I love Atticus O’Sullivan, the Iron Druid, and his author, Kevin Hearne. I love them even though the series’ end, Scourged, left me somewhat cold. Things did not turn out as well as I’d hoped for Atticus; fate caught up with him and he was required to pay his karmic debt. He’d made a lot of enemies over the years, and many of them came home to roost. Atticus had to pay for his hubris, his willful ignorance and his refusal to back down once he set himself on a path. Kevin Hearne implied that Atticus got what was coming to him but that with time, it might end up making him a better man.
It's a week later and I'm no longer slogging. I'm into A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne and I can't wait to find out how it all turns out. If this is the first in a series and I don't find out what happens until the end of the series, I'm going to be angry. In the meantime, it seems like every other page has a deep thought that inspires further rumination, which is why I love Kevin Hearne. Today's perfect line describes "perfect contentment. That sublime moment when you're at peak anticipation of something and you know you'll get it soon. I often think that moment is better in some ways than getting the thing itself: it's the awareness of your own joy at being alive..." Interesting concept. Can the anticipation of a thing can be more enjoyable than the experience itself?
I hate writing. I love having written. So said Ernest Hemingway, or maybe it was Mark Twain, I'm not entirely sure. Regardless, the sentiment is worth exploring. There are many activities we enjoy solely in hindsight, the point of which is only to reflect on their occurrence, rather than enjoy the process. Why am I thinking about happiness in the rearview mirror? Because I just finished the latest Iron Druid short story collection by Kevin Hearne, Besieged. Excellent as always, and I even got a signed copy when I went to see Mr. Hearne speak at a D.C. bookstore last month. I totally geeked out. It was awesome. But I digress. Although not really—see what I did there? I told you about an experience that I had, partly so I could relive it and review the memory that I made by going to see a favorite author promote his work, and partly to inflate myself in your eyes. Adding to the considerable street cred I received as a result of my adventures, when I introduced myself to the Kev, he actually knew who I was and complimented my work! I'd have died a happy woman on the way home from that talk. As long as I'd broadcast my brush with the celebrity who knew me before my untimely demise, that is.
What am I talking about, you may wonder? It's this: as Granuaile, the Iron Druid's beautiful protégé, observes while she and Atticus attend a traveling carnival looking to send some demons back to Hell, "There's no happiness here." In fact, opined the lovely lass, we seem to pursue happiness even when it runs away from us. Sad but true, in both truth and fantasy.
What prompted these dystopian findings by the one who would come to be known as the "Fierce Druid?" Granuaile noticed that:
People come here to be happy, but I bet they wind up in a fouler mood than when they walked in. Kids want plushies and rides and sugar, and parents want to hang on to their money and their kids. And everybody wants to go away without digestive problems, but that’s not gonna happen.
All too true. How many times have we gone to a concert, or a festival, or a party, convinced it will be fun, only to subject ourselves to the bitter disappointment of frustrated expectations? We do it all the time, egged on by partners or sometimes pals, who assure us that we’ll have the time of our lives. I'm positive that no one has ever had the time of their life at the annual school auction. Mostly, we suck down drinks in the hope of becoming distracted enough to engage in the same chit chat with at least fifteen different people without vomiting into our mouths. Does anyone really care about the achievements of casual acquaintances' children?
And as we drive home from the event, whatever it is, my husband and I would bemoan the fact that we'd gone there instead of spending the evening at home. Sorting our spice rack. Or consolidating ketchup and mustard in the fridge. But then the next morning rolls around and the memory becomes fonder; we saw friends, shared laughs, were mutually relieved that we didn’t win the condo in Rome, as we had no plans to visit Italy any time soon. Yes, in retrospect, the night was enjoyable and, more importantly, we get to be part of the club with the rest of the parents who were roped into the ballroom with us.
And therein lies the true value of our actions. I hate writing. I love having written. I love the postpartum evidence of time well spent, or at least time I can build up to seem well spent. And if it's not writing, it's a night at the carnival with the kids, chasing happiness, finding it only when I'm able to post the pix of my sons riding the Ferris wheel and proudly displaying the plushy Dad won for them by strangling a bottle's neck with a rubber ring. On Facebook, or Instagram or shared texts and emails, the time spent frazzling my nerves and my digestive tract at the local fair is transformed into a Kodak moment to be displayed like jewels that prove our wealth. The wealth of a happy, perfect family. Look, look at us on a fun-filled outing! We're so blissful and so normal. Or not.
I've been suspicious of this chasing happiness phenomenon since I observed my mother "enjoying" her extended family. She'd worked hard to bring her two kids, their spouses and her grandchildren together to celebrate a milestone birthday. She twittered to all her biddies about how marvelous it was that everyone was coming to wish her well and be together—captured, of course, by the professional photographer who’d preserved it for posterity. Which was all fine and dandy. Except when I saw that my mother was hiding in the kitchen, failing to interact with said family, ignoring the grandchildren in favor of washing dishes the housekeepers were paid to clean.
It hit me then, like halitosis from an enthusiastic ticket taker at the movies who leans in to wish me a good time. My mother wasn't interested in the actual experience of hosting her family, just the ability to tell all that she'd done so, to inspire envy, boat loads of it, amongst her blue haired set. High school athletes keep score by sexual conquests. Old mothers by how many times their families visit, young mothers by how often they take their children to the museum or the science center—and how well their photos show off the brilliance of their progeny. It's not the activity but the bragging rights that follow it that count. The process of writing sucks. But showing off those bright shiny words…. Well that’s so, so sweet –even if you only view them yourself.
I had a friend once whose husband admonished us for talking while the kids were outside on a cold winter's night in the hotel's hot tub. "Hurry, they're making memories," he gushed, grabbing his camera and rushing to the scene of the memory-in-the-making. I was confused. It was the kids making their own memories, which would be more memorable without the ‘rents horning in on the action. It was a perfect example of ruining the moment by trying to capture it. Happiness doesn't want to be found when it's chased. It comes when we enter the present and live there.
I love Atticus, the Iron Druid, and also Granuaile. What I love most about them is that I'm rarely more fully in the moment than when I'm wallowing between the pages of a captivating book, immersing myself in the world of a talented author's imagination. Those are some of the best moments to be had. Ironically, I love reading. I hate having read.
I love Kevin Hearne. The Iron Druid is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Hearne’s humor always makes me chuckle – I sometimes laugh out loud. I also appreciate his insight and advice; he’s one of my best literary therapists. It’s no wonder, then, that I eagerly awaited the release of his novella, The Purloined Poodle, despite the fact that it's written in the first "person" from the perspective of the Iron Druid's Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. [And no, it hasn’t escaped me that I'm reading a lot of books whose main characters are named Oberon. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction]. I’m not normally the kind of person who reads books written by dogs. Or by humans channeling dogs. But I love Oberon, and the first of his Meaty Mysteries did it for me in a big way. Not just because I was entertained and amused. But also because reading about a dog's life reminded me to think about what's important in my own. One of the most salient lessons that dogs can teach us is to live in the present moment. This is much, much easier said than done, and apparently, it's much easier for dogs than for people. This makes sense for several reasons that I'm almost afraid to talk about lest dog-loving fanatics (including myself) will give me grief. I mean no offense to the lovers of our four-legged friends. First off, there is the issue of brain size; if you have limited headspace, it's probably easier to stay focused on what's in front of you (this could explain the serenity of fools—but I digress). Second is the issue of free will—which, in my humble opinion—is a prerequisite to possessing a soul. And I'm not sure that dogs have free will, so they don't have any issues with making the right choice… like staying in the present moment. If it were easy, everyone would do it. But dogs don't have to worry about their souls ‘cause they are all going to Heaven, and doing the right thing by living in the moment doesn't need to be difficult for them.
We can learn many things from our canine friends: pay attention to what’s in front of us; hear and don’t just listen; see don’t just look. When a dog smells something, he's really taking it into his body—for better and for worse. He's fully present to his sense of smell. And when we touch our dogs or they touch us, if we're paying attention and not absently patting their heads, the communion is a wondrous thing. Because that's what presence does. It allows us to live fully. In reality, we only have the now. Our minds have not yet cottoned to this fact of life, however. Dogs do a much better job.
Another advantage that Oberon highlighted is that dogs enjoy the simple pleasures of life, and therefore seem much happier than we are. They love to run through the grass, and snooze in the sun and cuddle with a loved one. They enjoy their meals, and they take pleasure in pleasing their friends. Humans are capable of the same pleasures, no matter our circumstances. These pleasures cost nothing, and even if they are few and far between, instead of ruining the experience by thinking about its rarity, a dog would revel in the pleasure that was offered. I could learn something from this doggie ability to enjoy happiness where I find it.
Dogs seem to be fully integrated in their minds and bodies, something I didn't even know to desire and work toward for most of my half-century of living. There is no divide for them, which is likely another key to their unique capacity for living in the moment. Dogs live their lives as whole beings. Most of us have forgotten that we came into this world whole and somewhere underneath all the shit, we still are. Most dogs have a lot less shit piled on top of their basic integrity.
Another lesson our dogs can teach us is about values. Doggie values are the best: loyalty, affection, protection, honesty, generosity, the ability to trust, and good, old-fashioned pack values where families love and support each other through thick and thin. It doesn't really get much better than that. Perhaps The Donald could get a dog and learn a thing or two. On second thought, I wouldn't do that to the dog.
Dogs also trust their instincts, something else I'd like to learn to do better. Dogs seem to have excellent access to their instinctive knowledge and they don't second-guess themselves. All of us know immediately if a dog thinks we are good people. And we've all seen those who dogs don't like. I don't know about you, but I would be wary of anyone to whom my dogs took an instant dislike. Sketchy, for sure. So not only can we learn something about how to value our own instincts, but dogs are generous in sharing their instincts with us too. Beautiful animals.
So, once again I’m indebted to Kevin Hearne for writing an excellent story. And I offer many thanks to Oberon and his four-legged fellows for making me a better biped.
I just whipped through the beginning of a new series by MaryJanice Davidson. I love MaryJanice, creator of such memorable characters as Queen Betsy, Fred the Mermaid and the royal family of Alaska. She makes me laugh out loud, even while she explores meatier topics. In Deja Who, Leah Nazir is an Insighter, a therapist of sorts who helps people explore aspects of their past lives that are leaking into their present reality. In this world, all of us ride the karmic wheel, reincarnating over and over again until we've learned our lessons or paid our debts. Leah is no exception to this rule. She is living out her karmic destiny to endure a mother from hell only to get murdered by a psychopath who follows her through lifetimes. She seems resigned to her fate, at least at first. Eventually, though she realizes that karma is not inevitable and she breaks the abusive and murderous cycle once and for all. Along the way to her HEA, we get to experience Leah's "Mommie Dearest" moments up close and personal. And I will say this: if there were ever a time that I considered myself and my nightmare of a mother to be terminally unique, the plethora of books—in the paranormal fantasy genre alone—that include mothers from hell, literally and figuratively, disabuse me of that notion. In Leah's case, "It," as she calls her mother, is the worst caricature of a stage mother imaginable. "It" promoted Leah as a child actress, included herself as part of any acting deal in supporting roles, and then stole all the money Leah earned. "It" makes Kris Jenner (Kris Jenner is the ‘mom-a-ger’ of Kardashians] and Britney Spears' parents look like amateurs.
But despite the outrageous abuses, and the vicarious living that "It" did through Leah, there is no such thing as black and white when it comes to our parents. We want to love them. We want to believe them. We want to trust them. And the bad ones use these desires against us to manipulate our feelings. They make us feel wrong. No matter how right we are. Leah rides this emotional rollercoaster over and over throughout her lifetimes.
Being made wrong by our parents is an interesting phenomenon. In my experience, and also that of Leah, and Astrid (in Robyn Peterman's Fashionably Dead series) and Granuaile (in the Iron Druid series), it makes us want to be right more than anything. This tendency can get us into trouble, but that is a topic for another post. It also ignites in us a deep desire to wrench from our bad parent an admission that they were wrong. They were wrong to dismiss us. Wrong to hurt us. Wrong not to love us as we deserve to be loved. We want an apology, an acknowledgement that it shouldn't have been that way. For most of us, it's like waiting for Godot.
These negative formative experiences also lead to a need for external validation. Because we were made wrong by the person who made us (and presumably any error of execution in the creation should reflect on the creator, in this case the DNA donors and those that raised us, but, strangely, only seem to reflect on the creation itself. Weird.), we need to be told we are all right by others. We seek this validation like Keith Richards looking for his next fix (back in the day, of course, when men were men and veins were afraid).
This is a terrible position to occupy. Needing and seeking validation and extreme self-righteousness lead to what I've termed the "Superiority-Inferiority" complex, which can be described by those afflicted as thinking of ourselves as the "piece of shit around which the universe revolves." I'm sure all of us know people like this. I am a person like this. No fun. No fun at all. It makes me a highly critical and judgmental perfectionist with impossibly high standards which no one, including myself, can meet. We look for maternal (or paternal) surrogates, and we ache for someone to tell us that we are right and our parents are wrong. Mostly, we want our parents to utter that exact phrase as they lay prostrate at our feet. Hey, we can dream, right?
One of the most healing moments of my life was when a psychologist, who had seen me and my mother together, told me, in a private session, that it wasn't me, it was my mother. I do not have the words to describe the feeling of liberation I experienced upon hearing those words. Changed my life.
But the one thing no one has ever mentioned before was something that MaryJanice Davidson touched on in Deja Who. Guilt. Guilt—the intense, unrelenting guilt that a child feels for resenting or even hating the person who we’re supposed to love best in the world. And who supposedly loves us best as well. I never thought about that guilt, which makes about as much sense as survivor guilt. It is no one's fault that we survived and others didn't. I feel that way about my brother. I made it out of our childhood home mostly intact. He did not. So while I was able to put myself back together again, my brother, sadly, remains more like Humpty Dumpty. So I got a double whammy of irrational but heartbreakingly real guilt; guilt that I could honestly say that I didn't love my mother, and guilt that I survived our childhood, metaphorically speaking, and my brother did not.
I keep thinking I'm finished writing about my awful mother. But then I keep reading my beloved books and her character—and mine—keep popping up. I hope that I have been as successful in breaking the karmic cycle as Leah was, but I guess I won't know for sure until my next incarnation. Or maybe, just maybe, I will be able to see the last turn of this particular wheel in the lives of my own children and in the nature of my relationship with them as they mature into adults. I’ll keep striving to be the mother I wanted but never had as I ride the wheel of fate, seeking to break this karmic cycle. Only time will tell.
So I have to share. And crow. And toot my own horn. Just a bit. I just learned that an interview I gave for a podcast is now available. The podcast is called "Journal Talk," and it's hosted by a cool guy named Nathan Ohren. My interview can be found here, and I also encourage you to take a listen to some of his other interviews. It's a great show, and Nathan's mission to help people explore the benefits and joys of journaling is engaging and worthwhile. In the interview, I talk about this blog as a form of public journaling, which it is. In this space, I ruminate on various topics that tickle my fancy, and I also work through my fears and anxieties, not to mention sharing my triumphs and joy. You guys get it all. And while I might pull my punches a very little bit out of respect to my family, really I just try to tone down my language (remember how much I love my potty mouth?) and perhaps leave out excessive references to my misspent youth. But beyond that, I'm digging for gold in the recesses of my mind, and dredging up these notes from the underground of my unconscious (see how useful that liberal arts education was… those literary allusions don’t come from nothin’).
And, in addition to journaling to excavate my unconscious, I also use this space to expand my horizons and perform thought experiments that challenge my everyday thinking. I believe this is an excellent use of journal writing—to explore the “what ifs” and “what might have beens” or that which could still be in a benevolent version of my future. I can take things apart and put them back together in different and perhaps more interesting ways. I can reframe a past experience and transform a painful memory into a critical lesson for later success. I can dig myself out of a deep chasm of denial through my writing, and realize what others may already know about something from my past or present about which was fooling myself. Like perming the front section of my hair to look like Joan Jett or Pat Benetar, but actually… well… not so much… in truth, I looked more like a poodle with a high top.
The other thing I get to explore in this blog is its topic—the truth I find revealed in fantasy novels of the paranormal and urban varieties. Through this public journal I can inquire into the realities of being human through characters who are not. I've examined aging and mortality through the lens of fictional folks who neither get older nor die. I've been able to contemplate long-term romantic and platonic relationships in the context of those that have lasted or will last hundreds if not thousands of years. There is nothing like hyperbole to spotlight its right-sized cousin, reality.
For me, fantasy fiction is a textbook for life, a handbook of suggestions and guidelines for how to live my best life—which I long to share with all of you. I prefer these stories as the raw material for the ultimate self-help guide that I'm writing so that I can learn who's who and what's what. Where else is it so much fun to work through my commitment issues, and my mommy issues and my daddy dilemmas? I use this space to contemplate my navel based on the interesting themes I find in my fantasy fiction. I doubt JR Ward knows that I rely on her for insight into addiction, or that Kevin Hearne knows that he is my favorite therapist. Robyn Peterman makes me feel a lot less isolated when I think of my mother as being literally from Hell, ‘cause all of her heroines' mommies are of the dearest variety, which helps me know I'm not alone.
And then there is the endless joy I get from living in worlds where men do what we want them to do! When I read and write about these fantasy books written by women (mostly—apologies to Mr. Hearne and Mr. Hartness), for women and about women, I'm inspired and reassured that my personal fantasies are happily shared by many others. Women want alpha males who make love like thousand-year-old, drop dead gorgeous vampires who know a thing or two about pleasing women, but who aren't too overbearing outside of the bedroom. We can dream, can't we?
Through the discipline of writing and posting this blog twice a week, week in and week out, I've been able to grow and expand -- examine and probe and question. I've also been able to engage with you, beloved reader, and know with certainty, through your voices, that I'm in good company with my neuroses.
So, let me encourage you to journal and reap the many benefits that I've received through my private pages and my very public postings. As Nathan Ohren says, we should all write for life, and journal for passion, clarity and purpose. It really works for me – I hope that you’ll give it a go and see if it works for you… or at least sample Ohren’s podcast here.
I've been on a Gerry Bartlett kick, but the books are good and I'm almost finished so I’m going to keep going. The last book (so far) in the series is Real Vampires and the Viking. While the main protagonists, Glory and Jerry, are on their honeymoon in Sweden (those long, winter are great for vampires), they dig up Gunnar, a Viking vampire who's been asleep for the past 1200 years, buried in the ice. Poor Gunnar was born once, born again as vampire, and then born a third time when he emerged from the ice to adjust to modern times (this is a popular trope in paranormal fiction—the "Sleeper" phenomenon; very similar to Owen in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series). All of this birthing and rebirthing got me thinking about what it means to be "born again." I know that the phrase has specific connotations of the conservative religious variety, conjuring images of adults being dunked in rivers and subsequently proselytizing— loudly and often— to whomever will listen. I'm not one who does,listen, that is, as I'm not usually a fan of rabid fanaticism. But when I started thinking about it, I realized that my knee-jerk reaction to the term ‘born again’ was ignorant, biased—and wrong. As knee-jerk reactions often are, of course. Looking back, I realize I've been born again many times, and have consequently spent considerable time and energy shouting it from the rooftops (aka proselytizing). I will never forget the first time I read Ayn Rand as a sophomore in college. I was bitten, smitten and converted. I stormed into my political philosophy class to extol the virtues of Objectivism, which I thought was the cat's meow. My teacher calmly asked me to explain my favorable position. I tried, to which he replied, "Saying it louder doesn't make your arguments any more compelling." Which shut me right up.
My next ‘born again’ experience came when I started a 12-step recovery program. I felt everyone needed the Steps and said so. Again, loudly. No one wanted to hear it, shockingly. I was equally vociferous when I became convinced that everyone should eat gluten and dairy-free—and give up all refined sugar, not to mention artificial sweeteners. One more time, I wasn't too successful garnering converts. I hadn't yet learned my lesson.
Because the truth is, few people want to be screamed at from a soapbox (well, unless you are a Donald Trump supporter apparently). No one likes a fanatic, and no one wants to listen to someone foaming at the mouth. Which I understand.
But what about being born again in a less obstreperous manner? What about the wonder and the joy of those beautiful “a-ha” moments when the scales fall from our eyes and we can see a truth, or many truths, clearly for the first time? I will never forget when I fell I love with my husband, and finally understood what love without anxiety or doubt felt like. Or my first successful experience with meditation. I finally knew what all the fuss was about. Each of us is reborn a number of times in our lives if we're lucky and good. It's a consequence of immersing ourselves in new experiences, evolving into higher consciousness and embracing change in a healthy way that allows us to grow instead of stagnate. It happens every time we make a big leap forward, or when the scale tips with the weight of many lesser moments of renewal and transformation.
Being born again always requires adjustment and a period of acclimatization. And, of course, being born again also necessitates the pain of labor and the discomfort of the birth itself. As I written about time and again, change is hard. Growth is not for the fainthearted. We humans tend to resist it for all we're worth, clinging to the familiar and that which we perceive to be safe. It takes courage to let go of the past and move deliberately into an uncertain future. No one said labor and birth were easy. But at the end, if we're lucky and good, we get a new life, figuratively – and sometimes even literally.
We can embrace this new life with enthusiasm for new adventures and a desire to live authentically and with integrity. Or we can resist change and refuse to be born again. Gunnar chooses the first option. And so do I. And, if I may say so without proselytizing, so should you.
I've just finished the very deep, very excellent Staked, by Kevin Hearne. He provides so much food for thought and material for this blog, that I am very grateful to him. In the character of Granuaile, the Fierce Druid and ladylove of the Iron Druid after whom the series is named, Mr. Hearne contemplates emotional wholeness and the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving such balance. While Atticus, the Iron Druid, is over 2000 years old and has worked out most of his emotional angst, Granuaile is a brand new Druid and is only in her early thirties. She's got lots of baggage to unpack, and I can relate to almost all of it. In this installment, Granuaile goes after her stepfather—a man who openly disdained and dismissed her, leaving a very wounded inner child behind. As Granuaile determines how to resolve her hurt feelings, she suspects that most people have someone in their lives like her stepfather, "a person who is standing between who you used to be and who you want to be, guarding the wall and proclaiming that you shall forever be imprisoned by their expectations and obligations." I suspect that she is right.
As you know well if you've been following my blog, the person guarding that seemingly impenetrable wall for me was my mother. Until she died, I could not become who I truly wanted to be, although I was able to move toward that goal to some degree. It is very difficult to heal the wounded inner child inside each of us when the perpetrator of those wounds is still around and is still hurting us. At some point—much too late I'm sorry to say—I learned to stop giving my mother the rock she used to hit me upside the head. She still lashed out, but I no longer provided the weapons. I also learned to stop showing my hurt to her, as that just added fuel to her fire. But her fire has been fully extinguished since July 2013, and my life has been the better for it. I've finally been able to scale that wall and experience the freedom and joy on the other side. The view is a lot nicer from here.
I've been shocked to see how much I've changed since my mother's death. I had worked so hard to overcome my dysfunctional childhood and be the woman I wanted to be. I thought I'd gotten over defining myself purely in terms of "not my mother." I also thought that I had ceased taking actions according to my shadow teacher—She Who Taught Me What Not To Do. I had a brief moment of regression when my children were born, and I was blindsided by the realization that a mother could do to her child what mine had done to me. As a mother myself, I wanted only good things for my children. My love for them was so visceral, I almost couldn't contain it. But I got past my disbelief, and in the last decade of hey mother's life, which roughly correlated with my forties, I believed I'd moved beyond needing her approval or fearing her disapprobation. I was wrong.
When she died, as her parting shot of nastiness, she left a maximally hurtful and divisive will. My brother and I haven't spoken since a month after her death. She succeeded in ensuring we would never get along by playing to weaknesses she'd been responsible for generating. She incentivized my brother to behave badly, and she knew I wouldn't be able to get over his behavior. Beyond the viciousness of her will, however, her legacy is over. And in her death I discovered that the wall separating who I used to be and who I've always wanted to be had come tumbling down.
In Staked, after she'd confronted her stepfather, Granuaile decides to be an active warrior for Gaia, using her Druidic craft to rid the earth of polluters and the machinery of burning fossil fuels. She sees such a becoming as the apex of her life's calling, even before she became bound to the earth as a Druid. In the same way, one of the first things I was able to do when my mother passed was to start this blog and begin to express myself as the writer I am. I could admit to the world my love of paranormal smut (although the Iron Druid series has precious little sex to recommend it—please get on that, Mr. Hearne) and begin to share my deep thoughts while reading vampire porn. I can't imagine writing this blog when my mother was alive; I would never have wanted her to know this much about me (apparently, it's OK for strangers to share this level of intimacy—Ijust not my mother).
I've also been able to deepen my spiritual exploration and my connection to the Divine. Maybe I have more of a sense of balance in the Universe, now that she is no longer here to cause me to doubt that God exists. Maybe it was that there was so much grace around her final demise; at every turn of her death and the subsequent activities, including her horrible will, there was the unmistakable hand of fate, guiding what occurred. Maybe it's that I'm more at peace and better able to be still and listen for that which is greater than myself, offering the direction and guidance I certainly never received from my corporeal mother.
Now that the wall is down, I'm more comfortable in my own skin; there is no one out there telling me I'm as far from enough as one can be. I have learned to like and value myself in a way I could not achieve when my mother occupied the same time-space continuum. I am at peace at a level I'd never before imagined, much less experienced. Harmony rules my world much more so than it used to.
And the poor, wounded little girl that dwells in my heart has finally been able to heal. It took some doing, to coax that scared, sad child out from under the piano where she used to hide from everyone and everything because the primary emotion that overshadowed everything was fear. But once I was able to assure her that ding, dong, the witch was dead, she was able to learn to smile again, and make up for lost time playing and finding joy. In turn, my previously wounded inner child has become a strong source of inner strength and intuition, a resource I've come to rely on almost as much as my five senses. What a blessing this healing has been.
I was quite moved by Granuaile's description of what happens when we scale, leap, walk over or somehow get to the other side of that wall. I will repeat it here for you, just in case you need any additional motivation to climb your own wall: "I am light and free and my path ahead is smooth and wide through a land of burgeoning promise." Amen, Sister. Can I get a "Hallelujah!"?
I'm reading the eighth book in the Iron Druid series, Staked, here in beautiful Costa Rica. I love this Kevin Hearne series, especially the premise of the last living Druid, Atticus O'Sullivan, who draws his powers from the earth and uses organic bindings to effect magic. He is mostly protected from others' magic by his cold iron amulet, bound to his aura—the Fae hate iron. It's such an original premise and the characters are so well drawn, that I wish Mr. Hearne published more than one novel a year. Thankfully, he gifts us with always-fun short stories in between novels. By this point in the series, there are two more Druids, Atticus' apprentice and girlfriend, Granuaile (which is such a great name—up there with Hermione) and his ArchDruid, Owen, who was trapped on an island where time stood still for 2000 years and is having some difficultly adjusting to modern life, for which he blames Atticus. This latest book is written from several perspectives, including those of Atticus, Granuaile and Owen, and when the point of view shifts toward Owen, it's a hoot. In one scene, Owen is having a particular fine day—he is gifted with a magical weapon, the anticipation of being able to train a group of apprentices and the promise of some afternoon delight from his ladylove. Life is good for Owen and he remarks to himself that, "It's more bounty than I could reasonably expect—more than I ever enjoyed in me old life. I really owe [Atticus] for days like this, damn his eyes." What a wonderful thought—even with cursing the one who provided such abundance. It got me to thinking about bounty and what we expect from life. Here in Costa Rica, I've been enjoying the magnificent meter of the crashing of waves on the shore, the intense colors of the early morning and late afternoon skies, the healing capacity of rest and surcease from responsibility. The power of nature and beauty to encourage insight and harmony, the pursuit of which I often find to be beyond me in my quotidian life, is bliss. And I must agree with Owen—that this is more bounty than I could reasonably expect. Not everyone gets this quality or quantity of abundance. And while some of it is most certainly a function circumstantial luck over which I had no control, including the accident of my birth to affluent parents who provided me with many opportunities, some of my current bounty is the result of choices I've made to be grateful, mindful and purposeful. I've chosen to see the glass half full in many instances, and, as a result, my life is full as well—meaningful, powerful, insightful, thoughtful, and fulfilling. In fact, my cup runneth over. Cultivating these qualities is the work of a lifetime in pursuit of living an awakened existence. Turning on our autopilot and jumping through other people's expectations is an easier, softer way, of course. But it often results in a empty glass and an empty life.
These contemplations beg the question of what makes life worth living and what constitutes a life well lived. In a different scene in one of the Iron Druid short stories, Atticus remarks that it is all the little pleasures of life that make his long, long existence worthwhile. He loves spending time in nature with his loving—and talking—hound, Oberon (one of the great fictional human/animal relationships of all time), and he loves the many conveniences of modern life—especially toilet paper—which makes sense if you've lived without it for millennia.
If we are able to appreciate the little things, which are really the big things, life is sweet and overflowing with bounty at every turn. More bounty than we could reasonably expect. And what do we expect? I'm not sure about you, so I'll speak for myself, but I've found that my happiness and perceptions of abundance are in direct inverse proportion to my expectations. When I expect, I tend to be disappointed. But when I can be surprised by the plenitude in my life and take my prosperity where I find it, I can thrive behind my wildest dreams.
It can be hard for me to put aside the perceived burdens of my life to the joy residing just outside the circle of my demands. I want, I want, I want... as I've written about before and it doesn't much matter—whatever I want that I don't have that supersedes my gratitude for what I do have—that is exactly what I will never get, or if I do, will never truly appreciate, so it won't make me happy in the end.
If ornery old Druids can learn new tricks and allow the sunlight of the spirit to shine down upon them, then so can all of us. We can be in the moment and find bounty of some sort or another – even if it’s only for a moment. In yoga, during challenging poses, my instructor will often exhort us to find a place in our bodies that doesn't hurt—the tip of a finger or a spot on our cheek, for example. She will tell us to turn our attention to the parts that feel fine, asking us to magnify our pleasure and breathe through our pain—not to ignore it, but to give more attention to that which does not hurt. It's good advice for learning the difficult art of appreciation. And for feeling that we have more bounty than we can reasonably expect. Enjoy.
So, another deep dive into my psyche compliments of my current psychologist/spiritual director/life coach, Kevin Hearne. As I progress in my journey through Shattered, which I am thoroughly enjoying, he throws in a monologue on the realities of parental love, or lack thereof. Deep shit for sure. And a topic that pushes every button I have. Let's review the lessons he's offering and then examine them one by one. First, he says that there is no power that can force someone to love another. True enough. Second, he says that it is by degrees of love that we wither or bloom... In both the giving and receiving. Lastly, he cautions that we should not torture ourselves with what might have been. These passages actually come in reverse order from what I'm describing, but hopefully Mr. Hearne won't be offended by the liberties I'm taking in analyzing his profound prose.
The first contention (I feel like I'm starting a debate round with my son) is that there is no power that can force someone to love us. To be precise, he says that there is no power that is able to force one to love another, so it would also stand to reason that there is no power that can force us to love someone we don’t. All of this is true in my experience and unutterably sad. I spent the majority of my life trying to make my mother love me, just as Granuaile seeks her father's love in the book, with similarly ineffective results. I had many a therapist explain to me that one cannot get blood from a stone, or words to that effect. But that sure as shit didn't keep me from trying. And from bashing my head against that stone over and over. And, to be precise again, because precision is important, there was plenty of blood that came from that particular stone. Unfortunately, it was all mine.
At this point in the process, I have come to believe, or perhaps chosen to believe (and I'm not sure it matters, as it is now my reality) that my mother was incapable of loving me. I choose to believe this partially because there is evidence to support this as truth--I was told by a qualified professional that my mother suffered from narcissistic personality disorder--and partially because I have learned over time that I am worthy of love, especially my mother's. As a mother myself, I know that love for our children really is an instinctual tendency, and it must be overcome by nurture, in whatever nasty way that life has of disrupting our natural tendencies toward love and kindness and generosity, although this is the topic for another post. In any case, for my mother, and for me, nurture trumped nature and the woman simply did not love me, and absolutely nothing I ever did or said made the slightest difference at all. I had no power to make her love me, despite my focusing my not-inconsequential efforts toward that end.
Which leads to contention number two from Dr. Hearne, that it is by degrees of love, given or withheld, that influences whether we go toward the light or away from it. I believe this to be true as well. I have long regarded my mother and her lack of love for me as my shadow teacher. I learned so very much from her about how not to behave and how not to live. As a parent, I've been able to follow a fairly clear path just by thinking, what would my mother do, and then doing the opposite of that. It seems to be working, but check back with me in about ten to fifteen years or so, and I'll let you know if we've succeeded in raising happy, well-adjusted and contributing members of society who still love their parents. Fingers crossed!
My mother and her feelings for me certainly shaped me more than any other single aspect of my life. For years it was all about proving myself to her, trying to earn her attention and respect, all to no avail. Then it was about saying the hell with her, and forging my own path regardless of her judgment on the subject. The only issue with option two was that I continued to have to listen to her criticism and survive her attempts to undermine my confidence at every opportunity. Which detracted from my efforts to create the life I wanted, although I didn't realize it at the time. So while I definitely didn't wither, neither did I bloom as fully as I might have. Which leads to point number three.
Kevin Hearne tells us, through the voice of an Indian deity, no less, that we should avoid torturing ourselves with fantasies of what might have been. He’s right, of course, as this kind of fantasizing is nothing but a time thief, which can only lead to bitterness and anger. But wow, it's hard not to go there sometimes, especially when I'm feeling vulnerable for whatever reason. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from thinking about how different my life would have been if my mother hadn't been a narcissist. Of how things might have felt if my parents had provided anything more than financial support to my brother and me. How different my choices might have been if I'd basked in the glow of knowing that no matter what, I was loved and valued for who I was, just because I am here on this earth and I was born to parents who loved me for me. Nope, not going there at all.
And here's why, and it's not just because Kevin Hearne thinks it's a good idea, even though it doesn't hurt to be reminded of this truth from time to time as I consume my fantasy. It's because I love who I am, and I appreciate that it is the totality of my past experiences that have gotten me here. I have no idea who I would be if I hadn't been formed in the crucible of my mother's indifference and distain. I might have had a better relationship with my brother, which would be wonderful, but I might not be married to my husband or have the kids I have. I might not have the friendships that I do with women who have known me my whole life and who continue to walk the journey with me now. Or the friends from my more recent past, to whom I was attracted and was attractive to as the person I am today. Who knows who I would be if the past were not how it was.
So score three for Dr. Hearne, and I'll let him know he can send me the bill for the extremely productive therapy session I received while reading his excellent book. And score another for truth in fantasy, as I continue to find so many rich veins of gold to mine for depth and profundity as I am entertained and diverted from the heavier aspects of life.
For Christmas a few years ago I bought my husband a sweatshirt that said, "National Sarcasm Society: Like We Need Your Support." He still wears that sweatshirt, despite the fact that it is the color of baby poo (not sure what the manufacturer was thinking there, but perhaps it was something along the lines of, "Yeah, like we need your business" and therefore chose the ugliest color they could come up with). The point of recounting this anecdote is to illustrate that we are one sarcastic family. I think it started with my father-in-law and has been passed down the generations to his son and now his grandsons, who are teenaged sarcastic wits, which is actually somewhat frightening.
Why this focus on sarcasm? I'm reading Kevin Hearne's seventh offering in the Iron Druid chronicles, Shattered. As always, Mr. Hearne provides numerous amusing passages and turns of phrase for me to highlight and re-read when I need a laugh. So far, my favorites are an exchange between Atticus O'Sullivan's Irish Wolf Hound, Oberon, with whom Atticus can mind speak, and the Iron Druid himself where they are describing another Druid who has been in suspended animation for two thousand years. Atticus describes him as not knowing the language well and having a short fuse. Oberon responds that such a description qualifies him to be an action movie star. Laugh out loud stuff. In another passage, Atticus' apprentice, the newly minted Druid, Granuaile, remarks that, "the garden of sarcasm is watered with impatience, and mine chose that moment to bloom." I love it!
Because it's so true. In our household, we are the most sarcastic when we are impatient with each other (which seems to happen a lot of the time--outsiders might suspect we don't like each other much, but actually the opposite is true and we keep each other laughing). We are also sarcastic just to be funny, or to engage. The sarcasm stems from familiarity and ease with each other and we sometimes have to remember to put a lid on it when we are with others. When we forget to do that we get in trouble for our rapier sharp wit--or was that for our dim wit? It's definitely one or the other.
I'm from New York, and while my sarcastic streak is not nearly as well developed as that of my husband or even our sons, I can certainly appreciate their particular brand of humor. After all, in New York we have to ask each other, "Do you have the time, or should I just go f**k myself?" Just kidding! New Yorkers are the salt of the earth (I've never understood that phrase, which is supposed to be benevolent, but salt can be quite salty-and it can even burn in certain circumstances-- so I guess it does apply to New Yorkers).
Anyway, I love a good sarcastic riposte, at least most of the time. There are instances where the pointy end of the sarcastic sword can sting, or feel like a knife to the belly if the timing is wrong or the fine line between funny and mean gets crossed, which happens on occassion. Especially by our boys, who at fifteen are still learning how to be appropriate in social and relational situations--kind of like Kevin Hearne's two-thousand year old Rip Van Winkle, for whom social mores have changed just a wee bit from what he's used to. He needed to be told that a smile from a pretty girl was not an invitation into her bed and any attempts to interpret it as such could result in the involvement of law enforcement. It's good that times have changed.
Sarcasm also has another unsightly underbelly, as it can be a favorite tool of the passive-aggressive cowards who can't seem to say what they mean and mean what they say. I think we all use humor on occasion to deflect deeper but uncomfortable truths about how we are feeling or what we really want. In such cases, sarcasm is no joke and can be quite destructive. This distinction is something we are trying to teach our kids and it's a tough one. Using humor to hide truth is not the exclusive province of the passive-aggressive among us; we all do it when we say something that comes from a place of authenticity within us and we feel tentative about illuminating our depths. When we don't get the reaction we were hoping for, we retreat into the "I was just kidding" lie and hope no one notices that we were asking for something we really wanted but couldn't bear to have rejected or even questioned. This is especially true if the desire is deep enough and therefore fragile in its vulnerability.
So, I love sarcasm, especially when it's wielded by a master like Kevin Hearne. And I mostly love it amongst my family members. But it's good to remember the other side of that double-edged sword, and ensure that we're not hurting anyone with our wit. Like I needed to remind you of that!