The following is excerpted from Star Sister: How I Changed My Name, Grew
Wings, and Learned to Trust Intuition, now available from EVOLVER EDITIONS/North Atlantic Books.
Every summer weekend, Providence folk descended upon Narragansett
Beach, the southern Rhode Island beach I grew up on. They rocked a look we
called "guido," characterized by gelled-up bangs, layers of blue eyeliner, and
lots of gold jewelry. Their bodies were hard, tanned to within an inch of
leather, and they lay on towels, chewed brightly colored gum, and fussed with their
leopard-print or shiny metallic bikinis, but never went in the surf. To me,
they seemed like otherworldly beings, curious, fascinating, carrying the
answers to unimaginable questions.
At the other end of that beloved beach was a cove carved out
by the tides of an inlet known as Narrow River. There, then-healthy beds of
seaweed supported a different but equally marvelous population of creatures.
Eels darted between strands of kelp, and clustered on the shore were horseshoe
crabs, prehistoric visitors who did their best to ignore us. To get to that
idyllic spot, you had to wade against the Narrow River current, sinking into
the soft wet sand and feeling the wavelets curl away from your ankles and
Beyond its obvious pleasures, the beach was a place where I
could read or be with my own thoughts. At home, I was a reader and a daydreamer,
forever trying to find a quiet corner in which to do one or the other. Being
internally focused from a young age taught me to identify what intuition was.
It happened on a day I was supposed to meet my neighbor to ride
bikes together. Before heading out, I had developed a strange, unidentifiable
feeling that I shouldn't go, but reasoning that this premonition didn't make
any sense, I went anyway. The results were disastrous. When my friend's brother
found out that she had been planning to use his bike, he reacted by punching
her in the face with a closed fist. I was horrified to witness what amounted to
a beating. Once safely back home and with time to reflect, I realized how
valuable the information I'd received earlier had been. I vowed to pay attention
when that knowing came again.
When I was about sixteen and packing for a solo trip to
Colombia to visit my father's family, intuition returned. About nine o'clock at
night, I got the heebie-jeebies and knew that something awful would happen if I
got on that flight the next day. I explained my concerns to my family, and it
was finally decided that I would go the next day,
but that my stay would be cut shorter than planned. When I got home from the
trip, we learned that a bomb had gone off in a building that one of my uncles,
knowing that I was interested in architecture, would have taken me to visit if
A slightly different type of intuition came some years
later, when I was living with the man whom I would soon marry. Aaron had been
away on business in London and he was late getting home to New York (where we
were then living). I started to get more and more anxious, especially as the
evening turned into night with no sign of him. Finally I went to the window,
hoping to see him drive up in a cab. As soon as I looked outside, I heard a
voice in my head that was distinct from my normal thoughts. For one thing, it
was a different pitch than my own voice. For another, it seemed to shoot into
my head from the outside rather than originating internally. The voice said,
"It's not Aaron."
I knew immediately that Aaron was safe, though I couldn't
shake the feeling that something was wrong. Aaron got home about an hour later.
The flight had been late and, as nobody had cell phones back then, there was no
easy way to call upon landing. I went to bed not knowing what the voice's
message had been about, but early the following morning, Aaron's mother called
with the terrible news that his brother Jeff had died. He'd had a heart attack at
just about the time that I was freaking out and wondering where Aaron was.
My dreams were nearly as rich as my intuition. At college I
went through a period where I was "waking up" in my dream and able to look back
at my body. I could even walk around the school and discover things that I
would then be able to corroborate in my waking life. I later learned that this
was similar to "lucid dreaming," which is practiced in order to empower the
dreamer. At the time, it just scared the bejeezus out of me and I forced myself
to stop doing it.
The point is that, by the time I became an adult, my
relationship with my intuition was strong and I paid attention to what my dreams
told me. This is the only way I can explain why I listened when a combination
of dream and intuition told me to leave the best job I could imagine having.
Growing up, I had journeyed alone to visit family in
Colombia and Switzerland, and every time I returned, I was somehow changed. Whether
I'd seen slums, tasted guinea pig, or gone topless on a beach, my boundaries
had shifted. My personal mutability fascinated me, and self-exploration became
a calling. I loved travel. There seemed to be something inherently valuable in
asking, "Who am I here? And here? And here?" So when I landed a gig as an
editorial assistant at Condé Nast Traveler magazine, my first job out of
college, I was ecstatic.
While the subject captivated me, I also loved working in
magazines, especially under the tutelage of editor-in-chief Tom Wallace, who
would later become the Editorial Director of all the Condé Nast titles. A
natural teacher with an inborn generosity, Tom made a point of schooling his assistants
in the editorial arts. In between arranging his calendar and calling his cars,
I learned from him how to pick cover lines, balance the features well, even
understand Traveler's business strategies.
Despite what most people presumed, the Traveler staff didn't
usually travel all that often. The feature stories were generally reserved for
name writers, and the rest of the assignments went to reporters on location or
with an established beat. At the time, I didn't mind this so much because I was
learning tons and happy to be moving up as an editor.
The other great advantage of being at Traveler was that it
allowed me to meet Aaron, who was then the Special Projects Editor. I remember poking
my head into his office for the first time and being hit by an intuitive
one-liner that said, "Oh, he's my kind of people." That said, I was definitely
not interested in Aaron romantically, and this was for the best, since we soon
began working together on Condé Nast's first Internet venture, Traveler Online. The intuitions of
others were perhaps working better than mine on this point, however, because
rumors started flying that we were having an affair about a year before Aaron
and I proved them honest.
Once Traveler Online
launched, the political situation in the office changed. Aaron was given a
package to leave and, instead of floating to another magazine, he joined an
Internet start-up called Agency.com. Meanwhile, I resolved to quit Traveler and
go backpacking around Europe. I didn't want to leave Aaron, but neither did I
want an office job for the rest of my life. When an associate editor job in the
"Honeymoons" department at Brides magazine opened up, a position that required
lots of travel, it seemed as if someone had heard my need to cut loose and
provided me with the perfect avenue.
Working at Brides was
a cushy gig, one that had me flying nearly every other weekend and becoming a
connoisseur of the world's luxury hotels. Besides visiting many of the
Caribbean islands, I also got to cover Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and French
Polynesia. In every location I could feel myself becoming a different creature,
and I couldn't help imagining what might unspool if I stayed. I could blend in
with the crowd in Buenos Aires. I could open a restaurant in Todos Santos. I could
dress in pareos and teach scuba diving in Tahiti. So often, it felt as though
any of those choices were a whisper away from happening, making it all I could
do to board the plane bound for home. I didn't always like feeling so
untethered, but I did enjoy learning about all the possibilities out there. If
life is our creation, then our available palette is decidedly unlimited.
I'm sure everybody is restless in their twenties, but travel
writing accelerated my discontent. I was dining in expensive restaurants, sleeping
in celebrity digs, testing all variety of plush terry robe, compiling a short
list of piña colada favorites (the Hotel Bora Bora's arrived in a glass rimmed
with toasted coconut) — and yet, something was missing. Every TV show, magazine
article, and pop song tells us that the dollar buys happiness and contentment,
but that wasn't what I was finding. The more I consumed, the emptier I felt. Furthermore,
recommending five-star hotels to young couples that could barely afford a
single night at Disney World left me feeling dirty, like I was lying for a
living. I knew I had more to contribute than that.
Up until this point, my whole life had been privileged. My
family was intact and relatively happy; I'd never wanted for anything; I had
tasted the world's luxuries. But something inside me hungered for more — and,
early on, experience had conspired to show me that I wouldn't find it in the
prevailing mainstream American ideas about what brings happiness. After probing
the source of my dissatisfaction, I realized that I was frustrated by not
helping people in a more direct way. To the best of my abilities, I wanted to
Not that I knew how or what to do about this desire. There aren't
many opportunities for travel writers, and I'd already enjoyed the best of
them. If I wanted more, I'd have to come up with something completely new.
This was my situation when I had an unusual dream. One
morning, in the middle of all this intense turmoil surrounding the question of
what to do with myself, I shot up out of bed simply knowing that I had to be …
an acupuncturist! I didn't remember any other specifics about the dream, but
the quality of my knowing what my next career path should be was distinct: I
I'd never received acupuncture or even known anyone who had.
I'd once seen a 60 Minutes episode on the topic, where Chinese neurologists
performed open-brain surgery using only needles for anesthesia. Beyond that, I
was in perfect ignorance about the subject. My father was a doctor, as was his
father, and I had toyed with being premed in college, so there was a thread
that made logical sense to me, but mostly this impulse came from left field. I
trusted it precisely because I knew it was coming from that intuitive place.
While I may have
trusted my gut instincts, not many others did. My mother, who had chirped
"Delta Dental! Delta Dental!" when she learned about Condé Nast's benefits
package, told me I was making a big mistake. So did more than a few of my
former colleagues. In some cases, the concerns were for my career as a writer, but
others simply considered acupuncture to be quackery and hated to see me
associated with something so dubious. Since my only argument for doing this was
that it felt right, I had no choice but to weather their disdain with
alternating bouts of bemusement and chagrin.
Despite the flak I caught for giving up a perfectly blessed
travel-writing career, I never thought about changing my mind or caving in to
peer pressure on the subject. Instead, something about standing up for myself,
for my true self — an important function of my intuition — felt seriously good.
Though I no longer lived by the ocean, I still felt at home wading against the
Within three months, I had quit my job at Brides and begun an acupuncture degree
program part-time. Imagining all the spare time I would have between classes, I
also started writing a novel. This was something that I'd always wanted to do,
and it made the leap into an entirely different field seem more palatable.
I knew I was being ambitious, but I didn't realize just how
ambitious. In traditional Chinese medicine (often called TCM, as well as
Oriental medicine, never mind the political incorrectness), there are twelve
primary meridians, more than three hundred and sixty acupuncture points, some
four hundred herbs (to start with), and all sorts of patterns and pathogenic
factors to learn. That's not even counting the theories layered upon theories,
all rooted in a worldview that couldn't be more different from my own. Oh yeah,
and much of the terminology in Chinese.
In the beginning, studying Chinese medicine is all
memorization. You cram what seems to be pure silliness into your brain and hope
that some day it'll make sense. Patterns like "Dampness affecting the spleen,"
"Internal wind stirring," and "Phlegm misting the mind" are considered
legitimate conditions. And you're meant to keep a straight face when discussing
an organ called the San Jiao, or "Triple Burner," which is an imaginary organ
but nevertheless considered a force in the body. (What?)
Despite all the seeming preposterousness, one day it clicks.
You realize that the metaphors upon which Chinese medicine is based, constructed
from resonances found in the natural world, are just ways to communicate what was
being seen in the body over centuries of observation. This contrasts with
Western medicine, which focuses on the gross pathology of advanced disease
states, making its scope very narrow in comparison with the whole-body view of Oriental
medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine teaches its practitioners to really look
and listen to the patient — the whole patient — and, in this way, to perceive
subtle deviations from health. This is what accounts for its renown in
I loved studying Chinese medicine, not to mention all the Western
subjects we had to learn, including biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy,
physiology, etc., but it left me no time to write. This shouldn't have been too
much of a problem — the degree takes four years, and there was no rule saying
that I couldn't pick the novel back up after finishing my studies — but writing
was something that had become part of my identity. Continuing to study Chinese
medicine at the expense of writing, even for a short while, threatened my
conception of myself. It all added up to one big internal conflict.
In retrospect, I see that this period of my life was
providing me with an opportunity to expand my self-definition, an opportunity that
I didn't take. Previous to the intuitive prod to become an acupuncturist, I'd
always envisioned myself being a writer. Following through on the Oriental
medicine degree would lead who knows where. Of course, leaping into the unknown
is a tried-and-true technique for spiritual development, but I didn't know that
at the time. Instead, I just knew that staying in school was highly threatening
to my ego. If I was, always had been, and still wanted to be a writer, then
what the heck was I killing myself at acupuncture school for?
At the same time, Aaron was doing phenomenally well at Agency.com.
They were gearing up to go public, with the promise of Internet millions coming
our way. Though that fortune never actually materialized, we did live on its
fumes for a few years, and Aaron loved being able to offer to support me while
I finished my novel. I felt incredibly honored to be given such a gift. Putting
aside feminist ideas about not relying on a man, not to mention my confusion about
my life's path, I quit Chinese medical school and dove into my novel.
Perhaps it really doesn't matter which path you choose. If I
had stayed in grad school, I might have finished my degree sooner. And if I had
finished my degree in New York, then who is to say that I wouldn't have still
needed to devote time to writing afterward?
One thing is certain: Any direction you take leads back to
yourself. For me at that time, that meant confusion.
Though a part of me had always dreamed of writing full time, I found that the
reality of it totally sucked. Instead of being able to delve into my project with
complete focus, I developed an insidious pattern of procrastination and
self-loathing broken only occasionally by desperate and sloppy productivity. In
the mornings the whole day stretched out before me. What did it matter if I
first spent an hour reading the newspaper? Or two? What did it matter if I made
myself a leisurely breakfast?
I'd sit down at my computer and … surf the Internet for two
hours. Then it would be lunchtime. You get the idea.
Of course, there were days that I did get work done, despite
myself. And it was fun. Or it would make me cry, which was even more
satisfying. I was writing about an awkward preteen girl who was actively trying
to get her horse to throw her in order to overcome her fear of falling. When
she finally did manage to get herself tossed, I had a cathartic realization
that there really are doors of perception, à la Aldous Huxley and Jim Morrison.
As the main character was flying through the air, she had a vision of her dead mother,
and it occurred to me that she had found the doorway to the realm of spirits. I
sobbed for days after making this discovery. And yet, I also had the distinct
impression that there was something I was missing, something I didn't quite
understand about what I had written. A voice was whispering, just beyond my
Though moments like these seemed to make up for the days of frustration,
the sheer number of difficult days was overwhelming. I'd never realized how
completely wild my thoughts were. I could set out in the morning with all the willpower
in the world and still get sidetracked for hours by the most inane celebrity
detail being presented as news on Internet sites. It led me to start
questioning what this propensity of the mind toward dissolution is all about.
In particular, I wondered what it said about the creative
process. Was I supposed to let my thoughts wander? Perhaps the ensuing chaos
would seduce the artistic muse to my side. Or was I supposed to buckle down and
force myself to put word to page? Cultivate extreme discipline and focus, with
a stick if necessary? This second option seemed kind of harsh. Perhaps it was
all the crying I was doing, but I had an instinct to be nicer to myself for a
change. As an experiment, I decided to let my mind wander where it may. I hoped
that, after a while, my mind might settle down naturally, but that never
happened. Instead of wandering around until it reached some exhausted bottom,
my mind just continued to spin and spin. I felt helpless and at its mercy, as
if my mind itself were the wild horse I was supposed to be writing about and I
a tamer with no tools.
This became a very black time. Aaron was working long hours,
and I was home alone in a sun-starved apartment trying to manage my mind with a
wet-noodle philosophy about discipline. Becoming multimillionaires — which we
did, at least on paper — when Aaron's company went public didn't help. The
world's distractions were simply that much more accessible. Something had to
change, and since I didn't know much about meditation at the time, I looked outside
for that shift.
When the opportunity came to leave New York for Los Angeles for
Aaron's work, I jumped on it.
Copyright © 2012 by
Stella Osorojos. Reprinted by permission of publisher.