I’m not much for religious zealotry, nor for indiscriminately sharing my spiritual status with the world at large. That’s one reason I’m not a big fan of those who describe themselves as “born again Christians.” On the other hand, I’m all for being born again. Having been born into a dysfunctional family of origin, I couldn’t wait to be born again into a family I chose—my friends, my husband and my children (I didn’t get to choose my children, but I’d like to think I have had something to do with them being more functional than non). Moreover, I’m also a big believer in reinventing myself professionally and personally, so the phenomenon of being born again is highly relevant to my life.
Why am I contemplating the joys and pitfalls of rebirth? It’s because I’ve been heavily immersed in the Fever world of Karen Marie Moning. I’ve stayed up late and ignored my family and friends to read this 600-page peon to the benefits of reinvention and rebirth. There is not a single character in this series that does not evolve to such an extent that they are different in kind, not just degree. It makes me wonder about the life of an author who can write about these metamorphoses with such intimate knowledge that she must be a reincarnation of Kafka himself.
In the “final” book of the series, Feversong, KMM ties up a lot of loose ends and gives us a somewhat satisfactory finale to a journey that has lasted more than eleven years. I had issues with some of the bows she tied, but that is inevitable with such a sweeping saga. But it was surely epic, as all of her characters try to be. And, in keeping with great literary fiction (and boy am I tired of the supercilious circle-jerk mentality of those who define “literary fiction”), each and every one of KMM’s characters evolves in interesting and unexpected ways. So much so, in fact, that none of them is who they were at the beginning of the series. Which leads me, albeit in a serpentine manner, back to the theme of being reborn.
According to one of the major characters in the series, Ryodan, adaptability is survivability. And I think this is true. The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to thrive regardless of external contingencies is the hallmark of longevity and success in this life. Those of us who can bend around the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix tend to be the ones still standing after the storm. The ability to face reality and to avoid distraction, dissembling and disenchantment are the ones who take center stage and tend to rule the world. They are the men and women others want to become or control.
The ability to reinvent oneself as the world turns and our existence evolves is the trump card of life, if you’ll allow me a reference to a man who is a Trump but hardly anything like his namesake. If we stay in the same situation, if we fail to grow and evolve, we might as well let someone bury us, because we’ll have died without the benefit of anyone telling us to lie down and be done with it already. As Karen Marie Moning says elsewhere in Feversong and along the same lines, status is stagnancy, change is velocity and Fate is a sniper that prefers a motionless target to a dancing one. Personally, I don’t ever want to be that unmoving target.
What does it mean to reinvent oneself? I think it’s something like the death and rebirth that Barrons and Ryordan go through. A painful, messy process that takes time and effort. It’s not much fun. But it beats the alternatives. And unlike Ryordan and Barrons, us mere mortals have no real idea whether we’re going to come out the other side whole, with our higher selves intact and operational. It’s a crapshoot, at best, a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid run at worst. And each time we do it, each time we reinvent ourselves and come through the metaphorical birth canal, we leave pieces of our old selves behind, which requires some sort of grieving process that must occur simultaneously with the birthing process. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Although hopefully, most of us won’t need to suffer the fate of Job.
There is no rebirth without death. Just ask Jesus. And the death part is pretty gnarly. The birth part isn’t so comfortable either. And yet it’s the only way. We must embrace the discomfort, the uncertainty, the doubt and the fear. Otherwise, we stagnate. And stagnation is death—shot through the heart with only ourselves to blame. Sucks to be us sometimes.
I’m inspired, always, by Karen Marie Moning’s characters who can seem more real to me than my own flesh and blood. Each of them in their own way takes life by the horns and rides that mechanical bull for all they are worth. They embody the aphorism that it’s not how many times we fall down that defines us, but how many times we get back up.
The endless possibilities that we face when it’s time to shed one skin for a new one can be daunting. It’s a Faustian choice in some ways between the devil we know and the angel who could be lying through its teeth. Do we take door number one or three? Should we embrace the unknown with a belly laugh like Dani, or grit our teeth and so what we must to avoid stagnation, like Barrons? Or, do we succumb to the siren song of comfort and avoidance of conflict and live small, safe lives?
For me, even if it means certain misery and only possible joy, I will opt for rebirth every time. I’m a fucking born again human. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, may creep in its petty pace, but I choose to eschew the slo-mo Joes and jump instead into the slipstream of life. It’s the only place to live life to the fullest and to embrace the grand adventure.