“It is how we choose what we do, and how we approach it, that will determine whether the sum of our days adds up to a formless blur, or to something resembling a work of art.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Flow
Ana sighed. The marketplace was hot, dusty, dirty, and crowded. She had come down here hoping for some fresh vegetables and music to soothe her tired soul, but instead found herself getting increasingly impatient with the crowds and the heat. Not to mention, the farmer’s wares were pathetically wilted in the heat and picked over long before she arrived after her day’s duties.
This remote outpost was not what she and Anton had hoped for when she took the agency assignment. She had hoped to collaborate with other like-minded souls, to help make a difference in the desert, where people were struggling to eek out a living. He had hoped to join a healer’s training program at the local university. Instead, she shuffled paperwork, a cog in the agency’s bureaucratic machine, while Anton struggled to get a job in an area that didn’t have any work.
Turning away from the soggy wares in disgust, Ana pushed her way through the crowd. A flash of color caught her eye, and she followed the odor of cooking food to an artist’s booth. Cheap T-Shirts, bright blown-glass baubles and printed flyers danced in the evening wind.
Disappointed, she was about to turn away, but she felt drawn back. Nondescript amongst gaudy baubles was a plain, dark rock. Picking it up, she was surprised at its weight, which was more like metal. Porous, like lava stone, but heavy as cast iron, its surface gleamed with an oil-rubbed finish.
Fascinated, she turned it over in her hands. She couldn’t decide if it was metal or stone. It seemed almost alive. When the booth owner offered assistance, she held it out. “What is this?” she asked.
Shrugging, the merchant said, “I don’t know. That woman over there gave it to me. I use it to hold down flyers so they don’t blow away.”
“What woman, where?” Ana asked, turning in the direction the merchant had pointed.
“Over there, selling herbs, next to the roast corn.” With that the merchant turned to another customer and Ana headed across the walkway. Approaching the herb booth, she saw a tall, slender woman with long blonde hair beginning to pack up bundles of herbs. “Excuse me, “ Ana began, “this is going to sound like a strange question, but where did you get that stone you gave the man at the T-shirt booth?”
The woman smiled, “It is unusual, isn’t it?” she asked. “Its just something I had extra, and their flyers were blowing all over the place.”
“Ah.” said Ana. “Um, is it metal or is it stone?” she asked.
Shrugging the woman said, “I’ve never really known. It does seem to be a bit of both, doesn’t it?”. As she looked into Ana’s eyes, Ana noticed that her eyes were a startling blue, and seemed to invite her to ask more.
Ana continued, “Well this may sound a bit, well, woo-woo, but it seems almost alive, like it has some sort of energy to it. I think it resonates with me – so I was wondering if I might find another one like it.”
Nodding the herbalist said, “Ah, I see. There may be others, I can check if you’d like. Would you like to leave your name and contact info for our mailing list, and I can get a hold of you if I find more? I’ll put a call in to my source.”
“Sure,” Ana said and scribbled her name and contact information on the indicated page. “Do you have any white sage?”
The herb merchant said she did, and wrapped it up for Ana. Taking her package, Ana wandered down the isles, bought a roasted ear of corn, and soon forgot about the stone as she munched. The market was winding up for the night. Sweaty and disgruntled, Ana tossed her greasy napkin (noting there were no composting or recycling options) and was about to unlock her car when her phone buzzed.
Hoping it was family or friends from home, Ana paused and dug her phone out. She had a text on it from an unrecognized number. It said simply, “If the stone interests you, meet me on seventh street behind the old theatre. “
“Weird.” Ana thought. “Sounds like a drug deal.” Still, she roughly knew the place the herb woman was talking about, and it was fairly public. No real danger, and she was curious. She got in her car and drove the few blocks to the place mentioned.
Dodging the typical bicyclist with a short rack of beer dangling from his giant handlebars, she pulled into a dilapidated parking lot with an old warehouse at one end. The herbalist was just pulling up in her Prius. “What, no giant truck? I can tell she’s not from around here,” Ana thought snidely. Still, she was having an adventure, and curiosity was getting the better of her. Ana smiled and walked up to her.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Ah! Pam.” The herbalist replied.
“Nice to meet you – again,” Pam said as she dug out an old rusty key out of her shoulder bag and began to wrestle with the large padlock holding the old warehouse doors shut.
“So, do you have space in this warehouse?” Ana queried politely.
Pam looked over her shoulder at Ana, her blue eyes amused. “You could say that.” The stubborn lock gave up and opened with a squeal. “Ah! There we go.” She turned to Ana. “Now before you go in, I should give you some background…”
“Okay…” Ana was getting a bit weirded out by now.
“So… I talked with the Artist, and he asked me to bring you here. He wants you to see the Art, and if it resonates with you, he wants to meet you.” With that she tugged the rusty warehouse door along its track and stepped through the opening, motioning for Ana to follow.
“Er… what artist?” said Ana as she stepped inside, looked around, and gasped. Inside the warehouse was another world. She was standing at the gates of an old Hollywood-style stucco mansion enclosed by a high wall with open wrought iron gates.
She stepped closer, standing in the open gateway. Upon closer inspection, Ana noticed the gates appeared to be made of the same material as the mysterious ‘stone’. Looking up at a sign swinging from an arm on the gated wall, she saw the words “Cold Iyrn”.
Behind her, Pam slid the ancient door shut. At the ear-splitting screech it made as it travelled back along its dusty track, Ana turned to watch. Puzzled by the surreal transition, she looked from the warehouse door, to the gates, and back again. On one side, she could look through the gates into day lit courtyard with a gaily-splashing fountain. On the other, a darkening warehouse with a bent and rusty door. Pam slid the giant padlock through an inside latch, and closed the hasp. Unfazed by the surreal scene, Pam brushed her hands and set out brusquely through the gates. “Come with me,” she invited.
Trailing after Pam, Ana crossed the courtyard. Around the splashing fountain, and through giant double front doors they entered the mansion. Inside they stepped into a cavernous room that was nearly as brightly lit as the outside. At first, Ana thought she was seeing an indoor garden with bonsai and other sculpted plants. Then she realized she was looking at sculptures.
They were so beautiful in form, so organic, she couldn’t decide if they were grown, or wrought. Spirals, branches, leaves, some crawling along the ground, some towering overhead like trees, metallic-stone sculptures were everywhere. Some of the sculptures had stones in them, which refracted the light in a rainbow of colors. Ana swore they moved as if in a breeze, and the multi colored light dappled the room like sunlight through leaves.
She walked up to one of the sculptures and examined it. The branches had the same lava-rock porous texture and oil finish she had seen on the stone. It was shaped just like a living vine, and as you traveled down the vine, the branches became finer and finer, till they finally ended in leaves so realistic, they seemed alive.
The beauty of it struck Ana to the core. Tears sprang to her eyes, and she tentatively reached out to touch one of the vines. A humming began to resonate through her fingertips and sang through her entire body. It WAS alive! All these sculptures – were alive, they were grown! Her knees grew weak and she began to weep. She felt honored, in the presence of something sacred, something that bonded to her soul.
“Yes.” Ana looked at Pam through brimming eyes. “YES! I want to make these! Grow these, whatever it takes!” And she collapsed onto her knees.
Pam smiled, and offered her hand. Weakly Ana stood, and Pam led her into another room, with a large circular fountain in the center, and to one side, a table with pad, brush and ink. Sitting on the low wall that made up the foot of the fountain, was a man. Ana knew at once that this was the Artist. Her feet moving of their own accord, she found herself in front of him. She reached out, and he took her hands, and looked into her eyes.
He wore mostly white, had brown hair, and brown eyes. He seemed to have some beads in his hair, but most of those details were lost on Ana, because his eyes drew her in. They seemed to look into her very soul, and she was transfixed.
Finally, he looked down at her hands, and said “Yes. You have it in your heart to make this kind of art. In fact you already have made some in the course of your life, you just didn’t know it. I will take you as my apprentice. You can stay with me; I will give you housing, food, and transportation while you work for me. Would you like to see what you have done so far?”
“Yes! I would.” Ana said.
The Artist showed her some rocks that were sitting next to him on the ledge. Perfect little smooth cabochon style rocks, sculpted of the same material. He handed one to her.
Ana stared down at the perfect smooth little egg-shaped stone in her hand. “What is it made of?” she asked.
“I call it Cold Iryn. It is metal, but grown in a natural way, like rock is grown from the earth, or plants from the soil.” the Artist answered.
“How can I grow the spirals, the beautiful trees I saw in the other room?” Ana asked.
“I will teach you,” the Artist answered. “These are what you have created with your life so far – they are like seeds. You have the ability, and you have to train to develop it. But first, if you are to be my apprentice, we must divine your true name.” And with that, he stood and walked over to the table.
Ana sat opposite him. The Artist placed the pad of paper in front of him, and again stared into Ana’s eyes. Without looking down, he dipped the brush in ink and began drawing shapes on the pad. Spirals emerged, as did letters. Some appeared to be English letters, others seemed like Asian Kanji or Arabic script. Finally, he nodded and placed the brush down. Looking at what he had drawn, he nodded again. Ana realized the writing was the divination and he was reading the code he had created.
“First, we need to get you well. You are sick, and you need to be healed before I teach you this craft,” said the Artist. He pulled out a small white tube filled with herbal powder, placed it to Ana’s lips and blew. The powder filled her mouth, and she swallowed. It was bitter and she immediately began to get sleepy. Pam took Ana’s arm, and led her to a chamber where she could sleep.
Ana woke later in a single bed within a small sunlit chamber. On her right was a grimy large-paned glass window, almost as if she was looking out an old warehouse window. On her left was a wooden shelving unit divided into cubes. She still tasted the bitter herbs in her mouth, and wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. I wonder if I can get some water…”
She vaguely remembered being led to this room by Pam, and waking once to see Pam standing looking out the window, but no one was in the room with her now. Ana could still see two cleaned spots on the grimy window where Pam had been looking out. Getting up, she walked over and looked out. Outside was a courtyard of dry, burnt grass surrounded by very urban-looking walls. As if it was an interior courtyard forgotten and built around in downtown San Francisco or something. She thought to herself; “That could be a great greenspace and urban garden with a little help from yours truly.”
That was when she awoke for real. Ana sat up in bed, in her own apartment. Anton, her husband, snored blissfully next to her. The remote outpost and their struggles all too real, the Artist had been just a dream, but the bitter taste of the herbs remained. Ana got up, padded to the living room, sat on the couch, and stared into space. She began crying. She wanted to make the spirals. So badly, she wanted to make the spirals.