Current and Recurrent Trends

My life is so chaotic right now, I have a hard time figuring out where I am and what I’m doing. Cultural reference points aren’t helping, either. Yesterday I saw someone in a huge Afro. Something in my mind slid sideways, and for a second, I felt as if I were back in the 1970s. I didn’t find out until today that Afros are back in style. (As you can see, I don’t exactly keep up with current and recurrent trends.)

massesAt the grocery store today, the guy standing in front of me was wearing his pants down below his buttocks. So not an attractive look! I never expected the droopy drawers trend to last so many decades, but there he was. Even worse, he was very tall, his waist about my eye level. He alternated hitching his pants up and pulling them down so that they were always binding his legs together. He was wearing a heavy coat that ended at his thighs (despite it being 100 degrees today) and I thanked my lucky stars that he never raised his arms.

The guy behind me had Ubangi ears. (I’m sorry if this is a racial slur. I don’t intend it as such, but my only experience with earlobes that hang down to one’s shoulders is from National Geographic magazines that were already old when I was young.) I can’t even begin to connect such a trend to a decade, though I have periodically seen such “decorations” during the past ten years.

I drove back to the house with my car full of groceries for other people (somehow I forget to buy stuff for me. It’s a wonder I’m not wasting away, but I am far from being Twiggy-esque). I could see that the couple in the decades-old car in front of me was smoking, their arms snaking out of the windows at frequent intervals, their fingers flicking like forked tongues.

It would be interesting to think that all these people have slipped into our current time, visiting, perhaps, or simply taking in the sights. But more probably the problem is me. I’m out of step and getting very crotchety.

***

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 Wages of Daughterhood

I am so exhausted I can hardly think straight. I keep hoping my life will get easier, but so far that hasn’t happened, not even after my sister came to help with our father. I thought my sister would be a great help when he got out of the hospital after a recent bout of pneumonia and prostate infection, and she is. I also thought her being here would make it easier to meet my own needs, but what I didn’t take into consideration is that there would be another person’s needs to juggle, and this juggling act is already too complicated.

Thjugglingere is a chance my brother will accept my offer to drive him back to Colorado and thereby lessen the stress. There is a chance my father will get better temporarily and won’t need so much looking after. There is a chance I will get all the sleep I need and so be able to handle the immensity of my task with a bit more grace. There is a chance . . . oh, heck. There is a chance of a lot of things, I’m just too tired to list any more of them.

Dance classes remain my savior, both the dancing and the friendship, but despite my trying to keep those lessons sacrosanct, I can see (and foresee) the gradual encroachment into my private time.

Still, no matter what happens on a daily basis, the truth is that my father is 97 years old, very frail (more so because of his recent hospitalization), and does not have many years left. Probably not even a year. His doctor is going to monitor the situation for another month, and then maybe advise hospice, something that up until now he has refused to even discuss.

If my father does go on hospice, the wages of daughterhood would be almost over. (Paraphrasing a quote from The Florist’s Daughter by Patricia Hampl.)

It seems as if most of my life has been spent paying those wages, from taking care of younger siblings when I was young enough to need care myself, to helping when my mother was dying, to looking after my aged father.

On this blog, I spin dreams of epic walks, of living on the road, of being nomadic, but the truth is, I have no idea who I will be when I am no longer “daughter.” Maybe I will crave a place of my own. Maybe I will embrace spontaneity and uncertainty. Maybe I will arrange my life so I can take dance classes three or four days a week and be mobile the rest of the time.

Maybe I will just be.

Meantime, I’m still juggling as best as I can.

***

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.

When Chaos Rains

Yeah, I know — the expression is when chaos reigns, but lately it seems as if chaos is raining down on me like an acidic shower that erodes everything it touches. Maybe things aren’t that bad. It’s possible I simply no longer have any perspective on the way things should be.

Take today for example. My car broke down last Wednesday, and every day since then the mechanic has promised to have the car ready for me. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem except that my 97-year-old father is going through a medical crisis, and I’ve had to beg for rides to pharmacies for his medications, to doctors appointments, to and from the hospital. A lovely woman squired us around today, taking us not only to the doctor but to the hospital afterward when the same doctor who didn’t want to admit my father last Thursday decided my father needed hospital care after all.  My friend waited for me for arain while, then when I got tired of watching my father sleeping in the emergency room because they didn’t have a bed for him, we went out to dinner. Afterward, she took me back to the hospital so I could check on him once more, and it’s a good thing because they hadn’t fed him. And he was cold.

I got that straightened out, then my friend drove me home only to be met my demented brother who screamed obscenities at her. Cripes, she didn’t deserve that. Well, neither do I, of course, but her only “sin” was doing a good deed. She is used to dealing with the problems of the aged, so she understood what I was going through with my father, but now I feel bad for even asking her.

Luckily she, like everyone else in my life, knows the truth, so she didn’t believe brother dearest’s accusations that I’m killing the old man. (Where does he get this stuff?)

Perhaps I will get my car back tomorrow (with a hefty repair bill, I might add), but it’s no longer critical. I don’t need to worry about getting my father to the doctor’s office or to the hospital since he is already there. Well, sort of there. He’s parked in the emergency room with minimal care because even if they did have a bed for him, they don’t have the staff to man and woman it. Still, he’s right next to the nurse’s station, and she just got on duty and isn’t bored with the day yet, so he should be okay.

Me? I am so not cool. I lost my temper and screamed at my brother . I feel as if I should be above such base activities, but I am not always the person I want to be. Someday, perhaps . . .

***

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.

On a Pilgrimage

Today when I mentioned my idea of walking up the coast, a friend asked, “Why walking?” I had to stop and think about that. I originally planned a journey by car, crisscrossing the country, so I’m not sure how the idea of driving metamorphosed into walking, or why the idea took hold except that I’ve always had an affinity for walking.

When I first started roaming the desert after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I would follow the paths drawn in the sandy soil by bikes and ATVs, always wanting to see what was up ahead, around the next turning, behind the next knoll. I had to be careful not to wear myself out because I needed to make sure I had enough energy to get myself back to home base, and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if there were no home base, if I could just walk until I got tired, and when I was rested, continue on. Such practical things as being able to carry enough water, food, and protective coverings to get me to wherever I was going didn’t enter the equation. I just like the idea of walking to see . . . whatever there was to see.

Back then, I was still going through the pain of first grief, and walking was the only way I could find any peace. Somedays I walked for hours, limited only by my strength and the amount of water I’d brought. My walking, though it was always circular rather than to a special place, seemed like a pilgrimage, a long journey to a new life. My old life was dead, cremated along with my life mate/soul mate, and somehow I had to find a new way to connect with the world. My current idea of walking up the Pacific coast seems like a continuation of that grief-born pilgrimage.

“Pilgrimage” has been defined variously as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest; a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance; a walk in search of something intangible. Although making a pilgrimage was not my intention when I first thought of walking up the coast, “pilgrimage” seems to define most what I want out of the journey. I don’t want the journey to be one of survival (though I do intend to survive it, of course). My wilderness survival skills are nil, so in any contest between me and the wilderness, the wilderness would win. My ability to carry a heavy pack is also nil. And yet, I would like to see the coast more intimately than from the window of a car passing by at 65 miles an hour, with only periodic stops to rest. I would like to see what I am made of. Could I handle the endless hours of nothing to do after my walking stint is finished for the day? How would I connect with the world? Could I handle the uncertainty of never quite knowing what will happen? Could I spend so much time outside without becoming ill? I’d stay in motels when I could, but for long stretches, there would be just me and whatever was around the next bend.

Meantime, I am on another pilgrimage. Bruce Chatwin in Anatomy of Restlessness wrote, “To dance is to go on pilgrimage.” Some people see dancing just as exercise, but for me it’s a way of connecting with life, of being alive, of searching for something intangible, if only proficiency and grace. Dance is a journey of the spirit just as I would hope an epic walk would be, and it’s changing me in some ephemeral way. For example, for the first time in my life, I have no body image problems. All that time in front of a mirror is making me comfortable with the way I look, both my good points and bad. Dancing also seems to reach inside to hidden places and pull out previously unknown joys.

Dancing is the one thing besides physical inability that would change my mind about walking up the coast. It’s a rare and special privilege to be able to learn how to dance at any age but especially when one is sliding down the banister of life.

At the beginning of my journey into grief, a wise woman told me that I could be entering the happiest time of my life, and though it took longer than I expected, I can see that she was right. The pain of grief seems like a portal I went through, and now on the other side I can feel the possibility of true happiness and joy.

Walking. Dancing. Embracing whatever the future might bring.

My pilgrimage.

***

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.

To Dance Is to Live

At lunch after a dance class a couple of days ago, a friend and I were discussing why we don’t have bucket lists. We agreed there are too many things in the world that either we’re not aware of, or if we are aware of the things, we’re not aware that we would like to try them.

For example, we’re both taking dance classes, which have become lifesavers to us. (Like me, she’d been mired in grief and took dancing as a way of moving on with her life.) Neither of us ever had such an inclination before, so dancing would never have been on our bucket lists. I’m not even much for dancing around the house, though for a while, I did what I called “dance therapy” in an effort to overcome the lingering grief after the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate. This therapy worked to a certain extent, but . . . I don’t know . . . maybe it was too soon, maybe the songs were too sad, maybe it was simply that I didn’t know how to dance.

I took therapy yoga for a whileUntitled-2, which did help with grief. When those classes were canceled after the teacher got an offer of a fantastic job, I played around with learning Tai Chi, which incidentally was something that would have been on my bucket list since I’d always wanted to do it, but I didn’t feel the connection with Tai Chi that I’d expected. And it must not have been in the cards for me anyway. When I went to sign up for classes after the free introductory lessons were over, I found the office closed. (They are closed every other Friday, but since they never said which was the other other Friday, I had no way of knowing what the right day would have been.)

A few days after my aborted attempt to sign up for Tai Chi, I’d planned to meet a friend for lunch. As I waited for her, I paced the sidewalk in front of the row of shops, and there I saw a dance studio. On a whim, I stopped in to see if classes were being offered to adults, what the classes were, and how much they cost. The prices were so cheap it seemed a shame not to try at least one of the classes before I settled for Tai Chi. The only class that didn’t need any props or special clothes was jazz, so that’s what I started with.

And I came alive.

In an effort to find a renewed interest in life, I’d been doing many things I would never have had a chance to do before Jeff’s death, but everything I did was like dropping pebbles in the sand of grief. Although I enjoyed my excursions and activities while I was doing them, none of that momentary happiness rippled through the rest of my life. Yoga did to a certain extent, but with dance . . . oh my. Ripples galore.

By the middle of the following month, I was taking ballet, Egyptian belly dance, tap, and Hawaiian in addition to jazz, and recently I started Tahitian.

Dancing is hard for me. I’m not naturally rhythmic, not naturally musically inclined, not naturally poised or balanced. Nor am I one for doing anything in a group. (Do I need to mention that I am far from having a dancer’s body?) And yet, it was love at first . . . not sight. Feel maybe.

A lot of the joy of dancing for me comes from learning something completely new, since more than anything I love to learn, but it’s the whole of the dance experience I’m enamored with — the music, the various steps, the choreography, dancing as one with the rest of the group, the other women in the class. Most of the women are a lot older than I am, but they are a heck of a lot more graceful and agile. Actually, they are a heck of a lot more graceful and agile than most women half my age.

It seems strange now that I’ve never mentioned my dance classes on this blog, but since I also once took a couple of exercise classes at the same studio, I’ve just lumped all the activity under “exercise classes.” Dancing seemed too sacred almost to use for blog fodder.

So why am I mentioning it now? The teacher, a remarkable woman just a few years short of eighty, is always having to explain to her family why she continues to teach. (You know how older people are often called “spry”? That is not a word you could ever use to describe her. To see her dance, you’d never guess her age. She dances like a girl, looks like she’s in her forties, and is still beautiful.)

Because she was born two minutes before midnight on Friday the thirteen, she laughingly calls herself a witch. And she is — a good witch with remarkable powers of bringing people to life. Bringing people happiness. Bringing people dance.

As Snoopy says, “To dance is to live. To live is to dance.”

I know you’re reading this, Ms. Cicy. So — thank you for teaching me a new way of living.

***

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.

I Am Darkness!

A friend did one of those ubiquitous quizzes that show up on Facebook on an almost daily basis, and not having anything better to do (except find a topic for today’s blog post since I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about my possible epic walk), I did the quiz to find out what element I am. Most of the questions had no meaning for me, so I did the best I could. For example, one question was about colors that speak to me, and I don’t have any favorite color — what fascinate me are the way colors complement and contrast with one another. And even if I did have a tendency toward a particular color right now, such as purple, it wasn’t listed. So I just went with the best answer for the moment. And of course, none of the deadly sins pertain, while all of the virtues do. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

So what is my element? Darkness! I wasn’t aware that darkness was an element, but what do I know. According to the quiz maker, I’m not reflective enough. (I guess that makes sense in a “pun” sort of way since black absorbs everything and reflects nothing, though I thought I had a tendency to think too much.) They said:

Your element is DARKNESS. You are often misunderstood and judged quickly. Yet if people only took just a bit of extra kind effort to you they would see something wonderful. Mysterious yet much more simple then others misperceive. You get many things that just don’t click for others. You see the truth for what it is and you embrace it while others sugar coat it. You have low tolerance for ignorance, though you may come off a bit arrogant yourself. You could stand to reflect a bit more and you will find a lot of your isolation issues are due to self-sabotage. Though you may enjoy your alone time, no one truly enjoys being alone. Don’t fool yourself. That aside you are a rare beautiful truth in this world of fake.

I’m making fun of the quiz and of myself for taking it, but there is much truth in their analysis. Or at least I hope there is. I like the idea of being mysterious. And I like the idea of being a truth. I guess that’s my arrogance coming out.

***

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.

Searching for a Cause

When I mentioned to a hiker friend that I am thinking of walking up the coast from San Diego to Seattle, she suggested that I walk for a cause because if you have a cause, people are more willing to help supply food, water, a shower or even transportation if you need it, and they might even get others to help.

It’s a great suggestion. The Peace Pilgrim walked for peace. She was walking in response to a spiritual awakening, and she’d taken a vow to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.” Her pilgrimage began in 1953 when she was 44 and ended with her death in 1981. She carried only a pen, a comb, a toothbrush, and a map, trusting to those she met to supply what she needed, though she never asked for anything. (She was also the first woman reported the have thru-walked the Appalachian Trail, which she did in preparation for her pilgrimage.)

Following her example or following their own spiritual wakening, others have walked for peace. Some women have walked for women’s freedom since so many women (perhaps rightfully) are afraid to travel, hike, or camp on their own. These women causewant to show that it is possible to claim one’s freedom and follow one’s adventurous heart. And then there are short walks/runs to raise money and awareness for all sorts of causes and organizations.

My friend suggested I walk for widows or the grief-stricken. Widow Walker. Grief Walker. Or . . . whatever. Her other suggestion, which actually is a fun idea, is to hang a small portable chalkboard on my pack, and change my “cause” as I felt like it.

Having a cause would give people a personal stake in my quest, but I wonder if it’s a bit of a cheat. If the idea of the cause came first, then the walk would be because of the cause. If the idea of the walk came first, as it did, then the cause would be because of the walk.

Still, I would need some sort of support group because I want to walk, not hike, which means no heavy backpacks, no bulky gear, no great stores of food and water. I do understand the need for taking more than The Peace Pilgrim’s sparse kit because I do not want to walk to certain death, but I simply do not want to take everything on a hiker’s “must” list. Of course, if I hike along the coast, there would be plenty of towns or beaches to get provisions and find a motel (and a computer!) for the night if necessary, but there will also be long stretches of wilderness, and in one case, a fifty-mile stretch of highway-shoulder walking.

Grandma Gatewood, like The Peace Pilgrim, was a minimalist hiker, the first woman to solo thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Although she hiked the Trail three times, beginning when she was 67, she had no special gear. She wore Keds sneakers and took only an army blanket, a raincoat, and a plastic shower curtain which she carried in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. My kind of hiker! Nor did she have a cause — at least not one that I can find. She simply thought it would be a nice lark. Sounds like my kind of hiker.

My true cause is a soul quest, a mystical journey, a response to a barely heard question deep inside — “Is this all there is to my life here on Earth?” I would like to find a deeper connection to both myself and the world, maybe even to go through some sort of spiritual transformation. I originally planned my journey as a car trip, which is still on my list of possibilities, but walking might give me more of the mysticism I am looking for. (Feet on the ground trumps feet on the accelerator pedal any time.)

So, here’s my question. Do I need a cause? And if so, what should that cause be?

***

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.

Grief’s Strange Blessing

We think we know who/what we are, but that image of ourselves is often at odds with what other people think. For example, if I disagree with some people, they call me negative. If I say no when someone asks me to do something, I risk being called contrary. If I want to do things my own way, I’m accused of being manipulative. If I try to set boundaries, I am called a vindictive, vengeful bitch.

Actually, only one person in my life ever dared called me a bitch. If anyone else did, he would not be in my life. It’s not that I want such a person in my life, of course, but my father allows my homeless brother to camp out in the garage, and it is my father’s house. (I don’t want to get into the morality of the situation, or how I am “enabling” my brother by not calling the cops, or how I should leave and let my 97-year-old father fend for himself. I’ve heard it all before, and anyway, that’s not what this post is about.)

When you live with someone with mental problems who insists that it is you who are out of touch with reality, it’s even harder at times to know the truth. Perhaps I am vindictive and vengeful as he says. Perhaps I’m negative, manipulative, and contrary as others say. I don’t think I am, but if I were, would I know?

A friend’s mother is going blind. One day this friend wore a pair of mismatched socks (they were part of a fun set of puposely mismatched socks, not mismatched by accident). The mother looked at the one purple sock and the one pink sock and said, “I love your red sSayingocks.” No amount of talking could convince the woman the socks were anything but a matched pair of red socks. It’s what she saw, and since she believed her eyes, what she saw must be the truth. And in a way, it was the truth — her truth. She did see red socks even though everyone else saw pink and purple.

Besides all the other nastiness my brother spews, he claims I have a dissociative personality disorder. If I did, would I know? I think I would — there should be gaps in memory, strange looks from friends, questions about things I have said — but my brother is the only one who insists I said things I don’t remember saying, who says I did things I don’t remember doing.

There was a time in my younger years where I would have worried about the truth of his allegations because I did feel unbalanced, as if one mental step to either side would send me over a cliff to insanity, but now I know the truth. I am sane. (It’s possible, of course, we are all insane, that life is a form of insanity, but that’s a path I don’t want to explore.)

So, what gives me the confidence to believe I am sane when others allege the opposite? The profound grief I experienced after the death of my life mate/soul mate.

Grief is a totally insane situation, with hormones of all kinds on overdrive, brain chemistry out of whack, emotions out of control, pain so deep it makes it impossible to breathe, tears that flow like open faucets without your volition, dizziness and nausea and a loss of equilibrium that make the world seem totally alien. And yet, somehow, through it all, I could feel the truth of grief, that whatever I experienced was normal. It’s this belief in the normality of grief’s insanity that gave me the courage to write about grief and connect with others going through the same thing. It’s what gave me the ability to explain grief to my fellow bereft, and to assure them that despite what they were feeling, they were not crazy.

And neither was I.

Grief brings strange blessings, and this was my blessing, the thing that is now helping me through a bizarre situation — the utter belief in my sanity.

***

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.

Merry, Merry, Quite Contrary

A friend recently accused me of being contrary, said that I had an incontrovertible tendency to go in the opposite direction of whatever anyone requests of me. The friend seemed to think I didn’t know I had such a fault, which is true. I didn’t. (Except for when I feel taken for granted or discounted. Then, yes, I do dig in my heels.)

I took an informal poll of other friends, and it seems as if most people thought I was too accommodating, that I tended to be too conciliatory. I accept my brother’s nastiness, I do what people ask whenever possible, and if in my power, I will do what I can to make people happy. (Yeah, I know — you can never make anyone happy, but still, you can go out of your way too keep from adding to their misery.)

Contrary mechainans “perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired.” By that definition, contrariness seems to go hand-in-hand with obligation, as if I have an obligation to do what people request of me or expect of me. If there is no obligation, there can be no contrariness, perverse or otherwise, because if I do what I want to do rather than what other people want me to do, I am going in the direction I want to go.

I admit I am contrary when it comes to ideas. I don’t accept ideas just because most other people do. I tend to be a bit of a skeptic, taking the known with a strong dose of curiosity and questioning. I’m not particularly an out-of-the-box thinker since out-of-the-boxness implies more of an imagination than I have, but so often I am not even aware of the box.

I write books that are contrary to genre expectations (for example, my good guy and bad guy never duke it out at the end).

I’ve also lived a contrary life, not embracing the consumerism of our society, not following fashion, not watching television programming (though I do watch taped movies via a television). My plans/hopes/ideas for the future all go contrary to what is normally expected of a no-longer-young woman on her own.

I even go contrary to myself at times — trying things that are out of character, or doing things I am afraid of doing. I try to say yes to any invitation even if I am not so inclined in an effort to continue going contrary to my nature.

Although I started out this post trying to prove how uncontrary I am, I have to agree with the friend who thinks I am contrary. I do, however, disagree with the judgment that my contrariness is a fault. Seems like a necessary attribute to embrace if one wants to merrily go along, living a life of beauty and folly no matter what anyone else expects or desires.

***

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.

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

A couple of months ago when my exercise class was asked to do a demonstration for a seniors’ expo, I agreed to do it. It seemed like a life-altering experience since I’d never performed in front of a group before. I had once given a speech at a writers’ conference, and after the first few minutes of nervousness and a shaky voice, I did great. But speaking about a subject I know well is one thing, and doing a new, physical activity is another thing completely, and way out of my comfort zone.

Despite all my walking and exercising, I am not really fit. (When a friend found out about all my physical activities, she asked if I had an ounce of fat left on my body. I could only laugh.) I’m not being self-denigrating when I say I’ve never been particularly graceful or rhythmic. (Except for walking of course. One foot in front of the othstageer — I can do that!) Despite this, I thought it would be good for me to go in front of a crowd with my classmates, do the best I can, and let the mistakes fall where they may — a celebration of who I am at this moment.

The past two months have been a flurry of practice, costume discussions and creations, and more than a few disagreements, followed by a disastrous dress rehearsal and even more upsetting final practice. At one point, I thought of dropping out, but I reminded myself of how important the experience would be. I mean — me? Going in front of a crowd? Performing?

The exhibition was on Saturday. All the participants were asked to get there at noon, though my group wasn’t on until three. So there was plenty of time for nervousness, and I was, just a bit. But then we got on stage, did our number, and . . . that was it. Oddly, although I’d been looking forward to the applause, it never registered. I can’t even remember it.

Afterward, I waited for the triumphant feeling I expected, waited for a shift in myself. Waited for . . . I don’t know what. But nothing was different. Then this morning it dawned on me — as so often happens with life-altering experiences, the changes came in the doing. All those weeks of preparation turned me into the sort of person who could go on stage and give it her all without much ado.

Bad things seem to have an effect all at once, but good things have a slower, less obvious demarcation. (A therapy friend says that this is survival. It’s important to remember the bad things and the bad effects so we can try to keep them from happening again, but good things don’t matter much when it comes to survival.) Still, in my case, I did get the effect I wanted, just not the great emotional payoff. And that’s okay. Emotions fade. Confidence and competence remain forever.

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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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