I’m mourning. I just finished the last of the novellas featuring Dragos and Pia, Planet Dragos. The first time I read it, I was too preoccupied by the end of those characters’ arc to appreciate fully the story itself. Upon my second reading, I’ve found many aspects that made me think and even more that made me feel.
I’m in a book desert and my muse has taken an extended vacation. Sucks to be me. So I do what I’ve always done and pray that it will get me to where I always end up: with a new book that speaks to my soul and a shot of inspiration that kindles my creativity. I hope. I think. Maybe. Whenever I get here, convinced I’ve been abandoned and betrayed by all that I hold dear, I have to talk myself out of the endless loops of fear and anxiety that are old tapes that play in my brain. Not easy and not fun. But I can do it and I do, with a little help from my best book friends.
You know I love my fantasy with a strong dose of truth. I believe in happily ever after, but I also believe that life, specifically mine over the last couple of weeks, sometimes gets in the way. I've had to make some difficult choices about where and how to spend my time. Most unfortunately, my blog has been the big loser in my time management of late. But never fear: I will adjust to my new normal and I will learn how to get 'er done. All of it. Somehow. Luckily, I enjoyed a special treat this past week: a new Thea Harrison novella. I'm on her ARC team (yay!!) and was given an advanced copy of a new anthology, Amid the Winter Snow, with her story, The Chosen, nestled in the middle. It was transportive. And authentic. My favorite.
I finished Spellbinder by Thea Harrison, a number of weeks ago and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. This is the second in her Moonshadow series and it was compelling with a complex plot, characters I felt were old friends and themes that made me think. The story's heroine, Sidonie, a concert violinist, is kidnapped and taken to Avalon (King Arthur’s Avalon), where she is imprisoned and tortured. Eventually, Sid is discovered by a "Magic Man" (he is actually the masculine incarnation of Morgan Le Fey) who heals her and helps her, bringing her food and drink in her prison. In one especially poignant scene, Sid is eating the bread and grapes her savior has brought and she thinks to herself that "she had ever been so grateful for so little before." And she realizes just how very privileged she'd been. I try to stay away from politics in this space, but the subject of privilege is all over the news, and I need to comment. I hope that many of you saw Tina Fey parodying herself as a privileged white liberal urging all of those outraged by the events in Charlottesville to take up "sheetcaking" as a coping mechanism and grassroots political movement.
In Spellbinder, Sidonie realizes that privilege wasn't something she thought about much. Which is, of course, the nature of privilege. Privilege is what we take for granted because we've never experienced life any other way. It's why there were those—on the left—who fundamentally didn't understand what Tina Fey did. Tina was so brilliant in her satire on privilege, that way too many privileged people had no idea she was engaging in satirical commentary, not political advice.
By any number of metrics, I was born privileged and remain firmly ensconced in the category. I'm white, educated, affluent. By these measures, I possess the social capital that many in this world do not. And that privilege has served me well. I've taken every advantage but I don't fool myself into thinking I "deserved” any of it. If any of us deserves privilege, all of us do. But just that recognition signifies that I'm able to, sometimes, "check my privilege," meaning I can see beyond my circumstances that perhaps my worldview isn't—quite—universal.
While I'm all of the above, I'm also female and Jewish, two characteristics that topple me from the privilege pedestal and help me, on occasion, to check my privilege.
My husband shares neither my gender nor my religion. Because of this, there are things I know he simply doesn't understand. I don't hold it against him. Usually. But he will never have the experience of being mistaken, again and again, for the secretary in my early career, just because I was a young woman. And it didn't matter that I had three Ivy League degrees, or that I was an authority in my field. They saw two X chromosomes and decided that half my brain was missing. You know, the Y half.
My husband has never had to be hyper vigilant when walking at night. I suspect he thinks I'm a little silly because I won't park my car in a garage after dark and go get it myself. I don't think anyone is completely immune to fearing attack in bad neighborhoods, but men, unlike women, don't worry about sexual assault. They don't have to. Just like Christians don't understand antisemitism. They just don't.
Sometimes, it feels good to be with others like me, and my husband doesn't belong in that group. I've always thought he felt slightly uncomfortable, especially in our early years, at Passover Seders and at synagogue on High Holy days. He didn't belong there. Just like Jews feel excluded when people make insensitive remarks that they have no idea are insensitive. They forgot to check their privilege when they ask me what I think about Israel, or whether Jared Kushner is a good influence on his father-in-law (and for the record, no). Christians wouldn't think to ask each other these questions or that their fellow bacon lovers would have any sort of inside track on the answers.
Privilege can harm those who got the short straw in many ways. I'm indebted to Cecilia Tan for some of these ideas about privilege, including the list of potential harms that unequal privilege can create, including objectification, stereotyping, dehumanization, sexism, racism, ableism, and classism. And I know that many white, Christian males (and some females, too, God help them), roll their eyes so far back in their heads when they hear this sort of "drivel" that they resemble Brandon Stark when he's doing his Warg thing. But that doesn't make it any less true.
And I'm not advocating for safe spaces and trigger warnings—necessarily. But would it kill people to think about why some people believe we need them? If you've never experienced the degradation of prejudice, bigotry and willful ignorance, then stop rolling your fucking eyes. Open them. Pay attention next time a woman makes a suggestion and it's ignored and watch what happens when a man makes the same suggestion and he's Einstein. Really?! Really.
And I haven't even touched on what it must be like for people of color. Or people with disabilities. Or people who are transgendered. Or whatever it is we are that we didn't choose to be and can't change. Many of us embrace our identities as being outside the privileged classes. And that's a great response because we accept ourselves and love ourselves just the way we are. But it's not like we could decide to wake up one day and be something else—one of the few, the proud, the privileged. It doesn't work like that.
So, I'm going to get myself some sheet cake and shove it in my mouth while reading my beloved Thea Harrison. Where I find many truths about timely topics, and where I can learn to become a more sensitive and grateful human.
I tried. I did. I intended to read only the first book, just for a little pick-me-up. And then move on to the rest of my TBR list, which is beginning to virtually rival the Empire State Building in height (only because I read on my Kindle). But I couldn't resist. Once I entered the world of the Elder Races, I was hooked—line and sinker—and moved helplessly on to the next and the next. So, here we are with another post inspired by Thea Harrison's amazing books. The book in question is Storm's Heart, within which we learn about Niniane, the heir to the Dark Fae throne, and her Wyr mate, the Thunderbird Tiago. This is one kick ass couple and the story of their mating as Niniane ascends the throne amidst assassination attempts and disgruntled subjects is storytelling as art. One of the most interesting passages in the book comes as Niniane contemplates what it will take to be queen and thinks about what her old mentor and protector, Dragos (my favorite dragon), would do. Dragos told Niniane that she had "one great flaw when it came to taking the throne." "You want to be liked," Dragos had warned her. Wanting to be liked is not a helpful characteristic in a leader. It's not the best quality for the rest of us, either, if we want to live a life of integrity and fulfillment.
Most of us want to be liked. I believe that many of us are stuck in our high school years, where our lives were defined by who liked us and who didn't. The popular boys and girls ruled the roost, while the geeks and freaks hugged the shadows and tried to avoid notice. It was hell. Then, when we grew up, we were shoved into the same situation at work, at the yoga studio (yep, those who can execute a perfect standing split tend to congregate away from those of us whose legs will never make a 180° angle in this lifetime), and even at our kids' schools.
Personally, I learned a long time ago to abandon any hope of being widely liked. My give-a-shit meter has never been particularly sensitive and I've never suffered fools well. Not to mention I have resting bitch face, so when you put all of that together, no one who doesn't know me thinks I'm cute and cuddly. Nope, they think I’m a nasty woman and I'm fine with that. It means fewer people trying to start up a conversation on airplanes or in line. Works for me. Because I know I'm not easily liked (it takes a certain amount of discernment to warm to me, which is perfect for my misanthropic tendencies), I don't care and I don't try. Which also happens to make me a good leader and a strong decision maker. I'm okay making unpopular choices. I'm willing to risk confrontation and others' unhappiness to do the right thing. Or the thing that's right for me, although not necessarily for others.
But I'm the exception, not the rule. Most folks say "yes" when they'd rather say "no." They say and do things to please others rather than risk disapprobation and unpopularity. I understand. I'm sure if I'd ever been more universally liked, I would behave the same way. I watch as others volunteer to be class mom and team mom and plan the after-work social and assume extra shifts because someone else is having a bad day. I watch as people do and say outrageous things so that others will see them as generous, as a team player. As nice.
It's good to be nice. It's better to be happy. How many self-help sites and books try to teach us that "No" is a complete sentence? How many of us take on tasks and obligations because we don't want to upset, disappoint or otherwise ruffle anyone else's feathers? We inconvenience ourselves so that others will be spared. We smile and we add just one more thing to our plate. We go against our better judgment and offer to bring the chili to the potluck, even if we don't own a crock-pot. We can go get one. Because then we will be liked. Then we will be a part of the whole.
Except it doesn't work that way. The more we do so that others will like us and approve of us, the more the hole in our soul grows. Far from becoming complete, we deplete our resources and steal time and attention from those who should rightfully expect it, like our spouses and our children, so that someone else can spend time with their family. That shit is just fucked up.
Living like this breeds exhaustion, burn out and resentment. It’s living a lie. We're too "nice" to refuse to take on one more thing. We're too addicted to being liked to stand up for ourselves and say NFW. And we find that while others may like us, we don't like ourselves too much. Sounds like a problem to me.
Life is not a popularity contest, reality TV notwithstanding. The truth is that not everyone is going to like us. And we are going to disappoint some people and piss others off. That's okay. The trick is to make sure the person we are disappointing isn't ourselves or a loved one.
I'm not suggesting we imitate the Lord of the Flies. We don't need to revert to life being nasty, brutish and short. But we do need to get and keep our priorities straight. It doesn't matter if we are part of the popular crowd, or how high we climb on the social ladder, as long as we are taking care of ourselves and our loved ones on whichever rung we land.
Niniane learns this lesson early in her story. She realizes that she's not going to make all of the people happy all of the time. Instead, she learned to be strategic instead of sycophantic, fair instead of well-meaning, and effective instead of milquetoast. If she can do it, so can I and so can you. And those who count will still really, really like us.
I know I write about mothers frequently. Mostly, I write about bad mothers because that was my own early experience -- and because the bad or absent mommy is such a reliable trope in fiction – like the classics from the Brothers Grimm to that misogynistic asshole, Walt Disney, and the multitude of dead mothers his stories portray. I get it. As Tolstoy explains, all happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Trials and tribulations make for a good story. If it's a paranormal romance, of course, the perils of Pauline give way to a well-constructed happily ever after, so it all works out … eventually. So, back to motherhood. I had a mother. I am a mother. The two experiences are, thankfully, vastly different. Today, I'm going to look to one of my very favorite books to illuminate these issues. Yes, I'm between books and revisited Thea Harrison's Dragon Bound, just because I wanted a guaranteed good time and this book always delivers. Moreover, Dragon Bound touched significantly on the role of (good) mothers in forming us, protecting us and preparing us to leave the nest, so it was apropos over Mother's Day weekend. Mothers give us a legacy of genetics (in the case of biological mothers), of philosophy, as well as a conscious and unconscious transmission of a worldview, our place in it, and the myriad 'should’s" and "should not’s" that color our perspectives for the rest of our lives, whether we accept or reject what we've been taught. In Dragon Bound, the love of Pia's mother is her salvation -- and that which holds her back, which is so often the case.
In the story, Pia's mother was primarily concerned with securing Pia's survival, knowing that she would be a target if her secrets were revealed. To protect her, her mother trained Pia early on, educating her about the dangers of the world and equipping her with walls and safeguards against that which might harm her. Pia's mother had the best of intentions and clearly loved her daughter beyond all measure. But sometimes, in an effort to shield our children from the ugliness of reality, we make the mistake of attempting to prepare the path for the child instead of preparing the child for the path.. And, in so doing, ironically enough, ensure that our progeny will stumble on that path, despite our best preparation.
As in all the finest fantasy, the depictions of Pia's mythical mother are achingly real. I, too, have worked hard to inculcate the necessary safeguards into the minds and hearts of my sons so that their suffering on this mortal coil will be minimal. But I know that my work will likely help in some ways and hurt in others. Sometimes, the farther we run from pain the faster it finds us. This truly sucks – in both truth and fantasy.
Like Pia's unnamed mother, I've tried to teach my kids to be successful in our world. I've taught them right from wrong and I've also worked to make sure they understand that not everyone plays by the same rules. People are mean sometimes. And as much as I would like to think it's not true, my kids—wait for it—don't always behave wonderfully either. What to do in a situation where our children's problems are overwhelmingly self-inflicted? Clearly, let them suffer the consequences of their actions. And then stroke their hair when they lay their heads in our lap looking for comfort when they find the consequences particularly uncomfortable. Such a fine, fine line. So hard to walk without stumbling ourselves.
I'm pretty sure my mother would have bubble wrapped me and kept me at home throughout my childhood if she'd had the option. And while I understand the impulse, it's one I've resisted over and over. Sometimes, when we make our kids too safe, as Pia's mother tried to do, we cut them off from experiences that would help them stretch and grow and achieve their wildest dreams. If we teach them to be completely risk averse, we also teach them to limit their expectations.
We want our kids to play safely. But playing it safe is not a strategy for a life lived fully, at least in my humble opinion. Fate favors the bold! And being bold means sometimes falling flat on our faces. Or our asses. Not sure which is worse. But I want to encourage my kids to take chances while shielding them from harm. Oxymoronic, I know. But I can't help myself. I’m a mother.
The thing about parenting is this: it's a dance. We do our best and hope that our kids will ignore our advice when they should, and take it to heart when it’ll help. Which means that we hope they will be smarter than we were. Most of us want our children to be more successful—however we and they define it—than we are. And we all hope that every decision we make as parents will benefit our progeny. But we, like them, pays our money and takes our chances.
If I can be half as good a mother as Pia's—or even as Pia herself turns out to be -- then I will be content.
"So you may say you're in love with me, but you're not in love with the same way that I am in love with you. We're using the same words, but we are not having the same experience…" Said protagonist Sophie Ross in Moonshadow, Thea Harrison's latest offering from the Elder Races world. I read that passage and every one of my failed romantic relationships flashed before my eyes, not to mention my doomed relationship with my late mother. Sophie summed up much of my life in just a couple of phrases… we may be using the same words but we're not having the same experience. I don't think I've ever heard it stated more accurately or succinctly. Miscommunication and talking past one another are the downfall of many relationships. More damaging is a misaligned worldview or competing philosophies of life, love, work or parenting. These misalignments and competitions arise because we fail to define our terms – to ourselves and each other.
Let's say, just for argument's sake that two people fall in love and decide to marry and start a family. So far, so good. Presumably, they talked about all of this in some detail, and decided they were on the same page prior to the start of this journey. When the woman involved made her vows, she understood them to be literal and binding. When the husband made the same vows, using the same words, he understood his promises to be more suggestions rather than rules, to be followed for the most part— until they became inconvenient. Fast forward a couple of years and a couple of kids later, and suddenly the guy is feeling peckish; his wife is exhausted from doing the lion's share of childcare, and maybe she's not looking or behaving as well as when they were courting. Suddenly, the language barrier becomes critical. When she said "forsaking all others... as long as we both shall live," she understood that to mean she wouldn't sleep with other men unless her betrothed was dead and buried. When he said the same words, he understood that the promise was only good until he decided to ignore it. Same words, different experience. Devastating results. I have a close friend whose husband did exactly that, and I’ve seen the destruction up close and personal. Makes me burn every time I think about it.
But marriage vows are only one example. Moondshadow offers others. Like the idea of saying, "I love you," to someone and how it’s heard differently than it’s spoken. In Sophie's case, the words meant that she accepted Nikolas as he was, warts and all, and welcomed her feelings for him, nurturing them and letting them blossom. In her view, Nikolas didn't feel the same way, even though he was using the same words. He did not welcome love into his heart. He fought it all the way, resisting the pull of his tender emotions, steeling himself against love’s siren call; of companionship, affection and commitment. He believed it was not for him, so he refused to make a home within himself for such feelings, rejecting his emotional state and denying his passion. Same words, different experiences.
I've been in this boat too, rearranging the deck chairs as my relationship was going down. I've had two relationships where the men loved me but didn't want to. So, they punished me for inciting them to feel. Kind of like forcing women to cover themselves lest they arouse lust in the hearts of men who see them. Fuck that shit. No, really. I see red when I hear about people who buy into that nonsense. Gentlemen, you can just keep it in your pants, ladies, don’t buy into that bullshit. But I digress.
Back to using the same words to describe different experiences. We've all been there. Parents and children say "I love you" to each other all the time. But the experience is different depending on one's role. That was certainly true with my mother—and my father too. When I expressed my love, it meant one thing to me and another to them. For some parents, filial love means taking care of them or children sacrificing for parents. And for some children, parental love is supposed to equal infinite support—both emotional and material. It's fine if both sides have the same experience. But, when world views collide… well…. it's a mess.
The language of love is exceptionally nuanced and difficult to negotiate. Many of us end up speaking our own private dialect. There have actually been books written about "love languages" (I like verbal affirmations, but physical affection, gifts, acts of service and quality time are all important, so it's a bit hard to choose—oops, digression yet again). It's all about finding someone who speaks our particular love language or making sure that one or both of the participants buy a Berlitz course.
When Sophie and Nikolas get lost in translation for a while, it rings true. This fantasy explores an aspect of truth that is important and relevant for all of us. I'm not surprised these characters were created by Thea Harrison, who writes a language of love that teaches me so much rom while thoroughly enjoying the ride.
I was lucky enough to be selected as an advance reader for Thea Harrison's newest Elder Races offering, Moonshadow. As I've mentioned before, I love getting advance copies from my favorite authors. I also loved being a beta reader the one time I had that opportunity (thank you Lilo J. Abernathy!). But back to Thea Harrison—I love her books and I was delighted to see that she hadn't lost her touch. Moonshadow introduces a new arena (Great Britain) and a new addition to the Elder Races, the Daoine Sidhe knights of the Dark Court (and doesn't that just sound delicious?). These alpha males are strong and sexy and are locked in an interminable battle with an implacable enemy. Their leader, Nikolas, has watched his cohort decline to a mere handful of men, and his enemy laugh at his losses. He has been fighting so long, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't locked in mortal combat. The temptation to let go, to give up is strong at times. He feels the pull of despair and the seductive call of surrender. But, he is committed to his cause and dedicated to his mission and those he serves. He refuses to give up, and he perseveres.
I wrote last week about my own dance with despair with respect to my writing. Nikolas' struggle and his triumph over despair inspired me to think about my own willingness to take Winston Churchill's advice to, "Never, never, never give up." Considering that the man led his country successfully through World War II, which included some very dark hours, it's probably advice worth taking.
There is a paradox involved in surrender and giving up. On the one hand, giving up usually connotes quitting, which of course no one wants to do (well, perhaps I shouldn't speak for everyone—I don't want to be a quitter). Quitting usually means ending something before it is completed. The thought is anathema to me. I still think about the dissertation I didn't finish twenty years ago (well, maybe closer to twenty-five, but who's counting?) It took me years to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to finish and to make a definitive decision to quit—and while it was probably the right decision at the time, I still regret it on occasion.
Sometimes letting go is the right thing to do. I've written about that before. It's so hard to know when we've held on too long. In Nikolas' case, was it the right thing to do to fight until all the knights of the Dark Court were dead and there was no one left to fight, or to heed the adage that sometimes discretion is the better form of valor? Or is it better to die trying? I haven't personally come across an actual occasion to test this theory, thankfully, so I'm not sure. Does victory vindicate the dead? Nikolas thinks so, and so do those who fought in our popular wars—not so much the ones we prefer to sweep under the rug, but you know, the ones fought by the Greatest Generation, not to mention the Lost Generation.
The jury is still out for me with respect to the price we pay for perseverance. I respect the hell out of dedication and I admire stick-to-it-ness. Grit is great and also necessary. But sometimes the cake isn't worth the bake and the victory, far from being triumphant, is pyrrhic.
Sometimes, the best strategy for conquest is surrender. Sometimes, resistance is futile and we must give up. This is the paradox. Nikolas achieves victory by surrendering to love (this is a paranormal romance, after all). And I have found peace and joy in surrendering to reality, acceptance and uncertainty, even whenever fiber of my being is screaming for me to fight, fight, fight, in a futile effort to control. Sometimes, it is only when I give up the fight that I get what I want.
And I know this. But, of course, it's situation specific. And discerning whether a specific situation is one where tying a knot in the rope and holding on for dear life is the right thing to do or letting our hands slip down to initiate the free fall, well that is the question, isn't it? We don't know, often not even in hindsight if the road not taken would have led to better things. Occasionally, a choice we make about holding and folding is exquisite in its clarity. Hopefully, we are contented with our lot.
Perseverance, discipline and commitment are three character traits I strive to cultivate. And, annoyingly, the cultivation of these traits requires the very characteristics I'm trying to achieve. Please tell me how that is fair?!
But, as I've also written about before, life isn't always fair, so we've got to suck it up, Buttercup (I like that phrase, can you tell by how often I use it?). Nikolas finds his HEA through both persistence and surrender. I suspect that this is true for all of us. So, for today, I will be persistent in reading my beloved books, and surrender to the joy I get from reading them. Win-win
My new ambition is to be a writer who is so successful that my deleted scenes and alternate endings, middles and beginnings can be pulled from the trash and put together into a book that becomes a bestseller. I want to be Jeaniene Frost. Her Outtakes from the Grave was not only interesting and exciting, but an original and brilliant concept. Here, Ms. Frost provides insights into a writer's mind and process. We see what she left out and why. Fascinating read, and it leads to the topic at hand, which is about second chances for love. In Outtakes from the Grave, the longest and most compelling section was an alternate plot line where the central couple, Cat and Bones (one of the great paranormal couples of all time), are challenged by his complete memory loss of her. Bones doesn't remember who Cat is, or that they are married and wildly in love. The scenes are excruciating to read—can you imagine your significant other forgetting you? Horrifying. And they also raise an interesting question: would we fall in love with the same person twice? I wondered about this when I read a similar trope in Thea Harrison's novella, Pia Saves the Day, where her mate, Dragos, loses his memory. In both cases, these males fall in love with their mates all over again. I wonder how much truth there is in this particular fantasy.
What do you think? Does our current partner have the ability to woo us a second time if we lost our memories of them and met them as strangers today? Keep in mind that in this scenario we're not going back to who we were when we met; the question is whether if we were who we are right now, and we met our mate who they are right now without any historical knowledge of them or us would we fall in love a second time?
At this point in our lives, we are older and hopefully wiser. Would we gravitate toward good looks, knowing as we do now that such metrics are ephemeral? Would we interrogate our erstwhile partner and determine their level of industry, responsibility and integrity? Would we find them wanting?
Would we be attracted to the same things in our mate that we were then? Have we learned that what we thought was there, wasn't? What was important to us at 25 might be quite different at 50. Have we changed sufficiently that we no longer share the same values and worldview? Does this matter? Would we take what we've had and determine that moving on with no harm, no foul is the way to go – knowing that the history is not shared?
Another question is whether compatibility is more important than shared interests. Many people commit to each other based on similar resumes. They work and/or play in the same arenas and conclude that this is enough to build a life. I've never believed that, and my own marriage bears this out; my husband and I share few interests or hobbies (although we both love to travel together, which has created a powerful bond and allowed us to make many beautiful memories together). What we do have, and what has been a backbone of our longevity, is an uncanny compatibility and the ability to divvy up responsibilities in an equitable and mutually satisfying manner. So, I picked correctly the first time—compatibility over shared interests—and I would do it again.
If we had it to do over again and we were in a position to accept or reject our current partner in an alternate universe where they no longer knew us, would we follow the adage that birds of a feather flock together or that opposites attract? That is a harder question for me. I went with "opposites attract," and while it's been a good move in many ways, it's also been the source of many marital issues. So, having had no experience with a partner whose feathers are like mine, I'm not sure what I would do, but probably stick with the one that brung me. I'm a little afraid that if I had a mate who was much like me, it would quickly go nuclear.
Another question along these lines is whether this reasoning applies to friends as well as lovers/life partners? If our friends forgot us, would we still want to be friends with them? I've often contemplated that my oldest, closest friends—my sisters by choice not blood—could not be more different from each other and from me. We were thrust together as small children and we grew up together, but beyond many shared formative experiences, we don't have much in common, nor are we particularly compatible. So if one of us lost the memory of the other, it could totally sink the relationship. Which would be utterly devastating. These women are my rocks in the turbulent sea of life. So I will be like Scarlett O'Hara and just not think about that today.
This particular thought experiment had one more related and relevant question: if it is true that we would fall in love with the same person again and even again, is it possible to achieve that without the dramatic loss of memory, or the threat of a total loss through illness, injury, death or betrayal? In other words, when the thrill is gone and the honeymoon is over, when the hard work of building careers and raising families is done, can two people rekindle the chemistry that brought them together in the first place? Is it possible to fall head over heels in love with our partners long after the bloom is off the rose? I think the answer is yes and that with time, effort and persistent focus, we can all remember that love after love is possible and magical even within a single union.
Have you ever wanted something so badly you were determined to do anything to get it? Have you twisted yourself (and others) into pretzel shapes in order to achieve specific goals? Do you wonder whether an abundance of obstacles is the Universe's way of telling you to take another path, or a message to try that much harder? I've done it both ways: trying—and often getting—my way through sheer force of will; and also letting the flow of life take me where it will and accepting reality the way it shows up. The second path is almost always better. I don't always get what I thought I wanted, but I've learned that doing it the hard way is rarely the right way. Too bad it took me so long to figure that out. Why am I thinking about all the times I've taken the bull by the horns and held on like my life depended on it? Because I've just finished Shadow's End, by Thea Harrison, and I recognized this aspect of myself in Graydon, the protagonist of the latest in the Elder Races series (one of my all-time favorites, as you know). His plight and actions caused me to reflect on my own experiences, as my beloved books so often do. Graydon lived his impossibly long life throwing his will all over the place. And in the end, he got what he wanted, but at a price he almost certainly wouldn't have paid if he'd known the cost in advance.
That's the thing about throwing our will around. We can do it. And if we're persistent, and we stay the course, as Graydon did to earn the right to be with his love, Bel, we can often get what we want, as he does. And it's good to get what we want. The mate, the job, the kids, the stuff—don't forget the stuff. It's all good. And we want it all. Or at least I did.
But sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I'd lived my life by following it as it unfolded, rather than pushing the water ahead of me and striving to make it flow upstream. What if I trusted the Universe to provide for me—not just sitting on my ass and waiting to be handed a life, but to embrace the life I was given, rather than pursuing the one I had to have? I’m not at all sure what such a life would have looked like. But a few things are clear—if I'd done that, I almost certainly wouldn't have had biological children. We had to work for years, with a lot of help from medical professionals, to conceive. Finally, we circumvented nature and I gave birth to two beautiful boys who I love beyond measure or reason. But the cost exceeded my wildest expectations. And I can't say that knowing the price ahead of time, I could have agreed to it in good conscience. Just like Graydon.
In another example, I fought for years against the increasing cacophony of my inner guidance telling me it was time to leave the national security field. Why didn’t I listen to the Universe and work toward a goal guided by my inner self? Because I wanted the fulfillment, the ego satisfaction, the excitement and the exclusivity of the job. So I stayed. Knowing that if I were in flow with the current of my life, I would have recognized the end of that season when it occurred. Instead I left years after the fact, when my resources were spent and I was forced to spend precious time in recovery rather than engaging in activities that helped me to grow and thrive.
As I look back, there are so many examples where I dictated rather than received. When I talked incessantly, telling the Universe what I wanted rather than asking what I was being called to learn and to do. Just like Graydon, who spends two hundred years stalking his prey to try to ensure the outcome he wants. And there is something to be said for this kind of behavior; it often results in our getting what we want. But another thing I’ve learned recently is that I haven’t always been in touch with what I truly want, because I didn’t know who I truly was, as I’ve written about here. This realization has been a recurring theme lately, and it's infused much of my recent writing. But that's OK. All of us process lessons differently, and this is my way. So now I look—actively—to see where I'm tempted to throw my will around, and I work to refrain from doing so. I work hard to not work so hard. Ironic, huh? Because it's so much easier and more pleasant to see where life takes me, and to walk through doors that are already open, rather than bashing them in with the force of my will, despite my considerable door-bashing skills, honed over a lifetime of throwing my shoulders into the activity. As I Look back at those disparate doors, the ones I beat down with my will and those that beckoned me through, I'm wondering if I've been focusing on the wrong skills all these years. One skill I want to cultivate now, courtesy of Shadow’s End, is to accept that I did the best I could with the information I had, and to accept the costs of my actions and decisions. To do less is to discount or negate the price I paid, which would be the ultimate waste. So, like Graydon, I will live my life and learn my lessons as a way to honor my past and move toward my future.
"What is your shameless vision?" So began the class I just started, where all 26 of us sat in a circle and bared our souls. Glare and share at its finest. Thankfully, I was toward the end of the pack, so I had some time to formulate my answer and listen to those of others. The question was framed quite specifically. It assumed the existence of a vision for ourselves. It also assumed that this vision was somehow obscured by shame, the malignant growth that cripples many of our dreams and much of our reality. Often, we don't feel worthy of our dreams, and so we abandon them like toddlers bored with their toys. But we weren't bored, just too afraid to hope, too scared to act, too defeated to go on. When that happens, our dreams, visions, and hearts' desires get relegated to that most depressing of categories—the unobtainable. And everyone knows it's worse than futile to pursue the unobtainable, because we won’t get it. No one wants that. Well, no one except Graydon the gryphon in the latest installment of Thea Harrison's Elder Races series, Shadow's End. Apparently, he didn't get the memo. So when he has an opportunity to go after the unobtainable, he does so with gusto. And defies the odds to get his HEA. Who would have thunk it? Well, me, of course, and probably you, too. But that's okay; reality is stressful so I want my paranormal fiction to end with smiles, not tears.
Graydon is told that Beluviel is, for him, the definition of unobtainable because they come from radically different worlds—not quite Romeo and Juliet, but close. But he doesn't care. As I read about his willing suspension of disbelief with respect to this fundamental truth, I envied him. For most of us, it's viscerally difficult to put aside our inherent feelings of unworthiness long enough to even think about chasing our dreams. We don't feel we deserve to achieve them, which acts like saltpeter on our deepest desires. Shame is a corrosive emotion. And every single one of us suffers from some form of it.
I recently heard shame described as an acronym for "Should Have Already Mastered Everything." Good one. Because while it’s ridiculous, we persist in our belief that if we’ve not mastered something, or everything, we are unworthy. How sad. For all of us. But this false sense of failure conditions us to think that our visions are unobtainable, the idealistic ramblings of immature psyches. Eventually, we decided to put away these childish notions and assume the mantle of adulthood, with its weighty responsibilities and never-ending hamster wheels. We commit to paying our dues, doing our time, and hope to live long enough to enjoy society-sanctioned sloth, aka the golden years of retirement. Yikes. How shameful is that vision?
We deride the dreamers and the visionaries. But those dreamers who persevere in their reverie and tack a little action onto their visions are among the most creative, productive and happy individuals in the world. The problem is not that these special people tried to obtain the unobtainable; the problem occurs for the rest of us when we stop just shy of getting where we want to go. Unobtainable is just another word for hasn't happened yet.
Unless we listen to the asshole in our ears. You know, the one who keeps telling us, "You can't have that. You're not smart, strong, skilled, lucky, talented…whatever enough…for that." We tend to listen to that asshole. His greatest tool is the shame that lives in our cells, the shame that was created when we traded our dreams for a specious sense of connection to ‘the real world’. When we denied our authentic selves, the ones with the shameless visions for our most radiant futures, we nurtured that shame, and thus the vicious cycle began and was perpetuated. So what, you may ask, was my shameless vision? My vision—without the shame or self-doubt that usually attends it—is to unleash my passionate creativity and become the writer I yearn to be. I want to create characters with whom I want to spend my time, and stories that engage my wild imagination, in worlds whose rules I determined. In my fiction writing, I finally get to be queen and be the puppet master I've always wanted to be, creating worlds in my image of how things should be according to my values and philosophy. That is my shameless vision.
Sure I can name my shameless vision but I'm not sure I'm ready to pursue it just yet. I need to silence my inner critic. I need to strengthen my inner guide and remember that the Universe doesn't plant deep desires that are not attainable; with the desire comes the ability to achieve it. God wouldn't be so cruel. I think. I hope. In the interim, I'll continue to read about Graydon and Bel, and watch them both obtain the unobtainable. While I continue to coax my shameless vision to shadow's end where the sunlight of the spirit shines on all of us. Thankfully, the book – and my class – have just begun to teach me their lessons.
I arrived in my Yin yoga class agitated and distraught. This is not the preferred state of mind for aspiring yogis. I know this. I couldn't help it though. Shit is hitting the fan, chaos reigns supreme, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… okay, maybe there wasn’t actual human sacrifice, but this week has been wrought with emotion. It started with one betrayal bomb, which I wrote about here, and the hits kept coming. If circumstances allowed me to focus on cleaning up the fallout I’d be relieved. Instead, I find myself ducking and covering as new bombs explode around me. I’m under fire on several fronts. And it sucks. So, back to my mat. My consciousness was streaming. My heart was imitating Eminem's snare drum. Not the best place from which to practice meditative yoga of the restorative variety. But lo and behold, the miraculous occurred (and yes, I get that this is the whole point of Yin yoga, but who would've thought it could actually happen to yours truly?!). As I was stretching to touch my forehead to the floor in final obeisance to my teacher and mouthing my Namaste, a thought popped into my mind. The thought was miraculous - clean and clear of stress and negativity. After class, this blissful musing settled into my muscles and sinews, becoming ground truth.
My thought came straight out of Dragon Bound – one day I will count how many blogs this one book has inspired. It whispered in my ear, "You have no problems today. Just tactical considerations." Despite how hard life seems right now, and how dejected I feel or how fragile my faith in humanity may be… I have no problems today. I do have, as Dragos described his thought processes around Pia, a lot of tactical considerations to consider. Nothing of the strategic variety, mind you, just the concrete, immediate kinds of issues that we know are fleeting, nothing to get too worked up over. Nothing that I need to get attached to (lots of preposition-ending sentences going on there—Mrs. Fowler, my seventh grade English teacher, is rolling in her grave—Sorry, Mrs. F, ya can’t win ‘em all).
So, if I’m not ducking and covering from emotional ordinance, I can consider—in a tactical way— what I need to do about these people who turned on me. I don't need to hate these people, nor do I need to help them in any way. It's not abandonment if they do it first, right? They are doing the best they can, poor deluded souls that they are. They deserve my pity. Yes, they hurt me. But I'll get over it. They have to wake up and be themselves tomorrow. And the day after that too. I've been reminding myself that things aren't going according to plan, but so what? As Pink declares in one of my favorite songs, "I'm still a rock star," and I have no problems today. We plan, and the Universe knocks us on our asses. You know, just to keep us on our toes—and yes, it's harder to be on my toes when I'm flat on my ass, but there you have it, it’s how the world works. I'm sure it will all make sense when I can grill God and ask her what the hell she was thinking. I also need to remember that what's in the way is the way. That is a particularly hard one for me. I have the way all mapped out –GPS has even shown me two alternate routes, but the one I'm on wasn't one of them. How can this be the freaking way? I'm all about the road less traveled, but this way is a fucking obstacle course. How can I find my way when what's in the way is the way? Does that even make any sense? Unfortunately, I know it does. I just don't like the sense it makes. I guess the in the end, like love, the sense you take is equal to the sense you make. Or something profound like that. Who the hell knows?
Not me; I'm dazed and confused. And afraid. I'm not sure what's happening, and my fear tells me, "Your luck has turned. The other shoe is falling. Prepare for catastrophe." I’m trying not to listen to my fear. But it is surely an annoying buzz in my ears. And even as I turn away from that fear, I sneak a peek back, like Lot's wife, and we all know what happened to her. Eyes forward, ears closed to the negative noise—find my edge. I can do this.
I want to focus on what's important, and not what's distracting me from it. I need to be resourceful, resilient and flexible. I want to bend, not break. I want to adapt, evolve, conform to reality, not live in delusion. I want deep peace—so that the waves of my emotions crest and fall upon the surface, but don't churn the waters underneath. I want to be righteous, but avoid the pitfalls of self-righteousness. On the other hand, perhaps I need to focus less on what I want and more on what I'm being called to do. I need to ask, "What have I learned?" Because sure as Kim Kardashian's boobs are eventually going to hit her knees, the Universe will keep sending me these ‘learning opportunities’ until I've learned what I need to know. “Beauteous”, as Tricks would say.
So far, all I’ve learned is that I have no problems today, only tactical considerations. I need not fear the Reaper nor shoes falling from a high place. All is well in my world. Truly. I just need to keep re-reading Dragon Bound to remember that – and to pick up my messages from the Universe.
I feel gutted. Flayed. Filleted. I've been betrayed, and there is no worse feeling. It is painful. Sick. Wrong. At various points this week, it's been hard to take a deep breath. My eyes leak constantly. I'm angry. I'm hurt. I'm filled with self doubt. How could she be that awful? How could I be that stupid? In the midst of all this upheaval, I haven't known how to arrange myself to find comfort. Even my skin seems tight around my muscles and bones. So, what to do? Whine? No, read. I made a beeline for Dragon Bound, my very favorite binky-like book, the one that soothes my jangled nerves and calms my restless heart.
And what did I find, almost on page one of Thea Harrison's most wonderful creation? That the "inciting incident" -- as novelists in the know call it -- was the main character's betrayal by an ex-boyfriend, a man she'd thought she loved, who she thought she knew… but who had sold her out to the highest bidder. As Pia experienced it, "she couldn't get over the knifelike sensation in the pit of her stomach." And that is exactly what it feels like, isn't it?
Who among us hasn't been subjected to this particular brand of nasty? Lucky is she who has missed this roller coaster ride, and if it's you, kudos. Do let me know how you managed it.
For the rest of us, join me in the comments section and tell me all about your particular hell. Misery loves company, as I've written about before.
Being betrayed affects so many things—our feelings of worth, our confidence in our own judgment, and our trust of other people. We get to experience the vulnerability of being a victim, my least favorite thing to be, with its attendant loss of control—or even the illusion of it. We have to wonder where else we've gone wrong, who else is a wolf in sheep's clothing? And when the betrayal hits particularly close to home, it's a double whammy of vile emotions. In the past, I've been betrayed by friends and lovers. These days, it's been more professional colleagues, and most recently, a former therapist, which truly sucks eggs.
In Dragon Bound, Pia wonders how she could have been so lacking in judgment, taste and sensibility. I feel her. In fact, I'm feeling quite a lot of this negativity of late, especially the necessity to sit with all these emotions and thoughts, experiencing, deep in my psyche and my body, the trauma of betrayal. And now that it's taken up residence, I need to find a way to move it out, leaving only the scars and impressions of the experience to guide, but not dictate, my future actions.
But how? I'm sure that forgiveness is key. I must remember that forgiving does not mean forgetting. But forgiving the one who betrayed me is vitally important to my own well-being and has nothing to do with her. I can see her as a damaged, broken individual in need of compassion, pity and help. I can provide the first two, but not the last. That's not my job, although it's hard to know where my job begins and ends. It wasn't my job, for example, to control her behavior. She made the decision to act badly all on her own. I don't have to carry that water. But it's hard not to take responsibility for others' malfeasance. At least for me. I coulda, shoulda, woulda seen the signs, questioned her actions and words, scrutinized her inconsistencies or paid more attention to the warning signs and red flags, which were abundant -- in hindsight.
Becoming sadder and wiser is also key. It is so important, but also so difficult to avoid bitterness and resentment. I want to balance good judgment with maintaining my faith in humanity and not letting one or even several bad apples poison the entire bunch. It turns out that some people are just bad. Or they descend so far into moral relativism that they cannot distinguish morally acceptable behavior from morally bankrupt actions. I find that when people behave immorally, like my betrayer and Pia's ex-boyfriend, such behavior is always attended by an intense sense of entitlement whereby someone else's needs always take precedence over mine. Or yours. Have you noticed that too? For whatever reason in these folks' heads, they believe that they always deserve the biggest piece of the pie, whatever that pie entails. This represents a very skewed world view.
Another pitfall to avoid after we've been the victim of betrayal is becoming paranoid and creating self-fulfilling prophesies. I'm having to watch myself here. I don't want to become Captain Queeg of The Caine Mutiny fame, who sees liars and thieves all around him and whose paranoia manifests in the very mutiny he feared – and which did not exist before his fear tainted his crew members. Fear is toxic in any incarnation and can ruin a good thing faster than Usain Bolt can run the 100 meter. As Karen Marie Moning reminds us, ‘fear kills, hope strengthens’. She is right. But it is oh, so hard to fight the fear. I'm doing my best. Not sure how I’m faring in this battle.
Once again I’m amazed and comforted by my beloved paranormal fantasy books. Because while I may not be battling with dragons and unicorns, the demon of betrayal sure feels mythical in scope. I’m glad I have Pia and her ilk to teach me how to fight.
I want what I want when I want it. When this refrain buzzes in my mind, I quickly walk to the other side of the street to avoid it. This kind of contemplation is bad for the soul and dangerous for the psyche. Why dangerous? Because many of us only think we know what we want, and the rest of us have no bloody clue. But we won't admit that we don't know, not even to ourselves, and thus we pursue our "dreams" to extremes, convinced we must attain them or be miserable and unfulfilled. What a sad mess. Why am I thinking about these potential tragedies? Because, as I discussed in my last post, I've been contemplating the content of my favorite paranormal HEAs. And I think I've discovered a common theme among them: every one of my favorite female characters ends up with an HEA that is significantly different from what she thought she wanted. Mac Lane begins her story hoping for a white picket fence and a genteel southern life complete with a husband and children. Sookie Stackhouse thinks she wants a nice Civil War vampire to have and to hold. Pia Giovanni just wants to hide and live out her life as anonymously as possible. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But in each of these cases, the authors—Karen Marie Moning, Charlaine Harris, and Thea Harrison, respectively, take their heroines on a journey of discovery about what they truly desire. Turns out, the truth does not match the fantasy for any of these fictional heroines.
I'm convinced that life imitates art in this instance: I'm predictably similar as so many of us when I say that the pursuit of what I thought I wanted didn't get me where I truly longed to be. In the end, I spent too much time listening to what my parents told me I wanted, what the media told me I needed for fulfillment and what Madison Avenue insisted I needed to be happy. I think most of us let others dictate our desires, and then we are lost and confused when we're not as content as we were assured we’d be, if only we could get all those things we’re told to seek.
It's quite the letdown when all that we ever thought we wanted is finally in our grasp and we still feel flat and numb—like someone spiked our celebratory champagne with Novocaine. We got the big diamond, large house, and the impressive title while maintaining a small waist, maybe even after a pregnancy or two. We worked and we schemed and we prayed and we bargained. And we made it, by God, we made it.
So now what? Nirvana, bliss, the Golden Ticket, you name it, it's ours for the taking. Except it's not.
What happens when all of that fails to fulfill? Then what? Some of us refuse to acknowledge our empty reality and pretend to be satisfied with the trappings of ostensible happiness. We become plastic people with rictus smiles, reflecting the dead feelings inside us. Others among us decide that we need to fix ourselves, and quickly, because the only explanation for not being happy with what is certainly making everyone else envious is that we are majorly damaged and in need of some serious psychological counseling. Misguided thinking for sure, but it keeps the therapists in business. And then there are those poor souls who somehow don't get what they thought they wanted, and so spend their precious time pining for things that are not to be. I know a woman who wanted children desperately, but married too late to have them and then could not get past it, despite valiant efforts to convince herself and others to the contrary. She reveres all mothers, and is convinced her life is just not what it could have been. This is true. But it’s also true that she could have given birth to a child with developmental challenges, like one of my friends, or lost a child like another. These two mothers might sometimes envy my bereft, childless acquaintance.
We use the failure to acquire that which we think we desire as an excuse for compulsions, mediocrity, underachievement, loveless marriages, immoral and unethical behavior, sloth and procrastination. When we don't get the clothes, or the guy, or the kids, or the looks, the wealth or the health, then we can absolve ourselves of responsibility for our misery and justify our wallowing in it. I hate when I see that in others. I despair when I realize I've done it myself.
So who are the lucky ones in this dismal picture I've painted? Well, we have our favorite fictional friends, of course. We have Mac, Sookie and Pia, all of whom are young but wise. They are able to adjust their perceived desires to accommodate the reality that all but bites them in the face. They each realize—over the course of many delicious novels, thankfully—that what they thought they wanted didn't fit the bill at all. And they were able to shift their perceptions to recognize their dreams and embrace them, finding their HEAs in the process. We can learn a lot from these paranormal people.
As soon as we even suspect that we've been chasing the wrong dream, it's time to make a course correction. Similarly, when it becomes painfully clear that whatever we thought we wanted is definitely beyond our reach, we need to let go of that fantasy and adopt objectives that are more realistic. If we must let go of a dream, by all means, mourn. But then move on. We also need to tune out the cacophony of voices telling us what we want and what we don't want. Plug your ears and just say "no." We must take the time to discern what we, ourselves, actually want, no matter that it's not what others think we should desire or seek to attain. Our true desires are rarely reflected by the two-year-old screeching in our heads, "I want it now!" We need to go below that insatiable inner child to the essential part of ourselves that speaks more softly. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it – maybe not right now but usually when it’s right.
I've been married for more than twenty years, and with my husband for almost a quarter century. That's a long time, although not, of course, by immortal standards, where a millennium of togetherness is the expectation upon mating and marriage. I literally can't imagine. And I've been thinking about all of the HEAs in my beloved fantasy books, and the countless centuries of intimacy that each and every one represents. As anyone in a long term relationship knows, the honeymoon eventually ends, and much of the intensity of the passion fades, as does our tolerance for the many differences between our partners and ourselves. I've written before about how opposites attract, and that has certainly been true for me and my spouse. But even if we partner with someone who seems very similar to us on the surface, we all have shadow selves that are uniquely our own. In a lasting lifetime partnership, how do we accept the dark side of our mates, and how can we ask them to do the same for us? I'm not sure, but I know we're working on it. Whenever I think I'm terminally unique or that my relationship is different from those of others, I have but to read one of my favorite fantasy books. Pia and Dragos, Mac and Barrons, Sookie and Sam, and, most recently, Mariketa and Bowen all deal with the beasts within and the necessary accommodations each must make to be part of a couple. Over the course of their stories, each of these pairs learns to come to terms with the creature beneath a beautiful body as they struggle to become a twosome. And maybe it's the GQ looks that each of our heroes possesses, or the alpha male charisma, or their profound devotion to their women that makes it seem easier for their wives. But any way you slice it, these guys got game—of the animalistic variety. Talk about a dark side. And their women have their own weaknesses and shadows that give depth to their characters and interest to the readers.
But how does this relate to the rest of us? If we ask ourselves honestly, do we truly accept the shadows of our mates? Have we revealed our own inner demons? I'm pretty sure I have, as my demons aren't quite housebroken, and come out to play even when I've told them firmly to stay inside. But they don't listen, and the mess they make can be epic at times. So my husband is well aware of the shadows lurking in my heart. Most of them, at least. But what about his? Can I embrace the darkness in him even as I demand his light? I tell myself I can, but sometimes my actions belie my claims.
In our wedding ceremony, the officiant spoke of the three elements of our union: my husband, our marriage and me. She talked about how we were two complete individuals coming together to create something distinct—a new entity. We had discussed this concept with the minister before the wedding, and she was able to write beautiful prose around our desire to avoid the two halves of a whole trope. I'd been to weddings where that was the theme—where the bride or groom represented the "missing puzzle piece" for the other, like the lyrics of that simpering Katy Perry song about being a teenage dream. I'd also read about this approach to love relationships in the historical romance novels of my youth in the 1980s. In those early bodice rippers, the hero and heroine were always two peas in a pod, two sides of the same coin, an incomplete soul waiting for its other half. Gag me.
My husband, good man that he is, would never introduce me as his better half. The way I figure it, if I'm only half a person waiting to become whole through the addition of another, the half I'm likely to be is the good part—after all, who would want me (or anyone) if they represent the half that lives in shadow? No one, that's who. So if I'm half a person representing the good stuff, then when I come together with He Who Shall Complete Me, we're gonna generate shadows, not light.
Instead, when I was at the point where I was open to a lifetime partnership, I was looking for someone who would intensify my light and my strengths but also be able to live with my darkness and weaknesses. After all, the advice I give to all couples thinking about marriage is this: take your intended's worst qualities, magnify them 1000 times, and decide if you can live with what that looks like, it's a good match. Because if you're going in with the hope of change, as they say in my hometown, fuggedaboutit.
So for me, and for the fantasy fictional couples I love, we're working on it. All of it. Making sure all of me loves all of my mate and vice versa. It's the work of a lifetime, and a labor of love. We have to take the dark with the light, the beast with the beauty, the good with the bad. Whatever the case, I'll take it all.
hristie Brinkley has been all over the news lately because although she is 60 years old, she looks 30 in photographs. And while she's best known for being highly ornamental (which is my least favorite thing for a woman to be known for), she's also been in the news on other occasions, such as when she and her then boyfriend, Rick Taubman, were in a helicopter crash in the Colorado mountains. After the crash, Brinkley married Taubman and gave birth to their son, only to get divorced eight months after the wedding. Why am I discussing a former supermodel's love life?
It's because I've been thinking about high adrenaline situations that lead to a false sense of intimacy, which in turn leads some to mistake what should be only a moment for forever. That's what happened to poor Ms. Brinkley. It's also happened to some of my favorite fictional friends. The whole near-death-experience-leading-to-happily-ever-after is a common trope in paranormal and urban fantasy, and one I'd like to explore. So come on in and sit for a spell while I contemplate crisis-based communion.
I'm just finishing John Hartness’ Quincy Harker novella series (I know… they’re short… but life has a habit of getting in the way of pleasure – aka reading and writing). In the second book, our favorite demon hunter saves the life of his favorite nemesis and sometime partner, Detective Rebecca Flynn, using magic. By doing so, Quincy opens an irrevocable mind link with the detective. So not only do they share an extreme situation that results in Quincy healing Rebecca’s mortal wounds, but now they're permanently in each other's heads. It doesn't get much more intimate than that.
As an avid fan of the proverbial HEA, I've been expecting them to ride off into the sunset together ever since, even if they remain snarky as they lope along to their HEA. But so far, my expectations have been dashed. Grrr…I have about 45 minutes left to read in the final installment, and I'll update you if things change, but it seems that Quincy and Rebecca’s relationship is unusually restrained given the mortal wound scenario they conquered – together. Even Q acknowledges that the particular chain of events could lead one or both of them to misconstrue the intense emotions around the unfortunate occurrences as true love. Yet, they are rational enough enough to understand the resulting mind link has led only to feelings of warmth and affection, where perhaps they hadn't existed before. But not to passion. There’s not a sex scene in sight, more’s the pity.
Contrast that with the experience of my very favorite paranormal couple, Dragos and Pia Cuelebre. In their original story, Dragon Bound, author Thea Harrison throws our protagonists into all sorts of harrowing situations, including a car crash, kidnapping, imprisonment and subsequent escape. These plot twists serve to cement their adrenaline-fueled feelings for each other fast, leading to satisfactorily steamy and intensely emotional sex scenes and an eventual HEA (after more harrowing, near death experiences, of course).
And because this is fantasy and not truth, Pia and Dragos don't get divorced after a few months. Instead, they commit to an eternity together (which for practically immortal beings is a BIG freaking deal). But because this blog is called Truth in Fantasy, let's see where we might find some reality amongst the rainbows and unicorns.
It's true that stressful or critical conditions can create a crucible in which artificially intense emotions may brew. It's why so many workplace romances develop. When people work together meeting deadlines for demanding bosses, sparks ignite and things can smolder pretty quickly. Sadly, such short-term intensity can mask underlying fissures in compatibility, values, and the ability to communicate in ways both can understand. Then, sex distorts everything further, rendering vision and common sense collateral damage. We've all seen it happen to our colleagues. Hell, we may have seen it happen to ourselves. It's rarely pretty.
Except when it works.
Early in my relationship with my now husband, we had a crisis. Long story short, my ex-fiancé, the Green Beret, figured out that I was seeing someone else and he was angry. He had no standing, mind you, as we were definitively broken up, but that wasn't his perspective. To add insult to injury, my new boyfriend was driving my old boyfriend's car, which I still had. Needless to say, we didn't want the Special Forces officer to find out his replacement was driving his car. It’s bad enough to be supplanted – but the car was the dangerous cherry on top. It was not a good scene. I was terrified of my ex's anger. My then-new boyfriend also had a healthy respect for the damage his predecessor could do. We were co-conspirators in a made-for-TV movie, trying to figure out how to hide my new boyfriend's identity from the old boyfriend (we considered removing the name plate from the newbie’s office door as a good first step), and get out of Dodge ahead of the shooter. The whole ordeal culminated in my new boyfriend and me going away for our first weekend together -- taking the relationship to the next level.
Almost twenty-three years later, we're still playing kissy face – this time in our own car though – so it all worked out. Perhaps not like in Dragon Bound, but better than it did for Christie Brinkley. Sometimes truth and fantasy are more of a journey than a destination, which sometimes works out just fine.
Do you remember the Paula Abdul song "Opposites Attract?" Am I dating myself (as in giving away my age, not turning Japanese--quick--name that hit! Okay… I’m here all week… but you likely won’t be if I keep digressing.). Anyway... Today I'm contemplating the phenomenon that birds of a feather don't actually flock together; they look for birds with different plumage to marry. I certainly did. And most days that's a good thing.
I know from my beloved fantasy books that I'm in good company in my choice. In almost every book I can think of, the hero and heroine are virtually polar opposites. Take a few of my all-time favorite couples, including Pia and Dragos, Mac Lane and Barrons, and Raphael and Elena. Each of these pairings include individuals who could not be more different either in species or characteristics.
In Thea Harrison's Elder Races series, Dragos is an apex predator, a carnivore of the highest order, while Pia is a peace-loving herbivore. Their relationship encounters numerous problems as a result of these and other differences. But because Pia’s most pressing need is safety, and an über alpha male like Dragos offers that, she makes it work. In the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, Mac Lane is a frothy Southern Belle who's happy tending bar in her sleepy hometown in Georgia. Jericho Barrons is an ancient immortal being whose alter ego is a mindless beast. I'm not sure they could have less in common. But their love works--as they both evolve to meet each other somewhere in the middle. In the Guild Hunter series, Raphael is an archangel of unimaginable power, whereas Elena is a twenty-something human with an acute sense of smell, qualifying her as a hunter of rogue vampires. Again, hard to see the connection at first, and any yenta would be disqualified for fixing these two up.
I've often said my husband and I would never have met if we'd relied on OK Cupid to bring us together. Fortunately for us, we met in the days before Match.Com and Tinder, so we were able to connect the old fashioned way—at a bar. And I'm not sure what would have happened if we'd had too much time to compare notes on our disparate backgrounds, interests or philosophies of life before the chemistry kicked in and we were hooked. Thankfully, by the time we found out he was the Oscar to my Felix, the Spock to my Captain Kirk, the Murtaugh to my Riggs, we were wildly in love and didn't give a shit.
There's a reason opposites attract. I have a friend of almost two decades who started as professional colleague. We really enjoyed working together as our styles were almost identical. In fact, we are so similar in personality that we used to joke that we were twins separated at birth. Interestingly, we both married spouses who are very different from us, but very similar to each other. Our spouses balance out our intensity with stability and an even keel nature that helps both of us to come back down to earth if we begin to fly too close to the sun.
Balance is important. Yin and yang, light and dark, privilege and responsibility. Even in fantasy fiction, balance must be maintained and dues paid. As I've written about before, there's no such thing as a free lunch. So when become frustrated with our opposite mates, it's important to remember that we need to take the bad with the good. For example, my husband's equanimity in the face of my hyperbole is usually a welcome balm to my overheated emotions. Except when I want a big reaction from him--for a good reason, mind you. It makes me mental when something goes really wrong and his response is... Nothing. Makes me think of the recent movie, Bridge of Spies, when Tom Hanks asks the Soviet spy he's representing in an espionage trial if he's worried. The spy asks, "Would it help?" And we know that spy guy is right… but…. Oh. My. God. I thought only Vulcans had so little blood in their veins.
But no, there are, apparently, many humans sporting pointed ears and bad eye makeup. I'm married to one of them. Just this weekend, we had a pretty intense fight (well, intense on my end; while I was awake for hours seething in another bed, my cold-as-ice husband was snoring soundly, sleeping like a baby. Which only fanned the flames of my outrage.) The fight was about the relative merits of high ideals and standards versus letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Three guesses as to which side of that equation yours truly resides.
Sometimes it's hard to remember why opposites attract. Particularly when I want my beloved spouse to see things my way, do things my way, and just be more like me. But if I'd wanted that, I probably wouldn't have married him, and then where would I be? Perhaps in a relationship with my other half, my doppelgänger, spontaneously combusting left, right and center as we clashed in a conflagration for the ages. Intensity met with intensity head-on, with nothing to temper the fires, and everything stoking them. It seems like burnout or scorched earth would be the likely result of that scenario. No, thanks.
So today I will take a page out of my beloved books and tolerate, along with Pia, Mac and Elena, the dark side of the moon until I come back again to the light. I'll endure the discomfort of my beloved being radically different from me and bask in the many benefits, like my favorite leading ladies of fantasy. Thanks for the support, my fictional friends.
’m still savoring Thea Harrison's amazing novella, Pia Does Hollywood. There are about 59 minutes of heaven, according to my Kindle tracker, remaining. Yay. It doesn't take long for Pia and Dragos to inspire my muse. This time, I was struck by the idea that so much occurs below the surface that we don't see. So many of us are suffering in silence among strangers—or even those we love—bearing the burdens of grief, anxiety and despair, while wearing a outward mask of serenity. It makes me wonder what people are thinking and feeling inside, and how I can avoid adding to the load so many carry at any given time. In Pia Does Hollywood, Pia has been compelled to visit the Light Fae Queen, Tatiana, at the Queen's home in Bel Air. It quickly becomes apparent that all is not well in the Light Fae realm, despite Tatiana and her daughter, Bailey’s, efforts to show the world that they are making lemonade out of life’s lemons. Nevertheless, it's clear that something is wrong, and the truth comes spilling out contaminating all concerned. Clean up is a bitch in this case.
I can relate. We were spending the weekend with a friend of my husband's, Bill, with whom I'd socialized casually. The weekend we were together, Bill had a major family crisis. So major that his façade cracked; he took phone call after phone call, appearing more distraught with each conversation. The story came out, and we offered what support we could. The experience made me think about all that we hide, or try to, from those around us whom we encounter incidentally. Because we can’t judge a book by its cover, we need to be compassionate at all times; most of the time, we have no idea what's going on with people.
In the aforementioned instance, we were given a window into the private life of someone we wouldn't otherwise have known so intimately. In other circumstances, I'm sure Bill would have chosen to keep his private life to himself and maintain the appearance of a genial host with nothing more on his mind than the comfort of his guests. But like Tatiana, the situation could not be contained, and the guests were necessarily coopted to action. The only upside for these beleaguered hosts – both real and paranormal - was the sense of relief they must have felt that they no longer needed keep up appearances.
A friend related a similar anecdote. Shortly after her mother died, my friend was sitting in a Starbucks, nearly paralyzed by her inner grief, drinking coffee. Later, she realized that her interior turmoil was invisible to those around her as they enjoyed their own beverages. My friend had the profound realization that we are clueless, mostly, to the suffering of those with whom we share space—in coffee shops, elevators, trains, planes and buses, restaurants and stores. It's possible our co-worker across the aisle just had a bad breakup, or our neighbor just lost her job and has no idea how she's going to pay the rent. The man standing next to us on the escalator might be thinking about his schizophrenic son; the woman in line behind us at the grocery store might be overcome with fear about her husband's recurring cancer. We have no idea how many Eleanor Rigbys we encounter as we go about our daily lives.
Although sometimes we do. Even in those moments when we just have an inkling of the storm below the surface, we have an opportunity to practice compassion. My brother and I found out that our father had died when we returned to our hotel room following a visit to his bedside. We had left him resting peacefully, with a glimmer of hope that the immediate crisis had passed. Shortly after we left, however, he took his last breath. These were the days before cell phones, so my mother had to wait until my brother and I got back to the hotel and saw her message on the hotel phone. We returned her call immediately. She didn't want to tell us he'd died on the phone, but we kept asking, and she finally confirmed our worse fears. We caught a taxi back across town to the hospital, my brother and I sobbing uncontrollably in the back of the cab. The driver asked what was wrong and we told him, embarrassed by our overt emotion, but helpless to contain it. I will never forget the kindness of that driver, an immigrant from Ethiopia. He drove as fast as he could so we could be with our parents – and then refused payment for the ride.
That driver knew how we felt because the emotions were so new and raw that we couldn't put our game faces on. This is rare. For the most part, we don't give people an explicit reason to help us, with a smile, or a kind word or gesture -- anything that makes us feel less alone.
So, what to do? Seems simple enough: we need to assume that all of us need those random acts of generosity, those casual expressions of kindness and support, the comfort of making eye contact and sharing a moment of human-to-human connection. We are all capable of helping, even if it's just putting some genuine warmth into the smile we offer our fellow passengers on the train. We don't need to be magical beings like Dragos and Pia to save the day. Humans will do just fine.