ESPecially Irene: A Guide To Psychic Awareness (1972)

Irene Hughes
Steiner Books

Irene is a psychic, as you can see from the odd dot-matrix emanations spiraling around her head on the book's cover.  From my cursory survey of the early pages, she seems to specialize in space disasters, having had prophetic dreams before the Apollo 1 tragedy as well as the near tragedy of Apollo 13.  Later, Irene shares her thoughts on the science and mechanics of ESP, describing a theory that has a direct lineage to Emma Hardinge and the Spiritualists of the 19th-Century.

The book is very similar to the many other "I am a psychic" titles of the era, but is somewhat distinguished by its  glimpses of city life in Chicago during the 1960s and 70s (many of Hughes' psychic flashes are interwoven with stories of her social circle during the era).  So, while the psychic-stuff is familiar ground, the book might actually be of interest to social historians of the city looking to reconstruct certain social networks of the era.

Ms. Hughes still works as a psychic today, apparently, having transmigrated--like most working psychics--to the Internet.  See below.

The 29th Summer (1966)

Theodore Isaac Rubin
Trident Books

Annie Greenson is a high school librarian working in Manhattan.  As we open, she is giddy with excitement that the school year is finally over and summer is on its way.  But this will be a very special summer, the 29th summer, the last summer before Annie turns 30 years old.  An early visit to her mother in Brooklyn puts the major issue in focus: why can't Annie find a good man, settle down, and produce a grandchild or two?

As this is the 1960s, modern and semi-liberated Annie tries not to let this burden dominate her psychic life.  But her mind keeps returning to men, especially the "earthy" part of her mind, which occasionally goads her into the empty practice of self-gratification.  She has a friend, Karen, and together they complain about the scarce availability of decent men in the Big Apple.  Sometimes they go to the movies together--mostly they just complain over the telephone.  At one point she swears off thinking about men entirely--deciding instead to reacquaint herself with the city's many art museums.  She goes on a couple of boring dates that lead to boring sex with a guy name Jerry.  There's also a guy named Larry--the one man with whom she actually felt "chemistry," but who mysteriously disappeared after their brief holiday together.

If Rubin's name sounds familiar, perhaps it is because he is a practicing psychiatrist, former President of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis, and the author of several popular books in genre of self-help/psychology--including The Angry Book (1976), Overcoming Indecisiveness (1985), and Real Love What It Is and How to Find It (1990).   His best known book, Lisa and David (1964), has been adapted for the screen twice. 

The 29th Summer speaks to this professional lineage.  The story of Annie's summer unfolds like details recovered and remembered on the couch, suggesting this work of fiction has its roots in one or more of Rubin's patients.  And if nothing else, you have to admire Rubin's audacity--not every man would take it upon himself to narrate a woman's sexual interiority, even one who listened to such thoughts on a weekly basis.  Should be of interest to anyone who reads psychiatric case histories or is looking for yet another account of the 60s "sexual revolution." 

Spoil Everything Now

How many times has this happened to you?  It’s the day after a big episode of television show X.  You’re standing around at the copy machine or water cooler with some co-workers.  “Did you see what happened on television show X last night?” you say to the group, knowing that most everyone in this circle watches and enjoys television show X.    “Yes!” exclaims a co-worker, “I couldn’t believe it when….”

“STOP!” yells another in the circle, seemingly in a state of panic.  “It’s on the DVR but I haven’t watched it yet.” 

The conversation grinds to a halt.  Everyone sighs and stares listlessly into the swirling galaxy of creamer in their coffees, or mechanically shuffles papers in silence to put in the copier.  “Nice weather we’re having,” someone offers.

How did this state of affairs come to exist?  How is it that those of us who simply watch television as television ended up deferring so quickly and definitively to the TV-tardy generation?   As TiVO and then more generic forms of DVR technology spread through the marketplace, why did the broadcast generation so eagerly accommodate those who prefer to watch their programs in weekend marathons of digitized fast-forwarding?  Why is it impolite to "spoil" a show by revealing plot information, and yet not impolite to force a larger group of people to clam up during a spontaneous discussion of said plot?

These are perplexing questions, to be sure.   At first this deference was perhaps simply techno-intimidation.  In its earliest days, TiVO marketing (and TiVO owners) enjoyed making the non-time-shifted feel as though they were slaves to the manipulative agenda of network puppeteers.  To watch broadcast television when it was actually broadcast was to admit you had nothing better to do, that you let television rule over your life rather than taking charge of the technology itself. 

As the years have passed, however, we can now see that this was an utterly ridiculous proposition.  Who is more enslaved by television: the person who tries to make it home in time for Modern Family, but if he misses it just does something else with his time; or the person who loads up a brace of Modern Family’s that have to be “cleared” from the DVR, maybe over Thanksgiving or after the spring finale?   For me, there is no sadder sight than an otherwise young and healthy individual hunched over a laptop watching something like The Jersey Shore, trying to “catch up” with a program that God intended us to watch by accident while channel-surfing from the comfort of the couch. 

I suppose this impulse can be defended in those who watch serial narratives, an audience that would be devastated to miss even a second of the complete storyline (unlike viewers of old who, if they missed an episode, caught up in the first five minutes of the next installment and simply carried on).  Like so much of what has gone wrong with contemporary television, we can blame much of this on Twin Peaks, the series that probably did more than any other to ensure that the college educated would feel an obligation to view every moment of every single program and somehow still think they were smarter than the cathode tractor-beam that had just transfixed them for upscale target practice. 

Many are happy that television is now often afforded the status of “art” in the same way as the cinema.  But I’m not so sure this has been a good development inasmuch as it has destroyed the pleasures of quotidian disposability that were so long a part of the medium (like being able to engage in casual day-after conversation about an episode without someone freaking out that you’re about to read Molly Bloom’s soliloquy aloud before they’ve had a chance to buy their copy of Ulysses). 

The “artification” of television has gone hand-in-hand, of course, with the industry’s amazing success in convincing otherwise intelligent people that they should buy multi-disc DVD/Blu-Ray copies of a television series in its totality.  Sure, Captain DVR has disrupted the imperious power of the network schedule—only to then get ensnared through appeals to art, quality, and archival depth so as to drop a few twenties on a deluxe boxed-set.   All the old NBC wanted was my time and eyeballs—but the new Comcast/NBC/Universal wants me to think I have a responsibility to own the complete run of Heroes, neatly filed away alongside hours and hours of other forgettable shows that in an ideal world would remain elusive and ephemeral.  Why anyone (other than a media teacher, of course) would go to the trouble of brushing off a box set of The Simpsons in order to watch a specific episode rather than simply allow Homer, et al. to pop up as a welcome surprise during unfocused leisure time is a true mystery.  It’s rather like keeping bottles of tap water in fancy bottles even though the faucet remains completely functional. 

Some might argue the box set is a good way to catch up with an important series one has missed—but even here, I would suggest it is enough to know that Series X will undoubtedly return, like a comet, and that arriving at that welcome rendez-vous in an unspecified future will make the eventual viewing of the series much more pleasurable than burning through it in an obligatory 22 hour marathon.  I can’t think of anything currently on TV, or indeed that has ever been on TV, that I would absolutely HAVE to see RIGHT NOW.     

This stockpiling of episodes—either on DVD or on the DVR-- is especially nonsensical and even a bit depressing when it involves programs that were designed to be wholly disposable in the first place, shows like Storage Wars, Kendra, Hoarders, and House Hunters that work best as random encounters with sporadic time-killing.   Indeed, if you like a particular show in one of these formats, wouldn’t it be better to keep a few in the quiver?  That is, rather than systematically make sure that each and every episode has been accounted for in the DVR queue, wouldn’t it be more rewarding to allow for a few strays to escape as breeding stock so that they might unexpectedly return sometime in the future?  Incredibly, I actually encountered an episode of Seinfeld the other day that I had somehow never seen before.  It was a profound, moving, and even magical experience, akin to necromancy or time-travel, and a pleasure that the DVR’s mandatory efficiency in consumption makes increasingly rare. 

Many have bemoaned how cable (along with an armada of other technologies) has led to a balkanization of public culture and the centripetal hardening of “egocasting” as the new media sensibility.  This fragmentation is inevitable, no doubt, and I am certainly not nostalgic for the days of 3-Network pseudo-consensus broadcasting.  But, in a world where increasingly you only share film, television, and music choices with a very narrow cross-section of your demographic, how frustrating is it when one slothful DVR-owner can singlehandedly bring a discussion to a halt? 

Here’s a good rule of thumb in television: if you can’t be bothered to make the time to watch a show on the day it actually airs, if the idea of watching a particular show isn’t something you actually look forward to enough to plan your precious leisure time around it, then it probably isn’t all that important to you in the first place.   Television is so relentlessly of the present and moving ever onward into the future, why would anyone go back in time to resurrect an experience so demonstrably unimportant?    

That’s why I think those who still have affection for the flows and rhythms of broadcasting as broadcasting should quit being so deferent and polite in this conflict.  I’m tired of feeling like a public masturbator simply because I bothered to sit down and watch Revenge on the night it was actually airing.   If you feel the same, then take the vow to discuss whatever you want, whenever you want, and let the TV-tardy assume the responsibility of shunning human company until they feel “caught up” enough to contribute to the basic social cement of televisual “small talk.” After all, we never had a vote on which way this social convention was supposed to go. 

The Outward Room (1937)

Millen Brand
NYRB Classics

Haunted by the trauma of her brother's death, a young woman who has spent seven years in a mental hospital decides one day to escape and go to New York City.  It's the middle of the Great Depression, and much of the first part of the book is a compelling account of what it was like to survive in the 30's Big Apple when down to your last five dollars.  The second half is a "romance," of sorts, but it is a courtship anchored in the gritty realities of economic deprivation and emotional instability rather than fantasies of love-at-first-sight and magical paths to upward mobility.  Championed in its day by Theodore Dreiser and Fannie Hurst, The Outward Room actually found a wide readership in its era (with the help of the Book-of-the-Month Club).  But, as Peter Cameron notes in his introduction, Brand's book is yet another example of a promising first novel now long forgotten.

Those with an interest in the history of labor and unions might also be interested in a secondary plot here that links the machine shops of New York and the coal mines of West Virginia.

The Psychic or Over-Sensitive Child (1970)

Phoebe d. Bendit
Parents Theosophical Research Group

Before the golden age of pharmaceuticals, one good strategy for dealing with "high-strung" children was to imagine that they were overly "sensitive"-- as in "psychic."  For some two hundred years now, various experts have been on hand to suggest that, while Mary or Johnny may seem to be emotionally unstable and/or ceaselessly "acting out" for adult attention, they are in fact hearing ghosts or seeing visions of the future.  Once a parent realizes that his or her daughter really does see fairies everywhere she goes (as depicted on the cover), the entire family will be one step closer to greater understanding and harmony.

Author Bendit runs through the usual pseudo-physiology here--children have more "open" nerve centers, thus making them more susceptible to paranormal influence.  This is why some kids simply can not give up the "nite lite," even into their teenage years. They "are not so much afraid of the dark as of half-lights and shadowy corners in which they are always on the verge of seeing something truly alarming."

You might be thinking--if I had known my parents believed in this stuff,  I would have played the "sensitive" angle for all it's worth.  Bendit is aware of this problem:

A great difficulty for parents and teachers trying to cope with these children is to learn to discriminate between ordinary misbehavior and behavior arising from some form of genuine extrasensory perception.


Those who suspect they might have overly-sensitive children can read the entire document here:

Also, a TV version of such hijinx can be found on A&E's Psychic Kids: Children of Paranormal, wherein whiny, crybaby children get to be on cable because they convinced parents and producers that they see dead monks in the basement or that a ghostly women in a veil follows them home from school everyday.

My thanks to Max Dawson for rescuing this pamphlet from the scrapheap of esoteric kindling.