Spiritual journeys: real and imagined.
I live between two mailbox addresses; one in London, the other in New York. I’ve been living this way for the past four years. What started out as something temporary has turned into something permanent?
I come to you at the end of a long haul that began in unreliable shoes. There’s no going back to where I came from, the only way forward is into the void. My long-lost sweetheart no longer lives on Tooting Bec Common. In better days she lived on Cheyne Walk. You could say she’d gone up in the world. Traded in her working-class origins.
I’m carrying the hopes of my family and this is where I’m up to. Devouring every book of mystery and magic I can take out on my library card.
My name is Isabella Vowell. On overcast days, I wear lemon-tinted eye shades to paint the sky my favorite color.
I am yet to reach the page where I’m born.
INT. ALLERTON HOTEL FOR TRANSIENTS – NEW YORK – DAWN
Morning but not yet light, I look to the sky for inspiration. A sign of life would do it. Me and the folks in freefall, wind up in hotels that aren’t really hotels. In my room 306, the walls are thin and the faucet is a trickle of damp water. I shiver despite the blankets I’m wrapped in. I feel around in the dark for a future. Seize the one remaining fortune cookie leftover from last night’s Chinese takeaway sesame noodles meal. My lucky numbers for today are whatever I want them to be.
And then a knock at the door, and my part-time roommate, Jesse Lightfoot, shows up like a companion genie. Tracking down Jesse, at any given moment, is like keeping tabs on a book that goes in and out of print.
“I heard the starter’s gun go off in my head, and acted accordingly.” Says Jesse none too convincingly.
Great/strange visions flooded my head, visions of cities built in the shape of the spiral of creation, some of which I recognized from my travels.
So you engineered a sneak preview now what, Jess?
“The information arrives in countless fragments to be pieced back together if the divine seahorse is to fly.” Says Jesse who prides himself on warping the time, space continuum in the way that most folks are grateful to have a roof over their head. The seahorse, in Jesse’s imagination, is a close cousin of the Merkaba, or to put it even more simply, the Merkaba is the divine light vehicle allegedly used by ascended masters to connect with and reach those in tune with the higher realms. But before I can gather more data on his soon to be airborne seahorse, Jesse’s off and running again. When I advance he retreats and when I retreat he retreats even further.
So just to re-cap on the story, exact Mer-ka-Ba instructions are scattered in puzzle pieces and, the pieces in question, have been hidden for centuries inside countless esoteric books. The fact that you’ve arrived here at this date and time is proof that your destiny is on course just at the moment that you were feeling lost.
EXT. EAST VILLAGE – NEW YORK – NIGHT
Running out of money with the all the pieces of the puzzle still eluding me, my old school friend (LARRY JONES ) appears in the form of a ghetto equivalent of a gold prospector. Larry redeems the 5 cent deposit on beer and soda cans for a living. Sensing that I’m down on my luck, Larry offers to fix the broken strap on my sandal which he does by his deft threading of a piece of string through a straw. On bended knee – as he re-unites sandal with right foot – Larry glimpses the sparkles of sequins beneath my street clothes. Risking rejection he asks if he can see me again. I give him my NY/LON mailbox addresses. As we part, Larry squirts a fragrance on to my wrist that he’s certain will go perfectly with my flamenco dress.
“How did you know I’m a flamenco underneath all these layers?” But Larry just shrugs his shoulders and, after an awkward pause, I present him with a box of ‘lucky’ foreign coins that I’ve found wandering the sidewalks of the world.
“The imperishable records of life push forward” says Larry with enthusiasm. I stare at him blankly and can think of nothing at all to say. Instead I go off into a reverie about the fire that destroyed my Cheyne Walk apartment in 2001. The loss that pushed me to decipher the fire damaged remnants of the journals I’d kept from the years 1992-2000. The years of traveling to and fro between Los Angeles and New York: between film jobs on the West Coast, and my family in Manhattan. Contained in these journals, or so I thought, were pages of a map book. A map, that if traveled, would reveal my life’s purpose.
The area surrounding Cheyne Walk and Battersea Bridge I will be drawn back to, again and again – without knowing why. Perhaps the gravitational pull is on account of my attempt to befriend the Japanese Buddhist monk who lives in the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park. Or is it to unlock the secret of the exact location of where Henry VIII buried my distant ancestor the Black Madonna, aka Ashesh.
Or something far less important such as returning what remains of the book about life of Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich to the library of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the Baker Street area of London. Nicholas Roerich is one of my inspirations and a man who, “perceived relations between seemingly isolated phenomena, and unconsciously felt the presence of an unknown treasure”.
I dismiss Larry’s company, blow him a kiss goodbye, and continue on down the East Village avenues that run from A to D. As I dodge and weave the neighborhood’s sizeable population of night people, I sift mentally through my blackened journals in no particular order; only the random order that my 45 year-old memory affords me:
Fragment 11 [F11]: Isabella Vowell wrote under the protection of the French Cathars.
F2: Wanted to tell stories. She made a few up of her own. She told other people’s stories but didn’t know her own.
F31: Stopped talking and became a mystery.
F7: Home is a place without walls.
F44: Prophecy and Creation – INSERT NEW SECTION.
F21: We’re in two minds about everything.
F7A: Morning but not yet light. I look to the sky for inspiration.
F8: All circuits are busy please try your call later.
F107: The light years from Orion are arriving as we speak.
F57: You’re a writer aren’t you?
F12: No I’m a ghost.
F13: This revelation sets off a white flash of fusion. Trains of thought derail from tracks 1 and 9. An older man’s smoky black American southern tang lifts the eyes of the toe-tapping subway passengers towards the overhead tannoy system.
“Broken down train at 59th street and Columbus Circle. I suggest y’all make alternative arrangements to reach your destination.”
HENDERSON, NEVADA. THE ET HIGHWAY – NIGHT.
Montage of shots:
Menu of car rentals: Two doors, automatic, Volkswagen.
The symbol of two-entwinned snakes with the tail of one in the mouth of the other.
Earth as a cosmic zoo.
The Methusalah tree
Larry and Isabella riding an airbourne seahorse across Nevada desert.
EXT. THE SALTOUN SEA – SAMOVAR INN – DAY
We’ll assign ourselves walk-on parts, new identities says Larry to Isabella. You be Issy Dora the flamenco dancer, and I’ll be your agent, Gordon Craig.
I smile, he smiles when I look away. We are each other’s longing, the sum of our industry. We lavish buttered toast upon each other in jubilation. All I ever wanted was somebody to walk the earth with.
Pencils stuck to the ceiling arrange themselves into the shape of a cross.
As the nineteenth century Russian philosopher and mystic Ouspensky once said: “Man is a machine, he is a machine which, in the right circumstances and with the right treatment can know that he is a machine and having fully realized this may find ways to cease being a machine.”
F14o: Idioglossa – a secret or private language between a few people – murmur of lunatics.
YUCATAN PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL – PLAYA DEL CARMEN – DAY
So you engineered a sneak preview, now what? Says Solomon Merkabah leaning over his patient, Issy Dora.
“Gordon told me you might possibly know the way to heaven.” Says Issy Dora, as she releases a string of whispered words.
“And did Gordon tell you the price of admittance?”
“No, only his commission as introducer…”
“Are you rich? Are you famous? Are you a supermodel?”
Mr Merkabah doesn’t wait for her to answer.
“So how should I categorise you?” Sneers Merkabah.
“If I might say so, you’re wasting your inquiry. You can see by the sparkle in her eyes that she doesn’t know she’s born.” Says Mr Merkabah’s assistant, MY ROY.
Shushh up, My Roy, I was coming to that.
“I was looking for a shortcut on a road with no turn-offs and ended up here?” Asks Issy Dora, politely.
“You can become not only lost in insanity but lost in awareness. Total awareness of nothing can happen to anyone, even reading a poem by Coleridge about the ‘Kubla Khan’ can hasten insanity. Those mental notes you made to yourself that were so carefully inserted into reams of memorized diary entries – all equally as ridiculous and long-winded – were the cause of a series of holographic inserts – which you experienced as normal everyday reality. Whereas, said holograms are nothing more than hallucinogenic smoke blowing in your direction.
Issy Dora feels an arrow to her heart.
“If she had known better she would have done better.” Says My Roy with deep notes of sympathy in his voice.
“Alright, here’s some advice, useful advice, the kind of advice that you won’t find on the back of a cereal box.
“You be the one to tell her” Says My Roy to Merkabah.
“No, you tell her, please.” Says Merkabah, interrupting.
At which point My Roy dutifully leans down over Issy Dora and positions his mouth flush with her ear, “Imagination is a safer form of trekking.”
INT. UCLA FILM SCHOOL – SCREENWRITING CLASS – DAY
I finally show up at the UCLA film department eight weeks into the Fall Semester. My professor, Polanski, eschews approbation and gets on with the business of putting us inside a fictional world and telling a story around the lives of the people we’ve invented. Looking back over my notes I see that I’ve written, “total awareness of nothing including ourselves” but have omitted to mention the name of the person the quote is attributed to. Professor Polanski continues on by saying:
“ Characters not abstractions, the situations they get into and how they arrive at a resolution. To have a different motivation for each person/character would be to create a falsehood – a conceit- when we all basically want the same thing. The audience needs to experience the same feelings as the character in the story, some relevance to their own lives. It is for this reason that I’m shooting out of continuity, the way chance operates. Take as an example, Isabella Vowell’s screenplay: With two parents born outside the UK, she is eligible to apply for a Green card in the Green card lottery; and, at the drop of a hat, change her status from out-of-kilter woman to permanent alien. All she needs is written evidence that her Jamaican parents exist or, at least, one of them is still living or has existed at some point. Her mother is a strong possibility, but how will she find her father, the factory hand, when there are no more factories? No doubt, she needs to change her attitude to this situation – there are factories, it’s absurd to think otherwise, it’s the hands that have been replaced by quantum mechanics.
Professor Polanski is asking me whether my factory hand father has a name. Or has he changed his name on account of something in his past he’d prefer to keep hidden – like an illegitimate daughter or a bigamist’s rap sheet?
“The daughter in her quest to find him will develop a sexual attraction to father she never knew.” suggests the professor. “Upon meeting her, he completes her fantasy. This realization will take us (the audience) to another level, again. Another possible scenario is that her father is dead. When the news is broken to the daughter, the daughter replies: “It’s not like I ever knew him. You’ve got to realize, I’ve failed at everything even my own private Idaho. And as for Male Noche – a cast of one stage actor, two local teens and a clutch of friends, the plot is scant evidence that a lifetime’s thinking went into that spade load of dreck. Cinema is a projectile to be flung in the face of an audience. Of course, we can see that in her other hand she’s holding a fortune cookie. Her lucky numbers for today are 4,8,13,24,27,38: the scrap of knowledge inside the fortune cookie says that today is the day to try something different and besides…What do you have to lose? ”
Armed with that slither of arcane knowledge, I ride the elevator down to the school’s admissions office. The Albanian receptionist, RITA … is chowing down on irony-flavoured chewing gum as is her custom. When I ring the bell wanting attention, she writes in blue magic marker pen the words “Do Not Disturb Me” across her forehead.
As I close the door on her and my filmed life, I mention in passing that I’m coming back in the Spring. Not that I have any intention of going back to Polanski.
I walk the ten long blocks to the UCLA Transit Terminal; navigate the toll of humanity that silts up the entrance way, then wait – for the bus going nowhere to turn the corner.
Drawing breath, my heart starts beating in three-four time to a rhyme about a puzzling cocktail distilled from flamenco hops and flavored with aniseed. I wish the esoteric liquid into perfume jars. If I dream don’t wake me. I tread sound silently out of the frame before the director can yell “Cut”.