Jessie Donovan

Spin Dragons

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We live in a world of spin. She who controls the story controls reality. The truth is no longer relevant, and any fantasy, provided enough of us believe, has been crowned as gospel. It seems that many of us think this is a new phenomenon, or at least greatly magnified in the current political, economic and societal milieu. It's not. Propaganda has been around since the dawn of time, and it's always been a fact that only winners write history. So I was very intrigued by the story arc running through Jessie Donovan's Stonefire British Dragons series. In the world of Jessie Donovan's dragons, humans don't think much of dragon shifters, and the humans control the flow of information. So the dragon shifters are feared, persecuted and tightly controlled in where they can live, who they can mate, and when and how they can interact with humans. But then one of the "approved" human mates decides to write a book shedding light on the mysterious dragon shifter culture and hopefully helping the humans to dispel fear with facts and embrace the dragon shifters as alien, but familiar at the same time, leading to less friction and more cooperation between species.

It's a good strategy, but it's not without its risks. In Revealing the Dragons, Jessie Donovan explores what happens when truth supplants speculation, and how different factions react, depending on what they have to gain or lose. Ms. Donovan imbues her dragon fantasy story with a great deal of truth.

In the book, lots of humans are eager to learn more about the exotic dragon shifters, and the book about them by the human mate, Melanie, is well received. But there are factions that have no interest in "humanizing" the dragon shifters, despite the fact that they spend most of their time in human form, and some of them are, actually, half human, with human mothers. Nor are the fear-mongers out there willing to be confused by the facts. They need monsters in order to lead the villagers in hatred and ignorance, and anything that threatens to negate the fear gets added to the list of that which is hated. So Melanie and her mate's clan become targets of hate and violence. Again, lots of truth here.

We live in a world without dragons (more's the pity), but we don't live in a world where this story line is unrealistic (an even greater pity). And while I try to keep this space apolitical, I can't help but comment that one of our presidential candidates could double for either Gaston (who was rejected by Beauty and led the villagers against the Beast in retaliation) or the village idiot, who's IQ may be impaired, but his ability to dredge up fear and hatred is unfortunately unlimited.

People who somnambulate through life will always be subject to fear and hate mongers.   It's hard to wake up and take responsibility for our own lives. It's so much easier to blame others for our troubles. Hell, it's so much easier to raise ourselves up by standing on the backs of those we oppress than it is to do the hard work to stand tall on our own. Our fear keeps us passive and malleable and ripe for manipulation by those who have figured out that to the victors go the spoils. And those who seek to win, in the dragon shifter world as well as our own, learned a long time ago that creating a bullshit problem and then offering the solution is an excellent way to accrue power, money, influence and prestige.

So, in Ms. Donovan's dragon world, the dragons become the (nonexistent) problem and the dragon hunters become the saviors of the world. In our reality, the "Muslims" or the "Jews" or the "Blacks" or pick your favorite minority become the (equally nonexistent) problem, and only The Donald can save us. Yeah, right. It would be ludicrous if it wasn't so diarrhea inducing frightening. Seeing as I belong to one of the hated minorities and know from personal and cultural experience how damaging this worldview is, my guts are fairly watery right now. 

But the antidote to mindless fear and ignorance is, as Ms. Donovan writes, information and familiarity. The more we know about each other, the more (reasonable people) learn to understand that there are more similarities between us than differences. And that even where there are differences, that's OK, because being different is good; our differences make life exciting and help us to learn and do new things and think about things from differing perspectives and maybe, in doing so, revolutionize the world, cure cancer, make contact with alien beings, end poverty. Or maybe just end racism, and homophobia or antisemitism or Pavlovian responses to terrorism that target peace loving, law abiding Muslims. Yeah, that would be nice. Oh, and, you know, treat dragon shifters fairly and with compassion, cause that's important too.




Healing the Past

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I'm enjoying Jessie Donovan's Stonefire British Dragons series. The books are fun and flighty, and you know me and my dragons. Love. In the fourth installment, Healed by the Dragon, Arabella is a female dragon shifter who was captured and tortured by dragon hunters as a teen (they also killed her mother, so she has some major scars—and not just the ones on her face).  She hides away for a decade, afraid of her dragon and everyone else until the leader of a neighboring dragon clan swoops in to win her heart and give her an HEA.  The moral of the story, beyond that most paranormal fantasy usually ends with a happily ever after, is that everything we need to heal the past can be found in the present. According to Jessie Donovan (and me) it's not necessary to relive the past in order to heal it. The Universe gives us opportunities in the present to repair the damage – and, if we're willing to take the other steps necessary to move toward— freedom from the bondage of that which we cannot change.  

Because we can't.  We can't go back and either undo or redo the past—it's over.  And whatever happened there has made us who we are today, for better and for worse. Somehow, and in some way, we must come to terms with whatever trauma or loss or lack that we endured, and find a way to accept it. We must also accept that no matter what, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

There is a lot to do to heal our past. None of it, however, requires that we relive it over and over again. Instead, we must grieve. When we survive terrible experiences, whether they are physical, emotional or psychological (or all of the above), we must grieve the death of the person we were or could have been.

I look back now and wonder how much pain and suffering I could have avoided if my mother hadn't been a narcissist who was essentially incapable of loving me. Who could I have been with support and encouragement as a child—someone who experienced love and security and a sense that all was right in the world? I have no idea. I suspect that I would have been, could have been, should have been amazing. Happy.  Content. Compassionate (towards myself). I was none of those things then and for a long time afterward.

I've had to come to terms with the fact that I was a damaged, anxious, defensive, distrustful child, teen and new adult.  I had to accept that and grieve the person I coulda, shoulda, woulda been before I could rebuild a life for myself and experience all of those beautiful moments I missed growing up. I had to accept that this was my path—harder than those of some, infinitely easier than that of many.

The second requirement for healing the past in the present is forgiveness. We must forgive those who harmed us, and we must forgive ourselves for being harmed.  I know we're not supposed to blame the victim—especially when we are that victim—but we do, and we must stop. We blame the Other or the Universe for bad acts, but we blame ourselves for not avoiding them, or not getting through it all with less damage, or not getting over it quickly. All of this must be forgiven if we are to move forward. Tough stuff.

And lastly, if we are to have a real shot at healing the past, we need to take a leap of faith. It is my belief that for all of us who need to heal, there is an underlying belief that the past is the future. Somewhere deep inside we believe that the past is a predictor of the future. If it happened once it will happen again, and perhaps again after that. So unless we willingly suspend disbelief and trust that the present and the future need not be a repeat of the past, we will never be truly healed. No matter how good things get. Because we will be so hyper-vigilant watching for that other shoe, or Damocles' damn sword, or sharks falling out of tornados on top of us that we cannot truly enjoy any healing that might occur.

Once all of that work is done, then it's time to allow ourselves to be vulnerable again. This is the hardest part of all. Because, in truth, we are always vulnerable. But we deny this truth and instead seek to protect ourselves by bracing for and expecting the worst. In our damaged minds we believe that by hardening our hearts, they will never be broken again. But the truth is that we stayed broken because our hearts never healed and so we were never whole. If we can soften and open and receive, it's true that we might get hurt again, but the alternative is to stay hurt to the point where we convince ourselves we no longer feel the pain. This is a dangerous delusion.

Like Arabella in Healing the Dragon, the only way out is through. Through the fear and the potential suffering to the joy on the other side. That way through is what allows us to be open to the explore experiences that heal—to be the parents to our children that we never had. To be the loving partner that we always wanted to attract. To give our all to a worthy cause or take a leap towards a new career, lifestyle, location, whatever. But all of this must come after the grief, and the forgiveness and acceptance of our own vulnerability.

It's not enough to rewrite our present in words and scenes that salve our past wounds. That is necessary but not sufficient. In order to truly experience and benefit from the present healing the past, we must accept, grieve and forgive. And then open ourselves to new experiences that reorder our thinking and our lives for the better.  A tall order. But if the dragon can do it, so can I.





The Gift of Desperation

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As I mentioned last week, I'm reading a new-to-me series by Jessie Donovan about the Stonefire British Dragons. Interestingly, I found this series through Facebook ads, so in case anyone was wondering, they work. I'm always willing to give a new author a whirl around the dance floor, especially when they write about dragons. The original premise of this series, and the title of the first book, is that human women are Sacrificed to the Dragon. In a clever twist on the trope of virgins being slaughtered for the sake of appeasing horrific monsters (and gods), in this version, willing human women (not virgins) who have been found to be compatible with dragonmen for the purpose of procreation, trade their bodies as baby-making entities in exchange for dragon blood, which has miraculous healing properties. Now, one cannot look too closely at this premise, as it has holes bigger than a Mac truck, or maybe a dragon, but if we gloss over that caveat, then it works. In the second book, Seducing the Dragon, the female protagonist seeks protection against dragon hunters who want to kill her in exchange for becoming a dragon-shifter's mate.  Again, the construct is rickety, but if we go with it, the book is fun and sexy. These plots inspired me to think about what we humans are willing to do when we're desperate. I know I'm not giving anything away when I tell you that both of these women, one a sacrifice and one a seductress, end up getting their HEAs with their hunky dragonmen. But what got them there in the first place was the gift of desperation, one desperate to save her dying brother and the other desperate to save herself.

In the 12-step Rooms (as the meeting places for Alcoholics Anonymous and all of its spin-offs are called), they talk about the "gift of desperation."  This refers to the (usually horrible) circumstances that lead an addict to contemplate the need for recovery. In many (although not all) cases, folks who stumble or crawl into the Rooms have hit "rock bottom," and are aware—somewhere in their addled brains—that if they don't change their ways, the only outcome is insanity or death. J.R. Ward describes this phenomenon through the character of Phury, who is a drug addict. Phury spirals downward, slowly and then faster and faster as he circles the hole in the toilet, contemplating the event horizon from which he will not return. Spoiler alert—Phury gets help and gets his shit together but only thanks to utter desperation.

It seems paradoxical to call desperation a gift. Desperate people aren’t stable. Nor are they rational. Desperate people get that way because they have lost something, like a lover, a job, their homes, their families, their wealth and/or their health. Desperate people understand what it is to look in a mirror and feel such self loathing that it makes the hatred between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seem blasé. Desperate people don't believe there is a way out of the mess they are in, whether it's one of their own making or a situation that fate has foisted upon them. And desperate people, as a result of their desperation, do desperate things.  

Desperate deeds can be described as something we would never contemplate doing if we were in our right minds. Like signing up to be sacrificed to a dragon we've never met and having his dragon baby. Or not drinking when we can't really imagine life without alcohol. Or maybe telling someone how we really feel, because we figure we have nothing left to lose. Or, in the best cases, surrendering the fight because we just can't fight anymore, and accepting the reality in which we are living, which is the first step toward meaningful change.

That last desperate act—accepting a reality that does not conform to our fantasies—is probably the hardest, most desperate thing we can do. It's the moment we accept that our mate isn't as smart, or capable, or attractive or interesting as we thought—or at least hoped. We've all been there when the honeymoon is over, and we are left with the realization that our better half is actually no better than we are, but equally imperfect and damaged by living our lives. And then there is the equally horrifying moment when we realize that they feel exactly the same way. But from there, lasting relationships can be by built on a solid foundation.

Even more desperate is the act of accepting ourselves. For those of us of a certain age, there comes a time when we realize that we haven't yet changed the world, and given the lateness of the hour, it may never happen. We must accept the reality that our bodies are bigger, slower and less energetic than they used to be.  And when we butt up against that reality, some of us do desperate things to negate a reality we don't want. Like buying a muscle car and having an affair with a younger woman, which really reeks of desperation like nothing else.

But the gift of desperation can also lead us toward the light—not the one we will supposedly see when we finally depart this mortal plain, but the one at the end of a long, dark and lonely tunnel that isn’t a freight train. When we are willing to contemplate actions that seemed anathema before we were desperate, we just might find absolution, or relief, or freedom from the bondage of self. The man who changed his terrible eating habits because of a heart attack might discover that clean eating feels amazing. The woman who takes up exercise to lose dangerous belly fat might learn that a runner's high is better than that second glass of wine at dinner. We might find out we are stronger and more courageous than we knew, more creative than we hoped, and more attractive when we live authentically instead of projecting a persona we believed others would want.

Desperation is indeed a gift, although we may only be able to acknowledge that in hindsight. While we're feeling it, desperation can be desperately uncomfortable.  And it would certainly be nice if we didn't have to go to such lengths to do things that turn out to be the best things we could do, but often, that's what it takes. So like Jessie Donovan's sacrifice and seductress, I will be grateful for the gift of desperation. And for authors who write about dragons. Because dragons are always a gift.