My mother claims to have had a handful of paranormal encounters. My best friend’s sister is apparently visited by spirits constantly. And I closely followed Adam Ellis’ Twitter tale of a ghost haunting his apartment, which Lionsgate is now producing in movie form. But me? I might as well be walking around in one of those lead vests dental hygienists make you wear to keep the gamma rays from poisoning your body. Ghosts, friendly, or otherwise, do not appear to be have interest in me. I’ll admit now that any paranormal activity I exploit to benefit a potential film career will be pure fiction.
But I want to be able to communicate with spirits. What if my dead great-grandmother is trying to tell me something that could change the course of my life, and I’m just not responding? I would never ghost a ghost. If there is any way to learn how to lift the veil between myself and the other realm, I’m willing to learn. So I consulted a psychic medium in Brooklyn.
“Somewhere around 52 percent of the population does not experience this stuff,” Emily Grote told me in a Zoom interview. Blonde and wearing a stellar leopard print top, Grote came across enthusiastic and steady. She explained off the bat that “every medium is a psychic, but not every psychic is a medium.”
“Like a square/rectangle situation?” I asked. “Exactly.” We were off to a compatible start.
Hearing that I was part of that denser majority, simply ill-equipped to lift the veil between myself and the other realm, was a real bummer. “Is there any way to thin the veil between me and the other realm?” I asked.
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“Yes and no,” she said, explaining that generally, if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. But (this is where the slightest sliver of hope broke through my lead dental vest) there’s a hefty percentage of that remaining 48 percent that are not aware of their powers. “Have you had any sort of mediumistic experiences?” she asked.
I really felt I hadn’t, I told her. Ghosts don’t pop up in my mirrors or visit me in dreams. The only thing I could think of was an instance a few years ago when I woke up very early one morning feeling my friend’s presence in my room. It was crystalline and vivid, as if he was sitting beside me. The moment passed uneventfully and I went about my day, only later to learn that the moment I’d sensed him was the exact time of his death.
Grote smiled. “Most people will tell you, ‘I’m not a medium,’ but then go on to tell you the most bizarre mediumistic experience they’ve had,” she said.
I balked. That can’t be the thing everybody’s talking about, right? My friend hadn’t shown up as a hologram and said, “Kady Ruth, I’m dying! Say goodbye to our friends for me!” Nothing was knocked over or rearranged.
Grote suggested I lower my expectations—or rather, readjust them—for what may be a paranormal encounter. As a journalist, I am hellbent on evidence, physical evidence, some concrete, tangible proof I can point to. But as Grote pointed out, in searching for that empirical data, I wasn’t tapped into the way spirits may actually be communicating with us: through our own intuition.
“What it really boils down to is proving [these experiences] to yourself.” In other words, one’s mediumistic experiences are as real as you let them be, and broadening our understanding of them may open us up to actually having them.
“Even if folks have a dream of their loved one, you know that is a mediumistic experience,” Grote said to me. “It might be low hanging fruit, but it’s mediumistic nonetheless.” She did clarify that some dreams are just your brain “clearing house” (you know, the ones where you’re riding a horse with your graduating class all drinking espressos), but that the sharpness and distinctiveness of a dream might signal something more profound. Notable smells, vivid dreams, and physical sensations can also be the kinds of experiences where, if you start recording them, you might begin to recognize patterns of where and when they show up. “I literally keep a journal, just a marble notebook, and I call it my awareness journal,” she said.
It’s good advice, frankly: Even if it doesn’t open you up to communing with spirits, at worst you’ve started a morning pages ritual, and at best you might discover a gas leak in your house.
Many of you are probably rolling your eyes by now, if you’ve made it this far in the essay. Grote knows people are skeptical about her line of work, and she addressed that in the interview. “I can’t show people proof or pictures of what’s happened in my mind,” she said. “I don’t try to sell this to anybody, I’m not recruiting for anything, this is not a cult. But I know, in my very bones, that I’ve experienced magic.”
How lovely, to believe in magic. I left our conversation feeling less jealous of Grote’s ability to commune with actual spirits than I am of her confidence in her own intuition.