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The Alchemist: by Paulo Coelho–a review


My first thought about The Alchemist was that it’s like The Secret for smart people; but then I thought that all those people who liked The Secret would be insulted at the perceived implication that they might not be smart, but then I thought that that would be their problem anyway, for thinking themselves not smart in the first place. And besides that, I’m not thinking of intelligence, specifically. I did read The Secret, thinking that there was maybe, hopefully, a secret that applied to everybody in achieving a life-long dream, or if not that, at least a financial wealth of Bill Gatesian proportions; and was disappointed in what I felt to be an over-simplification and superficiality. I found The Alchemist not that way. It dealt with the similar issue of following a dream, your dream, but at a deeper level in a way that I found more meaningful.

It is a story of parable, albeit a long one, and with the underling moral that one’s lifelong dream, or Personal Legend as Coelho calls it, is not necessarily that far removed from where one might currently be, but still is often not an easy path. I suppose that’s what seemed superficial about The Secret, that it was an easy path, only a few visualizations away, which wasn’t intuitive because you’d expect that it would be hard, that it isn’t readily available, that it takes trials, tribulations, and effort, conviction, etc. etc. In The Alchemist, achieving one’s Personal Legend seemed the exception rather than the rule; but still very possible, after exertion and with perseverance, which seems as it should be.

I wondered if my Personal Legend had already passed me by, like the crystal merchant selling tea at the top of the hill because I had not pursued my dream with as singular focus as the boy, and was now locked in a path not leading to  it. To some, the book might suggest the necessity of a long journey, preferably over a desert or across an ocean, or trekking the Way of St. James in Northwestern Spain as the author had done. I’m of the mind that this is not necessary, rather, simply the awareness that one is on a journey. For instance, my journey might be a non-ending succession of colonoscopies over the course of several years. I don’t think one need’s abandon anything or anyone to realize their Personal Legend, unless of course that anything or anyone is not constructive.

Alchemy is an ancient tradition in which successful practitioners hold great power, including the creation of a Sorcerer’s Stone which could turn baser metals into goal, and an Elixir of Life. The message of The Alchemist was that turning lead into gold was only possible for those of which that was their Personal Legend. Everyone’s Personal Legend is different, and I think possible because that what you want or dream of the most is something that you know that you at some level have the capacity for. Like, I wish I could sing such that others would fall silent at the beautiful tenor of my voice; but, I know that I have absolutely no capacity for that, and so, it not what I dream of most.

The Alchemist did provide me a spiritual breath that provided me with a motivation and renewed focus to work towards that which I’ve long wanted to but have let fall to the side of a too too busy life. It’s not that I couldn’t before–I just didn’t. I know it won’t be quick and it won’t be easy, and I may never reach the foot of the tree growing in the sacristy of the abandoned church; but, at least I’ll be traveling towards it.


Chia Seeds?

My April contribution to the NWTC newsletter What’s Cooking, and, it’s even about food, towards the end anyway.


My daughter came over a month ago, if not to cook us dinner, at least to make us dinner—a vegetarian dinner. She brought a giant blender and bags of plant-based products, half of which I couldn’t call by name. The blender alone was quite remarkable. I wasn’t sure if I should put food in it, or take it out on the lake and see what it could do. When she threw a bag of birdseed on the table, I asked, “What’s that?”

“Chia seeds. It’s a superfood. It swells up in your stomach so you’re not so hungry.”

“Hmmm…” I nodded, still a skeptic, “sounds interesting. I’ll look into it; maybe write a newsletter on it,” I said. “How do you spell it?”


Chia sage plant


Thirty years ago I would have settled down next to the book shelves in the basement and trickled my finger along the top of dusty row of World Book Encyclopedia volumes, coming to rest in the valley of the third volume. “C”.  A giant gold letter against the dark green spine wrapping around the front and back covers screaming pick me, pick me. I would remember, again, the nice young man who came to our house one evening long ago and sold us the rich set of guilt-edged volumes with an annual update, for only a modest fee. He looked at me and my little sister and asked us who we thought the youngest president of the United States ever was. I said, “Was it John F. Kennedy?” Who happened to be the last president I remembered because of his picture on the cover of Life magazine and my mother crying. My sister said, “me too.”

The nice young man said, “Well, we better check, hadn’t we.” He handed me the “K” volume and I reverently opened the book with an audible crack and explosion of freshness like a beam of white light reaching to heaven. I imagined a powdery-gold fairy dust gracing my finger, blessed to have come in contact with such a container of knowledge, a world of promise and expectation, an omnibus of factual data that would make me so smart that no one would ever kick sand in my face again . It didn’t take me too long to find it, being a second-grader with straight S’s, who “interacts well with others and works hard on his exercises”.

The answer, my answer, was in the very first paragraph of the chapter on President Kennedy. Now, what were the odds of that? I beamed at my parents. My sister clapped. My dad smiled, and my mom went to get the checkbook.

Well, that was then. Now, within seconds, electrons racing along a skinny wire stretching from some satellite dish in green bay to my computer, via various connections, transmits a series of 0’s and 1’s that…blah, blah, blah. It’s a new world; a different time in which Google rules, and the World Book is a footnote in history, so let’s get on with it.

There is no such thing as a super food, which is more of a marketing strategy than anything else. That’s not to say that they aren’t good for you; it’s just that it might not do everything the seller promises. All that aside, Chia seeds do kick some serious fiber-gluteus maximus. On a straight up comparison with Metamucil, Chia seeds have twice the fiber, 2 grams of protein, vitamins, minerals, and lots of Omega-3 fatty acids (good). And, it costs less at $10/lb. than the equivalent amount of name-brand Metamucil. They also have almost twice as much fiber as the equivalent amount of flax seed.

They feel like a soft, silky sand, and the first time I pinched them between my fingers I had an urge to take a Chia seed bath. They have little taste, but a pleasing texture, a gentle crunch so minute that you’re not quite sure it happened. I can sprinkle them on or in anything before I eat it. You can even soak them in water to make a gel that you can mix with fruit, or use as a healthy substitute in other dishes; and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’d work as spackling to fill nail holes in dry wall.

Chia seeds can last up to two years on the shelf. They’ve have an impressive history; being cultivated in Mexico as early as 2700 BC where one spoon of seeds in a cup of water would be used as an allotment for a day’s hard labor. It fulfilled medicinal purposes and was for a time used as currency. If there really were super-foods, Chia seeds would be a good candidate, as many other things; but, you won’t be able to leap buildings in a single bound.

Christmas starts today

I just put on a Transiberian Orchestra “radio station” on Pandora. It’s playing on “Mozart”, my old desk-top that’s plugged into the whole-house audio so that wherever I am in my fortress of solitude on this 5th day of November, I hear it. Sue’s at breakfast with a friend, and so I have some few remaining minutes before it starts, and continues, for the next two months, which is fine because as it turns out, I like Christmas.

I spent these leisurely minutes watching Cavuto on Fox while simultaneously reading a hardcover book with a black mark on the top and bottom edges, relative to the spine, which means that it was a bargain book picked from the pile at B&N for some reason at the time that I can’t now remember. It must be because of the author, Paulo Coelho, whose book, The Alchemist, I didn’t buy because, although I did like the first ten pages, wasn’t on the bargain stack, and I couldn’t find two other books from the stack it actually was on that I wanted to read. Besides, I have at least a shelf of books that I haven’t read, purchased cheaply for similar forgotten reasons with the intent to get to at some future date.

Well, today, The Winner Stands Alone, was the winner, and I am irrevocably along the way. Physics for Future Presidents and The City of God remain the losers for the time being while my shelf of future promise is lessened by one. The truth is, I’d not the energy for either of the latter, with Christmas about to start and all, and my just finished read, a kindle recommendation I scored from Instapundit, which was the actually not the recommendation, but rather, the prequel to the recommendation which I’ve since forgotten, but not sure I’ll pull the trigger on yet because one of the protagonists of the prequel was/were a pack of alien dogs that shared a soul and could live for hundreds of years because when one of the pack died, it was replaced by a child of the others until, eventually, the pack became so inbred that it was forced to accept outside blood, which by default meant losing the original soul. Hmmm…

Too much time spent on this already, back to Paul Coelho before Christmas will start, officially, as soon as I hear the garage door opening.

Relativity Diet Chapters

I’ve posted some sample chapters of The Relativity Diet on the “About the Relativity Diet Page.”

Over the next few days I will be reposting my last three monthly contributions to the NWTC Newsletter, as well as the June contribution; and I think I’ll write about the telomere/knowing when you’re supposed to die issue for July just because it’s something I’ve been interested in over the years–telomeres, which are protective caps on the ends of your chromosomes, and when they wear out, bad things happen; or, maybe not so bad if you believe in God. So, I guess it would be bad for Stephen Hawking who has the view that the brain is really no different than a computer. When it gets old and wears out, it’s just something to be discarded.