The Alchemist in All of Us

After a seven week odyssey through Europe I am home at last to my own house, my own bed and my favourite stretch of perfect beach, which is currently being caressed by a warm turquoise sea. Of course this being reliably – unreliable Turkey I still arrived to a power-cut and an unnecessary deactivation of my internet account, but a candle lit cold beer and a very pleased to see my Kitten, quickly lanced any frustration. Then just for a moment Paulo Coelho’s seminal work The Alchemist popped into my head. Spoiler alert! For those who want to try this book stop reading now and skip to the third paragraph!

In The Alchemist the protagonist goes on a very long journey throughout Europe and the Africa of the middle ages, searching for adventure and some meaning only to discover that he was too blind to see that it had always existed all along in the very town from where he began his journey years earlier.

Photo by Steve Koukoulas

Sometimes you just need to leave a place, a situation, a problem behind in order to look at it later with fresh, un-blinkered eyes to see it for what it really was. Although I left with frustrations in my personal life the main driver for my departure was a gradual falling out with Turkey and all of the inherent problems and daily challenges that living here entails. Looking back it was like a car-crash in slow motion that began towards the end of last year, after a very close friend took responsibility for a dozen, un-house-trained street dogs (an impulsive, yet unnecessary act – as the animals could have been reasonably well cared for elsewhere). Although I did my best to help with the all consuming chaos this caused, it eventually became the catalyst that wrecked her long standing relationship. Some health and legal problems arrived with the New Year, while others soon followed on the back of the turmoil triggered by Turkey’s Spring Elections, until everything was ultimately eclipsed by the untimely death of my oldest friend in May.

So I set out in July, with a suitcase full of frustrations, perceived betrayals and residual grief on a quest to find a new temporary base, should I ever need one. I was looking for a place where I could eventually move permanently, if I failed to stifle my growing feelings of detachment from the place I called home, or if things took a turn for the worst in this polarized country, whose political leaders, despite Turkey being secular, continue their slow tango towards more religious influence coming to bear upon the state, its laws and institutions. And yet, I stupidly forgot the first law of emotional escape: you can never totally leave behind your anger, your frustrations, or things like grief or relationship break-ups because the demons, we all carry within our overactive imaginations, relish nothing more than a long journey into the unknown to magnify those issues or beat you up over the problems or situations you thought you had left behind.

Photo by This Year’s Love

Depending on our individual stories, you don’t need to run away to escape the all consuming flux or funk in your brain because, whether it is slow or quick to clear, clear it will. Until one day you wake up and realise that things seem OK, indeed are OK now… at least for today. I have also found that the interactions of others, friends, family and indeed strangers often helps towards this resolution or ‘closure,’ if closure is needed. So try not to travel alone for too long, if you are in a fragile frame of mind. But if you do at least be open to the friendship of strangers or fellow travellers, when they reach out to you. Because if you do take that chance, you may well be rewarded by some cathartic relief, especially if you are brave enough to trade difficult stories because you believe you are unlikely to ever see these people again, who knows. Although there have also been countless lifelong friendships and indeed romantic entanglements born in just this way, over a beer, a sunset margarita or simply sitting on a bench waiting for a long delayed train to arrive. So yes by all means protect yourself, your heart and your soul but never, ever, close yourself off completely.

So now I am back, perhaps still tired in body but thankfully rested in mind and soul. I was also amazed to discover that it is not only my mind that is lighter, but also my body – a full 10 kilo’s lighter than when I first set off! And so yes my insights may not be as powerful as those within The Alchemist, as this is just a modest blog not a blockbuster, but do try and remember what I said for next time you have a difficulty you want to escape from, or are grieving – perhaps with yet another broken heart. As for me, right now: It is time to relax and chill out with a good swim and more importantly, it is also time for me to simply enjoy the summer sunshine, perhaps for the very first time this year?!


Airport Stories

Airports are strange places, that few of us enjoy. Long lines at security and overcrowded terminals make them pretty soul-less places. However, none of us could easily travel anywhere, without using them so for me it is usually just a case of grinning and bearing it. So to pass the time I usually apply the ideas I first described in my earlier post The Zen of Flying. However, as a writer it is often hard for me to resist distracting myself in another way. For sometimes I will look at the many faces around until I notice a solitary but often interesting looking character and then imagine his or her life. Why are they flying today, what motivates them, and what upsets them until in this way I can create a false, yet interesting history for them. Today I have already given a gentleman sitting in the area for a flight to Sicily a dangerous past, where his run-ins with the mafia, once cost him his first business, but still he had the courage to start up another one, the effort of which is keenly etched upon his face.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan

Sitting across from me is a slightly overweight Greek looking woman (although she could easily be Turkish, if she wasn’t waiting for a flight to Athens). She displays that distinct signature of women of a certain age from the Aegean area: too much make-up, dyed blonde hair and mutton dressed as lamb clothing, which I often feel contributes to the look of a drag queen. Although on this occasion, this lady has become a fading pop star (because she insists on wearing shades, despite the torrential rain outside) with the lines, despite her botox, of a mercurial career etched across her face

Sometimes I even wonder what my fellow passengers make of me, that is if they even notice me at all. Would they guess anywhere near the truth? That I am a man now into his second month of travelling, a man who has seen more old friends and relatives in 2 weeks than in the previous 2 years, a man still adjusting to a new phase in his life, a man who, because of all of that has happened since the spring, is now more than ready for a period of rest and recuperation in friendly restorative surroundings, which will eventually allow him to plan a more fulfilling future, doing more of the things he wants to do, rather than the things he felt obligated to do until quite recently.

Returning to my airport game I will often go on to imagine those characters, I have created, eventually sitting together and striking up a conversation (language is never a problem), until they eventually both reveal the past I have just burdened them with, until the game enters another phase of possibilities, opportunities or lost chances. Perhaps a mutual interest will reveal itself or maybe even a romance will be born – for the realm of the mind and invention can provide countless permutations and possible outcomes. Which, like life itself can provide unequal doses of excitement, curiosity or simply more misery than one could have ever expected when a new adventure first revealed itself. And sometimes, just sometimes, I will put pen to paper and make it real.

So… next time you find yourself delayed or with time to kill at an airport – just accept that there is nothing you can do to change the situation and so stop constantly checking the departures board, or playing with your phone and create your own unique story from the characters around you. Yes it will take a bit of practice, but who knows, you may just create a bestseller!

My writing and some extra travelling commitments mean that this blog will now only be posted every fortnight for the foreseeable future – However, its my intention to make it weekly again sometime in the Autumn.