Monthly Archives: July 2011

the alchemist

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” ~ Paulo Coelho

Before reading The Alchemist, I had heard about it in a number of different ways. But for some reason, I didn’t seek it out. It wasn’t until I saw the book literally in front of me at a library book sale that I picked it up. And I’m so glad I did, because this book is a gift to read. It is radiant, and necessary.

Coelho writes The Alchemist simply, as a fable. Yet, it is one of the most profound and important books I have ever read. What Coelho has to say about dreams, about love, about the very essence of our existence … is illuminating, provocative, and inspiring.

The copy I have is a 10th anniversary edition, with a commemorative introduction by Coelho. I am going to transcribe some of his reflections here:

I remember reading a letter from the American Publisher Harper Collins that said that: “reading The Alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun rise while the rest of the world still slept.” I went outside, looked up at the sky, and thought to myself: “So, the book is going to be published in English!” At the time, I was struggling to establish myself as a writer and to follow my path despite all the voices telling me it was impossible…

The book has been translated into fifty-six languages, has sold more than twenty million copies, and people are beginning to ask: What’s the secret behind such huge success?

The only honest response is: I don’t know. All I know is that, like Santiago the shepherd boy, we all need to be aware of our personal calling … Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.


There are four obstacles. First: we are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear, and guilt. There comes a time when our personal clling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there.

If we have courage to disinter dream, we are then faced by the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but we are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.

Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old exuse: “Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.” We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.

I ask myself: are defeats necessary?

Well, necessary or not, they happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.

Having disinterred our dream, having used the power of love to nurture it and spent many years living with the scars, we suddenly notice that what we always wanted is there, waiting for us, perhaps the very next day. Then comes the fourth obstacle: the fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.

The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get what they want and feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, all the suffering we endured, all the things we had to give up in order to get this far. I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal – when it was only a step away.

This is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest. But if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.

Paulo Coelho
Rio de Janeiro
November 2002
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

man ray

I started thinking of Man Ray recently while working on a story. I was thinking specifically of his portrait of a woman with her back towards the camera, her skin imprinted as if the body itself was an instrument. It’s one of his more famous photographs. After doing a little research, I was blown away by the brilliance and sheer immensity of his work. I hadn’t realized how deep and expansive Man Ray’s work actually was.

Man Ray was born August 27, 1890 and is recognized as one of the great Dada and Surrealist artists. Very briefly – The DADA movement focused on the absurd and The Surrealist movement focused on the unconscious, dreams, and fantasies. The PBS series “American Masters” refers to him as the “Prophet of the Avant-Garde.”

“It has never been my object to record my dreams, just the determination to realize them.” ~ Man Ray. Julien Levy exhibition catalog, April 1945

While living in New York City, with his friend Marcel Duchamp, he formed the American branch of the Dada movement, which began in Europe as a radical rejection of traditional art. He co-founded the group of modern artists called Others.

MAN RAY, n. m. synon. de Joie jouer jouir. (MAN RAY, n. MR. synon. of Joy to play to enjoy)~ Marcel Duchamp

“There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it.” ~ Man Ray, 1948 essay, “To Be Continued, Unnoticed”.

“Man Ray’s drawings: always desire, not necessity. Not a wisp of down, not a cloud, but wings, teeth, claws.” (Patrick Waldberg, Surrealism, 1965, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London)

After a few unsuccessful experiments, and notably after the publication of a unique issue of New York Dada in 1920, Man Ray stated, “Dada cannot live in New York”, and in 1921 he went to live and work in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris, France.

For the next 20 years in Montparnasse, Man Ray revolutionized the art of photography. Great artists of the day such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Jean Cocteau posed for his camera.

With Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, Man Ray was represented in the first Surrealist exhibition at the Gallerie Pierre in Paris in 1925.

Marie-Berthe, Max Ernst, Lee Miller, and Man Ray, 1931

In 1934, Surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim posed for Man Ray in what became a well-known series of photographs depicting Oppenheim nude, standing next to a printing press. In the series “The Fantasies of Mr. Seabrook”, ca 1930, Man Ray ventures into BDSM, erotica, and fetishim.

Together with Surrealist photographer Lee Miller, Man Ray invented the photographic technique of solarization. He also created a technique using photograms he called rayographs.

Man Ray also directed a number of influential avant-garde short films, such as Le Retour à la Raison (2 mins, 1923); Emak-Bakia (16 mins, 1926); L’Étoile de Mer (15 mins, 1928); and Les Mystéres du Château du Dé (20 mins, 1929).

detail from L’Étoile de Mer, 1928

Later in life, Man Ray returned to the United States, where he lived in Los Angeles, California for a few years. However, he called Montparnasse home and he returned there, where he died in November, 1976. He was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris. His epitaph reads: Unconcerned, but not indifferent.

Man Ray in his Paris studio, 1928

Most of the biographical information found here was compiled from Wikipedia. For more information about Man Ray, I recommend PBS’s series American Masters: “Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant-Garde“. To find out about current exhibitions of his work, check out the Man Ray Trust.


Several years ago, a friend of mine gave me a book about optimism. She said, “I know, I know, it’s a little fluffy, but it’s really good!” She had discovered that her attitude towards life, in general, was quite pessimistic. Reading about optimism helped her world-view, she said. She felt more hopeful, and more ready to meet her life with a different attitude.

I read through the book and took some of the quizzes and was very surprised to discover that I was overwhelmingly optimistic. I had never thought of myself as such; I’m a rather depressed sort of person. But apparently, optimism really has nothing to do with how sad or happy one is. It’s a feeling, a belief, that things will work out for the best. It’s metaphorically looking at the glass of life and seeing it half-full or half-empty.

Today was a weird day. First thing this morning, I discovered that my bank account was overdrawn. I wound up going to the bank and talked to the teller, who told me that my balance was $9 but my available balance was -$12. Was I overdrawn? He didn’t know exactly. I deposited the few dollars I had into the bank, hoping that it would balance out somehow.

Then a friend came to look at my car, which had overheated and died the other night. The car, which he actually referred to as a beast, has been on its last legs as long as I’ve had it. The car is old and a little obnoxious. It’s loud and big and terrible with gas. But I love it. I love the scarred and dented body. I love the bullet holes on the driver’s side door. I even love the tape deck.

When I got the car a year ago, the mileage was stopped at 110k miles. The next oil change (according to the window sticker) was routinely due in 2008. I have no idea how many miles the car actually has. Needless to say, after a new hose was bought and replaced, the car continued to overheat. My friend wound up taking my car home so that he could try to find the root problem.

I went about the rest of the day. The children and I took a walk and I found a $50 bill in the street. I thought maybe it could have fallen from someone’s pocket, but not one person was walking in either direction, or even around. And just like that, I picked it up. We were all stunned, happy at such good fortune.

A little bit later in the day, I heard from my friend. He said that the engine may have to be rebuilt. “Is it worth it?” I asked. He said, “I don’t know.” He knows I can’t pay him. He knows I can’t buy a new car. I told him not to stress it- that it might make more sense to junk the car rather than rebuild the engine. He said, “Leave the car with me for a few weeks and I’ll see what I can do.”

And everything was fine. I was fine. And then, I wasn’t fine. I was devastated, crying, feeling very bad for myself. I hated being poor. I hated not having money in the bank. I hated not having money to fix my car, and furthermore, having no options with which to buy a new one. I wondered why this happened. What am I supposed to be learning from this. I believe everything happens for a reason, but I can’t find a reason – money is to me what the rock is to Sisyphus.

I think, maybe I need to work harder. I think, I will not always be poor. It has to get better, it will get better. It can’t get any worse. I think, maybe this is the universe telling me something. I think, there have to be bad areas in any person’s life, right?

I am so grateful for my life; I know I have my fill of beauty and joy. I have such wonderful children; we have such a great relationship. I have an amazing and supportive lover and friends in my life. I am starting to receive acceptances along with all those rejections from what I’ve been sending out from my poetry manuscript. I’m working again on short stories and erotica, and I know I’m doing some really excellent work.

I found $50 in the street. Why did that happen? I don’t know. I found out I may not have a car anymore. Why did that happen? I don’t know. I have to believe things happen as they are meant to happen, that all things lead us to different places, and if we follow the “omens” (to use the term from Coehlo, “The Alchemist”), even if we don’t fully understand the signs, even if the path is sometimes dark and difficult and tests us in a hundred different ways, we will still wind up exactly where we are supposed to be.


I love you like a woman
pinned to a carnival wheel

blindfolded, I spin
taut against splintered wood

my body is a temporal thing
skin, blood, bone

you throw knives
at the negative spaces

between my fingers, along
the line of neck and jaw

I hold my breath. I do not
speak. I don’t want to break

your concentration
and risk a slip in direction

the sweat on your brow
is glistening in the hot sun.

Originally published in Mannequin Envy.