Getting Back to the Fundamentals

It’s always seemed odd to me that when it comes to the fundamentals of education, people talk about the three R’s — reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. Or is it reading, writing, and arithmetic? Either way, out of a possible three, there are two errors, which is not a very good score, especially when it comes to learning.

In my case, I am more interested in three W’s. Writing, wisdom, and wit. Or maybe walking, wondering, and whim. Or as I mentioned when I came to this hiatus in my travels: writing, walking, and weights. These three W’s were my foundation during a time of great upheaval (the first unacknowledged sense that Jeff was pulling away from life and me, along with a growing numbness to the coming death of “us”), and they seemed a good place to start rebuilding my life.

I’ve been more or less stationary for almost two months — more because I have remained in the same town, less because I have lived five different places in those months — so now I am following through and investing in a couple of my W’s. Not walking, surprisingly, considering how much I have walked in the past few years since coming to the desert. Between the endless 100º+ days and the smoke from nearby brush and forest fires, walking hasn’t been a pleasant activity, so I have been taking a break. When the weather cools down, I will walk the mile and a half to the dance studio (and back again) at least a couple of days a week (not the day I have three classes. Eeek. My poor feet!), and go for longer roams on weekends.

Meantime, I have been using my dumbbells. Maybe someday I will even feel up to digging out my bars and heavier weights, but for now, multiple repetitions will be the name of the game.

And, I’ve been wotortoiserking on my book. Until recently (well, okay, if you must know the truth — until just today), I haven’t done much writing. I’ve been trying to get the book and the characters into my head, trying to straighten out a very crooked timeline, trying to make the leap from not writing to writing. Mostly, though, I’ve been turning on my computer, opening the manuscript, looking at a few words, checking my email, scrolling through my Facebook feed, playing a game or twenty of solitaire, then turning off the computer, feeling as if I’ve done my stint.

But, through it all, I have established a bit of connection to my book, and more importantly, to myself.

Now, I just have to focus. As my publisher told me, “You must concentrate, Grasshopper. This is literature, the soul’s highest calling. Plus, you need to write a bestseller.”

Okay. One bestseller coming up.

***

(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.”)

Raining Ashes

We are having a cloudy and rainy day today in the midst of a heat wave, but that is not as pleasant as it sounds. The clouds are huge billows of smoke that blot out the sun, and the rain is not water but ash falling from those murky skies. Not many ashes, not yet, but the current brush fire, which blocks a major north-south highway is just a few hours old,.

fireMy sinuses finally cleared up after the last horrific smoke cloud that settled over town, and already, I can feel the pressure building. I can’t even imagine the pressure the firefighters are feeling, especially since two of them have succumbed to smoke inhalation. Luckily, I don’t have to drive the highway, but thousands do, and they are currently stranded.

California is burning. Louisiana is flooding. It seems weird that two such opposite hells can exist at the same time, not even two thousand miles apart.

Having driven that distance, I know how far it is, but on my map, it is but a scant few inches. Shouldn’t there be a way of sluicing all the excess water to places that need it? In my mind, I fold the map so that Louisiana lays on top of California, letting the flood waters drain to better use. But as miraculous and powerful as thoughts might be, this image changes nothing.

My feet hurt from doing too many échappés in ballet class, but that is a good feeling compared to the suffering so many others are experiencing today. Which makes me wonder: Is it wrong to give thanks for one’s own safety when so many others have lost everything?

Safe passages to all of you.

***

(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.”)

Open Letter to Blog Readers

To Whom it May Concern:

This is my blog, and I am allowed to say whatever I wish. When I first began blogging, the posts were impersonal — comments about the books I was reading, the books I was writing, and writing hints I garnered along the way.

mailboxThen, after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I got personal, very personal, explaining everything I was going through. Some people took offense at this, and I endured well-meaning suggestions to “get over it” because I knew my posts were helping people.

Now that my sorrow and loneliness treat me much gentler, I still write about how I am feeling and what I am doing about those feelings. The problem is that people I have met offline read my blog occasionally, which was not the case in the beginning, so I have been censoring some of my posts to make sure I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Well, apparently, I have gotten some backs up anyway, so no more censoring.

If you are upset by anything I say, remember, this is not necessarily about your truth. It’s about my truth. If I feel slighted, why shouldn’t I mention the slight especially if I don’t use your name? The only time I ever use anyone’s name is if the person is well known or an author who could use a bit of publicity, and so far, none of them feel hurt by anything I have said. If you don’t like what I write, if you take it personally, don’t read this blog. If you know me at all, you know I never knowingly hurt people. But I cannot sort out my truth if I don’t mention the things that trigger a spate of emotionalism or a feeling of unbelonging.

And there are a whole lot of triggers.

So what if I still have a hard time being around coupled people? That’s my problem, not yours. So what if I still feel lonely and sorrowful after six years? That too is my problem, not yours. The truth is, missing one’s mate is something that lasts a lifetime. Think of all the good things (and bad) you have experienced during the past six years of your couplehood. Well, guess what? I haven’t had any of those experiences. I have done a lot of interesting things, but no matter what I do, what I experience, how I grow or stagnate, I do alone because my mate is gone. And if that still affects me, what difference does it make to you?

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. I’m not asking you to make allowances. I’m not even asking you to notice what I am going through. But here’s a hint: if you don’t want me to write about what affects me, then don’t do things that affect me adversely.

I am a writer. Everything anyone does to me or around me belongs to me and provides ink for my pen.

***

(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.”)

Heavy Heart

My heart is heavy today for my friend in Louisiana. We have been sisters in sorrow for many years, shadow mirrors of grief, since so many of our devastating losses occurred about the same time. My brother, her brother. Her mother, my father. My soul mate, her soul mate. One of the highlights of my recent cross country trip was finally getting to hug her for real after all the virtual hugs and tears we have shared. (This photo of azaleas was taken from her backyard.)

Now she is going through a time of hell that I can’t even imagine. Although her house is still dry, she is trapped because the roads all around are flooded, and if there were a problem, she has nowhere to go. Oddly, I am probably as close to a recent forest fire as she is close to the flooding, but except for smoke inhalation, no one I know was hurt in the fire. And almost everyone she knows has been horrendously affected by the floods.

One of her relatives died from a heart attack while being evacuated. Others have been flooded out. One friend lost everything — the water rushed in so fast, they had no time to grab anything. A niece was rescued by boat from her house, but the flooding has unmoored her modular home, and they are waiting for it to collapse. In certain areas, everyone she knows has suffered damage to their houses, in other areas, they have all lost their houses. One of her friends was stuck on an interstate overpass for nine hours after the road was closed on both ends because of flooding, and she had no way to get off because the exits were flooded, too. (She was finally airlifted out.) Caskets are popping up out of the ground in the cemetery where her loved ones are buried because of flooding, adding a surreal twist to the horror that is southern Louisiana.

Lives lost. Houses lost. Cars lost.

Who knew — hell is not fire. Or not just fire. It is water, too

In a recent post, I talked about the stomach-turning villains of a best-selling author. I have no interest in man-made evildoers created by a disturbed mind (because how can anyone who is well-adjusted come up with and embrace such ghastly characters and deeds). Nope. For me, sweet old Mother Nature, whose virtues people extol, is the worst fiend of all. No villain to pit one’s wits against, no one to capture or kill, simply a mindless force. Implacable. Unyielding. Deadly.

And still more rain predicted? Oh, my.

***

(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.”)

From Bruising to Blessing

This has been a strange week. It started with a bruising and ended with a blessing.

Now that I think about it, the week actually started with the Pilot Fire, a nearby forest fire that completely burned the area on the Pacific Crest Trail I hiked not so long ago. Gone, just like that. (The photos accompanying this blog were probably the last ever taken of that particular spot.) Smoke has hung over the city for the better part of a week, burning my throat and filling my sinuses to a painful degree.

It was during this time of smoke that I went to a dance class that bruised me. Before the class began, they talked about a woman who had broken up with her demanding boyfriend. They all mentioned how lucky they were they had husbands and no longer had to deal with such matters. All are married, set for life financially, and it seemed to me they were smug in their belief that things would always be as they are. I stood there, off to the side, with nothing to say. I have no husband. My life isn’t settled. I don’t expect people to be aware of me, but still, their unconscious reminder that I am alone, living a rather precarious existence, bruised me.

During class, they rehearsed for a show I won’t be doing (costumes and accessories are way beyond my current budget) and that, too, made me feel out of place. Recently, one of the women had chastised me, telling me that when one joins a performance group, one does what one is told and I was feeling rebellious. (To be honest, I didn’t realize I’d joined a performance group. I thought I was just taking more advanced classes.) So for the first time ever, I left a class before time. They thought I was angry, but I wasn’t. I just needed to get out of there.

On my way out the door, I wondered if I needed to find other people, widows, perhaps, where I didn’t feel so alien.

As fate would have it, the very next night, we did a luau for a bereavement group, and talking with those women — some frantically determined to stop grieving after the first year, others well into the second-year grief resurgence — I realized I didn’t belong with them, either. My pain was too old, too dimmed, and though I understood what they were going through, I was beyond such raw pain. And, selfishly, I don’t want to revisit those days through other people’s grief.

I never was one for groups, but after Jeff died, I made a concerted effort to be sociable. So now? I don’t know. I consider myself lucky to have a couple of good friends who understand (mostly) what I am going through, and I am lucky to have found a place to live this month where I could set up my exercise mat and weight bench. I have also been making an effort to live in the moment, to give up worrying about the future, to think new thoughts when the old ones get too oppressive. (Though, honestly, it is hard to think new thoughts. All I have done my whole life is think, so all different kinds of thoughts have already passed through my mind, but I suppose looking for a new thought to think helps get me past the disappointing times.)

And then, yesterday came. The fire was mostly out, only a faint smokiness still hanging in the air. I had beginning ballet and beginning tap, which I love — no straining to work beyond my capabilities. No rehearsing. Just working on technique, steps and combinations. (And only a couple people in the class showed up, which made things even easier — no feeling of being overwhelmed.) And miraculously, I felt blessed all day. Oddly, a friend invited me to a movie last night, Miracles from Heaven, which seemed to compound the miraculousness.

I still feel blessed today, though nothing special has happened. I worked a bit on my novel, trying to figure out what characters I need and where to go from here. I read a couple of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mysteries. And I played a dozen games of computer solitaire while I let my mind wander. And I am blogging!!!

Truly blessed.

***

(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.”)

Getting older? Here’s an App.

Mickeyhoffman's Blog

These days I feel like my body has become a foreign entity which does whatever it wants. I’ve almost given up trying to keep control. Bits and pieces, parts and systems go awry without advance notice and seemingly without cause. So I have decided to relinquish my futile attempts at managing these processes. But if I’m no longer going to pretend to be in charge, something has to take over. Hence, the new app. This app is called, “Today’s Body Part.”

After download and installation on your mobile device, the app will run itself beautifully.  Each morning a cheerful message will appear on screen to inform you which of your body parts or systems is going to go wrong.

For example, “Good Morning. This is your lumbar spine and I’m excited to tell you I’m going to be your Body Part of the Day! For more details just watch your…

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Best Selling Author Makes Me Sick to My Stomach

Periodically I read the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author to try to see what it is that so many people finding interesting, and so far, I haven’t a clue what makes hordes people buy the books they do. Even if I did figure it out, I don’t think it would help me any. Unlike advertising folk, like James Patterson once was, and other faux authors, I can’t study people’s reading habits, then put my knowledge to use. I can only write (or not write, as the current situation seems to be) what I can write.

I can sort of understand the appeal of people of like Danielle Steele, whose characters are passionate about everything. I can even understand the appeal of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, at least in the beginning of the series. The characters were quirky enough to be appealing, and after a while, even when the characters cease to be appealing, readers keep the habit.

But James Patterson’s Alex Cross is basically a one note guy. I know it is okay for writers to cross gender and even race lines, but for a white guy to presume to know how it is for a black guy, seems almost like a black-face minstrel show. But let’s forget that and talk about the character himself. This supposed hero dotes on his family and his sidekick, which is supposed to make him seem human (in the same way that the families of the villains are supposed to make them seem as if they could be like us), but without that supporting cast, he is . . . grayed out. A sock puppet who is supposed to look like a young Muhammad Ali. Even that’s okay. A lot of fictional characters are mostly plot devices, a way of presenting the plot.

The basic plots in the books are okay, but they are pretty much cookie cutters stories, each one more or less like the one before. (Easy to see if you read one immediately after the other.) Even that isn’t a problem — sometimes predictable is comforting.

But . . .

I despise books where each is written to be more grotesque than the last, where the villains are so incredibly evil they are cartoonish. And this series is the worst of the lot. Each loathsome act is lovingly drawn with a whole pallet of colors, though the predominant color is red. Blood red. Lots of gore. Lots of sexual perversion. Is this really what people want? Why? (I have gotten to the point where I skip the violence and perversion. I don’t need those images in my head. And yet presumably that is why people buy the books. There is nothing else in them that is different from any other book.)

villainInterestingly, in most of the books, the poor dupe Alex Cross doesn’t finger the villain the first or second and sometimes not even the third time. Sometimes he is so far off, it is the villain himself who reveals the truth to us. And yet we are told over and over how smart Alex Cross is, how attuned he is to the monsters. Also, in every book, he meets a staggeringly beautiful and awesomely smart women who he manages to get killed or kidnapped or otherwise destroyed. Ah, such a loving man.

And these are the books that have spawned an entire literary industry. James Patterson is not merely an author, he is a whole industry unto himself. (That tells me more about people than it tells me about him.)

His books have left me with a sour taste in my mouth and an unsettled feeling in my belly. Even writing this post, makes me queasy. (If I had to write such disgusting scenes to become even an adequately selling author, I’d rather work at McDonald’s.)

Luckily, there are books out there I do enjoy reading. And if not, I’ll write my own.

***

(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.”)

No More Bad Roads

I moved out of the room at the end of the bad road. I was too afraid for my car. I kept envisioning a sort of cartoonish mishap, where I would be sitting on the seat holding the steering wheel, with the rest of the car in pieces on the ground surrounding me. Maybe the title of this blog is an omen — no more bad roads in life as well as driving. At least, I’d like to think so, and dare the future to prove me wrong.

I spent the day nesting — moving into a new room, fixing it up with curtains and pillows, my weight bench, computer and printer, a teddy bear that I had rescued on my trip (it was in a dumpster at the apartment I visited in Steven’s Point, resting on top of a whole bed of newly discarded teddy bears; I couldn’t pass up the grin, sewn on though it may be), and various other things to make my new abode feel more like home. It’s a large room with not much furniture, which is how I like it. Maybe the empty space will invite me to do my morning exercises again. And hopefully, the trouble getting the weight bench in and out of my little car will make me want to use it so I don’t waste all that effort.

Although the fellow I am renting from promised that this is a quiet house, so far, I haven’t discovered it be silent at all. My room is next to the noisy bathroom, which I share with another renter. Also the main water pipe runs right under my room, and the sound of rushing water is magnified and echoes as if in a cavern.

My room is clean — what wasn’t clean before I moved in, I cleaned myself. I’m still not sure how I will deal with sharing a bathroom with a guy I don’t know, but I

I’m supposed to have use of the refrigerator, but until he gets a new one, all I could do was clear off and clean part of a shelf for a couple of perishables.

The garage that was supposed to have been cleared out for me still hasn’t been made available. So, I’ve paid for the use of a garage, the reason I rented this room, and no garage. He says to give him a couple of days. So I’ll wait and see what happens.

We are a mixed bag. The guy that owns the house is from Papua New Guinea, and the other fellow seems to be some sort of American/Asian mix. At least, I think he is from overhearing a phone conversation. (I am rather embarrassed not to be able to distinguish Japanese from Chinese, Taiwanese from Korean, but I have so seldom heard any of those languages, it’s understandable why I don’t know one from another.)

I don’t have much of a muse any more, but I can imagine a dead body being found in these bachelor digs,  perhaps in the cavern under my room, but I don’t know who would be the murderer, my Papua New Guinea landlord or the fellow sharing my bathroom. Or perhaps a previous renter.

As iffy as this arrangement is, it’s saving me from having to drive the absolute worst road I have ever seen. (Actually, not the worst. The worst one I ever saw was in Arizona. A friend of mine drove that road, amazingly, managing to cross cavernous ruts that would have swallowed my car.)

I’m renting this room on a month-to-month basis, so if it doesn’t work out, it will still work out since it will get me through August. Next month when it is cooler and kids are back in school, I will have more options. A camping trip if nothing else. Meantime, it will be interesting to see if the muse sticks with me, and what gruesome story ideas she/he/it will insert into my dreams.

Note: the photo of my rescue bear was taken at the Blue Belle Inn in St. Ansgar. I didn’t do that much nesting and decorating.

***

(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.”)

There is Magic

When I was younger, I always wanted to have a special gift — ESP, maybe, or an ability to see ghosts. Or perhaps to have a touch of magic at my fingertips.

Now I am just as glad not to be special, glad to be mostly down-to-earth and pragmatic. I prefer to see the truth in the everyday world, though that never stops me from trying to become more than I currently am — to see further, to know more, to understand deeper.

magicWould I want to know what the future holds? Only if that future revolves around winning lottery numbers. I would love to win the lottery, to buy houses all over the country for the women I know who need a place to live, who want a bit of adventure but not much, so they could stay in whatever house they wanted for as long as they wanted before moving to another. Other than that, I don’t particularly care to know what will happen. I do know there will be good and bad. (Except that I don’t really believe in good and bad. It’s all life. All experience. All opportunity for growth.) Besides, I know what the future holds in the end, the same as it holds for all of us. Death. The getting there is the fun, or the not-fun. Either way, it should be interesting. (Grief wasn’t fun at all, but it sure was all-consuming, the most intense and life-changing emotional experience I’ve had besides falling in love.)

I certainly wouldn’t want the responsibility of seeing other people’s futures. What if I saw that something bad would happen? Would I be obligated to try to stop it? And if so, would it be the right thing to do? Maybe the bad thing would turn out to be good, and my interpretation of it was bad. And even if I saw it correctly, maybe changing the bad thing would create a vacuum for a worse thing to happen. Who needs that sort of pressure? Not me!

Would I want a touch of magic? Only if I could magic my books to bestsellerdom. Other than that, I wouldn’t know what to do with magic. To give myself what I want, first I need to know what I want, and that has been my problem for the past few years. I haven’t a clue what I want, don’t have any idea how I would like to shape my life. And anyway, I’m tired of trying to figure out what I want. It’s making me question everything I do, and that makes it harder to like anything.

Magic realism author Malcolm R. Campbell (who gave me the idea for this post) suggested I could use magic to wish for happiness and contentment, but I wouldn’t waste magic on such a paltry wish. I never thought happiness was all that important (other things are more important to me such as truth, experiencing, learning.) Even if I were so inclined to happiness, finding happiness and contentment on my own would make it all the sweeter. And anyway, today I am happy and content. I get to start a new life tomorrow. Technically, it’s just a new place to stay awhile, but who knows? Anything can happen. And there is magic in that.

***

(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.”)

Women Adrift

I hadn’t been posting my blogs about my internal journey lately. For the first time, I’ve actually deleted a post or two without publishing it, not wanting to look as if I were unbearably pathetic. Although it might seem like it, I am not really unhappy. (I’d be a lot happier if it weren’t so hot and I could walk off my melancholy, but I am not so foolish as to go hiking in the desert in 105+ weather.) I have, however, been going through a small grief upsurge lately, nothing much, just riding the waves of emotion. This particular time of sadness hasn’t been so much about the loss of my life mate/soul mate, though that particular trauma has colored my whole life and probably will color it for the rest of my days.

Part of this particular upsurge has come about because now that I am back at dance class, I’ve been spending too much time with a group of married women, mostly older women who are still married to their high school or college sweethearts though there are a couple who are divorced and remarried. While I have been struggling to deal with one loss after another, their lives have mostly continued on the same track. As I listen to their chatter about their houses, travel plans, the care and feeding of their men. I feel . . . unbelonged. I don’t know how to deal with this particular issue. Maybe skip class occasionally when I get too overwhelmed? Mostly, I handle the situation by concentrating on the steps and trying to ignore the rest of what is going on, but the constant reminder that I am alone still gets to me.

It wasn’t until today, though, speaking to a woman my age who is dealing with some of what I have been going through, that I realized the greater problem, a problem I haven’t yet figured out how to resolve.

This other woman came to the high desert about the same time I did. Like me, she gave up her life in a cooler climate and moved here to take care of an aged parent. Like me, she is now lost. She has been here too long to go back and pick up the life she was living. After all these years, she has too much to lose by leaving, but she doesn’t have enough to keep her here, not enough to make this place (especially in the 105 degree heat) feel like home.

Where do you go when you have no real ties anymore?

I met a few other such women on my trip, women tent campers who had nothing but a restlessness born of unbelonging. They too had left what they had known and moved in with an aged parent to care for that parent until that parent’s death. The fact that we designated daughters were not married, were widowed, or otherwise lived alone, and so it fell upon us to make the move, does not mitigate the circumstances. We were uprooted when we went to be a caregiver, and uprooted again when the caregiving came to an end.

And so we drift.

This particular facet of my life has been mostly subsumed into the whole grief spectrum, but it is something separate from all the other losses, something I haven’t had to face it until now. After my dad’s death, I stayed at his house until it was sold, did some housesitting, visited friends, and then rented a room until it was time to take my cross-country trip. Now that the trip is ended, at least until the end of the summer, I have to face the truth. I have too much to lose by leaving, but it’s not enough to hold me here.

And so I drift.

***

(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.”)

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