Robyn Peterman

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Thank you, Robyn Peterman.  Your latest Sea Shenanigans novel, Misty’s Mayhem, made me laugh out loud, while thinking hard about truth in fantasy. In this installment, Misty the Mermaid and Cupid the (demi) god of love, have been boinking for decades – casually of course.  No deep feelings here. Cupid has become jaded; he doesn’t believe in love anymore.  And, Misty is determined to avoid the slings and arrows of the Archer’s bow.

Escape Velocity

It’s here. After eighteen and half years, the time has come.

It began when the doctors put a tiny bundle into each of my arms. “Hello,” I whispered to their newborn, old man faces. We were already acquainted, you see – I knew a lot about their personalities from their behavior in utero, but seeing them as fully formed individuals separate from me was a whole different experience. Today, my sons are separating in a new way, leaving me physically, just as they did when I gave birth to them, but roaming much farther afield this time. Turns out, this separation is more painful than childbirth. 

The Redemption of Self Love


I flew through Robyn Peterman’s latest Magic and Mayhem novel, A Tale of Two Witches. I was delirious as I turned the pages and sorry to read the final sentence.  Robyn Peterman is unique in her ability to write about Marsupial Demon Slayers together with serious themes of despair and redemption and make it work and show us, once again, that there is ground truth in fun, fantasy fiction. This installment tells the story of Sassy, Zelda's slightly dim, but loyal and well-meaning BFF. Sassy is a mass of seething insecurity covered by a thick layer of self-doubt and self-hatred. She's convinced she can't do much of anything right, and sure that the kangaroo shifter of her dreams, Jeeves, will see through her external beauty to the ugliness she's positive it hides. She lives in fear of the other shoe dropping (about which I wrote here) and has accepted that any happiness or goodness in her life must be a mistake. Her parents, needless to say, did a number on her and she's lived with the consequences her whole life. On the plus side, Sassy has a best friend, a romantic partner, adopted children and a Goddess, all of whom are willing to love her into loving herself.

This is a story about redemption—and one to which I could relate. We've talked about it here before: careless, malicious parents make Jack and Jill fucked up for life—or at least until serious therapy and a bit of luck and grace can, sometimes, turn things around.  It worked for Sassy and it worked for me.  It's a formula for success: find people who love us fiercely and let them love us until we can love ourselves – so simple, yet so true.

In A Tale of Two Witches, Sassy is just staying until she gets the boot, at least in her own mind. She knows that she isn't a good or valuable person, but she's hoping some of her man's good nature will rub off on her via osmosis as she cleaves to him in love until he scrapes her off like a barnacle on the bottom of a boat. He can't convince her he doesn't feel that way, but vows to stay until she believes. She's dubious, but grateful for the reprieve -- while it lasts, of course.

Evidence of Sassy's worth abounds, but she is blind to it. Does any of this sound familiar to anyone but me?  For much of my life I felt like a total fraud, convinced that if people knew the real me, no one would ever love me. My heart melted for Sassy as her loved ones tried valiantly to convince her she was lovable, to no avail. Sassy's self- loathing was deep and seemingly wise. Of course, as this is fiction, Sassy finds self-love rather quickly, which results in her HEA. In fact, one of the best things about this book is that the heroine's HEA is all about learning to love herself, rather than finding a man to love her. Sassy starts the book with the love of her mate, but it's only by the end that she believes in it.

Because this blog is called "Truth in Fantasy," we can be sure that Sassy's tale has something to teach the rest of us living in the real world. Sassy finds self-love through paying attention to all that she is and all that she does. She also finally realizes that if so many awesome people love her, there must be more to her than she knows.

I have a friend about whom I've spoken before, who has grown and evolved exponentially in the past few years through a daily practice of listing her gratitudes and successes. Every single day for the past four and a half years, this woman has sat down to take note of what she did well that day and what she's grateful for. I think it takes her about fifteen or so minutes each night and she treats the task like a holy obligation. And, as a result of her acknowledging that she does many things well each and every day, over the years the denigrating voices that have attacked her from childhood have slowly softened to the point where she barely hears them nowadays. And when she does, she's able to banish those voices to the depths of Hell from whence they came. Yes, those voices, the ones that tell us we're not lovable are just plain wrong. The ones that drown out those who give us ‘atta boys’ and backslaps, even when the praise is external to us and the nastiness is self- inflicted. This is because, in the immortal words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the bad stuff is easier to hear. Why is that?  Another question to ask God if I ever get to meet Her. I have no blessed clue. But I know it's true. Which is why I've worked so hard to say positive things to my own children. But they have their insecurities too, and I don't think I put them there, so maybe this shit is hard wired into our cells as part of the human condition. Or at least it is for most of us. It is the rare human who believes in their own goodness and innate worth. I haven't met a lot of these people, but they are wildly attractive to the rest of us because we want what they have. Like Sassy with Jeeves. Those who are truly humble, embracing their own gifts and talents without hubris or any pretenses of perfection, are few and far between. I've always wanted to be like that, and I'm working hard to get there.

Like Sassy, I have a partner who loves me and a BFF who couldn't be more supportive or loving. I have kids who adore me and devoted friends. All of this, plus some heavy-duty therapy and other kinds of help have shifted my self-hate toward something more resembling self-acceptance. I'm working toward self-love and I mean to get there. Maybe by the time I'm a purple and red hat-wearing grandmother, I'll have achieved the holy grail of self-love and feel the sparkly stuff in my insides described by Sassy when she finally loves herself as much as everyone else does.

It's wonderful that someone wrote a paranormal romance about learning to love ourselves and made it hot and sexy, fun and fabulous, while paying homage to the fact that all true romance begins at home in our very own hearts.


Forgive Us Our Trespasses


I've got to begin by being a fan girl for just a few minutes. Guess who I got to meet last week at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention?  Charlaine Harris! Darynda Jones! Molly Harper! And Robyn Peterman! And they were all lovely and wonderful and gracious and totally cool. And funny! They were all exactly who you would expect them to be. Interestingly, all these authors write in the first person, and while they are all different than the characters they've created, of course, their actual voices are remarkably reminiscent of their book voices. Nowhere was this more evident than with the inimitable Robyn Peterman. It must be hard for these authors to have rabid fans come up and tell them how much we love them and how much we enjoy their books. I know they appreciate it, but it must be weird to be accosted total strangers who act like they know you.  But I do feel like I know these women. And I do love them. Especially Robyn Peterman. She is the bomb. And, the convention happened to coincide with the release of her latest Fashionably Dead book, Fashionably Fanged, and while I didn't have a lot of time to read last week, I've been catching up since I got back, and it's just as full of awesome sauce as the rest of this laugh-out-loud series. As with all of her hilarious books, Robyn Peterman's latest offering is funny with an undertone of seriousness. As Ms. Peterman said at the conference, comedy isn't funny unless it also includes pathos. I need my laughs with a side of tears, please. In this case, our heroine, Venus, is a kick ass Vampyre warrior who is part of the monarch's inner circle. She is also a former slave whose entire family was tortured and killed by a sadistic landowner. This horrible human being got his just desserts when Venus, after becoming a Vampyre, terminated him with extreme prejudice. Since then, Venus has been searching for his wife, Claudia, who stood by and watched as Venus' loved ones were slaughtered. Except when Venus finds Claudia, who is also a Vampyre now, all is not what it seemed and forgiveness is the watchword of the day. Venus had already gotten in some practice with forgiveness, as she had also been called to forgive her mate, Gareth, for being a manwhore and for not claiming her earlier. I found myself admiring Venus. She seemed able to let go of anger and truly embrace the adage that forgiveness is letting go of all hope of having a better past. Me, not so much. 

I struggle with forgiveness. Not with the petty stuff;  I'm usually more than willing to overlook that. I'm also not one to hold a grudge, and if someone is sorry and asks for forgiveness, I don't think I've ever denied such a request. Unfortunately, not all of those who have wronged me (or who I think have wronged me) have sought absolution from me. The part I find most challenging about forgiveness is letting go of past actions and moving on when the perpetrator of crimes against me doesn't see that they did anything wrong and/or they keep doing it.

I have three people on my hard to forgive list. They are all related to me, unsurprisingly. Family is where the heart is and where the knife through the heart resides as well. No one can hurt us like those we love, because we are the most vulnerable to those to whom we've given our hearts—or those who claimed them because we can't choose our parents.

You all know about my mother. Narcissistic nightmare. Enough said. I've worked hard to forgive her. To understand that she was damaged and sick and all that stuff. I also understand that my holding onto whatever shit I'm still clutching isn't doing her any harm at all. She's six feet under, and she can't change a damn thing. She was a horrible mother and she scarred me for life. But I want to forgive her. I want to finally, completely and absolutely release all the anger and grief and frustration that she inspired in me. I am not stupid, and I do realize that I will never have the childhood I always wanted and that I will never have a mother who loved me—in any recognizable semblance of that emotion.  What's done is done and let the dead bury the dead—whatever that means. I'm over it. Finally. Thankfully. 

I'm also having a hard time forgiving my brother—my mother's ultimate victim.  He is a disaster and I know exactly how and why he ended up the way he did and why he's done the terrible things he's done. But I can't feel all warm and fuzzy toward him. I don't wish him ill, but neither can I be a part of his life anymore. Continuing to subject myself to his abuse would be masochistic and suicidal and I am neither.

So where do I go with all of this? Like Venus, I can't change my past. But unlike her, neither can I just cozy up to those who hurt me and say, "All is forgiven, let's sing  Kumbaya." My mother has been gone almost four years, and the absence of additional offense has helped mellow my feelings for her. I can't change my past and I won't give her any more of my present or my future. Done. My brother?  Well, he continues to be a heartbreaker, but I think I would forgive him if he asked and if our future relationship diverged from our past. But he has no interest in that. Can I forgive him?  Yes—for the past. Unfortunately, he continues to behave badly in the present and it's difficult to ignore that reality, so the forgiveness needs to be an ongoing activity with him.

And who is the last, most challenging person on my list of those who need my pardon? Me, that's who. I find it almost impossible to forgive myself for my myriad trespasses. All the tasks I failed to perform. The food I eat when I shouldn't. The exercise I don't do. The gossip I don't avoid. The bitching and whining I indulge in far too often.  Every day there are things for which I castigate myself and then continue to self-flagellate well beyond any reasonable expiration date. It's almost impossible to let that shit go, and of course it's by far the most toxic.

And then, ironically, I need to forgive myself for not forgiving myself. And I don't and the cycle continues. Vicious and pointless yet seemingly unending. Sucks to be me. But I'm guessing I'm not alone in all this self-condemnation. For many of us, no one is harder on us than we are. And maybe all that crushing judgement that we heap upon ourselves slides off our own plates and onto those of others we condemn and then fail to forgive. Wow. I'm going deep and dark. Too much pathos and not enough humor. Better get back to Venus and the porno grannies—although I'm going to save those old bats for another post—but don't forget about them, they rock.

Where will I leave this?  Unresolved.  We ask God to forgive us our trespasses, and God knows, I'm not God or anything close to him/her/it. So I will continue to struggle with forgiveness. And I will continue to enjoy reading about these important themes in wonderful books by wonderful authors like Robyn Peterman. And in case I haven't mentioned it lately, writers are my rock stars and Robyn Peterman is the Big Dipper. 


The Motion of the Ocean

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I'm still thinking about Magically Delicious by Robyn Peterman (although I've moved on to Blood Vow by JR Ward, so stay tuned for posts from that deep well). As we talked about in my last post, our protagonist, Zelda, has been charged with restoring the magical balance of her town in West Virginia, which has been disrupted by a pervasive sense of evil that no one can pin down. It turns out that the source of the evil is a magical substance that nullifies paranormal powers. When Zelda discovers the creator of this substance she is understandably miffed, and convinced that the creator, Marge, is as evil as her creation. But Marge takes issue with this condemnation, explaining that no substance or tool is inherently bad, because it's all about the application. As an example, she cites the development of nuclear energy. Now, I'm going to have to digress here a bit, because the snarky fact checker who lives in my brain is compelled to point out that her analogy is incorrect. I think what Ms. Peterman is saying is that nuclear energy was developed for peaceful applications and to provide clean and inexpensive power to a world in need. And that this benevolent concept was corrupted by evil people who made war, not love. As this concept is the central tenet of the book, I've got to take issue with that tenet … and thus I will continue this digression…..

Nuclear weapons were actually developed before nuclear energy. The US initiated the Manhattan Project in response to Nazi Germany's heavy water experiments. At the behest of Albert Einstein (yep, old Albert convinced FDR to build the bomb). Anyhoo, nuclear energy was developed as a peaceful application of weapons of mass destruction, not the other way around. Look it up.

And so ends my digression. Now, back to our regularly scheduled post….. Assuming Ms. Peterman was historically accurate in her analogy (and really, how many paranormal romance readers care one way or the other?), her argument is tantamount to the axiom, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."  Which is true as far as it goes, of course, but is seriously flawed in all sorts of ways.

In my view, human nature dictates that if something can be used for ill it will be –and only that it might be used for good. The concept of nuclear power gave us Hiroshima and also lots of clean energy (as long as no tsunamis hit the reactor, and then all aspirations to cleanliness and safety go out the window).  Guns can provide food and protection, in the right circumstances and situations. But all too often, guns are the mechanism for death and destruction. So where is the balance?

As you may have guessed from any number of my posts, my political and social leanings take a sharp left after arriving at center. I'm a proponent of gun control and truly do not understand how even common sense restrictions cannot be passed by various state or national legislative bodies. Yes, I understand that guns don't point and shoot by themselves, but more guns equal more opportunity for accidents and impulsive expressions of lethal violence.

So, while I don't like Ms. Peterson's analogy, I don't disagree that she may be onto something. We all know the saying, "It's not the size of the boat, but the motion of the ocean that counts."  And, once again, that is true as far as it goes, but it probably doesn't go far enough. The question of how we use something is complicated. Even more difficult to grapple with is the Aladdin problem: once the genie is out of the bottle, it's almost impossible to put back in. Given that, doesn’t it make sense to avoid rubbing the stupid bottle in the first place?  Is it best to leave that bad boy trapped and cramped for the greater good?  I don't know. Is it even possible that we humans, knowing something is possible, would eschew the potential? Not hardly. We are a curious species, even cognizant of the attendant danger to our feline friends. 

We are also a species that is compelled to ‘keep up with the Kardashians’. If someone else has something, we want it too, which is why there are so many damned nuclear weapons in the world. Not to mention guns. And, again, volume breeds vulnerability. In these kinds of cases, more is definitely not merrier. More weapons mean more death. More lethal weapons mean a lot more death. It’s a pretty straightforward equation.

But I'm also an intellectual and I believe in the free flow of ideas. So quelling knowledge or exploration or problem solving or any other kind of creativity is totally anathema to me. Thus, I guess after all this, and despite any historical inaccuracies she may have promulgated, I am coming down on the side of Marge. That genie has got to be free – just like the rest of us. To make our choices (there they are again) for good or evil, and to live with the consequences. And if that is what we have to do, we also have to believe, as Marge did when she hid herself away to await more like-minded company, that Martin Luther King, Jr. was right, and that, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."  Bend, baby, bend. 


In the Balance

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I love Robyn Peterman’s books and just whipped through her latest, Magically Delicious. The protagonist, Zelda, is like most of Robyn Peterman's leading ladies—paranormal with a side of Prada. In this case, Zelda is a powerful witch who has a gift for healing shifters. And she's married to the king of the shifters, so she's got that going for her. In addition to her other duties, Zelda is the heir apparent to the head witch, the Baba Yaga, a role she doesn't relish. Zelda is also tasked with maintaining the magical balance in her small West Virginia town. This responsibility proves to be the most difficult of all to discharge. Balance is a bitch. Kind of like Anna Wintour in Chanel, or Prada, for that matter. I know it's true because Dr. Seuss tells me so. In Oh, The Places You'll Go! He exhorts us, "So be sure where you step, step with care and great tact.  And remember that life's a great balancing act."  And while Theodor Geisel may believe that our chances of success are pretty high (98 3/4% guaranteed), I'm not so sure. There are so many things to balance. There is work/life balance, family/friends balance, balance between and among our children, between effort and ease (which I've written about before), and even in how much time and space we offer to all the various things about which we think.  So many balls to keep in the air.

Forests have been decimated in the name of figuring out how to achieve the right work/life balance. I have a personal theory about that (I know, you're shocked, shocked that I have a theory about it). The problem appears much worse on the east coast than anywhere else in the US. In places like New York and Washington, DC, it's a badge of honor to work 80 or more hours a week. People define themselves by how much they work—not necessarily how much they accomplish. My first job out of graduate school was for a government contractor where the contract I worked on required four hours of "uncompensated overtime" per week. And each week my boss would publish the memo of shame, listing each employee and how many hours of uncompensated overtime they had worked. Slackers were ostracized and workaholics were superstars. As Robyn Peterman would say, “it was all kinds of wrong.”

The pressure to be the first one into the office and the last to leave was intense. And fucked up. Luckily, I opted out of that plan early in my career. I rarely worked more than 40 hours in a week, and even that was a challenge. In fact, my bosses used to laugh that it was hard for me to rub 40 hours together in a week. But that was all right. I got my work done and then some. I just didn't need to give up every other aspect of my life to do it. 

It's hard to find a work/life balance under such circumstances. My husband decided that such a balance was so important to him (and our family) that he designed his second career around working from home and being around to raise our kids in a more meaningful way than many fathers do. He was there when they got home from school, picked them up from the bus stop, helped them with their homework. More recently, he's been able to attend all of their football, basketball and lacrosse games. It's been wonderful for our boys and a joy for him. But achieving such balance is difficult and pretty rare from my perspective.

And what about those friends who get a boyfriend or a husband and we never see them again? Luckily, I don't have friends like that, but I know others who do, and it always makes me sad. But that's another difficult balance to achieve: sisters versus misters. Personally, I learned that lesson when I was 15, and some asshat named Thor tried to play me off against one of my best friends. We both found out about what he was trying to do and we both told him to fuck off. It's never been an issue again, thankfully. I've been able to maintain my female friendships through marriage and kids and careers and life. In fact, without them, I'm not sure how I would have gotten through any of it. 

But that leads to the question of how to balance all of those aspects at the same time. Not to mention maintaining our health. I ended up sacrificing my health on the altar of balance years ago when my kids were younger and I was working full time and spending almost three hours a day commuting between my two worlds. Crazy days. And they cost me. It's taken years to regain my health after that experience and it was a hard lesson to learn about balance and how to achieve it. And, as I contemplate going back to work in Washington, DC, I'm quite nervous about how I will apply all of these hard-learned lessons to a new situation. Will I do a better job with balance this time around?  I certainly hope so, as I don't think I can put my body through another round of the kind of abuse I generated the first time.

The truth is that I have no magic wand that produces more hours in the day. And time, as we know, is the Great Egalitarian. We get the same amount to do with what we will. Which leads to my favorite topic of all—how to make good choices. Because, on balance, making good choices is how we achieve good balance in our lives. Go to the gym, or go to McDonalds? Watch TV, or work on my novel? Spend time with my kids or go out to dinner with my husband?  While these may seem like no-brainers (except for the husband/kid question, which would easily resolved by eating out as a family), they aren't. Sometimes, the desire to watch TV (or check out Facebook or vegetate on the couch, etc.) is quite compelling. Even when the better choice is obvious.

Often, the best choice is less apparent. And that's where we get into trouble. The issue is with the discretionary hour—where to spend it?  When we are beset by the demands of work, husband, children, friends, exercise, healthy eating, sleep, hobbies, etc., it is difficult to know where to spend that hour and there isn't such a thing as a best choice. Something gets sacrificed. And sometimes those sacrifices lead us toward losing our souls, because we become so imbalanced that we've fallen over and we just can't get up. Been there, done that, got the nervous breakdown, fuck the t-shirt. 

So yes, my favorite philosopher got it right. Life is a great balancing act. And we have to keep balancing everything all the time until we lay down the burden and the privilege of making choices day in and day out, hoping to maintain balance in our lives. And we can be grateful that most of us only need to worry about our own balance, not the magical balance of all of Assjacket, WV, like Zelda and her cohort. It can always be worse, right?




Breaking the Cycle


I just whipped through the beginning of a new series by MaryJanice Davidson. I love MaryJanice, creator of such memorable characters as Queen Betsy, Fred the Mermaid and the royal family of Alaska.  She makes me laugh out loud, even while she explores meatier topics. In Deja Who, Leah Nazir is an Insighter, a therapist of sorts who helps people explore aspects of their past lives that are leaking into their present reality. In this world, all of us ride the karmic wheel, reincarnating over and over again until we've learned our lessons or paid our debts.  Leah is no exception to this rule. She is living out her karmic destiny to endure a mother from hell only to get murdered by a psychopath who follows her through lifetimes. She seems resigned to her fate, at least at first. Eventually, though she realizes that karma is not inevitable and she breaks the abusive and murderous cycle once and for all. Along the way to her HEA, we get to experience Leah's "Mommie Dearest" moments up close and personal. And I will say this: if there were ever a time that I considered myself and my nightmare of a mother to be terminally unique, the plethora of books—in the paranormal fantasy genre alone—that include mothers from hell, literally and figuratively, disabuse me of that notion. In Leah's case, "It," as she calls her mother, is the worst caricature of a stage mother imaginable. "It" promoted Leah as a child actress, included herself as part of any acting deal in supporting roles, and then stole all the money Leah earned. "It" makes Kris Jenner (Kris Jenner is the ‘mom-a-ger’ of Kardashians] and Britney Spears' parents look like amateurs.

But despite the outrageous abuses, and the vicarious living that "It" did through Leah, there is no such thing as black and white when it comes to our parents. We want to love them. We want to believe them. We want to trust them. And the bad ones use these desires against us to manipulate our feelings. They make us feel wrong. No matter how right we are. Leah rides this emotional rollercoaster over and over throughout her lifetimes.

Being made wrong by our parents is an interesting phenomenon. In my experience, and also that of Leah, and Astrid (in Robyn Peterman's Fashionably Dead series) and Granuaile (in the Iron Druid series), it makes us want to be right more than anything. This tendency can get us into trouble, but that is a topic for another post.  It also ignites in us a deep desire to wrench from our bad parent an admission that they were wrong. They were wrong to dismiss us. Wrong to hurt us. Wrong not to love us as we deserve to be loved. We want an apology, an acknowledgement that it shouldn't have been that way. For most of us, it's like waiting for Godot.

These negative formative experiences also lead to a need for external validation. Because we were made wrong by the person who made us (and presumably any error of execution in the creation should reflect on the creator, in this case the DNA donors and those that raised us, but, strangely, only seem to reflect on the creation itself. Weird.), we need to be told we are all right by others. We seek this validation like Keith Richards looking for his next fix (back in the day, of course, when men were men and veins were afraid).

This is a terrible position to occupy. Needing and seeking validation and extreme self-righteousness lead to what I've termed the "Superiority-Inferiority" complex, which can be described by those afflicted as thinking of ourselves as the "piece of shit around which the universe revolves."  I'm sure all of us know people like this. I am a person like this. No fun. No fun at all. It makes me a highly critical and judgmental perfectionist with impossibly high standards which no one, including myself, can meet. We look for maternal (or paternal) surrogates, and we ache for someone to tell us that we are right and our parents are wrong. Mostly, we want our parents to utter that exact phrase as they lay prostrate at our feet. Hey, we can dream, right?

One of the most healing moments of my life was when a psychologist, who had seen me and my mother together, told me, in a private session, that it wasn't me, it was my mother. I do not have the words to describe the feeling of liberation I experienced upon hearing those words. Changed my life.

But the one thing no one has ever mentioned before was something that MaryJanice Davidson touched on in Deja Who.  Guilt. Guilt—the intense, unrelenting guilt that a child feels for resenting or even hating the person who we’re supposed to love best in the world. And who supposedly loves us best as well. I never thought about that guilt, which makes about as much sense as survivor guilt. It is no one's fault that we survived and others didn't. I feel that way about my brother. I made it out of our childhood home mostly intact. He did not. So while I was able to put myself back together again, my brother, sadly, remains more like Humpty Dumpty. So I got a double whammy of irrational but heartbreakingly real guilt; guilt that I could honestly say that I didn't love my mother, and guilt that I survived our childhood, metaphorically speaking, and my brother did not.

I keep thinking I'm finished writing about my awful mother. But then I keep reading my beloved books and her character—and mine—keep popping up. I hope that I have been as successful in breaking the karmic cycle as Leah was, but I guess I won't know for sure until my next incarnation. Or maybe, just maybe, I will be able to see the last turn of this particular wheel in the lives of my own children and in the nature of my relationship with them as they mature into adults. I’ll keep striving to be the mother I wanted but never had as I ride the wheel of fate, seeking to break this karmic cycle. Only time will tell.


Humanity without the Humans

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I just finished Fashionably Dead and Wed and I not only couldn't put it down, but I laughed my ass off. Which was apparently wildly inappropriate while my husband was listening to QBVII on Audible in the car seat next to me. Oh, well. He's used to my sloppy hysterical giggles when I read my beloved books. That's one of the many reasons I love him. But my mad love for my honey is not the subject of this post, or at least not directly. The subject is humanity, a topic I've explored before; because nothing prompts me faster to ponder the essence of humanity than a bunch of Vampyres, Fairies and Demons. You know, the usual suspects in a Robyn Peterman novel.   In this particular outing, one of my favorite heroines, Astrid, a True Immortal and the personification of Compassion, wants to marry her vampire prince in homage to her human heritage. As she prepares for her nuptials, Astrid decides she's made a mistake, and that clinging to her mortal past will just make her less inclined to accept her eternal life with grace and serenity. She fears being one of those women who continue to wear mini skirts well past their prime, clinging to a youth that has gone the way of all flesh. Well, perhaps that isn't the best example, as Astrid will look young and hot forever, but she doesn't want to sour on her present existence by living in the past, especially as her current incarnation will last till the end of time, what with the whole True Immortal thing.

Astrid resolutely, if sadly, decides to turn her back on her humanity, which is being represented by this wedding in Hell (long story—read the book), but she is dissuaded from her chosen path by her grandfather, who is the personification of Wisdom. He advises that she cling with all she is worth to her humanity, as it is that which will make eternity not only bearable, but also joyful. It was interesting advice that deserves some unpacking.

I think what Astrid’s grandpa was telling her was that it’s neither frivolous nor foolish to wish to mark important occasions. Such occasions cause us to stop, pause and reflect on the passage of time, that which is important to us, and that which we want to share and declare to our families, friends and the world at large. For example, I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a close friend’s son this weekend. The experience was surprisingly emotional for me on a number of different levels. First was the inevitable reminder that time is slip sliding away and I haven’t figured out much of anything yet. The second was the gut-punch of loss that I felt that my friend’s mother wasn’t there, as she passed two years ago—and how I can’t believe it’s been two years already. Third, I felt regret that I had chosen to eschew the same celebrations for my own sons, mostly because I didn’t think it would be meaningful for me, as I’m not particularly observant. I think I was wrong. And yes, they can always choose to have the ceremony later, as adults, but it won’t be the same.

Similarly, I counsel anyone who will stand still long enough to listen to go on a honeymoon immediately after their wedding. There are some couples who choose to delay their “honeymoon” till months or even years after the wedding, which I think is a big mistake. Any sort of trip that doesn’t start when the marriage does is just a vacation. Never in our lives is there a time when we are first married, when our rings are super shiny (which is how everyone in Italy knew we were newlyweds on our honeymoon almost 21 years ago), and our love is erupting from our hearts. There is nothing like it when we refer to our spouse as our “husband” or “wife.” I’ve always said that the location of the honeymoon and the activities don’t matter, as long as the couple is away from their day-to-day lives and responsibilities for a little while to savor the moment.

And isn’t that what being human is all about? Astrid talks about the meaning of life being love, and that is true as far as it goes. But what is love, in some ways, that a magnifying glass for the present moment? The moment when are hearts are so full of feeling for others and for the lives we’ve been given that there is no room to live in the past or project into the future. What better way to enhance the present moment that to mark it with rites and rituals, ceremonies and celebrations? Such activities help us with our magic magnifying glasses, spinning the focus control so that we see only that which is in front of us and surrounding us.

When I was in graduate school, I planned to skip my graduation ceremony for my master’s degree. I was in a PhD program, and figured I would attend that service if I made it. My father had recently died, and his absence would be a gaping hole in my heart as I walked across the stage and accepted my diploma. What was the point? But my favorite professor, who was my advisor, employer, friend and mentor, urged me to reconsider. He, who was forty years my senior, said that we must take every opportunity to celebrate the joys of life, to recognize our own achievements and those of others, and stop time periodically to take stock of where we are, how we got there, and where we want to go from there. It was good advice. Such moments remind us of our humanity by plastering us to the present moment and forcing us to remember—or discover—that which is important to us and that which is not.

Unlike Astrid, we don’t have forever, and we need to make every moment count. In Astrid’s case, eternity without love and an appreciation for every moment would be worse than having a wedding in Hell (you know, where her Uncle Satan lives). For us, we will reach the end of this existence all too soon. Without clinging to our humanity with everything we’ve got, we’ll have missed the entire point of the exercise.



All in the Family

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It was Christmas in July! I finally found and read A Fashionably Dead Christmas by Robyn Peterman.  And I laughed my ass off. These books tackle some serious issues with laugh-out-loud humor. Ms. Peterman has inspired posts about mothers from Hell, and also about how I want a fast fix for all my personality disorders. Today, she’s the inspiration for a blog about family holidays and all their imperfections. Astrid, the heroine of the Fashionably Dead series, is the granddaughter of Mother Nature and the niece of both God and Satan (who are brothers). Cousin Jesus is also in the picture, as are the cousins on her Uncle Satan's side, the Seven Deadly Sins (who are not very nice girls, I might add). And I thought my family was bad. Anyone who reads this blog is aware that my family of origin was not The Waltons.  It was closer to the Bunkers and then some. My mother was a narcissistic mess and my father embodied the concept of "benign neglect," which means that his kids rarely saw him. Both of them were significantly flawed and blithely unaware of how they were playing out all of their fears, insecurities and character defects on the tabula rasas of their children's unformed psyches.  Living through it was the source of nightmares.

My early childhood was in the 1970s, and I was enamored of my TV shows. I've written of my intense love for David Cassidy in all his Keith Partridge glory (I was ten, but my feelings were deep). I wished my parents would get divorced so I could live like the Brady Bunch. These families were having fun. Sure, they went through hard times (when Peter's voice changed, for example, they needed to rearrange who they were and what they wanted to be). But they always made it look easy.

My family life was anything but easy. My mother and I fought incessantly. My brother and I fought incessantly (although we had an unusually strong bond as a result of our common maternal enemy). My father was MIA. None of my friends wanted to come over because they didn't want to deal with my mother. If she answered the phone, they hung up. It was like living in an alcoholic environment without any of the good time.

Holidays were another circle of hell. Like Astrid, my mother wanted to make all of her holidays picture perfect.  We celebrated Christmas (despite being Jewish—kind of weird, actually), and my mother had a gorgeous tree when I was little (I've written about the whole Christmas tree Gaslight situation), and she set the table with the best linen, china, silver and stemware.  My mother had a talent for wrapping gifts, and the presents under the tree were so beautiful.  On the surface, everything looked perfect. Underneath it all, well… not so much.

What I loved about A Fashionably Dead Christmas was that Robyn Peterman turned the whole perfect holiday trope on its head. You know, once Uncle Satan shows up and "enhances" the Christmas decorations, the whole thing went from a shit show to a clusterfuck. As Astrid contemplated her formerly lovely tree, and her gifts and all the trimmings, she was initially devastated. She quickly realized, however, that underneath the imperfections was a family whose warmth and love embodied the reason for the season.

In my family of origin, we had all the glitz and none of the gestalt. I knew that as soon as I opened my gifts, they would become something else to take away from me when I was punished, which was often. I knew that I would get chastised for eating too much of the beautiful food and getting too excited about all there was to be excited about.

And I remember how desperately I wanted our family to be "normal." I wanted the Kennedy family photos of touch football in the yard on Thanksgiving. But I guess things didn't work out so well for them, either. I wanted to be the Huxstables.  Without the pervy dad, behind the curtain, of course. I wanted to live “One Day at a Time”, but with a dad (Ann Romano was divorced). So, as I go through this catalogue, I guess those TV families weren’t so perfect after all.

These days, we don't need to watch TV to see perfection. The quintessential “Modern Family” is flawed.  And other TV families are just “Shameless”. But we can visit Facebook where all families look Waltonian. All we're missing is a voiceover of "Goodnight, John Boy.  Goodnight Jimbob."  

So, while my childhood was far from perfect, Robyn Peterman assures us that, "Perfection is boring."  So perhaps I should be grateful for all of the imperfection in my early life. Hopefully, it's made me more engaging – and a better parent. While the perfect parent doesn’t exist – to err is human after all – I'm hopefully giving my kids an interesting and (mostly) joyful upbringing. And I'll remember to stop comparing my insides to others' outsides. We can't Photoshop our Christmas dinners let alone our internal landscape.  Just the pics we post on Facebook.





Notes from Underground


So I have to share. And crow. And toot my own horn. Just a bit. I just learned that an interview I gave for a podcast is now available. The podcast is called "Journal Talk," and it's hosted by a cool guy named Nathan Ohren. My interview can be found here, and I also encourage you to take a listen to some of his other interviews.  It's a great show, and Nathan's mission to help people explore the benefits and joys of journaling is engaging and worthwhile. In the interview, I talk about this blog as a form of public journaling, which it is. In this space, I ruminate on various topics that tickle my fancy, and I also work through my fears and anxieties, not to mention sharing my triumphs and joy. You guys get it all. And while I might pull my punches a very little bit out of respect to my family, really I just try to tone down my language (remember how much I love my potty mouth?) and perhaps leave out excessive references to my misspent youth. But beyond that, I'm digging for gold in the recesses of my mind, and dredging up these notes from the underground of my unconscious (see how useful that liberal arts education was… those literary allusions don’t come from nothin’).

And, in addition to journaling to excavate my unconscious, I also use this space to expand my horizons and perform thought experiments that challenge my everyday thinking. I believe this is an excellent use of journal writing—to explore the “what ifs” and “what might have beens” or that which could still be in a benevolent version of my future. I can take things apart and put them back together in different and perhaps more interesting ways. I can reframe a past experience and transform a painful memory into a critical lesson for later success. I can dig myself out of a deep chasm of denial through my writing, and realize what others may already know about something from my past or present about which was fooling myself. Like perming the front section of my hair to look like Joan Jett or Pat Benetar, but actually… well… not so much… in truth, I looked more like a poodle with a high top.

The other thing I get to explore in this blog is its topic—the truth I find revealed in fantasy novels of the paranormal and urban varieties. Through this public journal I can inquire into the realities of being human through characters who are not. I've examined aging and mortality through the lens of fictional folks who neither get older nor die. I've been able to contemplate long-term romantic and platonic relationships in the context of those that have lasted or will last hundreds if not thousands of years. There is nothing like hyperbole to spotlight its right-sized cousin, reality.

For me, fantasy fiction is a textbook for life, a handbook of suggestions and guidelines for how to live my best life—which I long to share with all of you. I prefer these stories as the raw material for the ultimate self-help guide that I'm writing so that I can learn who's who and what's what. Where else is it so much fun to work through my commitment issues, and my mommy issues and my daddy dilemmas?  I use this space to contemplate my navel based on the interesting themes I find in my fantasy fiction. I doubt JR Ward knows that I rely on her for insight into addiction, or that Kevin Hearne knows that he is my favorite therapist. Robyn Peterman makes me feel a lot less isolated when I think of my mother as being literally from Hell, ‘cause all of her heroines' mommies are of the dearest variety, which helps me know I'm not alone.

And then there is the endless joy I get from living in worlds where men do what we want them to do! When I read and write about these fantasy books written by women (mostly—apologies to Mr. Hearne and Mr. Hartness), for women and about women, I'm inspired and reassured that my personal fantasies are happily shared by many others. Women want alpha males who make love like thousand-year-old, drop dead gorgeous vampires who know a thing or two about pleasing women, but who aren't too overbearing outside of the bedroom. We can dream, can't we?

Through the discipline of writing and posting this blog twice a week, week in and week out, I've been able to grow and expand -- examine and probe and question. I've also been able to engage with you, beloved reader, and know with certainty, through your voices, that I'm in good company with my neuroses.

So, let me encourage you to journal and reap the many benefits that I've received through my private pages and my very public postings. As Nathan Ohren says, we should all write for life, and journal for passion, clarity and purpose. It really works for me – I hope that you’ll give it a go and see if it works for you… or at least sample Ohren’s podcast here.



I Am an Island

In my last post, I explained why I am a rock. In this continuation, I am an island. I've always loved Paul and Art.  More than they love each other, apparently. But, onto the topic at hand; I'm still thinking about what it means to be self-sufficient and whether it's really all it's cracked up to be. My thoughts were inspired by Robyn Peterman's latest awesome book, Fashionably Hotter Than Hell, which features a protagonist (written in the first person point of view of a man—a different, fun twist ) who comes to realize that going it alone is not only lonely, but doesn't get him where he wants to be. Us either. In my last post, I addressed the underlying mistrust that motivates most of our unwillingness to lean on others for help and support. We figure no one can do it as well as we can, so we'll do it ourselves – the right way, thank you very much. It turns out that this strategy is not so good, as most things in life really do take a village to accomplish successfully. So many of us are specialists these days, that a group effort is mandatory for most general activities, both personal and professional. But there is another aspect to the death grip we keep on our self-reliance: we hate to feel dependent, and most of us value our personal freedom more than anything.  We are the masters of our own ship, and while we may take various elements, including others' opinions, into account, in the end, when it comes to making our own decisions, the buck stops solely with us.

The crux of the issue is that none of us wants to feel dependent; we want to avoid the example of the poor, pathetic souls who are still attached to their mothers' tits—at age 40. You know, the ones living in their parents' basement, waiting for mom to cook dinner, pick out their clothes and wipe their butts. Or the other type of poor pathetic creatures who've sold their minds and their souls to the televangelist with the great hair and the boyfriend on the side. You know who I'm talking about. We don't want to be dependent like they are.

And these are valid concerns. Unhealthy types of dependence are creepy. On the other hand, the illusion of independence that most of us maintain is about as real as the aliens in Area 51. We're not independent, and that is that. Let me count the ways we are all kinds of dependent: first, let's start with physical dependence. I don't know about you, but my skill set revolves around mental activities like reading and writing and maybe analyzing things I read about (like this blog). My list of accomplishments does not include building shelters, catching my own food or finding clean water. When the apocalypse comes, I'm hoping to be among the first to go. I would fare badly in a world without electricity, Whole Foods and cars. Perhaps you're different, but if not, we're all dependent on the grid, cell phone towers, and the people who grow, kill, manufacture and distribute our food, not to mention Amazon, without which life would hardly be worth living.

So, we're not so self-sufficient in the physical realm. How about our mental function?  Well, if you think you're not being manipulated by the marketing industry, think again. We're all Stepford Wives, being told what to buy and where to buy it by the folks who rule the world through commerce and advertising. At this moment, I'm clothed head to toe in Lululemon athletic gear, and both my kids are making Under Armor rich. My wallet is clearly being controlled by Madison Avenue. The media influences the information we get to form our opinions. A handful of celebrity doctors, financial gurus, and lawyers heavily influence our opinions. Oh, and the NRA, apparently. So, how much are we really in business for ourselves, cognitively?  We've all drunk the Kool-Aid. And while it's true that some may lead enlightened lives, those beacons are few and far between and don't have nearly as much influence as, say, Oprah.

And then there's our compulsions, addictions and habitual stupidity. Two thirds of Americans eat too much. Many of us drink excessively. We watch too much TV and spend more time with our electronic devices than we do with our kids (and vice versa). In short, we are anything but self-reliant. We all have our favorite versions of our mother's little helpers. And we're highly dependent on them to keep us on an even keel—or at least prevent us from going under for the third time.

So what does all of this mean?  It means we're hypocrites. And that’s without a discussion about our lack of independence from what other people say about us and do to us, and how much that upsets our apple carts. We hand over our personal freedom without so much as a second thought when it comes to falling into a depression when we learn others are talking behind our backs. Or we dive into self-righteous anger and vengeance fantasies when someone does us wrong to our faces. That's just another form of personal bondage.

But Heaven help us when someone suggests we should surrender ourselves to something bigger than we are. Oh, Nelly, that just won't do at all, now will it?  No way, no how, am I going to try to align my will with that of the Universe, or God or whatever Higher Power we subscribe to. Nope, not gonna happen, cause I'm an independent thinker, a self-sufficient entity. A rock. An island. I touch no one and no one touches me. I'm the head honcho of my own enterprise, and I'm not talking about NC-1701.

So let's just say "no."  Let's allow others in to help. Let's open ourselves to something bigger than we are and try to serve the highest good in all that we do, not just look out for number one (and perhaps the additional few who we love). Let's admit our deep dependence and lack of personal freedom and get over ourselves. Simon and Garfunkel were wrong, and John Donne was right. No one is an island, we're all part of a larger whole.  We're all living on Pangaea. Best to start acting like it.





I Am a Rock

Once upon a time on a winter's day in a deep and dark December... Nah, I'm just joshing with you. What I really meant to say was… once upon a time in the fertile imagination of the inimitable Robyn Peterman, I was inspired to think about the philosophy of self-sufficiency. I'm reading the latest in the Hot Damned series, Fashionably Hotter Than Hell. I love Robyn Peterman's potty-mouthed, Prada-loving heroines, and her ‘redonkulous’ plot lines. They’re silly, fun and fabulous. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud and all of Ms. Peterman's novels always fit that bill. Today, I'm thinking about Heathcliff and Raquel (silly names, true, but hey, they beat some of the other stupendously stupid titles and names in this genre). In the beginning of the book, Heathcliff works to convince himself he doesn't need a mate. Then, later he works to convince his mate that she does need him. In this iteration of a common plot trope, Heathcliff is called upon to weigh the relative merits and disadvantages of being self-reliant. Shockingly—to no one—he comes to realize that we all need a little help from our friends, particularly if we want our HEA. I understand. For me, self-sufficiency is a source of pride and deep comfort. I subscribe to the philosophy that if I want something done, it's always best do it myself. Particularly if I want it done right—meaning to my standards and specifications.

In Fashionably Hotter than Hell, Heathcliff tries to convince himself that he doesn't need any help, and that he's content to be alone. This is, of course, rubbish, and it's easy to see the stupidity of that stance when someone else is assuming the position.  But when it's me telling myself I can and should go it alone, it seems perfectly reasonable, logical and even noble. The level of my own denial can be stunning.

What motivates us to make like Simon and Garfunkel and desire island status? Probably lots of factors that would give Freud a run for his money, but the major driver here is lack of trust. Lack of trust in our fellow humans, and lack of trust that something greater than ourselves will catch us if we stumble or fall.

Our mistrust in other people leads to an unfortunate tendency to identify out of the rest of humanity. We can't trust others to have our backs or to provide effective help and support because most people are not like us—not as smart, or capable or competent. This is a (highly unattractive and regrettable) flaw in my own personality: I believe, mostly, that my way is the right way and everyone else's way is inferior. I believe this bullshit despite the fact that my way got me into some very dark places in life.  And yet, I've remained convinced that in almost all circumstances, I know best and I can't trust anyone as much as I can trust myself.  

Here's a sneak peak at the last page of that particular book—things don't work out so well for our distrustful heroine. She gets smacked upside the head by life and finally, after years of believing her own publicity, realizes that self-sufficiency is not only lonely, but also…wait for it… ineffective. It doesn't get her what she wants, and it doesn't ensure everything stays under control. Self-sufficiency, like control, is a chimera. It doesn't exist and we're fools to pursue it. But that's me, a fool for pride. Kind of sucks, truth be told.

When we distrust others, we make them lesser. Others become those who we dominate, not those to whom we open ourselves. We do this because we believe we are unique and better. But it's not true. At our cores, all humans want the same thing: to be loved for who and what we are. My struggles are your struggles, and your struggles are mine. We are not so unalike. We are all in this together and when we recognize that truth we can have compassion for each other, and for ourselves. We can trust each other. We can identify in instead of identifying out.

Eventually, Heathcliff comes to this realization too and avails himself of the help that he's offered. I am also beginning to recognize this truth. Slowly. But there is another aspect to this awakening process that involves our concepts of dependence and personal freedom. But alas, dear reader, my time on this page is done, for now. So, I'm going to try something new and continue this train of thought in my next post on July 8, entitled "I Am an Island."  So, please tune in for part two.  Same Bat Time, same Bat Station.

Mother May I?

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Another Mother's Day and I can't resist writing about one of the highest callings out there. It's been said that motherhood is the hardest job you'll ever love. This is true. And while not every woman is a mother, and while motherhood is not for every woman for a wide variety of good and valid reasons, it is the path I chose that also chose me. Not all who yearn are gifted with the blessings of motherhood. And not all who are gifted were willing recipients. But regardless of whether we are mothers ourselves, we all have one, or did at some point. So motherhood is a universal construct that affects us all. As so often happens, my reading reflects the current themes on my mind. I always reflect on my mother and the mother that I am at this time of year, Hallmark Holiday or not. I'm not above using artificial constructs to spur my reflections and introspection— New Year's Day is no less artificial and we all celebrate that with gusto.  Milestones mark time, and all of us need to pause along the path and check our directions, look back on the road already traveled and make sure we like the route forward. 

So Mother's Day is about mothers. And so are my two latest paranormal fantasies, A Witch in Time, by Robyn Peterman (who must have a difficult mother, as this is a recurring theme in each of her series), and Real Vampires Know Hips Happen, by Gerry Bartlett. In both books, our protagonist suffers the neglect or destructive attentions of a less-than-stellar maternal unit. As you know, I can relate.

Zelda, the Witch in Time, about whom I wrote earlier this week, has a mother incapable of love. Glory, Gerry Barlett's hefty heroine, discovers her mother is an Olympian goddess in this installment of the series, who gives new meaning to the word "controlling."  But delinquent or authoritarian, difficult mothers make an impact. For Zelda, her mother's lack of love resulted in stunted emotional development and self-destructive behavior. Glory missed out on having a mother during her early years (which she didn't remember anyway), and the list of her issues is too long to enumerate in a post this length. Suffice to say, she would give Drs. Freud and Jung plenty of grist for their mills. 

Today I thought I'd let these shadow teachers point the way toward positive parenting tips and tricks. It's easy to point fingers, criticize, and play Monday morning quarterback on all that our own mothers should or could have done. Or all that we should or could have done better, would we have known. But what about parenting that inspires? What does a good mother look like?  Of course, it would be grand if I could peer into a mirror and know what good motherhood looks like. And on some days I can. Like when my sons write heartfelt cards about what my support and belief in them has meant over the past year. That feels awesome. A good mother is always there to pick up the pieces, wipe away tears (surreptitious ones, in the case of teenaged boys), assure our children that what they are going through is normal and that it will end.

But that's the catch, isn't it?  Kids don't have the perspective or experience to know that everything comes to pass and nothing, not even heartbreak of the overwrought, adolescent variety, lasts. But that is such an important message in this age of increasing teenage suicide. Good mothers keep track of what's going on with their kids. Even when those kids would prefer to fly under the radar we hunt for the signs of impending self implosion.

And what about that?  We have more and more tools to know what our kids are doing, who they're doing it with, and where they are doing it. But utilizing all of those tools makes us more Big Brother than good mother. Unless there is a compelling reason, such tactics don't appeal. There needs to be a certain amount of mutual trust, which is hard to achieve when today’s moms are making like Mata Hari on a mission. Spying is not cool. Being informed is. It's not OK to take "I don't know" for an answer. Neither are one-syllable responses to questions asked. I understand that boys and girls, once they reach a certain age, would rather grunt at us than talk to us. Tough shit. Real answers are de rigueur in my home.

For me, being a good mother means getting down and getting dirty. It means being rejected over and over again, and growing a thick skin, not to mention a big, brass pair to be able to take these teens head on and be firm in the conviction that "no" is a complete sentence. Good parenting also means sticking to my guns, something that can be hard for me. Saying "yes" can be so much easier in the short term than saying "no" and listening to all the bitching and moaning.  Consistency is good too. Hard to achieve, but good. 

Being a good mother means that in just a couple of short years, my chicks will fly from the nest, never to return in the way they belong at home now. All our hard work, if done well, means we will lose them to spouses, jobs, friends, lives that don't include us, except tangentially.  And that is the natural order, the way of the world. I know this, and I celebrate my sons' independence. But it's a hard pill to swallow, knowing that many of my actions are making me unpopular at exactly the same time I feel like I should be pandering to their every desire, lest they forget me and leave forever when they go off to college. But I resist those urges to bribe them for their love and approbation. I've always said that if the cost of raising them right is their good opinion of me, so be it. I fervently hope it won't be, but I owe my children the best parenting I can manage, which is often the path of most resistance. 

But all of this is hard, hard, hard. It's hard to walk the line between discipline and punishment. Not to mention treating each child as an individual, which, from their perspective, can look unfair or biased (I get that a lot in my household). It really is the hardest job I've ever loved.

All that limit-setting is as hard on us as it is frustrating to them. So, I hope that you were good to your moms this weekend. If you are one, you know that it's a tough road to hoe, and that our own mothers probably did the best they could. Although I doubt that my own mother rose to her best parenting self, a dubious distinction I share with both Zelda and Glory. Life imitates art. Or art imitates life. Or maybe both. 



Fix Me Quick

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It's a bleak and rainy here in Annapolis, Maryland. The weather reflects my mood of late. Nothing is going very well. Yes, I'm aware that my first-world problems are embarrassingly frivolous, so I try not to complain. Much. But knowing my problems are paltry compared to the genuine suffering of so many others just makes me feel guilty on top of being depressed. Sad sack Sally, that's me. So imagine my delight, as I sat on my ever-expanding ass, eating chocolate and reading the latest Robyn Peterman book, A Witch in Time, when I laughed out loud at the silly, clever and hilarious hijinks of my favorite witch, Zelda. She is as shallow as the kiddie pool at the local community center, but she makes me guffaw, something I don't do often. I love her madly (her author is pretty clever too). Just what the doctor ordered—a light and entertaining read to brighten my dreary day. And then, as so often happens, I found the depth beneath the veneer and I began to appreciate the book, and Zelda, even more. Turns out, I see a lot of myself in Zelda (I see a lot of myself in so many characters in my beloved fantasy books; either these authors are writing about universal truths or I'm a flaming narcissist—your call). Zelda has more issues than National Geographic (an old joke, but it still makes me laugh). I can relate. And she's looking for the quick-fix cure—the magic wand she can wave to solve all her problems (she is a witch, after all).  I can relate, even though I'm just a bitch, not a witch.

Zelda has commitment issues, abandonment issues, self-esteem issues and a serious case of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Check, check and double check.  Could we be twins separated at birth? Zelda is uncomfortable with emotional intimacy, and she tends to run at the first sign that she might be developing feelings—Goddess forbid she should actually give a shit about anyone or anything because that leads to vulnerability and pain. ‘NFW’ is what Zelda has to say about that. Except somehow, she didn't run fast enough, and her heart seems to be forming attachments, much to her horror. But Zelda is not a quitter, so she does the only logical thing to be done—she decides to subject herself to a marathon therapy session so that she can be cured. She wants the quick fix for all that ails her.  I envy Zelda’s solution.  I'm all about short-term pain for long-term gain. I can take it— whatever it is - for a while. I'm willing to go to any length—as long as I can get there by next Thursday. In fact, I'm in the middle of a quick-fix strategy right now that's working as well as most of the other fix-me-quick schemes I've tried in the past.  This eight-week class is designed to help me wake the hell up—in fact, the class is called "Awakenings," and the idea is to energize each of the seven chakras, opening them up and allowing the energy of the subtle body to flow unimpeded. Great concept. And it only takes two months of once-a-week classes. Easy peasy. Except I'm not sure it's working. For me, anyway. There are others in the class who seem to be having truly transcendent experiences. Sadly, I'm not one of them.

And to be fair, the instructor warned us that unless we practice, practice, practice, we’d be in danger of going back to sleep. She told us we can have transformative experiences that integrate mind, body and spirit and help us heal the fragmentation of our beings, and that we could still go back to sleep. So, despite my best hope for the efficacy of magic wands, apparently magic is not strong enough to affect lasting change. Only persistent practice is. Bummer.  I was so hopeful that I could be fixed quickly.

But then I started to think more about the assumptions beneath both my and Zelda's thought processes. Thinking we need to be fixed presupposes that we each believe that we are somehow broken. One of the most authentic and poignant scenes in A Witch in Time involves Zelda delineating her many, many flaws to her hunky wolf shifter boyfriend, with the thought that she would drive him away with the truth of her underlying defects. He was having none of it, of course. But she was utterly convinced that if he truly knew her, he'd run screaming from the room and out of her life.

I did exactly the same thing to my sainted and beloved husband when we first started dating. I knew I loved him, and I knew he thought he had feelings for me. But I wasn't in the market for a serious boyfriend at the time, so I figured that I would hit him with both barrels of my eccentricities and character flaws. That way, he could come to his senses and leave sooner rather than later. And, my thinking at the time went, if he stayed, it wouldn't be because he had stars in his eyes. I wanted him to see me, warts and all. Well, want is a strong word, but, like Zelda, I wanted him to get out of the kitchen toute suite if he couldn't stand the heat.  He's still hanging out in that kitchen. And I adore him for it.

Wonder of wonders, my husband doesn't think I'm broken. He doesn't think I need to be fixed—quickly or otherwise. He's all for self-improvement and he supports my many efforts to leave my comfort zone, learn new things and evolve as a human. And I love him for that, too. But, if you ask him, there's nothing broken about me, and it's clear that Zelda's mate feels the same way about her. What's less clear is why she and I are so convinced we need fixing—enhancement, enrichment and evolution, sure, we all need that. But fundamental repair, not so much.

Maybe I can reframe my self-perceptions and see my work toward personal betterment as augmentation, not rehabilitation. That would be a wonderful thing. And on my good days, when life feels easy and I'm engaging more in accomplishment than activity, I can see through that particular lens. On other days, I'm with Zelda, and marathon therapy sessions start to sound like a great idea.



I just finished a delightful romp through the pages of Robyn Peterman's Switching Hour, book one in her “Magic and Mayhem” series. My biggest complaint is that she provided a fairly sizable excerpt from book two, but it's not even available for pre-order on Amazon. That's what I call a tease. Not nice, Ms. Peterman! And despite the fact that I've berated other authors for writing shallow, frothy characters that long for the depth of Paris Hilton, Ms. Peterman makes it work. Anyone who can get me to laugh out loud is someone on my "must read" list. Belly laughs are to life what silly tiny coats are to toy poodles; an absurd yet perfect fit. Anyway, this isn't a review, although my expression of gratitude to Robyn Peterman for lightening my day and mind with such an enjoyable diversion is sincere. Today, I am going to focus on is our heroine's deep aversion to commitment and how relatable I found it. Zelda is not one to stick around, nor did she have any intention of becoming emotionally attached. In fact, she fought tooth and nail (a little shifter humor there) against feeling anything other than admiration for her smoking hot wardrobe. Phobias-R-Us. Zelda and I might as well be wearing signs.

My affinity to this particular psychological boogeyman was mostly negated when I waltzed down the aisle twenty years ago and let out a very audible sigh of relief upon walking up the steps to join hands with my soon-to-be husband. In many ways, I couldn't believe I'd actually made the trek and hadn't passed out from the anxiety of it all. I'd spent my life sliding bass ackwards into any sort of commitments, and my marriage was no exception. First we bought the dog, the car and the house together with me thinking Xanax thoughts at each step. Then, we merged our checking accounts and got a joint credit card. Finally, we tied the knot. We got home from our honeymoon and nothing had changed but my name (truthfully, I couldn't wait to unload my maiden name--UCHITEL--yes, I know, you have no idea how to pronounce it--hence my enthusiasm for ditching it, even though I adored my father).

It wasn't until I became convinced that life as I knew it wouldn't come to a screeching halt that I was able to entertain the prospect of forever. I always believed that marriage would be a ball and chain around my ankle, cramping my considerable style and damning me to hausfrau hell for all eternity. Turns out I was dead wrong. It was the kids who were the real balls and chains. Just kidding, my darling boys.

When we commit to one thing, we pay the opportunity costs of being able to choose something else. And what if we're wrong? What if we find something better elsewhere? After all, the grass is always greener on the other side (which turns out not to be true--I've spoken to a number of my divorced friends who assure me that life after marriage is not all that fun, and dating in mid-life is kind of like trying to find the way out of an Escher drawing, frustrating without much discernible progress.

Zelda has a different problem with commitment, which is based on her unfortunate upbringing by a narcissistic witch of a mother. Given that I was raised by a narcissistic bitch of a mother, Zelda and I are practically twins separated at birth. Narcissistic parents raise distrustful children who grow up to be adults with serious confidence issues-- both in terms of self confidence and confidence in others. Me and Zelda, we've got that going on. Zelda doesn't want to get attached to anyone or anything because she doesn't plan to stick around, so why bother to develop feelings that will inevitably get hurt?  No gain beyond a designer dud, no pain. Seems simple enough.

Have you ever gone to someone's house and there's nothing hanging on the walls? Usually they say something like, "Yeah, well, we never hung the paintings because we figured we'd only be here a year or two."  Meanwhile, they've been living in that bare-walled box for going on seven years. These are people with commitment issues-- not getting attached to physical spaces is usually just the tip of the phobic iceberg; my guess is that folks like this have trouble committing to an entree selection. They get their order, but want to trade with you halfway through. You know these types. Hell, you might even be one of them.

Like Zelda, however, I have learned over time that making a choice and sticking to it can be quite satisfying. I'm still deliriously happy that I decided to marry my sainted husband. And that we put down roots here in Annapolis and raised our family in one place (although the wanderlust in my soul has had to be placated with lots of travel to cool places to see awesome friends as a counterbalance to remaining in our home). There is power and beauty in commitment. There is growth in commitment, including expansion of the heart.  Commitment can even make a heart as small as the Grinch’s grow three sizes at a stretch. And I thought it was just my hips that were expanding.

At the end of Switching Hour, Zelda embraces her destiny. She also bags the hot guy and decides she can tolerate living in the middle of nowhere, as long as she can continue to rock the ultra chic wardrobe (which looks ridiculous in West Virginia, of course, but this is a fantasy book). I guess when you put it like that, happily ever after starts to look pretty good. I can commit to that.

Batman's Utility Belt

Batman's utility belt.jpg

Note:  Today is the one-year anniversary of my first blog post.  Thank you to everyone who reads and supports my work.  I am so appreciative of your comments, FB likes, tweets and messages.  THANK YOU!!

When I was a kid, I loved to watch the Batman series on TV. It was deliciously kitschy and even as a child I recognized the cheese factor. It was highly entertaining and action packed, which I loved even then (these days I have no interest in a movie unless there are lots of explosions, car chases and shootouts. Rom coms, with the exception of Love, Actually, bore me to tears.  Deep in my soul, I'm a fifteen-year-old boy). Anyway, back to Batman. I loved the show, but I had a major bone to pick with the creators. Actually, two, the first being that the bad guy always wanted to spend time gloating about the impending death and defeat of Batman, which allowed the Caped Crusader to effect his escape. In this, Batman is a lot like James Bond. I've learned to live with this trope. But it's the associated ploy that annoys me to no end; how is it that no matter how improbable the situation, Batman always had exactly right tool to save the day stashed in his utility belt?  Have you noticed that?  It's a deus ex machina of the silliest sort and it's a plot device that I despise.

It can be worse in paranormal and urban fantasy. Sometimes an author can decide to wave her magic wand and make all the protagonists' troubles disappear in what amounts to a puff of smoke. I am not a fan. I was reminded of this particular pet peeve as I was reading the latest in the Arcana Chronicles, Dead of Winter, and its main female character, The Empress, Evie Green, who seems to grow in power minute to minute (not really, and I loved the book, but the new-powers-all-the-time thing was wearing).  I was reminded again as I whipped through Robyn Peterman's Fashionably Dead series starring Astrid Porter. Which in turn led me to think about Anita Blake, who is one of my all-time favorite kick-ass heroines. But all these ladies resort to the pull-a-rabbit-out of-your-hat trick when new, previously unheard of powers, that we've never seen before, and which have not been foreshadowed in any way, appear just when our fair damsels need them. Convenient, much? Drives me nuts. Or, it did. But then I got to thinking. The plot thickens. What I started thinking about was whether I was being self-righteously judgmental. Not that I would ever be like that. Well, maybe sometimes. Or maybe a bit more often than sometimes. I began to wonder whether it is really so unrealistic that new skills evolve over time to meet emerging needs and challenges. At one point, when Astrid, the Chosen One among the vampires, erupts with a new demonic power, surprising herself as much me, the reader, her mate points out that she is evolving, and that time will reveal new abilities as a matter of course. Which is true.  As we grow and learn and evolve, we are all certainly capable of gaining new abilities and powers.  After all, none of us is born knowing how to read or write or do math (I still can’t do math, but one never knows what new superpowers will emerge in the future!).I believe strongly in learning new things.  All the time.  I believe in changing it up, getting comfortable with new equipment, software, TVs and tablets, etc.  I believe very strongly in continually challenging myself to do something new as often as possible and to get out of my comfort zone. I believe in making an investment of time and pain to keep myself sharp and relevant.  I believe if we aren’t moving forward, we’re moving backward.  And I believe that if we’re not making progress toward self-improvement, we are stagnating.  And stagnation feels like death to me.  Now, it’s true that there is a fine line between stagnation and contentment.  And that there is an even finer line between necessary regeneration and sloth.  But, wow, those lines are so hard to find.  And I’ve got to say that I’d rather err on the side of moving forward with both barrels blazing than come to find out that I’ve become standing water that is inexorably evaporating.And I do understand that not everyone thinks the way I do (this is a good thing, I’m told by many who love me).  But, honestly, I don’t really get it.  Why wouldn’t we want to have new tools to use for the myriad situations life tends to throw at us?  Batman had the right idea—a tool for every fool.  Wait, no, that wasn’t it.  A toy for every boy?  No, that doesn’t work either.  How about a solution for every challenge? An answer for every question? Is that a fantasy, more appropriate for mythical superheroes than for garden variety humans like myself?  Probably. But I can still work toward that as my ideal.  Nothing wrong with striving toward perfection, as long as we realize we aren’t going to get there in this lifetime.

So, new day, new trick.  Just like Astrid and Evie and Anita. I could do a lot worse than be like them. Perhaps I will give my annoyance a rest, for today, and see the truth in this fantasy; where I believe that new powers are mine for the asking and the taking—provided that I am willing to work to get them. I’m going to strap on my handy, dandy utility belt—just like the Dark Knight—and I’m going to be extraordinary.  Wanna join me?