I just finished Blood Debts, the second novel in the Nate Temple Supernatural Thriller series by Shayne Silvers. Our hero, Nate Temple, billionaire wizard, has fallen on hard times and spends a majority of the book getting his ass kicked. Over and over. But, like the Energizer Bunny, Nate just keeps going and going. If nothing else, his persistence is admirable, and he reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela that exhorts us to judge not by how many times we fall down, but how many times we get back up. But I digress. Today’s rumination involves losing that which defines us and finding out who we are minus our external trappings. Nate loses both his money and his magic in Blood Debts. It was a bad few days for him. He’s left to contemplate who he is without his wealth and his supernatural power. It’s an interesting question.
In all of the various Twelve Step programs, addicts are encouraged to take a personal moral inventory and then ask their Higher Power to remove their defects of character. There is more than one step involved, and it’s an ongoing process, but the relevant aspect here is the acknowledgement in Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, that some people—having given up their character defects—feel like they have abandoned their essential selves. Recovering alcoholics around the world fear becoming the “hole in the donut,” giving up so much of what defines them that there is no longer a there there. For the record, Bill Wilson, the founding father of AA, assured his fellow alcoholics that no such eventuality would come to pass from letting go of character defects. But…
What about letting go of the trappings of money and status and power? Or, if one doesn’t have much of those, our roles as employees, spouses, parents, friends, etc.? Or maybe our identification with certain traits or characteristics, like intelligence or humor or non-conformity?
I’m struggling mightily with all of this myself right now, and reading about it in the pages of an excellent fantasy novel makes me happy. I adore finding deep truth in fantasy, while exploring depth psychology between the pages of a supernatural thriller turns all sorts of conventions on their heads—in keeping with my delight in, and my identity with, non-conformity.
Nate grapples with the question of who he is as a regular Joe, with no wealth or magic to make him what he thought he was. Turns out—minor spoiler alert—that deep down, underneath it all, Nate is a pretty badass dude—of the righteous variety. And that without the trappings of money and power he discovers what he’s made of, and he’s good with what he finds, more or less.
Over the past six months or so, as I’ve transitioned out of one career and failed to reignite a previous one, I’ve wondered who I am without my work to define me. I’ve tried on other identities, most importantly that of “writer,” but I’m failing pretty miserably with that one too, which has been perplexing, not to mention humbling and demoralizing. Writing fiction is HARD, and I’m increasingly appreciative of the skill and the craft that goes into good books like Mr. Silvers’ Temple Chronicles. And I’m also seeing what I’m made of, evaluating my mettle and finding it wanting. I don’t write every day, as every single resource I’ve ever consulted tells me to do, and I can’t crack the code on plotting and outlining so that I can write something slightly more sophisticated than an episode of Gilligan’s Island.
I’ve analyzed the plots and story arcs of some of my favorite works and I’m constantly amazed at how these authors set their hooks and close the loops, sometimes many, many books later in a series. And sometimes within the same book. And the part I was anticipating with the most joy? The world building where I get to be queen and decide which supernatural powers each kind of being has and the rules for teleporting and mind reading, etc.? That part? Well, it turns out that part is hard as shit.
But I crave sophisticated plots and arcane references—like Nate finding the TARDIS and riding with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s so cool. I want to be cool too. But I’ve digressed fairly far afield from my main premise: If we can’t be who we think we are, as defined by external trappings or roles, then who the hell are we? Are we the hole in the donut, or does Bill Wilson have something to teach everyone, not just the addicts among us?
And what if we’re not the hole in the donut? What if instead of a whole bunch of nothing, the something that we are turns out to be uninspiring? What if we’re not unique or special or badass like Nate? What if we are just another Bozo on the bus, getting through our days, living lives of quiet desperation?
Sometimes, I wonder who I’d be without this incessant, burning, excruciating drive inside me that always wants more and better. Maybe that is the character defect or external trapping that I need to jettison to ensure my personal happiness and general contentment. But no, I think I’d rather be like Nate Temple, and go down fighting all the way, even if I don’t think it’s going to end well for me. Because in the end, for me, like Nate (my fictional brother from another mother), I’d rather be dead than complacent, and I’d rather be driven to excellence (even if I fail spectacularly along the way), than content with mediocrity.
We all make choices in life. And those choices determine our particular variety of donut. And hey, even if it turns out we are the hole in the donut, those little suckers taste pretty good, so maybe all is not lost. In the meantime, I’m going to work on getting up. Again.