Site icon Liesl Garner

Ancient Alchemy in Matters of the Heart

Antique pharmacy

There may actually be too many things percolating in my head this morning, for any of them to come together into a cohesive thought, but I’m going to try.

I am happy to announce that I do not think it is possible for words or books to disappoint me. Wednesday evening I finished book two in the All Soul’s Trilogy, by Deborah Harkness, and I’d told my husband that I was worried that this book was going to ruin me for novels for a while – that nothing else would satisfy like the richness of the characters or storyline in this book. I’d also told a single friend, that reading this book might ruin her for romance, because men in real life won’t be able to live up to the expectations planted by this story. There too, I believe I am mistaken.

As much as I plotted out potential comebacks to my words because of the well-crafted lines I had read, and as much as that made many ordinary men in my youth seem lacking, the time did come when a man surprised me with wit and romance beyond my wildest dreams, and he really did sweep me off my feet, and continues to do so. I was practically an old maid before I was married, single deep into my thirties, but as each passing year of marriage passes, the long time of yearning that was my teens and twenties and thirties seems to diminish, and the fullness of my life today takes on even more beautiful proportions.

At least my friend has her head on better than I did. She knows that reading great books will only make her stronger and that expectations for a great love needn’t be a downfall but a protection from settling for someone who won’t truly be able to satisfy her.


The book I have been reading goes into great detail about the sweeping alchemical history behind the search for the formula necessary to create the Philosopher’s Stone. It not only purportedly would turn base metal into gold, but could answer life’s questions, was the elixir of life, would give access to total enlightenment, and was the fulfillment of The Great Work, not only transforming metals, but transforming souls, bringing out the gold of character to replace the base.

The history behind this idea is so far reaching that it involves most of the disciplines of thought – science, philosophy, the spiritual world, the arts, and can be found suffusing all of the great civilizations.

So, it’s a big deal. So I put down book two, and know that I have a wait until I can get my hands on book three, and was literally dreading the down time in between, wondering if there were a book in existence that could satisfy my hunger for the resolution of this storyline.

I picked up a book of Philosophy called, “Does Santa Exist: A Philosophical Investigation,” by Eric Kaplan, a comedy writer and philosophical scholar behind “The Big Bang Theory.” Immediately, I was sucked in and loving it.

When the bell went off that it was time to go get the kids out of bed and stop reading, I put the book down with a sigh, and remarked to my husband that I was delighted to be proved wrong – that I cannot be disappointed by books or words, that the novel hadn’t ruined me, only enhanced my thirst for more and more interesting things to read.


Last night at dinner, my boys were being especially unruly. I was sitting tight-lipped and not myself, frustrated that they cannot come to the table and be nice. Why must they argue incessantly? I felt like there was something completely off in me – that I can’t be my true self around them, that I have a duality of character, that I can be fun and delighted and encouraging and amazed around other adults, and find myself reined in around my very own children, because if I give them an inch, they’ll take a mile, and they are always so overdoing it and wild. I want to be this amazing mom, and instead, sometimes, I feel like my only option is to clamp down and try to contain them because they are explosive in energy, enthusiasm, imagination, and volume. They are either the very best of friends, or trying to destroy one another, which, I hear is common in boys – just really overwhelming to me.

As I was washing dishes, the character in this latest novel came to mind. She also tried to contain, and lived a life of strictness over herself, not allowing her skills or powers to blossom. She held on too tight, and had to learn to allow things to happen that she didn’t have full control over, to allow magic to work through her.

I thought of the Philosopher’s Stone, of turning my base character into gold. I wondered if I could affect my outlook on my children by allowing things to happen that are uncomfortable to me, and not always in control, but the way boys behave. I wondered if instead of shutting them down, I treated them like my poet friends, who I have nothing but encouragement for. I feel alive in the presence of other poets and their words. It feels like a great and wild and beautiful gathering of festive minds. Well, my own children are just about the most festive minds I know – inventive, inquisitive, inspired by anything and everything. Where did I get the idea that I am to try to direct them toward calm and collected, and why would I so desire quiet when they have so much noise to offer?

One of the things that bothers me most is when Ben tries to constantly correct Bean. But in truth, he gets that from me. And to create change and influence a more harmonious world for us, I need to be open to letting them be and not always thinking my job is to correct and direct, but embrace, encourage and enjoy.

This turning base into gold is no easy task. So much of me wants to hold tight because they are so much. They are so much wild and fierce and brave and strong. They are so much whimsy and creation. They are so much bright and golden on their own, untapped and unrelenting. They are so much of what I crave in my own life, but somehow think that unfettered is dangerous and scary. I have so much to learn from them, and the thought of letting them fly with all the wind of their own dreams beneath their wings is at once terrifying and alarming, and yet exhilarating. What am I so afraid of – that they will live and be wild? That I will let my hair down and let them?

And so we go forward, seeking wisdom, embracing the unknown and allowing the delicious words of others to inspire us to become all that we were ever meant to be.


Incredible – in light of what I was just writing about this morning: Bean shared a dream over breakfast.

In his dream, I drank a potion we found in an antique store. And Ben drank a potion too.

Ben’s potion made him nice and they didn’t fight anymore. My potion made me mean. I asked him if anything counteracted the mean potion. Ben asked if it wore off.

Bean said I went into my room and the potion wore off, but when I came out of my room, I’d also forgotten everything, and Ben and he had to teach me.

The potion turned me into a blank slate. I think that is completely amazing. The words that come out of my little six-year old!

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