Illustrations by Jim Krewson
I am a Buddhist. I have mentioned this before in VICE, last December. The story was about how I went to Bali to make offerings to Shiva, to ask for a man, after hearing my guru make this suggestion to a Chinese woman at an informal gathering in California.
A piece of advice my guru gave directly to me around the same time was to “write crap.” He said, “Even Wong Kar-wai makes commercials. Then he has the money to make things like In the Mood for Love.”
I took his advice and proposed a column for VICE.com. In it I would interview people in the form of tarot-card readings. I didn’t think this was total crap—I had often thought that this would be a fun column—but I proposed and wrote it (often with great embarrassment because I am not psychic at all, and I can be a truly terrible interviewer with strangers or people who I sense don’t like me). Also, the format was just strange, and finally, sensibly, VICE killed the column.
But one way or another, after the column ended, I stayed in touch by email with one person I had interviewed: Clancy Martin. I’d interviewed him because I thought he had captured—through the character of the father in his novel How to Sell—the vertigo of authentic spiritual practice. This vertigo is impossible to communicate. And yet he had done it. He had very nearly done it, rather; it is my guess most readers of his novel saw the character of his father—a mystic who communicated on the astral plane, a close student of Sri Satya Sai Baba, and a schizophrenic who treated mental hospitals as hotels—as nothing other than a crazy man. I did not see it like that. What I saw was a man who did not know that you can’t talk about your spiritual life. People do it, but they sound stupid and crazy, and—for those who’ve had authentic experiences—they even go crazy, or worse.
Clancy and I spoke on the phone for the interview. I was, at that time, dating this good-looking man who lived in Seattle, who had some strange psychology I didn’t really understand. Maybe when I say this it will be very clear to you, but he only wanted to see me about once every two weeks. What he wanted to do with me was text me, a lot. It was pretty Tiny Furniture.
I would always drink before the interviews because I am shy, and tarot makes me nervous. Also, about 60 percent of the time, the cards would fall and make no sense. I had switched decks at the outset of the column—from Crowley to Rider-Waite—and had assumed the cards were all basically the same, but some aren’t. There were about 30 cards in the deck that I didn’t know.
But Clancy’s reading made sense. It said he was worn out with his relationship and wanted to pursue something higher. That something-higher card was a spiritual card, but I was reluctant to say that to him, so I downplayed that and up-played work. The cards also said he was having trouble letting go of the relationship because he loved the woman and because the sex was tremendously good. I didn’t feel comfortable saying that so I put it more modestly. In short, the cards told him not to be in a relationship, and they told him again and again to work, work, work.
We emailed a bit after the interview came out. Once he wrote to tell me that the reading, so far, was accurate; he and his girlfriend had broken up. I told him I’d broken up mine too, but it was much different. I wrote him when Harper’s killed an essay I had traveled around the world to report and worked two years to write. We switched to texting in the way things go. Sometimes he would write me in the morning, “Whatcha doing?” and I’d say, “Mantras.” My mom and I practiced two or three hours each morning at that time, along with our friend Patience. He asked me what my mantra was, and I said maybe it’s better not to say. He told me his and said it meant “God is at the center of your being.” He also said he didn’t really think it meant that; he thought it meant something you couldn’t quite explain.
To make a long story short, he flew me to Kansas City about five months after we had the interview. By that time we were already in love. When my week in KC ended, he flew to Seattle and stayed in a hotel for five days. Then my mom was offered a free meditation retreat in Whistler, Canada, and so he came and stayed with me a few days. We flew back to Kansas City together for maybe ten days, and then he flew back to Seattle, and for five nights he stayed in a two-room apartment with my mother and me.
I have to explain something before I go on. At one point, earlier, Clancy had asked me to come stay with him; he was at the Carlyle in New York for four nights. I got the mistaken impression he was wealthy.
He was asking me what I wanted for my birthday, the very first time he came to town. We had known each other in person for ten days. There was something I wanted a lot—a bracelet by Pamela Love that I had seen at Barneys—and after a lot of nonsense (“Tell me, what letter does it start with?”), he got me to tell him what it was. We went to Barneys and, sweat rolling down his forehead, he bought it. I never take it off.
We were upstairs in the CO-OP section. Clancy was thinking of writing a piece about up-and-coming women jewelry designers, and he asked if I would come downstairs with him and look in the high-end cases. We did. He actually has a lot more interest in jewelry than I do, so I was wandering away from the Monique Pean counter when he said, “Amie.”
I don’t know why, but I kept walking toward Kiehl’s. I like to spray my face with their acai astringent. He said, “Amie.” And then, “Amie Barrodale.”
At this time, I already knew I was going to marry him, and so did he, but we hadn’t talked about it, and we both sort of imagined it would come in a year or two.
“Can you try on this ring for me?”
It was petrified boar tusk, surrounded by very small diamonds. To me it had looked plain, earlier, when I had been at the display, but on my hand—Clancy has a very good eye—I saw that it was magic.
No, of course he could not buy the ring right there, but when I gave it back to the salesman something had changed. Clancy proposed on the sidewalk outside the store, and I accepted. Later in Kansas City he proposed again, with a ring. It is a temporary ring, a beautiful one that was my great-grandmother’s. He could’ve bought the Monique Pean—he had intended to—but as his brother is in the jewelry business, I asked him to be practical and knock it off. By some coincidence, I happened to have a very crazy cousin who recently died, and among the things he left in storage—a gun he had bought to kill himself, a ten-place-setting box of sterling-silver flatware by Gorham—was a piece of ivory tusk. A smiley face was carved into it.
This story may be going long, so I’ll just say Clancy mistakenly thought I had invited him to join me for a monthlong abisheka on the Tibetan border. (I can’t explain what an abisheka is. If you want to find out, go to one.) This was before we had met in person, and he had immediately accepted. So now, it seemed like, “OK, I’ll ask Rinpoche to marry us.”
As a part of how we funded our trip, Clancy sold an article to Men’s Journal about the other side of his father. He had written about the conventional view; he sold an article on the unconventional—the possibility his father was a spiritual man. The article would explore the possibility that his father’s spiritual experiences were authentic.
Originally, for the article, Clancy had wanted to fulfill his father’s dying request by throwing his ashes into the Ganges. But he had lost the ashes. Before our trip, I talked to some lamas and they said it was OK; he could use any personal item of his father’s. What he chose was very precious, but that story is his to say or not say.
We went to Benares for the ceremony and arranged for Drubgyud Tenzin Rinpoche to perform the rites. Afterward, when Rinpoche had gone to class (he is learning Pali), our guide said that the Ganges is sacred to Shiva. He told us the story: It would have flooded the world, but someone asked Shiva to stop it, and so Shiva dammed it with his head, or tied his hair in a knot. I could not entirely understand, but a small part of me—thinking of Bali—thought, “Hmm.”
Our guide said next we’d go to the most important Shiva shrine. He called it “the number one” and said, “You do have your passports, don’t you?”
We’d left them at our hotel.
“Well, that’s OK,” he said. “We can go to the number two.”
I said I wanted to go back and get our passports. Both Clancy and the guide resisted me. I can be a bit stubborn. I put my foot down. We changed our program and went to Sarnath, where the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths. We skipped the silk shop. We went back to the hotel for four hours, and then our guide came and got us.
“I’m sorry to ask,” he said, “you do have your passports?”