“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—some 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>