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Adventures in Wonder-land 

A transporting search for the creator of the Museum of Lost Wonder

Wednesday, Dec 10 2003
Alchemy: 1) a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life; 2) a power or process of transforming something common into something special.

I haven't the words. I should give up writing, because I haven't the words.

I arrive at this sober conclusion while sitting behind the wheel of my cousin's car about 100 yards from Moss Landing. It's not the first time I've discovered evidence to support the abrupt termination of my career, but, unlike previous bouts of doubt, this one is precipitated by something other than the dread of an impending deadline. The source of this sudden and acute upheaval? A simple stretch of road snaking along the Central Coast between the Pajaro River and Sand City, Calif. It's not unfamiliar territory, but, today, the landscape is staggering: the bright, cobalt sky trimmed with clouds the color and texture of polished abalone shell; the careful fields of dark, freshly turned earth yielding to the frothy wilds of the sea; the smell of salt water and wet asphalt mingling with that of maturing artichokes and Brussels sprouts; the snow-white arc of an egret as it gracefully dips its head into the tall slough grass; the chatter of a sea otter as he floats by on his back, harassing the small crab on his stomach; and a lone dragonfly strafing the otter's nose. It's too much for one frame. I haven't enough eyes in my head or breath in my body to take it all in. And I don't have the words to express how it feels.

Jeff Hoke might say I am wonder-struck. This has been a common state for me since my introduction to Hoke's Guide to Lost Wonder, a series of beautifully produced, 8-by-10-inch pamphlets distributed by the Berkeley-based, DIY publishing "house" Wonderella Printed (

According to the "Lost Creation Myth" found in Issue 1 of the Guide, wonder rose from a primordial soup of doubt, confusion, emptiness, loneliness, and boredom and served to infuse the primal wonderer with an "awesome, omnipresent, omniscient, overwhelming feeling of being alive." Like all great creation-myth writers, Hoke cannot prove the origin of the universe, or of wonder for that matter, but his argument is elegantly fashioned, his diagrams are enchanting, and the irreverent comments presented before and after are both insightful and delightful.

But I'm already a fan.

Adorned with intricate pen-and-ink drawings (all by Hoke), a quote from the Zohar, and a miniature lesson in etymology, Issue 1 opens with Hoke's concise but eloquent CliffsNotes on Creation-according-to-Genesis, the Big Bang, and the Kabalah. It also features a "Do-It-Yourself Creation Myth" activity page, which poses a series of questions characteristic of the Guide, designed to propel the reader into the realms of self-reflection and imagination, and, in this case, into the role of omnipotent overlord. The centerfold, also standard for each issue of the Guide, is a tremendously complex and wholly executable 3-D paper model of Hoke's universe, which includes an accretion disc, an event horizon, and an axis mundi (the center of the entire cosmos according to Sufi tradition).

After Issue 1, the Guide starts to get heady.

Issue 2 wiggles its toes in the pool of human perception from Plato to memes to Time magazine surveys. Issue 3 traces the more sinister history of museums, from the muses of ancient Alexandria to the mermaids of P.T. Barnum. Issue 4 begs us to consider ourselves through a variety of lenses, including psychology, astronomy, the Tibetan Wheel of Life, and, significant to Hoke, alchemy. Issue 5 turns its attention to visions -- who's had them, what they mean, where they come from, and how we, too, might experience some, say, through sleep deprivation, dreaming, exposure to pulsing light, a simple trick in the shower, or a not so simple trick involving a sack, a rope, and a lonely night in a tree. By Issue 6, Hoke has returned to what will remain his primary passion for the rest of the series: alchemy. Approached as the final bastion of seekers (before art, philosophy, science, and mysticism were forcibly sundered by the ascendancy of empirical evidence), alchemy is presented in the Guide as both metaphor and historical fact, and as the foundation for the Museum of Lost Wonder, to which the Guide is only an adjunct.

In Issue 6, Hoke begins a detailed tour of the museum (a less detailed but evocative museum tour can be taken at, which contains seven rooms, each meticulously planned and drafted by Hoke to correspond to one of the seven alchemical stages experienced by matter and/or the alchemist's psyche during the course of refinement.

As every issue of the Guide to Lost Wonder states, it is published for those who cannot visit the museum "as an extension of its exhibits and programming," in the hopes it might "alleviate boredom, provide temporary relief from dread and circumnavigate the constant possibility of ennui" for those "girls and boys" who would rather wander the dark halls of the museum than be anywhere else.

Of course, the Museum of Lost Wonder is Hoke's mind. So I'm looking for Hoke.

On the back of every Guide to Lost Wonder there is an address, just under the catch phrase "committed to the fearless pursuit of curiosity beyond reason" and between the words levitas, miraculum, and gravitas and their translations: levity, wonder, gravity. As whimsical and unlikely as an address on Foam Street might sound, I don't doubt it for a moment. Still, Hoke arranges to meet me outside the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

It's a holiday weekend. All wonder is expunged.

Throngs of sticky-fingered kids press against my knees and scream into my elbows; their parents, bludgeoned into senselessness by souvenir shops and parking lots, mewl over tourist maps and missing ticket stubs. Feeling marooned on Cannery Row, I surrender myself to the tide of sweat shirt decals and espadrilles, hoping beyond hope that Hoke will pluck me out of the horde. Within a heartbeat, he taps me on the shoulder and smiles, pointing at my boots, the backs of which bear the words calcinatio, solutio, coagulatio, sublimatio, separatio, mortificatio, and conunciatio -- the seven stages of alchemy, after which the seven rooms in the Museum of Lost Wonder are named.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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