If my mother had read the contents of Illusions, she never would have handed it to me.
I was twelve years old, relaxing on the bed at my grandmother’s house. Wednesdays were the days that my mother and I visited my grandmother in the mountains to do work for her, and this day my mother and grandmother had gone treasure hunting at the local garage sales. Homeschooled and left to my own devices, I spent a great deal of time doing whatever I wanted – in this case, re-reading one of my very favorite books, Artemis Fowl, for about the thousandth time. I had an early review copy complete with all the pre-publishing grammatical errors and formatting problems (the fact that I enjoyed the flawed copy even more than the polished, retail copy probably should have been a sign to somebody that I would one day toil away as a writer myself).
“I found this for you at the library sale,” my mother said, tossing the slim volume to me.
The cover was simple yet intriguing: a single blue feather, surrounded by stars on a black background. The title was a single word: Illusions, by Richard Bach. I scrutinized the cover and the back matter, which told me little to nothing about the book itself. The sticker price said 10¢. Unsurprising, I thought; the poor thing was all torn up. One corner of the cover was folded over, white showing through the black background, the spine held together with the years’-old glue.
“I thought it might be your kind of thing,” she shrugged. “You’re always reading fantasy stuff.”
“Thanks,” I said, watching her disappear to tend to her much-more-important estate sale finds.
Reading the interior I discovered that the book was written in the 70’s. The first chapter looked as if it had been photocopied from an old notebook; the words were handwritten and at times difficult to read. The voice in the first chapter struck me as odd, with a cheeky bible-like description of a “master” of the world of illusions likened to a river creature. It didn’t make much sense the first time I read it, but I read it anyway. I loved to read, and something about this book was screaming read me, finish me. What I read would change my life quite permanently – much to the chagrin of my mother, whose values so violently clashed with the book that I eventually hid it from her so she wouldn’t discover what was inside.
Many people who know me by my outward behavior or my writing make the assumption that I grew up in a household where values of diversity, equality, and compassion reigned supreme. What always entertains me about this (apparently common) belief is how different my life has actually been. I grew up being taught that LGBTQ people were horrendous, disgusting sinners who should have gotten over God’s “challenge” of their identities by remaining permanently celibate. Interracial marriages were alright for some people they supposed, except that it was against the natural order of things and “selfish” in the case of producing children from such a marriage (‘who would curse a child by making them mixed-race?’ – their words, not mine). Atheists, well, they could certainly exist in this country, but their values shouldn’t matter, and my goodness, you couldn’t ever trust them. Pagans were witches possessed by the devil – dangerous and evil, naturally. Speaking of possession, most mental illness was viewed as likely possession which could be prayed away.
I could probably go on, but I think you get the idea. Mine was a rather narrow-minded home.
This book, though, Illusions… it was not narrow-minded at all. I remember clearly the surreal experience of reading it for the first time. In the book Bach uses fictional characters to illustrate the ideas that life can be what we make it, that choices are personal and infinite in their iterations, and the concepts of “right” and “wrong” entirely depend on a person’s perspective. The very first chapter contained these words, which have stuck with me to this day –
“And what would you do,” the Master said unto the multitude, “if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.’ What would you do then?”
For a girl who had been raised to believe that there was a right way to be and a condemned sinner’s way to be, the ideas in this book were revolutionary. They were also terrifying. I had to google Richard Bach after finishing the book (in tears, I might add) to make sure that god hadn’t struck him down. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he was nearly 70 and still flying airplanes!
I’ve never met Richard Bach, and yet the words he wrote were the first step towards freeing me from a life of bigotry and hate. I don’t know if he ever even imagined that a kid would pick it up – I’m pretty sure he didn’t write it with kids in mind, but for me, it was the most important thing I read in my entire childhood. It was magic.
A book takes on a life of its own when it reaches the hands of a reader, one that the author never could have imagined. They are powerful – ideas in physical form, disseminated to hundreds or thousands of people. How could a person not want to be a part of that experience, as readers? As writers?
What books have influenced you?
Hope you enjoyed that little spiel! It’s back to the grind for me… I think I have (please let this be true!) 1-2,000 words left to write before the Forsaken Lands 2 draft is FINISHED. Seriously. I think I can, I think I can…