary draped in pastel blue robes, or of Jesus delivering his teaching on the mountain. No, these were the angry Greek orthodox guys. They scowled in disapproval as if to say, you’re a sinner. Hell is at hand!

We passed through a living room where an inert man in a sweaty tee shirt lay drinking beer, and watching television. I smiled in his direction and he ignored me. The woman led me to a small closet size room, with even more pictures of angry religious guys hovering near a giant cross. A long table filled with flickering candles lit the room. A rosary sat on a small table between us, as she held out her hand to receive payment. So why have you come to see me today?

I can’t seem to find my way in the world, I said, sounding more vulnerable than I intended. I feel pulled in different directions. I have no career focus, and can’t seem to get out of my financial hole. I could really use some guidance. I seem not to be hearing the voice of spirit for myself.  Tears spilled down my cheeks and made wet marks on my dress as I grabbed a tissue and cried out all the frustration and tension I’d been holding in. I’m sorry I’m crying, I said, I just need some guidance.

The woman laid out some cards and began to read.  I see that you have been married before. What happened?

I pick men who are wrong for me. That has been a great wound in my life.

How exactly have they been wrong for you?

They were emotionally distant, often cold, and incompatible. I have not been wise in that regard.

No, she said, You have not been. I am seeing that there was nothing wrong with the men that you chose. They were good men. The problem was with yourself. You think marriage is going to be perfect. You expect too much. You should find your last husband and go back to him. Make it work. God is punishing you for leaving him. There is cause and effect in this world, now you are getting the effect of what you caused.

I was stunned! I had opened myself to her guidance, and she’d delivered a bomb that was going straight in. All my defenses were down.

You are estranged from your family too, aren’t you? she continued in an accusatory voice.

My childhood was difficult, I said, defending myself. They are on one coast, I am on another. I needed distance. I needed to get away.

I have little hope for you, she continued like an overzealous truant officer. You have a curse on your life and it will never get better.

I was paralyzed in her presence. Never get better! What are you talking about?

Your life is cursed, child, but I can help you. I can stay up all night and pray over special candles. Give me one hundred dollars so I can buy these special candles and I will fix your life. The money is not for me, you understand, it’s for the candles.

I glanced at the candles on her table and saw grocery store price tags adhered to the side.

If you have the money now, she continued, that would be best. If you don’t, I will wait while you  get it.

One hundred dollars was half my rent payment. What did she take me for? Feelings of anger and devastation swirled through my being. She was the wicked witch, and I had taken a bite of her poison apple. I bolted for the door.

It was dark when I stepped outside and my mood matched the night. I had seen people back away from the word, psychic, with fear in their eyes, and now I understood why. The disrespect of this experience was alarming. I was embarrassed to share the same title. A deep lonely depression settled in me as I waited for the bus. I had taken her words inside my body and they were circulating through every cell like poison. I was matching her consciousness.

Past Lives


A past life explains the unexplainable in this life. It is a strong thread that runs through the personality and is unaccounted for by circumstance or environment. A past life is a kind of unremembered soul memory that pushes for expression in this time and place. I can best explain by pulling examples from the lives of my children.

My daughter, Kristen, walked next to me as a child of six and pointed at other women with children. Mama, I don’t want white babies when I grow up. My children should have darker skin. Those babies are not right.

She came to me in junior high school asking to go to Greece, with an urgency that got my attention. Her request seemed so important that I went to school to inquire about an exchange program, and found a possibility for her to visit in high school. When I told her, she threw herself across the bed and wept big bitter tears. I thought you would be pleased, I said. No, Mom, I can’t wait that long to ‘go back.’

Kristen is good at manifestation. She attracted a Greek family within the year, who invited her to travel with them to Athens for the summer. She came back more determined than ever. I need to live where people gather outside around long tables, drink wine and have in-your-face discussions. She saved the money she made as a waitress and went back again after high school. She learned the language, married a Greek man and lived there for three years. She wrote letters from the island of Paros that said, I have never felt so alive, or healthy. It is like coming home. 

One of my favorite memories of my son, Clayton, is from Seattle. He and I were shopping near Pike Place Market when break-dancing was all the rage. We saw a group of young black boys performing near the waterfront and went over to check it out. A crowd gathered to watch as the young men formed a line, waiting to do their athletic spins, flips and Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. When I turned to comment, my son was missing. At ten years old, I was worried, until I saw him smiling back at me from the performer’s line. The dancers were as surprised as I was, to see him holding his own on their cardboard stage. That is where his past life spirit believed he belonged, street dancing with his black brothers.

As a little boy, he drew pictures of himself with dark skin. In high school, his African friend, Brian, made a bedroom in his walk-in closet, sharing secrets and stories like brothers. As a man of 38, he makes his Los Angeles home in the earthy grit of the hood.

How else can you explain this white mans perception of himself, if it is not a door from another lifetime that did not fully close?

We all have these mysterious threads that manifest in our lives as gifts we carry, desires to be realized or the curse that keeps us bound beyond reason. Looking at these threads, whatever you choose to call them, can bring insight and liberation.

Finding Balance

 When I was in my thirties, I lived in Seattle, or rather crash-landed there after two exhausting years of being on tour with the theater.  Travel, hotel rooms, performing and restaurant meals left me ill and defeated. I had to leave the theater with no idea what to do next. At that time, I did not see my intuitive healing work as a career, it was just something I did for the people I met who were in need. I seemed to always have a small stream of folks coming to my door for help. My Aunt Ethel had encouraged my sight in a playful way, by reading my fortune in tea leaves. It was a game we played together. I moved on to using cards and eventually to nothing but my own knowing.

tightrope-walker1Because I was new to Seattle, I took myself to a psychic fair at a local yoga center to meet kindred spirits. After an afternoon of readings, a man approached and asked if I would come on NBC to demonstrate my skills. I told him I’d think about it. Not being a television watcher, I had no way to judge if the experience was meant for ridicule, so I asked neighbors if the show was reputable. It was, so I accepted, hoping the experience might provide a few new clients to tide me over.

 I was broke the morning of the program, so I borrowed bus fare from the man who ran the neighborhood market across the street. I grabbed a large paper bag, stuffed my belongings inside, and ran out the door. Others came in limousines.  When I arrived, I was ushered upstairs to a waiting room, where I met interesting women with similar abilities.  The television hostess took me aside, and asked if I would give her a quick sample of my skills. She was scurrying around in a frantic state of disarray, looking like she could have a nervous breakdown at any moment. Every hair had to be perfect, as well as her clothes, make-up and voice. She was on a fast-track to the top, despite personal cost. I told her as much. She declared me a genius, and that was that.

When I was escorted into the television studio, she was calm, confident and inviting. I know that psychics have many rituals they use in doing their work, she told the audience, and noticed that you carry your special things in a brown paper bag. Could you tell us about the significance of that?

I sat in a moment of disbelief. The only significance, I laughed, is that I could not find my purse this morning.

Well folks, she continued, Karen blew me away with the accuracy of her reading earlier, so I am excited to hear what she will see for us now.

Another moment of disbelief. ‘Blew me away?‘ Reading for her was like asking somebody if a house was on fire. Not a tough assessment.

I shared with the audience what little I knew about the history of using cards for divination, then read for a woman about a new business she was opening, what it would involve, and what it could mean to her personal life. 

The producer had arranged for the same woman to stand up and ask the same question of each of us. We were kept in isolation until we read, then taken off again, so we couldn’t hear what the others reported. We were being publicly tested.

Long story short, the show was a success. I had never watched television in the morning, and had no understanding of the number of people who did, so when my phone started to ring, I was pleased. I did not know that the phone would not stop ringing. The phone did not stop at any time during the day or night. It did not stop for a full month! At first I left the receiver off the hook, so I could have moments of peace, but eventually I unplugged it all together. I thought I should be able to manage the calls, but it was like trying to stop a human tsunami. And so, I walked away. 

I began doing haircuts for neighbors to make ends meet, and put up signs to help as a Girl Friday along Lake Washington. An older woman named Margaret was my first client. She was my idea of a Norman Rockwell style grandmother. She spoiled and loved me to such an extent that I dropped other clients, and worked only for her.

I felt unsettled by the television experience, and guilty. I knew my sight could help others, and felt a strong sense of duty. But I was only one person and my inner resources were already dangerously low.

I remember being frightened during this period. I felt I should be able to create or read or sculpt or write whenever I pleased. I was afraid there was something wrong with me when the activities that gave me comfort dried up and went away.

Margaret was wise at these times. She would remind me about cycles and seasons over tuna casserole, warm cookies and coke. She helped me understand the timing of things, and that it all came down to keeping my balance, no matter what cycle I was in.  When life is abundantly good and showering you with gifts, stay humble and centered. When life is throwing stones and pulling you into the mud, stay humble and centered. Watch it all. See it for what it is, and never let it define you. I learned that year that receiving too much, was as dangerous as receiving too little, and that if I centered and waited, well, pretty soon, all that I needed would come back around again.

Life Sentence

My writing voice comes from the past. It’s like a fine-tooth comb moving through and around experiences that are otherwise forgotten.

My writing voice remembers the steel clank of heavily guarded prison doors, where I emptied pockets, answered questions, signed papers and allowed myself to be searched by people who had forgotten how to smile.

I was in a high security prison for my friend’s wedding, a slight bird-like woman named Linda who popped into my life when I was alone, exhausted and struggling. Linda thought of herself as a black woman, even though she was the tiniest little white thing you ever saw. I first met her when I was opening a storefront in Seattle, ripping out interior walls and refinishing floors. My overalls and tee-shirt were dripping dust, as I walked outside to rest on the sidewalk.

 “What’s going on here? What’s this going to be?” I looked up at a delicate woman with dark corkscrew curls cascading around her head. Her jewelry glittered against morning sun, as she stood with one hand on the hip of her thin summer dress. Her high heeled shoes clicking in rhythms all their own.

“What it is, is a disaster,” I replied, feeling more then a little defeated, “but what it’s going to be is, The Mount Baker Psychic Center.” I pointed to the wreckage of lumber and sawdust heaped inside.

“Are you doing this all alone?”


“Not anymore, you’re not. I love psychic stuff.  I have to work today, but I’ll come by later and help you.”

I expected never to see her again, but at six o’clock she knocked on my door, all smiles and bounce.

“Here I am, let’s get to work!”

Moments like that are not quickly forgotten. 

Linda had been living with Dave, a once famous jazz musician who landed in prison after becoming addicted to heroin. He robbed stores to support his habit, ending a brilliant musical career.  After two years of visiting Dave in prison, Linda accepted his proposal of marriage.

Linda asked me to be her maid of honor.

Dave asked me to do readings for the inmates.

I said yes to both.

Door after door opened, as the last slammed closed behind us.

Finally we were delivered to a large room where the ceremony would take place.

The guards were at bay.

The service was sweet and sincere. Linda married in a pink satin dress holding a trailing bed of miniature roses. Dave and his best man were dressed in black suits, high gloss shoes and crisp white shirts. After champagne and cake, I set up a table while Linda and Dave went off to a trailer. “You will do readings, won’t you, Karen?” Dave asked. “The brothers are really excited about it.” 

The men lined up, smiling and ready. They were mostly black, large, masculine and sincere. Their questions were no different than questions asked on the outside. They sought information about loved ones, wives, children and parents. They needed hope for the future and to have someone witness their goodness. They wanted to be listened to, shown respect, given comfort and guidance. I thought I would be afraid of them but I was not. Instead, I felt gentle and compassionate.

The tempers ready to detonate had not come from the inmates, as expected, but from the guards. Their behavior was dominant, controlling and abrasive. Repressed anger radiated from closed hearts. Those were the men I didn’t want to meet on a dark street, not the prisoners. The prisoners had committed crimes, but the guards were living day after day of malignant rage which was destroying their humanity ~  a whole different kind of life sentence.

My writing voice is also my healing voice. I offered it then, and I offer it now in the hope of making connection.

written 5-28-08