The Mystic Writing Tablet
In September of 2017 I returned to the west coast of Canada after studying abroad for five months. Walking out of the airport I was overcome by a vision of the sun squeezed into the shape of a white-hot lemon surrounded by the golden aureole of an alien cartoon spaceship. I felt frightened and dislocated, not at all myself. “Jet lag,” I thought.
I slept the sleep of the dead, as I’ve heard it called. A deep dreamless sleep. In the morning I turned on the radio and heard that the fires burning in the interior of B.C. had grown to such massive proportions that they were not expected to be controllable until the winter. Some of the worst storms in recorded history were destroying many parts of Houston with raging winds, rain and flooding. The storms were moving toward Florida, where hundreds of people were being evacuated. Along with all the disasters was the news that North Korea was amping up hostilities with the U.S.
Friends started calling, wanting to get together for drinks. I noticed that Eva’s and my mutual friends were asking with a certain wariness if I had seen her yet. Others, when I ran into them, looked at me askance. That I trusted Eva I never stopped to think. I gave their manner of questioning little thought. The next day, feeling incurably lazy/dizzy from a sense of the myriad things that needed doing, I called Eva. She was pleased to hear from me and invited me for tea that afternoon.
I walked through the streets under the pink light beaming down from the alien spaceship sun. When I came to Eva’s tiny laneway house, my heart leaped. Here was her lovely unkempt-looking but passionately loved garden where, if I wanted to, I could lie down and sleep until my jet lag evaporated. As I stood there, the front door opened and I heard Eva’s friendly “Hello, hello!” We embraced and she took my hand as we walked inside.
While Eva was in the kitchen making the tea, I examined the two glass cabinets she kept for her collections of found objects. I loved finding The Recent Acquisitions as she called them. She collected stones, seed pods, shells and feathers of all sizes and colours, and set them in rows in ever-changing arrangements as though there were a riddle to be solved by the placement of a certain object among the others. “These are the Elements,” she would say, “of the great Cipher which we can discern written everywhere.”
When she brought out the tea and cookies I noticed Eva was flushed. I wondered if she had a fever, but it could also be the humidity or the sun and smoke-troubled skies.
“I’ve missed you tremendously,” she said as she poured the tea. “I have something very exciting to show you. No one else would understand it, of course, and in your absence I made the mistake of telling some people when they weren’t ready to hear about it. I am always embarrassing myself by being a blurter.”
“Eva, show me, please! You are always discovering the most amazing things.”
She went into her tiny bedroom and brought out a red velvet pillow slip holding the treasure she had alluded to. When she took it out I saw that it looked like an ordinary sketchbook from years and years ago. The paper was turning brown with age and the cardboard cover had been used as a palette. Blobs of dirty colours had been left by someone who had once used the sketchbook—now a junky old thing, not at all interesting. It had been left at the local school years ago until recently when it was finally thrown out. I didn’t say anything, because I know with Eva things are often not at all what they seem to be at first.
“I’ve been alone with this for so long I’ve started to feel I will die of it.” That is something she would say, I thought. “This is one copy out of a very few Mystic Writing Tablets still extant in our time. I am one of those who have been chosen to finish the writing and drawing so that the knowledge can be passed on.”
“Please take a look and tell me what you think. I have to lie down for a while. The writing might seem very strange but please don’t worry. We need to understand that there is a very benevolent message sent to us through this particular medium.” Eva walked across the room and set the sketchbook down on her work table. Without another word she left the room, and I heard the bedroom door close behind her.
Feeling out of sync with the rest of the world, I sat for half an hour staring out the window at the grey concrete being turned a soft, eerie orange in altered sunlight. When I finally sat down at Eva’s work table and looked at the damaged sketchbook cover, I saw that there were layers of dirt and dust, the remains of a makeshift palette and even several footprints. Looking more closely I could see that there was in fact a faint image drawn there under all the dirt. There were four interlocking circles labelled Imagination, Passion, Reason and The Body. In the centre of the circles was a drawing of a corymb of blue flowers. Radiating out of the top of each circle were lines that could have been waves or flames. At the top of the image were the words The Mystic Writing Tablet. It would be a huge undertaking to restore the cover to its original lines and colours. But why does Eva think that this is her responsibility? It was time for me to get back to my apartment and continue unpacking. I left a short note on the work table and headed home.
I wondered how Eva was doing but decided not to contact her for a while. I really had no idea if I wanted to talk about the sketchbook again. I hadn’t even opened it when she’d left it out for me. I felt I was being ungrateful for her generosity in wanting to share with me, but I was not up to the work of understanding what it was. I could see why our friends were curious and concerned about her claiming to be a self-professed Keeper of the Knowledge—whatever that was.
I went to Montreal for a few months to work as an artist’s studio assistant. Basically I was being used as a janitor, and I left before I’d put in the time I’d agreed to. Eva heard I was home and phoned me. She sounded very happy and excited. “I’m flying to Paris tomorrow,” she said. “I finished my work on The Mystic Writing Tablet and found a publisher in Paris. She wants to translate it and publish a facsimile of the whole book in full colour.”
Wow! was all I could think of to say. “Good luck!” I said.
In the morning I found a note Eva had pushed under my door on her way to the airport.
Dearest Claire, I didn’t die from this work. I became energized by what I was discovering. Disappearing ink (!) was involved in the original manuscript that made the writings and drawings difficult to decipher at first but eventually began to make sense. I found recipes online for making the writing and drawings reappear.
I thought of you often when I was working late into the night. How nice it would have been to have you here to discuss what the images might mean.
The manuscript was written by several people over a period of fifty years!
Here are some lines from one of the poems I thought you would like.
Signs that look like things:
Sections of sea-serpents in the dampness of springs,
of foam, cascades, surges, juxtapositions between ideas. Things, the permanence of things, their inanity, the material of ideas, colours, light.
Farewell dark waters. Farewell Jest of Jests.
We’re nothing but expert Monkeys in dusty rows of chairs.
PS. Did you know Freud wrote an essay titled A Note upon the Mystic Drawing Pad?!
You can find the pdf here: