Destiny Calling

11097070_m“Don’t believe the adverts, Don’t believe the experts, Everyone will sell our souls;
Get a little wiser,
Get a little humble, Now we know that we don’t know;
Tell us when our time’s up,
Show us how to die well, Show us how to let it all go;
Here we come, This is our destiny calling…”~Timothy Booth, James Glennie, David John (from the song Destiny Calling, by James)

An Age-Old Question: A recent thread on facebook inspired this post. It was a long and thoughtful discussion among friends, delving the depths of a deep and fairly personal topic: predestination versus freewill. Not bad for facebook, huh? A bit more provoking and inspiring than your typical Grumpy Cat meme.

I’m not sure anything was resolved. Everyone has their own feelings on the subject, and the answers for each of us are rooted in our own brand of spirituality (or, in some cases, a resolute lack thereof). But it reminded me how much of my work is tied up in the issue. You see, I’ve looked at destiny from a lot of angles—to the tune of four long manuscripts.

Bringer of Urrinan:  

The Priestess Amaseila came to offer him blessing. She held her hands out to him. Upon his touch she gasped and convulsed, eyes wide and knees buckling. Vahldan tried to pull his hands away to help her keep her feet, but she clung to him, even as she slumped and grimaced.

The onlookers stirred and murmured, but none dared intervene. Her haunting gaze never left him, but she finally regained herself and straightened. “It is you,” she breathed, as if recognition dawned. Her voice rose, “You are the bringer. You will wreak great pain upon our people. But also will you bring glory, and great joy. What is to come through you will change us all— Gottari and Skolani alike—forever. You shall be the start of it. For upon your doom, the Urrinan shall ride.”~From The Severing Son (Prequel to The Legacy of Broken Oaths Trilogy by Yours Truly)

Destiny’s Child: And so it begins. Not just for Vahldan, but for his progeny, for generations to come. In keeping with the real world, I sought to include religious and cultural dogma and superstition in how my characters perceive destiny. I do not ask my readers to believe that the Priestess Amaseila has any prophetic abilities or that Vahldan is actually doomed, or that his progeny will bring about the Urrinan (a prophesied cataclysmic change in the imperial world). In fact, I hope I’ve left readers free to deduce that Amaseila, as well as her equally outspoken daughter Amaga, are: actually in touch with the divine, lucky guessers, clever enough to manipulate those who think them prophetic, completely delusional, or some combination of the above.

“There is a divinity that shapes our ends; Rough hew them how we will.” ~William Shakespeare

External Impact: It wasn’t the prophesy of the Urrinan or Vahldan’s destiny that particularly interested me. No, what I chose to explore was how our views about our own destiny are shaped externally, primarily by the social imposition of beliefs and the expectations of others in our lives. Time and again, my characters are forced to make choices based on their belief in a destiny imposed upon them. Over the course of the trilogy, they are faced with coming to terms with the concept of fate. They must choose whether to embrace a predetermined vision that had been laid before them, or to hew a path toward their own version of destiny by staying true to themselves. Of course, whatever they choose, there are consequences to face.

“What we call our destiny is inside us. It is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it means we are free to change our destiny.” ~Anaïs Nin

Hewing a New Course: You might be wondering what all of this has to do with writing, besides the thematic exploration of my four manuscripts. For me it has everything to do with it. There is no question that, like my MCs, I have been motivated by expectations. Even my expectations for myself were long shaped by external forces. Based in some measure upon the expectations of others—parents, teachers, community, society at large—I selected a curriculum in school, went to college, selected my major, sought employment, pursued business success. Our perceptions of our destiny can be powerfully shaped by the external.

And yet, in my heart I kindled a hope and a belief that writing was my calling. It certainly wasn’t a part of my parents’ vision for my destiny. Grandchildren and a nice house in the suburbs, yes. A cottage in the woods, pouring myself onto the pages of lengthy fantasy manuscripts, not so much. My mom has adjusted to it. And I’m sure my dad would’ve been proud that I followed my heart. But it certainly wasn’t what they had envisioned.

 “You are what your deep, driving desire is.

As your desire is, so is your will. 

As your will is, so is your deed.

As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

~from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV, 4.5

Fortune Favors the Brave: Perhaps you’re also wondering what I came away with, after nine-plus years and 600,000 plus words worth of literary exploration of the topic of destiny. I suppose you’ve surmised I don’t put much credence in predestination. But to Nin’s point, I do believe we are each imbued with the elements of character. Whether it is an innate gift or a nurtured one, it’s there. Whether it is through our legacy—the expectations and lessons of those who love us in our formative years—or the complete lack thereof, leaving us a clean slate to create ourselves, our destiny is inside us. As Nin points out, our character can be altered. Indeed, I believe it is incumbent upon us to seek ourselves in our deep, driving desire. But only in seeking for that inner calling can we find the will to hew a course toward it. And only through the day to day deeds of hewing that course can we find our true destiny.

My writing journey has been the most rewarding of my life thus far. It can be scary, deviating from what had seemed a fated existence. But my journey has taught me that destiny rewards courage. It takes courage, and sometimes great sacrifice, to embrace our true calling, and to choose to strive toward it, whatever the obstacles. Of course there will be consequences—calvin & hobbessome for boon and some for burden. But even the burdens can be easily borne by those who stay true to their heart’s compass for destiny.

Calvin or Hobbes? I wouldn’t dare invite a debate on predetermination versus freewill in the comments. It might be safer to ask you if you prefer the cartoon kid or his tiger. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on destiny. Is writing your deep, driving desire? Are you up for the challenge of hewing your own course?

Image credit:<a href=’http://www.123rf.com/photo_11097070_idyllic-and-peaceful-forest-track-at-spring-time.html’>prill / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

25 comments on “Destiny Calling

  1. brindle808 says:

    As ever, Vaughn, a wonderful, thought-provoking post. Thank you!

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  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one whose writing makes them retrospective on their personal lives. 😉 I understand the quote(paraphrasing here)”I don’t know what I think until I write it.”
    Sometimes, I feel that the universe acknowledged my desire long before I made it my will. I love that quote, by the way.
    I had a conversation a few months ago with my mom, after a publishing deal went south. She reminded me that it’s been my desire since grade school. “I know you’ll make it,” She said. “You’ve been preparing your entire life for this.”
    As for hewing my own course? Yes, I’m ready. More now than ever. I respect the “no’s” in my life. I’m hungry to work, and tell beautiful stories.
    Always an inspiration, Vaughn. Thank you. 🙂

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    • So much about myself has come clearer to me in retrospect through the writing. I feel blessed by it. And whenever I allow myself to feel blue about the publishing part of it, I have to remind myself how lucky I am–what a gift it is, to pursue something that’s been inside me since I can remember.

      You’re very lucky to have such a wise mom. Mine still doesn’t quite get it–bless her. She only wants what’s best for me. But she can’t for the life of her figure out why we left the business world.

      Good point about respecting the ‘no’s. They give us a chance to re-calibrate for future hewing. I keep learning about my work, too. Digging deeper, as I have been, and even digging through my thoughts for this post, will make my work richer and more meaningful when it’s finally ready to go out into the world. That, too, is a blessing.

      Thank YOU, Tonia, for enhancing the experience here and elsewhere, as always. 🙂

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  3. I needed your forest photo today…we just had 25 cms of snow 😦 not feeling like Spring at all.

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  4. liz says:

    I live with the cartoon kid, so I’m voting for the tiger.
    I would tell stories no matter what, Vaughn. The shape they take may vary, but storytelling is my heart’s desire. The format doesn’t matter so much.

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    • I think what makes me a poster-boy for this is my lengthy hiatus from storytelling–from school age to mid-forties. It says a lot about the power of taking something day by day, step by step, to re-shape our destiny. I have to remind myself sometimes, which is what I am doing here, but I do believe it. And if I can do it, anybody can. (I’m partial to Hobbes as well–the tiger and the philosopher. 🙂 ) Thanks, Liz!

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  5. I used to be very fatalistic, and then I grew out of it. 🙂 I truly have no idea of what to believe about destiny, so I just work as hard as I can to meet the goals I have, keep an eye open for everyday magic, be sure to put the important things (like people and relationships) at the front of the importance line, and hope for the best. Not very romantic, huh? 😀

    Your posts always impress me. 🙂

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    • I think that’s wise as well as a bit romantic, Lara. As the Upanishad verse says, you know what is important to you–your deep desire (meeting your goals, people and relationships), and you do what you can each day, incrementally. You have the will to do the deeds each day in order to make progress. That is bound to produce everyday magic! I love it! 🙂

      Thanks, that’s good, because I’m always impressed by you as well. Keep hewing your course, my friend!

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  6. ddfalvo says:

    First, I just loved the little bit from your prequel. It’s wonderfully intriguing and I love how Vahldan, as a catalyst, neither flinches from his purported doom nor fears to reach for glory.

    Is he destined because he consistently chooses that path based on the man that he is, or is it predetermined because he is limited to who he must become by the gifts of birth?

    Maybe it’s a soup.
    We begin with some basics, predetermined by birth, add some external influence and some personal free will and maybe the possibility of divine or not so divine intervention. I believe in both–the Divine and not-so-divine, aka Good and Evil. My own writing strongly reflects that, investigates the possibilities of ‘what if’ on a grand scale.

    Destiny will not be denied, though it may have a sense of humor. I’ve spent some time trying to control it; it’s like trying to climb Niagara Falls. The force knocks me back down every time, miring me deeper in the mud. Now I listen, and in that openness harken to where I am called. Once I stopped fighting, the magic found me. Now I just try to look forward to what the day will bring instead trying to run the future.
    Writing is a lot like that, too. You can plot and plot, but when it comes down to it, the actual writing is a journey of self-discovery where the road may take you to places you’ve never been.
    And if, on that road, we are fortunate enough to find ourselves, then perhaps our voices will ring out with authenticity and inspire others to their own adventure.

    I think you have an authentic voice. It’s why your blogs are so inspiring. Keep that in the vault, Vaughn. 😉

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    • Vahldan is charged with rescuing his father’s name from dishonor. While he’s keeping that central to his destiny, he’s fine. But when he meets Amaseila and she tells him he is bound for both glory and doom, he begins to drink the kool-aid. He’s surrounded by people telling him he is tied to a prophesy, and he buys into it. Things spiral. At some point, redemption becomes the order of the day. I enjoyed pushing him out onto and then down that twisting road to destiny. 🙂

      Interesting what you say about submission to forces greater than us. I think I have that element in my perception of destiny. My return to writing was a sort of submission to destiny. And living it day by day (always a struggle, but worth the fight).

      I very much agree with your theory on plotting. Nothing will tell you how a story will work out but writing it. At least that’s the way it works for me. Not that I don’t want to do more planning in the future. I just know that at some point I have to give over to sitting and writing for the story to flow out of me. I know I’ve learned a lot in the process, too, so I wouldn’t change it for the world.

      Thanks for adding depth to an already deep subject. I think maybe I ought to stick to the shallow end of the blogging pool for a while now. 😉 Thanks, as always, for your kind words and support, D!

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  7. Nicole L. Bates says:

    First of all, I love the photo for this post! Next, what a great excerpt from your MS, thanks for sharing! This is really interesting and thought provoking.

    Honestly, I’m not sure if writing is my “destiny”. Like you, I went to college and earned a degree that would allow me to have a respectable career, and to help people. I really love my day job, because I get to help people. I sometimes wonder if the writing is self-indulgent because I should be spending more time helping others. On the other hand, I need to stay sane, and have an outlet. I have several of them really. Writing for me is fun, an escape, an adventure that I will continue to do as long as I am able whether anyone else ever reads my words or not. I guess the only real question is how publicly will I get to pursue that adventure and how widely will those ideas be shared?

    I am up for the challenge, and I know you are as well!

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    • I was immediately drawn to that forest path. It reminded me of part of the setting in my world. And thanks for the praise on the excerpt. It’s perhaps ‘the’ pivotal moment of the prequel. 🙂

      I know what you mean about feeling self-indulgent. Some days I feel like the most self-indulgent person on earth. Your day job is a wonderful thing (a bit more altruistic than selling expensive lumber products 😉 ). I don’t believe our destiny limits us to one pursuit, either. Some of us just have more energy than others, too (I’m talking about you, not me, since there’s no ironic tone font). Seriously, I’m sure writing will play a vital role in your destiny.

      The simple fact that you are doing it says so much. You are much more proactively pursuing your destiny–with routine hewing of your course–than most people. It’s easy to see you are up for the challenge. You are an absolute inspiration, Nicole! 🙂 Thank you!

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  8. Tardy to the philosophical party… great post, Vaughn. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I agree that writing is the only way to really find out what’s going on in your story. Plotting is a process — but the plot itself is fluid. I think life is similar. The process of planning, of having expectations, is simply a way for me to clarify my thinking and my self-awareness: if I don’t know myself, then all my plans are just hamster-wheel spinning. On the other hand, if I don’t act, then all my self-awareness is theoretical, and ephemeral. As in stories, character is shown through action, not introspection. But introspection is the sequel that sets up the next action — without a clear sense of character, the story devolves into repetitive action and (in my case, usually!) imploding.

    Okay, now I feel like a blowhard! But that’s my take on it. And any way you slice it, I’m glad you’re writing, my friend.

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    • A mentor is never late, nor early–she arrives precisely when she’s needed. 😉

      I think that sounded wise and inspiring, Cathy! Introspection is more than respite between actions–it gives context to the coming steps. That makes so much sense. It’s all about balance. And I do want to use plotting as a process, not just for future stories, but for life in general. I want to take full advantage of all that I’ve learned along the way to this point. I was stumbling though, and did okay on the first go around. But why would I want to bumble and rely on nothing but instincts and good fortune as I go on? (i.e. Avoiding hamster-wheel spinning and devolving into meaningless repetitive action.)

      Thanks so much for bestowing the conversation, and the metaphor, with a bit more context, my mentor. 🙂

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  9. Love the excerpt from The Severing Son. The “severing” of destiny. Awesome.

    As for my personal belief in destiny, I don’t know what to believe. I know we’re born alone, we die alone, and that Bob Dylan sings, that “when a man isn’t busy being born, he’s busy dying.” Heh. Confusing stuff.

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    • Thanks for the praise, B! You guys have made my day! 😀

      I love that Dylan-ism. Makes sense, as there was a time when I was ‘busy dying.’ Beginning my writing journey makes me feel like I’ve been ‘busy being born’ into a new destiny. You’re the best! 🙂

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  10. sugaropal says:

    Love the trees, of course 😉 and I’m also a Nin-fan. In terms of destiny, and embracing it, I think it’s no accident that I started writing AFTER my mom’s death. Nuff said. For me, that feeling of “aliveness” – like electricity sparking along the rails of my nerves- that’s when I know I’m on the track that brings me closest to my own true self. That happens most often when I’m writing.

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    • Funny how the death of loved ones tends to weigh so heavily on these things. It certainly has for me–changed everything, in fact. I think our inner calling has a way of revealing itself. I love your description of “aliveness.” It works for me generally and specifically.

      I clearly recall a spring day in ’03. We were still working in IL and spending weekends here in MI. I had a nearby appointment that kept me from going back to Chicago on Sunday night, and I spent Monday morning walking the beach with the dog. It was sunny but cold. I had some time, so I sat on our porch after the walk, and felt the aliveness you describe. I knew we were approaching a cusp–that a life-change was coming. It was the very first time I allowed myself to clearly think that writing here at the cottage was a possible future. I didn’t know when (It took until Nov. of that year for our life change to come to fruition), but destiny called me that day, and reassured me that I could hew my course to my calling (even though I’d kept it buried away).

      Sorry for the long story in reply, but your comment, plus the sunny, cold day here, transported me back ten years like it was yesterday. Thanks for sharing. I know your mom is proud of you, Rhiann!

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  11. I was thinking about a similar question this morning, something that’s been bugging me. After going to AWP a week ago, and meeting so many YOUNG writers with published books, I went back to my well-worn refrain of “I wish I’d started sooner.” I wish I’d changed that curriculum, had the foresight or the guts or the vision to choose writing earlier. I started writing Grace at age 38, and it’s been five years of hauling this story out of the depths. This morning, I realized that I didn’t have this story in me until then, until now. Free will or predetermination? Not sure. The stories come from me, from my experience, built up, brick by brick. I believe we are the stories that we tell ourselves. I like this one. Read on. 🙂

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    • Aren’t you just brimming with wisdom this week. And just in the nick of time. I LOVE this reminder! I started writing the Legacy trilogy at age 42. I know, from recalling the stories I was writing in my school days, that if I’d started to actually get serious about writing fantasy earlier, in my teens or twenties, it would’ve been full of elves and orcs, and probably even ill-defined magic.

      I wouldn’t call my work gritty, but there is a hard-won realism there that only could’ve come with experience. I also love “hauling it out of the depths.” So accurate. That’s what I’ve been doing. And some of it has only surfaced from the murk with difficulty. But I still believe. I like this one, too. I’m going to continue hewing this course. You’ve been a Godsend this week, Lisa. Thanks!

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  12. […] But I honestly always considered the story simple, and rooted in the characters. I only stopped when I felt I’d told their story. Only in hindsight can I see the themes that arose in the telling. And, in the spirit of the trilogy’s epic length and breadth, quite a few themes did indeed arise. I suppose the most central and overarching one would be the importance of embracing one’s own freewill over an externally imposed fate, as I explored here. […]

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