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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/8/10

All I Ever Needed to Know About Being a Vampire I Learned from Twilight (and NVC)

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Hello. My name is Elaine and I am a Vegetarian Vampire.

For those of you who remain blissfully unfamiliar with the runaway best-selling Twilight saga, let me begin with the briefest of explanations.

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The fantasy world introduced by Stephenie Meyer is inhabited by two kinds of vampires. The first kind, with whom we are all well acquainted (hopefully not in person), subsists on human blood. The other kind, a definite but proud minority, has chosen to abstain from human blood, for reasons of morality and the faint but clear memory of their former humanity (before being sired). This small pioneering group of vampires lives among humans, fighting off their natural and painful cravings for human blood on a daily basis. Surviving, instead, on the blood of large mammals such as mountain lions and bears, they jokingly call themselves "vegetarian vampires."

The concept of the Vegetarian Vampire, then, embodies the belief that we can rise above the genetic and cultural cards we are given; we can strive to be who we wish rather than who we currently are.

While the majority of Twilight fans lost sleep over the outcome of the triangle between the saga's (human) heroine (Isabella) and her two male wooers (a vegetarian vampire named Edward and a werewolf-type named Jacob), or became besotted with the muscle-bound males themselves, I fell hopelessly in love with the metaphor of the Vegetarian Vampire. Never previously had I encountered a symbol that gave such clear voice to my daily strivings to live according to my beliefs rather than my nature. In fact, this concept so aptly captured my struggle to overcome my "naturally" critical, aggressive, judgmental, and biting ways (pun intended), that I have adopted the Vegetarian Vampire as my avatar.

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For some of you, the idea that I think of myself as a vampire may come as a surprise. After all, I have dedicated my professional life to the recognition of human dignity in all people, especially those who are most disenfranchised.

Yet, for those of you who know me more intimately (let's say my romantic partner of 15 years, or my father-in-law or my mom), you may not be as surprised by the suggestion that my deep and genuine desire to respect the dignity of others goes against my more natural tendencies to bite their heads (or necks) off.

It turns out that like the vegetarian vampires in Twilight, I also have two opposing, fervent, and "true" desires.

On the one hand, I want more than anything, to be sensitive, loving, compassionate, understanding, and patient. I want to be connected, intimately, to my children and my spouse, and to see their beauty and their gifts spinning like radiant hanging mobiles around their heads. I want to be loving and tender with all my family members and supportive and peaceful with my friends. I want to always recognize the inherent human dignity of every person with whom I interact.

On the other hand, my natural tendency when people and situations do not satisfy my tough and ever-vigilant internal critic is to go for the jugular. Despite having a hefty toolbox of communication skills that I use to express myself and help others when I am calm, my default during times of stress and strife is to lash out with bared fangs. When I am really upset with others and my emotions run high, what I think to myself and what I produce (if I permit myself to express these thoughts) is dripping, corrosive, exasperated criticism laced with sarcasm and derision in other words, a dose of vampire venom aimed for the heart. An attack of this sort might sound something like:

For Pete's sake! Why would you decide to mess with the garden right now? Did you not hear me saying we needed to leave in 10 minutes? Do you not have a brain in your head? Are you trying to piss me off on purpose? I am running around as always, getting the kids ready, getting myself ready and you are out here with a bloody spade!! Were you worried the neighbors would report us to the police if you did not pull those bloody weeds out RIGHT THIS MINUTE? How do I feel about being late to these things? Huh? HOW DO I FEEL ABOUT BEING LATE TO THESE THINGS?!? And look at you! You are a disgusting muddy mess now! I am so sick and tired of these conversations" etc.

Needless to say, I do not want to talk this way to anyone, and just as importantly, I do not want to think this way about anyone. To this end, I have made vigilant efforts to overcome my inner vampire over most of my adult life, via practices and approaches such as yoga, volunteering, counseling, mindful living, Morning Pages, prayer and appreciation rituals. While these have certainly had positive effects on my life and relationships, they have, until recently, resulted not in the taming of the vampire, but in an improved ability to muzzle my vampire urges.

In the Twilight series, this willful self-suppression is best exemplified by Edward in his early romantic relationship with Isabella.

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Poor Edward wants to love Isabella with abandon; yet, whenever her adolescent kisses get a little too passionate, he winds up literally shoving her away in order to stop from indulging in his desire to drink her blood. Like Edward, when I become "aroused" (by my ire), I cannot honor the two disparate parts of myself; I must make a choice to silence one or the other each time.

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Elaine Shpungin, Ph.D. is a student and practitioner of Non Violent Communication (NVC) and Restorative Circles (RC).

She is currently exploring restorative and non-violent approaches to conflict and ways to meaningfully share power in (more...)
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