The Game is Afoot!

I am not afoot yet, but I have begun to collect my gear. I ordered my tent and backpack today. My first ever tent, my first real backpack. It took months of research to narrow down these two items because there are so many different products on the market, and everyone I’ve talked to (or eavesdropped on — I belong to a couple of women hiker groups on FB, though I just lurk and listen as they discuss their gear) has a different preference.

Despite my dismal experience with REI, I ended up ordering the items from them for the very reason the stores are so popular — a more than generous return policy. I can use the products and if any time during the coming year I decide they aren’t for me, I can return them no matter what condition they are in. The only way I will ever figure out what I like is to try out various products, and I figure it’s only fair such unfair folk fund my try-outs.

big agnesSo, in case you’re curious, the tent is a Big Agnes, Copper Spur UL 1 in terra cotta and silver. (UL1 means it’s ultralight and for 1 person.) The backpack is a Gregory J53 in fog gray. Not my choice of color for either item, but that’s what was available.

The other main item necessary for a life on the road is a sleeping bag, but I haven’t a clue what to get. It seems the only way to get a bag wide enough for me is to get a wide/long one, but I don’t want the extra length. Maybe a quilt would be better? Who knows. I do know I don’t want down. I don’t think I could sleep thinking of all those poor ducks who lost their feathers (and sometimes their lives) just so I could wander the world. Besides, down takes forever to dry. I’m more interested in something called Climasheild. Lightweight, synthetic, warm, dries quickly. Now if I can just figure out which of the seemingly endless styles to get.

So back to lurking, listening, and researching. But at least I have progressed beyond the dreaming stage to the gearing up stage. As a friend so often says, “It’s all good.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Wednesday’s Child

A childhood ditty declares, “Wednesday’s child is full of woe.” I sometimes wonder if there is any truth in the saying — I was born under Wednesday’s curse and I do seem to be more woe oriented than most people I know.

Everything always seems so easy for others. When I mention my tales of woe, such as grief for my deceased life mate/soul mate, people often dismiss my pain and offer their own religious beliefs as consolation. But those are their beliefs. Not mine. And even if they were my beliefs, they wouldn’t affect my grief. Grief is not intellectual. It is visceral, as much of a physical trauma as it is emotional, and as such is not always ameliorated by religious beliefs.

eclipse(I make it seem as if grief is a constant in my life, but it isn’t, not really. I can go weeks without thinking of him or shedding a single tear. This just just doesn’t happen to be one of those weeks.)

I suppose it does seem unimportant, this death that occurred five years ago. And yet, to me, it is all-important. Because of his death, I am where I am today, both spiritually and geographically. Because of his death and all the other deaths that have affected me in recent years, I have to rebuild my life from the ground up. This seems an immense task to me, and yet people shrug it off as if it is an everyday occurrence.

Is life that easy for others? Can they as easily dismiss their own woes as they do mine? After a trauma, can they really go on as if nothing has happened? Do the realities of life and death affect them so lightly? Or is it that they are better at hiding their feelings than I am?

I suppose it’s possible that I lack the resilience necessary to lead an easy life, but it seems to me I am resilient enough. In the past five years, I have closed up a house after the death of its inhabitants not once but twice, getting rid of the earthly possessions of those who no longer have a use for them. I have twice been dislocated and unhoused because of death. I have made friends and lost them, and made new friends. I’ve had my heart broken and my feelings hurt, and endured abuse from my dysfunctional brother. I’ve walked thousands of miles, written hundreds of blogs, laughed and joked, smiled and listened. I’ve learned to dance — not well, perhaps, but well enough to perform on stage with my classmates. And I am still chugging along, dreaming a new future into existence.

For the most part I am happy, grateful, hopeful even. And yet . . . and yet . . .

When he died, it felt like an amputation, and whatever was amputated is still gone. I have become so used to the feeling that I don’t always notice the amputation, but every once in a while grief steals over me like an eclipse, shadowing my life with pain and sorrow. For just a moment I wonder what is wrong, and then it comes to me.

He is dead.

That’s the fact of my life I cannot get around. Where he is, if he is, whether he is subsumed into the whole or maintains individual consciousness, I still have to deal with his goneness, still have to make my own way in the world. Still have to learn to live fully.

And oh, yeah. I have to forget that whole “Wednesday’s Child” thing. I don’t need any more woes.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Upsurge of Unbelonging

Still feeling the effects of yesterday’s upsurge of unbelonging. This living at the mercy of others has made me realize how alone I am in a coupled world. I’d pretty much come to terms with my situation, but that acceptance has deserted me momentarily. Exacerbating the situation, I’ve been researching various possibilities of non-automobile trips to take if I don’t have my car back in two weeks, and all of a sudden, the thought of taking a train to Seattle and then an Alaska cruise sounded wonderful. (Anything to escape this intense heat.) And then came the reality — cruises are based on double occupancy. Couples.

WANDERLUSTIt astonishes me the breadth and depth of grief. Whenever I think I’m done with it, there comes I day when I didn’t sleep well, didn’t eat well, and the sorrow settles over me again. I thought I was okay being around couples — after all, this is a coupled world — but these days of vulnerability show me . . . well, they show me I’m still vulnerable.

I hope I don’t sound as self-pitying as I feel. There’s no real reason for feeling sorry for myself. I’m reasonably healthy, still have friends who welcome me into their homes, have dancing and blogging, and perhaps one day soon, I’ll have my car back. I bet seeing that rejuvenated VW bug will make me feel rejuvenated, and if not it will certainly make me feel free.

But free to do what? That still is the question, isn’t it?

I have lost the habit I once had of telling myself, “I am where I am supposed to be.” Perhaps it’s time to start reminding myself again of that simple truth (or hope?). Maybe I am where I am supposed to be. Maybe the unsettledness and unbelonging I feel are symptoms of letting go. I’ve had to let go of so much over the past few years. My life mate/soul mate. Our home. My brother. My parents. My parent’s house where I found refuge in my grief. I’ve even had to let go of my grief. It’s in the letting go that we make room for what is to come, so I can see that my current state is necessary but oh, why does everything have to be so hard?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Settling Into Unsettledness

For the past ten weeks, ever since I left my father’s house to the new owners, I’ve been living off the kindness of friends. My homelessness wouldn’t have been a problem except that my car is at the auto body shop being restored. (I’ve had the thing for 43 years, and apparently I’m not yet ready to give up on the old bug.) The job that was supposed to take three weeks has now taken three months and it’s still not done. (Maybe by the end of this month I’ll have it back. Maybe.) A car would have given me more options, including, of course, taking off on an adventure. Even knowing the truth about how long the restoration was going to take would have given me options. I could have taken a freighter to New Zealand and Australia without having to worry about where to store my car in my absence since it would have been with the auto body guy.

ripplesAt first, it was fun living a borrowed life, sometimes as a guest, sometimes as a housesitter, but all of a sudden, it’s become . . . well, dangerous. Not physically dangerous. Mentally dangerous. Although I have been welcomed wherever I have stayed, and although people are glad to do what they can for me, it’s apparent I add complications to their lives. Even more, I’m beginning to feel as if I don’t belong here. Not just “here” meaning where I am staying, but here on Earth. As if I’m superfluous. Nobody is making me feel this way, you understand. It’s something in me making me feel this way. (That everyone I have stayed with is married and very settled makes my unsettledness feel even more unsettling by comparison.)

It’s strange (or perhaps not so strange) that I never felt as if I didn’t belong when Jeff was alive, though I often felt that way before we met. And now . . . well, the feeling is something I am struggling with, one of the last lingering effects of my grief. (Wanting to go home to him is still prevalent, but that is an adjunct to the whole “not belonging” thing.) Needing to feel as if I belong is one of the main reasons I wanted to take an epic walk — I hoped it would help me feel connected to the earth in a more fundamental way.

When the last of my housesitting ventures is finished, if my car is still out of commission, I’m going to . . . do something. Take a bus trip, maybe — go to the bus station and board the first bus going anywhere. Or perhaps by then I’ll have found a room to use as a hub for my adventures. Or I could start writing another book. (People keep telling me I need to write, and I suppose that’s true. Although being just another author among millions makes me feel as superfluous as everything else, at least when I’m writing I don’t think about it.)

Meantime, I’ll just settle back into my unsettledness, and keep finding the fun in this unsettling transitional period.

(I sound ungrateful, don’t I? But I’m not. I’m truly grateful for my friends and their kindnesses.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

At the Car Hospital

I went to visit my car at the auto body shop today, and it’s left me feeling . . . I don’t know. Shaken, maybe. I never wanted to see it in the intermediate stages of restoration — things so often get worse before they get better, and this is so much worse! — but I needed to see if the car was in fact being worked on.

And oh, the poor thing! Makes me wonder if I will regret having all the work done. I am pouring out a lot of money for what is, after all, an ancient vehicle. (I have never done an expensive foolhardy thing in my life, never wasted more than a few dollars at a time, so if this turns out to be a foolish move, then, I’ll just chalk it up to experience.) Even worse, I’m stuck in this vehicleless and homeless state for another month, and the frustration of it all is getting to me. I am an independent soul who hates begging for help, and lately, I am in that situation more often than not, especially since I am running out of people to sponge off of. In the beginning, people felt good about helping, and were pleased to have an opportunity to be kind, but three months is enough to strain everyone’s patience.

One friend said that the reason homeless people end up on the street is that they run out of people to stay with, and I am heading in that direction, at least locally. I’m not in any danger of ending up on the street — I’m not destitute and there are such things as motels, after all, but without a car, I would be trapped.

I suppose it’s good for me to be temporarily embracing such a lifestyle as this, humbling though it might be. Since I have chosen to believe I am where I am meant to be, there could be a reason I am supposed to be hanging around. Or not. It could simply be an ill-fated wind blowing through my life.

Oddly, despite the lengthy restoration process (and the even lengthier wait for the restorer to get started), I still trust this guy. I think he’s an artist who knows what he is doing. And one cannot hurry art. So will this mess end up as a workable piece of art? Only the auto body guy knows.

***

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

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

My housesitting job for July has fallen through. My car still is not finished. Since I don’t have wheels, I haven’t been able to go searching for camping equipment, and since I don’t have a local address, I haven’t been able to order anything online. And so my adventure continues.

I’ll be able to find places to spend the night, places where people won’t turn me away even if they weren’t exactly thrilled about my staying with them, which is nice. I certainly don’t like the prospect of living on the streets in this weather. 105° yesterday. Oh, my. Not that I would have to live on the streets. I could go stay in a motel somewhere, but I’d be pretty much trapped.

My main focus next week will be to see if I can light a fire under the body shop guy. I’ll call, go visit him, see if I can get others to go on my behalf. I understand this isn’t his only job. I understand it’s taking longer than he expected. I understand it’s an old car and needs special care. But enough is enough. (It wouldn’t bother me so much if I still had the housesitting job, but I’m not ready to be out in the world without transportation.) I’ve considered taking a trip by plane or by bus, but if I weren’t here to nag the auto body guy, I might never get the car back.

Meantime, I’m just going with the flow. Waiting to see what if anything transpires. Making lists of people and places to visit. Dreaming about sleeping under the stars (though what good that will do me since without my glasses on, I couldn’t see them anyway).

This isn’t exactly the way I’d planned to spend these months, living on the mercy of friends and acquaintances, but to paraphrase my Aunt Mil, when things don’t go as planned, that’s when the real adventure begins.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Book Posters

I’m trying to make book posters, sort of like movie posters, but although they look okay here, when I post them elsewhere, they are either smeary, or too much is cut off. Back to the virtual drawing board!

LB poster c

 

More Deaths Than One

 

A Spark of Heavenly Fire

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Outfitting the Out-Fit

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc) seems to be synonymous with hiking. No matter who I have talked to or whatever blog/discussion group I have visited, inevitably the name of that store has come up as the place to buy everything you need for a backpacking trip. People have extolled the store’s virtues ad infinitum, citing a generous return policy and helpful employees.

Researching backpacking gear and wilderness safety tips have confused the heck out of me. “If you see a bear, look it in the eyes.” “If you see a bear, don’t look it in the eyes.” “Ticks only climb up your legs. They don’t fall out of trees.” “Ticks fall out of trees, so be sure to wear a hat.” “A hammock is the best way to camp.” “Hammocks are illegal in some parks, and besides, they are bear tacos.” “Wear wool.” “Wear synthetics.” So, when a friend invited me to go with her to REI “down the hill” as they say around here, I jumped at the chance. I needed a pair of shoes for walking/hiking, I wanted to get a backpack, and I wished to check out the tents, clothes, and various types of gear available.

The woman in the shoe department brought one pair of shoes at my request. When the left foot fit and the right didn’t, and I asked for suggestions, she just shrugged. I could, of course, have bought the shoes and taken out the offending right insole, but it was glued in. Besides, there was no way I was going to buy a $150 pair of shoes and immediately start cannibalizing it. I might have to do so anyway, because there are various insoles one can purchase that are supposedly better than the insoles that come with the shoes, but I need that to be my choice, not a choice by default. So, not getting any further help from the shoe department, I wandered through the clothes department, found not one garment that would fit, then headed toward backpacks.

I found a backpack that was comfortable, had a fun assortment of pockets, and sported a suspension system that would allow air to get between my back and the pack. When I cornered a clerk and asked for advice, he merely said it was not good for overnight camping, but offered nothing in the way of an alternative, just kept saying I shouldn’t buy the pack. So I didn’t.

I flagged down another clerk and asked about tents. He waved me toward the tents, but very few were on display, so I could get no sense of weight, size, convenience, ease of set up. And there was no one to ask — the clerk had wandered away. My friend showed me various products that she used, which helped me get a sense of what I might need, otherwise I would have left immediately.

I didn’t really think anything else about the trip — the folks I encountered seemed typical bored retail clerks — until a couple of days ago when once again someone recommended REI. I explained the treatment I had received, and he said, “You know why, don’t you? You don’t fit the profile.”

Tahitian CostumeThat took me aback, not just the remark, but his saying it. What had he seen when he looked at me that made him think I didn’t fit the profile? My age? My extra pounds? I have no real body issues. I know what I look like, and I’m fine with it. I certainly don’t spend any time thinking about characteristics others might see as negative. Would I like to be gorgeous, young, fit? I was going to type “yes”, but the real answer appeared on the screen instead: “Not particularly.” My body has its own sort of peasant beauty, thick legs and all, and it’s a lot more fun to wiggle one’s hips in Tahitian dancing when one has hips to wiggle. Most of all, my body works. It does what I ask it with a minimum of discomfort,  It might not always do what my ballet teacher asks of it, but that’s not my problem. I am developing wonderful muscles, so whether or not I can stand in a reasonable facsimile of fifth position is not a personal issue.

It had never occurred to me that I might not fit a profile — any profile — but the more I got to thinking about the man’s comment, the more it bothered me. So I wrote REI, explained the situation, then finished with, “So what if I’m overweight and over age. Is that any reason to treat a customer so poorly?”

The customer service rep apologized and forwarded my email to the store in question. The manager responded, saying, among other things, “It is especially disappointing to know that you did not feel welcomed because of any personal reasons. At REI we have no “profiles”- only a mission to eagerly serve all our guests by inspiring, educating and finding the right products- towards whatever end goal our guests want to enjoy.”

“Because of any personal reasons,” he said. Putting the onus on me, as if I were unduly sensitive. He went on to say, “I’m personally grateful and excited that we have such a variety of people who shop with us to gear up for recreation -no one deserves to have assumptions placed on their passions or abilities because of outward appearances, and at REI we won’t tolerate such behavior -you as our guest deserve better!” Yeah, right. That’s why not a single piece of clothing in the store fit me. They might not have an overt policy of profiling, but they do have a de facto policy. Where are the clothes for the out-fit to wear? (Out-fit because such folk are not necessary unfit, just outside the range of what is usually considered fit.) People twice my size go backpacking. Where were the clothes for those women? Where are the sleeping bags for the short and wide folks. (You can get wide bags, but they are also very long.)

The manager ended his letter by saying he had dealt with the person who had been in the camping department that day, and that he was proud of the service that 95% of his staff gives, and he hoped I would return.

By that time I was sick of the whole mess and wished I hadn’t said anything. So I wrote back, “If I wanted you to deal with your employees on my behalf, I would I have told you in person when I was there. I only wrote when I heard from someone else who had a similar experience with what appeared to be storewide profiling. You assure me that’s not the case. So fine. Nice to know. But there is no guarantee that if I were ever to shop at your store, I wouldn’t once again encounter some of the 5% who weren’t helpful. And it’s too far to go to find out. But thank you for responding.”

So why am I telling you this? I have no idea. Maybe because of the realization that I have no body issues though apparently it looks as if I should have. Maybe because the experience is just another step in the adventure that has become my life. Or maybe because . . . ta-da! . . . it’s a blog topic, and blog topics are almost as hard to find as outfits for the out-fit.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Finding a Place For Our Dead

In a previous post, when I mentioned my dilemma about what to do with Jeff’s ashes, I said I considered taking them back to Colorado, because that’s where he resides in my head. I know he’s not there, and I know his ashes aren’t him in any way — they are just the inorganic parts of his body. The organic parts went up in flames. (Actually, there are no flames when a body is cremated, just high heat that reduces the body to gases and bone fragments, but “going up in flames” is much more poetic than the reality.) But part of me seems to think his ashes should be where he “is.” Totally illogical, but then, grief is illogical.

Although we who are left behind seldom realize it, the placement of our loved ones is ones is one of the things we need to work through during the grief process. By placement, I don’t mean the physical placement of the body, though that is a current concern of mine, but the psychological placement.

Death is traumatic, and especially traumatic is the death of a soul mate. After years of being closely connected, suddenly the person is gone. It is incomprehensible, this goneness. We feel the void with every breath we take, with every beat of our hearts. And deep within our souls, we shriek, “Where are you?” (This is not always a silent shriek. I used to walk out in the desert calling for him. “Where are you? Can you hear me?” He never answered, of course.)

Even deeply religious people hear the silent call of their souls for their mates. “Heaven” and “God” are every bit as incomprehensible as death, so they offer no concrete answers to the question of where are our dead. Gradually, though, we do come to an accommodation. One woman, whose husband often stayed in a different town because of work, visualizes him in that town, and won’t go there because she doesn’t want to confront the reality. Another woman’s husband often traveled, and she pictures him away on a business trip. In my case, I often came to my parents’s house when my mother was dying, and so when I came here after Jeff died, it seemed as if once again, I’d left him at home while I succored a parent.

None of us believe in any way that our mates are still where we picture them. We feel the goneness too much to even pretend they are still alive, and yet we capture the feeling of how it was when we were separated temporarily so that we can deal with the permanent separation.

One of the oddnesses of my life is that when I remove any consideration of him from my days, I am content, even happy. It’s when I remember that his death is what is allowing me to grow beyond our shared life, giving me the freedom to plan solo adventures without worrying about his well-being, to indulge my perhaps foolhardy whims, that grief strikes me. Even after all this time, I cannot bear his being dead. And so, in my head, he is back in Colorado, waiting for me to come home.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

No Problem

At dance class today, people were talking about their problems. One person said it was important to be kind, that everyone had a secret problem they were dealing with.

At that particular moment, I was feeling calm, at peace with the world, and fairly cool. (The coolness would wore off quite quickly — the air conditioner in the studio is broken, and it got up to about 103° today.) So said, “I don’t have any problems.”

They came back at me with a stern, “Everyone has problems,” and one woman reminded me that I still don’t have my car. (It’s been at the auto body shop for three months.)

I kept my mouth shut as I so often do now. I get tired of people shooting me down when I talk, so I figure it’s best not to say anything, but the truth is, I don’t have problems. At least not at the moment. I might not have my car, but I have a place to live, a refrigerator full of groceries I purchased, and rides to and from the dance studio. Despite the heat, I have the ability to walk within reasonable distances if I need to get to the store. And I have my computer available to blog or check with online folks.

Next week could be a different matter, but maybe not. A problem is defined as “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.” Synonyms are: difficulty, trouble, worry, complication, difficult situation; snag, hitch, drawback, stumbling block, obstacle, hurdle, hiccup, setback, catch; predicament, plight; misfortune, mishap, misadventure; dilemma, quandary.

The way I see it, my life right now is an adventure, and I welcome whatever comes my way. I might not particularly like some of the interpersonal situations I find myself in, but the situations are fleeting and provide me with lessons and challenges. (I tend to brood when people treat me with less than the consideration I feel I deserve, and brooding is such an unattractive response that I would like to overcome that tendency. But even that is not a problem. Just a character trait I don’t admire.)

I’m learning to live in the moment, and not many problems can be contained in any particular moment. Worry is for tomorrow, and tomorrow can take care of itself. As the saying goes, “tomorrow never comes.” Because when today’s tomorrow gets here, it will be tomorrow’s today.

I have no idea how long I can continue this attitude. When problems do show up on my doorstep (assuming I have a doorstep), I’ll deal with them then. For now, I am lucky. I have no problems.
Life is a great big canvas

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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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