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.”)

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.”)

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.”)

Grateful For Numerous Choices

Although I wrote a post saying Life Shouldn’t Be So Hard, in many ways, that “so hard” arises from the many things for which I am grateful, such as relative good health, a bit of savings to indulge my whim for not settling down, and most of all, my numerous choices. For the first time in my life, I have no one to consider but myself. No one to take care of. No responsibilities. No need to be a grown-up and do the typical grown-up things like get a job, sign a lease, decide what and where to settle down. The world still beckons me, and there is no reason why I shouldn’t follow that beckoning.

As a wise person told me, “You can always settle down later if you want to, but there is no guarantee that you can travel later.”

I am currently staying at a ghastly motel, but I’ve decided to play the “Taxi” game until I find a place to stay around here or until I decide to take off again. At one time there was a horrible television show called “Taxi” starring Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, and a whole host of strange characters. One fellow lacked a good grasp of English, and he rented an opulent apartment for an exorbitant amount of money thinking he was paying for a year, though the rent was only for a month. When he couldn’t get his money back after discovering the truth, he and his friends enjoyed the luxury and amenities for that month, and then went back to their normal not-so-exciting lives.

Ever since then, Jeff and I called such a phenomenon “taxiing” and we often talked about going for broke just once, and taxiing it, yet we never did. We were too frugal, too conscientious, too responsible, too aware of the vagaries of life to lavish what little we had on such a short-term pleasure, especially since the expense would make things difficult in the future.

Now, although I’m still practical, I’m more inclined to let the future take care of itself (at least during those odd moments when I’m not worried about what is to become of me). There’s no reason I can’t stay at a nicer motel or hotel for a few weeks, and live it up. (Or down, since such a place would be a lot more relaxing than this fleabag motel where the bugs are feasting on me.)

But, whatever I do, no matter how I sound in my more frantic or desolate times, I am grateful that for now I have such a choice.

pleasures

***

(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.”)

Life Shouldn’t Be So Hard

In response to my post, Still in Flux, where I lamented that after 12,000 miles, I didn’t notice any change in me, a reader commented:

I think everything’s changed, Pat, but you seem to be missing it right now. You have changed. Significantly. Go back to when I first met you; at three months; and see the fears then and look at yourself now. Indeed everything’s changed.

I responded: It’s odd, but returning here has thrown me back into grief mode. I would have expected such sorrow if I had gone back to Colorado where we’d lived, but he never lived here, never even visited here. It started when I drove into town, even before I remembered that the last time I had driven that bit of highway into town, he was still alive, waiting for me at home. But then, this is where I brought my memory of him. This is where I brought my pain. This is where I cried out for him. I know I am lucky we were deeply connected for all those years, but that doesn’t help with the empty/disconnected feeling I am still struggling with. I feel inept at times. Life shouldn’t be so hard. Or maybe it should be. How would I know.

And she came back with: “Life shouldn’t be so hard” What does this mean, Pat? What is the “hard” you are dealing with? Is it that you still feel moments of grief? Is it that coming back to town is filled with the energy of your grieving place? Is it hard because you don’t accept his death despite intellectual acknowledgement? Is it hard because most of al you miss companionship/relationship/whatevership and hate being alone.

Nail what is actually so very hard right now in July 2016. It will help with your thoughts about the future.

And so, I have been thinking. What is so hard about my life right now?

In some respects, I have it easy. I am basically healthy, with only a few odd problems that the right stretching routine should ameliorate. I have no responsibilities, so I can live at my own whim. I have a vintage car that is mostly reliable. And I have a bit of savings to cushion some of life’s blows for a little while longer.

And yet, and yet . . .

Although it has been six years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, I still feel his absence. The void he left behind is not as deep and black as it once was, but it still confounds me, still pulls me into sorrow. I have accepted his death in every sense, but the truth is, acceptance does not always bring with it the peace we think it should. Because accepting that he is gone from this life leaves me even more alone with his absence. (And being back here, where I can still feel the energy of my grief, makes it all the more difficult.)

What is particularly hard is that I have no roots. I often feel (especially when I think of the future) as if I am suspended over an abyss with nothing to hang on to. The high desert was a place of refuge for me during my years of profound grief, its harsh climate mirroring my own inner environment, but now it seems alien, even though I have friends here, and dance classes. The sun is excruciatingly hot, which is dangerous when driving in an old car without air-conditioning. When I lived here before, mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but now I seem to be just as much of a magnet to the critters as I was on the outer banks of North Carolina. I didn’t think my trip changed me, but it must have because I don’t seem to fit the cookie cutter outline of me I left behind.

Part of the hardship comes from not being able to find a place to live. I have looked at tiny windowless rooms scarcely larger than closets with a higher rent than the three-bedroom house Jeff and I lived in, gated communities that are merely fenced rooming houses, apartments with incredibly stringent requirements. I am staying at a fleabag motel on the outskirts of town, which at least gives me a place to get out of the heat and a fairly comfortable place to lay my head, but staying here isn’t conducive to writing. To write, I need a place where I can concentrate, and believe me, a transient motel is not such a place.

Maybe I don’t belong here in the desert. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere. But then what?

Which brings me to the thing that is most hard about right now, July 2016. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I don’t want, either. Most people my age don’t necessarily want anything since they already have the things they want, the very things I don’t have — spouses, houses, families, places they’ve grown roots.

I spent the past couple of decades taking care of my sick and dying, uprooting myself after Jeff died to take care of my nonagenarian father. Consequently, I don’t have the retirement funds I would have had if I’d had a regular job all those years, and yet, I did what I needed to do. Now I need to build a life, and I have no idea how to go about it.

The truth (at least as it appears to me at this moment) is that I am restless but not yet ready to be a perennial wanderer, tired but not yet ready to settle down. I like being alone, and yet I am desperately lonely, missing the effortless companionship of our years together. I want and want, and yet I don’t know what I want.

So many internal conflicts! Life shouldn’t be this hard, especially since, for the most part, my life is fairly easy.

***

(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.”)

Stepping into Adventure

The longer I stay in one place, the more my life looks like my pre-adventure life — internet, internet, and more internet. Not exactly exciting and way too familiar.

Although it might sound adventurous being the innkeeper pro tem of a bed and breakfast, in reality (my reality, that is), all I do is have a few friends over. Well, they’re not friends beforehand, but while they are under “my” roof, the guests are friends. I talk to them, fix them breakfast, then leave them to go about their business.

And I go back to the computer.

Whenever I have access to the internet, I do volunteer work for my publisher, mostly trying to herd my fellow authors into reciprocal promotions, and failing miserably. Most of them (or rather most of the unapathetic ones) seem stuck on the thought of doing reciprocal reviews on Amazon and won’t listen to the truth — reviews do no good if you can’t get people to go check out your books on Amazon, and reciprocal reviews are subject to being deleted since they are against Amazon’s rules. But hey, what do I know? I’ve only been researching book promotion for nine years and still haven’t managed to become a bestselling author.

The only real adventure I’ve had since being here at the B&B is falling down the stairs backward, and as painful and frightening as practically scalping myself and being stapled back together was, it was a heck of a lot more exciting than my online work.

After feeling like Frankenstein’s monster for ten days, I am now staple-free. The bruises are fading, and I am making friends with all the stairs in my current life. When my hip isn’t stiff and my knees allow, I hike up and down the stairs just for fun. Stairs have been absent from my life for a long time, so they have become rather an adventure of their own.

And I am trying something new — standing up to work at the computer. Sitting aggravates my hip, undoing all the work I go to in order to stretch my piriformis muscle, so I am trying to stand more and sit less. So far so good. My main problem is that standing makes it too easy to walk away, which, considering how frustrating my volunteer work gets, is not really a problem.

I will probably be leaving here Friday, making the long slow journey back to the high desert. Once I get there, I am planning on looking for a place to stay for a while, and if I find one, returning to dance class. If I can’t find a place? Continue adventuring, I guess.

That’s all I have — a guess. After months of traveling, I still have no clear idea of what my life is, what it is becoming, or even what I want it to be.

The only thing I have learned is the necessity for finding a solid footing before taking the next step into … wherever.

***

(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.”)

***

Lazy Days

I am taking a hiatus from travel for a week. I was offered a place to stay in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, while a friend went out of town, and I jumped at the offer. I’ve been moving around for so long, driving vast miles (9,000 miles seems vast to me, anyway), that I’ve sort of lost trrainbowack of myself — I could be anywhere. At times, it’s disconcerting to realize I am so very far from where I’ve lived the past few years, so far from anything familiar, and yet, in a way it’s all familiar.

A gray, rainy day in a room in an apartment in Wisconsin is not a whole lot different from a gray, rainy day in a room in house in the desert.

Lazy days.

I had planned to get recentered while I was here. Stretching every day (which I actually have been doing). Walking every day (which I have only done a couple of times because of the rain). Eating better (which I hava bit better, anyway — more vegetables, more protein, no wheat, only trace amounts of sugar).

I sit here staring out the window, thinking of all the things I could be doing if I weren’t so lazy — working on my dance class novel. Shopping to replenish my stores for the last few weeks of my journey. Repacking my car.

That’s what I really need to be doing. Repacking.

I unloaded all my gear before I took the bug to a mechanic because it was going to be at his shop for a few days, and it didn’t seem prudent to leave everything in the car. If it were just a matter of stuffing it all back in, I could do that before I leave on Sunday, but I need to reorganize. During my more than three months on the road, and despite my best efforts at being disciplined, things have become a bit discombobulated. Maps unfolded, used bottles stuffed in any which way, scraps of trash, accumulations to be organized.

And yet here I sit, staring out the window. Occasionally I drag my attention back to this page, but then, I lose focus again.

Lazy days.

***

(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.”)

Water, Water Everywhere

For someone who has always lived in arid areas — in Denver at the foot of the Rockies, in the high plains of western Colorado, or in the parched Mojave Desert of California — it’s hard to believe that this is a water planet.

I’ve been to the ocean, of course, and visited various other bodies of water, but always the water seemed an afterthought, as if it merely decorated what was essentially a landscape. This trip, however, has shown me a different side of the world. Well, just a different side of the United States since the U.S. is the only part of the earth I have ever been to, but the eastern part of the country does seem as if it could be a different world.

Water. Water everywhere.

Besides seeing torrents of water falling from the sky (such an strange occurrence for someone from drought-ridden climes), on this trip I have seen almost every sort of water body there is.

Oceans. Gulf. Sound. Bays. Lakes. Swamps. Marshes. Lagoons. Inlets. Ponds. Pools. Puddles. Rivers. Streams. Creeks. Waterfalls. Runoffs. Reservoirs. Rills. Irrigation ditches.

Water everywhere.

I hadn’t planned to go to the outer banks of North Carolina (hadn’t really planned most of what I have done, to be honest), but it seemed an adventurous thing to do, especially since I’d never camped within earshot of the Atlantic Ocean, spent much time on an island, or been on a narrow spit of land between two immense bodies of water. (No matter where you live in continental United States, you are living between two great bodies of water, but the country can hardly be called a narrow spit of land.)

I wasn’t particularly fond of the drive down to Cape Hatteras — too much development for my taste — but I was impressed with the Cape Hatteras National Shoreline. I camped on Hatteras in the woods where I became a walking buffet for the mosquitoes that lived there. The next day I took a ferry to Ocracoke Island, which was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I stood at the prow of the boat, where only a narrow mesh fence separated me from the water. I let the sea breeze and the sight and sound of the placid water wash away all thought. Just stood. Watched. Felt.

I camped at the National Park Service campground on Ocracoke, took walks over the dunes and along the beach, and made a friend — another woman tent camper.

Then came the best part of this leg of my journey, the thing that turned my Outer Banks adventure into pure gold (and worth every one of the hideous 50+ mosquito bites I got along the way).

The ferry ride from Ocracoke to Cedar Island across Pamlico Sound.

Oh, my. Two and a half hours of pure bliss. Twenty-two miles (the same as the English Channel) of open water.

Although I have no fondness for wind, I stood at the front of the ferry and let the strong chill winds blow through me. Swayed with the boat as the restless waves rocked it from side to side. Imagined myself out on the open seas, and then suddenly I no longer had to imagine it. We were totally surrounded by water, not a bit of land in sight. What a treat!

Although I had never been on a ferry before visiting the Outer Banks (except perhaps in New York when I was too young to remember), I had a conception of ferries being boring. Tame. Not worth the time. This came, I am sure, from all the movies I have seen of oblivious people on ferries, reading newspapers, drinking coffee, talking, doing anything but paying attention to the ride. And so it was with this particular crossing. Most people sat in their cars as if they were in a stalled traffic pattern, while boys ran around as if on a playground. (Don’t kids go to school any more? I thought spring breaks were over with, but apparently not.)

But me? I was totally enthralled and awed by the experience. Couldn’t bear to tear myself away lest I miss a moment of seeing water, water everywhere. Of being on the water. Of being.

***

(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.”)

***

I am Where I Am

It’s been a strange couple of days. On Saturday, when I left the house where I was staying and headed out, I started crying. It mystified me because I was glad to leave that place. I’d been invited, and I paid rent, but I never felt welcome, felt as if the dog’s dislike of me was an imposition for them even though I was the one who bore the scars of his dislike. And it’s not as if I were leaving that town forever. I fully intend to resume dance classes once I’ve completed my journey. So why the tears? All I can figure is that with tears I express whatever I can’t express any other way.

On Sunday, I went on an arduous 4-mile hike in Joshua Tree National Park despite the incredible wind, and when I returned to my campsite, I felt as if it was time to end the journey. After all, I’d camped by myself, challenged myself with a difficult and exhausting hike, napped under the stars.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed all of that, but it is adventure, and adventure is what I once craved. Maybe still do. But it’s hard for me to crave what I am doing. (Think about it. If you crave a pizza, do you still crave it while you are eating it?)

You’d think I’d be ecstatic to finally undertake this journey, but to a certain extent it feels . . . not empty but devoid of excitement. In one way, this is good — it means I’ve accomplished what I set out to do after Jeff died. Since he was my home, I had to find home within myself. And so I did. I am wherever I am, and wherever I am, I am home. (In the interest of fairness, I have to admit that despite what I just said, I get a bit panicky when I think of the immense distances I will be traveling, and how far I will be getting from all that is familiar.) In another way, lack of excitement is not so good. Shouldn’t I be beside myself with joy to be embarking on such an adventure? But ah, that is the key. I am not beside myself. I am in myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad to be on this great adventure, glad to be able to experience this vast country, but it’s a quiet kind of gladness, an acceptance that things will not always be comfortable, not always fun.

But always beautiful.

***

(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.”)

***

All of these photos depict parts of the trail I hiked, including the photo that looks like all rocks.

Happy Trails to Me!

Well, I’ve done it! I’ve hit the road. Now it’s just a matter of seeing what comes my way. Or maybe it’s the world that will see what comes its way — me!

?????????????

***

(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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