Nalini Singh

I'm Dreaming of A paranormal Christmas

I'm dreaming of a paranormal Christmas.jpg

s we are all hopefully cozying up to a Christmas fire, hanging out with family and friends eating lots of delicious food, it seems a good time to think about divinity and the nature of the Divine in my beloved fantasy books. As a former serious student of theology (seven years in a seminary), I'm quite interested in the subject, specifically with respect to the relationship between God and humanity and how different religions and cultures express their beliefs.  I'm always interested in Genesis stories, as well as how a particular tradition experiences time--either as cyclical, including the concepts of karma and reincarnation, or linear, encompassing the notion of time moving forward toward a certain end--as in universal (or selective) salvation. What I find particularly noteworthy in most--but not all--of my paranormal and urban fantasy novels is that a concept of the Divine, with a capital D, is largely missing, which raises some complex questions about being created in God's image, self-referential entities, and what a lack of spirituality will do to creatures over the eons.

Now, I understand that George R. R. Martin is in a class by himself. I'm not sure anyone else has counted, but I have, and there are no fewer than seven religions described in the Game of Thrones series--so far (and yes, for all you purists out there, I am aware the series is formally called A Song of Ice and Fire, but that takes too long say).  Seven theologies, seven different descriptions of deities, rituals, beliefs, the man is amazing. And I don't expect that from anyone else. The only one who comes even a little close to good old George is one of my author crushes, JR Ward. In her highly developed world, the Scribe Virgin and her dark counterpart, the Omega, are god-like creatures, although reference is made to both of them being the offspring or creations of a single Deity who is never seen or heard from (except to impose strict balance in the world so that everything has a price so that symmetry is maintained.)

One of the things I appreciate about JR Ward's world of the Black Dagger Brotherhood is that the Brothers, and even the King, are not the ultimate arbiters of their own fates. Because of the existence of the Scribe Virgin, all the Brothers must serve someone or something greater than themselves. In contrast, some of my other all-time favorite characters are essentially self-referential--meaning there is no authority greater than themselves. In Thea Harrison's Elder Races world, there is reference to the original seven gods, although those references come later in the series. But Ms. Harrison suggests that  Dragos Cuelebre, the dragon of my dreams, is also one of the gods. This is never explored at any length, and Dragos is portrayed as not abusing his power, but you've got to wonder about his past, which is never drawn in any detail and what being regarded as, or actually being a god does to a creature.

And then there is my other favorite book boyfriend, Jericho Barrons. We never find out what Barrons is--I've read that Karen Marie Moning wanted to free Barrons and the Nine from the strictures of labels--but we know that he and his kind have been revered as gods. Not to mention the Fae princes in the same Fever series--they have certainly been worshiped as gods and no power can seem to impact them, and they are almost unanimously monstrous as a result. That's what you get when there's no higher authority to hold your feet to the fire of good behavior.

Without a concept of the Divine, or an absolute (or even relative) moral code, it's hard to imagine what keeps decorum decorous. Why aren't all of these immortal, powerful, dominant, demanding and controlling beings taking headers off the deep end on a regular basis?  Some of them are, of course. Nalini Singh suggests that it is love or the lack therefore that keeps quasi-omnipotent beings like Archangels on the straight and narrow. Lijuan, the archangel of China, is worshiped as a goddess and is out of her mind, totally mental, which is a problem when you control an army of the undead. Ms. Singh suggests that it is because Lijuan killed her mortal lover when she realized that her love for him would render her vulnerable, and therefore weak.  Raphael, on the other hand, has the love of Elena to keep him sane and steady. I've written about this elsewhere. But what I hadn't stopped to wonder until right this minute was where is God in this world of archangels? I thought they went hand in hand, but there is no allusion to the Divine at all in the Guild Hunter series.

And then there is the issue of humanity being created in God's image. In the same way that the potential existence of life beyond Earth poses some sticky wickets for Christian theologians, so too would the existence of shapeshifters, vampires, elves, faeries, and the occasional deities of mythology come to life. A few series examine these questions, such as Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series. In Sooie Stackhouse's world, the humans who have recently learned that they share the planet with the undead wonder about the state of the vampires' souls. But what about the whole God made flesh issue? If beings could transform between humanoid and animal, as so many of my beloved characters can, what does that say about the state of their souls or the image of God?  The mind reels.

I'm guessing that at this point I've lost many of you entirely. My apologies. But I do think about this stuff, and Christmas Eve seemed as good a time as any to vent some of my musings. I did warn you that this blog was about deep thoughts I've had while reading vampire porn, right?  OK, OK, less deep thoughts and more deep throat, I've got it. Until next time, dear readers, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming in time for the New Year.

Opposites Attract

Opposites attract.jpg

Do you remember the Paula Abdul song "Opposites Attract?"  Am I dating myself (as in giving away my age, not turning Japanese--quick--name that hit! Okay… I’m here all week… but you likely won’t be if I keep digressing.). Anyway... Today I'm contemplating the phenomenon that birds of a feather don't actually flock together; they look for birds with different plumage to marry. I certainly did. And most days that's a good thing.

I know from my beloved fantasy books that I'm in good company in my choice. In almost every book I can think of, the hero and heroine are virtually polar opposites. Take a few of my all-time favorite couples, including Pia and Dragos, Mac Lane and Barrons, and Raphael and Elena. Each of these pairings include individuals who could not be more different either in species or characteristics.

In Thea Harrison's Elder Races series, Dragos is an apex predator, a carnivore of the highest order, while Pia is a peace-loving herbivore.  Their relationship encounters numerous problems as a result of these and other differences. But because Pia’s most pressing need is safety, and an über alpha male like Dragos offers that, she makes it work. In the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, Mac Lane is a frothy Southern Belle who's happy tending bar in her sleepy hometown in Georgia. Jericho Barrons is an ancient immortal being whose alter ego is a mindless beast. I'm not sure they could have less in common. But their love works--as they both evolve to meet each other  somewhere in the middle. In the Guild Hunter series, Raphael is an archangel of unimaginable power, whereas Elena is a twenty-something human with an acute sense of smell, qualifying her as a hunter of rogue vampires. Again, hard to see the connection at first, and any yenta would be disqualified for fixing these two up.

I've often said my husband and I would never have met if we'd relied on OK Cupid to bring us together. Fortunately for us, we met in the days before Match.Com and Tinder, so we were able to connect the old fashioned way—at a bar. And I'm not sure what would have happened if we'd had too much time to compare notes on our disparate backgrounds, interests or philosophies of life before the chemistry kicked in and we were hooked. Thankfully, by the time we found out he was the Oscar to my Felix, the Spock to my Captain Kirk, the Murtaugh to my Riggs, we were wildly in love and didn't give a shit.

There's a reason opposites attract. I have a friend of almost two decades who started as professional colleague. We really enjoyed working together as our styles were almost identical. In fact, we are so similar in personality that we used to joke that we were twins separated at birth.  Interestingly, we both married spouses who are very different from us, but very similar to each other. Our spouses balance out our intensity with stability and an even keel nature that helps both of us to come back down to earth if we begin to fly too close to the sun.

Balance is important. Yin and yang, light and dark, privilege and responsibility. Even in fantasy fiction, balance must be maintained and dues paid. As I've written about before, there's no such thing as a free lunch. So when become frustrated with our opposite mates, it's important to remember that we need to take the bad with the good. For example, my husband's equanimity in the face of my hyperbole is usually a welcome balm to my overheated emotions. Except when I want a big reaction from him--for a good reason, mind you. It makes me mental when something goes really wrong and his response is... Nothing. Makes me think of the recent movie, Bridge of Spies, when Tom Hanks asks the Soviet spy he's representing in an espionage trial if he's worried. The spy asks, "Would it help?"  And we know that spy guy is right… but…. Oh. My. God. I thought only Vulcans had so little blood in their veins.

But no, there are, apparently, many humans sporting pointed ears and bad eye makeup. I'm married to one of them. Just this weekend, we had a pretty intense fight (well, intense on my end; while I was awake for hours seething in another bed, my cold-as-ice husband was snoring soundly, sleeping like a baby. Which only fanned the flames of my outrage.)  The fight was about the relative merits of high ideals and standards versus letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Three guesses as to which side of that equation yours truly resides.

Sometimes it's hard to remember why opposites attract. Particularly when I want my beloved spouse to see things my way, do things my way, and just be more like me. But if I'd wanted that, I probably wouldn't have married him, and then where would I be?  Perhaps in a relationship with my other half, my doppelgänger, spontaneously combusting left, right and center as we clashed in a conflagration for the ages. Intensity met with intensity head-on, with nothing to temper the fires, and everything stoking them. It seems like burnout or scorched earth would be the likely result of that scenario. No, thanks.

So today I will take a page out of my beloved books and tolerate, along with Pia, Mac and Elena, the dark side of the moon until I come back again to the light. I'll endure the discomfort of my beloved being radically different from me and bask in the many benefits, like my favorite leading ladies of fantasy. Thanks for the support, my fictional friends.

Moves Like Jagger

Moves like jagger resized.jpg

I saw the Rolling Stones in concert last night in Raleigh, North Carolina. The tickets and the trip were a 50th birthday gift from my beloved husband, who knows how much I love the Stones and Mick Jagger in particular. And let me just say this right up front: I will be eternally grateful that Mick still has great hair and not an ounce of fat on him. He may not be moving like he did when I was seventeen and saw him for the first time at Madison Square Garden, but then again, neither am I. If I'm in half as good shape as he is when I hit my seventies, I will be a happy girl. But I've digressed before I've even started. Toward the end of the concert, Mick told the audience (which was composed of people as old or older than me, some of whom brought their grown children) that when the Stones played Raleigh for the first time, it was FIFTY YEARS ago. Basically before I was born. And that got me to thinking about the nature of longevity and deification, because the Stones have been treated like gods for a very long time now. The Rolling Stones are one of the few bands that have A) lived this long; B) stayed together; and C) are still performing in packed stadiums to screaming, adoring crowds. To me, they offer a lesson in what it must be like to be one of the immortal alpha males of my beloved fantasy novels. I've written about the burden of immortality before here. My thoughts have evolved as a result of seeing actual humans whose lives approximate, in a small way,  characters such as Karen Marie Moning's Barrons, Thea Harrison's Dragos,  and Nalini Singh's Raphael —if these characters actually existed (I think about them like they are real, but I am aware that they are fictional projections created by brilliant authors—no matter how realistic my fantasies may seem—but I’m wandering off the reservation again, aren’t I?).  These [fictional] creatures have lived for thousands of years, were worshiped as gods, and possessed remarkable powers. Kind of like Mick and the boys—with fewer years behind them, of course. Is it possible to come out the other end of that kind of time, power and consistent adulation with any amount of perspective or humility?  Seems like it wouldn't be, doesn't it?

In Ancient Rome,  general celebrated a military triumph with a procession through Rome, the populace stood on the side of the road cheering uproariously.  Amid all of this glorification, however, there was a guy standing just behind that general, whispering in his ear, "Remember thou art mortal."  Talk about raining on someone's parade! But the wet washcloth routine was carefully designed by the same folks who thought of feathers and vomitoriums--you know, so you can have your cake and eat it too-- to ensure that these military superheroes didn't go off the narcissistic deep end. Mostly, they did anyway (can you say "Caligula?"-even though he was an emperor, I know, but Julius Caesar was pretty full of himself too). One has to ask, could anyone stay sane and even a little humble under such circumstances?

There might be a way--a safety valve, if you will. I'm thinking that even when life comes in the extra-large size, both in terms of length and attributes, it also throws enough curve balls at us so that if we have a modicum of common sense, we are forced, sooner or later, to understand that the vicissitudes of fate do not spare the rich, the powerful or the beautiful. Life bites us in the ass every time. The longer we live, the more opportunity for dentition in the region of our backsides.

I'm not saying life isn't grand. For me, right now, it certainly is. I am savoring the sweetness of being in love, being on vacation, having adventures and extraordinary experiences (my husband and I have agreed that the best gifts at this point in our lives are activities not stuff). But the point of this appreciation is that it isn't always like this. Life is often hard, even for the likes of Mick Jagger, who is certainly living an extraordinary existence by any measure. But even Mick is not immune to suffering; he lost his partner to suicide not too long ago, which had to bring him up short. For the likes of Barrons, Dragos and Raphael, the reversals of fortune multiplied in direct proportion to the number of years on this plane. As I've written about before, the deathwatch list for them must be interminable. Such realities keep us humble.  Mostly.

But, as we know from reading misses Moning, Harrison and Singh, not all immortal powerhouses got the humility memo. Many just lose their marbles and become sociopathic nightmares. But hey, that happens to us mortals, too, especially the ones who are lulled into a specious sense of self-importance because they have achieved some measure of success, fame, or influence. They forget that we are given our gifts to use for the higher good, not to inspire the likes of Carly Simon to write songs about our outsized vanity.

I'm thinking the Romans got it right, although maybe not about the group bulimia thing. Remembering thou art mortal, even when it's not true, like for my paranormal alpha gods, is good advice. It's good advice me, and it's good advice for Mick Jagger too, because while he has held up remarkably well, his strut is a little more subdued and his voice has a little less projection than it once did.  He’s got to be feeling the burden of his years, and the inexorable march of time makes everyone humble, even the giants.  Still, I'd give a lot to have the moves like Jagger, for however long his longevity lasts.

It's Just a Matter of Trust

It's just a matter of trust.jpg

I just finished the fourth offering in Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series. The books are getting better and better. Always the mark of a truly gifted author. This one, Mine to Possess (commence eye-rolling now), is not really a Psy-Changeling story, as one half of the romantic pairing is (mostly) human (with, as usual, a little bit of something extra). The story centers on a couple who knew each other as abused children who survive a violent past together, but are then lost to each other for twenty years. When they come together again, there is a significant amount of betrayal to overcome between them, as well as the dysfunction produced by the tragedies in their shared and separate pasts. Deep stuff. And the larger back-story running throughout the series is also extremely complex and thought provoking. The primary issue that captured my attention in this novel is the creation, destruction and recreation of the bonds of trust between two people.  Trust is such a difficult subject. In my experience, trust is a function of both external and interior forces. Some of us, myself included, did not learn trust from their families of origin. For some, these early lessons may lead to lives of deception and dishonesty--both toward others and toward themselves. Some of us, though, the lucky ones, begin to walk down this road but able to achieve a course correction, and learn--usually with difficulty, to have honest, authentic relationships.

But as Talin and Clay show us, trust, once broken, and between two damaged individuals, is a tricky thing. We may want to trust. We may need to trust. But, in my experience, we cannot will ourselves to trust. In the book, both Talin and Clay come to a series of intellectual realizations that are then coupled with the impact of their mutual attraction and comfort they find with each other. There is so much complexity in their relationship it was really gut-wrenching to read at times. There was an element of previous sexual abuse as well as sexual acting out as a means of self harm. Lots of stuff going on here. 

And my only quibble with Ms. Singh, who I love, is that I think overcoming those kinds of psychological obstacles would take a lot more time and shared experiences than she portrays. But I guess I'm willing to suspend my disbelief about this (ironically I have a lot less trouble suspending disbelief with shapeshifters, vampires, witches and angels-- go figure) for the sake of argument and the development of a compelling plot.

I think a lot about trust. It's such an important element in living a full and authentic life. But trust is so hard. I don't know that I can say that I trust anyone unconditionally.  I'm not sure that kind of trust actually exists. There are many different levels of trust, and many different ways to trust. For example, we trust a variety of websites to recommend people who perform critical functions for us, including doctors, lawyers, babysitters and contractors, not to mention restaurants and hotels. We trust machinery to work (having experienced the vertical climbing abilities of ten-person Hummers in Moab, Utah, I am quite familiar with putting my trust in machines). Anyone who flies understands that it really isn't magic or purposeful thinking that is keeping that winged aluminum tube aloft--my personal efforts to the contrary--it's that we trust that the engineers and mechanics and pilots are doing their jobs and that we won't go down in fiery flames.

But that is a different kind of trust than what is required in interpersonal relationships. For example, I trust that my oldest girlfriends will not start telling tales out of school about my misspent youth to anyone else. I trust that my relatives will help me move furniture or let me borrow a van or give me a kidney if I need it.  And, fundamentally, I trust that my husband won't leave me after two decades of marriage on a whim because I've suddenly become more trouble than I'm worth.

At least I think I do. But sometimes I read these paranormal romances and wonder whether my ability to trust isn't somewhat impaired. It was hard to relate to Talin's decisions, conscious and unconscious, to love Clay no matter what, even knowing that she might lose him again, and that in losing him, might irretrievably lose herself. I want to have that kind of courage, and the strength to overcome my self-imposed barriers. But I'm not sure I can. And I'm not sure that this is something we can make ourselves to do, as Talin does. Perhaps it is, though.

I've read a lot of books by Nalini Singh, and I've come to trust her philosophy on relationships. There is that trust again-- and I'm willing to consider that she is right here, too, and that it is possible to make a decision to trust. Or at least to act as if we do, which is sometimes the best we can hope for.

Alpha Girls Rule The World

I just finished Nalini Singh's Branded by Fire, one of her Psy-Changeling novels. And oh, my God, can I relate to Mercy--alpha female, strong, independent and capable(just like another Mercy I know by Patricia Briggs—another of my favs). But it seems that strong, independent women get shit from everyone. If one does not happen to belong to a pack of predatory shapeshifters, as Mercy does and I do not, being an alpha female can be very difficult. In the real world, strong independent women are seen as ball-busting bitches. No one thinks twice about calling you aggressive or saying, "No one likes you."  What I've actually found is that it is only the people who are threatened by female strength who are the ones who don't like us. But it still hurts when people are nasty just because they think they can be.  Female strength is often equated with a lack of emotion, as if strength in women makes us less feminine and therefore less emotional or sensitive. Which is a ridiculous argument on a number of different levels: first, "real" women are not more inherently emotional than men; second, strong women are not a different species than "normal" women; and third, who is coming up with these silly stereotypes to begin with?

People think it is OK to say mean things to someone they think lacks human feeling. But these are the same people who supposedly think alpha girls lack a sensitivity chip, so why aren't folks more afraid of us?  After all, we might bite them. But I digress. Again.

And, actually, the phenomenon of being mean to strong women is not really what I want to talk about today. Shocking, right, that I'm at the third paragraph of this post and I haven't reached my topic sentence yet?  My seventh grade English teacher would be appalled. Oh, well. So, finally, the topic at hand is the loneliness of the alpha female.  Mercy is lonely. She is afraid that she will never find a mate because she will never find someone who is both strong enough and flexible enough to engage in the dance of dominance that is necessary when two strong, independent individuals try to get together.

Ms. Singh does such a good job describing the very real downside of being an alpha female in the real world-- a difficulty in connecting with others because connection requires surrender, and letting go of control, which is hard for everyone but especially for alphas--male and female. And life without intimate connection is lonely.  But it takes a certain kind of strength to cede control. And it takes a very sophisticated understanding of the healthy aspects of dependence and reliance to truly connect with others. So while this kind of connection is possible for alphas, it takes a conscious decision, which Mercy comes to understand. And which is as it should be, in fact.

It is hard to let go for those of us who like to be in control. It's scary. And uncomfortable. And dangerous. Most of us who live in carefully constructed houses of illusion don't want to be disabused of those lifelines. Just like Mercy, the idea of total surrender can be anathema to alphas. And for females, showing a man the truth of who we are, as Mercy is determined to show Riley, often results in the man finding the nearest exit.

I love the way that Riley evolves to understand that to be in love with a female alpha is to love her dominance and seek her trust so that she can let go with him. I love that he wants to protect her but that he loves that she can protect herself. The whole romance is so well done and so well described that I felt like I was right there with them, figuring it out, one step at a time. Not necessarily neat and tidy, but real. 

And I'm so glad that Mercy doesn't have to be lonely or submissive. I don't agree with imposed roles, particularly based on gender (I know, you are shocked!). I am so grateful that I was born after the advent of feminism into a culture where women don't have to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Like Mercy, I would never survive with my sanity intact if I hadn't been. And I'm glad I'm not lonely either, and that my husband loves my strength and doesn't insist on always being in control. Just like Riley.  I love this truth in fantasy.

One of the things I loved best about this book is that this time, it's not only the male who is alpha. I love that Nalini Singh is exploring the phenomenon of the female alpha. We're out there. We exist. And we want men who can appreciate us and cherish us not in spite of our more "masculine" character attributes, but because of them.

Female alphas are hot. Just ask Mercy. Or Anita Blake. Or any of the heroines in Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series. These women are smoking! And I don't mean cigarettes. And their men understand that to win the heart of an alpha female--and keep it--is an accomplishment of epic proportions.

Love and Other Distractions

Love and other distractions.png

I love being in love. I especially adored the thrill of new love. And, truth be told, I was addicted in many ways to unhealthy infatuation and inappropriate dependence on romantic attachments in my younger days, although I told myself I was just a fool for love. Really, I was just a fool. I was guilty of "the sickly devotion of it all," as Nalini Singh writes in her newest Guild Hunter book, Archangel's Shadows. As I have with the seven Guild Hunter books before it, I'm deeply enjoying the fast-moving plot and the interesting and complex characters Ms. Singh writes. I'm also enjoying the many profound themes that she explores in these novels. I'm only a part of the way through the book and I've already highlighted more sections than I can count to come back to and ponder each passage's significance. The theme I want to explore in today's post is about the nature of real love, as well as the characteristics of the pyrite we often mistake for love, dependent infatuation.

In Archangel's Shadows, Nalini Singh writes about old vampires who keep a "blood family," humans who serve as food but also companions to the vampires with whom they form bonds of love and affection. She contrasts this arrangement with vampires who keep "cattle," humans who serve the same function for a vampire, but whose purpose is a bastardization of what the relationship should look like in its more idealized form. As always with my beloved fantasy novels, and because they include a paranormal element, a skilled author like Ms. Singh is able to highlight aspects of human behavior in an extreme way, which is what she's done here.  In Ms. Singh’s world, vampires are powerful and seductive and they are able to choose among an almost unending selection of humans who compete to become the chosen ones from whom a vampire can take sustenance and sex.  Because it is a seller’s market, and because the currency involves not only money and power, but also status, protection and the ability to relinquish one’s need to make decisions, the vampire is completely in the one up position.

In the Guild Hunter world, just as in our society, there are legions of individuals who seek to trade their bodies and their wills for the privilege of living in a gilded cage.  And these “cattle,” or, perhaps more descriptively “sheep” convince themselves that they gripped by grand passion, as one of the protagonists describes his feelings for the vampire who convinced him to surrender his humanity. Humans do this a lot.  Of course, there are men and women who are more calculated in their quests to achieve standing and security through the barter of their youth and beauty.  But many humans in our world who want to achieve fame and fortune through association with another desire to wrap what amounts to blatant prostitution in the cover of true love and mutual caring.  As Ms. Singh highlights with the exaggerated nature of the power discrepancies between humans, vampires, angels and archangels, individuals of every conceivable makeup do the same thing.  It seems to be the nature of the beast.

And while this inequitable trade is interesting in itself for what it says about human as well as supernatural nature, the issue at hand (I know, I’ve digressed again) concerns the opportunity costs of infatuation, and a useful test to determine whether seemingly deep feelings for another are true gold or fool’s gold. In other words, how can we tell the difference between infatuation and love?  I believe that Archangel’s Shadows provides some significant signposts to authenticity in this arena for those of us who care to look.

As described by Ms. Singh, infatuation, usually coupled with unhealthy dependency, robs us of ambition and the desire to do something with our lives.  Infatuation is an all-consuming feeling that takes over our thinking and infuses our bodies with the chemical equivalent of a particularly good high.  Infatuation causes us to become completely distracted from reality, just like the characters in this book who fail to recognize how wholly they are being used until they no longer serve their purpose (because they are too old to appeal any longer), when they are discarded, although they are convinced it is all out of love. Infatuation blinds us much more effectively than love, in fact.  But more than being blind, fool’s love binds our hands behind our backs and serves to ensure that we accomplish nothing of note, because there is no space in the infatuated brain and heart for activity that does not involve the object of our infatuation.

By contrast, true love encourages our personal growth, and supports our being or becoming the best and most complete person we can be. True love does not distract, it enhances our lives, and serves as the foundation from which to take risks, personal, professional, and emotional, because we feel secure in our base, supported in our endeavors. Real love does not result in the abandonment of our dreams; real love helps us to make those dreams a reality. Real love magnifies reality while infatuation and dependency dissipate reality.  It is an excellent metric by which to evaluate one’s feelings.  By its fruit the tree is known.

In Archangel’s Shadows, the false feelings generated between predatory vampires and their cattle are contrasted with the true bonds between Ashwini and Janvier. Their love broadens and deepens their respective life’s passions and purpose.  When love is real, dependence is transformed into intimacy-creating vulnerability when we can reveal our innermost selves to the other and be safe and cherished for all that we are. False love often finds us trying to conceal various aspects of ourselves that we perceive to be less than attractive or acceptable.

So, as always, I am indebted to one of my favorite authors for illuminating reality through the medium of fantasy. There is so much depth to be explored, and so much rich reality to be pondered.  And all of this reality and expansion of my consciousness demonstrates clearly, to me at least, that my abiding passion for these books is true love, not merely infatuation or dependence. Because while these wonderful stories do help divert and entertain me, allowing me to put down the burdens of my life for a brief time, I also emerge from this diversion more informed and more aware than I was when I started. True love and grand passion together.  Yippee! 

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not all who wander are lost.png

When I was young, I was fairly lost.  I was lost in the sense that I didn’t really know who I was or what I liked or even what I cared about.  I was lost insofar as I had no real ability to stand up for myself except with friends who were even more lost than I was, and those relationships look fairly abusive and manipulative in hindsight.  Not pretty.  In my defense, no one ever told me how to find myself, nor was that an activity encouraged by my highly controlling mother.

But there are degrees of lost, and in retrospect, the place where I lost myself the most completely was in my romantic relationships.  Seemed like I couldn’t wait to hand over my personality and all of my free will to the man of the hour who I made my Svengali as I happily assumed the role of Galatea.  The theme of the dominant alpha male is one I continue to reexamine.  It intrigues me.  One question that I ponder with regularly is how to maintain my own identity in the context of a relationship in which I feel inferior in some way.  This is one of my favorite themes in paranormal fantasy, where the alpha males are often exaggerated and the women who love them need to figure out how to keep from being sucked into that event horizon.

Three of my very favorite books/series explore this theme with mastery (there are many others as well), but the ones that come immediately to mind are Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound (Dragos and Pia), Nalini Singh’s Angel’s Blood (Raphael and Elena) and the Fever Books by Karen Marie Moning (Barrons And Mac).  I love, love, love these books, and I think the main reason is because these women succeed beautifully in maintaining themselves in relationships with men (beings, really- none of them are actually men) who are much, much older, more powerful and very used to the world accommodating itself to their desires and needs.  In each case, part of the attraction for the male is that their chosen woman does not back down in the face of their displeasure or even wrath.   And it takes some huge, brass, hairy stones to do that.  The fact that this sort of courage and intelligence comes in a beautiful, feminine package is a revelation for each of these males.

So let’s explore that “reality” further: that which attracts these males who exist at the very top of the food chain is that these women are most definitely not falling over themselves to people please or to give the big man everything he demands.  They have the intestinal fortitude to be who they are and stand their ground without succumbing to the pressure of acquiescing to everything their stranger, more powerful partner wants.

I absolutely love reading about women who embrace these relationships and then go on to thrive within them.  I can’t say I’ve seen a ton of that in real life, however.  It is such a difficult feat to stand in our own power without aggression or defiance or the need to try to dominate others ourselves.  But to be who we are and let the other be who he (or she) is and to negotiate a path where we can both stand together—together—that is quite the rare achievement.

And their achievement is a fluid one—a slippery little sucker as Julia Roberts described her escargot in Pretty Woman.  To stand together in mutual power while each maintains his or her own personal power over time is even more difficult.  It takes consciousness, respect, tolerance, patience, compassion, and strength.  And to be successful, both partners need to embody these superior personality characteristics and avoid the temptation to be petty, or controlling, or demeaning, or demanding, or inappropriately needy or aloof.  Oh my God, I’m exhausted just writing about the myriad requirements of a healthy, vibrant relationship. 

But, I adore reading about them because it provides me with some guidance, direction, and inspiration to achieve the same in my own life and relationships.

The dance of dominance in any relationship involves some fancy footwork for sure.  I know that in my own marriage we work very hard to compromise where we can, but to stand firm when an issue touches on a fundamental philosophy.  Of course, one hopes that when choosing a life partner we not only seek to look deeply into each other’s eyes, but that we are also looking for a partner who is looking out into the world in a similar fashion.  Holding complimentary world views is an important element of successful partnership.

Another important element is the ability—and the willingness—to learn from each other and to defer to each other’s strengths.  These are particularly poignant characteristics of the relationships depicted between my favorite fictional characters by Thea Harrison, Nalini Singh, and Karen Marie Moning.  Each of these amazing authors’ uber alpha males are willing to learn from their females and to be changed by their love.  And witnessing that evolution is the very best aspect of these amazing books.  I am able to come back to my marriage (and other relationships) enriched by the experience of spending time with these magnificent make believe characters.  And all of this reading is way cheaper than marriage counseling or psychotherapy, so I feel inspired and clever at the same time.

Life in the Zone

Life in the zone taking chances.jpg

I’m enjoying Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series and I've been struck by one of the major themes running through all the entries. In each book, the protagonists, both Psy (who are cerebral beings conditioned not to feel emotions) and Changelings (shapeshifters who are very passionate and physical by nature) are called to leave their comfort zones again and again. Sometimes the foray outside the zone is incremental and sometimes it is exponential. But however they get there, and the how and why is what makes up the plot, of course, they all have to go. And the process is both fascinating and instructive.

What is our comfort zone?  I think most of us don't really know. I think we go through life living in it and avoiding going out because we experience leaving as discomfort. And who wants to be uncomfortable? Like when the doctor says, no it isn't going to hurt, it's just "uncomfortable".  Yeah, right. I've heard that before and it's a crock of you know what.

But sometimes, life forces us from our comfort zones, just like in Ms. Singh's entertaining novels. In most paranormal fantasy, the circumstances that require a foray beyond the zone usually involve life and death in a way that that leaves little room for decisions. In the current book, Hostage to Pleasure (OK, at this point I'm repeating the titles just as a hoot-- hostage to pleasure?  Really?!  I mean, hokey titles are fun, I guess, but we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel here, folks). Anyway, back to my comfort zone (actually, getting caught reading a book called "Hostage to Pleasure" would definitely take me out of my comfort zone--oh, wait-- everyone now knows I read smut, so it's OK!).

Now I'm really going to get back to the subject at hand—comfort. We all seek it and seek to avoid its opposite. In fact, human beings will go to great lengths to stay comfortable, including tolerating the devil you know, a concept I understand in theory, but not in reality. Why would you take certain hell for a possible reprieve?  Even if the possibility of worse also exists?  But we do, almost every time. Because, as a species, we are risk averse. We don't like to take chances. But it is in the chances that growth and progress can occur.

In the current book, Ashaya, a Psy, is called—repeatedly—to leave the comfort zone of shields and silence that have kept her safe her entire life and protected the son she loves. Her putative Changeling lover, Dorian, pushes her to creep ever-closer to experiences and emotions that are wholly new for her. She is terrified, excruciatingly uncomfortable and totally overwhelmed by his love and his hunger for her. We are meant to feel her conflict and her inevitable approach to the event horizon. And we do. Ms. Singh does an excellent job of conveying the contradictory arguments and counterarguments that take place in Ashaya's mind. We are right there with her as she contemplates her jump off the cliff. And we also get to feel vicariously the rewards of leaving the zone, which in her case are both sensual and practical.

I was certainly entertained. In many ways. And, as these books so often do, it made me think. And what I thought was, wow, Ashaya is so lucky. And not just because she has a lover who actually stopped to consider what it would take for a woman like her to be sexually satisfied (which, in her case, included engaging her intellect as well as her body). But also because there was someone to push her out of her comfort zone so she could become more of the person she was meant to be.

If you read the book, and I sincerely hope you will, as this series, like Ms. Singh's Guild Hunter series, is an outstanding example of paranormal fantasy, you might think to yourself that Ashaya is pushed too hard toward leaving the zone. And while it is fun to read about, it's not clear that many of us want to be pushed that hard. It could feel like the choice was being made for us. But we always have choices. For me, I am profoundly grateful that there is someone or even more than one someone who pushes me to be a better person. And not just my therapist.

I think we all need a push out of our comfort zones, and it is incumbent on us to find people to play that role in our lives. But we tend to shun people like that, or rebuff their efforts to help us grow. I'm definitely guilty of that. I prefer to be the one pushing people out of their Lazy-Boys, not the one with a heel firmly planted in her seat.

But there is another way to be inspired to move beyond easy street and out into the places that will challenge us to evolve:  we can read!!  As I have worked to share with my Facebook and Twitter followers, reading is where we to go to expand our minds, become more empathetic people, reduce stress and also to be inspired to change. Change involves leaving our comfort zones. No way around that. But I think it becomes easier to do after I read about it in my beloved fiction books. What do you think?

Pick up a book, call a friend for support, make an appointment with your therapist, but however it happens, it's time to move beyond the zone. Grow!  Change!  The devil you know is still a demonic bastard. Take a chance that there is an angel just around the next bend.

Ask and You Shall Receive. . . Sometimes

Ask and you shall receive rubber band.jpg

This morning, I was thinking about how much easier it is these days to ask for what I wantfrom my husband, my friends, my professional relationships—even strangers, such as when I have a particularly complex food or beverage order (thank you, Starbucks).  Nowadays, it’s OK to make like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, and be as particular as we want in the precision of our preferences.  Today, it feels a lot safer to be picky, and for some of us, it’s even a badge of honor, or a symbol of recognition and secretly-nurtured special status when the barista remembers that we like a half-caf skinny latte with four pumps and whip cream (not really, but I’ve heard others order such things. My taste in coffee, like clothes, runs more toward basic black).

Anyway, back to asking for—and sometimes getting—what we want.  This used to be an activity fraught with danger and anxiety for me.  There were so many levels to my fears and lack of confidence that I believed I neither deserved nor could remotely expect to have my desires honored, so much so that I was loathe to even ask.  Asking for something specific, or even simply acknowledging my preferences was a very risky business for me.  In my family, having opinions other than my mother’s or preferences she didn’t share was a complete non-starter.  So I learned not to express my renegade thoughts, and eventually, I wasn’t even aware I had them anymore.  Tough stuff. Reminds me a bit of the conditioning of the Psy into Silence in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series.  But, I’m straying off the path again.  Need to snap that rubber band around my wrist, apparently.

So, asking for what I want and need by no means comes naturally to me.  In fact, it took years to excavate first the fact that I might actually want different things than those who loved me (“love” being a subjective term in this case, but we can discuss the consequences of toxic “love” at another time), and then even longer to have the courage to tell anyone about it.

And, interestingly, all of these fairly deep ruminations were dredged up as I read about Elena and Raphael in the Guild Hunter Series by Nalini Singh.  One of the reasons I love these books is the way Singh develops the relationship between a mortal woman and a millennia-old archangel who basically rules the world.  The books are essentially about the power of authentic love to transform us, and what that transformation looks like.  So that is one very thought-provoking element that we’ll explore later.  The other part of this, though, is how well Singh is able to illustrate the strength it takes to fight for ourselves in a relationship that threatens to overwhelm us.  And the courage that is reflected in the risks we take to stand our ground in asking for—repeatedly if necessary—what we need and what we want to make a relationship work.

As it often is in fiction, this situation is magnified by the circumstances in the novel so that we can better examine it.  In the case of Elena and Raphael, we are watching two inherently unequal beings trying to forge a partnership based on mutual respect, mutual sacrifice, and mutual benefit.  That is a fairly tall order in this situation.  Raphael has never been human.  He is thousands of years old, and he is one of the ten most powerful beings in the world.  This is not a guy used to hearing the word “no”.  This is a common theme in paranormal fiction, where the concept of the alpha male who is powerful, rich, highly intelligent and gorgeous is redefined by supernatural abilities, including flight, superhuman strength, mind reading, mesmerizing, etc., which enhance the package.

How would it be possible for a woman to hold her own in such a relationship? How can she stand up to someone when a part of her just wants to melt into him completely? How does the person who is, or feels, one down in the relationship stand eye to eye with the other?

I don’t know about you, but I can totally relate to this.  There have been so many occasions where I looked over at the person next to me, or across from me—and this includes friends, lovers, and professional colleague—and thought to myself, “I am totally outclassed. This person is way out of my league,” at which point, every instinct I have urges me to make myself small and insignificant and to elevate this other person to Godhood so that I can merely follow his or her every lead.  Disagree? Point out that he or she is wrong about something? Ask for something I need that this individual has not deigned to give me unbidden? Are you nuts? And risk becoming an object of pity, derision or wrath?  Or, most frightening of all, of becoming completely and totally invisible and ignored? NFW. Not happening.  What if the person thinks I’m stupid, or crazy or too demanding or simply too much trouble? What if he decides that I’m too annoying, like a fly that repeatedly lands on your arm.  We tend to swat flies away, or kill them outright.  Who would want to be that fly? Not me, that’s for sure.

Given all of these painful perceptions (that may or may not reflect reality in any way, mind you) the thought of standing up for myself in certain relationships inspired tremendous fear.  Especially in love relationships.  Because what happens if we ask for something and we don’t get it? Do we leave? Do we threaten to leave? Do we stay and nurture a resentment? It is in the asking that we take the leap.  Which is hard enough.  But, as I’ve quoted elsewhere, in the inimitable words of J.R. Ward, the leap isn’t the hard part, it’s the fall that will kill you.

What if we fall? Will we be irreparably broken? Will the relationship that we risked ruining by asking for what we want or need be damaged for good? And what happens then?

This is hard shit.  Don’t kid yourself.  And sometimes, it’s a leap too far.  But it’s important to ask ourselves, what is it we really want or desperately need that we’re too afraid to ask for? Even if we’re just asking ourselves, it’s still a scary question.

What Women Want

What women want.jpg

I have often wondered-- to anyone who will listen-- why more men don't read women's romance novels to get some pointers. I mean, really, men are always complaining about how incomprehensible women are and how they never know what women are thinking or what women want. To that I say, "Poppycock!"  There is mountain of information out there for anyone who cares to look for it. And I'm not just talking about studies and scholarly works, although many of those exist as well. I'm talking about the myriad books written by women, for women about women. Women know what women want. And we are exceptionally willing to share that information with anyone willing to make the effort to pay attention.

An excellent, though fictional, example of a man who takes his research seriously and then applies it with heart-stopping efficacy is Judd Lauren in Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series. His story is called Caressed by Ice (and yes, I totally realize that these ridiculous titles are a massive deterrent to men ever picking up these books!). But I loved the fact that although he was a virgin (most Psy are, as they have eschewed emotion and passion, so sex is definitely out of the equation) but he has taken the time to learn about how to pleasure a woman. I like that in a man. Diana Gabaldon once wrote in her Outlander series that virginity in men was underrated as what they lacked in experience or technique they more than made up for in enthusiasm. I've always remembered that reference and smiled. And I smiled even more when I read Judd's story. There is a lot of material in that book for men who are looking for useful tips.

Anyhoo, back to the subject at hand, what women want and why men are so generally reluctant or incapable of giving it to them. In my travels, I've spoken to hundreds of women, most of whom sing the same refrain-- their men are fairly clueless about how to make them happy-- romantically, sexually, domestically and even professionally. As far as I can tell, most men have no idea how to make love or seduce a woman.  Have men never wondered why so many women have learned to emulate Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally?  Why is this a necessary skill for savvy women?  For a couple of reasons, all of which have to do with protecting the male ego and/or ending the tedium of sex as soon as possible.

From my perspective, it is never OK to fake an orgasm, for a variety of sound reasons. Firstly, if you fake it, he'll never learn. Secondly, it rewards poor performance and who wants to do that?  And lastly, it is a big fat lie that corrodes intimacy between two people. So just say no, not, "Yes, yes, oh, God, yes," unless you really mean it. 

So what might men learn if they picked up the same books I love to read?  First, they will learn that Ms. Gabaldon was onto something when she extolled the virtues of enthusiasm. Every woman loves a man who is totally into her body with genuine enthusiasm-- defined as intense and eager enjoyment, interest and approval. Women want you to notice all of them--not just the high points. But those as well. And we'd like a little more specificity in your comments other than, "great rack."

Every woman I've ever met, even the least vain or self-absorbed ones, are proud or pleased with some part or parts of their bodies. We have studied ourselves in mirrors and inspected the parts we can see without one.  We want men to appreciate the parts of ourselves we think are pretty--or at least adequate. It could be our hair, our skin, our eyes, or our cheekbones, our shoulders or the way our hipbones meet our thighs. But there is something. Or more than one thing. And that's what we want you to notice and celebrate.

My beloved fantasy books also tell me that women want to be appreciated for more than their physical attributes. They want men to notice, comment on and engage them about their interests, accomplishments, aspirations and ambitions. Women want men to appreciate them for who they are in terms of the positive aspects of their personalities, and to feel confident that our men can tolerate and cope with the more challenging aspects that make up the complete, real woman—not some video game avatar or mail-order bride who submits to a man’s every whim.  Real women have imperfections, just like Gerry Bartlett’s vampires.  To communicate a willingness and ability to do this, however, men need to notice these things first. Which involves observation, analysis and research. We want you to ask questions. And actually listen to and process the answers.

Women want you to learn about their particular erogenous zones. In every single paranormal romance I read, the men lavish endless attention on necks, calves, hip bones, jaw lines and the small of a woman's back, among other places. I've not heard about a lot of real men who do the same, have you? Real men tend to go straight for the good stuff, so to speak. We want our bodies to be wonderlands for our men. Not amusement parks or the local drive through. 

Women want to feel like our men are barely hanging onto any semblance of control with us. Women want to live in Rihanna’s song that tells men we want you to make us feel like we're “the only girl in the world for you, like we're the only ones who you'll ever love, the only ones who know your heart, the only ones who make you feel like a man.” Getting the picture here?

We want men to act as if the passion they feel for us is threatening to overwhelm them at any moment. We women want to be responsible for driving our men absolutely wild. And when we don't, when sex becomes an exercise similar to watching the Karate Kid (wax on, wax off), or worse, wham, bam, thank you, ma'am, most of us start going over the grocery list while they finish up.

But men don't read these books, and therefore remain clueless about what women want. Silly boys, these tricks are most definitely not for kids.

Cold as Ice

I've returned to reading Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series. I'm reading the third installment, Caressed by Ice (really?!  Can we not come up with less cheesy titles, please?). I love these books, almost as much as the author's Guild Hunter series, which are among my all-time favorites. The premise of the Psy-Changeling books, like the premise of the Guild Hunters series, is extremely original and the plots are interesting and unpredictable (not how things end, of course, as these books follow a formula that results in an inevitable HEA. But that is not only OK, it's one of the reasons I and so many like me love this genre--we want happy endings. We enjoy the illusion of control that these novels represent. If you've been reading my Facebook page--and please, please do and tell your friends--then you know I scour the web for articles that explain that reading reduces stress and relaxes us.) OK, I've digressed quite a bit from the subject at hand. More so than usual. Forgive me and please keep reading about the very fascinating Psy-Changeling world. To summarize, the Psy are masters of their own minds, having developed their mental and intellectual capacities to the fullest extent possible. These folks are masters of their domain and totally in control.  Unfortunately, what they figured out was that all of this mental might came with a hefty price tag for a significant portion of the population: insanity. And when super-smart people start losing their marbles, the result is dangerous for everyone. The solution was to turn everyone into a Vulcan and condition all the emotions out of existence--and therefor the potential for madness (or at least most of the potential, except for those pesky sociopaths).  So what you are left with are cold, calm, calculating people whose judgment is never clouded by emotion and whose women are never bothered by PMS, apparently. 

On the other hand, we have the Changelings, who have gone in the opposite direction and embraced their animal natures to the point that they become animals-- they are, in fact, shapeshifters. These folks are physicality personified, and they are filled with emotion and passion, which they express through their bodies--changelings crave touch while Psy avoid it like the plague.

So, pretty interesting stuff. And when they get together, unwillingly of course, it kind of reminds me of Amok Time run amok (stop rolling your eyes-- that was a pretty clever Star Trek reference). And the books explore the mutual impact both species have on each other as they come together in love and self-interest.

I really love  these books, and I think a part of my fascination is that I am acutely uncomfortable with--and therefore attracted to--people who don't show their emotions. This is because I'm most definitely a wear your heart on your sleeve kind of gal. You know the type--I almost never hold back. As my mother would say, if it's on my lung, it's on my tongue. I have a hard time practicing verbal restraint. I have no poker face. My eyebrows are constantly encroaching on my hairline and I do a mean imitation of Edvard Munch's The Scream--as in OMG, NFW, LMFAO. 

So, when I am confronted by people who keep their thoughts and emotions much closer to the chest, it kind of makes me crazy. Perhaps not Jack Nicholson in The Shining crazy, but not too far off.  I hate not knowing what people are thinking and feeling. It makes me nuts when these ice queens and kings adopt a supercilious attitude of "aren't you the cute little out of control psycho?"  Their lack of affect seems to scream at me, "I'm so much better than you because you can't even get a grip on yourself much less anyone or anything else."

I find myself fantasizing about stabbing Mr. and Ms. Spock with a fork to see if they bleed green blood. Figuratively, of course. Have you ever felt that way?  Don't you sometimes wonder what it would take to make someone like this get excited?  Or even slightly agitated?  I'm sure this is the allure behind the prim and proper librarian whipping off her glasses and letting down her hair to become a sexually voracious hellion.   We who are more emotional want to entice these Stepford wives to lose control  Utterly and completely. 

And sometimes I'm really not a very nice person and I become deliberately provocative to see if I can't shatter the wall of ice that seems to be rising in front of me like I should expect to see Jon Snow at any moment.  Just to see if I can. Usually, I can.  Not something I am terribly proud of, but there you have it. 

Because restrained emotions can be interpreted as a lack of feeling, which is hurtful and feels like rejection. And who wants to feel rejected?  Not me, that's who.  And while I can tell myself intellectually that the other feels as strongly as I do, it just doesn't seem that way.  And it is so unfair that as I am busy expressing and emoting all over the place so that others are never in doubt about my feelings, but I’m not getting any of that in return.

Unfortunately, I've found that it is the most Pyrrhic of victories to succeed in provoking such self-contained people to overflow their carefully constructed barriers. No good ever comes of it, unless you are living in a Nalini Singh novel, in which case breaking through the ice cold obstacles to reveal the passionate and possessive nature below always works out well for her protagonists. 

For the rest of us, I think the thing to do is remember that we are all different but that we all share the same humanity.  Just because we don't all express ourselves in the same way doesn't mean that we don't all feel the same things. I think we probably do. Still waters run deep and all of that.

And, as I continue to read the Psy-Changeling series, I think I will continue to enjoy the virtual victory of watching these arctic individuals thaw. I can live vicariously through the Changelings as they do something in the pages of my beloved books that doesn't necessarily work as well in real life. Because I've learned to dig and pick and poke and prod only at my peril. I've also learned to take people as they are and to let them share with me in a way that works for them. Most of the time. When that doesn't work, I read Nalini’s Singh’s books and learn to live with disappointment.  Or, I play Foreigner loudly on my wireless speaker and hope someone takes the hint.  

On Being Human

On being human.jpg

In all of the paranormal fantasy I read, the existence of the supernatural serves as a foil to highlight what it means to be human. Currently, I’m reading Angel’s Blood in the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh. This is a particularly clever series with a very interesting world inhabited by angels, archangels, and vampires. Definitely different from many of the other series I’ve read. One of the best parts of this book is the description of the archangel Raphael, one of the major players in the series. To begin with, he’s inhumanly beautiful, of course. He’s also powerful and has a number of supernatural abilities, not the least of which is the gift of flight. He can also throw fireballs out of his hands. Not too shabby.   Oh, and he can shed angel dust that acts as an aphrodisiac. Orgasm on stick.

So, of course, he is wildly attractive to our heroine, Elena, who is a Vampire Hunter (in many of my favorite books, the female lead is a warrior, a strong and successful hunter, which is something I love and about which I will have a lot more to say in the future). But, Elena is quite hesitant to get involved with Rafael precisely because of his extraordinary attributes.   He is so clearly superhuman that it gives Elena pause.

The inter-species nature of this pairing certainly isn’t anything new in paranormal fiction. Often, when a supernatural being chooses to mate with a human, the human has a little something extra, like Sookie’s telepathy or Michaela’s fae- seeing ability in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. In the book I’m now reading, Elena is ”Hunter-born,” with the ability to scent vampires, which comes in handy when hunting them. The message here is that it requires a little something-something to run with the big dogs, which is probably true in real life as well. 

Today, however, I’m interested in exploring the inhumanity of the archangels in the Guild Hunter series to see what it has to say about our own human condition. One of the effects of immortality, or near immortality (archangels can only be killed by other archangels), is that the older they get the less they can relate to what it’s like to be human or mortal. Apparently, being human is synonymous with caring, compassion, and empathy (I’m not sure about this, given the nightly news these days, but we’ll go with that premise, for now). Without exception, and in all of these fantasy books, inhumanity is equated with apathy, and it is almost always the price of immortality. Unless the supernatural beings can be saved by love– often the love of a human who shows them the path back from the brink—they are lost—monstrosities without conscience or sympathy.

In Angel’s Blood, Raphael asks himself, whether the humanity that Elena glimpses in him will be enough to save him. It’s an interesting concept isn’t it? It’s also a good question to ask ourselves: are we human enough to save ourselves? Have we nurtured that heart of connection and compassion that is the gift of our humanity? Or have we covered it up with anger and bitterness and a burning sense of the unfairness of the world? Humanity in this definition is the ability to think past ourselves. To put the needs of others ahead of our own.  To sacrifice our wants, desires, pleasure, and ease for a greater purpose. Because that is what immortals seem to lose over the course of their long lives: the ability to be unselfish, the concept that in selflessness we actually get more of what we really want and need in life.

Many of us forget this, myself included. For those of us who are partnered, we often begin the relationship with lots willingness to put our partner’s needs ahead of our own. We wake up first to bring our beloved coffee in bed; we remember to say thank you for the daily courtesies (which we actually practice); we are willing to engage in activities we otherwise wouldn’t, because our love enjoys them.

But then that changes over time, as if the passage of days dilutes our humanity, just like in my beloved books. The longer the relationship, the less inclined we are to be selfless and the more self-centered we become. We stop doing all of the little niceties in which we delighted during the courtship and honeymoon phases. We decide not to bother to make an extra stop after work to pick up our partner’s dry cleaning, reasoning that we’re tired and that they can do it themselves. We stop going to hockey games or romcom movies because, hey, we never liked them anyway. And in doing all this, we chip away at our humanity and give way to that which is less human, but nevertheless resides in all of us– our low selves, our animal natures, whatever we want to call it.

So, we must ask our own reflections, are we human enough to save ourselves from the fate of the immortals? Can we nurture our humanity and fan the flames of our passions? I don’t know, to be honest. It is so hard to keep humanity alive amidst the daily demands of the march of days. But we need to try. We need not to go gentle into that good night. We need to hold onto the parts that make us human. Which includes an inexorable drive towards death, reminding us that time is fleeting, and we may not have tomorrow. Now is the time to embrace our humanity and save ourselves.  Because none of us is going to live forever.  And who would want to act like we were, anyway?

Anne and the no good, horrible, very bad day

Yesterday wasn’t a very good day. First, I was disappointed by some one’s greed, when I thought he was a lot more altruistic. Then, I had a series of meetings that made me feel like a total failure at work, capped off by a dinner during which my discomfort manifested itself as diarrhea of the mouth.  I was mortified. I’m thinking of moving to Australia.

So today I feel like I have an emotional hangover and I have close to zero desire to get out of bed and face my day. I’m feeling pretty certain it will suck as badly as yesterday, and probably my hair won’t cooperate, and I will have nothing to contribute to my work meetings, and I’ll get spinach in my teeth and no one will tell me for an hour. Yup, best to stay in bed and finish Archangel’s Kiss, by Nalini Singh. But wait, if I’m going to read I’m going to think. What would Elena do in my situation? Would she stay in bed and let her disappointment dictate her behavior? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m sure she wouldn’t. She would get up and charge into her day, not letting herself be distracted by the negative naysayers in her head. I really need to channel my inner Elena right about now.

It really is easy to get discouraged and throw in the towel. Some days, it seems so much more seductive to give up than to go on– even when the choice is less dramatic than life and death and just involves suiting up and showing up to the reality of our lives.

Right now, my brain is playing an endless loop of my pathetic performance at last night’s dinner. If I had put my foot in my mouth any more often, I would have died of starvation because I wouldn’t have had any room for the food they served– prepared by a private chef, no less. I felt outclassed and uncomfortable, and my go-to tic is to talk too much.

Again, I’m thinking of Elena, a newly-Made angel just joining an exclusive club whose members have been together for centuries.  Talk about feeling like a fish out of water. But that feeling doesn’t discount her own sense of self-worth– or at least not enough to back down from taking her place among them – no matter how out of place it feels.

That didn’t happen for me yesterday. I really felt out of step the entire day, and today that displacement is coloring my entire perspective. It’s both uncomfortable and unpleasant and I just want it all to go away. And, of course, it will. Probably quite soon. That’s what Elena and her determination and drive have to teach me. Even when we feel like frauds because we don’t feel like we deserve our space amidst the angels– or even among those two didn’t totally screw up yesterday– we can I feel like we’ve earned our position—just by continuing to show up even when we don’t want to. Elena keeps coming back for more, bruised and battered, maybe, but getting stronger for having taken the hits and not letting them keep her down.

Can I do the same? I’m not really feeling it right now, I’ve got to say. But I keep telling myself that feelings are not facts, and I can certainly fake it till I make it today. So what if I’m not feeling it? Does it really matter? Do I need to make that relevant in my decision to take action? No I don’t. Once again, as frequently seems to be the case for me, a little perspective—complements of my favorite fantasy novels—is in order. Yesterday is over and today is a new day. I made some mistakes and I endured some disappointments. Life will go on. I can get up and do what I need to do today. Because moving to Australia is probably going to involve too much paperwork.