The Alchemist

Photo by Matthew Stone

I’ve spend the past twenty-four hours locked in my bedroom immersed in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, trying to read myself into a better person. The decision came after I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I read a book that wasn’t authored by someone even more profoundly cynical than myself. This is just one of the many steps I’m taking in journey toward mental health.

“You should read The Secret,” my mother suggested during a recent phone conversation. She’s a member of Oprah’s Book Club, obviously. “It’s really amazing,” she beamed. “It’s all about positivity. It teaches you the power of smiling. I think it could really help you.” Gag me with a spoon.

“Don’t think it’s for me,” I say, blankly shoving a handful of Corn Flakes into my mouth. “Has Oprah suggested any books that make you feel better about yourself by pointing out how disgusting everyone else is?” My mother wasn’t pleased.

Our conversation continued as we talked about Katie Holms’ new haircut and our current celebrity crushes. We both have the hots for Wentworth Miller, the guy from Prison Break. I love phone calls with my mom because I can talk about things I would otherwise be far too embarrassed to bring up with all my pseudo intellectual friends.

“Michelle told me that Mr. Gates got fired because he’s a pedophile,” I said, suddenly remembering this vital piece of information. “Is that true?” Mr. Gates was my history teacher all throughout junior high, by the way.

“Yeah, it’s true,” said my mother with unexpected calm. “You didn’t know?”

“No, I didn’t know,” I shrieked. “That’s disgusting!”

“Yeah, I wasn’t surprised. I always thought there was something creepy about that guy. You know who else is a pedophile?” she continued nonchalantly, as if she was reading the weather report, “Mr. Ribici, your old basketball coach. Weird right? Didn’t see that one coming. Apparently the girl was nine. Horrible, horrible man.”

It was then that I recalled the numerous times my Under-12 basketball team had ‘team-unity’ camp-outs in this “horrible man’s” backyard.

“That’s gross,” I said. “Didn’t we see him at church last Christmas? I swear you forced me go say hello to him.”

“No, that wasn’t him.”

“I think it was.”

“No, you’re confused. You’re thinking of that other guy that everyone thinks is a pedophile. I can’t think of his name right now.”

I refrained from saying something malicious and instead thought of Paulo Coelho, someone far more at peace than I will ever be. In The Alchemist Coelho says, “The universe is conspiring in our favor” and “The soul of the world is nourished by people’s happiness.” Well, look. I’m doing my best, ok? But it’s kind of hard to be happy when practically everyone I’ve ever known is a child molester, I have a gay hospitalized boyfriend, and the last meal I ate was a prawn salad out of a garbage bin. The world is fucked up.

If nothing else, The Alchemist taught me this: “A man’s heart helps those who are trying to realize their destiny, as well as children, drunkards, and the elderly.” The ‘drunkards’ bit makes me feel oddly at ease.



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