Phobophobia, or the Fear of Fear

Through stories, we learn how to deal with our fears, especially if we are the ones writing the story. If you novelize your fear of being eaten alive by monsters from outer space, then the terrestrial ones eating you alive don’t seem so monstrous. If you watch a movie about aliens taking over your body, then the terrestrial one that’s taking over your mind might not seem quite so alien. You don’t think you are being eaten alive or that your mind is being taken over? Well, you are and it is — it’s called aging. Little by little, the you that you know is being supplanted by a creature you could never fathom being. Some people turn into querulous beings totally unrecognizable from the daring-dos of their youthful selves. Some turn into their mothers. Some . . . Well, I’ve scared myself enough.

fearAccording to author Lee Child, we don’t write what we know — we write what we fear. Perhaps this is true. My books are filled with fears — fear of being at the mercy of mindless governments and corrupt corporations, fear of deadly and unstoppable diseases, fear of the loss of self, fear that our memories lie. Since all of these fears can be lumped into one group — fear of powerlessness — I wonder if all fears came down to that same thing. Mine do, anyway.

I checked out a list of phobias to see what sort of things people are afraid of, and now I’m in danger of becoming a phobiaphobe. Or a phobiaphile. Although I am sympathetic to anyone caught in the horror of a phobia, I do enjoy the names. Names such as levophobia, kainophobia, lachanophobia, mageirocophobia, melophobia, nomatophobia, nyctohylophobia, paraskavedekatriaphobia. Great names for dreadful conditions.

Okay, I’ll let you off the hook so you don’t turn into a Sesquipedalophobe (someone who fears long words). Here’s what the above-mentioned words mean:

  • Levophobia — Fear of things to the left side of the body
  • Kainophobia — Fear of anything new
  • Lachanophobia — Fear of vegetables
  • Mageirocophobia — Fear of cooking
  • Melophobia — Fear of music
  • Nomatophobia — Fear of names
  • Nyctohylophobia — Fear of dark wooded areas
  • Paraskavedekatriaphobia — Fear of Friday the 13th

The one fear I hope no one ever gets is patbertramophobia. So not good for me as a writer!

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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.

Taking Care of an Aged Parent

Taking care of an aged parent is difficult in the best of times — to him (or her) you are the perennial child and they feel it is their privilege to boss you around. They resent your taking charge when necessary. And yet they demand that you baby them, not just physically but emotionally.

My father isn’t much into emotions (unlike me — I deal with a whole spectrum of emotions every day) but lately he is given to panic attacks when things go wrong, such as when the oxygen tank stopped working. (He does fine without oxygen for hours at a time, so his belief that he was going to die was simply the result of his panicking.)

Today, he had a nosebleed, and he demanded that I get a doctor here to cauterize the wound. He was sure the blood was coming from his lungs and he feared he was going to bleed to death. I explained that the continued use of oxygen through a nasal cannula could cause nosebleeds and told him what to do, but of course, I was “just” his daughter who couldn’t possibly understand. Since he wasn’t used to nosebleeds, the continued bleeding scared him. Even after I called hospice and got the same assurance, that such bleeding was normal with constant oxygen use, he continued to believe that the nosebleed was a cause for major alarm. He said he seldom had nosebleeds, and that he had always clotted well. I explained that whatever had been the case in the past was no longer the case, especially since he’s taking baby aspirin to thin his blood.

I kept wanting to say, “What part of ninety-seven don’t you understand?” But I’m kinder than that, and simply did what I could for him until the arrival of the nurse I had requested.

Although I was hesitant about this particular hospice service (I’d had bad experiences with them, and the first month was rocky until people and supplies became part of the routine), they’ve been very understanding, even allow me to vent my frustration without looking askance at me for being a bad daughter.

I wonder sometimes if this would be easier if he weren’t so terrified of death. He believes in God and prays interminably, but I guess even though he fully believes his wife is waiting for him in heaven, it doesn’t mitigate the fear. In fact, he doesn’t seem to believe that he too will die. He hates being on hospice because he says it makes him feel as if we think he is dying, even though dying is a prerequisite of hospice care. He doesn’t seem to understand the palliative nature of hospice, nor does he seem to understand that they don’t provide round the clock nurses. (All this inability to understand makes him sound unsound, but the truth is, he still is sharp.)

He does fine when he can manage every aspect of his life, going about his rigidly controlled routine, letting nothing unpleasant or disruptive into his daily sphere, but when there is an emergency, his fear bursts out of him like some grotesque alien.

I am trying to learn from this. I am trying to let things happen, to let go of my control of things, to be resilient, to acknowledge the emotions that flit through my days. To not be so consumed by fear that I let life pass me by.

Of course, at the end of my life, I could be just like him — fiercely hanging on to every breath I take — so I try to understand. And after all, it is still his life to do with as he can.

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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.

Ignore-ance is Bliss

I’ve never liked the saying, “ignorance is bliss.” I’ve always quested after the truth, so ignorance seems like a paltry way of living, though many people seem to cultivate the state. On some matters, of course, ignorance definitely is bliss. If you don’t know who or what ISIS is (I will have to plead ignorance on this; it seems to have slipped into the news when I was successfully not paying attention), then of course you will be more blissful than those who dwell on whatever it is ISIS is doing. Or in the case of Ebola — being ignorant of the matter might keep you focused on your goal of taking a trip to Africa, which is infinitely more pleasant to contemplate than the possibility of bringing home an unwanted and very deadly souvenir.

napBut what if the “ignorance” that equates to bliss is something entirely different from lack of knowledge or information? What if it actually refers to ignore-ance?

And believe me, ignore-ance truly is bliss.

I’m ignoring my father’s eventual decline, just concentrating on what I can or need to do today.

I am ignoring my uncertain future (when my father goes, my current place of residence will go too, leaving me temporarily homeless and without any clear idea of what to do, how to do it, or where to do it).

I am ignoring the sadness of my disconnection from a dear friend because nothing I’ve done or said seems to be bridging the gap.

I am ignoring the book I started writing in July because with everything else going on in my life, I don’t have the proper focus and so that poor lone written chapter sits at the top right hand corner of my blog. Luckily I am ignoring that, too, or else it would taunt me.

I am ignoring my deceased life mate/soul mate. He can take care of himself wherever he is or isn’t, and I am tired of being sad.

It is so much nicer simply dealing with the problems of the moment — or rather, lack of problems. Most of my problems live either in the future or in the past and if I ignore those, then today, right this moment, everything is blissful. I’m still feeling a glow from the dance classes I took this morning. I’m enjoying the perfect weather — calm, clear, relatively cool. And I’m writing this blog in silence ignoring the fact that as soon as my father wakes from his nap, the television will be blaring.

Ah, ignore-ance. Ah, bliss.

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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.

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

ASHFborderI got a call last night from a woman who had recently read my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire. She didn’t know whether to be excited or appalled at how closely some of the news commentaries about Ebola resemble my story. (Excited because it seemed as if the book had come to life. Appalled because it seemed as if the horrifying events in the novel were coming to pass.)

Quarantines. Possibilities of artificially enhanced viruses. Troops sent to fight the virus and/or troops sent to contain the infected areas. So much drama and controversy! Not only are these the subjects of today’s headlines, they all form the story of A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

Viruses created — or enhanced — in laboratories are nothing new. Well, let’s say the theory of such atrocious diseases are nothing new. I couldn’t swear to the truth of it, and quite frankly, I don’t want to know. Sill, some people believe the 1914 flu originated with biological warfare experimentation gone out of control. Aids has always been accompanied by theories of bioengineering.

In fact, noting that outbreaks of the plague during the Middle Ages were accompanied by strange phenomena such as torpedo-shaped craft emitting noxious mists and men dressed all in black walking through the streets with long instruments that made a swishing sound like a scythe, some researchers have concluded that the Black Death was a purposely created disease. Supposedly, the power elite wanted to cut back the rapidly increasing population and dumb down the human race, or at least stop the furious pace of technology. The alchemists, a greater percentage of the population than anyone imagined, were learning about nuclear fusion and fission. The Arabs were learning about rocketry and jet propulsion. Architecture, as manifested in European cathedrals, was unsurpassed. Along with many other technological inventions, a simple binary machine—a computer—had been created. What would the world have been like without the Black Death?

Forget the Black Death. What would the world be like today without Ebola?

Even worse, what will it be like with it?

If you’re interested in my depiction of a world struggling to deal with a pandemic, I hope you will check out A Spark of Heavenly Fire. The seemingly inhuman measures that take place in the story to keep the non-sick under control are all probable since I based them on executive orders Clinton signed into law.

Art imitating life imitating art.

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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.

A Wildness of the Heart

We are hungry for new stories that can offer us a way to live more fully in place like a tight, strong rope that will hold our weight while we figure out our next move. We are searching for new terrain… within our own souls that will allow us to find a generosity of spirit, a wildness of the heart that is brave and bold. —Terry Tempest Williams

Not only is the quote a good description of what I am looking for in myself — generosity of spirit and a wildness of the heart that is brave and bold — it is a lovely description of why we love/need stories. Or at least it should be. I do not fully trust authors who say they write only to entertain. There needs to be something else in a story besides merely entertainment or a way of passing the time, something that feeds the soul, something that helps us find the wildness of our hearts. We live in a civilized world, leading civilized lives,  eating civilized foods, and all that civilized-ness starves us. We need lives, food,  places that nourish us. We need stories that feed our wildness and offer hope of something more.

Maybe someday I will be able to write such a story. It’s certainly a goal worth striving for.

book

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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.

Wonderful Outlook or Being Negative?

It’s a special thing to have written a book that touches people’s lives. When a friend wanted to read Grief: The Great Yearning, I thought it would be uncomfortable for both of us afterward — it is such a personal book, where I turn myself inside out to show the truth of me and my grief, that I wasn’t sure a fledgling friendship could hold up under those powerful revelations, but my fears were unwarranted. She was able to see herself in many of the situations, and was able to understand some of what she has been feeling but was never able to put into words. And she thinks I’m not only a wonderful writer but an incredible person.

Oddly, as much as I appreciate her esteem, (and as much as I wanted to say eagerly, “tell me more!”) I don’t feel as if her opinion of me has anything to do with me.

SayingOnce a long time ago, I saw a plaque, “What others think of you is none of your business.” I thought it a silly saying because of course, what others think of you is your business. What a child thinks of his parents is often a key to his emotional health, so what the child thinks of his parents is definitely the parents’ business. If you are in a romantic relationship, a marriage, or some other long-term coupling, what your loved one thinks of you is your business. If you think yours is a love match and the other only lusts after you or your money, you need to know that so you can make informed decisions about your future. If someone hates you enough to want to harm you, then definitely that is your business.

I often think of that saying now when I get a compliment or a rare insult. If one person thinks I have a wonderful outlook on life and another thinks I am being negative . . . well, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. So neither opinion is truly my business. It is their business what they think of me, just as it is my business what I think of them. It’s not that I think hurtful things, but so often, the things I like or enjoy about someone are the very things they hate about themselves and they would be appalled I noticed their charming (and not so charming) peccadilloes.

We can’t live our lives trying to figure out what others think of us and then work our life around their opinions. We have to consider what we think of us and live life accordingly. Conversely, we often feel the need to tell others what we think of them — simply to help them, of course — but if what we think of them is none of their business, we might as well keep our opinions to ourselves. (And perhaps save a friendship in the process.)

Still, it is nice to get a compliment, and it is especially nice when the compliment concerns such a special book as Grief: The Great Yearning.

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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.

Excerpt From “Grief: The Great Yearning”

GTGYwpDuring the first horrendous months after the death of my life mate/soul mate/best friend, I was so incredibly lost that sometimes the only way I could deal with my confusion was to write a letter to him in an effort to feel connected. I’ve come a long way in the four years since I wrote the following letter. I still don’t understand the nature of life or death. Still don’t understand the point of it all, but I am embracing life, trying to create my own meaning out of small occurrences. I’ve learned to live without him, but I still miss him, and sometimes I still wish I were going home to him when my current responsibilities end.

 I’m grateful we met and had so many years together. Grateful I once had someone to love. Grateful that when my time comes to die, he won’t be here to see me suffer. Grateful he won’t have to grieve for me.

Excerpt from Grief: The Great Yearning:

Day 197, Dear Jeff,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but I’ve been thinking about you. Are you glad you’re dead? You said you were ready to die, to be done with your suffering, yet at the very end you seemed reluctant to go.

Despite all the problems with your restlessness and the disorientation from the drugs, I wasn’t ready for you to leave me. I still am not. Nor do I want to go back to where we were that last year, waiting for you to die. We were both so miserable, but honestly, this is even worse. I can live without you. The problem is, I don’t want to, and I don’t see why I have to.

I want to come home. Please, can I come home? I have a good place to stay, but without you, I feel homeless. Sometimes I watch movies from your collection and imagine you’re watching with me, but that makes me cry because I know you’re not here. Your ashes are, but you’re not.

I broke a cup today, one more thing gone out of the life we shared. Our stuff is going to break, wear out, get used up. I’ll replace some of it, add new things, write new books, and it will dilute what we shared. Is there going to be anything left of “us”? I feel uncomfortable in this new skin, this new life, as if it’s not mine. As if I’m wearing clothes too big and too small all at the same time.

There’s so much I hate about your being gone — hate it for me and hate it for you. It might be easier if I knew you were glad to be dead, but so far you’ve been mum about your situation. Just one more thing to hate — the silence of the grave. (Well, the silence of the funerary urn.)

Adios, compadre. If you get a chance, let me know you’re okay.

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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.

What Is Your Subconscious Obsessed With?

So often when I am at a loss for a blog topic, Facebook comes to the rescue. Today, was such a day. A friend posted a link to a quiz, “What is your subconscious mind obsessed with?”, and I was bored enough to play along.

Like all such quizzes, there were several questions I found impossible to answer, such as what is my favorite cartoon. Considering I don’t ever watch cartoons and have no idea what any of the cartoons were, I just randomly picked one. Another question was food. I have no preference, really, so I again, I just randomly chose. Same with my favorite day of the week. Who has a favorite day of the week? I never even considered such a thing, so I chose Wednesday because today is Wednesday and I had dance classes. Some of the other questions offered options such as “other,” which made it easy not to choose any of the silly options. I did have a hard time with one question — choosing a quality — because I admire most of the qualities, but I chose loyalty as the best of the lot.

My results weren’t at all what I expected. Apparently, my subconscious is obsessed with the need to be loved. They results said, “You need to feel the warmth and appreciation from the people around you. Without a friendly reminder of how much you are loved or appreciated you start to feel as though things have gone awry with the people around you. There’s nothing wrong with this immense need for love. Be proud that you are so compassionate and caring that you respect and welcome these emotions. Not only do you need to be loved, but you enjoy the act of loving as well. You are kind and compassionate. Even simple interactions reveal your tender heart. We’re all humans and need to be loved; you however, have an extra special sense of gratitude when it comes to being loved.”

Seems sort of pathetic, really, being obsessed with the need to be loved, so I redid the quiz. Chose a different cartoon at random. Chose a different food. Chose Tuesday as my favorite day of the week, and perhaps it is my favorite day — that is when my week truly begins because Tuesday is when my dance classes begin for the week. I even chose a different quality — intelligence this time.

I waited eagerly for the results, hoping for something less pathetic than an obsession with needing to be loved. Happiness, maybe. (Most people seemed to get happiness.) Or knowledge. I’ve always been on a quest for the truth. Some people got sadness, which I wouldn’t have been surprised to get. Some got sex or food or responsibility. (Responsibility would also have been a good fit since I am responsible for my 97-year-old father and his house.

So what did I get after all the changed answers?

The same thing: the need to be loved. Sheesh.

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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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