Elle Boca

Head of the Class


I was privileged to be an advance reader for Elle Boca's Smells Like Weeia Spirit. I'm delighted to report that the book is now live on Amazon and I urge everyone to read it! This is the third story in the Weeia Marshals series, and Danielle Metreaux has been the lead Marshal in Paris for a while now, keeping the superhuman race safe from each other and secret from the regular humans out there who have no idea that the Weeia exist. Danielle has risen above a difficult upbringing and a tarnished family name. She represents a twist on the traditional rags to riches tale, where she is now keeping company with people who once looked down on her socially and economically. Danni struggles to feel like she fits in, and there are plenty of those who want to keep the struggle alive, but also those who seek to include her as one of their own. As Danni navigates the stratified structure of Weeia society in Paris, she encounters different classes of people and people with different levels of class. It's an interesting subject, class, and one we don't discuss too often here in the New World.  Class, money, and privilege tend to be more interconnected in the United States than they are in European countries, for example. Here, one's class is dependent less on one's birth than on one's ability to earn money. There are few impoverished nobles in America, and lots of successful nouveau riche social climbers. And, to add a layer of complexity to this blend of high society and hoi polloi, we can also talk about what it means to have class, not just belong to oneBecause being a part of high society or the ranks of the wealthy doesn't necessarily mean one has any actual class, just as poverty and low birth doesn't prevent one from having loads of it. 

To me, the epitome of class is one of my childhood friends. Since we were little girls, she has gone out of her way to make everyone comfortable around her. She's used to a lifestyle and amenities most of us have never experienced. Some in her situation never see those who make her existence what it is—the housekeepers and the waiters and the support staff at every turn. Not my friend; as long as I can remember, she has been inclusive, treating those who can do nothing for her with the same respect and consideration as the CEOs of the companies with whom she deals. I have never seen her look down her patrician nose at anyone. So, while her privilege secures her spot as an upperclassman, it's her innate class that makes her the lady she is. 

On the other hand, there are lots of folks out there with money and status who consider themselves to be "upper class," but who have no idea what it means to be “classy.” They delight in stepping on the perceived wet backs of others as they ignore those not of their “class.” Fuck that shit. In the end, people can only make us feel as uncomfortable as we let themWhen someone looks down their nose at me, it says a lot more about them than about me—about their insecurities and lack of self-worth, and nothing at all about mine. I know first-hand that money buys neither happiness nor class. It can't buy intelligence or health, although it can make these pursuits easier and more likely to succeed. It's hard to be healthy in a food desert or without access to medical care. It's hard to learn when the instruction is suboptimal and the students apathetic or hostile.

I'm not suggesting that money isn't advantageous or that a pedigree doesn't open doors. Although being the true American that I am, I don't really understand class and pedigree, nor do I have much respect for them. Who gives a shit that one's ancestors came over on the Mayflower?  That has nothing to do with who their descendants turn out to be. And I know there are certain clubs and groups that pull each other's puds and circle the wagons lest the bloodlines be diluted by the great unwashed, but I've never understood why anyone would want to belong to those elitist institutions in the first place.

Class and social status are just a continuation of the tyranny of the so-called popular kids in school. The Queen Bees and the Wannabes. I figured out early that the best way to win that game was to refuse to play. Exit the game board and find another playground. In high school while the popular girls were being passed around within a tiny bubble of self-aggrandizing beautiful people, I was having the experience of a lifetime with an older boyfriend who introduced me to the world. Now, granted, it was a pretty twisted relationship, but dysfunction is not limited to May-December romances; I'm watching my teenaged sons and their friends doing the dance and there's not much that’s functional there at all.

Anyhoo, back to self-defining, exclusionary groups that make themselves feel grander by trying to make others feel small. Who would want to join that club? Not me. And definitely not anyone who is comfortable with who they are and what they believe in. Of course, this is not to say that rich, privileged, pedigreed people can't be warm, wonderful and wise, like my friend. There is nothing precluding them from being comfortable in their own skin. And when they are, they are as gracious and welcoming as anyone else who has found their place in the world. More so, in fact, if they are self-aware enough to understand their good fortune in being born into wealth and privilege, which creates opportunities that not everyone enjoys. Those folks find joy in sharing their good fortune and creating opportunities for others. They define class, in every sense of the word.

It's good to watch Danni grow and evolve. It reminds me that I can evolve as well, particularly in the realm of being as classy as I can, irrespective of my station or financial status. In this way, we can all go to the head of the class if we so choose.

The Office

I just finished Elle Boca's Weeia on My Mind. Excellent read. I found myself turning pages quickly to see how it all got resolved. But what really struck me about the book was Ms. Boca's remarkable attention to detail and her close, totally on-point observations. Particularly with respect to a topic I thought I'd forgotten, but which came rushing back like the tide at full moon when I was reading this novel. Ms. Boca has perfectly captured the ins and outs of office life. I'm not sure if it's depressing or inspiring to know that even a race of superhumans struggles with the office two-step, dancing quickly to climb the corporate ladder, keep others from flinging us down and avoid getting stepped on.  Weeia on My Mind is written from the perspective of young Danni Metreaux, a Weeia law enforcement officer recently transferred to Paris, her requested posting. Once she gets there, however, she is confronted with several familiar figures in offices across the globe and across time:  the long-standing, do-nothing bureaucrat who resents the presence of personnel who actually want to work and the obstructionist assistant/secretary/office manger who makes life as difficult as possible for those same folk who are just trying to get shit done.  Anyone who's ever worked in an office knows who I'm taking about. These characters and the situations they create were drawn so faithfully that the lines between truth and fantasy were very blurred, as they often are in my beloved genre.

In the book, Danni desperately wants to seem professional and knowledgeable. She wants to make her mark. Like all of us who've been newbies in a corporate environment, we know, like Danni, that appearances count, that our behavior is being scrutinized and commented on, and that everything we do is being analyzed by an electron microscope. All of which makes it brutally difficult to fit in while simultaneously standing out. Which is the name of the game in The Office, no matter where it is or what it does or makes.

Like the rest of us, Danni struggles to juggle the requirements, explicit and implicit, of the chain of command.  We need to make our bosses look good. But we can't show them up. We need to ensure that we're asking for permission before we go off half cocked, thinking we know what to do, but we need to demonstrate independent thinking and initiative.  We need to first, do no harm, but also do what needs to be done. It's exhausting.

Then there is the problem of our place in the hierarchy. Offices are the most structured, hierarchical environments in the universe. Submarines have nothing on a well-established office. With this hierarchy comes a need to understand how to behave with superiors, subordinates and colleagues alike. Forgetting our place is a mortal sin in The Office.  We're expected to be graciously subservient to those above us; firm but fair with those below us; and we need to be overtly friendly while hiding the sub rosa machinations going on as we try to outshine our competitors, otherwise known as our peers. Totally draining

And what about what happens when work relationships become personal–as in friendships and romances?  If we're working 60-70 hours a week, we're spending more time with our fellow workers than with anyone else. Relationships happen, whether we want them to or not, and whether they are permitted or not. I was frankly shocked that Danni didn't develop a more-than-professional interest in her new protégé. Sebastian is smart, hot, and rich. They do become friends, which is nice, and predictable insofar as the real world is concerned. It could have gone the other way, which leads to all sorts of contortions while people try to hide their forbidden office romances. I've kept more of these kinds of secrets than any other. And I worked in a classified environment for twenty years. 

And finally, Danni has to deal with the "We-Be's," a particularly nasty sub-species of office dwellers who will screw you up every time. These are the folks with the lovely attitude that says, "We be here when you come and we be here when you go.  Ain't nothing you can do to us or for us, so fuck off."  I'm pretty sure that is a direct quote. These troglodytes are in the trenches, and it's almost impossible to extricate them. And they can make our lives a living hell, if they so desire. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. 

There are others from Satan's headquarters who can make life fairly toasty as well. I'm talking about bosses from hell, including the ragers, the gropers, the mouth-breathers and the tyrants.  There is nothing worse than a bad boss.  I've been blessed in my professional life; mostly, I've had bosses from Heaven. The only one from Down Under eventually came around and joined the side of the angels—and we became good friends. I would have lost that bet. 

And all of these memories of my corporate life as a national security contractor came pouring in as I read Elle Boca's latest offering. These are bittersweet memories, as I don't really miss office life, but I do sometimes miss the intensity, the structure, the shared sense of purpose and responsibility and the camaraderie of working in an office environment. But I think I will stroll down memory lane with my beloved books, rather than in real life. Truth is sometimes more palatable in fantasy than in reality. Thanks, Elle Boca, for the great read and the fun ride.



Everyone's a Winner

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Welcome to my faithful followers and to all my new friends!  I am so excited to unveil my new site—(big shout out to Jamie Higdon at The Balanced Biz for all of her help!), now powered by Word Press, with an all-new look and a lot more functionality.  I’m grateful that you’ve joined me so far, and I hope you will continue to walk with me on this amazing journey.  It’s definitely been a road less traveled, and I’ve been delighted with the companions I’ve met along the way, including and especially YOU! Thank you and ENJOY!! I've just started digging into Elle Boca's latest Weeia novel, Gypsies, Tramps and Weeia. Fortunately for readers everywhere, this series is getting better with each installment. This most recent offering starts with a bang and hasn't let up.  Anyway, the bang that opens this novel got me thinking--and you know what that means!

As the book begins, Danni, our kick-ass protagonist, is preparing to take her field exam to progress to the next level as a Weeia Marshall. As we learn later, Danni has her share of detractors who don’t believe that she belongs at the Academy. In fact, her unpopularity with certain factions has led someone to play a cruel prank, sending a note saying the exam had been pushed back by two hours. Luckily, Danni has some good friends among the student body (and the faculty, as it turns out), and she arrives to the exam late, but nonetheless able to pass with flying colors. Her victory is clouded, however, by the malevolence of her peers and the desire of some to succeed based on her failure. For this faction – you know the type, they exist in truth as well as fantasy – someone has to lose in order for someone else to win.

I take issue with this zero sum view of winning, as does Elle Boca, if the characters she writes are any reflection of her life philosophy (which I believe they are, as I've written before).  And I've been thinking about these very concepts since I just saw a great quote on Twitter that said, "I don't believe in competition. I want us all to win."  

Before I get a slew of irate comments and emails about the fallacy of giving all participants participation awards and the annihilation of merit-based promotion, not to mention the equality of everyone, let me say I hear you and I don't necessarily disagree. It's foolish and delusional to insist that there are no such things as winners and losers in this world, Little League trophies for showing up to the contrary. But that isn't what I'm talking about.  Clearly, we can't all win at everything.

What we're talking about here is the ugly underbelly of competition, the one Ms. Boca illuminates with the fraudulent note intended to ensure Danni failed her test, leaving more slots and better assignments for others. That kind of competitiveness depends on the fallacy of insufficiency--that there is not enough--of anything--to go around. Of course, there are a limited number of Americans who will be our nation’s President, and as each election cycle teaches us, many who want the job. And, as we know from 50 years of Super Bowl games, not every team's members will get one of those coveted rings, which always makes me a little sad, as they seem to mean so much to those folks. And as I watched my family and friends watching the Super Bowl, they were focused on the winners and their platitudes ("I'm just grateful to have played; I couldn't have done it without my teammates," do these guys read off the same script?!), while my eyes were on the team that didn't win and feeling sorry for their loss.

One of my favorite museums in Washington, DC, is called the Newseum, a museum of news. They have a gallery where all of the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs ever taken are displayed. They are all arresting, but one that particularly caught my eye was a photo of the 1992 Nigerian women's track and field team, after the 4x100 meter race. While all the other photographers were training their lenses on the winning American team, one photographer captured the moment when the Nigerian women realized they had won the bronze--third place--medal. Their incandescent happiness was infectious and the photo is a joy to behold. No losers there.

When I was in graduate school, I studied for my PhD comprehensive exams with two fellow students. The experience of studying together created an incredible bond, despite the fierce competition between us. In the end, when the exams were graded, each of us had passed, which was a relief, but on top of that, each of us had "won" in a way: one of us had the highest scores on an individual question; one had the highest score from the first reader; while the last of us received the highest score from the second reader. We all had a claim to fame, and it made the shared success that much sweeter.

That's what I want, for everyone to win. In Elle Boca's book, Danni has a similar attitude, and she's dismayed when others don't share her generous view of the world. I feel her pain. Why can't we all be happy for each other's wins, big and small?  Why does someone need to lose for someone else to win? Does it count if we win on the backs of our fellows? Not to me. I want the world to celebrate my successes, as I celebrate everyone else’s. And yes, I will take off my rose-colored glasses very soon. But the world is so lovely when it's blushing. Just ask Danni.

Force Multiplier

I'm just about finished with the third book in Elle Boca's Unelmoija fantasy series, The Spiritshifter. The series chronicles the adventures of Amy McKnight, her family and friends, who belong to a secret race of superhuman beings known as the Weeia. I don't want to give away too much of the plot (this is one reason I don't write book reviews--too hard without spoilers to write a good analysis, in my view, and then I'd ruin the experience for others). I recommend the series with its original premise and world and likable characters who generate my empathy and support-- I've found myself rooting for them the whole way. And without giving away any surprises, I want to talk about an interesting ability that one of the characters develops--an amplification ability wherein this character is able to stimulate the development of others' latent powers, magnifying nascent abilities and helping people to be, essentially, all that they can be. Who needs the army, anyway?

This plot twist got me thinking about how cool it would be if there were some truth in this fantasy. What if there was such a thing as an amplifier in real life?  What would that look like?  What character traits might I be interested in amplifying?  Would this be a selective amplification?  Could I amplify the parts of myself I like and turn down the volume on the parts that are not quite ready for prime time? And even if the volume control didn't work in the direction of decreasing the decibel level, could the increase button only apply to those aspects I enjoy about myself?

Could be tricky, but might be worth a stroll down this particular rabbit hole. What would I choose to amplify?  That is fairly easy, I think. I recently completed most of the exercises in my new favorite personal development book, The Desire Map (and yes, I'm constantly in search of ever-more personal development, but no, The Desire Map is not some pornographic cartography book on how to find the elusive "G spot"). Anyhoo, back to the topic at hand, The Desire Map, by the brilliant Danielle LaPorte, is about how to identify and achieve goals with soul. The concept behind the book, with which I whole-heartedly agree, is that desire is the most powerful, creative force in the universe, and that tapping into that power is not only available to each and every one of us, but it is also the most empowering thing we can do for ourselves. The books instructs us to identify our core desired feelings, which is actually a lot harder than it sounds. It's one of the things I worked on during my retreat a few weeks ago.

So it is a no-brainer that I'd want to amplify my core desired feelings. Danielle suggests we pick five. Mine were as follows:  mindful; soulful; resourceful (in every sense of that word); spirited (as in filled with spirit); and in Divine communion. So, if I'm ordering off the amplification menu, I'd like a heaping plateful of being full--full of mind, soul, spirit, resources and God. I'd like as much of that as I can get, thank you very much. Crank up the volume till you can hear it four lanes away from where my car radio is playing. I want maximum power on my sub-woofer so it’s all about that bass. You know what I'm talking about, right?

And while I'm at it, playing my tunes of fullness at maximum volume, let's add grateful, heart-full, truthful, peaceful and full of kindness, generosity and good will toward all. Because, honestly, that's really what I want. If I can amplify my positive characteristics and abilities like Ms. Boca's characters, I want to be as full of the good stuff as possible. If the down volume button is in good working order, let's dial down pettiness, schadenfreude, envy, jealousy, self-righteousness, controlling and manipulative tendencies, not to mention fear, resentment, and general discontent. Wouldn't that be something? I can hardly imagine it, though I suspect it would be miraculous to experience.  

Which leads me to ask, logically, whether any of this magical amplification and commensurate sound dampening is possible in the real world, and if so, how can we achieve it? As you may have cottoned to by this point, I do, in fact, believe that the kind of amplification described in the Unelmoija books is possible in the real world. How to do it, you may wonder.  The same way you can get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.  Life gives us so many opportunities to practice being full of the good stuff and loving toward all.  And because practice makes perfect, the fact that we sometimes fall short of the mark is no excuse not to pick ourselves up and practice some more, perfection being an ideal not actually achievable in the real world. We must avoid the massive pothole on the road of life called perfectionism, lest it derails us on our journeys as we become mired in the tar pits of perfectionism. Just don’t go there. Turn down the amplification volume on perfectionism and turn it up on persistence in getting back on the horse after we’ve been thrown off that damn beast.

So thank you to Elle Boca whose books are a fun romp through an interesting world filled with [mostly] nice people. I love the idea of amplifying my good traits and I love the idea that there might be others out there who can help me amplify the good stuff in my life.  And the idea I love best of all is the one where I act as the amplifier for others around me, and help them turn up the volume on the fullness of their lives.

The Kindness of Strangers

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In A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois declares that she’s always depended on the kindness of strangers.  This is a line my mother enjoyed repeating, and, therefore, it’s a line I’ve pondered over time.  I’m not really sure what Blanche meant, or maybe I am.  But I think I understand what my mother meant. And for the record, I don’t agree.  Shocked, you are, I’m sure.  But it’s an interesting concept, actually, and one I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. And I’m going to digress in the next few paragraphs (more shock, I know), but I promise I’m going to get back to this concept toward the end.

As I continue to look back over the past year, I’ve been thinking about the books I’ve read.  I’ve read some amazing books by well-established authors who I love, love, love, and about whom I’ve written extensively.  And I’ve also read some memorable books by new authors who are less well known. There are four books (or series) in this latter category in particular that I want to talk about: The Light Who Shines, by Lilo Abernathy; Jade, by Rose Montague; The Sanctum Trilogy (The Girl and The Boy, so far), by Madhuri Blaylock; and The Unelmoija series by Elle Boca (including The Dreamshifter and The Mindshifter, which are the two of the four that I have read so far).  All of these books have at least one common theme, despite many differences in the specifics of plot, characterization and world building.

The theme at hand is decency and generosity.  Each of the main characters in each of these books/series confronts adversity and reversals with open hearts, minds and hands.  And the openness of their beings is an important element in defining who they are.  I’ve written about this aspect of these works specifically twice here and here  and more obliquely elsewhere here; here; here; and here .  But now I want to say more about these books and their authors.

I have always assumed that individuals write what they know, on one level or another.  Thus, I believe that Thea Harrison and Nalini Singh know a thing or two about how to have successful relationships between strong-willed individuals. I’ve assumed that Laurell Hamilton understands, in a visceral and meaningful way, what family is, or should be, and what it means to find meaning in the minutiae of life. And I think Charlaine Harris, Jeaniene Frost, and Faith Hunter appreciate the soft underbelly of strong women, that which makes them human, even when they aren’t.  Perhaps I’m wrong about these amazing authors, but I don’t think so, and here’s why.

Over the course of the past nine months, since I began writing this blog, I’ve gotten to know Lilo, Rose, Madhuri and Elle a little bit through social media.  Sounds a little shallow, I know, and I might have thought that myself prior to my recent experiences, but it’s not. When I began my very tentative foray into Twitter, last summer, I made a commitment to putting out one tweet a day. No sooner than I’d started my very basic and bland one tweet a day with my brand new Twitter account (@truthinfantasy), I was discovered by Lilo, who added me to some sort of retweet list, and, boom, my Twitter life was launched in earnest. Shortly thereafter, Rose found me and promoted me to her followers, followed in short order by Madhuri and Elle, who also added me to their inner Twitter circles, retweeting me and favoriting my tweets and blogs, and in doing so, ensuring my success in the Twitterverse.

And the truth is, this was all about what these amazing authors write about:  paying it forward, turning the other cheek, offering the hand of friendship with no expectation of compensation.  These women are just like the characters and themes they write about, and this is why, based on my highly unscientific sampling of four, I am sure I am right about the other others I have read and loved.

I don’t think it’s possible to write books this good and talk the talk so authentically without walking the walk in one’s personal life.  I mean, after all, does it make sense to you that someone like Lilo, Rose, Elle and Madhuri would write about being compassionate in the face of hate, giving in the face of stinginess, and tolerance in the face of close-mindedness if these authors didn’t reflect these higher characteristics of the human condition in their own lives?  Even if these characters and characteristics are aspirational rather than descriptive, I applaud their intentions. I can only hope mine are as pure.

So, back to the kindness of strangers (I promised, didn’t I??)  For Blanche and my mother, the kindness of strangers meant in relying on the intimacy of the one night stand over the intimacy of a long term relationship. It meant the freedom to say and do things you would not otherwise do because there were no consequences of having to face the other person at another time. The kindness of strangers, for Blanche and my mom, was the ability to be all in--for a very finite period of time with no fear of repercussions later because there was no later. There was no disappointment because there were no expectations. There was no betrayal because there was absolutely no context. There was no tuning out because it cost so little to tune in temporarily. So, that is certainly one way to look at it—and then look what happened to Blanche.  Not so pretty (my mom, too, but that is the subject of another post).

But then contrast that with what I mean by the kindness of strangers.  I mean the ability to be generous because it elevates us.  The ability to be open and real because it feeds our souls.  And if we get something back, that’s the icing on the cake. But we don’t need the icing, because we’ve filled up on the spongy, vanilla goodness (I like vanilla better than chocolate, remember?  Here.  My faith in humanity has been validated again by the knowledge that these authors really are like the characters they write about.  And how awesome, amazing and lovely is that?

So, the kindness of strangers is a real thing, not another irony in a sad and pathetic life.  Depending on how you look at it, of course.  And I’m a half full kind of gal, dontcha know? Thank you Lilo, Rose, Elle, and Madhuri.  Write more, please, so I can continue to grow and learn through your work.  And thank you for reaching out the hand of friendship to someone you don’t even know—just because that’s the kind of women you are. Thanks for helping to make 2014 a banner year for me, and I look forward to even better things in 2015. Life is good. 

The Pretenders Sing-Along

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I've just finished the second book in Elle Boca's intriguing Unelmoija  series, The Mindshifter. Ms. Boca has created a very interesting world and I'm enjoying the unfolding of the story and the development of the characters. As always, my favorite parts of the book involve the deeper themes I’m inspired to contemplate, in this case a variation on the Harry Potter syndrome: the idea that one day we could wake up and find out that we aren't who we thought we were and that our whole reality has been turned on its head. What would that mean for us? How would we react? And what aspects of our character determine the direction we take upon learning that we are, in fact, more than we feared, and maybe even as much as we’d secretly hoped?

In Ms. Boca’s world, there are individuals go through life not realizing the truth of their identity, and then find out as young adults about their special status as part of the Weeia race. I don't know about you, but I would have given almost anything to learn that I was extraordinary (in a literal way) when I was growing up (and maybe even after I was grown up). Doesn't everyone secretly, or not so secretly, yearn to discover how and why he or she is special or unique? Don't we all want to be exceptional?  How great would it be to find out that instead of being Joe Sixpack or Jane Winespritzer, we were actually part of an exclusive club of superhumans?

This situation is similar to a common theme of childhood, one that I remember pondering a great deal when I was young: What if my parents weren't really my parents and I found out that I was secretly switched at birth and I wasn't who I thought I was? What if I were really a princess, or a queen, or a fairy (and yes, I had a very active imagination and spent way too much time reading). This would explain, to my childish way of thinking, why I felt so out of place in my family. It would explain my feelings of exclusion and difference. And, as an added bonus, it would also mean that my mother, with whom, as you know, I had such a difficult relationship, wasn't really my mother. Which was good news in my book. It would have also meant that my beloved father wasn't related to me, either, but in true kid-like fashion, I tended to gloss over that part of the logical sequence.

Not only that, but if we woke up one day and someone told us we were part of a secret world, it would clarify so many baffling facts—well, at least for me, but maybe you all are more normal than I am. Instead of feeling like a freak or someone who sees life from the outside in, as I did for so many years, especially from my early teens into my late twenties, I could think of myself as part of an ultra-covert, super cool, in-crowd of people like me who I didn't even know about, but with whom I now belonged.

And if that were true, then I would also be able to validate my secretly-nurtured, barely acknowledged and rarely shared conviction that I really am singular and extraordinary and worthy. That all the rejection and dejection I've experienced was just the necessary tempering of the metal to make it stronger before it emerges into the world ready to fulfill its function. Wouldn't that be something?

And as I write this I realize anew how much I used to yearn for the kind of legitimization that anonymous Weeia in Ms. Boca’s world received upon learning of their previously unknown heritage in the Unelmoija world. I so wanted something or someone outside of myself to tell me that I was more than I feared I was. But here is where truth and fantasy diverge. Beyond the fact that no one in the real world is going to tell us that we are members of a secret race of superhumans (beyond White Supremacists, or other misguided haters, of course), we don't, in fact, need that to happen.

We are all special and unique and valuable. By virtue of being garden-variety humans, rather than a superhumans, we are part of the club, a member of the in-group. We all get to participate in the privileges and responsibilities of being human. Just plain human. That we don't feel this way is a tragedy of epic proportions, generated by incompetent parenting as well as the constant comparisons we make about ourselves while being forced to watch artificially enhanced people pretend to be perfect on TV, in the movies and on social media. Sadly, as we strive for a perfection that doesn’t exist in reality, we enter a vicious cycle of inadequacy and self-hatred, leading back to our secret desire to get a letter from Hogwarts telling us that our lives to date have been just the warm up—that the real thing is starting soon, and it will be so much more, so much better than what we have.

Don’t believe it. It isn’t true. Because I’m special.  So special. Just ask Chrissie Hynde.

Truth or Dare

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I just finished The Dreamshifter by Elle Boca. It is the very promising first novel in a series that boasts an interesting premise about a race of beings with superhuman capabilities. I'm already looking forward to the next one. But before I move on, I need to spend some quality time thinking about the deeper messages of the first book. On my mind today is a passage from the story where the main character, Amy, consults a fortuneteller who says that Amy's gentle and generous nature will make her a target for unscrupulous people seeking to take advantage of her. But, says the psychic, it doesn't matter, and she exhorts Amy to remain true to herself. I love, love, love this message, and it's not one we hear often enough, in my opinion.

It is rare that someone tells us, “you will be hurt and you will be unfairly exploited and you won't necessarily get back the good you put out into to the world, but, hey, don't worry about it, and for God's sake, don't let it stop you from continuing to be kind and trusting and giving.”  I'm fairly certain that was not a lesson I was taught at home, at school, at work or by popular culture these days. I'm pretty sure Jesus said something about turning the other cheek, but who can hear His voice over the discussion about who's getting voted off the island this week or the other reality shows where cutthroat completion is king. Or over the thousand-decibel noise coming out of the football stadiums where men are getting their heads bashed in and their knees ripped apart to entertain us. Nope, letting other people exploit our perceived weaknesses is not a message commonly promulgated to the masses.

So, why should Amy in Elle Boca's book, or we, for that matter, listen to the psychic and stay open, loving, kind, generous, giving and trusting? What's in it for us? Quite a lot, as it turns out.  But in acknowledging that fact, I start to sound like a smarmy game show host telling everyone, "Be nice and win fabulous prizes" or some such nonsense like that. And that is not my intention at all. We shouldn't be open, trusting and generous as a means to an end. We should do it for the same reason the fortuneteller urges Amy to be that way; it is our nature. It is the end itself. 

Ostensibly, this blog is about learning to live authentically through the lessons learned from reading paranormal and urban fantasy. But I haven't spent too much time unpacking the box called authentic living and providing any sort of real definition for what I mean by that. So it’s high time to start.

I think that the most important aspect of living authentically is being true to ourselves. Sounds simple, or at least vague enough to be simplistic. Because how many of us really know who we are or what our real nature is? So many of us spend time trying to find ourselves when we were never lost in the first place. It's not a function of finding ourselves; it's a function of creating ourselves. Or, at the very least, co-creating ourselves.

In my world, we are all good, and generous and kind and loving. That is the true nature of all humans. Sometimes, we cover that up with all manner of garbage and we become who we are not, selfish and stingy and mean. But I don't believe we begin that way. We begin with the trust of the innocent and the rest of the nastiness is just learned behavior. And no, I'm not naive. I understand that evil exists and that some poor unfortunates can't help being “wrong” somehow or being a bad seed, and some of them are born that way. But those sad souls are damaged, not built according to the blueprint. And some of us, of course, choose a path of impairment and disease. But again, that is not who we are or who we were meant to be. 

Like Amy in The Dreamshifter, it is our nature to be giving and trusting. And it is the task of a lifetime to nurture that fragile flame and keep it burning against the strong winds of the world that would extinguish it.

It is so easy to give up on love and trust when we've been betrayed. It is so easy to extrapolate from the few to the many and decide that it is best to mount a good offense as an effective defensive strategy. Once we've been exploited, how easy is it to lash out at the world and strike first before anyone can hurt us? Or lock up our hearts to be sure that they never get stomped again. Too easy.

And that would be a mistake. Because being open, giving, trusting and loving is an end in itself. Its own reward, in essence. It just feels good to give, at least to me. I have always loved giving gifts and support and empowering people to be their best. And sometimes, my inclination toward generosity had resulted in my getting very, very burned. Betrayed. Made a fool of. It has definitely happened. And it does not feel good at all. And for a time, hopefully not too long, I might entertain fantasies of revenge and self defense. I might contemplate building a wall around my heart or around my wallet, depending on the nature of the betrayal.

But in the end, I've always decided against it. Revenge is bad for the soul. Getting back at someone hurts me a lot more than it hurts them. Retribution corrodes the heart and dulls the zest for life. No thank you, not for me.

Because, like Amy in The Dreamshifter, it is my nature to be open, loving, generous, kind, giving and trusting. Because, unlike Amy, I'm human. And that's how we roll.