I’m in a book desert and my muse is AWOL. It sucks. I pray that my tried and true process will lead me to a new book that delivers a shot of inspiration to kindle my creativity. I hope. I pray. I peruse book reviews. But then I think. Maybe. This time it won’t work. It’s happened. 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 play in my brain. Neither easy nor fun. But I can do it and I do, with a little help from my best book friends.
I binge on comfort food for the soul. I revisit my favorite books, even though I have whole paragraphs memorized. This week, I decided to read all of Thea Harrison’s novellas about Pia and Dragos, my favorite dragon and unicorn duo. I can never get enough of them and they always provide comfort and food for thought. I devoured Pia Saves the Day and Peanut Goes to School and Dragos Goes to Washington and Pia Does Hollywood. As I read, I thought about nature and nurture, essential-self versus conditioned-self. And the interesting things that happen when our essential selves become corrupted or covered up or when we try to connect with those of others who may be quite different.
Is it possible to overcome or obscure our essential selves through circumstances or discipline? Not surprisingly given my current “both/and” motto of late, I’m of two minds on this.
I believe all of us have an essential self, that in our essence we are whole, strong and connected to something greater than ourselves. I believe that humans are mortal (finite) versions of an ideal (the infinite) and at our core, good. That goodness tends to become partially or wholly covered by fear, anxiety, hubris, and other sins of the ego run rampant. This philosophy is in direct opposition to some religions that teach fire and brimstone and the inherently sinful nature of humanity, but I’m not buying what they’re selling.
In these novellas, both Pia and Dragos and even their dragon son, Liam, struggle consistently with the dichotomy between nature and nurture. Pia, by nature, is shy, peaceful and inclined to avoid danger. She is, in her essential self, more prey than predator. Her dragon mate, Dragos, is the polar opposite, an apex predator who assumes a veneer of civility to live among others and lead his shapeshifting people. Their union is epic, but fraught with tension.
In the past, I’ve struggled to discern which aspects of myself are essential and which are conditioned. I know that if essential selves are strong and vital, they cannot be overcome, no matter how hard the world tries to condition us into submission. And when our essential selves need a shot of steel to help us live in a world that is not always fair or right, nurture, through conditioning or discipline, can help us out. Pia needs to learn the lessons of courage and trust and Dragos needs to learn lessons of compassion and connection. This is where nurture can mitigate nature. I probably need all of the above. Because we all live in a world with others and we need to make connections and interact. No one is an island and all of that. And we all have our essential selves and conditioned selves running around with scissors and trying to play nice (or not trying), it can get acrimonious and convoluted.
Because there are parts of our essential selves that while whole and good, sometimes make it harder to mesh with others whose essential selves are different. Or who have conditioned or disciplined their essential selves in a way that is in conflict with ours. We are each of us unique and some of us are more connected than others. And sometimes we want to be more connected, but that connection is fraught with tension. Just like Pia and Dragos.
So, we’re back to both essential self and conditioned self. It all just depends on where we are and with whom we are trying to connect. If the connection is twisted and unhealthy, we can corrupt our essential wholeness with holes that leave us incomplete. If the connection is strong and healthy, say between a unicorn and a dragon, the conditioning can add something positive and enhancing.
As I work through these knotty questions and wait for my muse to reappear, I will continue to spend time with my favorite fictional characters and ponder the nature of truth in fantasy. And if you have any book recommendations to lead me out of the desert, please let me know!