I’ve just finished the latest installment in Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series, Midnight’s Kiss. The publication of the book gave me an excuse–not that I really needed one–to re-read the entire series back to back, and it is stellar –  almost unbearably so. I love these characters and their world so much!  Midnight’s Kiss is about Julian, the King of the Vampyres, and Melisande, a Faerie Princess. This pairing leads me to fantasize about what would happen if Laurell Hamilton’s worlds were to collide, and Jean-Claude were to get together with Merry Gentry? Wouldn’t that be something?!  But I digress, predictably.

 Anyway, Julian and Melisande’s story is one of perceived betrayal, enduring love and the ability to forgive – otherwise known as personal growth, which, Julian comes to realize, takes time. But, as a Vampyre who was turned– reborn as a vampire – over two thousand years ago, Julian has had quite a bit of time to evolve. So his failure to thrive, emotionally, that is, wasn’t a dearth of hours in the day. The missing, magical ingredient in our ability to grow and change–hopefully in a positive direction–is willingness.

Julian has had centuries to grow, but before he fell in love with Melisande, he lacked the motivation to do the hard work to get there.  There is a reason bookstore shelves, both real and virtual, are chock full of self help books. Many of us want to help ourselves, but have no idea how to go about doing it. The first clue we need to heed is that it takes more than reading a book. As an avid reader, I wish it were that easy. It takes a willingness to go against our basic natures, which seek pleasure and avoid pain at almost any cost. That’s why we eat the ice cream out of the container—oh, did I say that out loud?  It’s also why personal growth is so hard. If it were that easy, everyone would do it.  

The inclination and eventual ability to buck our predispositions is a topic I’ve explored before. It’s something I think about all the time as I strive to improve myself, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I’ve asked why some of us achieve the drive toward evolution and some of us are never able to rise above our circumstances. I’ve wondered why our efforts are sometimes successful, and at other times not, without any discernible explanation. I believe that the key components are willingness plus time, but, as Julian demonstrates, the determination must come first, and we must be willing over and over again, day after day. Only then can we achieve personal growth of any sort.

Change is hard. We humans resist change. Apparently, so do Vampyres. I think there are two schools of thought about our ability to change; the creationist view that says a leopard doesn’t change its spots, and the Darwinian school, which believes that with persistent effort, change is possible. I’m with Charles on this one. I have a friend who told me about a fight with her husband where they agreed that things between them needed to change. He didn’t believe change was possible and told her so. She responded that if people didn’t change, she would have died long before, a victim of extreme self-destruction. Needless to say, that marriage didn’t last–how could it when only one partner was willing to evolve?  But happily, my friend, whose whole life is a testament to the human ability to grow and evolve, given willingness, work and time, is enjoying a wonderful relationship with a man who appreciates her and is growing along with her.

Humans resist change because they believe the aphorism “better the devil you know,” even when the satanic bastard is you. I say, better to exorcise those demons and become the angel you’ve always wanted to be. When the Dark Lord asks to introduce himself, I tend to run screaming from the room.

Change will not kill us. Discomfort will not kill us. The pain of vulnerability, even when it results in betrayal, will not kill us. What does kill us is a refusal to be open,  and to accept that love inevitably comes with pain, and that stretching beyond our comfort zone results in the deep sensation that lets us know we are alive,  which is way my yoga instructor describes the soreness that follows a good practice.

Making the decision to tolerate such “deep sensations” is what allows us to become our highest self. We must tolerate discomfort to grow.  And such tolerance is a learned behavior. I have only to look toward my 15-year-old twin boys to see how “natural” it is to choose the proximate good over the more temporally distant better. Without help, support and encouragement — with metaphorical carrots and sticks — it’s all but impossible for them to choose to delay gratification, even if they understand, intellectually, that it is the right decision.

But that is true for me as well. Without assistance, it’s just as hard for me to make good decisions that help me evolve, even though I’m an adult. Just ask Julian, the two-thousand-year-old Vampyre, about it. He’ll tell you that time alone can’t get the job done. He needed Melisande to help him learn to grow. He needed her to show him that it was something he wanted to do. Desire was the first step toward growth.

So, to recap today’s truth in fantasy, change is hard and we need help to find the desire to be willing, and then to make the effort over time to affect positive change and personal growth. Thanks, Thea, for these insights. It’s always a pleasure to learn from my favorite authors–much more entertaining, and effective, than a whole shelf of self-help books.

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