Personal Alchemy: Transmuting Dreams into Reality

2011 K. Omodele

You never know what sands you’ll cross, what mountains you’ll climb, what oceans you’ll swim.

On January 1, 2011, my main resolution was to travel more. I was eagerly finalizing the itinerary for a trip to New Zealand that I had splurged on for my birthday the following month. I couldn’t wait to visit God’s Own Country by myself to bungy jump, canyon swing and just relax in an outdoor hot tub. In addition to my travel plans, I made the usual goals to exercise, eat healthy, volunteer more and write, but my main focus was to become an intrepid solo woman traveler.

Eleven months, 17 states and 11,000 miles later, here I am.

I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions. I love the idea of setting goals, holding oneself accountable and charting visible progress. I hate when I’m unable to maintain any consistency or momentum on said goals.

But 2011 was different. Call it the year of accomplishing the “un-goal,” an objective that stumbles upon accidentally, but still realizes. January 1 of this year, I was the recipient of a brand spanking-new MFA in creative writing, having graduated from Antioch University Los Angeles a few weeks prior. I knew I wanted to write a novel. I was writing and submitting fiction to various ezines and literary journals, and I did manage to get my first acceptance letter from The Absent Willow Review for a short speculative fiction piece entitled “The Stiffening.”

I did not set out to publish Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage.

In grad school, I’d worked on about five short stories that I was pretty proud of, but I didn’t have enough material for a complete book.

So what does this have to do with travel or even alchemy, for that matter?

I’ve always been intrigued by novels about the hero’s journey, so it’s no coinkydink that I’m revisiting Paulo Coelho’s classic The Alchemist. In the story, a shepherd boy named Santiago goes on a quest to find treasure in Egypt, far from his flock and his hometown of Spain. Along the way, he meets people and interprets omens that will help him on his mission. An old man who says he is the King of Salem reveals that Santiago is actually on a mission to fulfill his Personal Legend, his greatest desire and purpose for living.

Here are the king’s words that always resonate with me:

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

That’s an interesting word choice: conspires. That means the soul of the world is scheming and planning and collaborating to help us attain the deepest desires of our heart.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I started penning obituaries at seven or eight years old  to “off” the kids who bullied me, I found pleasure and power in wielding my pen as a wand. Throughout my professional career – whether I was temping or working at a top-rated talk show, I managed to weave some aspect of writing in my daily duties, be it a newsletter I created for the company or a celebrity exclusive.

Looking back, I was living out my Personal Legend, although some gigs didn’t seem to bring me nearer to my goal of being a successful novelist or a working screenwriter in Hollywood. If anything, they seemed to confirm that my greatest desires would stay just that – yearnings, wishes.

Like Santiago, I never abandoned my dreams. Even though events, people and a lack of courage on my part caused me to stumble and doubt my quest, I kept pushing on.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

I did not plan on publishing a book in 2011. A seed was planted for me to write short stories about a futuristic world where black women have agency, are complex, are dysfunctional, are quirky – because I am all of those things, and my experiences matter, as do the lives of other women of color that this society seeks to marginalize and render invisible.

I heeded the call to adventure. Once the idea was planted that I could write five additional stories and publish a ten-story collection, things began rapidly falling into place. I was able to walk away from my 9-to-5, self-publish Escape from Beckyville, produce a video about the book, buy a van, trick it out and embark on a cross-country book tour with my mother, Lola  — all in the span of about five months.

Were mistakes made along the way? Absolutely. Like the Andalusian shepherd boy in The Alchemist, advice went unheeded and faulty decisions were embraced. But with those bad choices came the opportunity to learn from my mistakes and grow.

Sometimes you have to leave the confines of your cubicle and heed the call to adventure. Scary? Sure. Risky? Let’s just say, there will be a winding road of trials. But here’s another quote from Coelho that encourages us all to war for our dreams:

“Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won’t suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow. But when the person looks back-she will hear her heart.”

I could have played it safe and stayed at my job, just as Santiago could have remained in the countryside of Spain, tending his sheep. I had stability, health benefits and a great salary that allowed me to travel. But what good is a passport and foreign currency if you’re unwilling to take the more challenging journey into self to discover who you really are and your true purpose for living?

I may be a lot of things (eccentric comes to mind), but an armchair adventuress I am not. Had I not gambled on my dreams, I would never have gotten my book sold at 14 stores across the nation. I would never have been interviewed about the issues black women face – our hair, our relationships, our anger. Had I not entered the belly of the whale, my book wouldn’t be required reading for Purdue University’s Blackness and Culture course next semester. I would never have experienced an incredible four-month bonding odyssey with my mom. I would never have connected with black women and other readers who have said, “Thank you for writing this book. You captured in words many things that troubled me,” or even “Help! I’m a Becky and I don’t want to be.”

Have I reached the end of my quest, have I crossed the final threshold? I hope not. I believe it’s just the beginning. I took an unconventional route, the road less traveled, and I’m opening my life up to receiving unconventional results. I believe 2012 is going to be the year that I stretch and grow as a writer, that I take the shackles off my imagination.

There will be travel! I’m claiming it now. By faith.

I’d love to do a tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs for those not in the know). I’d love to volunteer more, especially with organizations like Covenant House that provide shelter and other resources for homeless teens. While on the road, I taught creative writing workshops at Covenant House New Orleans and Covenant House Pennsylvania, and I’m so humbled and inspired by the courage of the kids.

The passion for writing Escape from Beckyville has rekindled my love for screenwriting, so I’m revisiting old scripts with new eyes. I want to be a voice in this world, and I’d like to write and produce films with multi-layered and empowered black characters. There, I said it.

You never know where life will take you, what sands you’ll sink into, what mountains you’ll hike, what oceans you’ll frolic in, but your destination can be a magical one if you truly believe your life has purpose and meaning, and you set out to uncover that with your whole heart.

What better way to usher in 2012 than by practicing personal alchemy — transmuting dead desires, dead dreams and dead hopes into reality?

It’s a new year and a new beginning. Live your life like it’s golden.

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