The dust hangs in the air, knee-high. The sound of my car driving away fades to silence. My heart pounds. The map on the road in front of me is what they gave me at Headquarters yesterday, when I arrived to receive my latest interview assignment. At first, they told me just to follow my instincts, but I wasn’t sure about that; I pressed for a map, and they dug this one up out of the old files. I take a deep breath, trying not to inhale the dust. I’m alone, surrounded by wilderness, but that’s not why my heart pounds. Nor is it the assignment itself, the interview with the Ace of Wands, though it was frightening to lose control last time, to fall asleep unwillingly, to have your dreams dictated by something else.
It isn’t that the way looks challenging, either, though it does; the Ace of Wands is pictured in the center, over the cliff in front of me, past a river, surrounded by thick woods. I can handle that. I’ve got a pack with all the gear I need. It’s going to be a long, hard journey, but I’ve done these things before.
No, the reason my breath keeps catching in my throat is something else pictured on this map. Off to the far left of the page, beyond the woods, past a blue lake, lies a castle-like structure. Its title: The Library of Manifest Dreams.
That’s where I’d really like to go.
But I’m disciplined; I have this assignment because I’ve earned it. Just like at home, where I’m finishing the first draft of a serious story, even though I no longer care if it ever sees the light of day. Sure, I’d rather be writing a revision of the song-like children’s story that came to me one night, but I’m someone who keeps her commitments. So, down the hill toward the Ace I go. Except, there’s no path, and I slide on the scree, scraping up my shins and the palms of my hands in the process.
At least I hold on to the map. It’s banged up, but still in one piece.
At the bottom, there’s still no path, just weeds. Well, that’s why I have a machete. The noon sun and the hard work make drops of sweat slide down my back. Thorns pull at my shorts and tear my sleeves, and biting gnats get the back of my neck.
Just to check on my progress, I turn around. The cliff is just a few hundred yards back.
Two hours later, I reach the brown, swift river, with no bridge, and no stepping stones. Downstream, the impassable woods crowd the rocky shore. However, upstream, there’s a chance I could find a place to cross that might be less swift or wide. Yes, it’s absolutely true that upstream also goes in the direction of the Library of Manifest Dreams, but that’s not why I’m choosing that direction. Of course not.
So I fold up the map and start the trek upstream. It’s a little easier, at first. A small feeder creek joins the river, and soaks one of my shoes. I finish all the snacks in my pack, and all my water, and wonder how on earth I’m going to make it back. And I still haven’t found any way to cross this damn river.
That’s when I see something white and smooth rising up beyond the next hill. Leaving the river, I crest that hill, and there it is: the Library of Manifest Dreams.
Time to ask for help.
Around the side of the building, the stairs are wide and lined with stephanotis and bougainvillea. Through a gate, the whisper of falling water leads me to a pretty fountain. Terra cotta tiles make walkways between garden squares; the tiles and squares together spell out something in a forgotten alphabet. A kiosk against the wall displays booklets and headphones, free for use as you explore the library. Every room is dedicated to a dream or vision someone once chose to make true. The first room I encounter draws me in with the smell of myrrh and bay laurel. It is empty of furniture, but the scents change as you walk from wall to wall, telling a story that is created by your own memories. The next room is full of huge abstract shapes, all draped in thick purple velvet, with long gauzy scarves forming dividers between them. Some rooms are actually full of books, some of paintings that don’t reveal their subjects until you reach out to touch the paint, still wet, and roll it between your fingers to shape your own art. Some have dozens of musical instruments, a few being played upon, making haunting tunes. It is all too easy to get lost here. When I find a guard and ask for help with finding the Ace of Wands, he squints, looking at the map they gave me at Headquarters. Then he shakes his head and takes the map I picked up at the kiosk.
“Here,” he says, pointing to an atrium at the back of the library.
It’s down a long, tiled hallway, with grates for windows. Each grate looks out onto a different landscape. One is a desert with nothing but glassy sand. One is deep forests at dusk, eyes shining in the shadows. One window opens to two moons over an electric-blue ocean. My favorite, though, is a nebula, shifting in color and shape as if giving you the universal perspective on both time and space. As I walk, I’m imagining the atrium to be like the Rotunda at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, that place where everyone sets up a meeting spot in case someone gets lost. Instead, when I reach the atrium, it is a huge room, empty of everything – except light through an open roof, a twenty-foot wand hanging in midair, and a table beneath it. On the table is a plaque, and on the plaque is written:
WHAT YOU SEEK to accomplish is not free.
What you desire requires energy — your energy.
That energy must be fed, from within you; it is your own life force, your desire, which is a holy thing. Do not deny its power. Go where you long to go, go where you will; this is how you will achieve your dreams. Your passion is your fuel.
Do not waste time following directions that others set for you. There is no clearly marked path. There is no direction to dreams. There is no authority in Art, save your own Muse.
I recall a class I took a while back, when I was struggling to write a new book, even though an old one had been plucking at my attention. The teacher told me: ‘Go where your energy is.’ When I took her advice and returned to the manuscript that was on my mind, I found my writing flourishing. Why hadn’t I remembered that recently?
Had I simply gone where my energy led me for this interview, I would have found this, the Ace of Wands, the inspiration, straight away. Thankfully, I still ended up here. Next time, perhaps, I will heed my Muse, and go right where my joy and dreams are.
Across the atrium, a figure with Smithsonian headphones gazes confusedly up at the wand hanging in midair. It’s my doppelganger, happily lost. She sidles over to me and asks, ‘Does that look like an elephant to you?’
That’s it — that’s the line I need for my children’s book. The doppelganger smiles and hands me the manuscript. Here, in the Library of Manifest Dreams, I find the comfiest of chairs and work to my heart’s content.