Let's face it, destinies are hard to fulfill. First you have to know what they are, and that can take a really long time. I'm a perfect example. Last night I received a significant literary award for my current novel, Mystic Tea. There was even a ceremony at the Providence, a gorgeous historic venue that previously served as a world-famous recording studio. All around me were framed discs signed by Sinatra, Lennon, Hendrix, Streisand, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and more. Bulbs flashed; applause resounded. As an author who sits in her writing cave all day, the exposure was glaring. It felt like the kind of hallucination my characters tend to have.
Prior to the award ceremony, I was interviewed on camera. The interviewer asked me many questions about my story -- how I felt about the award, etc. The question that affected me most was, "What advice would you give other authors who aspire to this level of achievement?" This took a minute to process, because...What?! But afterwards I realized that my answer applied to much more than writing. It applied to purpose and voice and the ultimate unfolding of intended destiny. Not to be too grandiose. But life is pretty grandiose.
Let me back up a bit to a time when I wrote nonsense. Nonsense served me well and appealed to my keen sense of absurdity. I enjoyed writing it. Among other things it cracked me up all day with the added benefit of generating a healthy income. For many years I applied the gift of nonsense to my advertising career, and did well. But I'd known from childhood that my heart was in literary fiction, and I had to figure out a way to make that happen. So eventually I pushed advertising to the sidelines and moved fiction into the career slot.
But what to write? Since the demands of advertising had forced me to write on command, I could write about almost anything all day long. At the time, the suspense genre was selling. Of course the kind of suspense stories I enjoyed included nonsensical situations with goofy characters. So I wrote that. A little bit of comedy never hurt anyone. I continued to write short stories in the same vein with no luck. Plus I wasn't that happy. It felt like fluff. (It was.) The writing was good, and the stories were coherent, even compelling to lovers of nonsense. But something was off. I decided to try something new.
The something new was not really new to me, but it was new to the literary world. From childhood I was transfixed by the stories of the mystical saints -- their wild experiences in other realms. I often thought, why them? Why not us? Why not now? It never made sense to me that mystical experiences were exclusive to the distant past. If they were real, how could they be obscured by time? Also, I'd had rather a few of those experiences myself, which is a topic for another blog. Others I knew had had similar experiences, some mightily more profound than mine. So it was out there. It was happening. But people weren't talking about it. Or writing about it. Or sharing it in any form.
The spiritual revolution of the '90s issued literary accounts of mystical phenomena in the form of non-fiction or memoir. Betty Eadie's wild bestseller, Embraced by the Light, comes to mind. But the trend came and went. Since that aspect of human experience was what resonated most with me, I held onto it and incorporated it into my fiction. I was productive and satisfied. The only problem was that as fiction, it was genre-less. And void of a genre shelf, unsellable. Over the years my various agents labeled it "metaphysical fiction" or "mystical realism" in attempts to define it for publishers. But the traditional publishing world was not in the business of building new shelves. Some editors tried to convince their various committees that my book fit into the religion genre. It did not. Others tried to sell it as fantasy or magical realism. It was none of these.
I was not a complete marketing failure. My short stories and poetry found homes in literary journals and poetry anthologies. And anyway, at this point, I understood that the stories I was writing mattered, at least to me. So I kept going. This new genre, whatever it was, derived from my core. It was genuine and organic. It was my authentic voice. Which brings me to the point.
Last night when the interviewer asked me what advice I would give to other writers who aspired to a gold medallion literary status, I said, "Be true to your voice, no matter what." It sounds a bit lofty, I know. But each of us is given a unique thread, a point-of-view, a message to contribute to the story of humankind. Somewhere deep down, we know what it is, but we sell out for one reason or another. Some of those reasons are legitimate: i.e., survival. We have families to support. Which is not to say that the voice couldn't be developed during off-hours. It could. And furthermore, it must.
Whether the story thread or voice you've been entrusted with is in the field of literature, medicine, military, teaching, or circus performance, doesn't matter. What matters is that you pursue it to understand who you are. Once you understand this, you will know what to do with it. Furthermore, you will know that it is an essential and unique aspect of the human tapestry. That humanity as a whole can't do without it. You must express it. If not you, then who?
If that slim filament, that fugitive Idea that was entrusted to you is not developed, even a little, it will likely disappear. But if you develop it in spite of the mighty forces that work against you, what then? Will it work? Or will it be an extravagant waste of time? Will you die in obscurity? You might. I have died a thousand deaths already in my so-called career. My obscurity was so dense at times I barely recognized myself in the mirror. On the other hand, maybe you'll beat your head against the wall of resistance long enough to bring it down. Once you do, you have accomplished that feat not only for yourself, but for others. Others whose paths will be easier because of your efforts.
Everybody wins. Destinies are fulfilled. And who knows, maybe you'll even win an award.
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