I feel like I could write a poem while painting and photographing at the same time … I want to braid hair and sew a new dress and knit some gloves … I want to record a song ~ Kamina Cox-Palmer
Mrs. Stevens lived in a trailer apartment parked on a used car lot. The hand-lettered sign that faced the freeway frontage road coupled her offerings: “Quality Used Cars and Sure Thing Psychic Readings”. The day I went to see her, I was nineteen and fleet footing puerile idiocy in a straight line to nothingness.
In her icon-crowded room, I sat beside a statue of St. Jude, my feet resting at the hem at the Holy Mother’s imitation ivory robes, enameled blue as the summer sky if but the room had not been so dark, so shadowed in red damask, red linen, red muslin, red wool thread crocheted into an afghan lava flow that covered couch and ottoman and table.
Mrs. Stevens, a burning filament of brown and black and twisting wisps of smoke, took my forty dollars of fives lifted week by week from the grocery money of which I was in charge, counted it three times, and then took my right hand in hers without pardon or warning. Her skin felt warm and soft as wind, but her grip would have held a ram in sacrificial throes.
She flipped my palm upwards, outwards, not without force. Studying, studying, she frowned and hummed a vaguely churchy tune as she squeezed my fingers, one by one, my thumb, the heel and valley of my hand. She turned it over, studied the veins along its back, rubbed my wrist bone, patted me in docile finish. Then she turned my hand upward again and there placed a deck of cards, which she deftly cut, dealt, read aloud, and thereby fore-delivered to me in lacey and tin-tipped accent the mostly mundane news of my life to come. Late marriage, she said. One child, she said. God’s smile above my head, but uncertain and many journeys, she said. She told me I didn’t believe her and that was truer than I would have liked it to be.
I was allowed to ask her for a single absolute insight. I hesitated under pressure and then sputtered on without the benefit of logic or ear—will I be able to work as an artist? Should I write instead? Would I be better off with my camera? Should I concentrate on poetry or plays? Fiction? Should I paint abstractly or do portraits? Should I try to open a restaurant? Design clothes? Teach? To me, these were all one question.
“Stupid girl, you are sweet, though. Focus on something or don’t and see what happens. You will do what you what you do whether you decide what you want or not. This is an immutable truth.”
I thought she was a terrible psychic, but then I didn’t believe as devoutly in freewill then as I do now, almost thirty years into the warp. Until you are a bit older, the specter of fate comes to all your birthdays riding a unicycle and juggling knives. Later, that mechanistic clown is just a drunk houseguest that must be evicted, over and over, after weddings, funerals, and winter holidays.
Fate thus relieved of its authority, Mrs. Stevens has achieved a kind of grace in hindsight. I do what I do. I have let go of the idea that there is a separation between what I experience as word and what I see as picture. The trick of hosting the demiurge is to open without checks, to accommodate sensation and instinct without the limitations of imaginary borders between the countries spread across the mind’s map. My pen is my brush is my lens is my diary is my bread is my play is my puppet is my land of dreams is my instinct.
In this profusion of making, I have realized, I am in a crowded bloom of good people who would rather not be fenced by the names of their personal surds. And so I am opening this year my own shabby, virtual temple of used cars and sure thing readings. And writings. And paintings. And teachings. And there will be more. One is the same as another and unified by proxy, by metonym, by the origin of urge.
Is this a true story?
love the story – and how the answer to your question then – and ours now – is to just follow our heart and not worry about "should".
Is this a true story? I did go to see Mrs. Stevens, though I'm afraid she isn't still there after all these years. @Robyn: Have you ever read "here is little effie's head" by ee cummings? http://poetry.poetryx.com/poems/10067/ not cheery, but kind of darkly funny