My First Psychic



My First Psychic

— excerpted from my unpublished memoir, How I Became a Psychic— and learned to survive the completely gorgeous insanity of this place

It’s 1970 and I’m going to see Eya Yellin, the psychic— she with the big breasts, the harlequin glasses, and the terrible taste, rivaling even my mom’s.

Eya being silly with her favorite nephew, Oakland, CA, c 1970.

And here I am, a snotty little briefcase-toting clothes horse, filled with self-regard and pseudo- intellectual snobbery, and worse, now I’m cool, making movies, that hot young teacher at the hottest school in town. Eya takes me down so fast. She goes through my façade like a chainsaw through cheese. Then she takes the whole building of my carefully constructed self, not a brick or a board at a time, one blow, one well-placed blow and the entire house collapses.

I cry for two weeks.

I can do this myself now, the one transforming blow, all the time. Well, sometimes. Not once a day, certainly, or even once a week.

Me, the snotty little clothes horse, at The San Francisco Art Institute, embracing my colleague Ray Mondini, 1970.

When it happens it’s sublime. It’s easier than it sounds. All it takes is the right question, sometimes one word, even a one- syllable word can do it. Homeopathic. I first learned the game from her. A couple of hookers. I’ve always thought being a psychic is a lot like hooking. You become very close to someone in a very short time and then they give you money. Oh Eya— once I saw you, I just wanted to do it too.

I sit down across from her at a little table in her crummy apartment in Oakland— the small side window facing a dirty brick wall, a feeble geranium on the sill. She lights a cigarette, gives me a look, a flicker of surprise. “You are so open,” she says. Then my face is wet. I don’t seem to be crying. She’s so nonchalant. Then blah, blah, blah and I’m crumbling, melting, the room is going too, and her face is all faces, but hey, I’ve done drugs, nothing white, nothing involving the nose or sharp objects, but hallucinogens, yes, the psychedelics, LSD, psilocybin, mescalin, DMT, not good, too white, what else is there?, no ketamin, and a good thing it wasn’t around then, because I have held a vial of it and it is the best— so I’m cool with this. I’ve seen my lover’s flesh melt from his face, leaving only the beautiful bare bones, and I know this territory, I can find my way in and back out of these realms. . . I think.


She is taking me somewhere else, and I haven’t been here before. When we come back and the ground settles, she blows some more smoke in my face. “You know, you’ve always thought you were so smart.” Well yeah, I’m thinking. That’s been my main trick. “Well, you’re not that smart,” Eya says, “but you’re very, very psychic.”

Isn’t that silly. Such a simple statement, but it does it for me. Everything is over now. All my plans shattered. I’m done for. Destroyed. My mother isn’t going to like this, I think. I have to put up a little dam inside now. Not a wall, nothing like that, but I’ve got to hold this off for awhile. She is watching me. The phrase “like a hawk” takes on new meaning. I can’t even summon up the phrase. She will hold me in that gaze until I really get it.

And I do.

Then we come back. “Do you have any questions?” Is that what she said? “Are you kidding,” might have been a sensible reply, but I can’t even get there. New job description. Is that what it is? I don’t even know what a psychic is. Do I want to be a psychic? To be honest, I am attracted by certain aspects of the work. Eya just sits there, puffing away on a cigarette while the room gets hazy, not from the smoke, but from something that was happening between us, and then she says things. Looks easy, doesn’t it? No research to do. No prep. No lectures or classes. You just sit there. You just sit there and say anything you feel like saying.

And I am basically a lazy person.

Anyway, being a psychic looks pretty good to me. But it’s not a choice I get to make. Once again a sudden, inexorable change has occurred. I know that this lovely life I have been living is soon to be over and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. There isn’t a choice for me to make. She has seen me. What could I do? Nothing. What will I do now? How do I do or be this new thing? I have absolutely no idea. But in less than an hour my identity has been completely dismantled, and I have no idea what it means.

I do have a slip of paper someone else who looked like me took out of my purse a million years ago. There it is, amazingly, lying in front of me. Here’s a question, “Eya, there’s a man. . . I love him, will we stay together?”

Such a throaty laugh she gives. I am relieved. Forget all that stuff before. Forget about being a psychic, whatever that means. I remember that this is the man I love and he’s breaking my already wounded heart. We’re getting back to some kind of normal now, thank goodness, and she’s laughing, smiling. “Oh, no problem, he’s great, just great—“ she pauses for effect, “as long as you don’t mind having to tit and diaper him.” Crash, tinkle, tinkle. She walks serenely across the wreckage of my heart, it’s lying there in the rubble along with everything else about me.

When my dad died in 1988 my mom dove into senile dementia with  surprising speed, losing a few more marbles every day. As a consequence of this rapid decline she would move back and forth in time; sometimes she was a little girl, living on a ranch in Oregon, a sentence later, she’d be her rapidly declining self. She also told me fascinating stories about our family, stories that were certainly not part of the family canon, and I learned that my beloved great- grandmother, Ganny, did readings for people.

Grandma Seavey holding baby AA, Grandpa Seavey next to her, then grandma's no-s0-pretty sister, Aunt Lil. My mom sits on the other side. My beloved great-grandmother, Ganny at the head of the table.

WHAT? Why was I not TOLD of THIS? But what can I do now? I couldn’t yell at my poor demented mother or plead for more information. She offered up a few more crumbs. Mom said that Ganny became quite ill one summer when I was little, which must have been during the period when my dad was overseas during WWII, so I would have been four years old. Ganny told Grandpa that she needed to sleep outside in order to heal, so he built a little house with a wooden floor and tent walls for her in the front yard of the Cook House out at the ranch. By this time my grandparents and the rest of the extended family spent winters in town, but returned to the ranch each summer.

Mom said that people drove out to the ranch where Ganny would do readings for them in her little house. She also said that I liked to be there when she was doing this, that I would hide behind the sofa and listen. I asked if Ganny did readings when we moved back into town, but mom said grandma and grandpa— no doubt full of illusions about their social position in town— were embarrassed by it, so she didn’t. She added that Ganny liked to go visiting, and she thought Ganny probably did the readings when she visited people.

Would it have made a difference in my life if these abilities had been recognized, acknowledged and talked about? How could I tell? Was it too late for me? I had no idea what it meant to be psychic. I’d spent years getting a good education. I always thought I was smart.



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