[Note: sharp satire or dark humor; some references to COVID pandemic]
As with anything in Life, it all comes down to “great expectations” (not the novel). As Gautama Buddha identified some 2500 years ago, the root-cause of all human problems arises from “expectations”, and its ever-present accoutrement “attachment”. Thus it was with Claire Buoyant, better known through her alter-ego: Dr. PsychicLove. Like the enlightened founder of Buddhism, she too had accounted for the role “expectations” played in her accidentally chosen profession to optimal effect, to keep her business going well-enough to earn a pretty darn good living, but not to make too many waves that would disturb the mysterious Quantum Foam that governs the mystical balance in the Universe, that would bring her undue spotlight, make her the cynosure of desperate people looking desperately for desperate answers, become the thematic motif of an orchestral symphony, or be unveiled as the artistic centerpiece in a big fancy museum.
She certainly didn’t want to be burdened with unnecessary expectations to predict the winner of the Football World-Cup: a task which was so fraught with the frail egos of football hooligans all across the world, that she had panic-attacks just thinking about men with beer-bellies howling, hooting and jeering her for making predictions about their team losing, or the good-natured ecstasy of rowdy men in good-spirits gone sour (like a bottle of wine in the Sun) for making wrong predictions about their team winning, their earlier love for her and sense of euphoria being replaced with a sense of uncontrolled ire and dark hatred at someone who has given a kid a piece of candy (a sense of false hope), only for it to be taken away unexpectedly.
She hated spotlight of any kind, and liked anonymity, because it allowed her to blend-in and be part of the crowd, and become lost in it when she was done with her shit for the day, but she also liked to make good moolah doing her shtick, and so she had to do that fine tight-rope walk. The key to being a good psychic is getting enough things right for the “regulars” to keep coming back, while also recruiting others through the “six degrees of separation” principle through word-of-mouth, apart from roping-in curious onlookers. But the second key ingredient is getting enough things wrong to entertain some degree of doubt, to avoid excessive fame/notoriety, while keeping an element of genuine excitement for her clientele: I mean what’s the fun when all the predictions come out 100% true? The clientele are paying to have their confirmation and cognitive biases confirmed, to get psychological reassurances as an alternative form of “therapy”, but the whole fucking point is it needs to be believable. Nobody gets it 100%. Not even God. Arguably, God fucked-up big time with the Cosmos, and everything in it. But even assuming God is 100% right, there’s no way they would believe a mortal human can get it right all the time. There needs to be a small but noticeable degree of doubt and mispredictions to make the whole thing believable in a “reverse-psychology” “jedi-mind-trick” sorta way. Her predictions were like a “gender-reveal” video, preserving an element of suspenseful excitement, with people wondering whether it would all turn out as per subconscious preference, or go the other way.
It was also quite comical for her that people were coming to her for answers, as she had none in her own Life. As mentioned, she got into this gig rather accidentally, through a meandering “random-walk”: a string of catastrophic missteps, brutal failures, red-herring non sequiturs. She had been a salesperson in a department perfume store, a waitress and a bartender, while completing a course on “cyber-security” to gain practical tech skills in the 21st century jargon-heavy, buzzword-laden job-market, thought of herself as a writer, but had finally found her “Ikigai” in psychic “confirmation bias” reassurance. She had channelized the intersection of retail, customer-service, writing and creative chops to “hack” into the psyche of her clientele. The fact that her psychic advice had this kind of monetary value was to her both comedy and tragedy. She wasn’t complaining though, as it kept a roof over head, food on the table, and then some. She made a decent living, but was still low-key, and that’s exactly how she liked it: enough to live the good Life, while avoiding pesky questions of accountability.
And then it happened, after years of mastering the tight-rope-walk, it toppled over to one side: like good old Humpty Dumpty, or the Entropy of the Universe in a closed-isolated-system, which is bound to increase, and cause chaos at the quantum, micro and macro levels. She struck gold (or shit; like all things in the Universe, it all depends on the perspective). She let her guard down, and made a bold audacious prediction. She took a fucking stand. She wasn’t even in full conscious control when she made that prediction. It was almost as if there was some subconscious inner voice deep within her, outside of her conscious control, guiding her, nudging her, despite her better judgment, to issue that proclamation with the same conviction and same instinctive effortless spontaneity as Whitney Houston belting out a power-ballad. She had predicted that Jeff, a nondescript run-of-the-mill guy if there ever was one, would win the lottery jackpot: the ultimate sweepstakes, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And it came true.
That was the beginning of the end for her, at least insofar as her steadfast determination to be a successful but under-the-radar psychic was concerned. Jeff screamed from the rooftops that there was a great psychic force behind his win, the hand of Fate/Universe itself. When the media hounded him for elaboration, Jeff buckled and credited Claire as the psychic power, as his motivation to buy and win his gargantuan lottery, while he kept pretty much all the prize-money to himself. Claire would have liked monetary credit while keeping her anonymity intact, but Life rarely works the way you want it to. Claire knew this already, having suffered the indignities of multiple jobs, before landing on “psychic” as full-time occupation, but nevertheless, the Universe was reaffirming for her the fundamental ways in which it can throw a wrench in the wheels. She thought it was a one-off: she had lost conscious control and slipped-up in-terms of promising a client the sun and the moon, unsure why the hell she had done that. And it was also a one-off that a client had actually struck gold of that magnitude. Her indiscretion and moment of weakness coincided perfectly with her client experiencing a fortuitous stroke of enormous luck.
What followed after that was a hurricane-force shit-show of epic proportions: an avalanche of people she was not ready to deal with: a stampede of newly enamored clients, a feeding-frenzy of the world’s tabloid media, struggling artists who wanted her to tell them when they would make it big, athletes and sportspersons (including well-established ones), who wanted her to reassure them that they have the game in the bag, local/national/international politicians visiting her to appear “resonant” with the superstitious masses, while also curious about her take on who would win various elections, and her intuitions on the concept of “exit-polling”. Scientists from SETI, unable to find Aliens over half a century of fruitlessly scanning the skies with a large array of expensive telescopes, knocked on her door to find answers for Life elsewhere.
With the trail gone cold, and no further conventional leads forthcoming, Police departments from across the world contacted her to solve cold-cases to save themselves further embarrassment; she found herself becoming a de facto Lady Justice. Heads of major organized religions anointed her as a Saint, self-appointed Godmen formed a collective union out of petty jealousy, and lesser known conspiracy theorist kooks from obscure corners of the Internet had crazy theories about Claire knowing what happened to MH370. This was all apart from the quotidian clan of men and women coming to her with mundane problems about when they would get pregnant, or when their Son will finally man-up and do something, or when their daughter will marry into a nice family, or when their troublesome relative would cease to be a parasitic shadowy presence in their lives. There were also fellow psychics, marching outside, in a game of one-upsmanship, trying to predict everything from when Carton Milk would get spoiled, to the end of the fucking Universe, feebly attempting to reclaim their lost relevance. It was topped by the trending hashtags on social media with good “engagement metrics”.
She had faked it till she made it, and made it she did (unintentionally of course), and she hadn’t signed-up for all the shit that came along with it. She was fielding questions from the notoriously ruthless tabloid media, who under most circumstances, wouldn’t need even the flimsiest of excuses to go off on a tangent of character assassination while being cloaked under the banner of journalism, and all the legal protections it offers. Simultaneously, she was meeting with her expanded client-base, while also hosting hot-shots from various public spheres. All of it was draining her energies, and grating on her nerves. Out of a sense of breathless panic, she tried her level best to intentionally make ridiculously wrong predictions, which were so far-fetched that they were laughable even in a “many-worlds” interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: her intentionally outlandish predictions were utterly impossible in every possible “parallel-universe” that could be dreamt of. Schrodinger’s cat might have been alive and dead at the same time, but her bizarre predictions were most definitely dead-on-arrival. And yet, like the unsettling upsetting feeling of the "uncanny valley", it all happened.
A classic case in-point was when she had to face-up to her worst fears: predicting the winner of the football world-cup, which she was summoned to do, based on her newfound status as the world’s pre-eminent truth-teller, far surpassing political scientists, social commentators, and such. She had found herself eclipsing some of the world’s greatest so-called public-intellectuals, all of it rather accidentally, and she was caught off-guard by all of it. For someone who was hailed for her clairvoyance, a present-day “Cassandra” of sorts, it was deeply ironic that she herself had failed to predict her own ascension to this position. Perhaps clairvoyance has a blind-spot when it comes to the Self, borne out of a basic ingrained level of narcissism, like the rest of us can spot bullshit externally with ease, but fail to contain the bullshit within ourselves.
Anyway, she had come up with a ridiculous prediction (with Borat as her inspiration): that Kazakhstan would win the Football World-Cup, and everyone was beside themselves with a combination of uncontrolled guffawing and prolonged incredulity, while the fans of all the major established football nations (including the Europeans) reacted with soul-stirring horror. And yet, it had happened. Due to some unforeseen forces of nature, many of the matches were interrupted by excessive sunshine/heat (which largely affected the Europeans), large hail-stones or localized tornadoes that affected mainly players on the opposing teams, and other such baffling phenomena. There were other factors, including a host of player resignations and disqualifications, either based on corruption or sex scandals, or doping allegations. And somehow, despite all sense of rhyme or reason, Kazakhstan won. Borat was “very very excited”. Claire was crestfallen, crushed under the onerous weight of even higher expectations.
She came into the crosshairs of the superstitious leader of a prominent underground Football betting Mafia, who had taken the advice of his own Psychic Guru (who was among the world’s greatest fortune-tellers before Dr. PsychicLove made a big accidental splash on the astrology scene), and bet big on Kazakhstan losing. And when the reverse happened, he had dealt with his Psychic Guru with the same clinical ruthlessness as Don Corleone (The Godfather) dealt with his problems. And now he was after Claire’s blood, for she had fucked him financially, and neutered him spiritually. It was because of her that he had to “dispatch” his Psychic Guru. And so, while Claire was being hailed yet again by the world’s media, embraced by people all over the world as a clairvoyant messiah, her giant statue unveiled in Kazakhstan as per the specifications of cult-of-personality Communist regimes, she was also being hunted down by trained mafia hitmen. Her psychic sixth sense had finally overcome the barrier of the self: she could predict her own future, riddled with semi-automatic bullets while being garlanded in a public ceremony. She did what anyone would do in the situation: nope, no thoughts and prayers here. She ran for her Life. “Run Lola Run”!
She had somehow managed to sneak into Wuhan in China, under false identity papers, having cut and dyed her hair a nondescript shade of black, and other ways to disguise herself. It felt like a weird chimera of Jason Bourne’s intense survivalism, and Johnny English’s farcical comedy. She had finally found herself some down-time, basking in the low-key anonymity in this new place. It was roughly Mid-Nov-2019 that she had landed there. In her jet-lagged addled state of delirious fitful sleep, she got racing visions of something big around the corner. It took a week for the mosaic tapestry of premonitions to make sense, and she fit it together like a jigsaw puzzle. There was a virus just around the block, that was going to escalate into an out-of-control pandemic, which would cause disruptive chaos. She thought she was out of the frying pan, having narrowly escaped being executed by the Mafia, but in reality, she had thrown herself deep into the viral fire. She was behind enemy lines, alone in a foreign landscape, far-removed from familiarity, with a dangerous bug lurking around.
And so, not wanting to be dead in the middle of the fucking epicenter when shit hits the fan, and remembering Spiderman’s poignant quote: “With great predictive power, comes great responsibility.” - she sensed the need to leave this place pronto, make her way back to her homeland, into the arms of fame, notoriety, messianic adulation, mafia hitmen and everything else she had run away from. She figured: better a quick death through a hundred bullets while giving a press-conference at the United Nations in New York City than to be taken out by this new unknown virus in unfamiliar terrain. She also needed to inform the world about the dangers ahead, with the virus about to barrel through like an eighteen-wheeler down an icy highway.
She returned back as a harbinger of inauspicious news, with appeals to the Mafia to heed the message and not shoot the messenger, only to be met by deafening stony silence from the masses. She was most definitely not preaching to the choir, because nobody wants to hear depressing shit about the incoming freight-train-wreck of a global pandemic. People tuned her out with a sense of cognitive dissonance, as she was no longer preaching the gospel of confirmation and cognitive biases. Nobody wanted to hear about the collective sacrifices of broad-spectrum restrictions, and fundamental changes to Lifestyle that people would have to adopt voluntarily to contain this threat, and forestall a scenario where Mother Nature makes this choice for them (“climate change” was another classic case-study of “the tragedy of the commons”, where people were loathe to budge an inch for the common-good). And then there were the #WanderLust #YOLO Travel Bloggers, #NoFilter Instagram Influencers, Protein-Shake Lifestyle peddlers, and such, whose entire modus operandi consisted of living Life king-size at all costs, environmental considerations or public health concerns be damned.
In taking the decision to return from hiding, she had stopped worrying and embraced the ticking time-bomb of clairvoyant knowledge inside her, with her newfound role as the Shepherd of the world. That singular moment of self-actualization had been rendered irrelevant by the complete rejection of her message, nothing but the “sound of silence” emanating from the masses and its self-appointed or autocratic “leaders”. Social media was now abuzz with juvenile scorn and hatred-driven bile, and she now found herself once again with trending hashtags to her name: this time filled with invectives.
And then the Mafia hitman came for her. As she got riddled with bullets in her apartment, in the quietness of the late hours of night, she had finally found her emancipation from the “great expectations” placed upon her, a liberation from all earthly “moh maya”. While playing judge, jury and executioner, the Mafia hitman had come into contact with her bodily fluids: her repeated sneezing in the days prior, having deposited viral particles around the house earlier (she had been feeling a bit under the weather for a few days, ever since her brief foray abroad), with the blood spattering from the bullet hitting the body further spraying the room with more viral particles. The hitman, satisfied with a job well done, went merrily along his way, disappeared into the night-sky, carrying viral seeds, further laying the initial foundation stones.
The rest as they say is history. Even till today, the pandemic rages on. Unbeknownst to her, she was a clueless viral ticking time-bomb. Dr. PsychicLove, as it turns out, was patient-zero, a fact she didn’t predict. Her psychic powers had once again hit the universal blind-spot with respect to one’s own self.