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The Alchemists Garden
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The Alchemist’s Garden
Next to the hotel (not a chateau, in fact, but a ‘mas’ or farm) is a garden built relatively recently, based on alchemical principles. The next morning, in a soft warm breeze, the sun already slanting, hot, onto the immaculate lawns, I enter the garden through its labyrinth and become absorbed and entranced by what I find there. Lavender beds surrounding olive trees, enclosed by willow trees planted in criss-cross lattice form; herbs, vines, flowers; each bush, plant or tree with an adjacent discreet notice describing its properties, many of them traditionally seen as protective against the evil eye, bad influence, or sickness.
After this gentle tour through the powers of plants, comes the alchemical voyage through three inner gardens. First the ‘black’ garden, the ground covered in slate, everything laid out in straight lines, the borders metallic, the presence of still water, the mood somber. The ‘white’ garden has paths covered with white gravel, inset with circles of pale stone, a central stone pond surrounded by beds of white roses. A circular entrance through a hedge leads to the ‘red’ garden with rust-coloured gravel paths, beds of red roses and orange flowers, a central fountain in a six pointed star.
You can leave the black garden by using your mind, says a notice, but to transit the white garden, governed by the moon, you must open your heart. The journey through the red garden, governed by the sun, leads you to a state of transformation. You leave it ready to begin your life again.
I walk through the gardens three times during the weekend. In between I listen to readings (Michael on the craft of writing, Alan Lightman reading from his book ‘Einstein’s Dreams’ and talking about his dual life as a writer and astrophysicist, Andrew Motion reading his poems, movingly) gaze at the golden light falling on bleached grasses, relax in the heat, talk, eat.
The screening of YES, in the Papal Palace in Avignon, leads to a long Q and A in which, in response to a question and to my observations of the preoccupations of some of the paying participants, I address the question of doubt, self-doubt in particular, as an important part of the writer’s process. “Self-esteem” being an overvalued attribute in my view (you feel ashamed if you don’t have enough of it, adding to the sense of lack) I put forward a case for the celebration of both self-doubt and self-criticism. I have noticed that many students feel bad and anxious about the fact that they don’t feel happy with what they have achieved. They assume that those bearers of more conspicuous success must feel good about themselves.
I hope it is reassuring and energising to hear that feelings of confidence are a bonus and not a necessity in writing a screenplay (or perhaps anything else). The point, really, is to get on with it whatever you feel; to learn to coexist with emotional discomfort or anxiety, not to think there's something wrong with you because it feels hard or you make mistakes.
(My repeated contacts with people struggling with these and other obstacles on the road of screenwriting and directing, some of them students, some practitioners, and the pleasure I get from being able to be of some assistance…perhaps simply by saying out loud the things |I wish someone would say to me when I am struggling… has led me to decide to offer an open workshop or two some time later this year. Click Here)
Text © Sally Potter. All pictures © Adventure Pictures unless otherwise indicated