Shelly Laurenston

Confidence and Insecurity

I used to prefer my world in black and white, a time when my options were either/or and never both/and. It was a simpler – albeit less accurate – worldview. These days, I’m more comfortable with shades of grey, although not all 50 of them. And in moving away from absolute thinking, I’ve learned to hold seemingly contradictory views simultaneously. I understand that extraordinary kindness can coexist with extreme intolerance for stupidity, mendacity and banality. That intelligence in one area is no guarantee of high cognitive function in another. And confidence can coincide with insecurity. All in the same person. The heroine of Shelly Laurenston’s The Unyielding, Erin, is one such person. I’m another. 

Go Team

I’m partially through The Unyielding, the third and maybe last book of Shelly Laurenston’s Call of Crows series. These women warriors are fierce females. I love them and the men who claim their hearts. They are badass to the bone, battling to save the world as we know it. Along the way, naturally, they fight, vanquish monsters and of course…fall in love. Would that my world was drawn in such high relief. There is plenty of fantasy in Laurenston’s work, and also a great deal of truth, as is often the case in my beloved books. The most salient aspect of the Crows—women brought back to life by the goddess Skuld to express their rage and exact revenge—is that they are a team. All for one and one for all. They advance together and defend each other to the death. That’s a team I want to be on. Pick me!

Ride the Wave

I’m deep into the second book in the Call of Crows series by Shelley Laurenston, The Undoing. This is the story of Jace, an aptly named berserker Crow; she gets insanely angry and bad shit happens. To other people. Jace had a hard life and a bad death at the hands of her husband. When she is reborn as a Crow she lets rage be her guide (the mantra of the Crows, who are the harbingers of death for the Norse gods). She’s down with that. Jace lets her red rage shine out of her eyes and scare the ever-living fuck out of her targets. Jace’s after life is sweet. Sure, there are challenges—this is a romance after all and we can’t have smooth sailing to the inevitable HEA—but she’s got her groove on as a Crow, she’s living a life inspired by her goddess. It’s a hella good time.

Order and Chaos

I’ve just finished The Unleashing, the first book of Shelley Laurenston’s Call of Crows series. I love Shelley Laurenston. She has a deeply disturbed mind and she publishes at the speed of light, so I have a plethora of paranormal romances to enjoy. Heaven. This series explores the world of the Norse pantheon and their mortal servants. The Crows are women brought back to life by the goddess Skuld to be the strike team of the gods. They are the harbingers of death and a more diverse group of fiercely independent women I’ve never seen. I’d sign up immediately if it didn’t involve getting murdered first. The whole death thing is a dealbreaker for me. 

What If

As I finished Shelly Laurenston’s The Mane Squeeze the intensity of Gwen’s descent into hell—otherwise known as “what if?” disease—struck me. Before her star turn as a roller derby babe, Gwen is wracked with visions of all that could possibly go wrong and all the disastrous consequences of said outcomes. What if she gets hurt and can’t finish the match? What if she lets the team down? What if, what if, what if? Sounds like hell to me.

Something Shiny

I’m laughing my way through The Mane Squeeze by Shelly Laurenston. I needed something light and distracting to offset all the emotion of the last couple of weeks, and I’m enjoying the lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my.  Especially the bears—who shift into large, gorgeous hunks. Yep, it’s definitely working for me; takes my mind off the fact that I’m no longer a high school mom. And I had a birthday stuck in the middle of the graduation festivities, so I’m feeling old as dirt. Luckily, I’m not too old to enjoy a hot, sexy bear shifter and his tough-as-nails hybrid mate, in this case a tigon—half lion and half tiger. From Philly. Doesn’t get any tougher than that. Except maybe an uber-diva from Manhattan. Apparently, we have a lot in common. 

Sensitivity and Snowflakes

I'm still thinking about G.A. Aiken's Bring the Heat, the latest in her Dragon Kin series. I love these books. The characters are so deliciously bloodthirsty and direct. It's refreshing. So many in this world hide behind silence and indirect attacks. I love the lack of filter, having almost none myself. It's good to spend time with those of a like mind, even if it's only between pages. Especially then.  But I digress before I've even begun. Why am I thinking of filters and frankness? Because G.A. Aiken also writes about the sensitives in the world—hers and ours. In describing one of the characters who "felt more deeply, lived more heartily, loved with her entire being," the author also noted that "she could also break more easily and all that lovely goodness curdle."  In our world, we call these people "snowflakes," those who melt at the first sign of any heat. Let’s unpack these ideas. In today's society, we are encouraged to have a thick skin, not to take insults, snide remarks or petty slights personally or seriously. If we take umbrage we are often exhorted to act like a duck and let the offense roll off our backs. And there is wisdom in that approach. We can't let insults from idiots ruin our day. On the other hand, sensitivity is a desirable trait in life, allowing us to read people and situations, giving us emotional intelligence that can lead to success and happiness. 

True Believers

I love paranormal fantasy. There is no other genre like it.  Where else can authors think up the most extreme, fantastical scenarios to make a point about good old fashioned reality?  Nowhere else will you find such Truth in Fantasy. In today's ripped-from-the-headlines post, we are discussing the almost inconceivable—to me—phenomenon of zealotry and the ridiculous lengths to which idiots will go to conform to beliefs that defy logic. Before you argue too quickly with me, I do understand that a man rising from the dead after three days defies logic, as does a burning bush and a hat that talks, but I'm talking philosophy not mythology. What I don't understand and cannot possibly relate to is the idea that there's a deity out there that espouses hate, marginalization and violence. Or that any world view worth fighting and dying for would advocate genocide or racial enslavement. Who are these people and is every single one of them suffering from small-penis issues? Must be. 

The Lost Art of Courtesy

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'm reading Book Eight in G.A. Aiken's Dragon Kin series, Feel the Burn. This installment focuses on Kachka, a (rather fierce) human, and Gaius Lucius Domitus an Iron Dragon and the Rebel King. As always, it's an entertaining story of dragon shifters living in a world with two suns and many gods. This time, the war is religious rather than political and thus the carnage is commensurately greater. And, as always it’s a satisfying read that engages my intellect while satisfying my craving for a good story with interesting characters all the while providing grist for the mill of my blog. In Feel the Burn, Kachka is a daughter of the Steppes: rough-hewn, tough and no nonsense. Kachka and her sisters live close to the land in a society dominated by women. Men serve them and raise their children and there seems little purpose or desire for common courtesy. They don't have it and they don't miss it. On the other hand, Gaius is a king, a royal with a court and courtiers, where courtesy is an essential part of the comportment and decorum package. In Gaius' world, none can imagine an existence without the intricacies of court protocols. When these two ways of being collide, everyone feels the burn. 

So which world’s rules are right?  Are my teenaged children correct in thinking that courtesy is an overrated, outdated, useless convention of old farts like their parents? Are they right to assume that my husband and I have no idea how people live these days? Am I silly to try to teach them the tenets of basic courtesy?  To insist, to the best of my ability, that they adhere to the social mores of my time rather than their perceived reality of a world in which courtesy is passé?   No. No, I am not an anachronism. I do not spend my time thinking that, "Young people these days are going to hell in a hand basket."

I believe in courtesy as an essential tool of living in a relationship. With anyone. This includes strangers on the street and lovers with whom we share our souls. Courtesy is the magic bullet, the secret sauce, the "Open Sesame" of good behavior of all kinds. I can't think of a situation where a simple "Please," "Thank you," "After you," or an acknowledgement of another's existence with a non-committal "Good Day," is not appropriate. Also always appropriate is the appellation "Sir" or "Ma'am," the request to, "Excuse me" or "Pardon me" and the question, "How may I help you?"

None of these courtesies means that you like someone or want them to be your best friend. We can be courteous to anyone regardless of how we feel about them. There is no reason to stoop when we come to a low place. Take the high road. One thing my young sons have yet to learn is that excruciating courtesy is an excellent way to be quite obnoxious. Courtesy in the face of poor behavior only serves to make the bad boy or girl look churlish, mean and petty.

Nor should familiarity breed contempt in the form of shortcuts to courtesy. I see so many people--those I know and those I don't--fail to thank their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and close friends for the daily services we do for one another. Not me. I am scrupulous about acknowledging a service or a kindness. This includes at restaurants and stores, doctor's offices and gas stations. Because I never hesitate to inform a manager about bad service, I am equally meticulous about commending those who go above and beyond. I am quite put out when I'm not acknowledged in return. My husband and children are great about thanking me for cooking breakfast or dinner, or picking them up from a social event or going out of the path of my life to do something for them.  My husband was effusive in his thanks last week when I let him sleep in and I took his turn to drive the kids to school. It feels good to be appreciated. And it serves him well in return as it incents me to repeat the kindness.

Another advantage of courtesy is that it can effectively diffuse fights and what would otherwise be curt exchanges between my family members and me.  Courtesy is like taking a time out or ten deep breaths. It gives you room to act rather than react. It's also like a reset button on any interaction. Courtesy can diffuse and de-escalate a tense situation and transform an awkward encounter into a comfortable conversation.

Courtesy is classy, which has nothing to do with wealth or actual social standing. Class is a manner of being and behaving. A courteous person sweats class from their pores. If they were to sweat, that is, which they don't, of course. They glow, don’tcha know?  And as a courtesy, we pretend not to notice.

Courtesy is an essential element of a well-dressed man or woman, without which no one can be considered adequately groomed.  Courtesy, as Kachka grudgingly realizes toward the end of the book, makes the world a nicer place to live. Courtesy is one of the small pleasantries that makes living less ugly and more manageable. Courtesy reminds us that we are all humans sharing the same planet. Even if it takes a dragon king to teach a human daughter of the Steppes what's what and who's who. I’m not sure what it will take to teach two teenaged boys the same thing, but I’ll get back to you on that one. 

The High Price of Hubris

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I'm enjoying Dragon on Top, the latest installment of G.A. Aiken's (the nom de plume of Shelly Laurenston) Dragon Kin series. I adore this series because it always brings a smile to my face; this extended shapeshifting-dragon family is crude, loud and proud. In fact, each faction of dragons is more arrogant than the last, and it's a rocking good time to see them taken down a notch (usually through the power of love, so it's nice—and naughty, it’s a twofer). All of these arrogant dragons got me thinking about the fatal flaw of hubris. It's a killer. There's a reason Greek tragedies focus on the issue. Arrogance is a character defect. It is the opposite of humility, which is also a grossly misunderstood trait. I've actually spent a great deal of time contemplating my navel... I mean thinking about the twin notions of hubris and humility. I used to confuse confidence and arrogance while simultaneously mixing up humility with humiliation. I doubt I'm alone in my befuddlement. 

Take my current predicament, for example. For about the past ten years (out of a total of almost 16), I've felt pretty confident of my skills as a parent. Our kids were secure, outgoing, athletic and intellectually gifted. They defended those who were weaker and/or less popular than they, and they were good with adults without being as smarmy as Eddie Haskell. That they drove me crazy was more about the fact that it wasn't a very long distance to travel in the first place, more than it was about any particular deficiencies or issues on their part. Our kids talked to me and told me what was going on, more so than other kids. I thought I was the shit. 

That would be an excellent example of hubris, and it is coming back to bite me in the ass, as it always does. I'm just praying that the consequences are less severe than they were for, say, Oedipus. I'm also praying that my son doesn't pay the price for my pride.

It turns out that our "older" son (by 90 seconds) is much more of a typical teenager than I'd hoped. His father and I actually need to intervene a lot more than I thought we would. I've had absolutely no idea what I'm doing, except all parties are telling me that what I’m doing isn't working. So I was feeling fairly humiliated, not to mention clueless, ineffective and totally oblivious.

And then a friend pointed out that this wasn't about me. Oops. This was true. And what was called for in the face of my previous pride was not humiliation, but humility. Sounds good and all, but what the hell did it mean? My very patient friend calmly explained that humility is a simple concept; humility is the state of being teachable. As opposed to arrogance, the state of knowing it all, in the country of "Why should I listen to you?"

My friend's explanation hit me like a ton of bricks. Not teachable? Me? Know it all? Moi? Surely she jested. But no, she was as serious as Severus Snape in the middle of a Defense Against the Dark Arts class. I was brought up short. This was one step beyond even Egypt—I wasn't just in denial, I was treading the waters of the Atlantic, that's how far off course I was.  I needed to become teachable, fast. 

One would think I'd have learned this lesson already. My hubris has cost me plenty in the past. As a senior in high school I was on a glide path toward certain Harvard admission. I was near the top of my class and our college counselor had served as a Harvard admissions officer in a previous incarnation. I’d always assumed I would attend the most prestigious school in the nation. I guess you know where this story is heading, and it ain't Cambridge. Being the highly annoying, massively arrogant seventeen year-old that I was, I thought Harvard should be honored to have me, so I showed up for my interview in jeans and an attitude. Long story short, no Harvard for me. Not even wait listed. That was a hard, hard lesson to learn. Not only did I not know it all, I knew nothing, Jon Snow. 

You'd think I'd learn. But, if I'm not humble and not teachable, then I'm not gonna learn squat. And the Universe is going to keep giving me additional learning opportunities until I am well and truly schooled.  Even the dragons in Ms. Aiken's stories learn faster than I do, apparently, and they’re dragons, for pity's sake!

So it's back to the blackboard for me to learn my lessons. I'm hoping to avoid the fate of Bart at the beginning of every episode of “The Simpsons”, but more will be revealed. In the meantime, In the meantime, I will remind myself to be humble – because none of us – whether, dragon or human – knows it all.

Practice Makes Perfect

New Year’s is a time to make resolutions, or, for me, to set intentions. It is a time of new beginnings and of endless possibilities. Most of these have to do with accomplishing a goal, like writing a book (my goal for 2015!), or losing weight, or finding love, or getting a degree.  And many have to do with adopting good habits. Which begs the question, why are good habits so hard to have and to hold onto?  For me, it's a function of being able (or not) to design and maintain routines and practices. Some people enjoy routine and the control it brings. Others prefer spontaneity, adventure and serendipity (otherwise known as surprises). I’m a spontaneous kind of gal, as you may have guessed, and I have a majorly rebellious streak when it comes to routine and persistent practices. I hate doing what is expected of me.  Even when the expectations are generated by none other than yours truly.

This dichotomy between routine and spontaneity was illustrated in the latest Dragon Kin book, Light My Fire.  G.A. Aiken is a master of characterization, and even minor characters are well drawn.  Light My Fire introduces two relatively minor (so far) characters, Brother Magnus and Talan, the half-human, half-dragon Prince of the Southlands. When the book begins, Magnus is slogging through the mind-numbing, soul-sucking routine of being a cloistered monk in a remote monastery. Boh-ring! And then he spies his friend, Talan, who has been a fellow monk for years, slipping out the side door of the monastery. When Talan tells Magnus that he's leaving, never to return, and invites Magnus to join him in his adventures, Magnus hesitates only a moment and then he's all in. Magnus can't wait to get the hell out of Dodge and embrace the exhilaration of uncharted waters. Made me think about how much I like to shake it up and shake it off, despite my antipathy for Ms. Swift.

So, what can we make of these disparate, though related thoughts?  Plenty, that's for sure.  Routine is boring. Doing the same thing day after day, year after year is difficult, if not impossible. It's monotonous and makes me, like Magnus, run screaming from the room. I totally get it. In fact, when I was in my early twenties, I left a boyfriend almost exclusively because I knew my life with him would be filled with the drudgery of routine and horrors of habit and that my life would be one, seemingly-endless recurring loop till the day I died—Tuesday lunch with the ladies, Friday bridge or Mah Jong, yearly vacations to the same exact places, monthly dinners with the same exact friends, season tickets every season. You can see why I ran screaming from that relationship?  

Well, maybe you can't.  I’m told that there are some folks who actually like it when life is the same day in and day out.  Grocery shopping on Saturdays, house cleaning on Sundays, hamburgers on Tuesdays and family game night on Thursdays. Okie dokey—whatever floats your boat is fine with me. Because for some, a life of secure predictability sounds like heaven. But not for me and Magnus and Talan.

So, here I was, feeling pretty righteous in my preferences and the company I was keeping (Talan is a prince, after all), when I was brought up short by a priestly sermon, no less.  I was at church (not a place you’ll often find me, as I’m not a Christian, but I was with my in-laws who appreciate that I attend), when I heard the preacher talking about rituals leading us to God.  He talked about how tiring it is to be persistent and to do the same things again and again.  The priest made a virtue of monotony and talked about needing strength to not get tired and give up.  He suggested that persistence in the face of sameness is celestial. He had a point.

It takes strength to do whatever it is that we don’t do naturally or comfortably.  If you’re like me and find elation in the unexpected, then routine is challenging. If you prefer the serenity of the mundane, then flexibility is the more demanding task for you. But no matter how much one craves certainty, everyone likes a break in the tedium, a departure from the daily grind.  And that is exactly when we need to remember our resolutions, or intentions. Because good intentions require a commitment to repetition, and a willingness to endure tedium.  All worthwhile practices, like exercise, or journaling, or learning a musical instrument or a new language demand putting in the hours.  I believe it was 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.  10,000—that’s a big number. Way too big for me to contemplate doing more than one at a time.

So, I’ll learn a little from Brother Magnus and Prince Talan and a bit more from the priest’s sermon. I’ll set my New Year’s intentions and hope I can persist in my practices to the point where I see some results for my labors. I’ll stare at that blank page day after day, hoping some words will magically appear in the white space and become my book.  I am reminded of the oft-quoted phrase that writing is more about hard work than inspiration. Personally, I wish the Muse would show up, possess me and be done with it. In the meantime, I’ll try to tame my inner Talan and tolerate the tedium.  Because practice makes perfect. Or something like that.

Restless, Irritable, and Discontent

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Why is it that some people just set us off? Why can one person say something and it's fine, but then someone else says it and you want to beat the shit out of them?  I've been spending lots of quality time with family, and I'm just about ready to commit murder. And how, you might ask, am I going to tie this bitch session into one of my beloved fantasy novels?  Never fear, my book addiction comes through for me yet again!  I'm reading the latest installment of G. A. Aiken's Dragon Kin series. This offering, Light My Fire, is about Celyn the Charming and Elina. Celyn annoys pretty much everyone, and they all complain loudly about him. I can relate to their annoyance. And complaints.

And because this is my blog, I'm going to indulge myself in a bit of a cathartic rant. And hopefully achieve and impart a little wisdom along the way. Because I'm me, I've got to spend at least some time considering the whys and wherefores of the situation. Because it really does seem like it's only some people who really get our goat, while others get a pass. I'm wondering whether there are specific characteristics or circumstances that contribute to weighting the scale toward one side or the other.

One element is certainly the tone with which a comment or conversation is delivered. This is why text and email are such dangerous communications media. No tone at all. No ability to soften or sharpen a statement to modulate the message in any way. But then there are times when the person communicating is standing right in front of you, or maybe on the phone and we get the full benefit of their tone and we wished we hadn't. Because the obnoxious tone, coupled with the offensive comment is enough to send us over the edge. And yes, you know exactly what I'm talking about, don't you? And then there's the situation where the issue isn't so much what is said or how the message is delivered. It's the history between two people that tars every statement with the bad blood of a difficult relationship. So when my mother used to make comments on my clothes and appearance, even if the comments were relatively benign, they would set me off as much as if she had accused me of dressing like a two-bit whore. Oh, wait, she did accuse me of dressing like a two bit whore. Which is why pretty much everything she said to me pissed me off. She's gone now but there are others, who shall remain nameless, who make me angry no matter what they say. And part of that is the fact that he has been saying nasty things to me for twenty years. So I get to be annoyed. 

Sometimes, the issue is simply where we are in the present moment that spoils a comment or a conversation for us. If I'm in a pissy mood, which happens more often than I would like, I can take offense or just get fed up with something someone says just because. But if they said the same thing to me when I was in a better mood, no harm, no foul. Which seems kind of unfair to the poor unfortunate who pissed me off because I was in a bad mood. Oh, well.

Another thing that can completely derail my equanimity is the Chinese water torture of someone who just does not know when to quit. Just like Celyn in Light My Fire who asks question after question after question, it can drive a person to drink. I have a kid like that. God love his curiosity, it's a wonderful quality. Except when I cannot answer any more question lest my head explode. Although I try not to show my impatience so I don't quash his inquiring mind, which I am certain will serve him well in his adulthood.

The only productive way to handle this issue, then, is to ask ourselves a series of questions involving how we can channel this irritation toward the greater good, rather than becoming mired in impatience and eventually bitterness. No one likes a curmudgeon. So, what can we do about it? What would we like to do versus what should we do, that is the question. Personally, I'd like to make sure everyone who annoys, offends or irritates me gets it back in spades. But that is neither practical nor nice, so let's move beyond that particular fantasy. What we should do about it is a two-fold prescription: first, let it roll off of you. You know, like a duck. Second, turn off the revenge fantasies. No getting back at folks who annoy us.  It is not a good plan.

Because in truth, the problem is ours not theirs. Any irritation or impatience we feel toward someone else says a lot more about us than it does about them, of course. Only we have the power to give away our power and allow others to disturb our serenity. So don't do it. Just say no. Smile at the irritating person and tell them how much you enjoy their witty repartee. Abandon our high horses and jump down to earth. Because that is the major function of being irritated with others: it makes us feel superior-- we are less irritating, less annoying, smarter and more clever than our exasperating friends and family. We simply feel better when we are irked. Which is why we need to avoid these specious feelings of vexation and resultant superiority.  We need to be tolerant and calm. Not for anyone else's benefit, but for our own.

So, I've come full circle. Celyn gave me the exuse to indulge in thinking about how everyone was annoying me. I was happy to think it was them not me. But I've come to realize it's me, not them. Wow, that sucks. Only good news is that I have a lot more control over myself than others. So if it is within my power to be the duck, then I'm gonna start quacking. I'd rather be a dragon, of course, but it's not clear water rolls off their scales as well as feathers. A question for the ages. 

Merry Christmas, to all who celebrate. Happy night to all who don't. The New Year is almost upon us. Are you getting ready to set your intentions for 2015? 

Old Familiar Places

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As you all know, I get so sad when I come to the end of a series.  Truly, I dread the time when I know I have nothing left to read in a particular set of books because I’ve spent so much time with the characters and become so invested in their stories that I just don’t want the party to end.  But end it does, as my wishes rarely have a terribly significant impact on reality, which is a shame.  Anyway—the end of a series leaves me with two choices—spend some time researching a new author and a new cast of characters in a fantasy world I’d want to inhabit for a time, or go back to an old favorite and console myself with the comfort of familiarity and proven enjoyment as I recover from the end of a beautiful relationship.

I’ve been known to do both, in fact, and it occurs to me that my habits are not so far off from what happens in real life when a love relationship ends.  How many of us have scrolled through our contacts (back in my day it was an address book, but same concept) looking for someone we can call for some uncomplicated love?  I know I’ve been guilty of that more than once (before my marriage, of course).  When a relationship ends, it sometimes seems like too much trouble to get to know someone new.  It’s a daunting task to endure the inevitable awkwardness and uncertainty of “will it work or not” that occurs when we audition a new prospect for the role of dream lover or even potential life partner –or both- if we’re very, very lucky.  Sometimes the thought of starting all over again seems like losing those last ten pounds, climbing Mt. Everest and getting a 1600 on the SATs all at the same time.  No can do.  At least not when I’m still raw from the end of a particularly wonderful series.

And that’s when a retread is just the thing.  It’s familiar.  It’s predictable.  It’s comfortable and comforting.  At least in terms of revisiting books.  Because if we take my analogy a bit further, it doesn’t hold up so well in the real world. In the real world, moving backwards and rekindling old flames can sometimes mean opening a can of exceptionally unpleasant worms. For example, we might know that a toddle down memory lane with an old lover is an extremely bad idea, but how many of us actually listen to that insistent little voice in our heads saying “Danger, Will Robinson”? Not me, I’ll tell you.  Nah, I used to barrel forward heedless of the danger, knowing that the old familiar road seemed a lot less scary than forging a new path.  Sometimes, the road less traveled just looks isolated and foreboding and definitely best avoided.  After all, I’m from New York where I learned that if a neighborhood park or street is deserted, then what the hell are you thinking by being there? Asking for big trouble, that’s what.

And who wants big trouble, right? But that’s the fear talking, not the part of us that embraces new experiences, trusting that expanding our horizons is (almost) always for the good and an endeavor to be pursued.  So, the good news is that after a few repeat performances with someone we’ve danced with before, and the realization that it doesn’t work any better now than it did then, we feel ready to move onto new adventures.

Luckily for me –and for you, too, there is significantly less angst involved in transitioning between fantasy novels than there is in romantic relationships.  The really good news in that there’s always a lot less baggage and fewer bad memories associated with revisiting a particular fantasy series that we’ve loved and lost.  We we reread books, there’s no resentment or anger or heartache (unless you are one of the folks who’s still mad at Charlaine Harris for how she ended the Sookie Stackhouse series—come on, guys, she foreshadowed that particular plot twist beginning in the very first book and then kept dropping hints like bread crumbs for Hansel and Gretel to follow! Get over it, already!).  Oops, did I digress again?

Back to the issue at hand, revisiting well-loved books or even whole series.  Personally, I reread Sookie’s story at least once a year, and also the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning. I pick up Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison when nothing and no one else can elevate my mood from the pits of despair, just cause I love it so much. I frolic with G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin when I want to smile, and laugh out loud with MaryJanice Davidson’s Queen Betsy when I really need a belly-full.

And the best part is that there’s absolutely no downside to indulging in my desire to make everything old new again with my reading and plumb the depths of these beautiful books to get a new insight or remind myself of a profound truth. Rereading books is nothing, in fact, like revisiting an old lover who might have picked up something nasty since the last interlude.  So, stick with books for your retreads rather than last year’s boyfriend or girlfriend. Because we can’t find truth in fantasy everywhere, just between the pages of our beloved books. And after we've finished revisiting books we've read before, we can move on to something new and marvelous.

See and Be Seen

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One of the things I loved about Costa Rica was that it was definitely not the place to see and be seen. Women weren’t dressed to the nines and dripping with diamonds. The men didn’t feel compelled to hide their protruding bellies under bespoke suits. It was extremely refreshing to be in a luxury environment where everyone wasn’t trying to one up everyone else in terms of perfect highlights and the most noticeable designer labels—not that this is the only way to see and be seen, of course, but it’s certainly prominent almost everywhere you go.

My husband, Michael, gets mad at me for staring at high-end cars as they drive down the road—invariably by a middle-aged or older man who is usually bald. Michael tells me that I’m giving them exactly what they want with my attention, and that I shouldn’t reward such blatant efforts to be seen by looking. It’s an interesting idea. I have a very close friend who dated a guy with a Porsche 911 that had a license plate that said, “Not True.” Apparently he wasn’t lying, but you have to ask yourself why he felt compelled to tell everyone. But I digress. Again.

There are lots of ways we fulfill what appears to be a basic human desire to be seen, and to be recognized. I was talking to my boss, the high-level Defense Department guy, about some women we saw walking down the street in Las Vegas wearing not very much. He wondered why they dressed that way (apparently, he really didn’t understand—sigh).  I explained that I used to dress that way when I was younger because I wanted men to look at me (women too, but for different reasons). He seemed perplexed by that, probably because he’s never really seen that side of me. Many of us dress to impress—it’s the only reason for short skirts and sky-high pumps. Not to mention wife beaters.  On the other hand, as the great costume designer, Edith Head noted, if it’s not pretty, cover it up. Unfortunately, there are way too may folks out there who really don’t understand this concept. As Karen Marie Moning would say, muffin top and camel toe—Gah!! In addition to all the posturing we undertake to be noticed, there’s a whole range of sexually stimulating practices that progress from voyeurism to exhibitionism. These tendencies are explored by Gwenvael and Dagmar from G.A. Aiken’s Dragon Kin series. They both like to watch. And, it turns out, they both like the potential danger of discovery to add a dash of spice to already white-hot sex. The multimillion dollar porn industry is a testament to how deeply the voyeuristic current runs beneath our culture. Hey, our fascination Miley’s twerking ass is a monument to our willingness to watch, and enjoy—although sometimes we put a fig leaf of self-righteous anger over our enjoyment, lest anyone suspect the naked hunger with which we participate in these voyeuristic daydreams. And I’ll definitely cop to the other side of that coin and admit to engaging in a few public displays of affection, if you know what I mean. I’ll skip the specific longitude and latitude, in case anyone was inclined to show up and actually watch, but my husband and I have been known to frolic occasionally in some very public places. Except for the need for some uncomfortable contortions, it can be quite fun.

And all of this looking and being looked at (like switching the view on my iPhone camera) is all around us now. Instagram and Snapchat allow us to document our lives and watch the progression of those of our friends in living color. I’m not sure what it means that we have become both the subjects and the objects of our own voyeuristic exhibitionist fantasies--but I’m sure I’ll explore that in another post (kind of brings to mind the man from Nantucket—who needs anyone else?)

We cry out for attention—look at me, look at me--and then we act like the dog that caught the car and go into full on-retreat, because we don’t actually want anyone to see us. No way. Not if we’re going to bare ourselves completely. So, we want to see and be seen, but only the parts we’ve deemed acceptable for public viewing, as a friend of mine once described her new, surgically improved mid-section. So we go back to hiding our true selves and projecting only what we want people to see.

And that’s assuming anyone is even looking. Because what these new opportunities for exhibitionism are doing is significantly diluting the view. There’s so much to see these days that we are forced to go to extremes to get anyone’s attention. And I don’t care if no one ever pays attention to me again; I’m not wearing a dress made out of bacon.

All of this voyeurism and exhibitionism leads to thinking about the kinds of looks and lookers we’re attracting. When we resort to hyperbole to catch the light, it’s only the sparkle of a cubic zirconia. Not real.  Inauthentic. Not for me, thanks. I’m interested in the light that reflects off real diamonds—brilliant, white-hot, and mesmerizing. That’s how I want to see and be seen. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.