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Miriam the Medium

I was not looking forward to this book but it pulled me in right away because it seemed as though Rochelle Shapiro was writing about her own life (which, largely, she was). There are few qualities I enjoy more in a book than realism.

I also want the unexpected on every page, which this book provides.

Here's my email interview Thursday with Rochelle.

* From reading the book and all the articles about you, I get the impression that as far as happiness goes, being a medium is a downer.

Sometimes, being a medium is a downer because you see and experience the pain of everyone involved--the deceased, the family. Once I let go of that--and it is work to do so--I have to meditate three times a day so I become the observer rather than the reactor, I then become the reporter. What is wonderful for me is when a person I've worked with recommends a relative or friend who then tells me, "Oh, you've helped ..... so much." I can't know that as I'm doing the reading. It's like writing in that way. You only know the worth of what you've given got when your editor tells you. The worst part about being a medium is that people expect certain specific information to come to validate the reading and it may not. I may know that the deceased died of a head injury, for example, but might not hear the pet name he called his wife. I always tell the client that you have to let go. It's like listening to someone's dream about you. Although the novel is called Miriam the Medium, I am predominantly a regular psychic--that is I receive info about one's life--health, finance, relationships, etc. The spirits either are there when the client calls or appear when the client asks specifically, "Is my mother around?" I'm always afraid, because of the title of the novel, that people will think of me primarily as a medium and not call me about their jobs, their cranky husbands (or wives), etc.

* If you are happy, what are you happy about?

I'm happy about the small things of this world--how the pansies on my terrace are cascading over their pot and how this wonderful plant, called chenille, that I'd never knew about until I bought it this season at the nursery, feels like my mother's pink bedspread that, as a child, I used to rub my face against for comfort. I'm also happy about the circle of love that I'm in--the devoted friends, the kindness of my sister and brother, watching my clients grow and change their lives for the better. And writing makes me very happy (when it's going well.)

* Do you believe in God, an eternal soul, the divinity of the Torah and the basics of Jewish belief?

Since I converse with eternal souls on a fairly regular basis, I believe in them with all my heart. I love the rituals of my religion--lighting the Friday night candles, eating inside a succah even when it's raining, putting on a Purim costume and hissing at Haman. Religion is a great bond in a family, a community. I am fascinated with the torah, the teachings. But I'm equally as fascinated and moved by reading about and hearing about other religions. I've read about Mohammed, I've read the works of St. John of the Cross, Julianna of Norwich, The Little Flower, St. Teresa of Aragon, the Bagavad Gita. Religion has a lot to offer. But I respect people who choose agnosticism or atheism. I love living in a pluralistic society.

* When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a singer, dancer, and actress. Actually, my mother had signed me up for Mac Levy's professional school where learned to sing and tap dance and did Shirley Temple-like acts in nursing homes.

* What crowd did you hang out with in high school?

I had to raise my little brother and had a ton of family responsibility. When I had a chance to get into the MLP--Maximum Learning Program in high school, I had to say no because my brother was too young to be a latchkey kid and I would have had to spend hours at the library. (Pre-computer days, of course.) So I hung out with kids who rebelled. Some of them are spirits to me--they either were killed in Vietnam or killed by overdoses of heroine. I was lucky that I didn't have enough free time to get into real trouble.

* How have those closest to you reacted to your Miriam the Medium book?

Although my daughter never, ever got into the kind of trouble Cara did in Miriam the Medium, she doesn't want any of her friends to read it for fear that they will believe she did. When my husband heard that I was doing an autobiographical novel, he told me he'd be jealous if I was in love with anyone but him, so Miriam is married to Rory, a 6 foot 4 inch pharmacist like my husband.

* Is it a struggle to only use your powers for good or do you get tempted to use them against people you hate?

There wouldn't be any way to use my powers against someone I hate. If you project hate, it only comes back on you. Besides, I only hate someone for a moment, and then I see the pain they went through that made them behave like that and I'm mush. My husband gets so annoyed with me. "You feel sorry for everyone, don't you?" It's not feeling sorry for--it's seeing them in my mind as they were as a child, what they went through. Really, who can hate a child?

* Which is more painful to you and which brings you more joy and which talent do you have more of a choice about exercising? Psychic reading or writer?

I don't feel that I have much control over either gift. Both writing and my psychic work seem to have minds of their own within my mind. I am constantly sitting down to write about a character doing thus and so when suddenly, I'm pulled in a new direction. Another character comes in or the character does something I never expected. The same with the psychic work. A person calls, just wanting to know whether his relationship will last and all of a sudden, I might see a drowning incident that he had as a boy.

* Have you ever done TV about your psychic powers and how did it go?

I wouldn't do TV with my psychic work. I'm not used to doing it in front of crowds, let alone with all those lights. I love the one-to-oneness of the phone work. I do radio shows, but I get so nervous that my heart slams in my ears and I can hardly hear myself speak.

* Best and worst interviews?

The worst interviews were by people who hadn't read my work and had no idea what questions to ask me. The best interviews were ones where the interviewer did his homework, followed his own curiosity.

* I assume that for most people, your being a psychic, overwhelms every other quality.

Yes, that's the part that's quite annoying. Oh, you're a psychic. Do you know if my son will pass the bar exam? Or "I went to a fabulous psychic who told me...." Or, "I have psychic powers too," and I'm treated to a snoring story of how one day a woman drives up to her house and sees a spirit's hands around it and then she went inside and the TV didn't work and the lights flickered and then her neighbor's fire alarm went off and then...."

* By telling your story, by revealing your inner landscape, baring your soul, it must have informed and educated some people in your life...but left you more vulnerable to others.

Well, certainly people from my town got quite huffy with the satirical portrait that I painted of them, but as a comic from the fifties, Belle Barth, used to say, "If I embarrass you, tell your friends." I think it's hard for writers in general. You go off to do a reading at a bookstore and what do you hear? "You look so much younger in your pictures." Would they have said that to Eudora Welty? Once, I barely escaped a reading at a library because people were demanding free psychic readings and pulled at my sleeves. I was afraid they would pluck my clothes off as they once did to Marilyn Monroe who happened to be wearing a sexy dress with flowers sewn all over it. Ah, what horticultural fans will stoop to!