Possibly two years ago I began reading a novel, a big chunky paperback in which to lose the minutes of my days and let my mind imagine a bygone era. Set in ancient Egypt, it revolves around the city of Alexandria and hence, there are the competing pantheons of the gods of two different people and cultures.
I am still reading that book, which I am quite enjoying, but there have been not enough hours in any week to have the luxury of immersion in reading purely for pleasure’s sake. And yet, it is that book that set the framework for my own Alexandria and the inspiration to learn more about Greek mythology.
Alexandria is a concept, my version of Camelot. She is at turns brilliant in her beauty and callous in her careless ignorance. A city’s heart is her people and the buildings an expression of the dreams of many. Sometimes those dreams are broken, built on poor foundations, corrupted by the hands of others.
Cities grow with each new piece of learning, each page turned and thought expressed. The comings and goings of others, the shifting dynamics and demographics make the dream that was, become something else. Cities are alive. And just as we cannot always predict what will happen to our own body, regardless of the lifestyle measures and insurance policies we set in place, the body that is the city ages; how it ages, is a measure of the attitudes of those who make her heart beat.
My Alexandria is as real to me as Athens, London or Moscow. Away & Beyond is the place of exile that, whilst not a home of my choosing, facilitates the ongoing dream that is Alexandria.
You could probably psychoanalyse the tales if you wished, looked for the hidden meanings, but that is not the point of the tales. The point is the expression of emotions that only seem to find voice in that mystical – and mythical – realm.
I woke on a couple of mornings last week to a thick fog, what we call in Australia “pea-soup”. And I felt like I was walking in some sort of Brigadoon. Walking early on one of those morns, I wondered what it would be like to disappear into the mists of time and only return once every hundred years to see where mankind had taken the world. I’m not sure if the dying vicar in Brigadoon did his faithful town-people a favour or not in asking the Almighty to preserve them against the ravages of progress. As wonderful as the tale sounds – and it is one of my favourite old movies – I think learning and personal growth would cease by being so out of step with the rest of mankind.
Alexandria has changed for me, in ways I did not foresee, even when I first started to write about her. There have been twists and interferences, but there have also been gifts of kindness unexpected. Away & Beyond has become the gift I at first shunned and I’ve come to realize that the gift bore so much more in blessings than was apparent at the first.
A long time ago, a dear friend with some more years of life experience than me told me that he does not believe in luck. He believes the only luck is the opportunity that man takes for himself. And yet, as much I agree with him, there are still those instances when we have so little control, where the luck of others outweighs the rights or wrongs of our own situations, changing destinies, giving hope or stealing promise.
My Alexandria is the expression of all the uncontrolled in a world of five year plans and ambitious rivals. The tales are a series of vignettes with one intent – to provide release for feelings and wade in the pleasure of true art, the creation that only comes at the highest peaks and lowest troughs of emotion.
I believe in never publishing in the heat of emotion. That doesn’t mean I have not done so. Compulsion sometimes gets the better of my writing at times too. Like now, when the tickle of inspiration has come into my head on a not so lazy Saturday and it would be more practical to spend the time on issues for work. But it’s the weekend and it’s then that my practical tendencies ease the throttle on my mind after a week of grinding labour and allow the soul a little space to simply be. And so I write, about Alexandria in prose; or I read about the Greek gods; or I have long conversations with those I love. And when the work still has to be done, sometimes, the soul says, “No!” and forces the work to wait until Monday.
I will finish reading that novel. But it has become the impetus for so much more than simple mental escape. It is a bind to before, a time marker of change, in my thoughts and in my being. And so, I have read one or two other much shorter novels that seem less imposing as select volumes. Truth be told, I read so much technical and business guff in a day that come the end, I have little enthusiasm for more reading. But that will not always be so and before long the days will lengthen and the sun will invite me to sit under some broad expanse of foliage with a tale of ancient Egypt. And even if I finish this novel, my own Alexandria has a life of its own, one I can craft to a degree, but which is inextricably tied to the fate of the rest of mankind as well. Cities rise, some fall, but none will be the same in twenty years as it is today. Just look at the Alexandria of modern day and the fortunes that city and its people are currently experiencing. The secret is to live in your city as an active participant, not as someone fearful of change. If you foster a city of fear, that is what you will live in. If you foster a city of advancement, it will likely prosper. And if you foster a city of joy, then you invite friends and sunshine even on the dullest of days.
I prefer the sun and it is that I seek in my Alexandria.