The universe and all that

I’m not a fan of Paulo Coelho. I love The Alchemist, but there’s something about him, his smug way of dispensing with his textbook wisdom that I find too, how shall I put it, smacking of self-help books for the desperate, kind of. (I also loved Veronika Decides to Die, by the way.)

And more often than not, people who quote him are those who never read anything else in their life. Except maybe for Fifty Shades of Grey.

Maybe that’s why I don’t see him as a storyteller. He’s too didactic. (I love José Saramago and he can be as didactic as he likes because he is my teacher). It’s as if his stories are mere fillers so that he could write his wisdom in between chunks of paragraphs. But when you take Coelho’s quotes out of his didactic context, they sound like some universal truths that just need to be repeated. Well that’s too much, but you know what I mean. Maybe it’s the journalist in me always looking for the sexy soundbyte. Soundbytes are true just because they sound good. (I can be didactic too but I try not to be in stories and poems, I guess).

So today I was chatting to a good friend of mine who lives faraway and who for the last year and a half or so has been somehow resurfacing every now and then, in one way or another, sometimes I call her, sometimes we just stumble upon each other, but always when, somehow, it was necessary. Her name is Imane, though everyone calls her Ammoun, and she’s a fantastic writer and has a blog called Kharabeesh (“Scribblings”, in Arabic, in Maltese we have the same word “Tħarbix”). I got to know her via twitter at the start of the Arab Spring, as the world was turning upside down, at least this part of it, and she was writing, tweeting and retweeting everything that was captivating us all, in her own quirky way. What had struck me at the time was how this little woman in Paris was so up to date about everything, in touch with everyone, making news channels look like amateurs. Seriously. And her humour.

That was the first time we “met”, and at the time it was very necessary for me, from this tiny blockaded enclave, to be able to somehow experience the revolutionary hurricane that was sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, and the falling dominoes of dictators and buffoons who all forgot the one basic truth repeated in so many languages since Machiavelli. That power in its crudest form, that is total repression, always, inevitably, leads to revolt, one day or another. That the Prince should be feared but not hated.

Besides, I knew nothing about twitter and she was one of the first I could ask the stupidest questions without feeling that stupid. (Besides Mike, a storyteller who has worn as many hats in his life as one can possibly imagine, who had been pleading me to use twitter for decades but he’s always so right that it always takes me some time to adjust to).

We disagree on the details, Ammoun and I, on the kind of varnish on the furniture that would make our houses completely different, I guess. It’s what makes her her, and me me, and that’s how it should stay. But as spring led to the summer drought, the autumn sadness and then the winter hibernation, our satellites kept colliding, sometimes with heated arguments that just betray our passion, that we somehow don’t bother flaunting to everyone. At least I don’t. Unless I’m bored and just feel like antagonising people.

But those “collisions” were always, somehow, at the right time, making them really collusions of complicity.

Well at least that’s how I feel and I told her so, although she always tells me that she doesn’t really understand why I find her to be so “helpful”. I thinks she does, but I can’t explain it either, so I’ll just leave it at that. Because not everything has a reason, and not everything has an explanation, and if there is one, I don’t need to be its discoverer. I prefer making things up than researching them, which is not a great trait for a journalist but I guess there are other skill-sets I have that make up for it (I love HR-speak!… as in love to hate it).

The only reply I could give her is the quote that also resurfaces pretty much like Ammoun every now and then in my head, from The Alchemist, which says: No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it.

So as I was looking up his quotes I came across this Wikiquote site that pretty much sums him up in one page (another good friend of mine, Albert, who translated most of my writings from Maltese into English, always says that once you read one of Coelho’s books you don’t need to read more… incidentally almost all of the quotes I liked are from The Alchemist).

Another quote of his brought me back full circle to Saramago.

No one loses anyone, because no one owns anyone. That is the true experience of freedom: having the most important thing in the world without owning it.

Saramago says it even more beautifully, and in less words, and without the hype, in The Tale of the Unknown Island.

Liking is probably the best form of ownership, and ownership the worst form of liking.

And liking, I would say, whatever we want to like, is all the nicer when it is something you discovered, that little gift left somewhere by someone, by the universe, not necessarily because they thought of you, in all probability they don’t even know you, and that makes it even nicer. As The Little Prince says (the one inimitable dispenser of truth and stories), what makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

So anyway, this is my blog and I feel like posting some of Coelho’s quotes, because I can.

Just to set the record straight before you go to fetch the vomit bags – there is a lot of crap I don’t share among the Coelho-like clichés, which are a crime against humanity, really. I think there’s nothing more idiotic and tasteless than telling someone that “everything happens for a reason” (go tell that to the victims of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, no wait that wasn’t real), that in life we “move on” and that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (with apologies to Nietszche, one of my idols who is, more than Coelho, misquoted by the illiterate masses). What doesn’t kill you leaves you tired. Scars do not make you stronger. They’re just eventful marks on your calendar, helping you record time as you always, inevitably, get nearer to death.

There are many things I could be writing to make my point. I can write about the other satellites somehow orbiting around my universe, about another very dear Ukranian friend in South Sudan and how she paints her own future, most of the time without knowing; or my Scottish friend Joyce and how she knows everything; about how my long-lost Japanese friend (found again through facebook, of course) had appeared just on time to save me when I was alone in the US; and how Albert was impossibly saved in New York when he has also penniless and alone on New Year’s Day and stumbled upon the one friend who could also save him, just as he was trying to pawn his useless camera, looking down dejectedly at the rainy pavements of New York, only to recognise his friend from his shoes walking in Time Square. Not to mention the crazy French photographer I met this summer whom I first felt like slapping only to grow on me in a few days until he could tell me his little secret.

And I could tell you of how when I was reading a poem at a festival in France last summer, just as I tell my audience to hear the church bells taking the piss out of us, the bells in the tiny chapel just behind us started ringing, forcing us all to smile.

But I won’t write all that right now, and probably not anytime soon. Some call them signs, for me they are intriguing coincidences, which makes them none the less mysterious. All I’ll say is that I don’t want to believe in dreams, I just want to live them. You don’t believe a recurring dream, you just know it’s true. There’s my soundbyte for the day.

Writing, the one thing I believe I can do well, gives me my launchpad towards the sky, to travel in time and space, and explode whenever I feel like.

Now that’s as confessional as I’ll get. Ever. Well at least until I write about the Superstitious Atheist, which I’m led to believe has been coined by myself … yes … yours truly … remember you read it here, and watch this space.

Now please someone send me a consignment of Foucault on the next flotilla to Gaza.

Coelho’s soundbytes

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Warriors of the light are not perfect. Their beauty lies in accepting this fact and still desiring to grow and to learn.

We warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.

The two worst strategic mistakes to make are acting prematurely and letting an opportunity slip; to avoid this, the warrior treats each situation as if it were unique and never resorts to formulae, recipes or other people’s opinions.

There is one great truth on this planet: whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe…. The soul of the world is nourished by people’s happiness.

In my world, everything is possible and everything is relative

Laugh at your worries and insecurities. View your anxieties with humour. It will be difficult at first, but you’ll gradually get used to it.

At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.

Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.

Don’t think about what you’ve left behind, the alchemist said to the boy as they began to ride across the sands of the desert. Everything is written in the Soul of the World, and there it will stay forever.

There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.

Collected from here:


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2 thoughts on “The universe and all that

  1. Ayyy! Oh my that’s me up there 😀 :$

    (Ok let me recover from my emotions and I’ll comment something more intelligent :])

  2. No one will ever know the real impact they have on other people. Actually you can’t even tell to what extent other people have an impact on you. You can only do your best to be as much of a relief as possible for them, and hope that at some point, when you need it, you will find relief too somewhere.
    Thank you so much for this wonderful and touching post. You have no idea how happy and grateful it makes me feel 🙂 may God always let us play a positive and central role in the history of this world 🙂

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