The alchemist and the marketer

It was one of those dreams that you know are a dream, but it doesn’t matter.

I’m standing in a dark cool tent in the middle of a desert with the simoom wind outside petulantly flinging hot sand against the tent flaps.

The tent is full of fascinating glassware and alembics and crucibles and other things I have no names for. I’m facing the alchemist as she stirs a fiercely glowing metal gloop.

Look into her eyes and you’ll believe those that claim the alchemist is eight hundred and fifty-three years old. Look at her smile and the stories that she’s younger than the morning’s dew become clear. She’s wearing folded robes and rainbow suspenders; I would kill an archangel for her dark hair.

She smiles in twenty-three dimensions and speaks. You know why you’re here.

I sadly admit that I do.

She stirs and says Tell me why you are here.

I clear my throat, both in the dream and in my sleeping body, and I say, “I accept work I know won’t be my best by working with people who aren’t quite right.”

Do you do this for the money?

No! Well, sometimes. But mostly I do it from love.

You love people, so you give them less than your best?

Yes. No. I want to help!

But you also crave magnificence. For yourself and the people you work with.

I do. (My sleeping forehead is crumpled and pinched and rigid. Uncomfortable.)

Do you know how the Elixir of Life is created? How the Philosopher’s Stone is made?

(Resist the Harry Potter joke, Catherine.) They’re made by removing all the impurities from a special mixture until only a liquid and solid remain. The liquid is the Elixir of Life, which grants immortality. The solid part is the Philosopher’s Stone, which will turn any metal into gold.

Do you know how to identify an alchemist?


She smiles across five wavelengths of light and rolls back her sleeves. Her hands and forearms are pitted with burn on top of burn. In a few, I wincingly note, it appears that liquid metal has actually bonded with the skin. My sleeping hands twitch in sympathetic pain.

It is an easy thing to say, to remove all impurities. But what it means is to suffer and to strive and to breathe painful fumes and to burn and to burn and to burn. One of the ingredients in this mixture is a hundred times the mixture’s volume in the tears of its creator.

My sleeping eyes sneak tears onto my red pillow. “So I must suffer to create magnificence. I accept that.”

Oh, it is worse. You must accept that other people will suffer because of your desire for magnificence. I have scars, but I am not in the crucible. It is the metal which suffers most.

O no no. I love my almost-right people. I don’t want to make them suffer.

What, then? Will you continue to work with people who cannot get the most from what you offer? Perhaps now, perhaps forever?

That’s not fair to them either! Or to me. (My sleeping body draws in on itself, knees almost grazing nipples in a tense fetal ring.)

You wished to be an alchemist. To create money and lasting change, your cash and joy. Money is the province of the Philosopher’s Stone. Lasting change is simply immortality with different pants on, your Elixir of Life.

This is the alchemist’s master work. And it is painful.

But it’s not like they’re bad people. They’re amazing!

Yes, they are. Silver is a beautiful metal, costly and delightful… but if I added it to this crucible, the mixture would fail. This is not a judgement about value, this is a recipe. And with receipes no is much more important than yes.

I say yes a lot.

You do. And so now you must say, “I’m sorry, but…”

(The tears spread across my pillow as I beseech my dream.) Is there any way around this no don’t tell me I know there isn’t. My heart feels like it’s breaking.

That is another ingredient in the alchemist’s master work. Your heart must break so it can regrow larger.

Please, is this worth it?

Only you can tell. But I think it’s pretty kick-ass.

The alchemist crafts a smile that is both a wave and a particle, and I wake to a damp pillow and a dreaded to-do list.

More stories each week when you sign up to Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy. I promise most of them don’t make me cry the way this one did.

Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

36 thoughts on “The alchemist and the marketer

  1. Oh Goodness,
    I can so relate to this. I was just making a video this week about power and change and about how change brings insecurity, which is suffering. There are so many forms of suffering. And yes, it is true that other people will suffer for my work and for yours, but that is inversely proportional to the ones who will benefit. We cannot be afraid of the suffering.

  2. It’s worth it, I keep telling myself. It makes me FEEL so much better. But I’m still pretty new with this biz stuff. I’ll let you know in 6 months…

    You keep me pumped to stay there. Thank you xx

  3. You are so insanely talented, it’s ridiculous. You’re a phenomenal, engaging storyteller who makes the rest of us look like we’re just fooling around. I’ll be going to sit over here and pout now. πŸ™‚

    Fabulous, fabulous piece!

  4. Catherine Dearest, just read the newsletter, too. You asked for our feedback.

    I feel the same way reading this post and the newsletter, as I did when you told us that the Amazing Chats were going to no more, and what you wanted for the Provocateurs… in fact, I’m going to tweet out the same exact thing now as I did then… the reason why I brought my baby Effindiets to you – and continue to – is because I know that I can’t pay you enough cash for you not to care, or to not have joy.

    It feels like you’re sticking to your recipe. (And if I’ve been listening at all to you, I’ve gotten that that’s a leetle bit important.)

    I imagine that if Effindiets was a “real” baby…and you had helped birth her (as you did) and I continued to bring her in for check-ups (as I do) and you and I talked on a regular basis about my hopes and dreams for my baby (as we do) and what I’m going to be doing per our conversation with my baby in between this visit and the next we have with you (check) and I start showing up more often than not with her nose full of snot and dirt caked under every toe and fingernail and I’m like but here’s this heap of cash… what I think I know about you is that if that’s how I intend to treat my baby, you don’t want any part of me or my heaps.

    The care you have given me and my baby is AMAZING – I love your expertise and your bedside manner – and the best part about it is that you will not do it alone. And so I get to be the most wonderful Effindiets mom I can be, and was meant to be.

    Me getting that kind of joy? Priceless.

    You taught me to stand firm on giving joy and getting joy, and even as I work through with you re who the Best Person is for what is coming out of Effin next, I am goddamn radiant thanks to you about this one thing for sure…

    Since I can get cash doing a zillion things, and what I want is joy…

    If people are prepared to give me joy – on my pre-defined terms – then, they can also give me their cash.

    (Signing off now… I’m typing like I’m convinced cash is going to fall out of this comment if it exceeds a certain length.)

  5. Hey! Sounds like you dream like I do! So lucid, the universe might as well be shouting in your ear. Please give us a good example, like you always do. I, too, want to learn how to say no to all but my best work. And it’s so, so hard. Poor, poor, almost right people. I wish them all the best.

  6. Thunderbolts and lightning, right between the eyes. I swear my angel whispered in your alchemists ear, and she came and gave you this dream, and your wrote it (just for me?) so … I found it. Wow. Thanks angel;) I think my heart is going to break… glad to know I’m in good company. xxx

  7. “She smiles across five wavelengths of light and rolls back her sleeves. Her hands and forearms are pitted with burn on top of burn. In a few, I wincingly note, it appears that liquid metal has actually bonded with the skin. My sleeping hands twitch in sympathetic pain.

    It is an easy thing to say, to remove all impurities. But what it means is to suffer and to strive and to breathe painful fumes and to burn and to burn and to burn. One of the ingredients in this mixture is a hundred times the mixture’s volume in the tears of its creator”

    My heart stopped beating and I couldn’t find my breath for a minute – this is wrenchingly beautiful – it haunts me, it attacks me with truth. to burn and to burn an to burn.

    I want rip all my hair out in a maladjusted display of admiration for the words in this post – or eat them. suck the meaning out of them like marrow from bones and cackle as i toss the empty bones in a careless pile. I’ve seen this topic covered – discussions about how the not right people come in a distract you, how and why it’s hard to just say no – because there is *real* pain around saying no and it’s good to think about what saying ‘no’ means to people who are in need and it’s so much more nuanced than just cheerleading for heartless boundaries. but the way you brought the richness of the *sacrifice* to life – I feel like i’m on holy ground.

    1. Oh oh, this thrilled me. One of the reasons this came out so well was that I was still full of your voluptuous verbiage. (So we’re both responsible for the richness of this piece.)

      Thank you for getting it so deeply, my love.

  8. This is beautiful. Heartbreaking but reassuring.

    I think back on our call often – how I was in the wrong mindset, how unprepared I was & how lost I felt. Then, I think of the most fruitful discussions I’ve had with my mentor – they’re the ones where she pushed me beyond my comfort zone + asked questions I couldn’t answer. Those are the the talks that have propelled me forward, forced me to clarify + think + act. Magnificence is hard. It may induce tears. It can be wildly uncomfortable. But, it’s also so worth it. I’ve found the biggest challenges are the most rewarding.

    Good luck to you as you continue to refine your people and edge closer and closer to magnificence.

    Also, this: “Your heart must break so it can regrow larger.” So effing good. Resonated deeply in my fractured heart.

  9. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read on the internet, ever.

    Thank you for sharing this. This is a trap I fall into time and time again. I can’t save the world. I need to focus on helping the people I can help the most.

    There are so many more words that I want to say to respond to this, but I can’t quite find them. Just beautiful.

  10. Lyrical, simply that.

    Loved this:”…to burn and to burn and to burn.” That one phrase sent the whole message straight home.

  11. Catherine you’re fucking brilliant. I think you just gave me a missing piece to my novel. My poor main character.

    Your quirky, nerdy brain is one of my favorite things. And you are one of my favorite people.

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