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September 27, 2011

A Different Kind of Reading

By Sarah

I've never quite figured out how Salem, Massachusetts, became a magnet for witches. Yes, yes, I know about the Salem Witch Trials, the cautionary period in American history that we have been doomed to repeat in our xenophobic paranoia of others.   Salem cem And there's no gainsaying that Salem does have a witchy feel, especially in autumn when dying leaves fall to brick sidewalks outside the delightfully old clapboard houses and the briny fog rolls in from the harbor, shrouding the town in mist.

It's hard not to get in the mood even, as in the case last weekend, when the atmosphere was almost tropical thanks to a strange warm weather pattern. 

Still, the way I see it, witches would want to avoid Salem at all costs. Not only were their predecessors ill treated here, but there's the whole question of what caused the persecution to begin with: a bad winter, short food supply, last grasp of Puritan hold, fermented rye? All of these are possibilities. But witchcraft? Nah. I don't believe it.

So why did I fall under its spell and have my Tarot cards read?

I blame the Salem Literary Festival co-hosted by our own fabulous Salem resident Brunonia Barry. Brunonia is one of those writers who gives back to the community, cheerfully and lovingly. She supports the local bookstores and brings in new writers, including Erin Morgenstern a Salem native whose book, The Night Circus, is rocking the shelves. Plus, she's really nice and warm and generous and just...yummy.

Brunonia wasn't the only Tart there. Joshilyn Jackson cracked up a room with the story of how she found her agent. Hank Ryan, beautiful and poised as always, winged - just winged! - a job as moderating the Lipstick Chronicles panel and just when things were getting dull, Cornelia Read would stir it up with a few comments about her love of Prozac.

We're an odd buch, we Tarts. Like crazy aunts who carpool to Thanksgiving, cackling all the way.

But I have to admit to feeling a little intimidated. There was a lot of talent there last weekend - Julia Glass, Jenna Blum, Joss, etc. A girl can get to feel, well, lost. So, after the panel was done on Sunday, Tarot
I took Joss and Brunonia's advice and went to see a Tarot reader because, hey, I was in Salem and where else are you going to find witches willing to work before noon on a Sunday.

The witch I saw - if you can call him that - was hardly what I'd expected. Richard arrived riding a motorcycle, helmet under his arm, gray ponytail dangling down his back, tude galore.  I booked him for a half hour, but he ended up giving me 45 minutes.

Now, I'll admit right off that I am the least psychic person on the planet. I can't move a Ouija thingamajig or a dowsing rod no matter how hard I concentrate. Richard begs to differ. It's not that I'm not psychic, apparently, it's that my energy is all blocked up mostly - if you believe his reading - by my family.

Let's just say that hit home. Then again, what 48-year-old woman asking about her career would NOT be surprised to find that her great creative energy is trapped by laundry, dinner, tuition bills or, to put it in Richard's parlance, "psychic vampires." I knew exactly what he meant as soon as he said the phrase. Psychic vampires are people who suck your time and creative energy until you're left dry. I protect my family from them so, hey, yay for me!

But now it's the time in my life to tell them to wash their own socks and make their own sandwiches. My energy is unblocked and it needs to come out.

Oddly enough, this reminded me of another article I just read in The Atlantic about the power of menopause by the hysterical Sandra Tsing Loh. Message? Women losing their estrogen are really just coming out of the fog of fertility Atlantic and losing the urge to polish silver and fix three-course turkey dinners. We can say to our loved ones, it's been great doing business with you, but now you're on your own. We can now lie around on Sundays reading the paper instead of getting the family ready for the work week ahead. No clean underwear? Not my problem. I'm writing a masterpiece.

So, there you go. Two messages from two sources: The Atlantic and Richard from Artemisia Botanicals.

I think I have my permission to, as Richard says, turn inward. About time!




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You really need to start recording stuff like this, for those of us who couldn't make the festival...:)

Hi Sarah,

I second William. Recordings would be great . . . possibly a fundraising op for the different book fests and similar events?

I am so glad you enjoyed your time at the literary festival. I love Salem. I was born there and had struggled with the witch concept since my teen years on the North Shore. I have finally embraced the welcoming of modern witches and drama as a way to reconcile with the past and - pardon me - drive out the old demons.

History can kill a place, but Salem has found many ways to confront and live with it, to its great benefit. It took me a long time to get to this place.

Learning only recently that my 7th great grandparents were two of the accused, fortunately coincided with my discovery of Brunonia as a writer with great sensitivity to the past and recognition of Salem's brilliant presence in today's New England. I thank her especially, through her amazing books and comments on our Marblehead youth in common, for helping me to relax my vision of my home and for turning what I thought I knew about it to something of much deeper quality.

Bouchercon does record panel sessions, and the recordings are available for sale:


I recommend this one, with Elaine, moderated by the hilarious Colin Cotterill:


And this one with Harley (and her vibrating phone), moderated by Twist Phelan:


Others may have other recommendations, but I was only there for one day and only got to join four sessions.

Sarah, your writing is wonderful. Every book you've written has been better than the one before, I think, and I look forward to seeing even more poignancy and lovely prose from you.

Psychic vampires, eh? Yeah, I know from those, too. Maybe wearing some symbolic garlic around one's neck would help?

I loved the Atlantic article, and it sounds like your psychic tapped into the same deep truth. I heard the same thing myself at an herbalism conference I just attended, during a lecture on natural cycles and the importance of letting ourselves dwell in, and enjoy the gifts of, the "falls" and "winters" of our lives. These are the times when we let go of old patterns, habits, projects, etc. and open ourselves up to the possibilities of new ones.

These cycles don't necessarily correspond to specific ages (the cycles can take place on any time scale), but I think that "middle age" is one time when our bodies, minds, and spirits are all ready for us to shift paths, explore new parts of ourselves, turn our energies to new places, and find new ways to express ourselves creatively, emotionally, and spiritually. I even think that "mid-life crises" are just times when change overtakes us and we don't know quite what to do with it all.

So, Sarah, I say go for it! I can't wait to see how turning inward is reflected in your books!

Betty Friedan said much the same thing about coming out of the fog in The Fountain of Age (as if you need more vindication). Me, I think we just reach a point in our lives where we tell all those people with outstretched hands, I just don't give a **** any more, and we do what we want to do instead of what they wand or expect.

The only card reader I've ever been to, a decade or so ago, said I should open a flower shop. I didn't take her advice.

BTW, I'm descended from a couple of those Salem (so-called) witches.

Sarah, you bring tears to my eyes. Yes, on so many levels. And you are amazing. I think your energy radiates, really radiates--my husband even mentioned how gorgeous and shining you are. SO interesting that you've sort of been "given permission"--you know?

Loved seeing you all..and I have some photos! Which I will somehow post..

And yeah, nothing like being asked to moderate the panel TWO MINUTES before it started! Ah, never a dull moment. And that's more time to prepare than I get in TV, sometimes, right?

Oh, Sarah--I am so so so so so happy I got to meet you in person. You are MAGNIFICENT! And the festival was a total blast, start to finish. Thank you Brunonia!!!!

This is the perfect post for me to be reading as I descend into deadline hell like a leaky submarine, trailing graspy family all the way down.

Can't WAIT to start shedding pesky estrogen. And now I have to go polish some silver. Sigh.

Sarah, this is a wonderful post.
You rock and make us feel like we were with you on your adventure.

rats......all i can say is....rats....

I think I might be in the process of shedding my estrogen. But what a long, drawn-out process! I feel like I'm in a perpetual fog. I also can't wait for it to be over! I'd like to have my brain back, please. Great post!

Shoot, my estrogen has been on the decline since I was 33 (that means my daughter was just 3 at the time) and totally disappeared almost 10 years ago. So it really wasn't in the cards for me to shed my psychic vampires at 33. But at 56...line 'em up and give me a shotgun. I'll show you how to exorcise those guys!

If only I could get Dear Hubby to go along with the "after 34 years I am sick to death of cooking & cleaning" PV (psychic vamp).


Ah, estrogen liberation!! ::stretches wide, sighs happily:: It's the BEST thing ever, imo, if you're lucky enough not to have any complications from it.

I love all of the witch-y women here, on both sides of the post/comment line.

Never been to Salem. Want to go!

While trying to be nice, and polite, I have shed my estrogen and allow myself to be me, well mostly. It sometimes surprises me that outside of chores, and some obligations and stuff, I can do what I want. Funny how creative that can be. Thank you for your inspiration!

Karen, thanks for the Bouchercon tape tip. I will definitely be checking their website.

Nancy P. You must go to Salem!

Sarah, that estrogen shedding bit is hilarious! Having shed mine early on . . . um . . . at 24 - yes, yes - I missed the point on first reading but realise now that I had a spiritual shedding when the last child took off on his freedom flight. It had the same effect. And it was glorious! My silverware has turned black. The china teacups are full of dust. Dog fur rules the floor. And . . . shhhhhhh . . . beer sometimes sits unopened in the back of the fridge.

For those of you who have a very difficult time as you shed your estrogen and want to either try or stay with HRT, may I suggest bio-identical hormones? I have been through almost 20 years of the fight and trying all sorts of anti-depressants, hormones, alternative medicines and finally tried the bio-identicals. They have been a Godsend! I'm sure they aren't for everyone, but they are worth a try. And my insurance pays for them!

Oh, Pam aka SisterZip . . . the process of shedding, itself, cannot ever be anything but misery.But a successful shed has great potential.

I was shocked to discover I didn't really enjoy all that cooking and baking and school commiserating. Honest. I believed I loved it. I confided in Grandmother Harrington, then in her 80s, who had flown out to California from Boston to help. She looked at me and said, "I had the same experience. I was standing at the kitchen table. I watched my fingers put little thumbprints into cookie dough and plop drops of gooey jam into the indentations. And I thought, 'What the hell am I doing this for? What a waste of time!'" Grandmother Harrington was Auntie-Mom's mum.

On the other hand... my mother and I were just having a conversation about how she still, at age 81+, cleans her house, and mucks around in her yard. I think if she stopped she would no longer be ABLE to do it. So I keep going and doing, happy and pleased that I'm healthy enough to keep it up, when so many my age are not.

Now if only my husband and I could get back to the cooking parity we had as 30-something newlyweds, each used to doing for him- or herself. He has not cooked a meal for me in years.

Searching for the garlic...

I agree with Pam, I use a tiny bit of bio-identical estrogen and it was an overnight personality upgrade . . .

My mom at 76 is just now needing to slow down, serious osteo-porosis has made her whole world dangerous. Yep, I already went to a rheumatologist and looks like that won't be an issue for me. Whew.

What a wonderful post! And I'm so late to the party because of . . . yes, you guessed it. Psychic vampires. Today's was my 8-year old daughter coughing so much this morning she sounded like an 80-year old man with emphysema. So she stayed home from school and I got nothing done.

I've taken a survey and they're not buying the Menopause Manifesto.

I so love tarot card readers, psychics, Sandra Tsing Loh, and you, Sarah. Next year in Salem!

Funny what we're all grateful for. Some for ability. Some for not giving a shit.

I've been thinking about this post all day. xoxo

Psychic Vampires would be a good name for a band.

Loved the Atlantic Article. That graphic was my FB photo for a few days.

I'm all for not giving a shit, myself.

Another great blog, Sarah!

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