The Circle of Souls

There have been very few things in my life that have caused me to make life changing decisions. Wait…let me rephrase that: There have been very few things in my life that have caused me to make life changing decisions which I have seen with the naked eye. I believe that everything that has happened to me these past twenty years has shaped my life to a certain degree. Whether for the good or the bad, these things have made me who I am today, and I am slowly learning to be grateful for all of them.

Now, that being said, there have been a handful of encounters in this journey called life that have intensely altered my life and the decisions I have made, especially as a writer. One of those things was my decision to read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It wasn’t such a difficult decision, honestly. It was recommended by my high school English teacher Mr. Franks, and anything that he suggested, I devoured immediately. That novel held onto me so tightly that at times I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to breathe. It was an all encompassing experience, and at the end of it, it felt as though I had lost a dear friend. I have gone back to reread it several times in the past seven years, and can say with much assurance that everything I read it again, it feels new, and holds onto me with a fresh force.

Another one of those “life altering” moves was deciding to take piano lessons at the age of fifteen after not playing for about seven years. I had given up on my ability to keep up with it, but found myself incredibly surprised at my progress and was glad to find that my days of playing beautiful music were far from over. Even now I find myself astonished at how far I have come, and how far I am yet to go. As a writer, it was refreshing to have another creative outlet to bang away at whenever a writer’s block attacked my brain. It opened up channels in my brain that I didn’t know I had.

I have been blessed to meet many people throughout the journey of Shattered Illusions who have ultimately shaped the course of the novel, as well as the course of my day to day life. My high school teachers, friends, even strangers, have bestowed incredible pieces of advice upon my young, impressionable being that have molded my behavior and outlook on life. In light of the fact that Thanksgiving weekend marked the third anniversary of the “birth” of Shattered Illusions, I spent the past weekend making a list of events that, whether I realized it at the time, truly pushed my journey in the direction it is currently on.

One of those path changers came to me in the form of a Ted Talk. Given by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love), the talk highlights the impossible expectations that people expect from artists, authors, and the rare geniuses found in today’s society. If you have not watched that talk, you owe it to yourself to watch it. If you have, you owe it to yourself to watch it again. I was introduced to this talk by my senior year English teacher, the very same one whom without, Shattered Illusions may have never come to be. It was about a month after I began “crafting” the novel, and I had already hit several incredibly painful road blocks. At that point, I wasn’t ready for the complications, both physically and mentally that came along with writing a novel. And three years later, I can attest to the fact that bringing such a creation to life is both incredibly powerful, but also terribly difficult, and at times, devastating. It does not come easy, and the worst is only yet to come after the novel is done. But, that topic is for another time.

One afternoon, my English teacher called me in during my lunch break to watch a video. She knew that I was having a difficult time with the ideas that were taking up “free rent” in my head, and she had advice that she wished to bestow on me. I was unfamiliar of Ted Talks at the time, and was not aware of the power they beheld. She told me that she swore by this video, and that if I gave it a chance, it could end up changing my life.

At the time, I was walking around in an almost blind, crazy rage of madness. There was a story burning a hole in my brain, and it was dying to come out on paper. It was begging of me to create it, but I didn’t know where to begin. A month after giving birth to the idea, I felt like I was losing my mind. Ideas would pop into my head in the middle of the night, or during a midterm, and I missed them, quite narrowly, almost every time. Every time an idea left my mind without taking the shape of a word on paper, my mind would automatically begin to churn something just as impressive, or at least close to it. I was digging myself into a shallow grave, and I was getting nowhere. And this was even before the thoughts were committed to paper.

That talk came in at the nick of time. Gilbert not only outlined the issues that creative geniuses face, but also gave solid, powerful advice on how such a person can remove the genius from within them, and allow it to become a separate entity from themselves. It was an approach that I had not heard before, and I found it incredibly empowering. The talk was music to my ears Now, more than ever, I realize how much parts of it resonate with me.

There were parts of this journey that I mentally could not prepare for. To be fair, I had mentally prepared myself from the moment I began writing that there was a chance that it would never get anywhere. I was very much aware of the fact that the publishing world was a battle ground, and that even a published title did not guarantee anything (trust me, I’m almost at the finish line and I still have to remind myself of that constantly. The finish line of this “section” is really the starting mark of the next). Publishing a novel has been a very humbling (and at times, utterly devastating) experience. But, I was lucky enough to work with an incredible editor and publisher on the first try. So, my ego bubbled a bit after that fact. But even before that, how could I have known how draining and life altering it would be to create something so fragile? There was no way to prepare myself for the transformation that my body and my mind would take in the two years that it took to write Shattered Illusions. 

I was very quickly tested early on into the publishing process, with having to make changes to the novel (whole chapters were removed and it felt like a loss in the family). But, for the most part, it felt easy. And even so, I found myself absolutely gripped with fear every time anyone asked me how it was coming along. The fear of failure was the underlying factor in every (slightly over dramatic) reaction I had to every step of the process. It physically pained me to think about parting with my creation. I went back from time to time during the process and re watched Gilbert’s Ted Talk. It gave me hope…I’m not sure what the hope was for, but it was hope none the less.

The most difficult task so far has been reaching out to other authors, readers, and bloggers, and requesting reviews of the novel from them. Most of them have been positive, and some of them have even been fantastic…but, it was the small few that were heart breakingly painful that made all the difference. The small amount of negative feedback has managed to knock me off my happy streak, and has sent me running for cover. Of course, I have learned that such things must be put into perspective, but that doesn’t make me less afraid.

 “Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to have any success?Aren’t you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you? Aren’t you afraid that you’re going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing’s ever going to come of it and you’re going to die on a scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with bitter ash of failure?”

Hell yeah I’m scared. I’m absolutely terrified. I have spent countless sleepless nights conquering up escape routes from reality in the event that the novel flops. Of course, I have also fantasized about the success, but the visions of failure tend to take the reigns. Why is that? Because it’s easier to surrender to the sadness of failure than it is to envision happiness. It’s easier not to build my hopes up. However, the fear that grips when I think about my future has never stopped me from pushing forward with full force.  Of course I am terrified of failure. Sure I’m nervous that the devastation and humiliation of failure will ultimately be the end of me…but, that doesn’t mean I should stop. That doesn’t mean I’m ever going to stop. True greatness is being able to push past the barriers, push past the limitations and the failures, and come out on the other side with a smile on your face. 

Someone once wrote into the Lubavitcher Rebbe, seeking advice about a business venture that was going horribly wrong. With every inch of success came a pile of destruction This man was literally hemorrhaging money, and was running out of options. When he asked the Rebbe why the journey could not run it’s course in a smoother fashion, the Rebbe replied by saying that if an entire journey, from beginning to end, is smooth and without trouble, then something must be terribly wrong. One must learn from their hardships and their failures, not run from them. A bumpy road is the road to success.

I guess that means that I’m on the right path.