“To be born is to be chosen.”—John O’Donohue
Let me start by declaring my belief that I am destined to write. I also believe that my stories are destined. How can they not be, if I was destined to tell them?
I wanted to say that right at the top. If reading it made you roll your eyes, I thought I’d offer the chance to choose to pass on this post. Because even if I believe in destiny, I’m no fatalist. I still firmly believe in freedom of choice.
Does that sound contradictory? Hmmm, maybe you do want to read on.
Guided by Choice:
“Though we are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny, what we put into it is ours.”—Dag Hammarskjold
I think it’s true, that much of destiny is circumstance—our frame of destiny. In regard to O’Donohue’s quote at the top of the essay, imagine how much different your life would be even if you’d been born to the family next door. And yet, I believe destiny is laden with choice, as well.
I’ve read a lot on the subject of authorial voice lately, including Jo Eberhardt’s great post here on WU, in which she speaks of the role our perspectives play in our voices. Considering the infinite variations on the frames of our circumstance, it’s difficult to argue that each of us has a unique perspective. Which reinforces the notion that only we can tell our stories.
I recently coupled that line of thought with the realization that I’ve always had a powerful impulse to write lurking deep inside me. And it seems I’m not alone—I hear again and again how writers simply could not resist writing. If you’re prone to such notions, the compulsion so many of us feel paired with the uniqueness we invariably share through story can almost feel like a divine conspiracy. Or, if you prefer a more scientific explanation, perhaps the coupling lies at the very crux of our survival and thriving as a species. Or perhaps you’ve rolled your eyes again.
It’s funny though, in looking back on my life, how long I did resist the impulse. Especially considering how young I was when decided I would write. So many of my subsequent choices seemed to lead me away from actually writing. But some aspect of all of those choices—like course-corrections from the Universe—continued to lead me back to storytelling. Choices such as my curriculum selections in school, my vocational decisions, and even recognizing, pursuing, and marrying my soul-mate, are all woven into my work, and integral to my writing destiny. What I’ve put into the frame is undeniably mine.
“Riddle of destiny, who can show / What thy short visit meant, or know / What thy errand here below?”—Charles Lamb
As I said above, a part of Hammarskjold’s frame of destiny is the family we’re born into. And if each of us has a destiny, one that is dependent on our choices, that destiny must certainly influence and be influenced by the destinies of others in our lives—particularly by the destinies of those we love.
I hadn’t really intended to write publicly about this, but since she led me to the topic, it seems destined. I recently lost my eldest sister, Marsha. She’d been sick a long time, and we’re relieved that her suffering has ended. But that doesn’t diminish our grief. And it certainly doesn’t justify the unfairness of her illness or her premature passing.
Ten years my senior, for me Marsh was the living embodiment of cool. She exposed me to Beatles and Stones, James Brown and Marvin Gaye. Her hipness, unique beauty, long straight dark hair, and wry observational wit made her sort of like our own personal Cher. As a boy, this made her approval of anything I’d said or done mean the world to me. We were close for siblings born so far apart, particularly during my late teens and early twenties, when she was a young adult, out in the world with her own apartment.
For me, central to her coolness, and a big part of our early closeness, was her love of reading—particularly of historical fiction. We’d talk for hours about history and the books we were reading. In hindsight I can clearly see now how vital Marsh was to my own love of reading, and hence to the genesis of my writing journey.
Though the years of adulthood, distance and life-changes led to our drifting apart. Marsh and I went for more than a decade seeing each other only on holidays and special occasions. When I finished my first manuscript, my mom insisted on reading it. So I printed a copy and sent it to her. Mom hated it (perhaps “hate” is a bit harsh, but she couldn’t even get through it). At the time I was busy building a carpentry business. I’d all but given up on the idea of seriously pursing writing, even though my story was incomplete (even at this point I knew the complete story would be a trilogy).
Then something unexpected happened.
Unbeknownst to me, my mom had given my manuscript to Marsha, I’m guessing in the hopes that someone might be able to make sense of it. One autumn day, several months afterward, I got a call from Marsh. The call was unusual enough that as my wife handed me the phone I wondered what was wrong. Marsh told me that, though it took her a while to get into it, she’d finished reading my manuscript… And she loved it! Well, she didn’t love all of it (she was pretty blunt in telling me how badly it needed editing and parsing). But she got it—she’d found her way to the heart of the story, and it had moved her. Better still, she wanted more.
During the last decade of her life, my big sister turned into one of the biggest advocates of my writing journey. She was among the first to read each manuscript, and we had dinners and exchanged copious emails to discuss them. She was the very first to finish reading the complete trilogy. I’ll never forget the email I got the morning after. “I’m bursting my buttons with pride for my little brother. You did it! I wasn’t sure you were going to, but you pulled it all together.” She told me later that morning that she’d had to wear extra makeup to work to cover the puffy eyes she had from crying (isn’t it weird how much it means to us writers to have made someone cry?).
The last time Marsha and I spoke before she went into the hospital for the final time, she’d reached out because our sister had passed along some good news regarding a manuscript of mine that she’d read. Marsh was so damn excited, and happy for me. She told me again how proud she was of me.
And I realized that after all these years, my cool sister’s approval still means the world to me.
Aligning With Our Truth:
“Getting into alignment with our truth is like opening the door to destiny.”—Linda Saccorccio
It might be difficult for some of you to reconcile my distinction between destiny and fate. Maybe you bypassed my warning at the top, and you still think it’s all a bunch of woo-woo nonsense, and that’s fine.
I really like Saccorccio’s concept of aligning with our truth. I know I can make other choices—choices that would alter my destiny. I can quit writing any time. But I’m damn near certain that wouldn’t be a fulfilling choice, and might very well be a disastrous one.
This is my truth. I am meant to do this. My choices have led me to it, and choosing otherwise would put me out of alignment with my destiny.
In the wake of Marsha’s passing, I’m certain she played a key role in my writing destiny. She helped me to open the door to it. Which makes me all the more certain that my stories have a destiny, too. I’m not sure what that destiny is—it’s not mine to know. But getting into alignment with my truth makes it easier to face the days when doubt fills my office, trying to seep into my headspace. After all, how can doubt ever win when I know I’m destined to write?
So thanks, Marsh. You are forever cool.
How about you? Are you destined to write? Is your destiny entwined with anyone else’s? Or do you think I’m choosing self-delusion?
[Photo: Hedgerow Gate at Kinross, Scotland, by Vaughn Roycroft]