Achilles Heel

If you woke up with a pain in your heel, would you automatically think of what needed to be healed? Would you think of Achilles, and wonder if it was a message to look at where you were vulnerable, where your Achilles Heel was? Or, would you immediately Google “heel pain”? Only misspell it in your nervousness, and type “heal pain.”

Sunday, December 12th—or 12.12 as I like to see those digits that appear only once a year on the calendar, yet call us daily to noon or midnight, signifying the 24-hour cycle is half-done or half-to-go—I woke up with a soreness on the heel of my right foot. I couldn’t imagine what had caused it since my foot had been perfectly fine before I went to sleep and all I had done was lie down for a while. Though it was a minor discomfort, it changed my walk, and I decided it would be best to do as little walking as possible that day. Then as I sat around, I thought of Achilles, and wondered if it was a message to look at where I was most vulnerable.

It was that old bugaboo—Time. Will I have enough? Will there be enough? Time that rushes on, no matter we slow it down or stretch it or ignore or bend it. While it’s true we can step out of Time in dreams or meditation, or by getting into the zone that is timeless, here in the physical, “Time and tide wait for no man.”

I had the same concern when I passed the signpost of 30 more than half a lifetime ago, and it felt just as pressing then as it does now. But before you pipe up and tell me, like a friend of mine did back then, that I’ll have all the time I need and not to worry, let me say that I need the idea of limits and lifespans, of timespans and time-ups. I can’t take forever to finish my book. At some point it has to be done. Not necessarily finished, every questioned answered, but done.

So, I’m telling myself not to think of Time. Rather think of Space. Just being in Space in the Now. If anything needs to be healed, it’s the fear of running out, not having enough. It’s always Now. The Now is endless. I will let go of lack. I will stop counting the days. I will trust that if I do the work, it will be done. And no matter if I write The End, there will be something more after that. There are still SO MANY, so many days left until the end of December.

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Time Pieces

Time. It’s always time and there’s never enough. 
Except when there’s too much in this place where we’re all doing time. 
Time me, ti-me, tie-me-to-time. 
Or let the battery run out, let the ticking stop. 
But not my heart. 
Let my heart go on ticking when time has stopped. 
I’ll keep time to the beat of my heart. 
My inner biological, psychological, psychic clock, 
with its own logic that puts me in the right place, 
at the right time and never runs out. 

This is the clock that rests on the shelf above my desk. Its battery, which seemed to have endless life, finally slowed down.

I had to wait a day to get a replacement. What surprised me was how often I found myself looking at the spot where the clock no longer was. I had no idea I was so dependent on this clock. It’s not as if I don’t have a clock on my laptop and phone. But I’m not used to looking at them for the time when I’m at my desk. I’m used to glancing at a certain spot on the shelf that was now empty. The disappearance of the clock threw me. And then I realized that this was the time-piece that reined me back into Time.

Laptops and phones are connected to the internet where it is too easy to lose all track of time and even to know what day it is. This old battery-run clock of mine, so solid looking and simple to read, purchased before anyone ever heard of a smartphone, brings me back. And I need that.

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Writer’s Blood, Body and Spirit


I bought this ink for the name on the bottle—Writer’s Blood—to remind me, as Paul Gallicowriter's blood 2 said, to “bleed onto the page a little.”

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.”

Hemingway’s quote is the better known one: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

I often write by hand before I can face the keys, so the right fountain pen filled with my current favorite color ink helps me to get into the flow of feeling-hand-mind-heart coordination.

The “Writer’s Blood” was a little too brown for me, so I added some red to it, not knowing that when you write with real blood, it does turn brown.

Bhuddist scrolls

Buddhist Scrolls

I saw this when looked at the work of Buddhists in Eastern Asia who believe that copying a sutra with blood drained from their own body is proof of their piety and devotion to the Dharma. Certain Chinese Buddhists take this idea to the extreme by draining their own blood. In this prolonged ritual of self-sacrifice, since the texts might be hundreds of thousands of Chinese characters, they are literally embodying the holy teachings, sanctifying and animating scripture in a way that ordinary ink, no matter what the name, could never do. And as such, blood written artifacts are revered and worshiped rather than read or studied.


Sketchbook, N. Wait

Body and spirit. Blood as spirit. Nietzsche says blood is spirit:

Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit. ~ “Thus Spake Zarathustra” (1883-1892)

James Dowd says much the same thing:

I believe that writing with Blood is to write with spirit, to feel the energy in you and around you, and to funnel it into your work. It means including everything that is you; the best and the worst parts of yourself, all there, right on the page.

Then we have Portuguese author Jose Saramago who would rather not speak of it at all. Words that come from the heart are never spoken, they get caught in the throat and can only be read in one’s eyes.

I wondered then what women writers had to say on the subject, and the two I found mentioned the state of being vulnerable.

Jenny Li, in her blog, “After The Ellipsis,” writes,

Bleeding means revealing what others cannot see, what they have never seen, and what you might be afraid to see. You must not be afraid to be vulnerable. You must accept the blood you pour onto the paper as your own.

Jeanette Winterson speaks of being vulnerable, and doesn’t mention blood at all.

Wounds don’t heal. They scar over, but they are always the place where you can be hurt. It is knowing that you’ve got vulnerabilities. And I think that makes you more receptive to the world and what’s going on.

As humans we are fragile, vulnerable creatures. Physically, psychologically, emotionally. Regardless of what sort of armor we develop as we get older, some part of us always remembers the state of complete dependence and vulnerability when we entered the world. Even if we think we’ve forgotten, the body remembers. Writers, along with artists in any expressive medium, who have a willingness to express their deepest feelings or their hidden feelings, serve the purpose of bringing us closer to our own hidden selves. Perhaps the dis-owned self, too.

It can be a risky endeavor for those fearful of exposure. And yet it’s this exposure that brings us together.

For God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Alan Watts

Though we may never know whom we will have reached with our words, John Pavlovitz penned a thank you note to all in his “Love Letter To Writers,” ending with, Thank you for bleeding.

For further reading:

“Why Vulnerability is a Writer’s Most Powerful Tool,” by Jane Harkness

“5 Brene Brown Quotes for Vulnerable Writing,” by Jessica A. Pedraza, Esq.

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Prayer, 08.08 Portal

God, grant me the insight to realize that everything I see/read/hear online (and everywhere else for that matter) is the result of the particular frequency of the one posting. It’s a level of perception, nothing more, nothing less. A viewpoint, … Continue reading

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Making Your Unknown Known

When I went to London in the late 1960s I brought a sword with me on the plane. (It was allowed in those days.) I was bringing it over for a friend. Seven years later, when it became time for me to leave, I was given a light by another friend—it happened in a dream, but a light is a light—and I like to think I brought over a sword and took back a light.

watercolor by N. Wait

I took the long way home on a Polish cargo ship. During those eleven days with nothing to see but the sea and the sky and unobstructed space, I pictured a secret opening at the horizon line. Some kind of slit or crack or gap hidden between the curtain of sky and the rolling carpet of sea. A hole in the fabric of reality. A threshold to another place, another dimension. Yet the more we moved forward, the more it moved back, always out of reach. Except when the fog rolled in and we sailed into nothingness. Then the line could have been anywhere. We could have slipped through the gap without knowing it. If we did it couldn’t have been  for long because we docked at the Port of Newark and I stepped onto dry land again.

I went on with my life, but the memory of the gap stayed with me, as if part of my consciousness remained on the ship, staring at the horizon. As the years went by, every now and then I’d feel it pulling me out to take another look, and I’d see myself floating closer to the opening beyond time and space.

And so the journey home became two journeys. The outer one where I made it across the sea and onto dry land, and the inner one where I was still out there, floating towards the unknown. When I started picturing it in the imaginary world of my paintings, it took on another reality, became an opening somewhere beyond life and death. A place where dreams could be actual memories on another plane of existence.

Portal by N. Wait

Then, about a dozen years after the voyage, I thought to resolve the matter in a final painting where I saw the gap as a portal, and myself at the threshold, balancing between the outer and inner worlds. Neither going forward nor back, but remaining in place, in the eternal present. An image created with my brush—about my brush with the unknown.

It wasn’t enough. Georgia O’Keeffe said it best. Making your unknown known, is the important thing.

I had to write the story behind the pictures. This was where the light came in. The light of conscious memory to describe a pictorial journey into the realm of the subconscious. And in the recollection of real events in real time, I discovered the portal or gap had been real too.

The Nancy Who Drew, the Memoir that Solved a Mystery, (2011) ends with the voyage back to New York. In the sequel, The Nancy Who Drew the Way Home, I found the pictures that would open the portal. They came from feeling the place I didn’t have words for.





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What Drawing Does

3rd St PPWThe other day when I was drawing, I was reminded (on a visceral level) that everything is connected.

I’ve always taken it for granted that while I’m drawing, my brain is making all sorts of hand-eye connections. But now it hit me that along with this automatic brain activity, what I’m doing is connecting disparate objects in space in order to draw them, which isn’t necessarily automatic. I mean, it can become automatic if you’re used to drawing, but it requires a type of thinking that has to be developed.

Before I started drawing it, I looked at this scene of the entrance to the park at Third Street on Prospect Park West, and saw a stone fence, a lamppost, a woman with her dog and child, etc. In other words, a place composed of various subject matter. But once I began the sketch, though I still saw these things, I stopped identifying them by name. Instead I saw darks and lights, and what related to what. It’s this last, the relationship of these forms to each other and how they’re connected in space that actually makes up the sense of the drawing.

I don’t usually notice how forms relate to each other unless I’m arranging something purposefully like furniture or a still-life or setting a table. I do it without thinking. It’s drawing that makes me think.

I did this sketch from a photograph I took on a Sunday when I was sitting just inside the entrance of the park. It was a bright sunny day and the colors were brilliant. The car in the background was red, the leaves green, the traffic lights yellow, and so on. But I was enjoying myself so much in pencil that I stayed with it, even though the end result lacks the sparkle and brightness and sharpness of the photo. This was because color seemed secondary to the satisfaction I felt relating the various objects to one another.

I remember hearing that ‘everything is connected,’ and experiencing it as a mental concept. An idea. An underlying something that holds the physical world together. And I thought of this when I was drawing, looking at the woman, dog and girl for instance in relation to the wheels of the car. And the traffic lights on the lamppost in relation to the windows of the building. And so it went. Everything I drew was related to something else. In fact, I could only see one thing in relation to another thing.

It makes me wonder, what if instead of a class in ‘Drawing,’ the class was called, ‘Connecting Objects to One Another.’

It might be a new place to start. While I’ve heard people say, “Oh, I can’t draw to save my life,” or, “I can’t even draw a straight line,” I’ve never heard anyone say, “I can’t connect things with each other,” because of course we do, all the time, albeit unconsciously. It’s the act of drawing that makes us aware of it. Drawing, aside from making the world come alive so that I might feel more alive in it, inserts me smack into whatever has been created so that I can create it again, in my own way. And so partake more deeply and more consciously in this great thing we call creation.

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That Emma, That Torch

Emma's TorchI had a fun bit of synchronicity Saturday morning when I listened to the latest On the Media podcast about the 130-year political war over the meaning of the Statue of Liberty, and then Saturday afternoon when I went to the library and had a coffee. Unbeknownst to me, the concession stand was now called, Emma’s Torch Café. ‘Emma’s Torch,’ could it be that Emma…that torch?

It was. So then I learned Emma’s Torch is a non-profit culinary training program for refugees and survivors of human trafficking, and they have a restaurant in Carroll Gardens here in Brooklyn where they serve—what else—New American cuisine. I only had a coffee, but it was delicious. I’ll have to try the restaurant next.

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Hearing Bells

In days of old when we sat in awe around the lighted tree, my father told us that if we heard a bell ringing, it meant an angel was present. We had to be very quiet, and then unbeknownst to us, he tugged a hidden string and we heard the bell. Magic! The spirit of Christmas itself. Then I grew up. Many Decembers came and went. Then one spring I heard the magic of bells again.

I was in a car. I had just been to see a client and he’d offered me a lift to the subway. A car is a small, intimate space. I might say that as much as the car was enveloped in midtown traffic, I was enveloped in an energy field. His. We came to the subway, the car stopped, and just before I got out, he leaned over, brushed my mouth with his lips, and I heard bells. It was a soft, distant ring in my inner ear, but it was bells. Bells! When he drove off I was so weak in the knees I had to lean against the fire hydrant. I thought of Ginger Rogers in “Tom, Dick, and Harry,” because she heard bells when one of them kissed her. Yet by the time I took the train home I felt something else was at work. So I got to work, transmuting the feeling into paint, which is another story, too long to go into here, but the picture had to do with lighting up a dark place. I thought it started with the kiss, with hearing bells. And it did, because kisses are no small matter, especially when bells go off in your head.

I never heard them again, not in that way. And it’s only today that I’ve put the two memories together, the angel ringing the bell on the Christmas tree, and the kiss that rang in my ears and resonated in my soul. Both were magical. It doesn’t matter that my father pulled a string. It only matters that I thought it was an angel. So that later in life I would be ready for a certain kiss. And the ringing that turned into light on the canvas.

My thanks to Jennifer Warters of Rainbow Light Trust for her teachings on sound and light.

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The Art of Distilling

St. Giles

St. Giles Church, Prague

Something new occurred while I was listening to a concert last month. I was in Prague. It was my first visit, and maybe it had something to do with being alone in a foreign city, pummeled with strangeness from all sides.

“There is no better way to feel part of a country whose language you are cut off from than to sit in a concert hall and listen to music. For once you understand the sounds that are coming to you, just as the natives do.” (Patricia Hampl; A Romantic Education.)

It was winter, the concert season, tickets were reasonable, and I went to no less than three the week I was there. Smetana, Dvorak, Mozart and Vivaldi in the Spanish Synagogue, so called because it was built in the Moorish style. Mozart and Dvorak at the Municipal House, “the pearl of Czech Art Nouveau,” and more Mozart and Dvorak, plus Bach (on one of the biggest classical organs ever made) at St. Giles Church, where they filmed the marriage of Mozart and Constanze in Amadeus. (Watch the clip.)

Neither synagogue or church was heated, but at St. Giles, which seemed to contain the cold of the ages, blankets were provided. I didn’t take one because the thin cushions on the 16th century pews turned out (thankfully) to be heating pads.

Music. The composer writes it, musicians play it, and we hear sound waves. Frequencies. Music is a series of vibrations. I can picture the waves darting and rippling through my energy field as the rhythms swept through me. Whether it was because I was in Prague, “the Magical City,” or because it’s rare that I attend a live concert, I seemed to be hearing on another level, analyzing my enjoyment in a different way, having a different insight into what I was hearing through this filter of music.

Filter: a device that allows signals with certain properties, such as signals lying in a certain frequency range, to pass while blocking the passage of others.

Church of St. GilesMusic was a filter. It came to me at St. Giles, where the Baroque interior dated only from the 1500s, but souls had been coming and going through the doorway of the Gothic exterior since the 13th century. Think of all the energies they’d left behind!

I wasn’t thinking of that then. I was sitting near the front watching the musicians against a background of gilded frames and pillars, the paintings and sculptures of saints and angels. There were two men and two women, all young and in black, their faces rapt in concentration. As I watched and listened, feeling my energy becoming entrained with theirs, I was aware how music manipulated my emotions, then distilled them through sound. Music was not only a filtering tool, it distilled feeling.

To Distill: to extract the essential elements of.

Artists do this with vision. We organize space so that others can see what we see. Mozart, Dvorak, Smetana, created different combinations of notes to bring up certain feelings, the same way that visual artists use line and color. Musicians, painters, poets and actors, are an intermediary between thought and feeling. Perhaps it’s no wonder this occurred to me in Prague, where I often felt I was walking through a living museum, surrounded by art and beauty with every step I took.

Art takes you out of yourself so you can more fully enter into yourself again.

I hadn’t thought how art contributes to the process of alignment simply through watching and listening, without requiring you to make it or do it yourself.

AA-Ebook-COVER-210x300I have an illustrated article, “The Painted Path,” about my own experience, which is included in the ebook, Art and Alignment by Louise Oliver. It’s about the relation of art and creativity to healing and the Journey of the Soul. But I believe there’s also a path to alignment through looking and listening to what we resonate with, distilling what we need from it. Allowing it to filter through our energy field to the deepest self.

After a little more than an hour the concert was over. The clapping was muffled in our glove-clad hands. As I rose from the pew and slowly filed out with the others onto the narrow darkened street in the heart of Prague, I thought, it’s all one in the end. Making, creating, or listening and viewing. The openness, the willingness, was all that mattered.

When you go to a concert you might think you are just going to listen to the music. When you go to a museum or an art gallery, you might think you are there just to look and observe. But depending on your willingness to be open, you are allowing yourself to be entrained to a specific mental/emotional space. And maybe into a state of alignment with your inner being.

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A Bag and a Bunch of Cards

Prague bagWomen may buy bags for all sorts of reasons, but their main purpose is a container for things we want to carry around with us when we’re out. This carpet bag made in Prague, from a real carpet woven in Prague by old ladies who lived on the outskirts of the city that I bought online fifteen years ago, was not only a container of personal possessions, it was a bag of hope. And now it was in Brooklyn, over 4,000 miles away as the crow flies, but it looked and felt Old World. And it was something physical and tangible, an actual material I could wear slung over my shoulder or clenched in my hand. Whenever I looked at its warm reds and felt its softness, I remembered my dream of one day going to Prague. Of seeing the city in person, instead of just reading about it or viewing it on you tube.

Tarot of Prague The cards in the bag I took to Prague last month were the handy plastic kind that make a dream come true, in that they got me on the plane and into the hotel. But for fifteen years, as well as the carpet bag, there had been another set of cards that were not plastic—78 of them altogether—and these were the cards that fed the dream and kept it alive. Tarot cards. The Tarot of Prague. They helped nurture the dream. In the poem, Harlem, Langston Hughes asks, “What happens to a dream deferred?” He wonders, “Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?” He suggests other, less appetizing fates. Meanwhile, I bided my time. I waited until my carpet bag so bulged with hope that it had to become a reality.

Each of the tarot cards was beautifully illustrated with different aspects of Prague’s gothic and baroque past, as well as the more recent art nouveau. Churches and statuary, bas-reliefs and carvings, bridges, archways, stairways and buildings, placed in such a way as to perfectly address the meaning of the cards. Fortune telling cards I would learn to interpret as I pored over the imagery until it was engraved on my brain. Cards that told me as much about myself as about the city’s medieval past that unaccountably had been left standing when so many others had been whisked away by bulldozers or bombs.

For fifteen years this bit of carpet and collection of cards bought online from the same shop in Prague, were my replacements for an actual visit. While I waited I found other bags that suited my more immediate needs. I found other tarot decks to engage with, and I forgot why I wanted to go to Prague in the first place. I had never thought about Prague at all until I watched the Velvet Revolution unfolding on TV at the end of 1989. It was mesmerizing. The Berlin Wall had fallen a few weeks before, and now crowds were gathering in Wenceslas Square every night, holding lighted candles, jingling their house keys, standing in solidarity. A few years later I read that Americans had started flocking to Prague, and I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could go too.

A Romantic EducationBut the fifteen-year saga didn’t really start until some years after that when I read Patricia Hampl’s, A Romantic Education, a glorious, poetic memoir of her visit to Prague in the 1970s when it was still under Communist rule. Hampl, from Minnesota with a Czech grandmother, writes,

  Perhaps, if you go to the old country seeking, as third or fourth generation Americans often do, a strictly personal history based on bloodlines, then, the less intimate history of the nation cannot impose itself upon you very strongly. History is reduced to genealogy, which is supposed to satisfy a hunger that is clearly much larger.

  But if you go on a journey like this not to find somebody, but just to look around—then, in a country like Czechoslovakia (or perhaps only there, only in Prague), the country’s history is infused with the urgency of the classic search for personal identity. The country itself becomes the lost ancestry and, one finds, the country is eloquent. Its long story, its history, satisfy the instinct for kinship in a way that the discovery of a distant cousin could not. For it is really the longing for a lost culture that sends Americans on these pilgrimages.

Hampl describes how she “…stumbled through the ancient streets, stopped in the smoke-grimed coffeehouses,” and says, “I was simply in the most beautiful place I had ever seen, and it was grimy and sad and broken.”

  The weight of its history and the beauty of its architecture came to me first as an awareness of dirt, a sort of ancient grime I had never seen before. It bewitched me, that dirt, caught in the corners f baroque moldings and decorative cornices, and especially I loved the dusty filth of the long, grave windows at sunset when the light flared against the tall oblongs and caused them to look gilded.

That was the 70s. When Hampl returned to post-revolution Prague in the mid-90s, “Not only the color of the buildings has changed, but the entrepreneurial rush, especially in the center, has created a new kind of Kafkaesque unreality.” And, “It is as if, for the new earnest visitors from the West, Prague is a stage set—the improbable dream of the baroque city where Kafka and Rilke walked in exultation and anguish—but the purpose of the stage set eludes them. They worry that they have arrived “too late,” and have expatriated themselves to a theme park. They sense that the life of the place is something quite other than the charms purveyed by the rouged-up tourist center, beguiling though they are.”

I roamed around Prague in January, avoiding the hordes of tourists, and though the streets were far from empty, I didn’t once think I had arrived too late. For me, an off-season bargain through was the right time. But neither Hampl or the pile of guidebooks I read, (or the fifteen years I waited) had prepared me for the unexpected tears momentarily blurring my vision. At first glance, Wenceslas Square, my first view of the city, was a garish commercial strip with giant screens advertising sportswear. But I was on a journey back through time to feel the energy of ancient stone and brick, of auras that might still linger in churches and synagogues, or medieval streets forming a labyrinth around the Old Town Square. I could see past the video screens and souvenir shops.

Praha in Czech means threshold. A place of transition between the visible world and the invisible one. That was the place I was looking for. That line, that place of transition. That threshold. The closest I came to it was in the Kafka Museum where the windows were boarded up, the walls were painted black, and a video scored with Smetana’s Má Vlast, (My Country) constantly played. It was old footage of Prague in Kafka’s day, edited with special effects revealing distorted views of tilting houses and streets closing in upon each other to suggest an altered perception, a dimensional shift. The effect I enjoyed the most was when the screen rippled as if it was under water. Scenes washed over by the waters of time. As if those of us who’d crossed the Vltava over the 15th century Charles Bridge to Malá Strana, using our smart phones to guide us to the museum tucked away on a side street called Cihelná, hadn’t had our perception altered enough.

Tarot CardsI left the carpet bag at home, and though I took the tarot cards with me, I didn’t look at them once, or even open my guidebook until the fifth day. I didn’t want to look anything up. I wanted to be in the moment, witnessing the present without comparing it to anything I’d seen before. I looked at the cards when I returned home, and realized that unknowingly I’d come upon the sights represented on the cards that were most meaningful to me. The Hermit and Temperance.

Temperance 1Temperance stands for moderation, balance, and inner peace. She had recently come up as my ‘Navigator.’ I came across the image that represents her in the tarot when I chanced to walk by the art deco façade in Široká Street in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter. Though I stopped to photograph her, I didn’t recall her image in the cards.

Nor did I remember the Hermit was standing in Golden Lane, one of the places at the top of my list to visit. The Hermit, as card number 9, represents my Destiny Number, therefore who I am in the tarot. In most decks, the Hermit was an old man with a beard holding a lantern to represent introspection, meditation, a deliberate withdrawal, and often foretells a quest of some kind.

HermitIn the Tarot of Prague, he stood in Golden Lane, known as the “Street of the Alchemists.” I knew Kafka had once lived at number 22, and the tarot reader, Mme. de Thebes, executed by the Nazis because she predicted Germany would lose the war, lived at number 14. None of the houses were known to be home to alchemists, but I’d felt an affinity to the place.

Before my trip I did a couple of watercolors of the tiny medieval houses.

I went to Prague for a week, and now it’s also a week since I’ve been home. The journey that began with a bag and a bunch of cards has shifted to an inner journey. Maybe it was always meant to be an inner journey. But how would I have known that if I hadn’t gone there first? This inner journey is about digesting the experience, integrating what I’ve seen and felt, perhaps coming up with new realizations. As I write about it, I’m already starting to see past the beauty of the sights to something deeper within. While I was there in the old city on the Vltava, I was too startled, too overcome by the views and vistas every which way I looked. But now, back on familiar ground, my inner eye has begun weaving together past and present.

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