What is alchemy in Japanese? pt. 2

Like most people, I love a good story so I read a lot. And, though I love to read new books, if I fall in love with a book, I always read it again. I’ve even repurchased books I’ve already read  if my copy was lost or loaned out to parties long forgotten (a writer and publisher’s wet dream I am). I do this mostly to see if it has stood the test of time. Have I outgrown it, or it me? Have I changed since the last reading? And, if so, how? Has the story, or at least its meaning for me, changed? Some books help me understand the art of telling a story or the craft of writing better. Other books help me mark my growth as a human being.

I have a list of books that are like good friends to me…books that speak to me, comfort me, instruct me or simply entertain me. Most books I read just once. Even if I think it is an exceptional read, once is enough. Sometimes I read a book 2 or 3 times and then decide it can’t hang. However, I’ve read all of the following books at least 3 times and at most 10 and they still do it for me: “Their eyes were watching God,  The Catcher in the rye,  Shogun, Bonfire of the Vanities, Bright lights-Big City, Dune, The killer in me, The Friends, Without Remorse, The Vampire Lestat, Jurassic Park, The Godfather and, yes, The Fountainhead (actually my last read of Fountainhead I skipped over 200 pages and that’s a red flag…doesn’t augur well for future reads) . The list goes on and on…

I’d been sitting in Doutor’s Cafe reading “The Alchemist” when I thought,  久しぶり “Long time, no see.”  It had been a while since I read a book that made me feel that way so quickly. A whole lot of dead trees. But from the first few pages the book had started a conversation with me like we’d been best friends kicking it in a previous life and been interrupted only to pick up where we’d left off here in my current life…almost without missing a beat.

The loud screech of a chair against the floor tore my attention from the book. I looked up to see a rather attractive woman. She was sitting not far from me and I could see- for she made no effort to hide it- that she had been staring at me. She grinned, and in her grin it was obvious that something about me had impressed her so much that she’d lost all sense of  the propriety I’ve come to expect from Japanese women.

However, very unlike myself, I couldn’t care less…I returned to my conversation with my friend, who was catching me up on his adventures in Spain, Morocco and across The Sahara.

The main character, Santiago, left Spain to follow his dream of finding treasure near the pyramids of Egypt.

I told him that I too had left my home in Brooklyn in search of something but I wasn’t sure what.

He told me about an Alchemist he’d met along the way who taught him how to understand the language of the world.

I told him about Aiko and how she’d impacted my life and helped me understand many things about the world and about myself.

“She sounds like an alchemist to me,” he’d said.

“Actually, I think she was the treasure I didn’t know I came to Japan to find,” I said without even thinking.

He told me that when he arrived at the pyramids he was mugged and beaten by bandits.

I told him about the lost of Aiko and the battering my soul is taking here in Japan.

He told me that, following the beating, he learned- from one of the bandits no less- the true location of his treasure…

I scratched my head. “I’m not sure what I’m learning here among these bandits,” I told him, meaning the Japanese. Then, my watch alarm beeped. It was time to teach.

The verdict: “Well, it’s fractured,” the doctor said. “….But not seriously.” 

My eyes were transfixed on the x-ray. A fine line cut diagonally across the first metacarpal, a bone chip dangling on the edge of the crack. I caught the doctor looking at my eyes and again he smiled.

“It’s a little crooked,” he said, and it was. It bent to the left. “But, if you don’t mind a little deformity…”


“…it’ll heal in 6 weeks or so.”

“6 weeks?” My first thought was Damn, there goes my summer. But I can get a lot of writing done so…wait a minute! Oh shit! Will I be able to type?

Maybe he misread the concern on my face because he added, “But, if you want it to be straight again, perhaps you will need an operation.” He slowly took my pinkey in hand and showed me with a gentle touch…”cut along here, insert a metal rod and, in 6 months or so, it’ ll be like new.”

“6 months!?”

 I felt my tear ducts welling up…I never knew how important writing was to me until that very moment.

Then, without any invitation, “Santiago” started whispering in my ear. “Sometimes there’s just no way to hold back the river.”

“Well, sensei, I’ll do whatever you suggest,” I said in surrender. He looked at me…through me, actually. He had those kind of eyes that have been there, seen it and wrote a book about it. I felt his two hands caressing my swollen pinkie and it felt very calming, like some kind of ancient secret physical therapy. As I looked down I saw him grip it just so and suddenly yank and straighten it. I screamed out in agony. But the doctor wasn’t moved. He kept pulling and twisting adroitly for a few seconds longer. I couldn’t watch. I looked up at the nurse, who stood by with a handful of gauze and other materials necessary for immobilizing my finger. Apparently she’d known or had anticipated what the doctor would do. Upon seeing this I relaxed and though the pain hadn’t subsided a lick, I felt  relieved to be in the hands of professionals.

“Well, it’s straight now,” the doctor said, dead-pan, like nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. Like I hadn’t scared the shit out of all of the patients waiting just outside his door. “… so you may not need that operation after all.” He wore the same knowing smile while he and the nurse worked on setting my hand. Once they were done he added, “come back next week and I’ll take another look.”

There was joy there in his face. Not a sadistic joy, but the joy of not only knowing what he was doing, and being able to do it well, but in knowing that he had discerned his path in life, followed it, and now he was living his dream. I don’t get this feeling from doctors very often. In fact, it’s rare. Most of the doctors I’d visited back in NY seemed to be distracted, like I was keeping them from more important matters, or aloof and cloaked in professional distance. He was neither.

I looked down at my finger then at the X-ray of its cracked crooked skeleton then back at it, with one prescient thought in my mind: This is a sign.

Santiago had spoken to me  a great deal of signs at that cafe the day before. “Signs,” he’d said, “are like messages from the Creator.”

“I know,” I said. Santiago has a tendency to get a little didactic at times, and repetitive too, to be honest. But so do I. It’s one of the many things we have in common. “I’ve believed in signs my whole life. You know that!”

“I know you think you have,” he said. “But your belief ends at acknowledgement way too often, and your resolve to finish things you begin is weak at best. You don’t have faith in the Creator nor yourself.”  He’d said it quite harshly, too, spanking me with his words, speaking to me in a way I’d only let a friend or family speak to me…actually I don’t even let family get away with that crap anymore.

But, he was right.

“Are you ok?” my student had asked me. I was still smarting from the pimp-slapping that Santiago had given me just moments ago.

I shook it off and apologized to her. “It’s just this book. It’s…I don’t know.”

I hate to get too personal with my students. But she was one of the exceptions. We never use textbooks anymore. Our lessons have evolved into something akin to a paid friendship…

“Ee?” she’d said like she couldn’t quite follow what I’d said. “A book?”

I wanted to tell her that it was fucking with me the way books fuck with me sometimes. That it had gotten in my head, deep in my head, and was pushing buttons and turning dials and flipping switches. But instead I asked her, “Have you ever read a book that feels so familiar that you think the writer was thinking about your life when he wrote it?”

She looked confused. I tried to think of a way to ask the question simpler…

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I mean, what happened to your hand???”

to be continued…


btw, this is my 100th post! Anyway, it feels like a milestone to me (-:

Once again I want to thank all of my readers for your support and encouragement.

I feel like a change is underway.

What can I tell you? Stay Tuned…


11 Responses to “What is alchemy in Japanese? pt. 2”

  1. 1 ItAintEazy
    June 21, 2009 at 3:35 am

    Congratulations on your century mark! I can’t remember the last book I read that had that kind of effect on me. I usually read crime novels and non-fiction. I guess I’m allergic to Ayd Rand because people who read it are usually self-entitled douchebags who have yet to exit their me-me-me-it’s-all-about-mee late adolescent stage, but I guess if someone as put together as you are able to read it and enjoy it, I guess it can’t be that bad.

    • June 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks EZ! If you like a crime novel then you must be on to Jim Thompson. If not, grab one of the books from my list: The Killer inside me” or grab ” The Grifters” Man, Jim will blow you away! Also, of course, anything by Raymond Chandler (especially “The Big Sleep” or “Farewell, my lovely,”, he’s the absolute master of crime.
      Man, I am still “Me Me ME!” But in a good way (at least i think so) I really believe that if everyone was truly selfish (not the current definition) then the world would be a better place. Ayn Rand grabbed me and held me on that….and that’s why people hate her. I just think she’s long-winded is all (look who’s talking)
      Thanks as always for the shout
      PS; If you read “The Killer inside me” brace yourself for a very long ride in a very short time….Jim can fuck your head up right quick

  2. 3 Peter
    June 21, 2009 at 11:59 am

    The Fountainheads one of my favourites along with Atlas Shrugged. I’m guessing the 200 page’s are the same I’ve found myself avoiding in the past. I think with rand’s work people focus on the egoism, but I like both Rourke and Rearden for the fact they don’t take short cuts, they learn what they feel they should and apply it.

    • June 21, 2009 at 11:24 pm

      Yep, Rourke was the man, worthy of accolades. I sued to walk around NY trying to figure out which were Peter Keating type buildings (of which there are many) and which were Roarke type buildings (a handful) I guess there were even fewer than I think. I probably picked out what I would think were radical for the time period but Roarke was not the radical or the modernist as much as he was a functionalist. And how does one discern the functionality of a building in it’s design? Hell if I know, even though Rand spent a good 500 pages or so trying to explain just how. (-: It still, remains something I can only see in my imagination.
      Thanks for the shout Yo

  3. June 21, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Shogun: what an absolutely amazing book. The plot is succint and intelligent, the characters alive and visceral, the directions it takes explosive and compelling. What a cracking post, lovely stuff!

    • June 21, 2009 at 11:18 pm

      Thanks Ryan! Yeah, Shogun never ceases to get me and each time at it I find a new aspect of the story to deconstruct and explore. One of the best books of our time, without question.
      and thanks for the props on the post (:

  4. 7 X_LostXcausE_X
    June 22, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Yo! Loco! Sorry I haven’t visited in a while! Yeah, the alchemist is deep yo. Maybe I should search my room for it and read it again…anyhow,hope you enjoy it and congrats on the hyakuban mark. Oh,I’ve also commented on your last two posts so check that out too. Peace

  5. 8 Rune
    June 22, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Book! books are wonderful and this post has made me want to pick up one of re-reads; John Fowles’ The Magus (rather aprospos when the book that led to this series of posts is called The Alchemist.) But first I have to finish off re-reading Chris Claremont/George Lucas’ Chronicles of the Shadow War.

    *fixed a broken link*

  6. 9 Bored in Kanagawa
    June 23, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    My favorite book is Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany
    by Hans J. Massaquoi. Whenever I’m feeling down I pick up this great read and flip through my bookmarks depending on the situation. By the way congrats on reaching 100! Keep up the good work and the excellent writing style.

  7. June 23, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    hahaa!? From what little I’ve seen of your politics, I hadn’t expected you could possibly be a fan of some of Rand’s stuff. I had thought politics was a topic I ought not broach with you, but now I’ve just got no idea what sterotype to try to apply

    Have you looked into the one-handed Dvorak keyboard layout, or can you type with all fingers but one? Hehe

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