Kalayna Price

Thank You, Thank You Very Much

"Thank you," I said to the woman who held the door open so that I could walk in ahead of her. Our pupils collided and I offered a small smile that made it to my eyes. It was an insignificant exchange, one of many I enjoy. I'd say I thought nothing of it, but that would be a lie. I think a lot about these random connections to strangers, acquaintances, friends and family alike.  These simple contacts mean a great deal to me, and I go out of my way to create, foster and nurture them throughout my day. Not so in the world of the fae, as I've read most recently in Kalayna Price's latest Alex Craft novel, Grave Visions.  In this book we learn, as I've read before, that to thank the fae is to acknowledge a debt that must subsequently be paid, rather than to express appreciation. And I started to think about a world in which I couldn't let my grateful heart shine through. What a dystopian reality, where I needed to stifle my instinct to be thankful.

I'm a gratitude junkie, as I've written about before. The blessing of a grateful heart is a joy in my life, and I love to be able to say and mean those two lovely words, "thank you." The phrase is so much more than letters strung together.  For me, an expression of gratitude is never cursory or perfunctory. Well, almost never—I am far from perfect, of course.

Some of my earliest memories are about gratitude. When I was quite young, I wanted to watch a TV show, but I didn't have my glasses with me (they were new and I wasn't used to wearing them all the time). My friend ran home to get them for me so I could watch. I still remember the feeling of being so thankful to her for that kindness. The feeling was so visceral, my heart so full that she would do that for me (she was asthmatic, and the run cost her lungs, but she did it anyway—that’s true friendship). I remember my gratitude toward my first grade teacher for intervening in my behalf with my mother so that I could go on a field trip my mom had decided was inappropriate for me (which was irrational on her part—it was a school trip, not a day at the casino). Anyway, my point is that my memories of feeling thankful have lingered long and deep, because it feels wonderful. 

When I chronicle the chapters and events of my life, I often think in terms of all the wonderful love and support that has been offered to me over the years. It seems that a deep sense of gratitude is associated with every situation and milestone of my life. When my father died, one of my estranged friends, whom I'd treated shabbily, showed up, despite my bad behavior. When my mother died, and I was away from home without appropriate funeral and mourning clothes, a sales lady in a large New York department store literally took my hand and clothed me from my underwear on outward, so I could meet my responsibilities to bury my mother in a manner she would have applauded. There is no way I would have been so put together without that woman, who didn't know me from Eve, but whose compassion I will forever remember with thanks.

In the Jewish religion, every aspect of every day is an occasion for gratitude toward God. In the Orthodox tradition, there is a blessing for each element of the day, including a satisfying bowel movement in the morning and sexual satisfaction with one's spouse. It's a beautiful tradition to be aware of the many occasions for gratitude throughout the day and throughout our lives. 

While I know that such expressions of heartfelt thanks benefit the recipient, the real winner in theses scenarios is me, the gratitude giver. It would be such a supreme shame for me not to be able to say and express my thanks, if I lived among the fae, for example. How awful to think that any declaration of gratitude engendered indebtedness. It is true that when someone does a kindness it is natural to want to return the favor. But that is a desire, not an obligation.

There are, of course, unfortunates who despise "owing" someone for any kind of benevolence, even when the person offering the consideration wasn't expecting anything in exchange. For some, being in someone's debt through an unreciprocated act of altruism is almost as bad as being the target of malevolence. Poor, misguided souls. They might as well live in Faerie with Alex Craft. I am grateful that I am not amongst those inhabitants and want to thank Kalayna Price for reminding how selfish and great a mere ‘thank you’ can feel – even if it is gratitude for a common courtesy such as holding a door open.


Eye of the Beholder

Eye of the Beholder.jpg

I'm halfway through the new Alex Craft novel by Kalayna Price, Grave Visions, and I've been struck by the many questions her central premise raises. Magic abounds in these books filled with witches, faeries and the realm of the dead (sounds like a weird combination, but she's making it work). I read the earlier books in this series a number of years ago, and I didn't remember most of the details (which happens often and doesn't speak well of my memory), but Ms. Price does a good job of summarizing past action, which I appreciate.  One of the more interesting aspects of her world-building involves the liberal use of glamour, which is the ability of the fae to change their appearance at will, about which I've written before. In this case, a putative suitor for Alex's hand in marriage morphs his shape to look like one of her old flames.  Neat trick, I thought. Then I proceeded to pull that string until the whole structure collapsed.  I'll explain. At first, I thought it would be über cool to be able to transform into my ideal of beauty. I could look like Natalie—Portman or Dormer, they will both do— and feel confident and secure in my physical charms. Or, I could have the ultimate makeover and look like my husband's dream girl—Meg Ryan before she was ruined by plastic surgery (let us note here that I look absolutely nothing like the young Meg Ryan, which begs the question of why my husband was attracted to me in the first place. On the other hand, he remains interested 23 years later, so I guess it's not worth thinking about. But I digress). Or, I could be the ultimate femme fatale and radically change my appearance as often as I change my hair color. Could be fun, no?

Maybe. But maybe not. If I spend some time wearing the face of one of the Natalies, how will I feel when I need to don my own visage again?  Kind of like the morning after a big night out—eyes puffy, hair on end, with black eyeliner making me look beaten up. Not my best look. But not my real look either, more of a passing disaster. But if I was wont to wear another's face, would I begin to feel that mine was the passing disaster, and would I start to avoid wearing it in the same way that I avoid extra-late, wine-fueled nights more than a few times a year? That would be sad. Not to mention highly faux. And we all know how I feel about fake. Fake is not fabulous.  If all of us could wear glamour, surely many of us would never wear our real selves on the outside. Which tends to lead to faking it on the inside as well. Kind of like how power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. The mind follows where the body leads, etc. What would that mean for the pursuit of authenticity?  I'm sure there would be some who would put a premium on being au naturel, but the pressure to be beautiful would likely be immense. And without the price – in terms of both financial and physical risk— of needing to undergo needles or surgery to look different than we are, wouldn't many of us be tempted to "improve" our appearances to some degree?  I think so.

And what would that do to the health consequences of bad choices?  Currently, if we do the crime, our faces and bodies tend to do the time. When we eat poorly or in excess, our weight shows our inability to eat wisely or well. If we smoke, not only do our lungs feel the pain, but the grey tinge to our skin gives us away every time. When we overindulge in alcohol, our eyes, noses and cheeks often sport the broken capillaries that are the hallmark of excess drink. It's hard to hide our bad choices without magic.  And if such glamour were widely available, wouldn't someone, or more than one someone, quickly come up with a way to pierce the veil of illusion?  Surely they would, because all of us would wish to "see" the wizard behind the curtain, so that we could make judgments based on truth, not fantasy. So in the end, what would be the point?  Would it make the world any prettier, or would we simply grow to understand the truly superficial and ephemeral nature of beauty?  Would we appreciate inner beauty more than outward appearances? Would we finally, finally stop putting a premium on physical perfection and begin emphasizing health, strength, flexibility and endurance?  One can only hope.

If everyone were objectively beautiful, would beauty cease existing in the eye of the beholder and shift to the subject? And if that happened, would it change anything? Would it matter if we were beautiful to our mates, or to our children? Would beauty stop being used as the preferred currency? And wouldn't that be something?

I have no answers to these questions, and it probably doesn't matter, as we don't live in such a world. But I'm grateful to Ms. Price for sparking such interesting food for thought and proving to me once again that there is profundity in fantasy and truth to be found in digging into supposedly frivolous fiction.