Self-editing is overrated. Or is it?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Talking with the dead in downtown L.A.


So pull up a chair.

Last night, I went to see John Edward, the psychic medium, live and in person.

Yes, I’ll wait.

It’s fine, don’t kill yourself over there.

OK? Good.

Now, as you might guess, I’m not really into the new age stuff, and while I have seen John Edward on TV in passing, I’ll be the first to admit that I really haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to him in the past. If you don’t know who he is, you can check out his website to explain it to you, but the basic description is that he’s a person who claims to be able to contact and interpret people who are already dead.

OK, I am not a very spiritual person. This is not to say that I’m anti-religion or anti-spirituality per se, it’s just that I haven’t really found a place for it in my life. People sometimes refer to me as a very “zen” type of person, and I think what they mean by that is that I tend to see things fairly clearly, without a lot of complications. One could argue that this is because I’m a bit of a simpleton, and honestly, this is not entirely inaccurate. The bottom line is that I’m really a pretty practical person, when you get right down to it, and that I sorta believe that maintaining a certain objective viewpoint about things (when I can) is the best way for me to address problems and challenges in my everyday life. If you do it differently, then hey, good luck to you. Me, there’s only so much I can think about in a day, and I really don’t need what I perceive as additional layers of filter that I would have to sift through to figure stuff out. It’s what makes me a bit of a “yes or no” type of person, and I really think that works to my advantage.

That said, my wife says “Hey, we’ve been invited to an evening with John Edward, do you wanna go?”, I say “Abso-freakin-lutely”.

Who can pass something like that up?

So we go down to the Marriott in downtown LA and we head into this large hotel meeting room and here we are, along with 400 people who have paid $175, to be in what is called “a group reading”. The air is absolutely palpable, as we start looking around this room, with people who are genuinely anxious to have something in their life be RESOLVED. It was a super weird feeling, this nervous anticipation mixed with genuine angst. Out of all the people there, I felt like I was the only one who was an observer, everyone else was clearly a participant, whether they were being "read” or not.

John Edward came out, and it was about as low-tech of an affair as this could possibly be. No special lighting, no cameras, a couple of handheld mics, that’s it. There’s no hocus pocus about this at all, it’s just one guy talking to everyone. He lays out some ground rules, which I found very interesting and I’ll get to them in a second. He talked a little bit about who he is and how this all works. Basically, he gets a “feeling” from somewhere in the audience, and then sorta tries to track down where that “feeling” is coming from.

He’s incredibly matter-of-fact and straightforward about all this in his explanation, and really does not, in any way, try to spook anybody or make it seem like it’s some super-mystical-magical-illuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuusion that we are living inside of. It’s really like “Hey, I’m getting this message from somewhere else, here’s what I think its saying”. He’s very funny and personable, and, honestly, likable. It’s very easy to see why people connect to him so quickly. He’s not trying to sell you something. He’s willing to say things that will make you uncomfortable. It’s a very regular-guy approach, and to me, a skeptic, it seemed sincere.

OK, the following are things that I observed during this whole evening:

- People are messed up. I used to work every summer in a program for 16 year olds, and after a while, I developed this slogan which is “If you put 150 teenagers in a room, basically what you have is 150 different kinds of fucked up.” Turns out that this is true for adults as well. I know that this should not be surprising to me, but I’m just so rarely in a situation where people are so willing to expose their innermost frailties for complete strangers. I mean, I work in the theatre, people, I have seen every kind of human behavior possible, but this was different in the sense that these people were not attempting to show people something, there were just trying to understand why things felt unresolved to them, and would literally say or do anything, including things that they would never say or do anywhere else, in order to receive that understanding.

- There are only so many human stories in the world, and more than likely, many of them apply equally to a lot of people. Time after time in this thing, we kept coming back over the same topics: Alcohol and drug addiction, the feeling of not getting enough love, someone in prison, cancer. Occasionally, it felt kinda like an auction of human misery – “Someone in your family was an alcoholic. How about an alcoholic with a drug problem? Do I hear a prison record? Alcohol, drugs and jail time? Thank you, do I hear a prison record with an early tragic death? Tragic death going once, twice… SOLD to the lady in the green jacket!” Not really, but you see what I mean.

- Dead people are boring too. In listening to some of the more mundane moments of this thing, you sort of started to feel like you were watching someone’s home movies, only there’s no movie and you have no idea who they’re talking about. “You had an Aunt Tillie? Aunt Tillie once made you a glass of lemonade? There was a bird there, and you both listened to it sing? You were sitting by a fireplace?” Hey, can we fast-forward through this part? I’m getting sleepy.

The biggest thing, however, that I noticed in this event actually came from something that was set out as a ground rule by John Edward in the beginning of the night. He explained in very specific detail that if he is looking at a certain person or in a certain section and says something that may exactly apply to you, even though you are nowhere near that section, what he is saying is not about you. He calls these people “relative-stealers”, and by that, he means that you are so desperate for information about your situation, that you are willing to take other people’s information and apply to yourself. Looking over this crowd, I totally believe it. These people want answers and John Edward is the only one who can give it to them. Who can blame them for jumping the gun?

But I guess that this is where my problem with this whole thing lies. You see, the fact that people can so easily take this information offered and apply it to themselves, even when it’s “not intended for them” makes me wonder that, if this information really does apply to a lot of people, then how can we honestly say that it’s definitely for this person that we say it’s for?

All right, I’ve been sort of beating around the bush here, so I’ll just come out and say it. The biggest question that I’ve received today from my friends is ”Is John Edward the greatest con man alive or is there some truth to this whole thing?”

OK, here’s what I think: I think John Edward has some really terrific personal skills. He does seem to have the ability to size people up quickly and cut through their own individual bullshit to distill their personality down to an essence very easily. I also believe he’s a very perceptive person, and so, he’s able to make some pretty educated guesses about people, based on the information that he collects with a few questions.

For example, a family who stands up who appears to be a lower middle class type of family, the question of “Is there any alcoholism in your family?” has pretty good odds of the answer being yes. But I guess my point is that if you really thought about it, there’s probably a history of alcoholism in virtually everyone’s family at some point, although it may be incredibly removed and distant to you personally. You see what I mean? It’s really not that dangerous of a question, because the odds of it having some relevance to you on some level, no matter how small, is actually pretty high. So then it’s just about taking some educated guesses and then narrowing down the scope quickly through follow-up.

So, the final part of the equation, which is the trickiest, is: Is he receiving this information from the dead or is he pulling my leg?

Well, ok. Let’s put it this way. I believe that he honestly believes that he is getting it from the dead. I do not think he is lying to people, per se, or conning people about where he is getting this information. He seems like a genuine guy, and he truly believes what he is saying.

HOWEVER! Let me make a comparison for a moment. I’m a composer. I write music. Now where does this music come from? It’s in my head. How does it get into my head? I have no idea. It just shows up there. Now, do I think that I got this music from dead people? No, I don’t. Is it possible that dead people put this music in my head? Well, I suppose it’s possible, but that’s not my belief on where it came from. So where does it come from then? Well, I believe it comes from me, somewhere in a subconscious place, and I just find it there in my head. That’s what I think. I need music, I find it in my head, and I don’t ask a whole lot of other questions on where it came from.

Now, one could say the same about John Edward. Did dead people give him this information? That’s what he has chosen to believe. Is it possible it came from him alone, (or more specifically, his skills of quickly assessing types of people, and then relying on statements that are somewhat sweeping in generalization as to how they might apply to many different kinds of people)? I suppose it is possible, but you could prove that no easier than you can prove that my music did not come from dead people. You see what I mean?

In the end, these people who came to see him have chosen to embody this information with whatever meaning that they’ve attached to it, and, as I said before, this helps them to bring them to the point of closure that they needed in their life. Could they have reached this point of closure by themselves? Probably. But the end result is the same, and somehow the finality of someone telling them it’s time for closure in a calm and reassuring way is the easiest way for them to accept their situation and move on. And I guess that’s not so awful, if you think about it. It’s not for me. But hey, if that’s what you need, then good luck to you.

So, one final footnote: We go backstage to meet him briefly after the show. He’s clearly on a schedule – he has to stay up late and shoot some additional stuff for his television show that is coming out on the Women’s Entertainment network in March. But he’s very gracious as we meet him.

He immediately talks about a question that was asked early in the evening: "How does he prepare for the event?" At the time, he answers by saying he meditates and prays before each session. Backstage, however, he’s telling us that he was a little disturbed before tonight’s appearance because, normally, he has a feeling that he is already tapping into for his first reading before he walks out to meet his audience. Tonight, however, backstage he was feeling nothing. Zippo. He was more than a little nervous.

“Has that ever happened before, where you walk out there and you’ve got nothing?” I asked.

“Never in a group reading.”, he says. “But in a private reading, absolutely, yeah.”

“So what do you do when that happens?” I asked.

“Well, you know, you just chat at that point.” , he says. “Talk about whatever’s real. Not much else you can do if you’re not getting anything. Say you’re sorry and move on.”


Anonymous Alex said...

I am literally peeing.

I'm not kidding.

I've been a fan of John Edward's for 900 years. Like you, I believe he believes he's doing what he's doing. But I have to say, I also believe there's something else at work with him. There's something unexplainable that we can't see or define or understand. I believe that in the world, and I believe some people on the earth are just more in touch with what that is.

Someday remind me to tell you of what happened to Chrisanne (who couldn't be more grounded in reality) when my Mother passed away. You won't believe it.

Better yet, have Chrisanne tell you, It's funnier that way.

What a COOL night!!!!!!!

Don't ever do something that cool without me again. Ever.

1/20/2006 1:28 PM


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