Faith is Fire

“Faith is seeing light with your heart when all your eyes see is darkness.” ~ Anonymous

The eighth step of the Hero’s Journey is “the Leap of Faith”.  It is the way through the “Dark Night of the Soul”, the inevitable “gap” between where you are and where you need to be.  The Dark Night is the result of pushing yourself beyond ordinary limits.  “The only way you know how far you can go is by going too far” as the saying goes. So the performer, the person committed to excellence or growth, MUST be prepared to deal with this…or life will frighten them into retreat.

Those who lift weights are familiar with the concept of training to muscle________.    That’s right, failure.  Failure is the way we tell our minds or bodies that we must grow stronger…IF we are focused and emotionalized, and IF we have FAITH that we can and should pursue our goals.

It’s hard. The fear can be overwhelming.  And the antidote for fear…is faith.

Some are turned off by the word, because of religious implications.  But the dictionary definition of Faith is usually something like “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” And what “someones or somethings” might those be? Need they be supernatural entities?  Hardly.  Here are the three:

1) Faith in yourself. That deep within you there is more strength and wisdom than you commonly express or experience.

2) Faith in your companions.   Your allies, partners, spouse, family. That there are people who will pick you up when you are down…or who believe in you, such that you can trust their opinions and regard or your capacities even when you lose confidence.

3) Faith in a higher power.   This is where “God” concepts come in.   But you could also say nature, the Universe, Universal Mind, any number of other expressions that there is something larger than we are, and that we are a part of it.

When I began my writing career, I modeled two men: Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury.   Combining their advice about writing I came up with the following statement:

I will write a story a week, or a story every other week.  I will put them in the mail and keep them in the mail until they sell, and not re-write except to editorial request.”

I started this program in the mid 70’s, beginning with great enthusiasm and energy.  And then…the rejections began. One after another after another.  And years passed.  And the voices of every person who had ever doubted me, my mother who had torn my stories up and was TERRIFIED that my artistic aspirations would self-destruct as did my father’s, the teachers who mocked me, and the entire culture which gave me not a single example of success in this field that mirrored my ethnicity…

Slowly, my confidence eroded.  Fear began creeping in. What if I can’t?  What if I am not good enough..?

What if they’re right about me?

Sleepless nights.  One of the few saving graces was the woman in my life, Toni Young, who believed in me.  Encouraged me.  Read and enjoyed my stories, and told me I could do it.  Loved me when I was down.

Had FAITH in me.  Bless her.

And one day, I found a way to have faith in myself.  The fourth principle of the Hero’s Journey is the “Road of Trials”, the path you have to traverse to become good enough to face your obstacles and win the day.   “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  But…how MANY steps? How long do you keep trying?  Keep going?  I’d burned my bridges behind me…had I been one of the world’s great fools?

All right.  I would define my road.  I set an arbitrary number: ONE HUNDRED STORIES.  I would write and submit ONE HUNDRED STORIES over the next what…two years?  Four years?  ONE HUNDRED STORIES, starting the count right then, before I allowed the doubting voices in my head any strength over me at all.

And I began.  Now, when I got rejection slips, they had a different meaning: they meant that I was one of the few with the courage to keep getting back to the plate and taking a swing.  They represented the millions of steps I was willing to take to walk the Thousand Mile Road.

Five stories.  Ten.  Fifteen.  I was writing like a demon, humming as I did, eager to get those rejections.  As Tananarive’s teacher said to her: “A REAL writer papers his walls with rejection slips.”  I was a REAL writer!  Not published, not yet, but real!!

Twenty Stories. This was fun!  And then…

At story twenty-three…

I was accepted.  A story called “Trick or Treat”, about a man who gets into an escalating war of nerves with the neighborhood kids every Halloween.  A nasty little piece of work.  Not only that, but I managed to get a copy of it to my idol, Ray Bradbury (Toni created the accompanying illustrations, the sweetheart!) and Ray sent me back a letter telling me he loved the story and encouraging me to go for a career.

OMG!   A real writer, a famous writer, a GREAT writer had said he valued my work?  I cannot tell you what it meant. He thought I had something.  He had FAITH in me!

That was the accelerant I needed, and I never looked back. 

Years later, I was taking a class in writing at UCLA extension from Robert Kirsch, the literary editor of the L.A. Times. Most of the other students were doing literary work, and I was turning out very odd pieces of work, including that story about the compulsive gambler who hocked his pacemaker.  Kirsch didn’t know what to make of that story, and asked if he could show it to “a friend.”  I said sure.

And about five weeks later, I got a letter…from Ray Bradbury.  Telling me he loved it, and encouraging me.  I can’t tell you how much that meant.

Years passed.   I was actually deep in my career, but beginning to fight a creeping sense that I had “sold out” by writing commercial fiction, books and scripts that were written to keep my doors open and a roof over my family’s head while I struggled to find my voice.   I was asked by U.C.L.A.  To create a science fiction symposium, nine weeks I believe, with writers like Octavia Butler, Greg Benford, Larry Niven, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, and…Ray Bradbury.   I picked Ray up at his house, and took him to dinner before the conference. And while we were talking, I poured my heart out to him, wondering if I had lost my way as an artist.

“Well…” he asked thoughtfully.  “Have you published?”

“Oh yes,” I said, and detailed stories and a dozen books and television scripts and…and he was laughing, gently, deeply, musically.

“Oh, my goodness,” he said, twinkling, “you will have no trouble at all.”

Sigh.   I felt that fear fly out of my mouth like a little bird, because I had faith that HIS faith meant something powerful and positive.

Years passed.   I was asked to host a symposium for the Planetary Society in Pasadena.  Ray was one of the guests, and I got to stand on the stage and tell the crowd my story of what he meant to me.  Ray came up on stage and gave me one of the great hugs of my life.   Wow.  What a moment.

Years passed. Late in 2011 I was told that Ray was very ill, that there was to be a dinner honoring him at the Universal Sheraton, and would I be willing to speak there?  Of course. And so I did, gushing out all he had meant to me as he sat, frail in his wheelchair, watching me with a tiny smile. I cried my eyes out.   He hugged me, for the last time, and I left, sobbing all the way home.

And a few weeks later I recieved my last letter from this great man, thanking me for coming to his “little party”, saying he was very touched by what I’d said, and that “some of your tears are my own.”

A few months later, on June 5 of 2012, Ray passed away.  He touched countless readers, but I’m not sure how many people know how many WRITERS he lifted up with his light.

I was, and am one of them.  He had faith in me. Saw something in a frightened kid with outsized dreams. And because of that faith…I believed in myself.

Faith is fire.   Pass it on.

Namaste,

Steve

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