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The Good Cheese

Updated: May 8, 2023

A short memoir I wrote in 2019 inspired by my first-ever psychic session. I hope you find this as weird and uplifting as I did.

by K.T. Anglehart

It wasn’t at all what I expected.

The woman looked totally normal. Sporting grey joggers and a white sweatshirt, she greeted me with a radiant smile and led me to a small, nondescript room in her basement. To my surprise, there were no candles, no incense. No music, crystals.

This was my first time seeing a medium.

No, this isn’t a ghost story (could tell you a couple, though), nor is it some sort of spiritual awakening (if only).

I was seeking validation—from anyone. Something that told me what I’m working towards isn’t crazy. That I’m not still a starry-eyed teenager who would one day be an influencer, an inspiration to other starry-eyed teens, like J.K. Rowling was.

Something to get me out of this funk.

I was sick of feeling like this; like everything I’ve worked for, every hope I’ve ever had of making it, was all in my head. I was doubting myself to the point that I no longer knew who I was supposed to be, what I was good at.

Is this what adults do? Is this why people settle for the trusty nine-to-five? Because when you reach a certain age, you face that gut-wrenching reality that you may not be meant for greatness?

I told none of this to Karine. I’m not that naïve—I know about cold reading. I know that the majority of these “mediums” are just out to make a quick buck. But my mom swore by Karine, and I believed her. We love to believe in the weird and mystical.

Karine took several minutes to gather herself. She was staring around the room, rubbing her thighs over and over again, which I assumed was a concentration habit. I half-expected her pants to spark. “There’s a lot going on here,” she said in Quebecois. I understand French perfectly, but I avoid speaking it if I could. I already have an Italian-Montreal accent, which is nothing like anything you’ve ever heard; kind of sounds like we’re always whining. You can just imagine how peculiar my French-Montreal-Italian accent is.

“Ouf…” she continued. “You’re very receptive.” I began to feel pressure in my ears and forehead. Placebo effect? Maybe. But I knew I was receptive. I’ve seen a few ghosts, but I had to block myself from seeing (and I just lost the credibility of half my readers). I wasn’t ready for all that.

“You’ve got lots of messages. Hang on…” She looked like she was decoding an anagram in mid-air. I waited.

When her first statement came, I laughed wholeheartedly. “It’s unbelievable that you’re just twenty-seven. You feel, instead, to have a maturity of forty and a soul of ninety.” My friends and I joke constantly about how old we feel.

She jumped topics quite a bit from there; she looked as though she was having difficulty keeping up with the messages being fed, and difficulty translating. But I was enjoying it, nonetheless. She said things that were a little odd, like I’d buy a house in a year (highly doubtful), but also things that hit close to home. “You get discouraged very easily… You’re way too hard on yourself.”

I knew this. But until now, this had always been a strength of mine. I set the bar high, I always have. I’ve surrounded myself with high achievers since the seventh grade. My friends were the smartest in our year, whereas I got average, even below-average grades. Until I woke up that first report-card night and became aware of how little effort I was making. Here I was, obsessing over The OC and chatting up boys while my friends made the honour role. And somehow, they made it look cool.

The following year was a game-changer. I worked hard, and every year after that, I could celebrate the same successes as my know-it-all friends (they’re actually know-it-alls, it’s annoying; our Facebook group is literally named Nerd Herd.). They’re still superstars today, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. We have the strongest, most peculiar bond—when we’re apart for more than two weeks, we all get separation anxiety.

We’re a little dysfunctional. There may be too much love there.

But they’re the reason I’m hard on myself. I hate them for it. I love them for it.

So, you see, not succeeding—not an option. Not becoming a great author, not going for the gold, not living up to the standards I set for myself—it can’t happen. Because what’s the point, then? What’s life without shooting for the stars? If I’m not contributing to the world using the one thing I’m good at, then what am I doing?

I’ve learned that failing (miserably) is part of life. I’ve accepted it, I’m okay with it. I’ve learned from it plenty. But the failures were getting to me. They never did up ’til now—I used to pick myself up like it was nothing. My motto was “Fine, what’s next?”. I was so resilient. I had so much energy.

“You might be lacking iron,” Karine told me. I laughed aloud at this, too.

I’ve been sleeping a lot more than usual. I say I’m going to bed to read, but I stare at the ceiling instead, thinking back on another day gone, another day with no leads, no new opportunities, no exciting developments. My dreams are a jumbled mess, and when my alarm rings, I snooze for another thirty minutes. Then during the day, I psych myself up to work on my thesis—my YA novel, my reason for living—and then just as quickly psych myself out of it.

Because if I failed at this, it was really over.

This was the dream. Writing this book, pouring my heart, soul, guts, and life into it, it was all the start of “a lifetime of greatness”. This was my ticket to being J.K. Rowling (on a much smaller scale; again, I’m not that naïve).

So, naturally, I put it off. I’m at the editing phase, with daunting comment after daunting comment plastered on all one-hundred-and-fifty pages, lingering, mocking, waiting. It physically hurts to think about it.

Solution equals: don’t think about it.

I realize I’ve written all this without giving you any context whatsoever (geez, that’s how terrible of a storyteller I’ve become). I quit my full-time, well-paying job back in August. My boss was verbally abusive (not so much to me, I got away with a lot); the management was disorganized—nay, non-existent; and the office was gossip-central.

Despite all this, I had it good. I went in twice a week, sometimes once. I was the content manager and editor, so I didn’t even have to do any long-form writing (I now despise content marketing—makes me feel like a corporate sellout). And I wasn’t even technically an employee, so I got to claim expenses, go on vacation whenever I pleased (unpaid, but still), and because I genuinely cared nothing about the success of this horrible place, I wasn’t even stressed. Only sometimes, if my writers were affected. It was a good deal.

But I was getting antsy. I was surrounded by adult children. I was working in a highly dysfunctional atmosphere, forced to endure bullshit story after bullshit story—wrongful terminations, backstabbing, non-deserving raises, suck-ups, phonies. I was Holden Caulfield, facing an ending just as ambiguous as his.

Hope phase: During my last two months, I was secretly getting small contracts. People I knew, friends of colleagues, ex-colleagues, they suddenly wanted me. I was getting busy, joyfully overwhelmed, cocky. Thrilled to be my own boss. I realized this is what I needed to feel like myself again, and I had no doubt I could make it on my own.

I left to jumpstart my own writing and editing business. I was full of hope—made a kickass website, gorgeous logo, even started a goddam Instagram page (I detest social media). I started a couple of those contracts, bouncing off the walls.

Within a month, I was already out of work. Two contracts fell through. The next month, no leads. Then the sleeping started. The crying for no reason. The TV binging. The why-did-I-quit-I-suck-and-have-no-talent pity party. Even Tony Robins failed to motivate me. I was ridden with guilt that my saint of a husband was the only income earner. The lifestyle we were used to was gone in one freakin' flash. We had to sacrifice our dinner outings, Van Houtte coffee, the good cheese.

I missed the good cheese.

“You and your husband,” Karine said, her eyes darting around the ether, “there’s great communication, great confidence in one other. You don’t have many fights; you rarely yell, actually…c’est super.

We’re not super—Andy’s super. He never complains. I don’t think once, since I met him in high school (I’ll give you a second to gush about this), I ever heard him grumble about anything. He’s damned near perfect. Effortlessly charming, infuriatingly clever, and a total goofball, like me. And man, is he patient. I couldn’t handle me, not for a second.

I catch myself doing that a lot—finding qualities to loathe in myself, praising others around me. It’s become a habit, second nature. I second guess everything I say aloud, everything I write. I often wonder if I should call myself a writer at all. How did I even get admitted to my MFA? How did I manage to snag a writing job, then an editing position? I fooled tons of people. I wonder how much longer I can ride this out.

One of those gloomy, negative thought-filled days, my phone rang. “Bonjour, c’est pour confirmer votre rendez-vous avec Karine vendredi…” My appointment with the medium—it was this Friday. Perhaps the gods, angels, universal forces—whoever the hell—were listening to my incessant whining (my version of praying). I’d been begging for something to look forward to, and this was it.

That’s a lie. See how I downplay everything? The week leading up to my appointment, I’d just done some copywriting for a high-end jewellery company, and things looked (dare I say) promising. They didn’t flinch at my rates, they liked what I did for them, and they alluded to future work.

“Don’t worry—soon, you’ll be offered an opportunity to have some steady, part-time work,” Karine said. I beamed, thinking of the jewellery place. Wouldn’t that be a treat? Money equals less guilt. Less guilt equals more productivity, i.e., less sulking, more writing. Karine even “predicted” my shift to academic editing, working directly with educational institutions, something I was contemplating looking into.

I heard Andy’s skeptical voice in my head, insisting that this was cold reading at its best. I tried to keep a straight face, trying painfully not to reveal how excited I was at the prospect of it all.

Karine met my eyes. “This won’t be your career, though…”

This is what I was waiting for.

“See, you’re being presented with these opportunities so that you can make money in the meantime. But you’ll be writing books—a series.”

I let out a breath that held four months' worth of anxiety.

Stupid—so stupid—that this is what did it. All those guided meditations, weekend-focused writing sessions (in which I mostly stared at my mentor’s feedback), and heart-to-hearts with Andy, my best friends, and my mom did nothing to relieve my self-doubt. If you’re wondering why I haven’t sought a therapist, I have no intelligible answer to that question.

The only talent I admitted to possessing was how great I was at recognizing good writing and bad (in my mind, mine equals bad). That I had no business aspiring to be a YA author. That everything I wrote was pure crap, and that any one of my more gifted classmates could do it better, probably in half the time.

I had an answer for every compliment, too. If a friend told me I was brilliant, it was, “What do they know?”. If my mom gave me praise, it was, “She has to say that”. Even Andy, whose merciless, honest feedback I came to rely on, couldn’t convince me I was any good. I’d think, “He’s just trying to keep me from breaking down.”

I’m aware that there’s a term for this. Google told me I had impostor syndrome. It means I tone down my achievements. That I think I got to where I am by fluke. That I find it difficult to accept compliments. And that I’m afraid of the day everyone realizes I’m actually not so great or remotely special.

I loved this idea. It was perfect—it meant I was talented, but I didn’t know it. How humble. How admirable. How adorable.

If only that were me, I thought. I wasn’t even good enough to have impostor syndrome.

I stared at Karine, who was going on about how my writing career would soar once it took off. It was going to take time, but it would. I nearly burst into tears at what she said next: “You will be a kind of teacher of life. Whether it’s through work or life, you’ll be guiding young souls. Not necessarily young people—I’m not talking about age. I mean young souls.”

For months, I was convinced I was the exception. All those really talented creatives who didn’t believe in themselves, they were the self-deprecating morons with impostor syndrome. I was just a talentless dreamer who called herself a writer. But when Karine said those words, I remembered. I remembered why I wanted to write.

Not because of the art of writing itself—in fact, I blame writing for my scatterbrainedness and chronic back pain (there goes the forty-year-old me). But because words are necessary to make stories. Stories that live on forever, that form childhood memories, that teach lessons, that give hope. That allow people—even the “talentless” ones—to dream. I wanted to create those stories.

That day, I felt the hope phase rise again, and I was aware of it. I was aware that it might not last. That this was a temporary high, and that just as quickly, I might go back to sulking in my pyjamas, crying about everything and nothing in particular. I was aware that I was basing my enthusiasm on a stranger whose livelihood depended on impressionable people like me.

I didn’t mind.

“So, how was it?” Andy said on the phone.

I laughed, appreciating that he was being a good sport. “Good! Apparently, we’re buying a house next year. We’re having two kids. We’re an awesome couple, so no divorce.”

“Two kids? Ugh.”

“I know, that’s what I said. But apparently, the first will be, like, super easy.”

“Bah, then why wouldn’t we stop there?”

“I said that, too!”

He laughed. “What else?” In this moment, I loved him tenfold.

“I’ll have some sort of steady income soon. So, we won’t be poor forever.”

“That’s good!”

“And I’ll be writing at least four books, maybe five. She said a series.” I heard him smile.

“We knew that, though.”

“Yeah,” I said. “We did.”

Later that week, I bought the good cheese.


Enjoyed this story with a mystical twist by K.T. Anglehart? Read her debut novel The Wise One, a paranormal fiction award winner.

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