ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
Or What To Do When The Words Won't Come.
I should start by saying that I’m not someone prone to writer’s block. In general, I have more ideas than I know what to do with. And more words wanting to get out of my head and onto the paper (or you know, screen) than I generally have time to lead them there. Even as I scribble out this confession, I have no shortage of creative projects on my metaphoric plate.
Still, if I’m honest with you (and myself), I’ve been having a little trouble lately, well, writing. That’s not exactly true. The real truth is I’m having a truckload of trouble writing. I simply can’t seem to usher the words anywhere near to where they need to go. And even when I do, I find myself looking around the room for whoever wrote the banal scratch I’m staring at. And then, more often than not, I close my notebook and go on with my day as if the very world itself were not collapsing around me.
Now, for most people, that would be enough. But actually the terror does not end there. At the same time that I’m engaged in this mortal struggle with words, I’m also slightly out of my depth on several other projects: (1) researching a highly technical subject I know almost nothing about for my next novel; (2) working on material for a non-fiction book and companion workshop; and (3) developing a multi-faceted podcast series. Also, I’m still working on publicity for Painted Oxen (my second novel that was released in April of this year). And when I’m not doing one of these stretching exercises, I’m probably watching a master class to evolve my craft, researching the hundreds of things I still don’t know about marketing and audience-building, or falling down the rabbit hole of social media. Oh yeah, I’ve also got a law practice to run and a bright ten year old boy who stays up nights thinking of ways to keep me on my toes.
As you might guess, on any given day I can find myself feeling less than competent about any or all of these components. And really, all the advice out there on life hacking doesn’t help. Those seemingly innocuous self-help bites just reinforce the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing. The sheer volume of this stuff out there can make any of us feel like we’re the only ones who don’t have things figured out.
Admittedly, writing is not like most other jobs. It is prone to a unique kind of frustration. Not the least of which is that there have never been any guarantees that the ideas or the words or your focus will all show up when they are supposed to, in any kind of meaningful order. But that is also what makes writing kind of magical.
The thing I’m starting to believe is that the harder I try to make any of these things happen, the more I chase the fickle cats of progress or achievement or impact, the more I think I really need to do or be some thing, the more these things become water between my fingers. There seems to be an inverse magnetic effect.
But I find that when I loosen my grip a little, things start to shift. When I practice walking, instead of just getting somewhere, then the view expands. And what appears on the horizon as I wander these tangled narrow paths of living a creative life is one that looks more like a hidden meadow, a place where the trees that surround it offer quiet shade and the grass wants nothing more than for me to just come lie down.
And so I am slowly learning to walk without expectation of where I am going to arrive. And to realize how many unnecessary things I’ve been carrying on this long journey. And to set them down.
A candle burns in the darkness of the small room, melting wax abandoning its safe purchase and falling down the bending sides of what once was a knowable and dependable form.
You stand at a rough workbench, your labors exposed only through the faint glow of its flickering revelations. Your fingers are stained and scorched, your sleeves pushed up beyond your elbows. Stones and flints, shavings and sparkling fragments lay scattered before you. There are containers of clear and dark liquids, a measuring device, and a notebook open to a page of scribbles and drawings.
Your quest is an ancient one. To change the nature of matter, to harness the power of the elements in the dance of creation, to create perfection from imperfection, to steal fire from the gods.
Gold is valued not only for its luminous appearance but also because of its transitional nature, which we do not fully understand. It is both trivalent and univalent. In other words, it walks in many worlds, effortlessly crossing barriers. It represents transformation, eternity, perfection. One who knows the secrets of gold holds the keys to the human heart. One who masters the alchemy of gold, unlocks the mysteries of the universe.
You bend over the table, the mandala of colors before you, your hands holding the elements, your mind focused on harmonics, your ears trained to the language of the stars, your spirit tuned to the oneness of all things. Time sputters and slows, bending to match your rhythm.
The above is an excerpt from the new novel Painted Oxen. The dream vignettes that serve as connective tissue for the stories of the two travelers are titled Praeda, which means stolen goods. This is because we must smuggle our dreams into the waking world.
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Painted Oxen is available wherever books are sold.
Here are two places you can find it:
* If you read it and love it, no matter where you buy it, please write a few sentences in review of the novel on Amazon.com. Thank you.
I stare up into the heavens in utter amazement. At the dramatic beauty of the blue-black sky that acts as a backdrop for the swollen moon, and—despite the brilliant moonlight—more stars than I've ever seen in my life. Okay, except for that time I did acid in the desert. I am miles from the nearest city and that city is many miles from anything else. This distance gives me space, not just to see the world with more clarity, but to imagine a place for me in it.
-from the novel Painted Oxen
Recently I was given the opportunity to launch my new novel in an iconic place filled with people I love. Sundance Books & Music hosted the event on Saturday, April 6, 2019, in the historic Levy House on California Avenue.
I sat at the author’s table and watched as people spilled over from the main room into several surrounding spaces, including the stairs. And I knew for that moment this was some place I belonged.
But I know for most of us, most of life is not like that. I have written a bit about belonging. About our universal need for it. And the fallout of feeling like we don’t.
It’s this feeling, I believe, that is the genesis of most of the hero’s journeys in the world. So if you are feeling like there is no place for you, I have an idea. The amazing Anthony Moore preserved the event in video for me and I am posting it here to share with you. Take a break, grab some popcorn, and enjoy this prelude to the journey you will take when you read the novel Painted Oxen: https://youtu.be/5wf6NwivIXs
It is a journey back home and back to yourself. It is a journey to a place for you. Enjoy.
Begin the journey.
Or if you are local, go by Sundance Books & Music (121 California Avenue) and pick up a signed copy!
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Thomas Lloyd Qualls is a writer, a condition that is apparently incurable. His second novel, Painted Oxen, was released on April 02, 2019.
“This is a different kind of book. One that not only invites you to come along for its journey, but to participate in its story. There are places in these pages you have forgotten exist. It is time to remember."
This is the introduction to the new novel Painted Oxen. The novel is being released by Homebound Publications on April 02, 2019.
The official book launch happens April 06, 2019, at 2pm at Sundance Books & Music in Reno, NV.
Painted Oxen is the story of two men, one young and one old, on pilgrimages that are separated by distance and centuries, yet mysteriously connected through a dream world that reaches across time and dimension.
The stories are equal parts internal and external.
There are four winds, four elements, and four seasons. In this spirit, the novel is arranged in sets of four. Two of the four parts are the stories of the travelers, titled Scylla and Charybdis, after the dual perils faced by Homer’s Odysseus.
The third part is a series of dreams. Presented as fragments of interrelated stories, these visually lush vignettes act as connective tissue for the two main stories. Because we must smuggle our dreams into the waking world, these chapters are titled Praeda, which means stolen goods.
The tales of the two pilgrims, together with the dream stories, make up a trinity of vignettes. Each of these trinities carries a theme, introduced to the reader by a character from the 22 major arcana of the Tarot -- a deck of cards that dates back to at least the 15th Century -- thus creating the fourth dimension and squaring the set.
One of these 22 cards is the Fool. Like our two protagonists, the Fool must leave the safety of his home in order to embark upon the journey of Life. Likewise, each Tarot card represents a stage in life that we must pass through on our journey to the Sacred Mountain.
The novel is about the two travelers. But reading it you will discover it is also about you.
As I mentioned, this is a different kind of book. If you accept its invitation, you must understand that -- like the characters in these pages -- you will find yourself transformed by its end.
Begin the journey.
* * * *
Thomas Lloyd Qualls is a writer, a condition that is apparently incurable.
His second novel, Painted Oxen, is released on April 02, 2019.
“At one time or another we are all called to leave the safety of our homes, the certainty of what we know, the illusions of who we are. Not everyone will heed this call, of course. And those who do will risk losing themselves completely. But if we choose to ignore the invitation, we risk never knowing who we might have become.”
Those are words from my new novel Painted Oxen, a story about two men who embark on personal journeys that are separated by mountain ranges and several centuries. And yet their pilgrimages are somehow connected through a dream world that reaches across time and dimension.
One of the travelers is an older monk in ancient Tibet seeking a hidden valley that is said to bring enlightenment upon entering. The other is a young man backpacking in modern-day India, seeking a guru, the love of his life, or just a transformative dose of psychedelics.
Both men encounter adventures, dangers, and delights in the physical world. But their journeys are equal parts internal and external. The truth is anytime you go on a physical adventure there is also an inward journey that occurs. And it is often the inward journey that is most substantial.
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You may not have trekked in the Himalayas. Or endured ocean-crossing flights and endless train rides to wander strange lands in search of yourself or something else. But I know you have embarked on other kinds of journeys, big or small. You have left the safety of what you know and stepped out into uncertainty of some kind.
Maybe it was kindergarten. Maybe it was your first job. Your first date. Your first kiss. Your first apartment. Getting married. Having a child. Whatever it is, you know something of the hero’s journey.
Though it is possible you haven’t taken the first step on the most essential one yet. The one in search of your own Sacred Mountain.
The heart of the novel Painted Oxen is that at some point in our lives, we all have to leave our home in order to find the Sacred Mountain. And one of the things we discover is that our home is that the Sacred Mountain is our home. So every journey is really a journey home, a journey to ourselves.
The hero’s journey is an ageless story. One that continues to remind us who we are. And one we each have an opportunity to write.
Painted Oxen is one of those stories. It is also a kind of compass to help us find our way back to ourselves. And back to each other.
If you haven’t set out on your own hero’s journey yet, let Painted Oxen be your invitation. Now is always the time.
Begin the journey.
* * * *
Thomas Lloyd Qualls is a writer, a condition that is apparently incurable.
Join him for the launch of his new novel Painted Oxen, on Saturday, April 6, at 2pm. Sundance Books & Music, 121 California Avenue, Reno, NV 89509.
Our human history is filled with stories of all kinds. But those that stand out most are the tales of heroes. Fantastic journeys filled with courage and adventure. Stories that sometimes inspire our own acts of bravery or pilgrimages of self-actualization.
But the hero’s journey is not a rare as you might think. The truth is, we all tell stories with our lives. And we are the heroes in all of them.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a few thousand years.
The Greeks were fabled storytellers. According to Greek myth, on the island of Crete there was a fabled labyrinth that was the home of a great monster called the Minotaur.
The labyrinth was known to be unnavigable. And anyone who entered would inevitably be eaten by the Minotaur when they couldn’t find a way out. Theseus volunteered to do what had never been done, to successfully navigate the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur who lived at its center.
Princess Ariadne befriended Theseus on his way to his questionable fate, and she gave him a ball of red thread to help him find his way out of the labyrinth.
Theseus tied one end of the thread to the entrance of the labyrinth and then was able to follow it back out later, after he killed the Minotaur. (Which apparently was barely difficult enough to mention, compared to the deadly maze.)
Both Ariadne’s and Theseus’s stories are examples of the hero’s journey. Your story, too, is a hero’s journey. Whether you know it or not right now. Because that’s what everyone’s really is. We are all on the hero’s journey.
And everyone is looking for the Ariadne thread. But the truth is the thread is everywhere, and it connects everything and everyone. You just have to pick it up somewhere and start following where it leads.
This is one of the themes of my new novel, Painted Oxen. Everything is connected. We all carry the thread. And that thread is ancient. The hero’s story is ancient. Your DNA is ancient, and it holds countless stories that must be unraveled.
The thread is everywhere. Reach down and pick it up. From anywhere. And follow it. Just start walking.
Let the adventure show you where you need to be. Let the thread take you to who you are supposed to meet. And then start to tell a new story of your own.
If you want to pick up the thread that starts with Painted Oxen, you can follow one of the links below to order the novel. Go ahead. Begin the journey.
See you out there.
(lead photo by Julian Mora @ unsplash)
I don’t know how I have done it so far. Sewn together the pieces and kept them from falling apart. In the wash, on the line, tumbling down the street, being trampled underfoot.
There’s no quantifiable reason for it. I’m not all that suited for doing the things people are willing to pay for these days. I can’t write code. Or build a house. Or make erection pills.
Mostly I like to write. Which seems to be one of the things many people are less willing to pay for these days. My dream life looks like waking up in the morning, making coffee and writing. And somehow having all the money I need to pay the bills and do more than just live.
I have a couple of degrees that should mean something. The State of Nevada says it is ok for me to practice law. And so I have done that. And I’ve helped a few people along the way. But I don’t really like the idea of wearing a suit everyday or working someplace where I don’t get to choose my clients. And so the paychecks are not always so regular where I work. And I have to create a benefit if I want it.
In theory the life I’ve created affords me flexibility, creativity, autonomy, even the ability to make a lot of money. In reality, I get to show up in flip flops some days and take lunch when I want, but I don’t take very many vacations, and I am often wondering how I’m going to pay for that which must be paid.
Also, I might mention it is possible my brain doesn’t always work right. I don’t know how common this is. Maybe yours does. Maybe you are able to just do what needs to be done every day, to stay motivated and inspired, meet your deadlines, follow the rules, feed your 401K, exercise, pick up the dry cleaning and the groceries, get the kids when and where they need to be, not drink too much along the way, and get enough sleep.
More and more, I find myself half-heartedly reaching for a glass ball in mid-swan drive.
If I could stop what I’m doing long enough to come up with a different game plan than the one I’ve been running for season after season, I might do that. If I could just find the clarity to draft it. And the time to execute it. And the will to see it through.
In all this time, I have managed to do a few things. I mentioned those two degrees. And I passed the state bar. And I’ve gotten two people off death row. And helped a handful of others turn their lives around.
I’m sure there are other things I’ve done along the way.But there are days where I have no idea how I’ve done this. Because I feel utterly incapable of being an adult.
And then things like this happen: After I dropped my son off for school this morning, while driving down a crowded street in morning commute traffic, I cried in my car. I was triggered by something as small as a cover of Sweet Child O’ Mine.
Sure, I did acid at a Guns n’ Roses show once (several lifetimes ago). But that wasn’t why I cried. (I’m pretty sure, anyway.) And it wasn’t nostalgia or longing for those carefree days. Just something about the woman’s voice covering the song pierced whatever feeble armor I wear and got me right in the heart before I could catch myself.
What kind of a warrior is that? What kind of battle would I ever be suited for if a simple song on my morning commute turns me into a river in flood.
Also, there is a terrible person who lives inside me. That person does things like yell at my son sometimes. Ok, almost daily. Sure, he’s kind of a nightmare to parent. But he is also an amazing human being, with endless curiosity, creativity, generosity, and independence of spirit and thought. His brightness fills whatever room he is in. But it also has a tendency to blind you if you are trying to corral it in any way.
Maybe I’m just jealous of him. Because he’s the one who gets to be the child now. The one who does whatever he wants. The one who is not bound by the illusion of time. Who gets to live in a different realm altogether. While meanwhile it feels like I have become a slave to the clock, the calendar, the bank, and more fears than I once knew existed.
But I think what I want – what we all really want — is to finally wake up from this condition. We want to believe the books we read, the classes we take, the healers we seek out. We want to believe the life hacks we glean from all the podcasts we listen to while driving between points A and B.
We want to feel alive again.
But also, we know that in order to feel alive again, we are going to have to actually feel. And that really terrifies some of us. Because in this brave new world of bigger, faster, more, we are afraid that those things called feelings are likely to cause us to walk through each day hit by one Sweet Child O’ Mine after another and be utterly unable to function. And that seems like a pretty crappy trade-off, frankly.
Until you take a step or two back and (like the masters say) become the one who notices the feeling. The same way you would notice a spring flower if you were paying attention. Or a storm cloud, or a snow flurry, or a rainbow.
A feeling is just like a dream monster. The more you’re afraid of it, the more it will haunt you. The only thing to do is to turn around and look it in the eye. Shake its hand, invite it to sit down for tea (or whiskey). Then ask it why it has come, what it wants to tell you.
Because whether you are trying not to feel anything or trying to feel alive, both are pointless. The feelings will find you. The more you are trying not to feel, trying to ignore them, the bigger they will have to be to get your attention. And trying to feel alive is like trying not to think. Both are impossible.
The only thing you can be is open and patient. The only thing you can do is make space for them. Set an extra place for synchronicity at the table. Without fear. Without expectation.
Feelings are kind of like cats. They’ll come when they’re ready. They’ll rub against your leg for a minute, let you touch them. And pretty soon they’ll be ready to go back outside. But if you ignore them, look out. You have to sleep sometime.
Holy shit, it is 2018. And I haven’t written anything for my alchemy of words blog in a really, really long time. Forgive me, I’ve been working on a bunch of other things. Really. Namely, shopping around my second novel, Painted Oxen, and working on other avenues of platform-building and tribe-gathering.
Also, last year was a tough one for me, like I know it was for many of you. First there was the perpetual disappointment of the political news, with its daily heartbreak and outrage and no time to recover before the next day’s atrocity was splattered on the sidewalk in front of us.
There were also numerous creative disappointments in my life. In the last year or more, my second novel was either rejected or ignored by approximately 40 literary agents and at least a dozen small publishers. A video project I had nurtured for more than a year and was co-developing for television lost its momentum and fell apart. A substantial funding proposal for my son’s wonderful little school — that I worked on for nearly a year — has also gone unanswered. And I decided to take a break from my monthly essay column in Reno Tahoe Tonight Magazine – a bridge that kept me connected to you every month for the last 6 years.
And so, truthfully, I find myself at the beginning of 2018 a little bit lost. The blank page can be a bit terrifying. I know what I need to do, break out the colors and start painting my new year. Otherwise, instead of living into the year I’ve created, the year will just happen to me. And it may not look anything like I want.
A new year always gives us the opportunity to hit the giant reset button. We’re supposed to be excited about wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. But I can’t seem to get rid of the virtual hangover from the mess that was the last twelve months. So instead of eagerly reaching for the metaphoric paints and brushes, I’m doubting myself, my voice, and my creative vision.
I’m not saying that so you’ll break out the streamers for my pity party. I know it happens to most of us from time to time. I’m just saying that’s my jump-off point for 2018. So, what to do from here?
The one point of clarity I have is that I need to remix my world. And though I’m not sure of all the sounds and colors yet, it will look something like this: (1) Write more, whether I share it or not; (2) Find a vehicle to bring Painted Oxen to life for you, even if it looks like self-publishing; (3) Build my tribe; (4) Stop talking and reading about mindfulness and start living it; (5) Stop doing the same thing every day and expecting a different result; and (6) Make the choice to be happy. Every day.
And yes, I am not there right now. And I could have waited to write this until I was there. But that wouldn’t help those of you in the same place as me right now. Our words are bridges to each other. And I want to continue to build those bridges.
Those of you who wish to join me, let’s resolve to remember this: The world is a messy place. A sometimes dark and daunting place. And we will all sometimes feel like giving up is all there is left to do. But just don’t. Remember that the world is also beautiful, and kind, and sublime. Even if we can’t see or feel or believe any of those things. Just know that it is.
Have the courage to sit down at the blank page, the white canvas, the lump of clay. Be brave enough to spill some ink on the paper, to touch the brush to the canvas, to get your hands in that messy clay. And to just keep doing it, no matter what happens at first. If you show up often enough, your world will start to change. Because you will start to change.
I invite you to join me. And like the great man said, let’s be the change.
Come on. You know you want to.
So what’s keeping you from it? Is it insecurity, self-loathing, shyness? Let it go. Do you actually still believe that there are people out there who deserve wealth, happiness, and good health more than you? Of course not.
Or wait. Maybe you do. Maybe this is like other universal rules we ignore, like aging. We all have a tendency to think they don’t apply to us. We see people around us getting older, getting stuck in ruts, making the same life mistakes. But we are genuinely shocked when we spot those grey hairs on our own heads, and surprised every time we have to turn another page on the calendar. Really, already?
Guess what, the rules of abundance are no different. They apply to all of us. Of course, you know I hesitate to use the word abundance, heavy as it is these days with the weight of pseudo-spiritual babble. But if you bother to look it up, one of the words used to define abundance is “fullness.” And that, after all, is what life is. Full.
I’m talking to you. Yes, you.
I saw you skimming through the beginning of this article, trying to convince yourself I was talking to someone else. Well, I’m not. I’m talking to you. So stop whatever else you’re doing, take a break, sit down and pay attention. Get a coffee if you need, or a glass of water, I’ll wait.
Here’s my point, if you are reading this, then that one-word topic at the top of the page has to do with you. Because that is how the world works. We come to things when it is our time. And if the thing is right in front of you, it’s your time.
Speaking of time, I want you to take some of it right now to think about what real thriving could look like in your life. I don’t mean the kind of thinking where your mind wanders aimlessly, like when you try to meditate. Or when you’re waiting in line at the DMV. Or when you’re supposed to be listening to someone, but you aren’t, you’re thinking about three other things. I mean for you to really set your brain on this question. And then ask why your life doesn’t exactly look like that.
Don’t ignore the answer.
You must find the courage to look that answer in the face, just like you would a dream monster, in your most lucid act of dreamworld courage. Because — and get ready, this is the aha moment — that answer is the key to the door you’ve been seeking for at least half your life.
I know, that sounds dramatic. But it’s also true.
Alright, so we’re only 500 words into this piece, and already that’s a lot to chew. Stay with me, though. If you want, feel free to grab a quick snack, something to dip in your coffee, maybe. But, come right back. Actually, just carry this with you.
So you’ve got the answer to both what it would look like to be fully thriving and why you’re not. Now, you know what? You’ve actually got to do something about it.
And I don’t mean do something like remember to put it on one of your countless lists of things that silently threaten to plague you for eternity. I mean do something. Anything. One small thing.
And keep doing it. Every day until you are actually finally living on that planet called thrive. And then keep doing it.
Now, tell someone else.
Sure, lots of people may read this. The secret to planet thrive, though, is that more is better. (And as my friend Kay says, better is good.). So, don’t keep it to yourself. Spread the word. Invite more people to the party.
Because the more people thrive, the more the world thrives. And the more permission is spread around for others just like you to figure out their own secret to living a ridiculously full and happy life.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls is a writer, a condition that is apparently incurable. (He’s also an occasional painter, videographer, bike rider, foot massager, and sometimes salvager of troubled lives.) The condition manifests itself in different ways: novelist, essayist, poet, compulsive note-taker. He manages his condition, in part, by regular contributions to Reno Tahoe Tonight Magazine and to the borderless virtual tribe known as the Rebelle Society.
He knows that people are shy when it comes to talking to artists and telling them what they think of their work. But please, get over that. He really wants to hear from you. Really, you. Write to him at email@example.com. Friend him, follow him, or just invite him out for a beer.
Waking Up at Rembrandt’s, his debut novel, has received local and national critical acclaim. The second edition of the novel is now available in print (think of vinyl, only for books) and on multiple e-version platforms. (If you want to stop what you’re doing and buy it right now, go ahead. We’ll wait for you.) But please come right back, there’s plenty of other good stuff in this magazine.
If you are interested in reading more from the author, there’s a new book of poetry entitled love jaywalks, available all over the internets in ebook format. Still to come: a collection of essays, some new paintings and a second novel, painted oxen, due out just as soon as all the words finish lining up. (He promises to keep herding, however long it takes.) In the meantime, feel free to stop by his website whenever you like. You can subscribe to his online journal, alchemy of words, while you’re there. www.tlqonline.com
* a version of this essay appear in Reno Tahoe Tonight Magazine
Go on. Wrestle that angel.
Lean into her with your whole self. Wrap your arms around and press your torso to hers. Dig in with your heels and feel her weight pressing back. Hold on tight to her arms, her ribs, the curve of her hips, anywhere you can find purchase. Feel her electric pulse course through you. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t let go too soon.
Our struggles are not curses. They are not mythical demons or punishments for our sins. They are not troubles to be wished away, not obstacles to avoid. There is not another, safer path we should have taken. They are gifts. The trouble is we are conditioned to believe that gifts are only things that come in boxes with wrapping paper and bows. (Or these days, in the last-minute three-dollar bag with colored tissue paper stuffed in the top.)
We’re not used to gifts looking like a dark room with furniture we can’t see. Let alone a gift looking like our own darkness. Hell, we’re not even used to acknowledging our own darkness. Other people’s, sure. We’re like forest rangers with binoculars on lookout towers when it comes to spotting (and calling out) anyone else’s shadow. With any hint of our own shadows tucked up neat and tidy underneath us as we lounge in the brightness of our perpetual high noon. Only rainbows, unicorns, and smiley faces here.
Here’s the thing. We’re humans. We’re not angels, seraphim, or saints. We’re not even ascended beings. (If you are actually an ascended being, my apologies.) Which means we don’t generally spend our days floating around on clouds, wrapped in unearthly light, singing with voices like gelato (real Italian gelato, I mean), possessing all divine knowledge, and carrying tiny messages of truth to the besotted masses.
As humans, we’re possessed of just enough wit to want to know what the angels are talking about, but not quite enough to actually understand them. (You can see why we’d want to wrestle them. They piss us off.) If it feels like this is an unfair situation, that’s because it is. And if you think about it, no one promised us anything about life being fair. (Seriously, look on the back of your ticket if you don’t believe me.) Life is an enter-at-your-own-risk event.
So, how again are these things supposed to be gifts? Let me explain. There is a single mobile game app from Japan, Puzzle & Dragons, that grosses up to $75 million a month. The worldwide video game industry grossed over $93 billion last year. What this means is that, while we complain constantly about the riddles of our real lives, we are perfectly willing to spend hard earned cash, and lots of it, to solve make-believe problems. Or at least to blow them up.
Let me say it another way.
You know how, whenever you are part of any given organization — be it your job, your math club, or your cult — someone will eventually decide the thing that will make this group more cohesive is a ropes course? Before it became kind of a cliché, a ropes course was actually a good idea. It allows people to face their fears and to transcend them, generally with the support and encouragement of other humans who are there to face their own demons. The challenges are physical and emotional. And overcoming them provides self-assurance and an opportunity to bond with others.
Life’s kind of like that. We don’t think of it that way, because life is something we do every day all day, not just once, or once every few years. Whenever I have traveled in my life, I wake up every morning excited to face the unknown adventures that await me. When I am back to my daily routines, I strive to remember that I can greet every day just like this. I don’t have to be in another city or country to find adventure or to be excited about my day.
Whether we admit it or not, we like puzzles. We like to be challenged. And not just on the screen. If you think about it, life would probably not be worth living if all the streets were flat, the weather was always perfect, our kids were always well behaved, our thoughts were never troubled, and we had all the money we could ever spend. Wait a second, that actually sounds pretty damn good. Forget all that other stuff I said.
While it’s tempting to think that a life of nothing but ease would be nothing but grand, this is flawed thinking. The only reason we know anything about ourselves is because we’ve had to figure it out. Stop me if I’ve said this before, but how many of us have known trustafarians who are pretty screwed up. Probably everyone. Though it may sound like a good idea, saving your children from certain hardships, setting them up so they’ll never have to work to make a place for themselves in the world is not really doing them any favors.
So give yourself permission to grapple. It’s okay that we don’t have everything figured out. It’s okay that we walk around daily bearing the weight of these small worlds. That our minds are constantly working on these puzzles in the background. That these angels we wrestle make guest appearances in our dreams, our work lives, our arguments with friends and lovers, our endless conversations with ourselves.
We were born to wrestle. It’s part of our DNA. And history tells us the angels know how to lose. So go on. Lean in.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls is a writer, a condition that is apparently incurable. He manages his condition, in part, by regular contributions to Reno Tahoe Tonight Magazine and to the borderless virtual tribe known as Rebelle Society. He’s also a novelist, essayist, videographer, painter, bike rider, and sometimes salvager of troubled lives.
Feel free to friend him, follow him, or just invite him out for a beer. Or, you could also go buy one of his books. Remember a book is a really great piece of art that invites you to participate in its creation.
Waking Up at Rembrandt’s, his debut novel, has received local and national critical acclaim. The second edition of the novel is available in print (think of vinyl, only for books) and on multiple e-version platforms. There’s also a book of poetry, love jaywalks, available everywhere ebooks are sold. Still on the horizon: a collection of essays, some new paintings, and a second novel, painted oxen, due out just as soon as all the words finish lining up. In the meantime, you can visit his website whenever you like.