Since the appearance of the January 23 New York Post article on Suzan Saxman’s memoir, The Reluctant Psychic, which comes out this weekend from St. Martin’s Press, the Woodstock shop owner has received hundreds of calls for readings. But as the book title implies, she’s not eager to acquire clients.
“I’m happy my story is out there,” says Saxman, who toned down her appearance for the Post photographer, dyeing her hair black. Now it’s back to blue. She strokes the cat on her lap and leans forward, dark eyes snapping with intensity. “I want to give people this message — that the dead are around us, and everyone is psychic. You don’t need to go to anyone to talk to them. You can talk to your dead mother while sitting in your own living room.”
Saxman and her co-author, Perdita Finn, have shaped a compelling narrative of the psychic’s lonely childhood, extraordinary adventures, and visions of the afterworld that give comfort — or sometimes warning — to the living. The Golden Notebook will sponsor a launch event and book-signing at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts on Saturday, January 31, at 6 p.m.
“I’m not sure that I am, in fact, a psychic,” muses Saxman, who isn’t good at picking horses and refused, when asked by Vanity Fair, to predict this year’s Oscar winners. “My thing is communicating with people on the other side.” But the communications are quite specific, as when she told her co-author, at their first meeting, that Finn’s dead mother’s name was Patricia, Finn’s daughter was named after her, and the mother had appeared to Saxman with a fluffy white cat in her lap. Finn replied that her daughter’s middle name was indeed Patricia, and that her mother Patricia’s beloved white Persian cat had died during the woman’s bout with cancer.
“Suzan taught me the intense reality of the other realm,” says Finn, “not as metaphor, idea, or archetype, but that the dead are right here, right now. Things change, form changes, but love doesn’t. That knowledge is so liberating. If people knew what Suzan knows about reincarnation and the dead, it would change the world.”
Saxman believes it was her isolated childhood and an early illness with high fever that initially provoked her visions of the other realm. “I think they both spurred something in my head. My mother was having an affair with a homeless man, and my father was always in front of the TV. No one paid attention to me, and when they did, they were scared of me and said, ‘Why don’t you just be normal?’” From the man in a black hat who appeared at the foot of her bed every night to the visions of her mother as a child, throwing a conch shell at her sister’s head, the family didn’t want to know what was going on in Suzan’s mind.
The homeless man, Steve, would arrive in a green Renault as her father drove off to work, also in a green Renault, and Suzan would be the lookout, hiding Steve in her closet if her father returned home unexpectedly. Not your typical upbringing. “I never had a friend over, never went to a party,” Saxman remembers. “I fell into books and lived in a whole other world. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere until I came to Woodstock.”
At a paranormal circle led by an Episcopal priest, she met David Saxman, who invited her to a Renaissance festival. As a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism, David wore a cape and tights to the event, where Suzan impulsively offered to take the place of the missing gypsy fortune teller, despite having no experience as a reader. As each customer sat down, words poured spontaneously from her mouth, describing to complete strangers their dead spouses and relatives with eerie precision. Her memoir recounts a conversation:
“Paul. Paul doesn’t want to be in your house anymore. He’s ashamed. He says he’s got to go.”
The woman was white. “How do you know that? You can’t know that. That’s my brother-in-law. He’s dead. His ashes are in an urn in my living room.”
“He doesn’t want to be there.”
“He was an awful drunk.”
“He just wants to go. Find a place for him to go.”
Thus her career as a psychic began. At subsequent festivals, long lines of customers came to sit before her and hear what the dead had to say. Saxman often feels overwhelmed by the needs of the people who come to her and the intensity of interactions with the dead. “I’m full of self-doubt,” she admits. “I don’t have the confidence to feel worthy of giving advice. I don’t even drive a car. I don’t feel capable of doing what’s expected of me. But when I sit down at a table, I can do it.”
She married David, and they moved from New Jersey to Woodstock after visiting on a whim. She was eager to get away from the people pursuing her for readings, and the unusual characters she met in Woodstock made her feel right at home. She recalls walking down the street one day and hearing a bush say hello. “It was a Biblical moment. I didn’t realize it was Rocky,” the drifter who had befriended much of Woodstock. “He was a tiny man with a tutu on. He said, ‘You’re so beautiful. Will you marry me?’ I almost said yes. I belong in this town.”
Suzan and David opened The White Gryphon, a store that sells punk and Gothic clothing. “I changed my name, as I do every decade,” Suzan says. “I took the name of my cat, Fiona, thinking people wouldn’t be able to find me. But I put up a sign saying I would do animal psychic readings.”
Always an animal lover, Suzan found animal readings much simpler than ones for humans. She advised the owner if the pet’s food needed changing or explained that the dog didn’t like the new cat. But she’d also deliver such messages as, “This animal is missing a dark-haired man that doesn’t come around any more.” The owner would say, “That’s Uncle John. He died.” Pretty soon, she was back in the business of reading for people.
Suzan has never advertised, since word of mouth brings in more clients than she can handle. Telling her story in print is more important to her than doing readings. She hopes the book will convey an anti-bullying message, urging people to be accepting of others’ differences. “Every day, kids ganged up around me, threatened me, threw my lunch away,” she says. “Something about me terrified them.”
Finn sees Suzan’s talents as “ways of knowing and being that are discredited in our society, but they’re often the most powerful and important. The emphasis of the book is on how to deal with strange gifts and accept yourself. It’s a good book for Woodstock.”
The Reluctant Psychic will go on sale at the Golden Notebook Bookstore, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock on Saturday, January 31. At 6 p.m., Suzan Saxman will read and sign copies of her book at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts, 36 Tinker Street. Saxman, Perdita Finn, and spiritual teacher Clark Strand will conduct a workshop on darkness, the dead, and the black madonna at Mirabai Books in Woodstock on Tuesday, March 24. See http://www.mirabai.com/ for details.