Some books come along telling a story that has to be taken seriously in ways that don’t make sense in any normal way. The Alchemist is one of those books.
What is an alchemist, after all?
An alchemist uses the medieval forms of the art of chemistry to transmute things, one thing becoming another thing.
Coelho in this book is himself an alchemist of ideas. He uses this book to transmute one idea into another until he digs deep enough into the pile of ideas to finally transmute words into wisdom.
There is a great deal of wisdom in this book, and I can actually share some of it here without spoiling the story.
Here are a few gemstones of wisdom from the Alchemist’s treasure chest;
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting…” (p.13)
“It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary; only wise men are able to understand them.” (p.17)
“All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (p.24)
“And when he had gone only a short distance, he realized that, while they were erecting the stall, one of them had spoken Arabic and the other Spanish. And they had understood each other perfectly well. There must be a language that doesn’t depend on words, the boy thought.” (p.45)
All of these quotes from the book, as you can see, come from the first third of the book. There are many more treasures to be found in this book. I should not share them with you here. Just as the main character of the story learns, you have to do the work for yourself. But this book is not only an enjoyable read, but a map for how you can execute your own journey towards your “Personal Legend”. In fact, you may find that the book tells you not only how to go about making a dream come true, but, if you are already on that journey successfully, it tells you what things you are already doing right.
I might be going blind. With a year and a half to go to finish paying off my Chapter 13 bankruptcy, I don’t have the money to pay off the eye specialist the ophthalmologist referred me to in order to get my glaucoma treated.
Odin traded one eye to gain wisdom.
What do you suppose I can get for two?
If you look someone in the eye, you can see revealed the light and the darkness that person carries within. You can tell if someone is thoughtful and intelligent or reckless and stupid by gauging it in their eyes.
Look at these eyes above. What do you see?
One has warm, brown eyes, looking directly at me… evaluating, pondering, imagining me.
The other has chilly blue eyes, looking past me… probably seeing only what’s in his head… not actually me.
If I go blind, I will no longer be able to see that, appreciate that, or even draw that anymore.
Of course, the power of that depends more upon the mind doing the looking then the eyes that take in the light and the details.
I have a chance to be okay on that second score, the mind behind the eyes. I have a good one that has had a lot of practice interpreting the world I see. And I have learned more than a few things that I can still teach and pass on to those I leave behind me.
Thirty-one years as a public school teacher means I have already taught a lot of things to a lot of people.
And I now have 19 books published, with two more I may be able to finish and publish before May of 2021 is through.
Those represent things that I can do to continue to teach the world even after my eyes are no longer working… or even if my light has entirely left the world in the near future. Of course, a lot depends on people reading what I wrote. Still, I feel good about that. I got a five-star review on Amazon from my book The Baby Werewolf just today. And the comments prove the reader actually read the book and liked it for its good qualities.
Wisdom, of course, has little value if it is never passed on. How much have you benefitted from the wisdom of Soren Kierkegaard? Do you even know who he is? Notice too, the students of Chiron in the picture, do not seem to be paying any attention at all to the lecture from the scroll of ancient wisdom. Heracles is practicing with his bow. Theseus is grinning to himself about wrestling. And Jason and Achilles are telling each other jokes about guys that have a horse’s butt instead of a man’s. ( Teaching, of course, is always like that.)
But the man with one white eye, one blinded eye, Odin, has earned his wisdom. And he gives it freely as a gift.
So, just think what wonderful gifts I might be able to provide by next Christmas if I lose both eyes. (Of course, I am not suggesting I am secretly Santa Claus… And if you can prove that I am, well… that puts you on the Naughty List.)
The homeless man wandered onto center stage just as the spotlight went on. He shaded his old eyes against the brightness and looked outward into the dark theater. It was probably some kind of mistake.
“Oh, so now it’s my turn to talk, eh?”
There was no response.
“Well, if you’re expecting something funny to come out of my mouth, good luck with that. More than half of what I say that makes people laugh is the result of depression, ill health, and just plain ignorant stupidity. And the other half of it is not meant to be funny, but is because I don’t always understand what I am saying.”
There was an embarrassed chuckle somewhere in the darkness.
“I mean, you can’t expect too much from me. I’m a bum. I have no money. I have no job. Not having any work to be bothered with is kinda good. But the other thing kinda sucks.
And all the great comedians that used to stand on this stage and try to save the world through humor are dead now. It’s true. Robin Williams died recently. George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby are all long gone.”
There was some nervous laughter in the theater.
“Oh, I know, Cosby only thinks he’s dead. But he kinda killed the character delivering the wisdom in the form of observational comedy, didn’t he.”
“But most of them old boys tried to come up here and tell you the truth. And the truth was so absolutely unexpectedly wacky and way out of bounds that you just had to laugh. And the more wicked the humor, the more you just laughed. You didn’t do anything about the problems they talked about. But you sure did laugh.”
“It seems like the more they told you the truth and the more you just laughed about it, the more old and bitter they got. Sardonic? You know that word? Not sardines, fools, but sardonic. Bitterly humorous and sadly funny. Seems like a lot of them old boys got more and more bitter, more and more depressed up to the end. More and more sardonic.”
“I mean, Carlin was calling you stupid right to your face at the end. And you just laughed it off.”
The theater had grown eerily silent.
“But it ain’t all bad, is it? I mean, at least you all can still laugh. Only smart people get the jokes. The ones Carlin moaned about were laughing because everybody else was laughing. Those weren’t the ones we were talking to. There’s still life out there somewhere. Maybe intelligent life. Maybe aliens ain’t located any intelligent life on Earth yet, but they’re still trying, ain’t they?”
“You shoulda listened more carefully to what they were saying. Life and love and laughter were bound up in their words.”
“So I guess what I’m really saying is… just because I happened to get a rare chance to say it to you all… learn to listen better. The voices are quiet now. But the words are still there. And laughing at them is still a good thing. But remember, you need to hear them too.”
The theater suddenly filled with the roar of a standing ovation. The old man bowed. And this was ironic because… the theater had always been empty. No one at all was there now.
To be a wizard is to be wise. Look at the word origin if you don’t believe me.
wizard (n.) early 15c., “philosopher, sage,” from Middle English wys “wise” (see wise (adj.)) + -ard . Compare Lithuanian žynystė “magic,” žynys “sorcerer,” žynė “witch,” all from žinoti “to know.” (Wisely plagiarized from http://www.etymonline.com/word/wizard)
Mickey is a wizard. He writes down foolish things like that because he knows that the beginning of wisdom is to recognize that you are no more than a fool. You can laugh, but it’s true. Some wise guy that I am paraphrasing here said so. So, that makes it true
Don’t believe me? Want to debate me?
Have you taken the step yet of recognizing your own foolishness?
How can you be wise if you never take the first step down the path to wisdom?
And what defines a wizard, is that a wizard writes. He must write his wisdom down. Otherwise there are no fruits of his wisdom. I tend to write mostly strawberry wisdom. That kind of fruit is tart and sweet in season, but sours easily and spoils in hot weather and dry kitchens. Blueberry fruits are probably better. They become tarter and sweeter with dryness, kinda like good humor and subtle jokes. But enough of the fruit-metaphor nonsense. The best fruit of wisdom is the Bradbury fruit. I confess to having eaten often of Bradbury Pie. Dandelion Wine and The Illustrated Man leap to mind, but there are far more Bradbury Pies than that.
So, if Mickey is a wizard, and wise wizards write wisdom, then where do we get Beyer-berry Pie?
The strawberry-flavored pies are found in the My Books page of this blog, though the author’s page on Amazon is a more up-to-date list.
Recently the fool of a wizard, Mickey, planned to set up a free-promotion weekend for A Field Guide to Fauns.
The foolishness begins tomorrow.
Of course, I probably can’t give away a single copy. Potential readers will see that there are naked people in this book about nudists and automatically think that Mickey is too weird and crazy to be a good writer. But good writers like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut can be bizarre in their writing too. (I wonder what Vonnegut-berry Pie would taste like? I must read Cat’s Cradle again, for the third time.) Probably at least blueberry-flavored, if not gooseberry.
But even failed wizards can write wizardly writing if they write with wit and, possibly, with real wisdom,
If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;
Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom. So take some time to write about what you know.
Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand. Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
Writing is worth doing. Everyone should do it. Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible. You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff. And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
The stuff you write can outlive you. So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can. Someone may love you for it. And you can never be sure who that someone will be.
So, there you have it. The full measure of the wacky wizard’s wisdom written down by the wise-fool-wizard Mickey.
It is a Biblical question. After Cain killed Abel, God came asking for Abel’s whereabouts. And Cain stupidly answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Stupid Cain! Did he not know that God already knew the answer?
And stupid God. Why did he ask a question to which he already knew the answer? And why did he ask stupid Cain whom he must’ve already known was stupid?
But the answer to the question in this bit of Biblical moral mythology is supposed to be, “Yes, Cain. You are your brother’s keeper.”
So, why am I, a confirmed Christian Existentialist (an atheist who believes in God), trying to tell you something from a Biblical story?
Well, the matter is simple. As I will very likely die soon from Coronavirus (which I am not yet infected with, but, you know, the kindness of fate…), I am trying like heck to impart what little wisdom I have gathered in my life so that I may leave something behind me that has worth.
This current pandemic is itself a demonstration of the truth behind the claim that I am my brother’s keeper.
I wear a mask everywhere I go now because a mask protects not only me but it also protects others from me. After all, I have no access to testing. I may have the virus and just not know it. Then my exhalations would contain droplets of water that have viruses swimming in it. The mask, combined with six feet of distance, keeps my exhalations from reaching the lungs of uninfected others, and potentially slaying them as Cain did to Abel.
It is because of Texan prejudices against mask-wearing and social distancing that I know I will probably be infected before this pandemic is over. And my diabetes, blood pressure problems, and previous difficulty with bronchitis and COPD insure that I am not part of the 80 percent of people who will survive the virus. I will get pneumonia and die.
When I suggest, however, that we should each take on the responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, I do not mean that we should become a zoo-keeper, and keep them all safely in cages (the Senator Cruz method of keeping Mexican immigrants safe). You cannot presume to control the thoughts and behaviors of others. You must only adopt the way of love and brotherhood. You put the interests and needs of others before your own. You lead by example, not by decree.
Before you start complaining in the comments about how stupid I am in this essay because I blaspheme against God, and at the same time don’t see people for how they really are, remember that I used to be a school teacher. You don’t do that job because you want to be rich and powerful. You do that job for love of others… specifically, other people’s children. And it is true that everybody has their bad points. Everybody is thoughtless, or wicked, or deeply troubled at times. But everyone also has qualities about them that make them beautiful, or kind, or noble, or selfless, or… well, the list of good things I have seen and nurtured in other people’s children is far longer and more profound than the bad things. No matter who they are, no matter what color or culture or religion they are, my brothers and sisters and their children have worth.
So, here I am, declaring that I am, most definitely, my brother’s keeper. (And unlike Cain, I did not kill him. He and his wife live along the Texas coast, near Houston. And they are not in a cage.)
And here is the question most critical to my survival…
I have been feeling ill for three days now. Every morning I wake up feeling that I must’ve caught the Coronavirus. Head all congested, body aching, chest hurting and giving me breathing difficulty, and possibly fever…
And yet, every day, my head clears, my chest stops hurting. No fever is detected. Who knows? I have lived yet another day.
I have honestly been treating every day as if it were my last. I have been doing that for six years now. One day at a time. I have convinced myself that it is the only way to live. Careful of my fragile mortality, yet savoring the music of every single day.
Who knows if tomorrow will be another day? I will do as I must tomorrow if tomorrow is given, and I am thankful for today.
In my time living every single day as my last one, I have written a number of stories. This is one of the good ones that I cherish. It has nudists and Nazis in it. It has gingerbread men (and girls) in it who magically come to life. There are also fairies. And one old German woman with some stories to tell to children. It is built of the sweet memories and cookies and milk from my own boyhood. And it may offend some people. But everyone who will admit to me that they read it, loves it. I love it. Twitter nudists think it represents naturism well.
And the next book I write, if I can string together enough last days at 500 words a day, will be nothing like it, completely different, and maybe better.
And so, on the chance that today really is the last, here is the wisdom that I would leave behind as my legacy.
Words, if chosen wisely, have meaning. And meaning, applied to life, is a priceless treasure. But only if you give it away when you find it.
All people are worth knowing. The unpleasant ones have even more to teach you than the ones who love you. But do not fail to make time for those you love.
Live in the moment. Sing your best. Dance whenever you can. There’s no time like now. At least until tomorrow becomes now.
Hopefully this gift of wisdom is enough for now. If it isn’t, then may the next day make me wiser so that I will do better.
This is wisdom from the late Fred Rogers. We can sing together. The life we live is a form of music, that, played right, energizes the universe. Live in it, sing in it, and laugh. It is very good to learn many things.
All art on this planet (with the possible exceptions of paintings by monkeys and elephants, and the songs of whales and dolphins) is about people. What is art, after all, if it is not a reflection of who and what we are?
I am the man from the setting sun who comes from the past to deliver the future.
Every bit of art I do now is done as my own mortality, the end of my own story, is soon to reach the final page. I have lived six decades complete and have begun to live the seventh. I am close to the sunset. But I have wisdom to share from a lifetime of struggle, and reversals, and successes, and joy. And in a dark time when it appears the world could actually be ending, I wish to do the only thing I can to help, provide pictures and stories that might prove useful to you.
So, all art is about people. Even the art with no people in it. That art, at least, has a creator who was most probably a people… or a monkey… or an elephant.. or a… well, you get the idea, don’t you?