I’m sitting in an airplane flying to Costa Rica. How cool is that? And I’ve just finished reading the latest People and Us magazines. Highly redundant, I know, but I really enjoy getting both versions of truth/fantasy and reading all about the celebrities. Why? I mean, I get the gossip and schadenfreude aspects, of course. I read earlier in The Week (my favorite news magazine) that there are some who believe that Gwyneth Paltrow is even using her “superior divorce” to lord it over mere mortals who have never heard of “conscious un-coupling.” Really?! Or really? Can they do it without bitterness and acrimony? What happens when one or the other decides to date or get serious about someone? How does this self-proclaimed lifestyle guru talk about the failure of her marriage as she touts the perfection of her existence and exhorts us to be just like her (by buying her stuff, of course)?
And here’s where we get back to my smut reading, per se (although I actually think that People and Us count as being in the same category—fantasy porn—only not as good as the fiction I read). For many of these celebrities (and who are we kidding—for ourselves too—Facebook whitewash anyone?) the image we project out into the world is really only one aspect of ourselves. Yes, my family is traveling to exotic locales for Spring Break where we plan to have a series of awesome adventures (zip lining, riding ATVs, surfing for the first time, wildlife tours, sunset cruises). All of that is true. But it’s only part of the truth—the fantasy part—because we are totally blessed and living the dream—and who wouldn’t fantasize about that?
But it’s not the whole truth. In the complete version—not just the sizzle reel—our twin 14-year-old boys will bicker endlessly, I’ll scream at them, my husband and I will squabble over what to do for dinner or whose turn it is on the iPad (we only brought one), someone will inevitably get sunburned badly, someone will lose one of their electronic devices, and all of us will complain at one point or another about the food, the activities, each other, and. . . you get the picture. The complete picture, not just the parts I want you to see.
So, that’s the reality. But it doesn’t discount the truth in the fantasy. The truth is still there. Even if Gwyneth and Chris are getting divorced, they are still two talented artists and gifted individuals with a contribution to make to the world. Just like me. And you.
In fact, there is a standard section in Us magazine called, “Stars—They’re Just Like Us,” and it captures pictures of actors feeding the meter or balancing multiple Starbucks cups, or squeezing the produce.
Because that is another truth about fantasy—we all yearn to believe that underneath it all, we are all the same, and we are all connected in our humanity. And we want to know that the spark of specialness resides in all of us, and maybe we can someday be rich, or famous, or loved or successful—just like them, because they are just like us.
We all want to know that the beautiful princess sometimes shape-shifts into a rumpled, puffy, stinky mess with dragon breath to boot—just like us. That’s one of the reasons I brake for shapeshifters in my beloved smut. Sure, they might be hunky heartthrobs who look like Joe Manganiello and Sam Trammell, but hey, when the moon is full, watch out, they turn into real animals—right down to the dog breath, and not just when they wake up in the morning.
The truth in shapeshifting fantasy romance is that we all have different aspects of ourselves—the ones we show to new romantic partners (before they see us without makeup or before we’ve shaved, or find out that our favorite nightgown would look right at home on Betty White, or that we sleep in ripped sweats), the ones we post on Facebook and Instagram, and then the other parts that might be a bit closer to our animal natures (like how we inhale our food when no one is looking, or sniff the armpits of a shirt we wore yesterday before we decide to throw it on to go somewhere where no one knows what we wore yesterday).
The most wonderful part of my favorite books is that all of these various aspects are integrated—like multiple personalities—and we get positive role models for our two-natured (or more) selves. And that, my friends, is worth the price of the paperback. Accepting ourselves as being both/and instead of either/or is a blessing. Learning to hold multiple realities simultaneously is the work of a lifetime. As is understanding that the more negative or less attractive aspects of ourselves do nothing to discount the more positive and pretty parts we prefer to ponder (have I mentioned that I love alliteration?). Reading fantasy helped me to make those connections, and that has been a gift that keeps on giving long after I put the books away and got back to “real life.” Whatever that is.