Patricia Briggs

I Think, Therefore I Am


I just finished Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs. This was by far the best of the Mercy Thompson books, which is always a delight as a series gets older. No calling it in here.  Ms. Briggs expands the world and the cast of characters to Europe and fills in a lot of the backstory, which is always fun. And because Mercy spends the vast majority of this story either on the run or in captivity, it allows the other characters to step up and show us what they've got. And again, because Mercy spends a lot of time as a prisoner, I get some food for thought and an opportunity to think about thinking. While she's hanging out in a magically spelled cage, Mercy observes that philosophy must have been started by prisoners. She figured that with nothing else to do but think, these ancient jailbirds were able to develop a system for thinking about thinking and explore their love of wisdom—hence philosophy. It's an interesting thought. I'm not a prisoner, thankfully, but I see the point that Mercy is trying to make. With all the responsibilities and activities in our lives to distract us, it can be almost impossible to think effectively, much less willingly. We have no time or mental bandwidth to engage in productive or speculative thought. But there is a way that doesn’t involve incarceration to find the hours and headspace to engage in deep thought:  vacation! Vacation offers the time and space to unwind and unburden allowing our minds to cogitate. Which leads, of course, to our favorite philosopher's signature saying, "Cogito ergo sum."  Let's think about this for a moment, shall we?

I'm on vacation. Glorious, relaxing, life affirming vacation with the hubs and without the rug rats. Who are hardly rolling around on the floor these days, but are, instead, aging their parents prematurely as they do what all teenagers do. Even good boys like ours. So we've escaped for a few precious days to relax, rejuvenate and recharge. And in doing all of these things, I've made time to think, to philosophize and consider whether Descartes was correct.

Does my being depend on my thinking? There is certainly a school of thought (ha ha) that elevates the mind above all else and crowns thinking king, and it exists largely in the western canon of philosophy and literature. But there is a competing theory that challenges Descartes' formula. It's one promulgated by yogis and monks in orange robes the world over, as well as others, I'm sure. This philosophy stipulates that the point of life, the endgame, if you will, is to realize that we are not, in fact, our thoughts. That our thoughts, rather than being that which define our being, are that which detract from accessing our being. It seems that these are mutually exclusive ways of looking at the world, but perhaps, if we think long enough, we can reconcile these dueling definitions of essential self.

According to the more eastern approach, the purpose of life is to quiet our thoughts so as to move beyond them to our essence, which is not our thoughts, but that which makes us who we are. The goal is to watch our thoughts, as images that flit across a private screen, or to listen to the monologue of a vaguely interesting, but clearly delusional person. As we become the witness instead of the judge or defendant in this courtroom drama, we begin to see that our thoughts are ephemeral and inconsequential to life and to self. That delving deeper below our thinking mind is where we will discover Truth, of the absolute variety.

But, as Hamlet so eloquently put it, therein lies the rub (to be perfectly accurate he said, "There's the rub."). The beauty—and joy—of thinking is that it confirms our individuality, our sense of our own specialness. In turn, our own sense of specialness resides in our egos. The yogis and the monks and even our priests and rabbis tell us that we must overcome our egos in order to find paradise or enlightenment in the next life or simply to avoid suffering in this one. In this theory, it is in the territory beyond thought that we find union, the merging of our essence with that of the Universe and the divine, the understanding that we are all one in our essence and that we are not separate. You know, the good stuff that we are promised, just beyond the bend.

But a little separation is good for the soul, or at least for those parts of ourselves that must live in the world. We need the in-between space to co-create ourselves. "We" become "I" so that sometime later in the future, perhaps, we can become "we" again. It's an interesting process; first we are born and must, for reasons of healthy development, attach appropriately and properly to our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Then, in adolescence, we individuate and emerge from our chrysalis as—individuals. In our 20s, if we're both lucky and good, we succeed in figuring out who we are, or co-creating ourselves, depending on our beliefs in this area, so that by the time we get to our prime, we're operating out of a firm foundation of self confidence and a strong self identity.

Then, if we're on the Carl Jung or Jesus Christ life plan, we're supposed to spend the second half of our lives, from about 35 forward, giving ourselves away—self emptying—contributing to the greater good and to our fellows. Phew! It's exhausting, all this living. But wait!  There's more!

There is the task of self-forgetting. After we've done all this thinking and philosophizing, whether in jail or on vacation (and I know which one I'm choosing), and self creating and contributing, we're supposed to let all of that go (according to the yogis and the monks—the eastern mind, rather than its western counterpart). We're supposed to dissolve the ego and find the Truth—that all of this thinking was designed to take us to the place beyond thought, where we can take our place in the cosmos among the stardust, and, knowing our work here is done, step off the stage. A surcease of thinking and of being.

So, where does that leave us? Who the fuck knows? Lost in thought?  Lost in space?  Meditating to relieve ourselves from thinking?  I'm not sure. I will think about it.

Bad Hombres and Nasty Women


Note:  This is a shamelessly partisan post. I am viscerally, deeply opposed to Donald Trump and an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton. So if that offends you, stop reading now. I'm reading the new Anita Blake book by Laurell K. Hamilton, Crimson Death. I want to be Anita Blake. I also want to be Mac Lane, Jane Yellowrock, Mercy Thompson, and Meredith Gentry. These are nasty, nasty women in the very best ways possible. And they hook up with some pretty bad hombres, which works for me.

This election has provided endless fodder for Saturday Night Live, and I’ve laughed along with everyone else (except for Donald, of course, who has no sense of humor, but I digress). But there are real issues here and it is deeply disturbing that the American populace is becoming inured to each fresh revelation of the revolting actions and attitudes of a presidential candidate who commands almost 40% of the vote.  But beyond all of that anxiety-producing reality, there are some truly ugly truths about attitudes toward women that have emerged. And while these truths need to see the light of day so the shadows can be banished, it is a painful process for those of us who remember and know what men—not all, of course, but many—think of us and do to us with impunity.

For almost 30 years I worked in the male-dominated field of national security studies, analysis and policy. I worked at the Pentagon for almost 20 years. Within the macho world of Warcraft, aka the American military industrial complex, many men are pigs on the order of Donald Trump. Men don't have to be famous to think they can get away with ogling, touching, grabbing, propositioning and speaking offensively to women. They just have to have a modicum of power.

If I had a dollar for every time I was the subject of inappropriate, vulgar discussions and/or questions, I'd be rich. If I had ten dollars for every time a male colleague came to my hotel room, or put his hands on me (if you wouldn't put your hands on the small of a male colleague's back to "guide" him toward the door, why is it okay to touch a woman in that manner?  Or, if you wouldn't put your hands on a man's shoulders for an unsolicited shoulder massage, why do you think you can do it to me?), I'd be Trump rich. And my bad experiences are probably mild compared to many. Sad.

I have been subjected to sexual harassment and sexual assault. No one was ever punished or even reprimanded for these actions against me. And the worst part—the absolutely worst part—is that I never expected the perpetrators to be rebuked. This is the true tragedy. I figured what millions of girls and women just like me figured: 1) there was nothing I could do; it was the price of doing business in a male-dominated world; 2) to complain or make waves would only serve to punish me, because if I didn't lose my job, I would be the bitch who got good old Jimmy in trouble (but not too much trouble, of course—he would still have a job and the respect of his fellows; I would be forever labeled a troublemaker who couldn't be trusted to do the right thing; and 3) nothing would change, so why bother? 

And all of that is only part of the problem. The other part is that young women were and are raised to believe (or taught by the entertainment and advertising industries) that their greatest worth resides in how they look and how sexually appealing they are to men. As a result, we dress to show off our wares and cultivate our feminine "wiles" to trick, trap and torture poor, unsuspecting men. We believe our value resides in our looks and we have to conform to societal (patriarchal) standards of beauty. Even an older, massively accomplished woman like Hillary Clinton is not immune. I'd like to meet her plastic surgeon, her hairdresser, her stylist and her makeup artist. Because as an aging, accomplished woman in the US, I’m going to need them if I want to succeed.

And then there is the tyranny of standards for female presentation, and the extreme disadvantage it creates. Panty hose, makeup, coiffure, complicated outfits, these are all time sucks. Not to mention keeping our hair colored and our wrinkles relatively smooth. Ridiculously time consuming compared to the male need to "shit, shower and shave" (as an ex-boyfriend of mine described his morning routine) before throwing on a suit and comfortable shoes and facing the day. I would have loved to wear comfortable shoes for the average of five miles a day of walking I did to, from and inside the Pentagon on a daily basis. But that wasn’t an option. Even Anita Blake is not immune from this form of male oppression. She speaks eloquently about the calculation that she and all women must make with respect to calibrating our appearances to a level of precision not seen outside of measurements used to make sure bridges don’t fall. Is my outfit too flirty? Am I showing too much skin? Not enough skin? Are the heels the right height? Am I projecting an image of sufficient power to make sure no one fucks with me, but not so much that men will feel emasculated? If that isn’t a rigged system, I don’t know what is.

And what about the culture of rape on our college campuses?  I've heard no fewer than five men tell me—with an understanding that it is horrifying (so many things to be horrified about these days)—that for college boys, "No means yes and yes means anal."  Really?  In 2016? I thought things were better than when I was in college and was raped by a date. At which time I told myself that it was my own fault for putting myself into a bad situation. And I didn't tell anyone else because I felt ashamed for being so stupid. I'm not sure things have improved since the 1980s, except that we are more aware.

This is where my beautiful, inspirational, amazing fictional heroines come in.  These women would most certainly be considered "nasty" by The Donald and all the white, Christian, heterosexual men who fear the end of their reign of world domination (which is long overdue to be overthrown). They are nasty because they are smart, and accomplished, and fierce. They own their sexuality, their power, their bad-assness. They are each she-who-shall-not-be-fucked-with and they are the kinds of women so many of us want to be.  They've got skills and strength and if some asshole tries to touch them without invitation or permission they might lose a hand. I want to be them. I want all of us to be them.





Needs and Wants

It’s been too long since I've been able to read an entire book in a day. I'd forgotten the sheer joy of being caught up in another world for hours at a time. I've been on vacation in spectacular Costa Rica (again! Lucky, I know!) and the living is easy. We came back to the place where I originally had the idea for this blog, and its magic continues to work for me and in me. I'm so grateful for the healing sounds of the surf and the fire of the sun, fueling my creative spark. It's heaven on earth. But I'm digressing, again. For my first selection, I chose Patricia Briggs' latest Mercy Thompson novel, Fire Touched. I enjoy this series, and I love how the characters are developing over the course of the stories. This book was no exception, and a particular area of development was the relationship between Mercy and her mate/husband, Adam, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack.  At one point in the story, Adam has reached the end of his rope concerning how some in his pack have treated Mercy, and calls his wolves to task. In a beautiful speech, Adam tells these wolves that Mercy doesn't need him to put food on the table or a roof over her head—she can do that herself. She doesn't need him to defend her or protect her—again, she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. "She doesn't need me to do anything except love her. Which I do." That speech pretty much melted my heart. And my first thought was, "Wow! I wish someone would make a speech like that about me." But my second thought was that it wouldn't be possible for anyone to make such a declaration about me because it wouldn't be true. I wish I could say that all I need or have ever needed from my husband was for him to love me, which he does. Unfortunately, as I thought about it, I seem to have needed a lot more from him over the years—and much of it was not appropriate to ask for, much less expect, as I clearly did. I think many of us get confused between the needing and the wanting. I think we also get confused about appropriate expectations with respect to our mates. Adam's stirring speech about Mercy made me think about all that I've thought I needed over time, and how misguided much of my perceived needs have been. And how much of a burden they have needlessly placed on my mate. Sobering thoughts.  One of the things I thought I needed from my mate was self-confidence. Mine, not his. I wanted him to love me enough so that I could love myself. I wanted him to think me beautiful—or at least beautiful enough for him, when I clearly did not believe this to be true. One of my best friends has a daughter. This girl has more self-confidence than Kanye West, without any of the narcissism or sociopathy. Neither my friend or I are sure where this unshakable belief in her own beauty and awesomeness comes from, but damn if I don't wish I could get me some of that. That lucky girl will never need a husband to validate her looks or her mojo, like I clearly did. The tragedy, of course, is that no one can give that to you, so to ask that of a partner is a fool's errand. Sad but true.

I was also convinced I needed security from my husband. I needed to know early and often that he loved me and wasn't going to leave me. Abandonment issues much?  Yep, might as well have had a sign on my head reading, "Insecurity-R-Us."  My poor darling told me many times a day how much he loved me and assured me of his fidelity and staying power. I only started to believe him about a decade into our union, after which time I worried that he would die—thereby leaving me. Rather pathetic, I know. Not to mention terribly off-putting. It's a wonder I didn't drive him away completely with my ridiculous insecurity. He was going to stay or not. He was going to live or not. And my attempts to control him and his actions almost became a self-fulfilling prophesy because of my distorted efforts to get something I needed but which he sadly could not deliver—because I needed to feel secure in myself rather than look to him for it.  Our mates cannot give us the love we needed from our parents. That ship has sailed. They cannot feed the hole in our soul that needs filling by the Divine. They cannot provide the distractions we need to anesthetize the pain of life. They cannot ameliorate the crushing weight of grief, even when we feel we need the relief so badly we demand it from them. We feel we need to be protected from the sting of failure, the discomfort and fear of illness and the work of life, sometimes. But that is not the role of a mate. 

A partner should not do for us what we should do for ourselves, even when we think need them to. No one should do that. And yet we foist these expectations on our unwitting spouses and then wonder why we are disappointed. How refreshing would it be if we only asked for love? How happy would our partners be if they could fulfill our needs and be the man (or the woman, as the case may be) we only need to love us?

When I thought about how lovely it would be to be the recipient of the speech Adam made about Mercy, it didn't occur to me until much later how amazing it would be to be able to give such a speech. What would that be like?  I can hardly imagine, but now that I've heard it, I can't unring that bell. I love the goal of only needing love from my husband, and vice versa. I may and do still want other things, but not getting what I want is a whole different ball game than not getting what I need.  One is negotiable, while the other is grounds for despair.

My goal is the former not the later – and I will work on that.


The Politics of Prejudice

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I'm enjoying a new author, Jennifer Ashley, and the first book of her Shifters Unbound series, Pride Mates. It's light and airy, mostly, and the perfect antidote to the marvelous but depressingly heavy Robin Hobb trilogy I just finished. But even when an author colors inside the lines of the paranormal fantasy genre, as Ms. Ashley does (and this is not at all a criticism, I read these books with a certain expectation of knowing what to expect), there is a depth to the best of the genre that transcends the stereotypes of strong, independent women, hot alpha males, hotter sex, and inevitable HEAs. In this case, Ms. Ashley writes about beautiful people, who happen also to change into feline and lupine alter egos (or alter bodies, really), and the decidedly not beautiful consequences of prejudice that attend their ability to transform. Ms. Ashley is not the first to explore the ugly underbelly of human hatred and the small mindedness of judgment before the fact attendant to the “other” in our society. Charlaine Harris explores the consequences of racial discrimination against the newly revealed vampires living among humans and what happens when vampires "come out of the coffin."  The inimitable Laurell Hamilton writes movingly about the prejudice experienced by those unfortunates who have been stricken with lycanthropy (the disease that causes a human to shift into a beast), and who now have no option but to let their animal natures out to play, and maybe to kill. Patricia Briggs expounds on the systematic internment of the Fae into mandatory reservations and the consequences of that decision by the federal government against an element of the population. Lilo Abernathy investigates, as a central theme of her Bluebell Kildare series, the civil unrest that occurs as a result of the antipathy between "norms," or non-magical humans, and their Gifted counterparts.

In each of these cases, the author explores the universal human need to identify a group, "them," for the sole purpose of more clearly defining "us." What a shame and a waste. But we humans do it again and again. That which is not "us" is, by definition, "them." Those who are "them" are, by extension and necessity, evil or, at a minimum, worse than "us." They are who we use to make us look and feel better about ourselves.

Are we hard-wired to hate? It seems so. Hatred of the other, which I've written about before, gives us unity, camaraderie, and a sense of shared purpose. It makes us feel like we belong—but it is a perversion of fellowship and community, not an authentic expression of fellowship. This phenomenon of human existence also serves to help some of us feel superior to others. We do this in a bizarre and seemingly nonsensical way (as if prejudice could ever have any basis in logic or reality, which makes makes sense in a twisted way, if you know what I mean).

In all of these distasteful scenarios, and quite explicitly in the world of Shifters Unbound, the non-human, supernatural beings are considered less than human. These are not beings with full rights because they are not considered full persons. They, like American slaves, along with Jews, gypsies and homosexuals in Nazi Germany before them, are fractional people, so that more than one is needed to make a whole. What a concept. Personally, I have trouble wrapping my mind around it, which is a good thing and I won't expend too much effort trying. It's not clear to me how someone or more than one someone, can look at a living, breathing entity in front of them who has two eyes, ears, arms and legs just like they do, whose faces form smiles and frowns and whose voices speak truth and beauty just like theirs do, and see them as less than human.

As you know, I love the world of paranormal fiction because it allows authors to explore ideas and philosophies in an exaggerated way to make their points. In Jennifer Ashley's world, shifters are herded into ghettos called Shiftertowns in different cities. These are analogous to internment and refugee camps or Native American reservations. After all, we need to keep them contained and accountable. If they are all forced to live in one place, we'll know where to find them, won't we? And then we’ll be able to control them, and isn't that what this little exercise in fear and prejudice is all about?  This way of thinking is very warped, but seems to be prevalent, nonetheless. In Pride Mates, not only are shifters forced to live in Shiftertowns, they are also forced to wear magical collars that supposedly keep their beasts in check. Talk about taking control to the next level. 

And, while the shifters (or any disenfranchised population) is corralled into ghettos and forced to wear symbols of their status, their captors (those would be the humans) like to practice deprivation. In Pride Mates, shifters aren't allowed access to cable TV or high-speed internet (controlling access to information, presumably), and they are not allowed to hold any job where they might come into physical contact with human (gee—not even as manicurists?).  This deprivation is partly preventive, because it ensures that the dominated population can never become too rich or too powerful, but it’s also punative—a punishment for being less thanas if those who are denigrated in this way have any choice in the matter. And while deprivation might serve to keep the population down, physically and psychologically, it is also, as we’ve seen time and again, a recipe for fomenting discontent and rebellion. Stupid is as stupid does.  Again, I’m talking about the humans in this scenario.

Because, of course, all of this says a great deal more about “us” than it does about “them.”  Anyone who would subjugate a population just because it’s different or because they can doesn’t actually deserve to be called human, at least in my book. People who enslave, or imprison or degrade others to prop themselves up are the beasts, the savages, the ones unworthy of the status of personhood.  That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to live or to do as they want—as long as what they want doesn’t involve putting and keeping others down. So, along with my light and airy read, my paranormal fantasy also provokes deep and meaningful thoughts.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I'm Friends with the Monster

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I've just finished the fourth installment of Patricia Briggs' Alpha and Omega series, Dead Heat. I actually like this series even better than her Mercy Thompson series, which I like a whole lot. And it's kind of fun that my sister-in-law lives in the area the Mercy books are located. But that's not the topic at hand. I'm sure you are surprised. Today, I want to talk about the monster within. In the story, Anna, a woman who is transformed into a werewolf forcibly and then horribly abused, works to hide her monster--not the werewolf she now becomes during the full moon, but the one borne of her abuse that dwells secretly inside her. She doesn't let this monster out, and she hides it even from her beloved husband, who is also a werewolf, and the one who saved her from her tormenter. Anna is convinced that if her husband, Charles, "truly understood that she had this twisted and broken part, maybe he could not love her."  I don't know about you, but, wow, could I relate. Actually, I'm lying, I believe I do know about you; I believe that each of us has something within us, maybe buried very deeply, that we fear if people knew about, they wouldn't love us. Maybe we don't consider our inner ugliness to be a full-fledged monster, but then, again, maybe we do. But I think all of us have a part or parts that we are convinced make us unlovable if someone really knew the depth and breath of what was in there. I think we are all mistaken. We are lovable in our entirety.

I know that when the right (or wrong, depending on one's perspective) buttons get pushed, I unleash my inner Hulk, and rip the seams of my outward civility to bellow like a banshee and get so far up in someone's face that we're sharing the same air space-as in breathing each other's breaths. Not a beautiful site unless I’m swapping spit with my hubby. I've been told that no one wants to see that side of me very often. 

And even if I'm working hard to ensure my inner Buddha is overwhelming my inner bitch, the knowledge that she exists colors the way I think about myself and how I present myself to the world. I really don't want people to see that part of me. I don't want anyone to know that I sometimes invoke my inner demons not to exorcise them, but just to snuggle (thank you Darynda Jones). Sometimes, I'm not very nice. Even if it's only inside my own head. Especially when it's just in my head. God forbid anyone else had to listen to that running commentary. No one would ever speak to me again. They'd know, without a shred of doubt, that I am truly certifiable.

And there's the rub. We want to be known, we crave being seen for who we are--in our entirety and not just the pretty parts, but at the same time, its scares the pants off of us. I've written about this before here, but this comment by Anna is a bit different. We all have warts. The question of the day is whether we all have Dr. Jekyl's alter ego renting space in our heads? Maybe not. Maybe it's just me. Maybe it is a matter of degree, not kind. But if this is so, and we are all similarly afflicted, why do we go to such lengths to hide the parts we seem unworthy of public scrutiny?  Why are we so convinced that we are unlovable in all our aspects? Can't our monsters all just get along?  Can they not be taught to play well with others?  Can they at least be acknowledged and taken out occasionally to breathe fresh air and feel the sun on their faces?  Must they be hidden away like yesterday's underwear left on the floor and hastily shoved under the bed when someone comes in the room? If we're all in the same boat, can't we all row together?

Apparently not. Or at least not that I've seen. For me, way back when, I was all about showing my prospective husband the monster within. I wanted him to understand that I was damaged goods in so many ways when he found me and started to love me. I was determined to be clear about what he was getting himself into so that I didn't have to worry, as I had in previous relationships, that he would uncover my secret self and fall out of love. And the thing I love maybe best of all about him is that he is well aware that there's a whole lot of coyote ugly inside me that is part of the deal. He understands that he signed up for the whole package and that I'm not a cafeteria, where he can take what he likes and leave the rest. Thank God. Not sure where I'd be without that. Probably as worried as Anna is in Dead Heat that her monster, the broken, twisted parts, will be exposed and will cost her the love of her husband.

We need to be friends with the monsters under our beds and get along with the voices inside of our heads, just like Marshall Mathers tells us to do. Monsters need love too.