What Happens Next

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I’ve stepped out of the desert and into the promised land of book Nirvana. A new Thea Harrison novel. Woo-hoo! Lionheart, the third in the Moonshadow series, might be the best of the trilogy, although it’s a tough call because of the quality of Thea Harrison’s entire oeuvre. Anyhoo, this stellar story is about two fierce-willed characters, Kathryn and Oberon. How they overcome their mutual disdain to find their HEA makes for some great storytelling and lots of grist for the blog mill.  Early in the story, Kathryn leaves Oberon for the night and he is concerned she won’t return to help him. She assuages his anxiety and assures him, “I’ll be back. I can’t wait to find out what happens next.”  I loved that line. It’s a compulsion that motivates much of my life. As a result, my time in Lionheart’s world made me ponder why I love the paranormal romance genre as much as I do.  I know not only how these tales will end, but because of the structure the genre demands, generally how they will progress. So, if I know, more or less, what happens next, why do I keep coming back?

Usually, I love the discovery process of learning how will it all work out. What will happen next? Who does what to whom? Who wins? Who loses? Who plays fair and who cheats? Who gets their HEA and who gets fucked? Inquiring minds want to know!

This need to discover what happens next is next is a double-edged sword, like so many things. It means I will always persevere until I’m reasonably sure of an outcome. But it can also make me hold on to something well past its expiration date, like jobs and relationships whose characteristics manifest quickly, but which I refuse to accept because I want a different outcome. Sometimes, when I am finally hit upside the head repeatedly, I realize that while I can’t control others, I can control myself and therefore what happens next. Usually when I realize that, it’s time to exercise my options to determine the next move and blow that particular popsicle stand. Sometimes, I have other options to influence outcomes. Whatever options I choose, the end game is about controlling the outcome. 

Wanting to know what happens next is all about control.  Knowledge may very well be power but I think it’s also control. Power is control by another name. The power to control outcomes—that which happens next—is the most dangerous and desirable thing in the world. It’s playing God. 

And who doesn’t want to play God?  Well, usually me, for one. Seems like a lot of work and responsibility. It also seems pointless. Because when we already know what happens next, there is no suspense, no delicious edge of risk and danger, just complacency and ennui. It sounds boring as shit – as it so often is for the immortals of my beloved books who become pathologically detached and unspeakably cruel just to feel anything at all. 

My desire to live on the edge is tempered by the unbearable weight of anxiety about the outcomes that really matter to me. At which point, I just want to fucking know. Will my kids become responsible members of society? Will my husband get hurt or sick? Will my friends grow old with me? Will I continue to be successful in my job? Will life continue to get better over time, as it has so far, or am I coming to a precipice after which the best will be behind me? If I had a crystal ball that would reveal the future, would I look? Would I really want to know what happens next?

I’ve thought about this question.  A lot. And I’ve answered it in different ways at different times and under different circumstances. When I was pregnant, I refused to do an amniocentesis, despite the urgent recommendation from my doctor; I didn’t want to anticipate a bad outcome any sooner than was necessary. It seemed to me that to worry about a problem for months before I could affect it was a one-way ticket to Crazyville, and I had already spent enough time visiting that unfortunate locale. On the other hand, when I went to the local Renaissance Festival recently, I didn’t pass up a chance to have my Tarot cards read, something I also do for myself. Because, you know, as the woman said to me when I pulled the Five of Swords (a conflict card), “Forewarned is forearmed.” Maybe. 

Perhaps forewarned is just “foreworried.” I’ve written before about living in the wreckage of my future, the one where all the bad things happen and I am bereft. The one where I run Monte Carlo equations like my husband does for retirement outcomes and I find out that in the end I’m alone, sick, poor and miserable. How could that possibly benefit my here and now? It can’t. Certain knowledge of future unhappiness only serves to poison the present. I want to enjoy this moment. A least for now.

If I wonder or worry about what happens next, then I’m spending time trying to influence future outcomes and not doing a very good job of living my life in the present. I want to live my experiences as I’m in them, rather than as future projections or home movies from bygone eras. Because, in truth, the best way to influence outcomes in the future is to live well in the present. Prophets and sages have been telling us this since the beginning of time but most of us cannot or will not listen, me included. But I try. 

Which is true for many things and the subject of a future post. Which may or may not turn out well. I guess you’ll have to come back to find out what happens next. As will I. And I will keep coming back, just as I will keep reading my paranormal romance novels even though I basically know the outcome. Because in a world where I don’t know what happens next, the small certainty I gain from my beloved books is heaven on earth. I plan to enjoy every moment.