All Jazzed Up

I was invited to dance today. I don’t always get to dance when the class is invited to perform because sometimes — like today — there is only room for a few dancers and others in the class are more experienced than I am, but today I was given a turn, and oh! What a joy! Of all the surprises life has thrown at me in recent years, the most surprising is this love of dancing and the privilege of being taught by a professional dancer who has studied with many famous dance teachers in Hollywood, Las Vegas, Australia and Hawaii, and who is willing to pass on that knowledge to both the promising young and the unpromising mature. (Unpromising because of age, not enthusiasm. None of us adults will ever be prima ballerinas, nor we will ever wear toe shoes, though perhaps we — meaning me — might eventually be able to point our toes in a dancerly way.)

We didn’t wear fancy costumes today, but we looked jazzy all the same. BTW, in case you don’t recognize me, I’m the second from the left with the page boy hairdo.

Let’s boogie!

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Throwing Paint at Life

Life is a great big canvas

I try to throw as much paint as I can on my life, but sometimes all I manage is to dab a bit of color onto the canvas. Today was a dab day (well, except for dance class — that always adds a spash of brightness to my life), so I thought I’d repost this photo as a reminder for me to be bright and bold, and not sit around letting my recent losses narrow my life.

Wishing you a big, bright, bold day!

(The flowers are a photo of paradise poinciana that I shot and turned into my version of impressionist art.)

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Being Important

I’m feeling restless tonight as if I should be doing something important, but here I am at the computer, playing games of solitaire. (Well, I was playing games. Now I’m playing a different kind of solitaire called “What will I blog about tonight?”)

When life is all about family, spouses, soul mates — creating a shared life — everything you do seems important, but when you are alone, importance is hard to feign because the isolation of being the only one in the room makes even breathing seem unimportant.

Despite the way it might sound, I’m not depressed or sad today. I’m feeling good, actually (probably leftover endorphins or adrenaline from dancing). I’m not lonely, either, just alone, and sometimes aloneness echoes in empty rooms, making it seem like some sort of lack. It is a lack, of course, but it isn’t a lack of life or . . . importance. It’s a lack of companionship and maybe a lack of “other energy.”

fireThere are some things I don’t necessarily understand when it comes to dancing. I call myself tone deaf, but I’m not — I just hear a single track of melodic (and not so melodic) noise and find it hard to separate out one particular sound or thread or beat from all the rest, which is why barbershop quartets hurt my ears and simple tunes are soothing. (I can count, though, and as my dance teacher says, if you can count, you can dance. Or something like that.) One woman I particularly enjoy dancing with (she’s so very elegant and graceful she makes me look good!) hears sounds and beats that pass me by  even when she points them out, but I pick up on something she doesn’t — the energy of the group. When we are all dancing as one, I can sense the energy we generate, as if we are tied together with invisible strings, moving arms and legs, heads and torsos in perfect rhythm. There’s nothing quite like that feeling, at least not in my experience.

Even when we are not all in harmony, as often happens, there is an air of connectedness in the studio, with all of us focused singlemindedly on the steps. One woman came with her husband last month, and though he didn’t bother anyone, it gave those classes an uneasy feel because it disrupted the flow of electricity of connectedness among the dancers. (This isn’t as mystical as it sounds. The energy I sense is more of a focus rather than waves of electricity, though I know we all respond to the electricity we generate.)

That energy from another person or a group — that “other energy” — is missing in a solitary room.

Some people spew energy even when they are alone, so rooms don’t seem as empty to them. I don’t spew energy, which makes my presence in a room even smaller and quieter than it would normally seem. And makes whatever I do seem unimportant, as if I am just passing time.

But the truth is, “being” is important, so even when we are alone, regardless of how it feels, we are being important.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Adventurous?

A friend recently complimented me on my adventurous spirit, but last night while driving back from the ocean, I had to wonder if, in fact, I have the spirit of an adventuress. I was cold, tired, hungry, driving in an insane amount of traffic for a dark Sunday night. I felt desolate and isolated, and very grateful to be headed for a warm house and a familiar bed.

I tried to imagine what it would be like if there was nothing familiar on the other end of my journey, and all I could imagine was even more desolation and isolation than I already felt. Despite all those miles of civilization alongside the road, I didn’t see motels, camping spots, or even any place to pull off and hunker down. Even worse, though my poor ancient VW had zoomed to the beach without a single hiccup, it began backfiring and sputtering (something to do with the spark plugs, I think, even though they’d just been replaced).

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about being stranded on that six-lane highway. The car sputtered and coughed and fought me all the way back but didn’t completely die until it was safe in the garage. I was safe, too, and a few minutes later, I was also warm and fed, but still, the thought lingers about my suitability for an adventurous life. I like comfort too much to enjoy being cold and alone in the vastness. I’m also too much of a natural hermit — I could (and probably would) surrender to isolation, which would be even worse than the stagnation I fear would ensue from a more settled life.

It’s strange to think I once dreaded coming here to my father’s house to look after him and stranger to think that now I dread leaving. But I don’t have to worry about that tonight. Nor do I have to worry about possible isolation or stagnation, adventure or inertia. For now, I still have a familiar place to stay and tomorrow I have dance classes.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Day My Father Died

Something profound happened the day my father died, something I’m not sure I understand. I was holding him because he was too weak to sit by himself, and he couldn’t breathe when he was lying back against the pillows. I told him it was okay to die, that his wife and son and God were waiting for him. He said he knew that, but he didn’t know how, then he added, “Help me die.” “Okay,” I said. I told him I would be fine, not to worry about me, and I could feel him relaxing into what seemed to be acceptance. I laid him back on the bed, gave him his full morphine and haloperidol doses, which I had been hesitant to give him, knowing the sort of disorientation they could cause. The doses were fairly minor, not at all the massive doses that would be prescribed later, but they calmed him. Shortly afterward, his blood pressure began falling, and he never moved again. Just slowly slipped away during the next twenty hours. (I never had to give him the high doses of morphine and haloperidol — he was too far gone by then and besides, he couldn’t swallow.)

He died when I went to take a nap, but it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t there. It seems that he had died when he was in my arms, and all that was left was a body running down like an old wind-up clock that had reached the end of its coil.

I’ve made no secret of the rocky relationship I’ve had with him. (For most of my life, I did keep that secret within the family. It seemed to be one of those unwritten rules we lived by, though none of us knew where those rules came from, what they were, or why they existed.) I came here to my father’s house after the death of my life mate/soul mate partly because my mate wanted me to — he needed to know I would be safe before he could leave his diseased body — and partly because I wanted to resolve the complications with my father. I knew I’d be starting over when my grief waned, and I didn’t want to be dragging old pain, bitterness, and conflict with me into a new life. My time with my father seemed to add to those conflicts, though for the most part we got along okay. (Largely because I left him alone so he could pray in peace.)

But now, there are no conflicts. It’s as if by helping him die (though I didn’t really do anything specific), by releasing him from his fatherhood, leaving only our two souls locked in some sort of compact with death, that I also released myself from my past.

The focus, control, and insistence on having his way that made being his daughter difficult also made him a man whole unto himself. And in the end, that is what he is/was. Not father, son, husband, grandfather but a man unencumbered, rushing to meet . . . whatever was waiting for him.

It seems almost mythic, his passing. Mythic for him, perhaps, but certainly for me, as if I’d been on some sort of hero’s journey, and in the end I’d accomplished my quest. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand all the permutations of what has happened during the past four and a half years here — my grief, my father’s aging, my dysfunctional brother’s presence, the terrible journey to take him back to Colorado, my father’s dying, and my being set free — but I don’t think it matters if I understand. I just need to process it during the next couple of months of peace, and then go on from here as a woman unencumbered, whole unto herself, rushing to meet whatever is waiting for her.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

 

Trying Not to Be a Miserable Person

There are a lot of miserable people in the world, and though they claim to want to be happy, some seem to cultivate misery as if it were a spectacular hot house plant and others seem to cling to it as if it were a warm cloak that protects them from the winds of change.

There is something very compelling about misery — it makes you feel as if you are more than you are, because only someone very special can suffer so deeply. I felt that peculiar pull when I was going through grief. Grief seemed to give my life meaning, made it seem as if I were experiencing something profound, made it seem as if eternity were just around the next bend. Grief wasn’t my choice of course. It found me, and I followed where led, but still, beneath all the pain, I felt . . . significant.

As much as I hated feeling so miserable, when grief began to wane, I found myself grieving the loss of angelgrief. I no longer felt connected to something outside myself, something immense and immensely important. I was just me, and it didn’t seem enough.

Grief is not my constant companion any more, and when I feel its touch, sometimes I let myself cry for a moment or two, and then I get tired of it. I don’t want to be miserable. Don’t want to find importance in despondency. Don’t want to see gloom as a goal. Even if joy isn’t as compelling as misery for me and my readers, it’s still where I want to go. (My “joy” articles get a fraction of the views my grief articles do, which makes sense. When we are grieving, we look for help; when we are happy, we don’t need help.)

I recently read an article by Cloe Madanes — “The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People,” which made me realize that one can choose to be miserable or one can choose to live a life of peace and joy. For the most part, I’m doing well at not being miserable. For example, I try not to cultivate boredom, worry about money, or give myself a negative identity. (I’m a dancer now, don’t you know!)

Occasionally I mistakenly attribute bad intentions to other people’s innocent (and not so innocent) remarks or actions, which sometimes leads to clashes. I don’t try to pick fights, though I do sometimes end up in conflicts with others when I express my disappointments or try to keep from being taken for granted. This has always been a hard line for me to walk. When does sticking up for yourself fall over the edge into negative behavior? I mean, we need to protect ourselves and keep others from demanding more than we can give, and yet those “others” often think the worst of us when we do, hence the conflicts. On the other hand, giving in to avoid conflict seems just as bad. Either way, misery results. Since the goal is to avoid such misery, I hope someday I’ll be able to figure this out.

I don’t do things simply for personal gain, though being paid for work is good. I’m certainly not glorifying or vilifying the past, since as far as I’m concerned, the past can stay in the past. And I try not to be critical of myself or others. (Apparently being critical is a great way to make yourself miserable.) I do ruminate, of course, and tend over think everything, but as a writer, I do have to think so I have things to say, don’t I? Still, I am learning just to be. (Dancing helps. It’s hard to ruminate when one is focused on the learning the steps.)

Most of all, I try to cultivate a sense of gratitude. I am very grateful for all the joys of my life, my friends, my dance classes, the days that lack any kind of misery.

It’s a start.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Is It True that Grief Has Limits Whereas Apprehension Has None?

“Grief has limits, where as apprehension has none. For we grieve only for what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen.” — Pliny the Younger, Roman judge and man of letters 61-113 A.D.

A friend left the above quote on my Facebook profile, and it has made me wonder if Pliny the Younger is right. (Also made me wonder if there is a Pliny the Elder, so I looked it up. Yes, there is, and he is Younger’s uncle. Both men were witnesses to the eruption to Vesuvius, though Elder did not survive the eruption. I knew that. Just forgot it.)

roadI wonder how much Younger grieved his uncle, or anyone, because grief doesn’t seem to have limits. It is true that even profound grief wanes, but the nature of such grief is that when something brings the deceased love one to mind years afterward, reminding us of our loss, our grief can be as raw as it was at the beginning.

Fear, on the other hand, does have limits. As Teach, one of the characters in Daughter Am I, says:

“Mob bosses ran their businesses like fiefdoms—they demanded total loyalty, but felt no need to treat their underlings fairly. They thought they could rule by fear, but when fear is around every corner, people lose their fear of the fear. They sometimes even lose their fear of the ones administering the fear.

“All the bodyguards and all those layers of insulation the bosses surrounded themselves with weren’t just to protect themselves from the law and from their rivals, but also from their own disgruntled employees.”

People have criticized my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire for my having the characters let go of their fear of both the red death and the quarantine, but the truth is, fear — and apprehension — get so exhausting, it loses its tension like overstretched elastic, and it just lets go of us. We human creatures also have a prodigious capacity to adjust to most circumstances, even fearful ones. Besides, there’s not much of a story if the characters simply hide from their fate. Some have to go meet their fear head on.

I haven’t had to deal with anything truly fearsome in my life, like an epidemic or torture or having hot lava rain down on me, but I am apprehensive at times when I think about having to leave my present situation taking care of my aged father. I don’t know where I am going to go, how I will live, or even where I will live. Still, whatever scenarios my apprehensive mind conjures, none of them can compare in any way to the pain of losing my life mate soul mate.

I am currently grieving the loss of a long time friend, a loss that has come not through death but misunderstanding and heartbreak, and that grief too is worse than any apprehension I might have, especially since I haven’t been able to sort through all that happened in order to make sense of the loss.

It’s possible I simply don’t have a strong enough imagination for apprehension to be greater than grief. Or maybe it’s that I’m learning to take life as it comes. Or perhaps it’s the knowledge that no matter what fearsome circumstances I will face, there I will be. A survivor.

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Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Is It Fun Being You?

I watched a tape of an old “Boston Legal” show the other night. Although I don’t particularly like the series — it was mostly smugly rich lawyers in a large firm behaving badly — the byplay between William Shatner (Denny Crane) and James Spader (Alan Shore) was riveting. You don’t see many instances of male friendship in movies or on TV, which is compelling enough, but the two characters often talk about matters that are beyond the general fare of television. (Not that I would know — I seldom watch television, though I have a couple of series and a couple of partial series on tape for no other reason than that I have them.)

One such conversation occurred during the show I viewed. Denny, despite his growing Alzheimer’s, had just experienced a triumph over his ilness by having a significant impact on a trial, and afterward while decompressing with Shore on the balcony of Denny’s office, Denny says, “It’s fun being me.” Then he turns to Shore and asks, “Is it fun being you?”

Such a simple question, one I had never considered. Is it fun being me? Although I can’t get the question out of my mind, I truly have no answer to it. I have fun, of course, and while fun is not my raison d’etre, perhaps it should be. Life dumps plenty of sorrow and responsibility on me — I certainly don’t need to heap more problems on myself, and besides, having fun would help balance my life.

But that was not the question. Denny did not ask, “Are you having fun?” He asked, “Is it fun being you?” — which is something completely different.

I’m the one in glasses.

I’ve always taken life and myself too seriously to have fun being me. Oddly, Alan Shore once described me when I was young without knowing he was doing so. As he says to one of his female associates, “When I look at you, I see one of those little schoolgirls, running around in her plaid skirt, always to class on time, the first to raise her hand, the neatest of . . . penmanship.” Yup. That was me.

I’m trying not to take things so seriously, though it’s hard when I seem to be always in the middle of other people’s life and death situations. Still, I need a more lighthearted approach than simply not taking life so seriously. Since I will need to find a new focus for the next twenty or thirty years (assuming I live as long as my mother did) perhaps that focus should be not just being me as I’ve been trying to do, but having fun being me.

And I’ve already taken the first step. Dance class is teaching me many things besides dancing: to be accepting of (and maybe even celebrating) imperfections in me and everyone else; to be committed to something life changing outside my normal purview; to find joy in movement, especially synced movement; to be happy in the moment; and most of all, to enjoy being someone who enjoys dancing.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Standing on an Unbuilt Bridge to the Future

It’s not often a picture speaks to me. I’m not particularly visual, which is why I write and dance rather than paint. Still, I keep thinking of the Three of Wands tarot image painted by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law. The picture is of a woman accompanied only by a cat, standing on the end of an uncompleted bridge arcing out over a river far below. The meaning of the card is about seeking what is uncharted, expanding one’s horizons, taking a long view, moving fearlessly into new areas, trusting that the bridge will form beneath our feet as we tread beyond what we know. (The symbolism of the cat wasn’t explained, but traditionally, cats tend to give us messages of change, flexibility, adaptability, beckoning us to realize that when we turn within to our own hearts, minds and souls, and trust in ourselves, we will always be shown the truth of matters.)

I’ve been researching various other interpretations of the Three of Wands card, and though there is some difference of opinion, generally the card means, besides just expanding one’s horizons, looking away from the past to an unknown future, dreaming beyond current limitations, trusting in oneself (when there is no one else to help, we can always look to ourselves and never be let down), and new opportunities for financial success. This card often is about traveling to actual places, but it also refers to other travels such as fresh starts, new insights, and even dance. (Bruce Chatwin wrote: “To dance is to go on pilgrimage.”)

This was the first tarot card I ever drew for myself (actually, I didn’t draw it, it fell out of the deck when I was shuffling the cards), and it will probably be the last because I wouldn’t want to dilute its power. The card hints at a visionary and creative future for me, and gives me a image of myself that I’d like to believe — strong and fearless, embracing the unknown, willing to go beyond the ordinary even if I have to go alone.

Perhaps that image of me isn’t true now, but as I continue to change, continue to be open to whatever happens, continue to believe that something awesome (in the sense of causing both fear and wonder) lies ahead, then the world will lie open at my feet.

Now that I think about it, isn’t this true of all of us? We’re standing on an unbuilt bridge to the future, the past behind us, the bridge growing beneath our feet when we walk. There’s nothing really to be gained by looking back, especially since looking back could cause us to lose our balance. So, like the woman in Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s lovely painting, we go forward, trusting, hoping, believing . . .

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

As If Somehow It Were Meant to Be

Some people believe everything happens for a reason. Although I’m not one of those people, I had a strange experience today that made me wonder if for some unknown reason (unknown to me that is) I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

It all started three and a half years ago on my birthday. I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant with friends from my grief support group. They gave me cards and gifts, and even sang “happy birthday” to me over candlelit flan. I remember thinking how far I’d come from the life I’d lived with my life mate/soul mate, and how a year previously, when he was dying, I could never have ever imagined such a felicitous occasion.

On that very same day, a lovely and still youthful woman was murdered, and an older man died an agonizing death.

A week or two later, the woman’s mother and the man’s wife began attending the same grief support group I did, and we eventually became friends, though the friendship is often rocky — you could not find three people more disparate than we are.

The mother has been staunch in her fight to get her daughter’s murderer behind bars, and finally, just the other day, he was arrested. Today was the arraignment.

speedI wasn’t aware of the arraignment, but when our friend, the wife, called me on a different matter and mentioned she was on her way to the courthouse, I was but a block away. And so I joined the other two women at the arraignment.

Courthouse officials told us the wrong courtroom (and there was no docket anywhere that we could check), so we sat through the arraignment of dozens of people we had no interest in. (As it turns out, the mother didn’t miss anything. The accused put in an appearance, but we talked to a lawyer who had been in the right courtroom, and he told us the “alleged” murder’s family said they’d get a lawyer, and so the arraignment was postponed until tomorrow.)

But I did learn something. The courtroom we were in looked like courtrooms you see in movies — all lovely oak (or faux oak), with a bench extending across the entire front of the room, a long table in front of the bench with a placard on each side designating plaintiff or defendant, a railing, and then the seating gallery behind the railing. But that was where the similarity ended. Except for the bailiff and a few onlookers, there were no people visible. Since the arraignments took place via television, all we could see was the orange-garbed defendant on a screen angled our way. We could hear the judge’s bored voice as he droned the charges and what he was going to go about them, but the judge, the clerk, and the court reporter, though physically present, were all completely hidden behind computer screens.

So why was I there at the courthouse today? I don’t know. It just seems odd that I was nudged in that direction, especially since the arraignment didn’t happen. Even odder, though we were all born far from this dusty desert town, our three lives converged on that very moment in the courthouse, as if somehow it were meant to be.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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