“Never listen to your critics. They aren’t qualified to usurp the still, small, voice that speaks in the silence between your own thoughts.”—Russ Walden
It takes courage to write truths in fiction; write what hurts. To contextualize emotions, the struggles; tapping into the raw nature and grind of real life and transposing them into an altered universe. The result might not represent a true existence verbatim, but can harbor the angst, dilemmas, struggles, and sicknesses of hope-depleted hearts in order to instill hope in the end. It can be scary sometimes to release a story that holds a little more truth than you’d care to admit. Makes one feel vulnerable. But it’s always the still, small voice, a reminder that what’s written might be intended for one person only. And that one person to get it, feel moved and encouraged by your labor of love, washes over any potential collection of critics, large or small.
Writing with boldness, listening with care…
“Forgive, Release, Bless…” It’s a mantra that’s grabbing my attention wherever I look and listen.
We can say we forgive someone. But if we then turn around and complain to another about how something was unfair, or someone hurt, stole, cheated or abused us, then we haven’t really forgiven. We’ve developed a grudge. That kind of emotional baggage gets weighty, a burden to carry around and unpleasant for everyone.
Writing is sometimes my therapy. I write a lot. Some I publish, some I pen under different pseudonyms, some go unpublished because it was the process that I had to go through to learn and grow, climb out of my cesspool. While creating another’s wilderness in story-form, I often go through my own spiritual wilderness. It can be tough sometimes. But the typed expressions help me breathe again, rejuvenate. I’ve had a lot of underwater dreams lately involving murky water, flooded caves, barriers, and scuba cylinders gone defunct. In one, I shout distinctly (because I can do this, it’s a dream, and I’m not a diver) to someone indistinct, “Breathe, brother, breathe!” Then there are explosions where barriers blow away, water clears, and breathing is miraculously unassisted by flung-away tanks, and I hear, “Live, sister, live.”
The tombs of our past regrets and afflictions teach us and model us for brighter futures. But some of us have focused on the tombs far too long (note to self). It’s time to step out of caves with flint-eyed focus on what’s ahead, and the life-giving promises thereof. This hinges around forgiving to where we can truly release the damage of our hearts, let go, and bless the damagers!
Even if you’re trapped in the middle of toxic, dysfunctional, or complicated situations, or have suffered inner turmoil for a long period. Maybe over decades you’ve experienced relational distress, cultural oppression, or unending sick-of-it conditions (whatever “it” might be), and you’re weary. Dead inside. Yet your sluggish legs somehow get you from point A to point B in a day, or you’re trying to move underwater wearing too many weights, burdens, baggage.
Matthew 18:18 tells us that whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. That’s the one thing we can control when we’re stuck. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, Luke 6:45.
One of my favorite Hebrew names for God is El Roi. It means, “the God who sees me.” When we are alone, aching, forgotten by everyone else, cast aside by society, suffering in solitude, or feeling invisible, it’s the name we use to say, “but God sees.” He does. And with faith (our believing without seeing) we trust, knowing that God’s promises endure. He cares. The muck we wade through does not endure unless we allow it. So, keep hope alive in the secret chambers of your heart. Make the petitions of your lips daring prayers to El Roi, the God who sees, and Yeshua/Jesus, our guardian. Embrace the Ruach Ha Kodesh/Holy Spirit, our infuser (regulator?) and comforter. Hold fast to the Word, our way-maker, and the protractor for navigating uncharted areas.
I’ve spoken to others who sense a current spiritual movement or theme. Feels like a season of cultivation, and of internally letting go, despite circumstances, for walking into a new era. “Forgive, release, bless,” I hear again. Forgive the wrongdoer, cancel out the crippling, and bless. Following that, I hear, “double portion” where Increase marries Wisdom, because a greater harvest is looming.
God’s blessings are irrevocable. Even if they fall dormant for a time, they will flourish again and better than imagined. Wherever you are, whoever you are, here’s to new beginnings, fresh seasons, big visions, strong clarity, and abundant joy beginning in the heart and bubbling up out of your mouth. Breathing words that heal and help you walk into the freedom of your greatest dreams fulfilled and hopes restored.
At last, I finished the first draft of one of my current works-in-progress. And this novel was a struggle. One of the biggest hurdles in my creative writing process, both in length and ethics. Took over a year to complete—a COVID-year, mind you, but still!
Normally, when I end a first draft, I want to celebrate. I’ve known colleagues to even crack open a bottle of bubbly at this early stage (with another after publication). The foodie that I am, I prefer grabbing one of my favorite meals: tacos, Thai, or t-t-t-t-t—spaghetti. Except, after I typed the last key yesterday, I was so spent that I nearly slid from my chair to the floor in an exhale, curled up, and sucked my thumb. Today, I feel like this Shaun the Sheep-ish depiction.
Standing alone in an amber space (sort of like a caution light between go and stop), nursing on a Binky, wide-eyed. Determining if the inner turmoil and opposition to completing this book was because of divine inspiration and the start of something new… or it’s crap. There’s a fine line there, ha!
Since I have other active stories, it’s time to rotate and finish another while this one ferments. Have to let the manuscript sit for a while until I can come back to it with fresh eyes.
This is just another friendly FYI post by your Shaun the Sheep-ish stand-in. Still standing, at least…
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.
How can God love humanity like he does when we are so unlovable?
“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”— Ephesians 3:18-19
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, because every morning is like starting afresh and I strive to do the best I can each day. But I’ll often receive a scriptural theme that blankets the coming year. For 2020, it’s Psalm 63:3-4: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift my hands."
Too often, it seems the urge during prayer or reflection is self-centered. That is: focus on self, do something good for self, be my better self, etc. But the more challenging life gets—and it can get pretty stinky—the more I’m certain Self can’t help with squat. 2020 will be like all the other years before it in that our days will have its difficulties. We might experience great or little change, promotions or loss—whatever it is—the only thing steadfast and better than life is the Lord’s love. So, I figure, no matter what, if we focus on that, his love, and do the best we can with what he has given us, praising him through the beautiful weather and the storms, we’ll be more than all right. And at the end of the year, if we’ve scaled a few mountains it’s because he got us there and we can look back and enjoy the view knowing he’s got this, ordaining the steps of the journey. He’s got us and we’ve got him. Breathe. Happy New Year.
A woman solo hiked the PCT. This is her engaging rite-of-passage memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I could hardly put the book down, strong was my desire to gobble up every trail and survival detail. I love hiking, along with exploring the backcountry on horses, and primitive camping. While my own two feet have traversed sections of both the PCT and the AT (Appalachian Trail), I can only, thus far, live vicariously through those who have actually “thru-hiked.” Cheryl Strayed didn’t exactly hike through, having started in the Mojave Desert in California and finished at the Bridge of the Gods connecting Oregon to Washington, but she covered 1,100 miles on her weary, blistered, nail-less toes, having started out ill-prepared and untrained. That’s nothing to scoff at, by any stretch. That’s gutsy.
**potential spoilers below**
The writing is sharp and the storytelling vivid. I trekked into the pages assuming I could relate to the author as I, too, lost both my parents. I know what it’s like when your family unit sort of disintegrates due to grief; when the strong root is dug up, or the anchor is hoisted leaving you feeling adrift. Yet, I couldn’t grasp the author’s perspective on a number of levels. From her form of recklessness and promiscuity, to feeling a life force—though the size of a grain of rice—recognizing she was pregnant, and then using “I got an abortion” and “learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes” in the same sentence. I couldn’t comprehend why her editors kept in the dalliance with “rad” man, as it had nothing to do with the story and certainly didn’t move it along. I didn’t understand why she unreasonably obliterated a solid marriage to a great guy, or how she expressed pain. And the incident with her mom’s horse, Lady: horrid. Choices, choices!
Still, her descriptions of nature when compared to her state of being proved starkly eloquent. When she hadn’t seen another human for weeks. When silence was tremendous. When she expressed that she was nothing to pebbles, leaves, and branches, yet they were everything to her. “Everything but me seems utterly certain of itself. The sky didn’t wonder where it was.”
When she did have encounters with other characters, they were interesting. Clyde’s words moved me while he said he didn’t believe in reincarnation when Cheryl had asked him. He said, “I believe we’re here once and what we do matters.”
And Cheryl’s mom having cancer that consumed her before she reached 50. I understood the tragedy of it. And the painful truths that came also from the mom’s mouth, about how she never got to conduct her own life—to be in the driver’s seat. She always did what someone else wanted her to do. The most uncomfortable sentiment, “I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” Sorrowful authenticity is a killer.
So, you see, Wild was a weighty, ugly-beautiful book. Hard to rate. It’s like life, you take the good with the bad—which I suppose is the theme of this chronicle. Although I’m a different-thinking person from that of the author, with a contrasting belief system and grief display, and I didn’t quite see in my mind a “healing” take place, I admire Strayed who “strayed” and wrote for us a compelling memoir to digest.
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.
A problematic social issue, a unit called to respond.
A man struggles to right his wrong.
“If I had said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ when they asked me to do this thing, then maybe I would have turned out a hero instead of what I’ve become.
We were trained, hired with the promise of a good wage, to take care of a problem, to get things under control. As a man, I needed to succeed for myself, for my family living in a cycle of poverty in the sertão, the backlands. The earnings proved excellent, and far outweighed the promises made by the controlling peasant guerrillas. But the other part of it… If I knew then what I know now…
I can’t live with myself…
I can’t live.
If I could take it back. Everything I’ve done--
Ach, who could do such things? And if one could, then who would forgive such things?”
This is the story of one man's dark path to redemption.