Aug. 24, 2009
While sitting home one night, I hear burglars fiddling
with the lock. This is what I've been waiting for!
I run around to the back and open the door, invite
them in, and pour some drinks. I tell them to relax,
and I help them off with shoes and masks.
In a little while we are fast friends, and after a dozen
toasts to J. Edgar Hoover, they begin to carry things out.
I point to the hidden silver, hold the door as they
wrestle with the bed, and generally make myself useful.
When they get the truck loaded and come back inside
for one last brandy, I get the drop on them. Using Spike's
gun, I shoot them both and imprint Blackie's
prints on the handle.
Then I get in the van and drive away,
a happy man.
It's the birthday of poet Robert Herrick, (books by this author) baptized today in London (1591), the author of the lines, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying, / And this same flower that smiles to-day / To-morrow will be dying."
It's the birthday of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, (books by this author) born in Rio de Janeiro (1947), best known for his novel The Alchemist. He's the all-time best-selling Portuguese-language author, and his books have sold more than 100 million copies in more than 150 countries.
The son of an engineer, he was educated by Jesuits and decided in high school that he wanted to be a writer. When he told his mother this, she said: "My dear, your father is an engineer. He's a logical, reasonable man with a very clear vision of the world. Do you actually know what it means to be a writer?" The teenage Coelho did some research on what sorts of people writers were, and he concluded that a writer "always wears glasses and never combs his hair" and has a "duty and an obligation never to be understood by his own generation." He was determined to become a writer, despite the opposition of his loving parents. Hoping that they could save their son, his parents committed the 17-year-old Coelho to a psychiatric institution.
Coelho escaped three times and was recommitted by his parents each time. He was finally released from the institution for good when he was 20, and he decided to give up on being a writer and instead to go to law school, as his parents desired. But in his first year, he dropped out of law school and started living a nomadic hippie lifestyle; he traveled all throughout South America, up to Mexico, and over to Europe and North Africa. He came back to Brazil and started regular work as a songwriter, composing lyrics for popular Brazilian artists. In 1974, he was arrested for "subversive" activities, based on his the leftist sorts of lyrics that he composed. He was put in prison, where he was tortured.
About a decade later, in 1986, he decided to do a 500-mile Christian pilgrimage walk in Spain, called El Camino de Santiago. It leads to the Cathedral in northwest Spain where the remains of the apostle St. James are said to be buried. The journey was a turning point in Coelho's life; he realized that though he had a comfortable and happy life, he was not fulfilling his dream, which was to be a full-time writer. He came back to Brazil and wrote a novel, The Pilgrimage (1987), based on his experiences in Spain. Then, the following year, he published the book that made him famous around the world, The Alchemist (1988).
It's an allegorical tale in which a Spanish shepherd boy goes to Egypt to fulfill his personal dreams, and along the journey, he has a spiritual transformation and receives advice from all sorts of wise characters.
The Alchemist begins:
"The boy's name was Santiago. Dusk was falling as the boy arrived with his herd at an abandoned church. The roof had fallen in long ago, and an enormous sycamore had grown on the spot where the sacristy had once stood. He decided to spend the night there."*
Coelho publishes a novel about every other year. He's the author of 26 books, including The Valkyries (1992), By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1994), The Fifth Mountain (1996), Veronika Decides to Die (1998), The Zahir (2005), and The Witch of Portobello (2006).
In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes, "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."*
And, "To realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation."*
*Translated by Alan R. Clarke; published by Harper Collins.
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