Gerry Bartlett

Born Again

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I've been on a Gerry Bartlett kick, but the books are good and I'm almost finished so I’m going to keep going. The last book (so far) in the series is Real Vampires and the Viking. While the main protagonists, Glory and Jerry, are on their honeymoon in Sweden (those long, winter are great for vampires), they dig up Gunnar, a Viking vampire who's been asleep for the past 1200 years, buried in the ice.  Poor Gunnar was born once, born again as vampire, and then born a third time when he emerged from the ice to adjust to modern times (this is a popular trope in paranormal fiction—the "Sleeper" phenomenon; very similar to Owen in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series). All of this birthing and rebirthing got me thinking about what it means to be "born again."  I know that the phrase has specific connotations of the conservative religious variety, conjuring images of adults being dunked in rivers and subsequently proselytizing— loudly and often— to whomever will listen. I'm not one who does,listen, that is, as I'm not usually a fan of rabid fanaticism. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that my knee-jerk reaction to the term ‘born again’ was ignorant, biased—and wrong. As knee-jerk reactions often are, of course.  Looking back, I realize I've been born again many times, and have consequently spent considerable time and energy shouting it from the rooftops (aka proselytizing).  I will never forget the first time I read Ayn Rand as a sophomore in college. I was bitten, smitten and converted. I stormed into my political philosophy class to extol the virtues of Objectivism, which I thought was the cat's meow. My teacher calmly asked me to explain my favorable position. I tried, to which he replied, "Saying it louder doesn't make your arguments any more compelling."  Which shut me right up.

My next ‘born again’ experience came when I started a 12-step recovery program. I felt everyone needed the Steps and said so. Again, loudly. No one wanted to hear it, shockingly. I was equally vociferous when I became convinced that everyone should eat gluten and dairy-free—and give up all refined sugar, not to mention artificial sweeteners. One more time, I wasn't too successful garnering converts. I hadn't yet learned my lesson. 

Because the truth is, few people want to be screamed at from a soapbox (well, unless you are a Donald Trump supporter apparently). No one likes a fanatic, and no one wants to listen to someone foaming at the mouth. Which I understand.

But what about being born again in a less obstreperous manner?  What about the wonder and the joy of those beautiful “a-ha” moments when the scales fall from our eyes and we can see a truth, or many truths, clearly for the first time?  I will never forget when I fell I love with my husband, and finally understood what love without anxiety or doubt felt like. Or my first successful experience with meditation. I finally knew what all the fuss was about. Each of us is reborn a number of times in our lives if we're lucky and good. It's a consequence of immersing ourselves in new experiences, evolving into higher consciousness and embracing change in a healthy way that allows us to grow instead of stagnate. It happens every time we make a big leap forward, or when the scale tips with the weight of many lesser moments of renewal and transformation.

Being born again always requires adjustment and a period of acclimatization. And, of course, being born again also necessitates the pain of labor and the discomfort of the birth itself. As I written about time and again, change is hard. Growth is not for the fainthearted. We humans tend to resist it for all we're worth, clinging to the familiar and that which we perceive to be safe. It takes courage to let go of the past and move deliberately into an uncertain future. No one said labor and birth were easy. But at the end, if we're lucky and good, we get a new life, figuratively – and sometimes even literally.

We can embrace this new life with enthusiasm for new adventures and a desire to live authentically and with integrity. Or we can resist change and refuse to be born again. Gunnar chooses the first option. And so do I. And, if I may say so without proselytizing, so should you.


I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night

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I'm finishing up the Real Vampires series by Gerry Bartlett and contemplating a common vampire trope:  the newly turned vampire raring to explore new powers and heightened senses. These newbies are usually a foil for older vampires to demonstrate their wisdom and their restraint or an opportunity for the protagonist to be a hero/heroine. These are always fun scenes. In the Real Vampire books, we have Israel Caine and Sienna Star, neither of whom were too happy to become vampires. In the Sookie Stackhouse novels, the lovely Jessica is turned and goes hog wild with her new abilities. There are others, but the plot points are similar. These new vampires (or werewolves or faeries or witches) are a group of young people (no matter their chronological age) who want to rock and roll all night, and party every day (well, except the vampires who are dead until dark, naturally) and a group of elders who want to curb their enthusiasm. The problem—for me, at this point in my reality—is that the elder statesmen rarely have much luck curtailing their "children."  Not what I wanted to hear right now.  I have one son working to embody Kiss’ classic song and one who is enjoying the role of elder statesman (despite being 90 seconds younger). I'm not at all sure what to do with my wayward son. I've explained that he's free to carry on (I'll try to stop now), but that there are consequences to all of our choices. Like Glory and Jerry in the Real Vampire series and Vampire Bill in the True Blood series, I'm walking a fine line (with his father, of course) between enabling our son and pushing him so far away he won't listen to a word we say. Not only is that line mighty thin, but my eyes are going anyway, and I can't really see it clearly or follow it accurately. Arrgh!

What to do, what to do?  Some would say, "Have faith and let it ride."  Others tell me to get all up in his business and take control of a kid who doesn't know how to control himself. A third party heard from might suggest bigger carrots with commensurate sticks. Military school has been mentioned. I've entertained thoughts of moving to Nepal until his adolescence is over. I'm not sure any one of these strategies is the right one. I'm not entirely sure there is a strategy that will work. I am sure that the situation is aging me in a way vampires never do.

I have friends who delight in reminding me of my own misspent youth.  They tell me to chill the hell out and that my boy is just doing what boys do (which, they say, is a lot better than what I did). I'm reminded that my son has a path that differs from mine, but that he will find his way. I'm not so sure. He seems so very, truly adrift. And his choices seem so meaningless and devoid of a moral center, or the recognition that to the victor go the spoils. It's not enough to want to be successful, one has to work to achieve anything. My wayward one seems to have missed these messages.

Others tell me that I'm making the problem worse by not coming down harder on him. They say I should take away his social life, electronic devices, and even his driver’s license when he earns it this summer, all in an effort to control his misbehavior. I know from my own experience, though, that such tactics just produce liars and children who take unnecessary risks. So I don't think I'm going to go in that direction either.

I've read oodles of parenting books. They talk about incentivizing kids, which, in my day, was called bribery. I'm actually all for that; I don't work for free and neither should kids. By the same token, they don't get money for nothing (see, I didn't extend that line, so I'm not in dire straights). My kids have to earn their allowances. The problem is that we've tried that. In spades. We've dangled huge carrots as well as Damocles' Sword. Nothing seems to motivate this kid. So scrap yet another strategy.

My husband and I are lost. We don't know where to go from here. In my beloved books, it's only the threat of final death or years of torture that seem to get the fledgling vampires under some semblance of control. I dread the thought that jail or bodily injury (or worse) could be the only road to redemption here. But the truth is I have no control at all. Over my son's behavior or anything else for that matter. It truly, deeply sucks – and not in a bloody, satisfying way. It sucks in that helpless, pouty, powerless way that all mortals and immortals despise.

So I will suck up that suckiness. Resistance is futile. We'll continue to navigate the turbulent waters of teenage angst and hope none of us drowns. Because we're not vampires and we need to breathe. Deeply.



To Have and to Hold

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I've just finished another in the Real Vampires series by Gerry Bartlett, Real Vampires Say Read My Hips.  In this installment, our heroine, Glory, has decided to marry her vampire sire, Jerry, and live together as forever lovers. Yippee. About freaking time. However, there are those who don't want Glory and Jerry to get their HEA, foremost among them Glory's family. Woe is Glory – and Jerry. Thus, the couple must jump through some pretty major hoops to get to the altar. At several points along the way Glory is sure that Jerry will abandon ship and leave her to her solo fate, seeing her as more trouble than she’s worth. But, as our HEA demands, Jerry never wavers, forcing Glory to confront her fear and let it go once and for all. I can relate. I think many of us can. Who hasn't felt that we were unworthy of love and steadfast devotion?  Or maybe we wouldn’t be if we let our partners see all of us—so we hide and sublimate. But there are guys out there who mean it when they say, "To have and to hold for better or for worse."  It's easy to stick around for better, harder to hold on when it's worse. 

Two years ago a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer after only six months of marriage. It was so unfair. She is still struggling with many of the after effects of her treatment and she remains quite sick and debilitated. Her husband has stuck with her, being supportive and steadfast. She feels bad for him, claiming, "This isn't what he signed up for." When I told my husband about this conversation, he corrected my friend (to me) and said that actually, this is exactly what my friend's husband had signed up for when he married her. Those marriage vows are pretty comprehensive and they are very explicit about the "in sickness and in health" thing. 

I have another friend whose husband lost his job resulting in a serious financial reversal. She stayed with him and is helping him rebuild.  She is proud that they kept their family together. Yet another friend has never considered leaving her husband, who suffers from a mental illness that manifested after the wedding. For all of these loyal spouses, it can certainly be said that this isn't what they signed up for. But it is, and it is the luck of the draw that they got fewer good years to offset the more predictably difficult "golden years" that come when we're older.

My own husband survived years of my ill health —years that were no fun for anyone.  At one point I begged him to leave me. He refused to even think about it.  He told me he'd meant his vows. On the other hand, we have the 48-hour rule for him: he gets to be sick for 48 hours, during which time I will play Florence Nightingale, and after which time, he needs to get the hell out of bed. Just kidding. Mostly. But I can only hope I would be as loving, patient and supportive of him as he was of me for such a long time.  I definitely felt that I was more trouble than I was worth.  Thank God he didn't agree.

I had no real idea when I married—late, too (I was 30)—what a lifetime commitment meant. I had no idea how important my choice would be to my happiness and general contentment with life. Probably a good thing. But 20 years into it, I have a better sense of what it means to have a forever lover, like Glory, and I can even sympathize with her that it took her 400 years to make a decision.  Not a choice to be made lightly. 

On the other hand, marriage and divorce is so ubiquitous now that it doesn't seem like such a big deal. There is always an easily accessible escape hatch and many avail themselves of it. Many don't want to do the work of marriage. It's easier to scrap the old model and start fresh with a newer version. Moreover, there are some who just keep rotating their stock on a regular basis—like Donald Trump. Yuck. So in theory, there shouldn't be such a thing as more trouble than he/she is worth. In practice that is a tough road to hoe and not everyone makes it. There is also something to be said for the idea that if we aren't happy in our union, life is short and death is long; why not embrace the chance for future happiness by letting go of that which no longer serves us?  Oh, boy, another of the "should I stay or should I go" dilemmas. I write about them a lot. Because discernment is so freaking hard. Marriage vows should mean something. But carpe diem means a lot too.

I have no answers.  Only questions.  I think Glory's reticence to marry may have been a tad excessive, but I get her perspective. I have one more book in the series to find out if she's developed buyers remorse.  I hope not. I'm so grateful I didn't and neither did my guy. We're having and holding, together against whatever comes for better or worse. 


Motivation and Ambition


I've been thinking about motivation and ambition lately. Mine, my kids', my husband's and some of my friends'.  The two concepts are close, but different. Ambition embodies our desires, while motivation gives us the fuel to put forth effort. Sometimes, ambition exists without motivation, and not much happens. Alternatively, motivation without ambition can see us mistaking activity for accomplishment.  We need both. I was reminded of this fact as I finished the latest installment of the Real Vampire series by Gerry Bartlett, Real Vampires Know Size Matters. Finally, after ten books or so, our full-figured heroine, Glory St. Clair, decides to marry her long-time love and find it in herself to want more out of life—generating ambition backed up by the motivation to make it happen. And not a moment too soon; I didn't think I could take another book where Glory remained ambivalent and victimized. It was time to take charge and live large.  Which of course got me to thinking about those who choose to live small. There are lots of options out there, in fact. Some of us are content to be big fish in small ponds. Others strive to live as small fish in big ponds. Then there are those with no ambition who seek to live as small fish in small ponds. Clearly, I have some judgments about those three little fishies. But maybe I'm the one in need of judgment. Is ambition all it's cracked up to be? I have one fish who is über ambitious. He works his ass off, both on the field and in the classroom. He has friends and a girlfriend, but his work and sports come first. His twin brother loves to play and is content to achieve less as the opportunity cost of having fun and maintaining his social status at the top of the high school heap. Both are ambitious, actually, but for different things. And their respective worlds are differently sized as well. One son's world is very focused—smaller, by definition, while the other son casts his net wider. Neither is better or worse, and both are happy with their choices. Which, of course, may change, as Glory's choices evolved over time. Evolution is a good thing.

In another example, I have a friend, who I've written about before, whose life I see as quite small. She doesn't do too much and often stays close to home. But her life is filled with such joy; she revels in the small moments of her small life in her small world. In countless ways, she's much more content than I who aspire to big, bigger, biggest. Who's to say who has the better approach?  Being a big fish in a big pond involves a tremendous amount of work and stress. All of which takes a toll—in my case, the cost was my health and most of my sanity. Was it worth it?  I'm not sure. But I know that I couldn't have been content with a smaller world if I hadn't experienced the bigger one first. We can only enjoy our choice of pond if, in fact, it’s an informed choice, not a default position where there is no plan B.

In this latest novel about Real Vampires, Glory finally wakes up to the fact that she's been in default mode for most of her 400-year existence, which is a major drag. She finally finds the fortitude to flip a switch and decide that less isn't really more – that more is more and she wants it. That is one way we can evolve—finding the desire to upgrade our pond and our position in it.

Or, we discover the opposite—that we've moved into a stage of life where less is more and we want to downsize. In either case, our inner navigation system shifts and our world changes dimensions and we need to reorient.  We may feel lost or overwhelmed when we move into larger digs. Or we may feel claustrophobic at first in more restrictive spaces. Regardless, there is an adjustment period that can be uncomfortable. After that, we may have a different perspective on our space— if we're moving from a small pond to a larger one, we may be a bit star struck. If we're moving in the opposite direction, we might feel more jaded.  And once we adjust to our new circumstances, we can look back and see whether the grass really was greener on the other side. Hard to tell when we're in the thick of it sometimes. You know the feeling when it's not until the headache goes away that we become aware that we were in pain? Like that.

In the end, it all comes down to what we want and what we're willing to work to achieve. These are not simple questions, at least for me. For my kids, either, and, I suspect, for many of us. I was listening to the radio the other day and I caught part of an interview where the guy was talking about the "I want" song at the beginning of most musicals, a song that sets up the central motivating factor for the lead character. It was an interesting concept I hadn't heard before. And it's true.  "I want"—and our ambition to get it— is what creates motivation. But a desire for, and contentment with a smaller life is not necessarily a lack of passion, motivation or ambition. Just like Marie was a little bit country and her brother a little bit rock and roll, there are different strokes for different folks. My judgment be damned.

So I'll get off Glory's case and perhaps have more respect for her previous decision to swim in shallow waters. And in the remainder of the series (I was several books behind, and I have at least two left), we'll see how she does as she dives deep, into a bigger pond.  And I'll try to stop judging others' choices too. What do I know? Only that a lack of desire is fatal—because desire, regardless of its object—creates ambition, motivation and evolution. Without it we’ve got nothing to live for.

Compare and Despair

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I've recently rediscovered a series by Gerry Bartlett that I started years ago. Her Glory St. Clair series about Real Vampires is clever and entertaining thanks in large part to a voluptuous vampire named Gloriana and her on-again, off again vampire lover, the Highland warrior, Jeremiah Campbell, aka Jeremy Blade (Glory calls him Jerry—a play on the author's name). I like the series, although Glory's obsession with not being a size four and her inability to commit to one lover over the course of ten books has grown tedious (although it makes for good sex scenes). But the biggest problem I have with Gloriana St. Clair is her propensity to compare herself to others and come up wanting. After 400 years, you'd think she would have figured out that to compare is to despair.  One of the banes of modernity is the over abundance of information that tells us we don't measure up. There is so much data available to show us that everyone is prettier, thinner, smarter, more successful and richer than we are. On the other hand, we have reality television to make us feel better about the lives we do lead. Everywhere we look, we compare and despair. Just like Glory, except we don't have the same number of years of experience to teach us not to be so stupid. Regardless, we should know better.  When we compare ourselves to others, only two outcomes are possible, both unpleasant: we’re either inferior or superior to ‘that’, ‘him’ or ‘her’. And, whether we feel one up or one down, what we don't feel is equal or connected. Instead, we exist on a continuum that encompasses both doormats and dictators, see-sawing between the nausea of two extremes. It’s a vile existence whether it’s for 40 or 400 years.

By definition, comparison is dissatisfying. When we compare, we can't be happy with the gifts we've been given—we want someone else's or a better version of the ones we have. When we compare, we feel we must keep up with the Joneses or the Kardashians or whomever pop culture declares our role models at the moment. If we happen to be the standard by which others are judged, we need to not only keep up, but exceed expectations. If last year's holiday party was a blow out, next year's must be even better, so that by comparison, it measures up. Once the beast is unleashed, it must be fed. Continuously. That genie is never, ever going back into the bottle. Sad.

So we chase a finish line that keeps moving farther away. We measure ourselves against metrics that are either grossly exaggerated (e.g. Photoshop) or flat out lies (e.g. the false perfection of so many celebrity marriages, right before they devolve into divorce). What we need to do instead is walk carefully away from the ends of the see-saw and hang out in the middle, where we're balanced, and where we can embrace our individuality and also enjoy everyone else's personality. We need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Particularly as we tend to compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides. Apples and oranges, folks, apples and oranges. Because the unhappy fact is that we’re trying to measure something that cannot and should not be gauged. There is no absolute benchmark for true beauty, or intelligence or achievement. Sigh. I would think that a 400-year-old vampire would know this. In the seventeenth century, a zaftig woman, as my beloved father used to say, was considered beautiful and desirable. Similarly, I would think most 50 year-olds would know that comparisons are specious; as late as the the early 1960s, Marilyn Monroe's size 12 figure was the epitome of female beauty –today we’d put her on a diet before we gave her movie parts. So not only shouldn't we compare, we should remember that beauty, success, wealth and intelligence have been measured quite differently, depending on time and place. It’s silly to pin ourselves down as either an utter failure or complete success. Today's triumph could be tomorrow's defeat. And vice versa. In the end, we’re all just Bozos on the bus, doing our best with what we've got. If we waste our time comparing and despairing, it's just another way to squander the gifts we’ve been given. Which is depressing – especially as most of us don’t have 400 years to figure it out.


Mother May I?

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Another Mother's Day and I can't resist writing about one of the highest callings out there. It's been said that motherhood is the hardest job you'll ever love. This is true. And while not every woman is a mother, and while motherhood is not for every woman for a wide variety of good and valid reasons, it is the path I chose that also chose me. Not all who yearn are gifted with the blessings of motherhood. And not all who are gifted were willing recipients. But regardless of whether we are mothers ourselves, we all have one, or did at some point. So motherhood is a universal construct that affects us all. As so often happens, my reading reflects the current themes on my mind. I always reflect on my mother and the mother that I am at this time of year, Hallmark Holiday or not. I'm not above using artificial constructs to spur my reflections and introspection— New Year's Day is no less artificial and we all celebrate that with gusto.  Milestones mark time, and all of us need to pause along the path and check our directions, look back on the road already traveled and make sure we like the route forward. 

So Mother's Day is about mothers. And so are my two latest paranormal fantasies, A Witch in Time, by Robyn Peterman (who must have a difficult mother, as this is a recurring theme in each of her series), and Real Vampires Know Hips Happen, by Gerry Bartlett. In both books, our protagonist suffers the neglect or destructive attentions of a less-than-stellar maternal unit. As you know, I can relate.

Zelda, the Witch in Time, about whom I wrote earlier this week, has a mother incapable of love. Glory, Gerry Barlett's hefty heroine, discovers her mother is an Olympian goddess in this installment of the series, who gives new meaning to the word "controlling."  But delinquent or authoritarian, difficult mothers make an impact. For Zelda, her mother's lack of love resulted in stunted emotional development and self-destructive behavior. Glory missed out on having a mother during her early years (which she didn't remember anyway), and the list of her issues is too long to enumerate in a post this length. Suffice to say, she would give Drs. Freud and Jung plenty of grist for their mills. 

Today I thought I'd let these shadow teachers point the way toward positive parenting tips and tricks. It's easy to point fingers, criticize, and play Monday morning quarterback on all that our own mothers should or could have done. Or all that we should or could have done better, would we have known. But what about parenting that inspires? What does a good mother look like?  Of course, it would be grand if I could peer into a mirror and know what good motherhood looks like. And on some days I can. Like when my sons write heartfelt cards about what my support and belief in them has meant over the past year. That feels awesome. A good mother is always there to pick up the pieces, wipe away tears (surreptitious ones, in the case of teenaged boys), assure our children that what they are going through is normal and that it will end.

But that's the catch, isn't it?  Kids don't have the perspective or experience to know that everything comes to pass and nothing, not even heartbreak of the overwrought, adolescent variety, lasts. But that is such an important message in this age of increasing teenage suicide. Good mothers keep track of what's going on with their kids. Even when those kids would prefer to fly under the radar we hunt for the signs of impending self implosion.

And what about that?  We have more and more tools to know what our kids are doing, who they're doing it with, and where they are doing it. But utilizing all of those tools makes us more Big Brother than good mother. Unless there is a compelling reason, such tactics don't appeal. There needs to be a certain amount of mutual trust, which is hard to achieve when today’s moms are making like Mata Hari on a mission. Spying is not cool. Being informed is. It's not OK to take "I don't know" for an answer. Neither are one-syllable responses to questions asked. I understand that boys and girls, once they reach a certain age, would rather grunt at us than talk to us. Tough shit. Real answers are de rigueur in my home.

For me, being a good mother means getting down and getting dirty. It means being rejected over and over again, and growing a thick skin, not to mention a big, brass pair to be able to take these teens head on and be firm in the conviction that "no" is a complete sentence. Good parenting also means sticking to my guns, something that can be hard for me. Saying "yes" can be so much easier in the short term than saying "no" and listening to all the bitching and moaning.  Consistency is good too. Hard to achieve, but good. 

Being a good mother means that in just a couple of short years, my chicks will fly from the nest, never to return in the way they belong at home now. All our hard work, if done well, means we will lose them to spouses, jobs, friends, lives that don't include us, except tangentially.  And that is the natural order, the way of the world. I know this, and I celebrate my sons' independence. But it's a hard pill to swallow, knowing that many of my actions are making me unpopular at exactly the same time I feel like I should be pandering to their every desire, lest they forget me and leave forever when they go off to college. But I resist those urges to bribe them for their love and approbation. I've always said that if the cost of raising them right is their good opinion of me, so be it. I fervently hope it won't be, but I owe my children the best parenting I can manage, which is often the path of most resistance. 

But all of this is hard, hard, hard. It's hard to walk the line between discipline and punishment. Not to mention treating each child as an individual, which, from their perspective, can look unfair or biased (I get that a lot in my household). It really is the hardest job I've ever loved.

All that limit-setting is as hard on us as it is frustrating to them. So, I hope that you were good to your moms this weekend. If you are one, you know that it's a tough road to hoe, and that our own mothers probably did the best they could. Although I doubt that my own mother rose to her best parenting self, a dubious distinction I share with both Zelda and Glory. Life imitates art. Or art imitates life. Or maybe both.