ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
The painter folded back the heavy curtain, standing in the stream of light breaking through the damp thickness of the room. He paused, still holding the drape in his hand as he considered with suspicion that a world could exist outside the window. Then he reached for a stained cloth and tied back the opaque fabric. He returned to the easel, wading through the illuminated particles of air on his way.
To paint one must forget everything else. Where you live, who you know, what you eat, when to sleep. The landscape of the canvas becomes your only reality. The planet you inhabit is a single plane of infinite dimensions, stretched like a guitar string, and standing before you like a concubine waiting for your command.
The painter knew that color was not something you controlled but something you set free. He believed that color knew its way home. But he lived in a time and place that considered color suspect, blasphemous even. Those who worshiped color, who cavorted with it, who dared to practice its alchemy, were seen as witches. The respectable world would tolerate his kind to a point, for entertainment’s sake. So long as the painter could rein in color, make it behave. So long as he painted the world the way they wanted it to be. So long as he had no thoughts of his own.
You might think of a thought as an invisible, innocuous little thing. Something that barely exists. But a thought is something hard to conceal. Hold a thought and it melts all over your hands. Touch something else and now you’ve left traces of it. Hide it under your shirt and it bleeds through.
The painter was not afraid of thoughts though and did not consider thinking to be risky behavior. To the painter, the only risk which existed was to stop painting. To stop trying to solve the riddle of light and dark. Or to paint what someone else wanted him to see. To tell the colors to stand up straight, form a narrow line, eat their peas. That was death.
The painter knew the mirror lied. And the canvas told the truth. A simple breakfast of beer, fried eggs and herring. These things you could trust. Words, whether written or spoken, were barely worth sitting still for, not worth repeating. In the end there is only light and dark. And the two are not so far apart.
*excerpt from the beginning of the novel, Waking Up at Rembrandt’s.
Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.
– A Course in Miracles
There are days where the world will break your heart. I don’t mean that you will be sad or disappointed or even angry. I don’t mean that your feelings will be hurt or that you will sob into a pillow. I don’t mean that you will be so depressed you won’t want to get out of bed or talk to anyone.
I mean that your heart will break. It will bleed out right on the desk, the floor, the kitchen table. And the pain in your chest will be so great that you’ll think you cannot bear it. And everywhere you look, everything you read, every conversation you have will feel like peroxide being poured onto an open wound. I mean that you will not be able to see any future that is habitable, because everything will seem irreparably broken. The meanness of the human race will appear beyond comprehension.
The destructive nature of children, their inhumane treatment of one another, suddenly explains all the world’s woes. And you realize that everyone you know is just a child in grown up clothes, with more responsibilities than they are capable of handling, throwing the occasional toddler’s tantrum that is disguised as either righteous indignation or hormonal vicissitudes. And that their poor treatment of other humans is exactly the same thing as the oversized playground bully ruthlessly making the younger kids cry with his taunting and name-calling.
The rich getting richer, the greedy greedier, the hard-working even more marginalized. The sick, more in debt. Meanwhile the insurance companies steal our money, month after month. The banks take our houses and then take some more. And Congress and our President are impotent to do anything about it. Meanwhile they handover our lunch money to the oil companies, the garden itself to Monsanto, and whatever is left to the NRA, you know, for protection.
The world is mean. That is all there is. Meanness. And the occasional bout of insomnia which shakes us from our chronic slumber of unawareness to acknowledge our inability to do anything about it just before we fall asleep again, exhausted.
There are days where the world will not only break your heart, but tear it out of your chest, stomp on it, and set it on fire, right before your dumbstruck eyes. And you won’t know what to do.
And I won’t know what to tell you to make it any better. And I probably won’t even have enough money to buy you a beer you can cry into.
And yet somehow, somehow, you will find a different set of days. In those days, the sun will be warm on your skin. But there will be just enough cloud cover to allow the colors all around you to show themselves. And your world will be saturated with beauty. You’ll get buzzed by a hummingbird on your morning walk. And the green and yellow foothills will spread their beauty across the horizon as if just for you.
These are the days that are true. This is what is real. All else is nonsense dreamt up by small minds and feeble imaginations. All else is illusion.
Come with me. Let’s live all our days saturated in beauty.
Don’t do it. I know you want to. But don’t.
I know you are tired. I know the world seems too crammed full of other people’s stuff for there to be any room for you and your dreams. But I beg you to keep looking. The space where you’ll thrive is out there. It might be right where you are standing. Or lying huddled in a ball. Or wishing you were.
I know it is out there because you exist. If there were no room for you, you wouldn’t. So since you do, there must be. Just keep going.
I wish I could offer you something more. I wish I could take you by the hand and lead you to that place, the one the universe is patiently waiting for you to find. But I’m busy trying to sweep, to rearrange furniture, to paint my own walls. I’m digging under the cushions for change and trying to remember which book I hid the money in so I can pay the rent. I’m second-guessing whether this is actually my space after all.
But even if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter. I can’t stop now. And neither can you.
I know about the voice in your head that keeps telling you to grow up. I know because I hear it too. It graffitis the walls around town and writes its manifestos in magazines and on billboards. It wants you to stop. Because if you don’t stop, little by little there will be less room for the meaningless bullshit that feeds it.
Your soul is important. Not just important like an appointment with the eye doctor is important. Important like the birth of the universe is important. Like the speed of light. It doesn’t have to squeeze itself into the tiny margin your grown-up world has designated for it. Your voice matters. It doesn’t have to keep quiet, to speak only when spoken to. You have the same right to take up space here as anyone.
Stand your ground. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied. Look the dream monsters in the face and demand their respect.
I know. I know you just want to sit down, lie down, stay down. I know you want to cut the rope and just let it all go, the dreams, the hope, the endless hanging on. But don’t.
I know how tempting it is to believe your thoughts, when in your exhaustion they tell you you’ve been kidding yourself all this time. I know you think the world has passed you by. You think you are too late to the game, that you should have started at 25, 17, 12 years old. I know you think you are too old for this shit.
But I need you to hang on just a little longer.
I know this isn’t what you really want to hear. You think, if you could just take a little nap, everything would look a little better. But I know if you go back to sleep, you might not wake up again.
And if you don’t wake up, there’ll be no way for you to tell us about your dreams. You won’t be able to smuggle the words back from the other side. And that’s a big deal. Bigger than you think. Because we need those pages in order to tell the whole story. Without your words, the story goes untold, consciousness stops expanding, the universe stops unfolding. And that can’t happen.
So please, don’t stop. We need your dreams. You are not being selfish in wanting the things that feed you, in needing them. And you’re not making it up.
So stand your ground, put down roots, stretch out, shop for furniture, lamps, a comfortable chair. Breathe deep and long. Take in as much air as you need. You’re not being greedy. You are doing the universe’s bidding.
It’s not just okay to live the life you’ve imagined, it’s what is required. You don’t have to ask permission. You already have authority, autonomy, legal rights. Stop hiding. Get up and turn on the lights. Open the window, pull back the curtains, let us see your face, your hair, your nakedness.
It’s okay to be happy. It’s more than okay.
It’s why you’re here.
© 2013 Thomas Lloyd Qualls, all rights reserved.
This post also was featured by Rebelle Society: http://www.rebellesociety.com/2013/06/28/dont-stop/