A reader asked, “Did that really happen to you?” after finishing one of my novels. I’ve heard this before, and the character-revolving question churns in my mind. It’s a great question. One for which I don’t always have a ready answer, because it’s rather loaded.
When I was a professional dancer, one of my fortes was Character Dance. I think this is where I first came to understand that, as an artist, I’m all my characters and none of my characters. I abandoned myself in a role, poured out blood, sweat, and tutus, until I became another persona. The interpretation was all mine (via the Lord’s inspiration and direction). After I hung up the costumes and retreated to the hotel or home for a cup of tea and a foot-soak, I was just me and nothing like the earlier identity on stage.
It’s the same with creating characters in books. Sometimes a reader will say, “I can relate to you,” when referencing the protagonist in a novel. I appreciate the response; it’s also interesting for me. While I can draw parallelisms, such as an incident or event that motivated the story, antics that aided a character’s development, or inject personal likes and dislikes, I’m not that person. Not even in my first novel, which is assumed in the industry to be every writer’s veiled autobiography. I'm just a vehicle to carry out another's story.
If I am my characters, then I’m also a human-flesh-eating imp, a war criminal, and a subterranean giant. I’m ALL of them (because creators invest in roles), and NONE of them (because I’m somebody else at the end of the day). Clear as mud? Lol. I'm inclined to think it's more the moral of the story that speaks (if anything does), which is sourced from a gracious God.
I might have done a strange thing as a child when I asked for wisdom... I’m not sure. I wasn’t around peers too much to find out if this is what they did too, since my formative years took place in the boonies. My only friends were animals, especially horses. It’s just the way things were. I don’t mind. I had a solid upbringing with loving parents and siblings, and I adored my lot of furry companions who didn’t seem to mind my quirky quests.
And I couldn’t say I understood what or who God was, although I’m quite certain of his presence. My mother was my primary spiritual teacher, and she’d tell me stories about important things—things I embrace even stronger today. Because I still hear her voice, though she has passed from this life into the next. Wisdom was something she spoke and sang of often, and her multi-layered lessons, like colors in paintings, enthralled me so much that I remember being not older than five, six, or seven years old and asking for Wisdom to grace my life in bright hues.
“Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs is one of my favorite books, touching often on wisdom, and this verse comes from 4:6-7.
I’ve heard others use the expression, sometimes jokingly, that a person gains wisdom by making mistakes; the more mistakes made, the wiser you are. Is this what it means for something to cost all you have to gain? Well, when I, owning a catalog of cringeworthy mistakes, walk into any crowded room, all eyes should fall on me, and in unison the people cry out, “All hail the Wisest One of All.” But that never happens—thank God!
Circumstances beyond control cause a person to open their eyes, see reality for what it is instead of through a bubble (if there was a bubble to begin with). And choices. And mistakes. And results, as well as responses from others. If I knew then what I know now... You’ve heard the phrase. It goes along with the error of one’s ways.
All this to say, Wisdom is good; cherish her. One day, her benefits and nurturing rapport will shine through.
“Wisdom comes alone with suffering.”—Aeschylus
I’ve moved a lot in life. In fact, we’ve relocated again during this COVID-19 era. It’s not the woodsy rural environment I prefer, but more urban with constant buzz and people present. First time in the real burbs, but there are viable reasons for making this transition and, honestly, I look at it as temporary anyway. I’ve lived in exceptional situations, sucky ones, and in-betweeners. As far as materialism, I know what it is to have little, a lot, or thrive in moderation. I’ve gained and I’ve lost, so I don’t get too attached when I regain. Life can present us with all kinds of living situations and circumstances—sometimes changing on a dime. Some we bring on ourselves by choices we make; other times it’s circumstances beyond our control. But we have the means within us to adapt to life’s seesaw.
Life on earth is transitory. And because we are spiritual beings destined for eternal life, heaven is our true home. So in a big-picture sense, if you ever feel like a stranger in a strange land, it’s because we all kind of are. Strangers passing through in what is a privilege to live a purpose-filled, lungs' air-filled life… wherever we are… by mindset. We can bloom wherever we’re planted. It’s not where we are, but how we are.
We can bloom from whatever situation we’re handed, too, even the self-inflicted ones. Because no matter where we move, or how things pan out, what we do, or who moves in or out of our lives, the one constant is that Yeshua, Jesus, loves us unconditionally, as we are, where we are, without terms or conditions. By the time you reach a certain age in a fallen world full of broken people, you’ll have experienced friends who wound you, partners who break you, situations that hurt you and you hurt back. We are flawed, but God takes it all and loves us, as us, anyway, just like that.
The other day, I listened to an artist I admire, Kendall Payne, in a shuffle mix. I was on the treadmill maintaining my half-century-old body; I was also musing over blooming and belonging when her track “Belonging” played. Gah, if my heart didn’t ache to hear it just then. The timing, the bittersweet message of the song, the relatability, made me realize again how profound faith is and the absolute love God has for us as he waits for us on the other side (home, at last) with arms open wide.
Today, I’m restless. The weather is cooler and I’d like to take advantage and go on an amazing hike. However, I had oral surgery yesterday, and while the procedure went well, I’m down for recovery.
I’m fortunate there are areas nearby allowing for a four or five-mile wooded trek I can speed through at a clip. These are my short excursions and all I’m allotted these days. But today at home, I’m only daydreaming about the trails… and of healing. And it dawned on me that I’ve unwittingly practiced a ritual on my nature jaunts. I sing the same Hebrew prayer for healing when I set out. Adon Ha Kavod comes quietly from my lips, sometimes a little louder. It hasn’t always been this way; I’ve also been reckless out there. But for some time now I’ve been doing this, singing this prayer, and the revelation took me by surprise today.
No doubt, I’m happy in the woods. I can think clearly and reflect deeply. I enjoy watching the birds, and if I can be honest, I envy them too. Adon Ha Kavod comes from a state of worship—to the Lord of all that surrounds us, the Lord of all glory, and he has healing in his wings. By his wings, he heals our brokenness and gives us flight when we worship him. Adon Ha Kavod prepares our hearts for worship, a place we need to dwell, in the shadow of Yeshua’s (Jesus’s) wings, to receive healing. I guess from this perspective, it’s not a usual hike. I’m going on Adon Ha Kavod, the Lord of Glory trek. To worship, give thanks, deepen trust, and from the process, heal. Because life and people dish out so much that we need healing from—and healing is a process, as is forgiveness. In these strange times, we all need healing, and we might practice forgiveness more.
There is another prayer of Jewish healers and sages, Mi Shebeirach, The One Who Blessed. This one is special because it is never spoken over oneself or in a general sense; it is recited only over specific others on which your mind is drawn. Wherein we ask the One, Almighty, who blessed our ancestors to bless those in physical and spiritual need with complete healing. So my trail outing transitions from Adon Ha Kavod to Mi Shebeirach—and it didn’t dawn on me until now. That’s where we find the greatest healing anyway, I believe, by dwelling over and praying on behalf of others; putting others first.
Troubles are endless. Prayers should be too; therefore, striving to lead a life of prayer is monumental. When we do it often, pray, it becomes a subconscious part of our existence. Maybe that’s what I’m really missing on this day: a sort of pilgrimage communion with the only One who can rescue, deliver, grant freedom, and heal by his mercy.
This is a time to build/rebuild and uplift rather than destroy. So Adon Ha Kavod and Mi Shebeirach, these long-sung prayers with far-reaching sentiments… may they be yours too, regardless of your cultural ties or background, walk in life, or predicaments.
Just a thought for today. Shalom.
Regret. It’s a part of human nature since the fall of man, and I daresay we are born with having to deal with it. I have regrets. A few are doozies that keep me up some nights. They fall under the categories of immaturity, impetuousness, impatience, denial, poor choices—maybe ones that changed the trajectory of my life—and I’ll admit, foolishness. When I didn’t think or wait on the Lord, or heed the advice of others, but moved forward on my own volition. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Savage!
As an introverted writer, I have to say I’ve rather enjoyed this shelter-in-place era as little has changed in my day-to-day—other than closure of the Cherokee National Forest wherein lies tastes of freedom I particularly enjoy. But as a deep thinker, I’ve found this season especially challenging wherein thoughts can be dangerous. In other words, if the virus doesn’t kill you, or pro/anti-mask-wearers smack you depending on which “side” you’re on, regret just might. Unless you strive for a renewal every morning by God’s Word—our blueprint for life, a barebones necessity, our spiritual water, food, and shelter.
Writing is purpose-filled for me, messages contained within paper or digital pages intended for others. There is sometimes my own therapy in the progression, though. Which leads me to my current WIP (work-in-progress). After receiving emails asking if I’m going to write a sequel to Remnant, with the reemergence of Atizael, the answer is a solid yes. And I’ve started that; however, often the current of creativity demands a drop and refocus.
I’ve switched gears. Working feverishly to finish a book on regret and the transgressions and haunts of our past. It’s in the format of a dark fantasy romance, but the spiritual significance is there, and it’s what I—for some reason—need to spend my time on right now. The current working title at this point is Dark King’s Human Bride. And in being honest, unless my beta readers tell me, “Hey, Chicky, this is a bit much,” it’s coming out a touch graphic. I have a longstanding issue with much of Christian fiction being candy-coated anyway (perhaps more on this in another blog). Human nature is human nature, and evil is evil. Regret in all forms is regret in every form. It is what it is, and I have to be true to the nature of this beast.
But not without good intention! I find a quote by writer Anne Lamott perfect for the launch of this literary ride: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”
This savage has set off. More later.
Science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, coined the term “speculative fiction” in the 1940s. Since then, the industry often uses the “spec-fic” label as an all-inclusive phrase for any fiction that is science fiction, fantasy, horror, space opera, steampunk, superhero, alternate history, dystopian, paranormal, supernatural, weird fiction, or a combination, and more. But I think the genre today has strengthened into something more specific. Add in faith components to explore and--voilà!—you may have Christian speculative fiction.
There’s an element, a key to what makes something speculative. I find a lot of authors call themselves speculative but aren’t. Maybe they’re science fiction or dystopian; however, something is missing. Because a writer pens fantasy, for example, doesn’t make him/her spec-fic.
So what is it, what’s the needed key?
Speculation is defined as a notion based on conjecture rather than knowledge. Something formed over incomplete information. It’s abstract reasoning or exploration of an opinion based on guessing. It’s mystery. It’s the book that makes you grab your chin and say, “Hum… I’m not sure what to think about that, but it’s interesting, and let’s dwell on it for a spell.” It’s a walk on the bridge between the intellectual and the visceral and not based on a plot or characters in a world-build where the author spells everything out. It’s asking, “What if?” in an imaginative landscape that’s open for exploration.
Too often I grab a book to read that’s labeled Christian Speculative Fiction, yet it’s a straight up Christian fantasy, for example, (though perhaps well-done) that’s mapped out and exposited leaving no room for real speculation or imagination from the reader’s mind. I see it as a common mistake in branding. In fact, some authors might do better if they branded in a particular subgenre rather than speculative fiction because it’s harder to define. Ask eight people what spec-fic is and you’ll probably get eight different answers.
I think for a book to be truly speculative it needs to leave room for questions, be an enigma, puzzling, something difficult to understand. My favorite spec-fic books have ingredients that leave me with a big fat question mark in the shape of a stairway to climb within my mind. “What did I just read? That was an interesting slant. It challenged me; haunted me. Let’s revisit.” In fact, if you find a novel that doesn’t quite fit in a specific subgenre, such as horror or fantasy, yet it does at the same time, and you scratch your head wondering what it even is—because the labeling is difficult for you to determine—then I’d say you’ve probably discovered the heart of speculative fiction.
There are those reading this who would speculate on the accuracy of my speculation. And I’m just speculating, but the more the merrier.
I’m a seasonal woman. I love seasons. Winter maybe a little less, as I’m not a fan of driving on ice and snow. Thank goodness I live in an area where winter is fairly short and temperate. By the title of this post you may have guessed my favorite season: autumn.
Leaves are falling in abundance, although it seems the trees shouldn’t have much left at this stage but they still do. When yesterday darkened, I glanced out the window and witnessed a flash of burnt orange, gold and crimson leaves lift off a tree as the wind carried them away in a flurry. I thought about the symbolism of that, an allegory, a spotlight on shedding dying or dead things in circumstances. In my own life.
I love transitions, too, sometimes even the difficult ones. It’s the feeling of having to move forward through something that I appreciate. The shedding season is here in its full-blown glory. I doubt I’ll hunker down and go dormant this winter; it’s against my nature, even though something about that idea is soothing to the soul. But I will expect a sort of newness after the passing of this winter. A kind of renewal in gearing up for spring. I wonder what that renewal will actually look like; and the other side of it? I guess I won’t know until I get there. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the glinting beauty of scattering leaves while I can, and grab another cup of clove-flavored coffee helping to make the necessary shedding process a little more comfortable.
On an early morning walk this week, a great white heron flew in front of me. I felt the flush of wind from its powerful wingspan—it was that close. I might be misidentifying this magnificent creature, but I do know it was not a color-morphed junior—the thing was gigantic and entirely white, no black legs or darkened bill. I suppose I should have been startled by its sudden presence, but I stood in awe as it glided across my path at eye level and then soared skyward. I could have been envious of the bird for its freedom and fearless flight. Instead, I wondered curiously what the view was like up there over the treelined marsh in this Sweetwater valley of Tennessee.
I grew up mostly (or mostly grew up, haha) on Fidalgo Island in Washington State. I used to hike to a couple special spots just to watch the heron(s) in complete harmony with earth, water, and sky. I’d sit for hours as one would move in stately silence, fish with purposeful patience, pass from complete focused stillness to the majesty of commanding aviation in a blink. Strong birds. Confident loners, I somehow took comfort in watching them. Never before have I seen a white one, though, so this unexpected recent encounter was extra special.
There’s an inclination I have to read symbolism in everything, see a spiritual sign beyond the physical, spot an allegory. Probably stems from my Judeo-Christian background, and this nature is quite strong in me. My sister/BFF says that I walk between two worlds. Because it’s true, my mind and heart were heavy and I was seeking God that morning. Though my feet were firmly plodding forward on the path, my cognizance was somewhere else completely. So now I ask what, exactly, is the Lord saying to me? Herons in Hebrew culture represent long-suffering, wisdom, and protection, are forbidden to be hunted or eaten. Early Christians believed herons shed red tears when under stress and their emblem came to represent Jesus’ agony of sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet somehow there seems to be more here, something else I’m not perceiving.
“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”—Romans 8:26
Or maybe there wasn’t meaning in that encounter at all. Maybe that moment was just meaningful in that the heron was neat to look at and nothing else hinges there. Maybe I read too much into things. Except, as the week continues to churn, images of the white heron paint my mind in pure flashes and I’m inspired and hope-filled and utter thanks to the Lord. Regardless and always, God is sensitive, compassionate, merciful, and good. I trust him. And I certainly appreciate that he created that standout heron.
Now back to my chips-n-salsa which I also appreciate. You see? Two worlds, lol.
God peels me like an onion, one layer at a time. He does this in his great mercy. For if he chopped right through, the tear-invoking transparency would prove too painful, pungent, messy. He examines an outer peel and then another deeper, bringing each to my awareness in its own time. Carefully measured, scored, then added to his percolating soup of life, enhancing its savor, adapting my palate to become more like his palate. God is a mystery and deals with me in peculiar ways.