Reading a book someone has recommended to you can sometimes feel as if you are crawlling not only into the head of the author, but into that of the person who made the recommendation.
In a sense, that was what I was hoping for when I bought the book. I had read Coelho's The Alchemist several years earlier, having bought it by misatke. (I had been looking for The Anatomist by Argentinian author Federico Andahazi, a historical novel about a Venetian physician who discovers the clitoris. ¡Excellente!) The Alchemist as you probably already know has nothing to do with female genetalia, but is a good read, nonetheless. (Could 65 million readers be wrong?) To be honest, though, while I liked The Alchemist, I was somewhat disappointed by the ending which I found unsurprising. That said, it was engaging enough of a story that it only took a week of casual reading to get through it which is apparently only half as long as it took Coelho to write the novel. (Wish I could write a bestseller in two weeks!)
Although, I could appreciate both Coehlo's talent and success, I wasn't eager to read another one of his books. That is, until I bumped into Daichi one afternoon on my way home from work. (Who's Daichi, you ask. I've written about him once or twice before.)
Daichi was sitting at a newly renovated outdoor café, when he called out to me. I had half an hour or so free, so I sat down at his table. His laptop was on one table, papers spread were across another. He was sipping a cappuccino. When the waitress came to the table, I ordered a gin and tonic.
One of the things that has always impressed me about Daichi is that he always seems to have time. The man is running over ten different restaurants and bars throughout Japan, has a franchise business going, too, and yet he never looks harried. There's always an easy smile on his face and he always seems more than happy to spend thirty minutes of his valuable time chatting with you. (Contrast that to something Haruki Murakami said when he closed down his jazz bar Peter Cat to concentrate on writing: I'll never talk to someone again unless I want to.)
When my G&T came, Daichi asked how the writing was going. I answered, not bad, adding that I was spending more and more time in Tôkyô these days for networking and inspiration. In reality, I've never been so productive, never gotten so much writing done. I can thank my day job for that which provides me with not only the time to write but also a comfortable, brightly lit and quiet office to do it in. If all goes well, and I think it will, I should be able to finish another three to four books by the end of this year or by early spring of next year. The real job, I explain, is promoting my work and getting it read. And for that to happen, I need to meet people.
Daichi, then asked if I had read anything by Coehlo. He was reading The Pilgrimage at the time and, pulling the book out of his briefcase, handed it to me. I haven't read this, I told him. It's somewhat autobiographical, he explained, about a trip Coelho made . . .
He didn't need to say anymore. I had long before come to trust Daichi, someone who achieved far more in his first ten years out of high school than most people dreamed of accomplishing. I wrote the title down and promised myself to buy it as soon as I got home.
As I wrote earlier, reading a book someone has recommended you can be like getting into the head of that person. I was curious to understand what made Daichi tick, what kind of mindset could account for the enormous success he has achieved in spite of that easygoing character of his.
Well, ten, twenty, thirty pages into The Pilgrimage and I couldn't quite understand what it was that Daichi found so engrossing about the book. Indeed, I was almost ready to give up and start reading another book until I came across the following passage:
"The first symptom of the process of our killing our dreams is the lack of time," Petrus continued. "The busiest people I have knonw in my life always have time enough to do everything. Those who do nothing are always tired and pay no attention to the little amount of work they are required to do. They complain constantly that they day is too short. The truth is, they are afraid to fight the good fight.
"The second symptom of the death of our dreams lies in our certainties. Because we don't want to see life as a grand adventure, we begin to think of ourselves as wise and fair and correct in asking so little of life. We look beyond the walls of our day-to-day existence, and we hear the sound of lances breaking, we smell the dust and the sweat, and we see the great defeats and the fires in the yes of the warriors. But we never see the delight, the immense delight in the hearts of those who are engages in the battle. For them, neither victory nor defeat is important; what's important is only that they are fighting the good fight.
"And, finally, the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace. Life becomes a Sunday afternoon; we ask for nothing grand, and we cease to demand anything more than we are willing to give. In that state, we think of ourselves as being mature; we put aside the fantasies of our youth, and we seek personal and professional achievement. We are surprised when people our age say that they still want this or that out of life. But really, deep in our hearts, we know that what has happened is that we have renounceed the battle for our dreams--we have refused to fight the good fight."
The tower of the church kept changing; now it appeared to be an angel with its wings spread. The more I blinked the longer the figure remained. I wanted to speak to Petrus, but I sensed that he hadn't finished.
"When we renounce our dreams and find peace," he said after a while, "we go through a short period of tranquility. But the dead dreams begin to rot within us and to infect our entire being. We become cruel to those around us, and then we begin to direct this cruelty against oursleves. That's when illnesses and psychoses arise. What we sought to avoid in combat--disappointment and defeat--came upon us because of our cowardice. And one day, the dead, spoiled dreams make it difficult to breathe, and we actually seek death. It's death that frees us from our certainties, from our work, and from that terrible peace of our Sunday afternoons."1
And then it hit me: Daichi had always been "fighting the good fight". Was I?
1 Coelho, Paulo, The Pilgrimage. New York: Harper Collins, 1987, p.57-59.