The 9th Annual Short Story Challenge

A friend just sent me information about a writing competition open to writers around the world — The 9th Annual Short Story Challenge. It’s an interesting concept, one of never encountered before. It’s not my sort of thing, but I’m posting the information in case you are interested.

There are 3 rounds of competition.

In the 1st Round (January 16-24, 2015), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.

The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 12-15, 2015) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.

Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (April 24-25, 2015).  A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected.

If this sounds like fun to you, it’s easy to register.  First, download and read the Official Rules and Participation Agreement.  Once you have read and understood the terms, you are ready to register by clicking here.  The entry fee is US$45* by the Early Entry Deadline of December 11, 2014 and then US$55* until the Final Entry Deadline of January 15, 2015.

Every writer receives feedback from the judges for every story submitted, and a special review forum is available for the participants to submit their stories for review from fellow writers throughout the competition.  During the Short Story Challenge 2014, there were over 3,300 comments made on the 200+ stories submitted on the forum.  Click here to visit the forums.

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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.

Authors, Would You Like to be Interviewed?

If you are an author, I am inviting you to let me promote your latest book.

I do author interviews and character interviews, and post excerpts on my blogs, and I don’t charge a penny! Of course, since you get what you pay for, I can’t guarantee you will sell books because of your efforts and mine, but they will be promoted via Facebook and Twitter. If I haven’t scared you off, click here to find the directions for my Author Questionnaire. Click here to find the directions for my Character Questionnaire. And click here to Let me post your excerpt!

computerHere are some tips for doing the most compelling interviews:

For my Author Questionnaire, I begin with the question, “What is your book about?” It’s the hook, the reason why we are all at the blog — to know about your book. So, please, don’t start your interview with boring questions like, “Is this your first book?” Why would the reader care if it’s your first book if they don’t know what it is about? And please give the title of your book. If you’ve done your job right, people are going to want to learn more about your book, but if you haven’t provided a title, how will readers know what it is?

Pick ten questions that most resonate with you. Responding, “I don’t know” to a question is a waste of your time, my time, and the reader’s time. If you don’t know, pick a question to which you do know the answer. Giving monosyllabic responses is just as bad. You’re a writer, right? Supposedly you know how to hook readers. So hook them. Tell them something interesting. Most writers say they have no message in their books, that they just want to entertain, so be entertaining.

Almost as bad as “I don’t know” is saying “It’s difficult to describe.” You’re a writer. Take the time to find the necessary words. And please, do not respond to a question with, “You’ll have to read the book.” There are 130,000,000 published books as of this very moment, so people have plenty of options. They don’t have to read your book. You have to make them want to read your book.

Proof your interview or guest post. If your interview is full of typos, people will assume that your book is full of typos. If your grammar is sadly lacking, people will assume your book is as ungrammatical. And if your interview is boring, people will assume your book is also boring. So please, spend time on your presentations. It does you no good to carelessly throw together an interview, guest post, or excerpt, and expect readers to instantly fall in love with you and your work.

But most of all, follow the directions. I ask people to submit their interview as a comment reply on the blog, yet every day I get a message from someone asking for my email address so they can send me their interview. Um. No. If I wanted it sent via email, I would have provided the address.

Only about 10% of the people who do interviews for me provide everything I ask, which makes the interview rather a futile project. So, for best results, please FOLLOW DIRECTIONS!

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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.

Life Happens

I’m beginning to get a bit nervous about discussing my impending future because the uncertainty of my life bothers people — bothers them a lot — and I don’t like putting them in such a position. Oddly, the uncertainty doesn’t really bother me all that much. In fact, I am more fearful of settling into my solitariness and stagnating than I am of uncertainty, which keeps me dreaming of impossible adventures.

(In case you’re new here, after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I came to my nonagenarian father’s house to look after him in his declining years, and now that he’s gone, this house will soon be sold, and I will have to start my life from scratch.)

I have suffered so many losses in the past few years that I feel lost myself, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. I don’t want to remain the same forever, nor do I want to do the same things I’ve always done. It’s time for me to try on different lives to see what (if anything) will fit. It does feel strange, though, that my options are both limitless and limited (limitless because a world of possibilities awaits me, limited because of a lack of resources). Such extremes add to the uncertainty. How do you choose a path when thousands are open? How do you deal with the requirements of modern life when resources are few? And most especially, how do you sort through all the things you don’t want to do to find the things you do want to do?

I have no idea how to begin a life from scratch, but as one lovely woman told me today, “You do it one step at a time.” And she should know — although she’s still fairly young, she had a stroke one night and woke up blind. Talk about having to start from scratch! I’m lucky. I don’t have to start from so far down. I can start from where I am right now, with all my baggage, both welcome and unwelcome.

But even she has cautioned me to make immediate plans. To make a decision — today.

The truth is, life happens. It’s as simple as that. You take one step, then another, and all of a sudden you are somewhere you never imagined. I had no intention of ever looking after my father, no thought of taking dance classes, no dreams of dancing on stage, and yet, those things have all happened, one unwitting step at a time.

The first step toward my new life is now in progress. I’m sorting through all my possessions, weeding out the superfluous and packing the rest. I’m also sorting through my immaterial possessions, such as responsibilities I have undertaken and friendships that no longer bring joy, to see what if anything is worth taking with me into my new life and what needs to be discarded. My next step will be to wait to see what happens with my father’s house. It might take a while to sell, and if so, maybe the executors will allow me to stay here until it does. Either way — staying here a or leaving shortly — my third step would be to find a storage place and move all my stuff there. And then . . .

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Seems a good enough plan for now. So don’t worry. I won’t starve. Won’t be on the streets. I’ll just be . . . wherever life has taken me.

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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.

An Epic Adventure

During the past couple of years, I’ve been blogging about my yearning for an epic adventure. I’ve talked about walking up the Pacific coast, thru walking the Pacific Crest Trail, getting a small camper to roam the country and visit all my online friends. The last I might still do, but the first two are supreme athletic feats for which I simply do not have the feet. (Or the body, either!)

To me, an epic adventure is more than an athletic feat. It is a transcendental experience, one that allows us to transcend our daily experience, going beyond what we know, and somehow being transformed in the process. Such an endurance test would include physical challenges and encompass the whole range of human emotions.

And such an epic adventure came looking for me.

My Hawaiian dance class was invited to participate in a dance concert put on by the local college. Our teacher picked out two numbers — “Green Rose,” a Kahiko chant, and “Nani Wali Nahala,” a dance using bamboo sticks. (Have you ever seen Donovan’s Reef where the dancers danced with sticks? Our dance was faster and more complicated, but you get the idea.) Then we practiced. And practiced. And practiced.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned that I’m musically challenged. My ears hear all the various strains, themes, and tracks of a song as a single entity. It’s very difficult for me to pick out a beat or single note from the mélange. And yet, I was chosen to lead the class out on stage. (It had nothing to do with expertise. It was more of a height thing — the woman at the other end of the stage was the same height as I was, and I happened to be there for all the practices.)

I did learn to pick the right note, count the requisite number of beats before heading into the limelight, and keep time while leading the way, yet it was always an adrenaline-filled, nerve-jangling moment when I made my entrance, whether in class or in dress rehearsal.

This epic adventure spanned five days. Our class’s dress rehearsal on Wednesday. The dress rehearsal for the entire cast on Thursday (a nine-hour endurance test, mostly boredom interspersed with moments of heart-pounding and palm-sweating nervousness when we lined up for our turns). Two performances on Friday. One performance on Saturday evening. A Sunday matinee.

By the end of the day on Thursday, and even after the first show on Friday morning, some of us were wondering if the whole thing was worth it, but by Friday night we got into stride (it helped that as soon as I stepped on stage, we got a big round of applause. Sure made smiling easier!). Saturday slipped by as if this were our new life, and Sunday, though fun, was simply another day. The stage had become our life. Then it was over and somehow we had to come back to our normal lives.

Or maybe not.

Such an epic adventure, encompassing as it did the endurance test of waiting for our turns, the physical feat of dancing, the emotional highs and lows — fun and boring, exhausting and exhilarating, challenging and nerve wracking — had to have changed us somehow. Well, changed me anyway. The others have done such marathon concerts before, but it was a first for me. (Me? Dancing on stage? Seems unreal, to be honest.) Change ripples into our lives, creating a new reality. The odd thing is, I might never notice it. Change might rock our world, but since we rock with it, we are always on sure footing.

Oddly, the thing that made it all seem worthwhile for me during that second interminable day of dress rehearsal, is that whenever any of us questioned why were we doing such a thing, I’d look at us and say with a smile, “but we look so adorable.” And maybe something as simple as that is what keeps one moving ahead on an epic adventure. Because, of course, we did look adorable. It might even have been part of the adventure. We are all long past the “adorable” stage of our lives, and yet, here we are (I’m the second face from the right):

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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.

You Matter Because

you matter copy

Click here to find out more about the YouMatter campaign

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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 Welcome Rejection

Usually rejections are accompanied by regret or demorialization, but I can honestly say this rejection comes as a welcome relief.

I had applied for a Pacific Crest Trail sponsorship, and today I got this message:

Thanks for applying to our mYAMAdventure program.  This is the part of the program that I hate: I’m afraid we’re not able to extend an invitation to you this year.  We received over 100 applications, and narrowing them down to just five was a true challenge.  It’s a shame we can’t work with all of you.

I wish you all the best in your pursuits on the PCT!  If you haven’t already, check out the following resources for a start with your planning:

Yogi’s PCT Handbook: http://www.yogisbooks.com/pacific-crest-trail/pct-yogis-pacific-crest-trail-handbook
pct-l mailing list: http://mailman.backcountry.net/mailman/listinfo/pct-l
Postholer forums: http://postholer.com/

Yay! Making the starting date for the hike would have put too much pressure in my already stressed-to-the-limit life. And it would not have brought me the simplicity I crave. As I have learned, thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is an athletic event where participants challenge themselves to complete the hike within the allotted weather window, more of an obstacle race than the transcendental walk I had envisioned!

So, where does this leave me? When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.

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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.

 

Blog Tutuorial

I) Encapsulation of How to Blog Using WordPress

What you will mostly be doing when you begin blogging is a new post, so hover over your name on the right hand side of the black WordPress navigation strip on the top of the page and select your blog from the drop-down menu and click “new post.” Or go to your dashboard and click on “new post” on the left sidebar. Or click on “New Post” on the black navigation bar at the top of the page. That will take you to an article editor. (It’s similar to what you see when you write an email.) You type the title of your article in the title bar. Type your article into the body of the article editor, add tags and categories, then save as a draft to make sure you don’t lose it or to post on another day. Tags are individual keywords for search engines; categories are more of a general filing system. This sounds confusing, but truly, you will get the hang of it.

If you need more help than I offer in the following instructions, be sure to click “help” on the top right of your dashboard.

II) Basic Procedure:

To log in: go to http://wordpress.com \

2. Fill in your user name

3. Fill in your password.

4. Click on “Log in.”

5. Hover over your name on the right hand side of the black WordPress navigation strip on the top of the page and select your blog. Then click on “dashboard” which will take you to the dashboard and all the bells and whistles. (I use the classic dashboard, so some of these instructions might be a bit different.) It’s hard to explain what everything is, so just play around with it. But what you will mostly be doing is a new post, so click “new post” from either the drop-down menu or from the left sidebar of the dashboard. That will take you to an article editor. If you don’t see the dropdown box and are on a page that shows “Blogs I follow” or some such, click on “My sites” then click on “dashboard” and finally “new post.”

6. Fill in the title. Then write your article into the body of the article editor. (Or cut and paste if you wrote it using ms word or any other word processor. This is what I do.)

7. Add tags—they are on the right sidebar. (Be sure to click on “Add” or they won’t get added to your article. Add categories. Click on whatever categories apply for your article, preferably no more than a couple. The total number of tags and categories should not exceed 10 combined. This is how people find your articles, so use a minimum of five total. 8. Click “save draft.”

Your article is now saved in the drafts folder. Click on “preview post” to review what you have written; edit if necessary, then click “save draft” again. When you are ready to publish the article, click “publish.”

Some bloggers write their articles ahead of time and save them in draft form until they need them. If you’ve saved your article as a draft, and later you need to find it, go to the dashboard, and off to the right you will see “recent drafts.” Click on the title of your article, click on publish. And you’re done. Click View Site (next to the name of the website) and double check to make sure your article looks the way you wanted it to. If not, click “edit” on the gray strip above your article, make your edits, then click “update.”

III) Advanced Instructions:

1.  Adding a photo to your article

Under the title bar, you will see: Add media. Click on that link. Then click on “Upload photo.” When the photo has been uploaded, choose left alignment if you want the text to wrap around the photo newspaper style, or choose center if you wish the photo to be centered on its own line. Choose the size (generally medium) then click “insert into post.”

Editing the photo: If the image turns out to be the wrong size or you forgot to align it the way you want, do not delete it. This does not delete the photo from the blog, it only deletes it from your article. Instead, click on the photo, then click on the icon that looks like a photo. That will take you to the photo-editing box where you can change size and alignment. If by chance you delete the photo, click on the upload/insert icon, but do not upload another photo. Instead, click on Media Library at the top of the editor box, find your photo, click on it, and continue as if you’d just uploaded it.

1. Uploading icon/avatar/photo

It’s a good idea to have a gravatar so that people recognize you when you make a comment. This gravatar is also posted on the right sidebar of the blog. To upload an icon/avatar/photo:

Log in and go to your dashboard

On the left sidebar, down toward the bottom of the list, you will see “Profile” or “Users”

Click on the little arrow next to “Profile” or “Users” to get a dropdown list.

Click on “Your Profile”

In the top right hand corner, you will see a box with “My gravitar”

Click on “change gravitar” or “add gravitar.”

Click on “Upload an image from your computer” then upload image

Crop it as necessary. If your cropping tool doesn’t work (mine never does) go back (alt + left arrow) and try again. When you get it to the way you like, click on “Crop and finish”

Then close box.

3. Adding Tags

Categories are a way of filing the articles, which is important, but tags are every bit as important. Tags are what search engines look for, and so they bring people to the site. WordPress tags are weird in that you can’t just type them into the tag box then click on draft. You have to type the tags in the box and then click on “Add.” To me, the hardest and most consuming part of blogging is tagging. I go through the article line by line and if there is anything “searchable” I put it in the tags. For example, if you mention Gone With the Wind, even in passing, that should be put in the tags. So should “Margaret Mitchell.” Since tags are also a way of finding your posts later (your own private filing system), you can add the theme as a tag or anything else that will make it easy to find your post using the search box on the blog. (If you don’t have a search box on your blog, then add them from available widgets.) Once you have everything tagged, be sure to hit “add” or all those tags disappear. (I know this because I make that mistake when I am in a hurry.) So what do you do when you realize that your published post has no tags? Go to the blog, click on the title, and up on the gray bar you will see “edit post.” Click on that, add your tags — making sure you click “add” — then click on “update post.

4. Display name

Make sure your display name on comments is your author name. You want people to know who you are so that you can build your online author persona.

To change your display name to your author name:

Go to “Users” and click on “your profile.” Scroll down to where you see “display name publicly as”. Put in your author name, or whatever name you want people to see, then click “update profile.”

5. Linking your name to your blog

The internet is all about links, and the most important link is the link attached to your name. If you make a comment, and your name is not linked to anything, you become a dead end.

To link your name to your website or WordPress blog (preferably your blog, in case you ever have a problem with WordPress and have to contact support) go to “Users” on your dashboard, click on “your profile.” Scroll down to “contact information.” In the blank for “website” put in your entire blog address, including the http://

Then click save. Now, when you make a comment on WordPress, and someone wants to know more about you, all they have to do is click on your name.

6. Adding Clickable Links to Your Blog Post:

The internet is created of links. Without links there are no websites, no way to navigate from one place to another, no way of connecting the dots. Whenever you mention your book, be sure to link to somewhere your book is available.)

To make a clickable link on a photo on WordPress: after you upload a photo to an article, click on “custom URL” then copy and paste the URL for the page of the book or author or whatever. Then click “insert into post.”

To make a clickable link for text on WordPress: Before you save your article to draft, select the words the same way you do for a MSWord document, then click on the icon in the WordPress tool bar that looks like a bit of a chain. In the “insert link” box that appears, cut and paste the URL of the book, website or whatever you wish to link to, then click “insert.” That’s all there is too it. If you forget to add links, you can click “edit” on a published article and add the links.

IV) Improve Your Blog

Please make use of the most important features available on WordPress. Simply having a list of categories or dates tells readers nothing. If you will notice on my blog I have a list of “recent posts” and “top posts.” Once people are on the site, often the title of another post catches their eye, and they click on it. This increases the views of the blog and hence the rating.

If you hover your mouse over the title of your blog in the left hand side of the wordpress tool bar, you will get a drop down list. Click on “widgets.”

Find the widgets you’d like to add to your blog, such as “recent posts”, “top posts and pages,” “search,”and drag them to the column marked “sidebar.” Sometimes, depending on the theme you choose, you have two sidebars, both a right and a left, so drag the widgets to wherever you want to place them. Fill in the information requested, such as “title” and “number of posts you want to show,” then click save.

Other important widgets — The “follow” widget will add a place for people to sign up to receive notifications of your blog posts. The “facebook-like” widget allows people to like your facebook page from your blog.

Use “image” to add the cover of your book to your sidebar, use text if there is something you’d like people to see (for example, on my blog, I use the text widget in the top of my left sidebar for a brief bio and a listing of my books with links to Smashwords.)

Use the “links” widget to add a blogroll — a list of other blogs you like. I use the blogroll as a reciprocal favor for people who have listed me on their blog rolls or who frequently comment on my blog. I’ve also added a “search” box to make it easier for people to search the site.

You don’t have to add all of these widgets, of course. We’re just showing you what is available and how to improve your blog.

V) Themes

I should touch on themes in this tutorial, though that could be a whole tutorial in itself. The theme is the blog format, and there are hundreds to choose from. When you sign up for WordPress, they have a video tutorial to help you get started. If you miss that or decide to change the look of your blog, go to your dashboard, scroll down the left hand sidebar, hover your mouse over “appearance” and click on “themes.” If you see something you like, click on preview to see how it will fit on your blog. Then, if you like it, click “activate.”

VI) Most Important Blogging Tips

Experiment with the various tools WordPress offers.

Explore the site and topics without fear — Wordpress is intuitive, so whatever you need or think you need, you will easily find. There are also multiple ways of doing most things, so find the ways that are most comfortable for you

Excite yourself and your readers with engaging posts. Have fun. If you treat blogging as a chore, so will your potential readers, and drudgery will make them bolt to a more compelling blog.

Blog

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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.

Using Dance

When I told an acquaintance I was taking classical dance lessons — ballet, jazz, tap — she gave me a blank-eyed stare and said, “How do you use it?” From her point of view, the question apparently seemed logical. She had once taken ballroom dancing, and she could use her skill if/when she went to a ballroom or nightclub or wherever such dancing takes place. I have no corresponding “use” for classical dancing, though I have been invited to participate in a few performances so I have used some of the dances I know.

danceStill, in the year and a third that I’ve been going to class, I never once considered whether there was a use for dancing. If anything, it’s more that dance has a use for me. It takes me beyond myself and at the same time, takes me into myself, making me more comfortable with who I am than I’ve ever been in my entire life. (I think it has something to do with living in front of a mirror for all those hours each week.) It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that demands all of me — mind, body, spirit, strength, dedication, loyalty. (I listed “mind” first without even thinking about it, and I was going to change the order to put body first, but this is the right order. Without the mind — learning, memory, imagining — there is no dance.)

Dance is a generous taskmaster and gives back more than it demands. Although I am nowhere near as graceful, balanced, and strong as I would like to be, I have come a long way since I began taking lessons. I can feel muscles now where there used to be . . . whatever there used to be. And I am a bit more balanced and graceful than I was before. Best of all, these benefits will remain with me even when I can no longer take dance classes.

There’s no need to “use” dance. Dance is its own reason for being.

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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.

You Matter

I received this letter yesterday:

Dear Pat,

Give more than presents this holiday season, share the gift of caring with those who matter to you most!

With the holidays around the corner, the USC School of Social Work believes that there is no better time to encourage random acts of kindness. The simple act of telling someone why they matter could have a bigger impact than you know. For that reason, you’re invited to participate in You Matter, a grassroots campaign designed to foster well-being and bring back some much-needed human connection. We are on a mission to spread as much positivity as possible, and we hope that you’ll join us!

There are four easy steps to participate in #YouMatter:

1) Download a Care Card from the MSW@USC blog.

2) Write a message with someone in mind.

3) Snap a picture of your card and share on social media using the hashtag #youmatter and tag us @youmatterbc to inspire others.

4) Give the Care Card to someone and make that person’s day!

There’s never a better time than now to show others that that they matter in this world. If you love this campaign as much as we do, we ask that you please pay it forward by featuring #YouMatter on your blog.

Wishing you a wonderful and safe holiday season,

Gaby Acosta

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Sounds like an interesting campaign, even if she did neglect to tell me I matter!

If you’re interested in participating in this project, here is a “you matter” template to use. (Just right click and “save image as…) I was going to fill in the template, but in the end decided there was no “because.” You matter. It’s as simple as that.

you matter

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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.

Stressed to My Limits

I’m sitting here, wondering if I should write this post. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, so I’m hoping the women involved don’t read this or if they do that they don’t fret, and yet, ever since my life mate/soul mate died, I’ve tried to write my truth.

I had lunch today with some friends after dance class. (Got to replenish those expended calories!) I was the only single woman at the table. All the rest were divorced and remarried. Not that their marital state is a problem for me anymore. I’ve gotten used to being the only uncoupled person in most situations. Nor did I think anything of their topic of conversation at first. I’ve heard it before — they all contend that losing a husband to divorce is worse than losing him to death because with divorce, he’s still around, especially if there are offspring involved.

But today I am feeling fragile. It’s only been a month since my father’s death, and although I am not grieving him the way I grieved for Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, my father’s demise has upset my equilibriumtugofwar. I am aware of his empty place at the couch, his books, reading glasses, and magnifier stacked neatly the way he left them. I know he led a long and happy life, but his absence still is ever present.

Even worse, this is the second time in less than five years that my living situation has been thrown into upheaval by death, and this time I do not have a fall back position. The whole world lies open before me, but I don’t know what to do with it. To add to the complications, I need to pack in anticipation of leaving this house, which will be put on the market in a few weeks. I’d already gotten rid of the bulk of Jeff’s things before I came here, but what remains are “our things” along with what is left of his effects — things so emotionally laden that I simply could not dispose of them during that worst day of my life when I cleaned out his closet and drawers and prized possessions. And now I have to figure out what to do with it all. Oddly, the only thing so far that set off an emotional storm was the container of refrigerator magnets we used to use. Other things, like his favorite jacket and the sweater he wore when we met, I stoicly repacked because I still can’t deal with them.

Did I mention the sun sets at 4:30 around here? And I am prone to SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

So this was my state of mind as I listened to my lunch companions talk. And oh, my poor heart ached. I would give anything to see Jeff one more time. Even if he had gone to be with another woman and left me destitute in the process, I would still be glad to know that he was alive and well. I’d be angry, of course, heartbroken and humiliated, but I so loved him that his well-being meant more to me than my own. (I’m only now learning to put myself first, but that could be because there’s no one left in my life to care about that deeply. I’ve lost them all one way or another — Jeff, the two brothers closest to me in age, my parents, a very special friend.)

I no longer know who has it worst when it comes to grief — the divorced, the widowed, those who lost a child, parent, lover, sibling, best friend, pet. I no longer care. We all suffer heartache and grief in our lives. We all deal with it as best as we can (or let it deal with us). In my case, this conversation mostly served to show me how vulnerable I still am, how much I still miss him, how much his being dead is still a part of my life.

God may provide, the universe might be unfolding as it should be, everything could be falling into place, my destiny might be waiting, life could be what is happening while I am making other plans (or whatever aphorism it is that you believe), but the truth is, at the moment, I am stressed to the limits.

I keep saying that however things turn out, I’ll be okay. And I mean it. Just not today.

***

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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