Joe Vampire, by MJ Gardner


“Joe Vampire,” MJ Gardner’s sequel to “Evelyn’s Journal,” offers a well-paced, straight-forward and often humorous look into the pros and cons of being undead.  As the relationship between Joe and Evelyn deepens, it simultaneously grows more complicated. And while Joe seems to be on the road to recovery, it also feels precarious somehow, like we’re nervously watching an inexperienced tightrope walker make his way over a yawning chasm.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to see Evelyn becoming “more” vampiric in nature, like in the way she seduces and steals blood from Joe’s roommate and friend Carter without giving it a second thought that he’s his roommate and friend. We’re also introduced to older, more dangerous vampires and finally learn the answers to some ongoing mysteries.


Above all, though, Evelyn and Joe’s existence together is like a long-distance relationship, and one wonders if it will last. Her undead state becomes a point of contention, so he’s constantly seeking the warmth of live human flesh, flaunting his promiscuity with both sexes, a familiar pattern from his past.

As the discord between them becomes unbearable, Joe falls headfirst off the wagon, in more ways than one. And although the ending is gloomy and somewhat ambiguous, it also accurately depicts how someone like Joe, an ex-addict with a crappy past but a good heart, would be tormented by angst and indecision when thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire.

what happens

Yeah, yeah: vampires, vampires, vampires. It reminds me of the scene in “Robocop” when Boddicker comes into the room saying, “Guns, guns, guns,” like, “been there, done that.” But there’s a vulnerability to Gardner’s writing that pulls one in, and she addresses topics that one generally doesn’t find in vampire fiction like race, interracial relationships, and gender fluidity, all of which are handled with sensitivity and add new dimensions to an otherwise worked-over undead genre.

Hopefully, maybe…we’ll see what happens to Evelyn and Joe in another book….hint, hint!

hand on window




Heaven and Hell



So here’s the thing about adoption and being adopted: it’s a mixed bag.

I was adopted when I was a year and a month old. I’ll elaborate on why over a year went by before I was snatched up by someone in another post, ’cause that’s a whole different arena.

Anyway, once you’re taken in by a family, if the people who adopted you clue you in early on, you basically go through most of your life with two opposing thoughts:

Boy, was I lucky that someone wanted me bad enough to bring me into their life.

Boy, was I unlucky that it had to come to that.

How does one hold “luck” in one hand and “unlucky” in the other and somehow have them coalesce into a coherent, balanced philosophy?

And is it even possible, since they’re completely opposite ideas?

It seems like life on this plane of existence consists of duality anyway, doesn’t it? Good and bad, light and dark, hot and cold and variations of the same.

I feel like I spend my days fighting to return to some kind of center between opposing elements and extreme interpretations. It’s the Goldilocks zone. And I spend my time losing, searching for, and rediscovering that space, that feeling, that moment that’s “just right.” But mostly losing, it feels like. And I spend some days, if I’m being honest. Definitely not all days and not even many days. Some days.

Some people call it being in the moment, and it’s a lot harder to do than it sounds. But sometimes when I manage to get there, when I’m actually “in the moment,” nothing else seems capable of invading that space. Because in this moment, right now, this Goldilocks zone that feels just right, there is no past and no future. There’s just now.

In the just right space, it seems like all disparate philosophies and/or perceptions melt away. The edges melt away, the boundaries overlap. Unlucky becomes lucky, lucky becomes unlucky. I’m both and I’m neither, aren’t I? And they’re one in the same.

Wouldn’t dualities, strong emotions, opinions, perceptions and projections cease to exist and/or become interchangeable in this weird, magical space? Two sides of the same thing become one thing, because even in a world of duality, duality is just a word and definitions of words are a man-made construct.

So in the null space, minus the constructs, if I’m lucky and unlucky at the same time, I can’t feel sorry for myself or be happy for myself. It’s like that expression people have when they sort of give up trying to explain something that’s too complicated or maybe  isn’t worth over-thinking: It is what it is. In the Goldilocks zone, everything just is what it is.

The next goal, I guess, is attempting to stay in the just right zone longer than randomly and briefly, which is next to impossible without intense concentration and practice and, I would even say, training. Hey, I’m not ready to be a zen monk yet. I think I love chocolate too much. I think ranting about Trump is healthy, and I’m not ready to stuff it down inside and just say, “It is what it is.”

“Why don’t we leave him alone and let him do his job?!” Why? He won’t shut the hell up on Twitter. He won’t leave us alone. And do “his job”? Define “job”! Don’t get me started!

(See? I would have been kicked out of the monastery already)

In the end, back to the original thing, I’m glad I was adopted, of course. And, musings on duality aside, I would even consider myself one of the lucky ones. Luckier than many. My gratitude is deeper than anything I could ever adequately express.

But beyond the original thing, the adoption, the bigger thing looms: Is it true what the Buddhists say? That life is suffering, and suffering comes from simply existing? And the way out is being mindful of all the things we use to torture ourselves with? Which is, evidently, words, definitions, perceptions, opinions, expectations.

Well, my opinion of Trump will probably never change. Not in this life. And I will always expect chocolate to taste really, really good. But it’s good to know there’s things that can possibly be done to neutralize a sort of undefined, perpetual purgatory.

Maybe Freud would say I’ve only found a way to neutralize my anxiety. But if it’s real and not just denial or suppression or rationalization and it succeeds in a profound and meaningful way…well, I’d like to see if Freud has a better answer.