I want to be out in the gorgeous weather, but my town is understandably awash in families on this clear September Saturday. An Italian festival is going strong a few blocks away on our idyllic waterfront promenade.
Still, I have a gift for finding ways to joyful solitude even in crowds, so I snag a bench a few blocks from the carnival atmosphere and settle in. Hudson River and New York skyline in front of me, I am not moving from this spot until I finish Stephanie Land’s book, Maid. A clear mission.
I am more than halfway through and just haven’t been able to make time for the push to the end. This book is a ride, and not a smooth one. The only thing keeping me from putting it down is that I know the persistent gnawing angst I’ve had throughout is going to give way to some kind of triumph.
Why? Because I am holding a beautiful hard-cover book in my hand published by Hachette with a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.
God, I love memoir.
All of the godawful stories of cleaning people’s dirty bathrooms, putting up with snide comments about her food stamps, locating a place to live that doesn’t jeopardize her child’s health, living in fear of her child’s father fighting her for custody, and trying to carve out moments of dignity and peace are going to have a payoff. This author is going to inspire, simply by virtue of sharing her story.
I reach the second-to-the-last chapter and the pace toward relief is escalating. I can already feel it, but then Land mentions plucking The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho off her shelf and I am nodding vigorously. Yep, that’s the one you want right now. It’s a life alterer. Open it and go. You’ve got this.
Part of that reaction is the reader in me, part of it is the life coach. But really, most of all, it’s my inner author — whose own memoir contains a pivotal moment with Coelho’s classic tale of a boy’s pilgrimage — that wants to rise up and scream. Not just because I know Land is about to get a dose of wisdom but because I am about to as well. Clearly I need to hear it again.
So I keep reading and I smile as Land describes outlining passages on nearly every page. Coelho’s language is alluring, the images and concepts enchanting as the reader follows the boy’s journey. She is pulled in.
Good. Good. Good.
I get to her pivotal moment. After scrimping, laboring, and attempting to stay afloat for years, she receives a packet in the mail – she has been accepted into a scholarship program she so dearly wants. She writes this:
“A line from The Alchemist flashed through my mind like ticker tape: When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. With the scholarship money, I’d have the means to save my wages, get my car fixed, and drive over two mountain passes to see a city many of my favorite writers wrote love stories about.”
After I close the book, I walk home and look at my own memoir, Alive in the Sunshine, to find the spot where I talk about The Alchemist:
“I am a big believer in synchronicity, so when the third person in a week mentions the book The Alchemist, I pay attention. I’ve got to do something to shake things up, expose myself to more great thinkers, as I’m now living without health insurance and it feels precarious when I let that swish around in my brain. As soon as I start reading the book, I know this is the exact time I am supposed to be experiencing its magic.”
And then I cite these words from Coelho:
“The Soul of the World is nourished by people’s happiness. And also by unhappiness, envy and jealousy. To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”
The same passage as Land! Gold.
I keep reading this part of my memoir and I realize I read The Alchemist on the very same waterfront bench where I had just completed Land’s book. It had propelled me forward in my own writing journey, one that had produced my memoir.
I marvel at what writing can do as I once again thank Paulo Coelho for his wisdom and revel in the knowledge that Land made it to a better place.