Katie MacAlister

With My Body

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I took a break from reading The Beast by J.R. Ward to enjoy a short offering from Katie MacAlister, The Perils of Effrijim. This short story features Jim, a sixth class demon who is the servant/sidekick of Aisling Grey, the heroine of many a dragon shifter book by Ms. MacAlister. Jim is a hoot, and I enjoyed my foray into his world immensely. Jim is forced to surrender his preferred form as a large, drooling Newfoundland dog and take on the shape of a human male, which he hates (something to do with a reduction in the size of his "package," about which he is obsessed—like so many males). And this forced human embodiment got me to thinking about being in our bodies, and what that means to us. Or maybe just to me. But it's a topic that occupies my thoughts rather a lot these days. To my mind, we are embodied spirits with an infinite yearning for the part of ourselves that is divine to reunite with the rest of the infinite. But, while we are here, in this place on the space-time continuum, we inhabit bodies. This inhabiting comes with the limits of our physical beings, and also the incredible perks of being in a body. Remember all of those science fiction characters who exist as balls of energy or as human brains in glass jars? Even though they are "evolved," and presumably beyond the dictates of the flesh, they want to find bodies to inhabit. Why? Because being in a body comes with serious advantages. Like eating chocolate covered strawberries. And touching our beloved's bodies with love (and lust, who are we kidding?). And being able to smell the delicious scent of a baby's head. You can't do those things without the right equipment, like mouths, fingers and noses. Sensual perception is intensely pleasurable.

So while it's annoying to have to deal with the perpetual care and feeding needed to keep these miraculous machines running effectively (and some of us do a better job than others), it's still amazing that we can do all we can do and experience all that we can experience.

Except when it's not. Like when we take it for granted. Or when we focus on the difficulties of our physical limitations. Or when we are not appropriately appreciative. Then, being embodied is not such a great deal. Given the amount of body bashing we do, an objective observer might conclude that we actually hate our bodies. Just this afternoon, for example, I was berating my body for continuing to grow—I'm not enjoying the extra layer of padding that seems determined to gather around my middle like metal shavings to a magnet. I would really like to demagnetize myself and attract less fat to my midsection. But concentrating on my love handles and my spare tire misses the point that my magnificent body produced two human lives, allows me to practice yoga, which I love, hike up hills to see beautiful mountain lakes and does most of what I ask of it. Pretty remarkable considering the abuse to which I subjected it for so long, not to mention my ever-advancing age. Decrepitude cannot be far in the future, but for today, all systems are go. No need to break out the emergency dilithium crystals to get that extra boost of power quite yet. Stand down, Scotty.  At least for now (I'm on a Star Trek kick in anticipation of the movie coming out shortly—and I have eyes to watch and ears to listen. Yay!).

Our bodies are wise. They house every experience we've had in each and every cell. If we remember how to do it, we can draw out our somatic knowing, our bodies' knowledge, to help guide us to exactly where we need to be. You know those "gut feelings"?  We should listen to those. They are almost always right. When we feel our feelings and listen to our bodies, we tend to do the right thing and make good choices.

But what about when we are cut off from our bodies? What happens when that whole mind-body connection has some serious static on the line and we're missing every third word of the conversation? Bad things happen when we are bifurcated between our necks and the rest of us. My experience has been with living entirely too much in my head. But the opposite problem exists as well—those who are slaves to their bodies without a lot of cognitive direction. The goal, of course, is integration. Easier said than done, at least for me.

Being disconnected, though, is not as bad as being in a state of armed conflict with our bodies. Instead of our bodies being wonderlands, they become battlefields, where wars on cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity are routinely waged. This is tragic, actually, because a house divided truly cannot stand. We are our bodies and our bodies are us.

And then there is the ultimate consequence of being embodied: death. The whole shuffling off this mortal coil business. The final frontier. That part kind of sucks, admittedly. As does the whole aging process, for the most part.

But that is the price we pay for being able to inhabits these marvels of complexity that are our human bodies. As a demon, Jim doesn't have these issues, and his preference for his dog form is baffling to me, but, hey, to each his own. Given the opportunity for a human body that didn't age, decay or break down, I'm pretty sure I'd take it. Although my dogs lead pretty sweet lives, come to think of it…

I’m grateful for my body in all its imperfections. So I'll practice groundedness—the effort to be and remain in my body, rather than letting my mind drift away to the far reaches of the galaxy—or at least where Ms. McAlister and Ms. Ward take me.




Finding Gratitude

I'm having trouble finding gratitude right now. I've written before of how I used to pray for a grateful heart because there was a big hole in mine where my gratitude should be. I believed that I'd gotten over this problem; worked through my issues and found what I'd been missing. Except it's missing again. Not entirely, and not the way it used to be. I don't have a gaping crater in the center of my chest, feeling like the mouth of some dried up volcano. Instead, I feel the gratitude for my wonderful life—I don't need angelic visitations to remind me of the fact that I'm blessed beyond measure with health, love and abundance. But I can't seem to go deep, to dive in as I often do, and swim in the warm, enveloping waters of my intense gratitude for this existence of mine. I'm sure you are familiar with the litany of my complaints—my Cadillac problems, as a friend called them:  I have the drama llama inhabiting my workplace; my kids spend all their time bickering, messing with their phones and telling me the sky is green just because I said it was blue; my house is a bottomless money pit; my writing isn't going well. I need to lose five pounds. Maybe ten. You know. We've all been there. And in that messy morass of the muck of life, I can't find my touchstone, my gratitude. I called a friend. She listened and then said, "Okay, I hear you and all your problems. Now tell me something good."   I was stumped. Which is ridiculous of course. That same friend said, "Well, what are you reading?  Surely there is something there for you to ponder. And write about. That will help."  She was right. I'd just finished the latest installment in the Dragon Fall series by Katie MacAlister. Dragon Soul, tells the story of Rowan, who morphs from a human, known as the "Dragon Breaker" (and not in a good way), to being a dragon, and the leader of his sept, or tribe, as well as that of his dragon mate (and the only current member of his sept), Sophea. Rowan's problems are of the Ford Fiesta variety—if you suddenly find yourself in a world filled with dragons, demons, alchemists and mages, of course. Poor guy needs to adjust, quickly and unexpectedly, to his transformation from human to dragon in human form, with all the intensity of emotions and spontaneous combustion that entails.  A bit trickier than my first world issues. 

And how does Rowan, who now roars, somewhat uncontrollably, deal with his difficulties? He finds the gratitude, that's how. Sure, he can't control his fire and throw rugs everywhere are imperiled. But aside from ruining floor coverings, there are positive aspects of being a fire-breathing monster. Rowan quickly realizes that he's gone from being despised among the dragonkin, to being a member of the band. And with that comes the real prize—Sophea, a mate to call his own, a woman he loves beyond all reason. For him, that's good reason to be grateful for his abrupt metamorphosis.

So, as I often look to my fictional friends for life lessons, I'll take one here:  if Rowan can do it, so can I. So what if work is a total drag right now?  The drama will unfold and then get folded up and put away. My kids will eventually grow out of being sixteen, and I will no longer be completely ignorant in their eyes. Our house will eventually run out of projects or we will sell it and let the next owners worry about them. I will finally finish these horrific labor pains and eventually birth this piece of writing that is attempting to be born. And I'll either lose those five pounds or figure out how to hide my ever-burgeoning muffin top. One way or another, this too shall pass.

And what will be left?  My beautiful, if bickering family. My eternally loyal and absolutely remarkable friends and our rock-solid friendships. My health, hopefully, albeit in an aging package. My sanity, if I'm careful and lucky. And my gratitude for all of the above. I'm rich, rich, rich beyond measure or merit. And I'm grateful for it. 

Thanks to Katie MacAlister for helping me find my gratitude and my truth in fantasy.

It's Not You, It's Me

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I'm still thinking about the latest offering in Katie MacAlister's Dragon series, Dragon Fall. The title refers to the male protagonist, Kostya, a proud Black Dragon, and leader of his Sept, who's been used and abused by a former flame and has sworn off women in any sort of serious capacity. In other words, he's got commitment issues. So when our heroine, Aiofe (EE-fuh), falls for the Black Dragon, he is determined not to fall for her. This, of course, creates a challenge that many women couldn't resist. I know. I used to be one of them. 

"It's not you, it's me."  I don't know how many times I've heard that line, or some variation. Conversely, I can't count how many times I've used it to offer a nice but unsuitable guy a "soft landing" and the salvation of a bit of face. And because I've used the line so often, I know that everyone who uses those words has incredibly brown eyes. You know, from being mired in the shit. So when I've heard these syllables pass the lips of a man I liked and wanted, it's made me sad. And then it made me mad. And then it made me think. Uh oh. You know what that leads to...

Have any of you ever seen the 1958 film Indiscreet, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman?  No?  Run, don't walk. A funny, charming and very entertaining movie. Anyway, the central tenet of the story is that Cary Grant is a bachelor who pretends to be married and unable to get a divorce. Why, you may ask. Because, he explains, if he were to tell women that he won't get married, they will simply redouble their efforts to ensnare him in matrimony. When he tells them he is married and can't possibly get a divorce, they don't even try. Sneaky, huh? It's not you, it's him. Sure it is. 

Why do women want men who don't want them? I am convinced that if my first fiancé hadn't refused to marry me for so many years we would have broken up much earlier and I could have spared myself years of suffering.  But no, he had been married once, it hadn't ended well, and he was determined to avoid making the same mistake twice. So what happened, you may wonder. Well, I'll tell you even if you don't: two months after we decided to get married (and I say it this way because he never actually asked me--he told our mothers that we were thinking of getting married later that year--and the whole thing kind of snowballed from there), I decided that I didn't want to marry him after all. In the end, I just wanted him to want to marry me. 

On the surface, this is not a story that speaks well of my character. But I wasn't a duplicitous or malicious person. I was simply (and sadly) clueless about myself, my wants and my needs.  At the time, I didn't know myself at all. I was quite lost. And while I didn't treat my fiancé too well, that probably made us even, so we'll chalk the whole thing up to interpersonal skills that were egregiously lacking on both sides. Takes two to tango, after all. 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the one with commitment issues was me. So it was true, ironically enough, it really was me, not him. In that case. But, simultaneously, it was him and not me, too. There are lots of men who push women away, and there is no shortage of women who love them. There are books written on the subject, so it must happen quite a bit, and not just in fantasy novels. 

What does it say about a woman when she continually goes after men who are not available either emotionally or for other reasons?  Nothing good for her, that's for sure. Usually it indicates some serious deficiencies in the woman's self-esteem department. Women who pursue men who reject them often feel as if they (the women) don't deserve love and loyalty. We believe we aren't good enough to "get" a man, so we create self-fulfilling prophesies to ensure that we don't.   

Some women (but not me, thankfully) pursue (or accept) married men--perhaps on the grounds that they believe they don't deserve a man of their own, or they don't deserve to be the main event. Those situations are always tragic and rarely end well (I've never understood why a woman would want a man who's left another woman for her--if he can leave one woman, he can leave another--but I'm told by a good friend that I'm wrong about this--I hope so, for her sake). Falling in love with a married man is the epitome of becoming emotionally attached to someone who is unavailable at the most concrete level possible. Some of us are more subtle than that. Or more in denial, a concept with which I am well acquainted. 

For me, it was important--apparently--to believe that the commitment issues were all my boyfriends' problem--it took a long time for me to realize I was the one with the ring phobia--which was why I kept choosing men committed to staying uncommitted.  As long as I could blame someone else for my inability to make it down an aisle or to an altar, I could delude myself that I was desperate to be a wife and mother and assume the mantle of domestic goddess for the rest of my days and it was only that the men I picked wouldn't put a ring on it. 

In the end, it took finding and falling for the love of my life to smack some self awareness into my head and start to help me get over myself.  Love is a powerful motivator, and, as it was for Kostya in Katie MacAlister's fun tale, the stubborn are no match for true love. Dragons fall and so did I. Thankfully. 

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You Can't Fix Crazy

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I've just finished the latest offering in Katie MacAlister's dragon shifter series, Dragon Fall. Sometimes it's hard to read a new book in a series when I read its predecessors a while ago, but it was fun nevertheless. A major plot element in this novel has to do with the female protagonist, Aoife (pronounced EE-fuh) being committed to an asylum because she claimed to witness a supernatural event (she did) Which she was told made her crazy and in need of treatment (which she wasn’t). Unfortunately, I could relate.  

In the past, I've questioned my own sanity. And had others question it as well. Not my best memories. The depth of this line of inquiry usually relates to our self-confidence, self-esteem, and the amount of influence those who believe that our mental hygiene could use a bath exert on us. This is not to say that authentic mental illness doesn't exist, or that anything bad happened to me as a result of being forced into therapy. I'm a big fan of therapy. However, benefiting from therapy and having people think you are a wing nut are two entirely different things. One is okay and one is definitely not okay. Poor Aiofe spends two years learning how to convince others that she isn’t crazy and can be trusted on the outside.  Being told you are crazy when you’re not can actually make you crazy. 

I'm pretty sure I've told you the story of my mother and the Christmas trees. In a nutshell, she claimed we'd had only one tree—ever. I remembered years' worth of trees. She insisted I was insane and that I made up stories. I insisted she was the whack job, but, in truth, there was a tiny worm of doubt in the back of my mind that whispered, ‘I could be wrong and she might be right’.  It was a very small voice, but despite the low decibels, it served to undermine my confidence—what little I had after being raised by a narcissist. So, flash forward about 30 years, and imagine my intense satisfaction at finding irrefutable photographic proof that completely vindicated me. Cue the happy dance.  

Above and beyond the pleasure I felt in besting my nemesis—I mean my mother—there was also the deep relief of being 100% positive that I hadn't lost my mind. This is always good to have confirmed. But this vindication led me to wonder why there are those who are bound and determined to convince others that they're nuts.  

Because, like Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman in the movie classic Gaslight, and also in Katie MacAlister's Dragon Fall, when one person is trying to convince another that he or she is crazy, there's usually a reason. For Claude and Ingrid, it had to do with hidden treasure. With Aoife and her family, the reason was more benign, but the outcome was still devastating. For Mommie Dearest and me, it was all about power and control.

All of us like to be right. When we are right, we feel we're in control. And while control is a specious concept, humans continue to seek it like missiles seek the heat of engines. For some of us less secure folks, being right is often a zero sum game, so that our being right automatically makes someone else wrong. At which point the whole exercise degenerates into a power struggle, like when a parent catches a child (or even another adult) in an obvious lie and confronts the liar with impregnable logic at which point the liar starts hurling stories like spaghetti against a wall, hoping something will stick. It rarely does. But no matter how ridiculous and convoluted the liar’s blather is, no matter how red-handed they are caught, they give no quarter and will admit to no wrongdoing. It's something to behold. Frustrating as hell, in fact because we both know the truth, but only one will acknowledge it.

Some, like my mother, take this phenomenon to the extreme and actually begin to believe their own bullshit. This level of denial is just not pretty. But there are those ugly souls who prefer to offer up our sanity on the altar of their inability to admit they are wrong or apologize. Or even just acknowledge a mistake, forget the mea culpa. It's very difficult to deal with these people.  

And then there are those who will apologize, but not without doing an excellent imitation of having teeth pulled. Why?  What does it cost us to say—out loud—that we are wrong?  Or we didn't know?  Or we need freaking directions? What is up with men and directions anyway?  But I digress (I'm getting better about that—have you noticed?). Again, it all goes back to power and control and, honestly, how sad is that?

Personally, I pride myself on my willingness to admit to ‘asshatery’ (it really should be a word) early and often.  On the other hand, I've been known to be as guilty of digging in my heels as the next guy (and I do mean guy) when I feel threatened or insecure. In those situations I will go to great lengths to be right, channeling my inner Spock to defend my positions. Given my messed up upbringing, I expend far too much energy bolstering my arguments, dotting my I's and crossing my T's.  Just so I can claim the high ground of the righteous. But I can, and do, admit when I'm wrong. Most of the time.

So there you have it. When we have been the object of a Gaslight campaign, we are willing to pay a lot, figuratively, to ensure our ability to be unassailably correct. Because once our sanity has been questioned, we want to make sure it never happens again (either that or we're male and cannot tolerate being wrong). Any way you slice it, though, you can't fix crazy, so it's definitely something I don't want to be. And I guess I should thank Heaven for small favors that I was never committed to an institution to safeguard someone else's ideas of how things should be. It can always be worse, as Katie MacAlister’s Dragon Fall attests, in the best way possible.




Love at First Sight

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I’ve always believed in love at first sight.  More importantly, I’ve always wanted to believe in it.  I love the idea of love, of being swept off my feet with the deep knowledge of the rightness of someone for me.  I love the idea of my highly rational and intellectually-oriented self being overcome with emotion so that I have no choice but to feel, rather than think.  Phew—is it warm in here or am I having a power surge? Don’t mind me, I’m losing myself in the fantasy of falling hard and falling fast.  It’s heady stuff. I should know- I remember the night I met my husband (in a bar, I might add). After ditching our friends for a dinner á deux followed by some steamy necking in the car, I raced home to call my best friend to say- “I’ve met someone.”  As in someone who really lights my fire, curls my toes and inspires my feet to do a happy dance, despite my sky-high pumps (we’ve discussed those, I know).

And while I might not describe it as a Godfather-like lightning bolt, I was definitely aware I was in the presence of something potentially very special.  It’s not tally clear my beloved reciprocated those feelings (it did take him more than nine months to tell me he loved me, even though he’d cleared out half his closet for my stuff by our second date. So maybe he did know and his mouth took a bit of time to catch up to his heart—he is a man, after all).

So I’m absolutely into love at first sight, and I never discount it in my beloved fantasy books—as long as the author captures the wonder and joy and the stomach-dropping, fear-laced excitement of it all in describing it.  I’m currently reading a new series (The Dark Ones) by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed before, Katie MacAlister.  And this first book in a longer series (hooray for long series with lots and lots of books!) includes a love at first sight trope between Joy and Raphael.  And Katie MacAlister does a really good job of evoking the headiness and compulsion of love at first sight. Joy battles realistically with her better judgment about diving headfirst into a relationship with a tall, dark and hunky mystery man who has a shady pasty and secrets to keep.  But she can’t help herself, can she, cause she’s smitten but good.

And, and as I read this first offering in a series I’m hoping will become one of my growing list of favorites, I find myself wishing I, too, had fallen head-over-heels in love from the very first page.

But I didn’t.  Not really.  Sure, I could see the potential, and I have really high hopes for this series, but I’ve got to say, this is where I have to put my big girl panties on and settle in for some delayed gratification like adults are supposed to do.  But my inner five-year-old is totally bemoaning the fact that I have to wait for the author to lay all of the foundation for her specific world, its rules and attributes, etc., not to mention character development and long-term plot exposition for what is clearly envisioned as a lengthy series.  Still—I want that loving feeling—right from the get-go.  Like it was with my husband all those years ago.

So, while this book is really good and it’s definitely keeping my interest, I’m not head-over-heels, but I know I can look forward to a deepening relationship with these characters and this world over time, and that is truly awesome. And I really am doing a happy dance in anticipation of having my gratification met in a most satisfying manner as I frolic with the rest of the series.  But there is a tiny little part of me that is disappointed that I didn’t get to feel my tummy drop with the thrill of love at first sight.  This time. Of course, tomorrow is another day, luckily.  And I did get to read about love at first site in the words of a very talented author, which is almost as good.

Waiting for Life To Start

So, I’m reading book two of Katie MacAlister’s Dark Ones series.  This book follows the tormented vampire (Dark One), Christian, as he waits to find his Beloved, who is the only woman who can save him from the Hell on Earth he is living.  As we’ve discussed before click here, the idea of one specific woman for that special vampire or werewolf is a common theme in paranormal fiction.  It’s good, it works.  But, you need to ask yourself, does this whole idea of waiting for THE ONE reinforce the message that life doesn’t start until—fill  in the blank—occurs?  Does this specific example and so many like it set us up to hang out in that most depressing of destinations, Dr. Seuss’ The Waiting Place?

When I was young, I distinctly remember waiting (with great impatience) for my life to start.  When I graduated from high and got the hell out of my parents’ house, my life would start.  When I was able to leave my first university and transfer back to a New York school, my life would start. When I met the man of my dreams, when we got married, when we succeeded in having children, when I figured out my career, etc., etc., my life would start.

I finally figured out, very belatedly it’s true, that I was spending my life in the dreaded Waiting Place.   The one Dr. Seuss warned me about.

I knew better, I did.  I remember having this exact conversation with a therapist when I was 19-years-old (I lived in Manhattan in the 1980s--everyone was in therapy!) and my awesome therapist, Lynn, told me very clearly- “Anne, this is your life, so you need to live it.”  OK, good advice.  It caused me to pinch myself periodically and think, “This is my life, I’m living it”, which kind of worked a little bit, but not really.

Turns out that time passes in exactly the same manner in my fake life as it did in my real life, so whether I was living in one or the other, time continued slip-sliding away, in the immortal words of Paul Simon.  That was definitely not good at all.

Turns out, there were a lot of issues involved in actually embracing the whole “this is my life” proposition.  The biggest problem, of course, was that by waiting for my “real” life to start, which sometimes meant the end of a work day, or a work week, or the completion of a major project, or the end of my kids’ school year or soccer season, the holidays, etc.,  I was actually spending my time,  by definition, in an inauthentic way—as in not real.

So if I was spending the majority of my time living an inauthentic life, my very authentic fear was that one day my time would be up and I would look back and realize that my fake life eclipsed any hope of having a real life, and now it was game over.

At this point, a pit stop and lane change were definitely in order.

First, the pit stop- this is the part where we duck and cover, stop and smell the roses, just breathe, make like a Talking Head and then you may ask yourselves “How did I get here?”

That’s a good question, but it’s a bit of the tail wagging the dog.  A better first question is, where the hell am I anyway? Seems like the answer to that would be obvious, but not so much.

Sometimes, we seem to be in one place, and really we’re clear across town, or across the country, or, in some extreme cases, not even inhabiting the same astral plane that we thought we were.  For example, I was married to the guy of my dreams, I had a blossoming career that was going gangbusters, we lived in a spectacular house and I had good friends and the time and money to have a lot of fun.  Seems like Nirvana, no?  Apparently not.  For some, it takes losing everything to bring what really matters into sharp focus.  For me, it took having it all to realize that something was decidedly –and devastatingly- missing.  What, you may ask, could possibly be missing?  And the answer, I’m sorry to say, was me.

The actress who played Princess Leia in the Star Wars trilogy, Carrie Fisher, once wrote, 'Having a Great Time, Wish I Were Here.” And that was me.  Because it turns out that while I was busy creating the life I thought I wanted, I forgot to create myself in the process.  For me, there was no there there, and it made for a gaping empty hole where my joy and fulfillment should be.

So what I finally learned, slowly and painfully, was that life really isn’t like my fantasy novels in this particular instance.  There’s nothing outside ourselves that can save us.  There’s no one—at least in my humble opinion—who can complete us, as Christian was waiting for.  There’s no accomplishment that will fulfill us if we’re hollow inside, having failed to do the work to uncover who we truly are and what we are truly here to do.  And if we’re waiting for that special someone to be our missing puzzle piece, or the accolade or award that’s going to convince us that we are worthy, we’re going to spend a long time in the Waiting Place. And who wants to disappoint Dr. Seuss?

Better to blow that particular popsicle stand and get on with the business of finding or making ourselves and then sharing that person with the world.  At which point the wonderful spouse and beautiful house can be fully enjoyed and appreciated, cause nothing attracts joy as much as truth.  And truth is something we live, not something we wait for.

Oh, the Humanity!

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I’ve been encouraged recently—on a number of different fronts—to contemplate what it means to be human.  And what better way to engage in such contemplation than through the prism of those creatures that inhabit my beloved fantasy novels and who are most definitely not human. What does it mean to be human? Many have answered this question, and it’s not my intention to provide a survey of philosophical or spiritual or biological theories in this space.  I would like to follow a thread offered in the most recent Dark Ones book I’ve read by Katie MacAlister.

In these books, she explores the consequences of some of the Dark Ones (vampires) being born without a soul, and the quest of those so cursed to find their beloved, the one woman in the world who can redeem their souls for them. MacAllister describes the state of being soulless as an unrelenting torment of pain, loneliness and need.  It is this endless need to which the Beloved responds, because of her ability to assuage the pain and fill the emptiness.

In her book, Even Vampires Get the Blues, MacAlister adds a bit of a twist, and this time, it is the Beloved, who, after redeeming the soul of her Dark One, loses her own.   Because she had been human (or mostly, in this case) and because she had had a soul before she lost it, Sam knows exactly what she is missing and the pain is that much greater.  MacAllister explains, A soul means different things to different cultures.  To most, it’s the thing that makes us more than just sentient, the part of us that lives on when our bodies fail and turn to dust… I came to realize another function of the soul—it connected us to humanity, made us a part of a common experience… [and without it] I felt detached.”  Sam wonders how her Dark One lived so long without a soul with his sanity intact.  He explains to her that that it was all he’d ever known, so it didn’t seem as bad as having had it and lost it.

I really love the idea of the soul as that which connects us to each other, and that it is the connection that makes us human.  It’s a particularly interesting thought in this age of digital detachment, with everyone tied to electronic experiences—living life through the lenses of our cell phone cameras.  Can we really be connected to our own lives—much less each other—if we are so dependent on our electronics that we cannot, by definition, be present in the moment?

I was recently at a school chorus concert in which my son was performing.  I was struck by how many parents we watching their children through their phones and tablets as they recorded the event.  I watch my own kids recording their lives through selfies and pictures of everything they do—including the food they eat, which then gets posted to Instagram for others to validate the experience with likes—or perhaps the reality will be that my kids’ experiences will be discounted or negated if no one “likes” their Instagram pictures.

Have we created a world where authenticity is equated with the stamp of external approval and life doesn’t count if no one watches usfrom the rear view mirror that a photo or video necessarily depicts (even if it’s nominally “real time”).  Have we willingly relinquished our souls—that which connects us—to a series of machines that we allow to control our experiences? Are we losing the ability to connect as one human to another?

Are we voluntarily forfeiting our souls for the illusion of immortality that a digital record presents for posterity? Do we get to live forever—young and vibrant—in pictures and sound waves with the only cost being never really having lived it in the first place?

I don’t have the answers to these questions.  In fact, I’m just scratching the surface of these questions and thoughts.  But, as I sit with my pen and notebook and practice connecting my hand with the paper, I am thinking about connection, and having a soul, and what we’re giving up in exchange for the convenience and experiences we can only get with mechanical assistance.

I’m not ready to denounce this age of digital dominance.  But, like a Dark One born without a soul, I’m wondering if our children, who will grow up never having known any other way to be, will even know what they are missing by adding an electronic filter to all of their experiences.  Perhaps they will never seek to redeem themselves and claim their souls because digital detachment is the new normal and they’ll see no need to fix that which they don’t consider broken  I hope that’s not the case.  I still believe it’s the connection that keeps me human. 

The Similarity of Second Chances

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Have you ever noticed that the Universe always gives us a second chance?  It took me a long time to figure this out, actually, but even I can take a hint when hit upside the head with a brick. Repeatedly. This reality was highlighted for me as I read a story by Katie MacAlister in her Dark Ones series, Shades of Gray, which has nothing to do with the number 50, a good thing because I couldn't get through the first 20 pages of that book; terribly written, IMHO, and lots of better options out there if you want to read about "alternative lifestyles." This story is about Noelle, who gets a second chance to fulfill her destiny as a vampire's Beloved, if only she can convince him to have her.

Unfortunately, the kinds of second chances we get in real life do not often include a one-for-one Mulligan or the opportunity to have a second chance to make a first impression. The kinds of second chances we get in life are of the more karmic variety.

We might get a second chance to be a better partner with our next relationship; or a better parent with a younger child, or perhaps with grandchildren. We might be presented with an opportunity to be a better friend or employee or sibling or host or child in subsequent situations as we progress in life.

Sometimes, these second chances are fairly obvious and we are able to recognize them. In those situations we have two choices:  do things differently this time, and hope for a better outcome, or keep trying the same approach, perhaps with more passion or force of will, and think that this time, it will be different.

Tony Robbins, the motivational speaker, says if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten. Wise counsel. I just don't always act on it. Because, as we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I do that all the time. It's called denial.

And then, there are those times when I can't even recognize that I'm being presented with an opportunity for a do-over. That is quite frustrating because it's one thing to lie to oneself about whether I’m doing a breaststroke in a river in Egypt. It's quite another only to recognize that the Cutco knife salesman in whose face you slammed the door was really opportunity knocking. I hate it when that happens.

But the Universe is generous with us and if we have made mistakes in the past or practiced habits that undermine our success, we are often given another chance to do it better. Sometimes, we can feel like we are living in our own personal Groundhog Day movie when we do the same thing over and over. Clearly, we can't help ourselves. My dating history before I met my beloved husband is proof enough of that.  As was the endless loop of fighting and bickering that characterized my entire relationship with my mother. Groundhog Day on steroids.

So, how can we break this vicious cycle of stupidity, misery and irritation, depending on the severity of any particular bad habit or endlessly repeating situation?  Interestingly enough, an answer to this burning question appeared in my inbox just this morning.  I read about a journalist named Charles Duhigg who wrote a book called The Power of Habit.

In the book, which I confess I haven't read but will nevertheless quote liberally at cocktail parties thereby displaying the breadth of my erudition, Duhigg explains the neuroscience behind the effective creation of a new habit. He tells us to look for a "cue," the event that will trigger us to rely on a new habit to replace one that no longer serves.

So, when you've had a bad day—the "cue" -- and you would normally reach for a glass of wine and a handful of cookies, it would signal your brain to implement plan B-- a green drink and a brisk walk outside to clear your head as a new means of transitioning away from your day.

Or, if you meet a compelling new bad boy (the cue), you execute the new habit-- i.e. run screaming from the room--instead of the old one, which involved immediately jumping into bed with him.

Or, if you are me, and the days of obsessing over bad boys are firmly in the rear view mirror, thankfully, then it's time to look for other areas that the Universe is offering opportunities to get it right this time. In my case, I would very much like to develop new habits when the "cue" is empty, unstructured time on my hands.

As I've probably told you before, I am often a human doing rather than a human being. I rush to fill the void of time with busy work or meaningless puttering around and before I know it, I'm either totally overwhelmed or wondering where the day went having accomplished nothing and feeling like crap about it. This is behavior that causes me much distress and I do it over and over again. To the point where I work way too hard to fill my time with quasi-meaningful activities so that I can avoid the self-hatred that comes with wasting time--the most egregious sin of all, in my book. But all of this activity masquerading as accomplishment is really just another aspect of denial.

If I can't leave some or even a lot of unstructured space in my life, how will there be room for anything new to come in?  There won't. So I need to learn to tolerate the discomfort of unstructured time (my "cue") and insert new, more constructive habits in place of my old, less-than-productive habits.

So, I'm grateful for the similarity of second chances (or in my case, fourth, fifth or fifteenth chances) to do something differently and get a different result. I'm taking my cues and implementing a new plan. I'm getting off the insanity treadmill and taking a walk on another street. And, hopefully, it will work out as well for me as it did for Noelle and her not-50-Shades-of- Gray.