Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

A couple of months ago when my exercise class was asked to do a demonstration for a seniors’ expo, I agreed to do it. It seemed like a life-altering experience since I’d never performed in front of a group before. I had once given a speech at a writers’ conference, and after the first few minutes of nervousness and a shaky voice, I did great. But speaking about a subject I know well is one thing, and doing a new, physical activity is another thing completely, and way out of my comfort zone.

Despite all my walking and exercising, I am not really fit. (When a friend found out about all my physical activities, she asked if I had an ounce of fat left on my body. I could only laugh.) I’m not being self-denigrating when I say I’ve never been particularly graceful or rhythmic. (Except for walking of course. One foot in front of the othstageer — I can do that!) Despite this, I thought it would be good for me to go in front of a crowd with my classmates, do the best I can, and let the mistakes fall where they may — a celebration of who I am at this moment.

The past two months have been a flurry of practice, costume discussions and creations, and more than a few disagreements, followed by a disastrous dress rehearsal and even more upsetting final practice. At one point, I thought of dropping out, but I reminded myself of how important the experience would be. I mean — me? Going in front of a crowd? Performing?

The exhibition was on Saturday. All the participants were asked to get there at noon, though my group wasn’t on until three. So there was plenty of time for nervousness, and I was, just a bit. But then we got on stage, did our number, and . . . that was it. Oddly, although I’d been looking forward to the applause, it never registered. I can’t even remember it.

Afterward, I waited for the triumphant feeling I expected, waited for a shift in myself. Waited for . . . I don’t know what. But nothing was different. Then this morning it dawned on me — as so often happens with life-altering experiences, the changes came in the doing. All those weeks of preparation turned me into the sort of person who could go on stage and give it her all without much ado.

Bad things seem to have an effect all at once, but good things have a slower, less obvious demarcation. (A therapy friend says that this is survival. It’s important to remember the bad things and the bad effects so we can try to keep them from happening again, but good things don’t matter much when it comes to survival.) Still, in my case, I did get the effect I wanted, just not the great emotional payoff. And that’s okay. Emotions fade. Confidence and competence remain forever.

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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.

Embracing My Wild Divinity

When I tell people I want to lead a wild life, to find the wild woman within, some women instinctively understand what I mean, while other folks just give me a blank stare. During my school days, the wild kids were those who smoked and drank, played loud music, partied, gave little consideration to rules or consequences. As young adults, the wild ones were … well, they were pretty much like the wild kids. Smoking and drinking, playing loud music, partying, giving little consideration to rules or consequences, sometimes riding motorcycles, hanging around bars, picking up mates for a night.

I have a hunch that when I tell the blank-stared folks of my desire for wildness, such images come to their minds, but the truth is, I have no interest in that particular kind of tameness. I call it tameness because although it seemed wild to us at the time, the activities were all part of the rebelliousness of youth, a reaction to the strictures of our lives, and, while not perfectly acceptable, perhaps, they were an adjunct to the urbanization and corporatizing of our tame world.

020bTo tell the truth, I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “wild woman.” I tried to do a bit of research into the mythology of wild women and kept bumping into the book Women Who Run With Wolves. My first reaction, of course, was to get the book, but then I changed my mind. I don’t want to know what other people mean by wildness. I want to find out what I mean. I do know that being a wild woman isn’t about getting into trouble or dangerous situations, it’s about embracing my connection to life, being the person I was meant to be without the structure of societal conventions or the bonds of other people’s expectations. It’s about finding the things that call to me from the soul rather than what beckons me from without. It’s about extending my reach, to want what up to now has escaped me. It’s about finding what feeds the hungry beast inside me. It’s about striking out on my own, trusting my instincts yet relying on experience. It’s about the having the courage and boldness to go where I must. It’s about living a natural life, following my own rhythms, being true to myself.

I’ve always been fascinated by the wild places of the world. The places deep within the Amazon that have never been touched by the modern world. The depths of the oceans that lie beyond our instruments. Deep caverns that have never been explored. I don’t suppose there are any of those places left except in my imagination, but still, I am caught by the lure of what might lie beyond our modern society and culture, what might exist beyond man-made (and woman-made) laws and conventions. Of course, any such cultures would have their own conventions that bind their members, so perhaps even the figments of my imaginings are tame in their own way.

And yet, and yet . . .

I wonder what wild places lie in my heart, my mind, my soul. What passions might I feel that I have not yet discovered? What ideas could I have that would spring forth as if from the earth itself? What unheard songs does the universe sing to me?

That is where I will find my wildness, not in bars, in a bottle, or dangling from a bungee cord.

Blessings from John O’Donohue:

“May the angel of wildness disturb the places where your life is domesticated and safe, take you to the territories of true otherness where all that is awkward in you can fall into its own rhythm.”

and

“May the beauty of your life become more visible to you, that you may glimpse your wild divinity.”

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Escaping the Cage

I have always been a highly civilized person. For the most part, I am considerate of others. I am never intentionally rude or bad mannered or insulting. I am not uncouth. I don’t make scenes in public (or private, for that matter). I seldom raise my voice. I listen more than I talk. I dress modestly. I use correct English and am not given to crudeties or foul language. If it’s in my power and nature, I almost always do what others ask. I try to be helpful. In other words, I am tame.

Wheprisonn I was young, a lot of this tameness came from being fearful of doing the wrong thing. I grew up in a shifting emotional atmosphere where from one minute to the next, I didn’t know how I would be treated, so I did the only thing I could — be a good girl. I obeyed. I never talked back. I keep my rebellious thoughts to myself. I did what was expected of me, often before such expectations were even expressed.

As an adult, I continued to be tame. I seemed to know instinctively that any fierce disagreement would only lead to fiercer disagreements, escalating until one of the parties killed the other. Of course, such hostilities generally don’t end in death because somewhere along the line, one of the combatants gives in. Since I knew that in any conflict I would be the one to give in, I never took up the battle in the first place. If I were going to give in, I figured I might as well do so before any damage was done.

I’m still tame, of course. By now it’s not just a habit, it’s who I am. Kind. Conciliatory. Even-tempered. I do experience anger once in a very great while, but those infrequent outbursts flare up quickly and die just as quickly.

Still . . .

There is a untamed side to me — an inner savage, a wild woman, a primitive and elemental being — that I get glimpses of once in a while. I first noticed this untameness when grief descended on me with the all the power of Thor’s hammer. I had no idea I was capable of such feral emotions. Even if I had wanted to, I could not have controlled my grief as I had always controlled my emotions. Grief came in an instant then grew and grew until there was so much pain I wanted to scream. And so I did. Mild-mannered me, tame me, good girl me screamed my agony to the winds.

For the past four years, ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate, I’ve been feeling an itch for “more.” I have never known what this undefined “more” is, but I’m getting an inkling that it is my wild side. I’m not sure how to unleash the wildness, though. Perhaps just by being aware of my connection to the earth. Perhaps by letting the winds take me where they wish. Perhaps by being spontaneous.

As John O’Donohue wrote in Aman Cara, “To be spontaneous is to escape the cage of the ego by trusting that which is beyond the self.”

To escape the cage. To be wild.

Oh, yes.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Being Nice

For many years, I was subject to depression and debilitating allergies that so enervated me, getting out of bed in the morning was about all I could handle. Then there were the years my life mate/soul mate was dying, where I hunkered down in my emotional foxhole, trying to protect myself from the pain with which life was bombarding us. During these times, whenever I’d go out among people, all I ever seemed to see were happy, healthy, and energetic folks, which made me feel as if I were alone in my misery.

It wasn’t until I signed up for Facebook and started making contact with all sorts of people that I discovered the truth rainbowin their status updates. Everyone is struggling with something — illness, disability, debility, depression, grief. Even if people aren’t struggling with such a difficulty themselves, they are taking care of someone with a problem. The strong, healthy people I saw were probably normally traumatized people on their good days.

I’m learning to be nice to everyone, even people with a bad attitude. Anger, rudeness, pettiness, are all signs of unhappiness and discontent, and chances are, the misery stems from actual problems, not just a desire to be mean. In a strange sort of way, how people treat me is not my problem. Their inconsideration is a reflection of them, not me. My only responsibility is in my own reaction, and — in an ideal world — I would always choose to be nice. Life of course, is not always ideal, and I sometimes I let my own problems dictate my behavior, especially when those problems entail a lack of sleep, such as the episodes with my afflicted brother.

One of my favorite scenes in a film is in the 1989 movie Roadhouse where Patrick Swayze is discussing his policy with the bouncers. “Be nice,” he says. He goes on to tell them that no matter what anyone does, be nice. And he ends, “I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice.” It’s a good policy for anyone, being nice.

Sure, we have problems, but everyone else does too. So let’s pretend this is an ideal world, and let us all be nice.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Visualizing a Life of Joy

When a fellow grief survivor once told me about a woman she knew — an old woman who had lost everyone she had ever loved — and how the woman was the most joyful person she had ever met, I could only marvel. At the time, I was in the midst of unfathomable grief for my life mate/soul mate, but even before my terrible loss, I’d never been a candyparticularly joyful person. I couldn’t understand how, in the midst of the traumas and dramas life doles out like Halloween candy, anyone could find joy. And yet, and yet . . .

If you’ve read any of my posts about my current situation, looking after my 97-year-old father and dealing with my dysfunctional brother, you might think I’m in the throes of despair, but oddly, there is a feeling of . . . could it be joy? . . . deep within me. It’s as if something — my psyche, my inner child, my soul — is smiling.

When my brother is relentlessly demanding my attention, particularly late at night when I’m exhausted, or when I’ve had to explain something for the tenth time to my bewildered and hearing impaired father, I wonder how I’ll ever make it through another moment, but in the quiet times, I’m finding peace and an illusive joy. I feel as if I am letting go of ties that kept me bound to an unhappy past and a burdensome present.

What helps is that I’ve found refuge in new friends and new activities that make me feel alive, especially exercise classes that stretch my body and my mind. Like yoga, these classes make me aware of possibilities I had never considered, and teach me to reach further, imagine more, dream deeper. They make me feel beautiful and graceful, even though the mirror quite clearly shows I am many years past such an ideal. Or not. My teacher skews the whole age curve, making seventy-seven look like fifty. For so long, I’ve been afraid of growing old alone, worrying about dragging a decrepit body through long and solitary decades, and while such a scenario is possible, it’s not necessarily true. The exercise teacher’s radiant smile and still sensual movements show what is possible if someone keeps active, has a great attitude, and is blessed with a bit of luck.

I don’t know what life has in store for me, of course, but for the first time in I don’t know how long — maybe forever — I can visualize a life of joy.

The very thought makes me smile.

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

All Is Calm, All Is Bright

All is calm in my world today, and the sun is shining brightly. There have been no storms in my life in the past few days, neither internal nor environmental. There have been no midnight trips to jail to pick up an errant sibling, no recent trips to the hospital to admit my aged father. Nothing has pushed me past my limits to where I wanted to kick someone. I haven’t had any major grief upsurges for a while, not even any minor ones. I’ve been getting enough exercise to keep my stress levels low, and I’ve been catching up on my sleep.

I don’t know how long peace will last in this King of Hearts world of mine, but for now I am enjoying the calm.

It seems strange, though, not to have much to say, especially since the word I chose for my daily resolution is “largiloquent,” meaning “full of words.” (Not a bad thing for a writer to be!) There always seems to be something — or someone — bedeviling me, giving me plenty of fodder for this blog, but at the moment, there are no jumbled thoughts I need to sort out. I have no words of wisdom, either, other than a reminder to myself that the universe is unfolding as it should, and I am where I am supposed to be — dreaming myself into the person I wish to become.

Untitled-2

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” William Arthur Ward.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Thank You

thankyouA big thank you to everyone who responded to my post Enabling or Decency and Caring?, offering support and advise. I still am not sure what to do about the situation, but I am taking all your comments into consideration before deciding how to handle the problem.

During all these years of grief over the loss of my life mate/soul mate, I found comfort telling myself, “I am where I am supposed to be.” I don’t believe in fate, don’t believe that our lives are decided for us (at least, not always), and yet, there is serenity to be found in accepting that perhaps the universe is unfolding as is should. It’s possible this drama of mine is also unfolding as it should. It is bringing me closer to being emotionally free of a conflict that has burdened me almost my whole life. At the very least, talking about it has brought me peace.

I do not think I am in a dangerous situation (though of course, any situation has its dangers). I do not think I will be hurt and, despite my brief outbursts of unadmirable behavior, I do not think I will hurt anyone else.

I have finally come to an understanding that I did not create the problem, and that there is nothing I can do to change it. I can change myself, though, to the extent that any of us can change ourselves. I can make sure that I take care of myself, relieve stress with physical activities, lead my own life as much as possible under the circumstances, and most of all, find solace in the realization that all things come to an end.

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Today I Will be . . . Habromaniacal

Most days, I post a resolution on Facebook. I need to post something, and since I don’t have cute cat videos, dear dog photos, or pithy thoughts that can be posted in the few words that most FB perusers can absorb in the few seconds they allow per post, I’ve been posting resolutions. Even if no one reads them, it’s a way of concentrating my thoughts on a particular area I need to work on that day, and it helps. Yesterday, for example, I knew I would have to be conciliatory and kind to someone I wasn’t feeling kindly toward, so I posted, “Today I will be . . . humanitary.” I couple of days ago, I needed to be firm and steadfast in a decision, and so I chose “staunch.”

Today I will be . . .At the beginning, I just chose one of the words from the word art I use as my cover photo for my profile — words such as playful, daring, intense, bold, whimsical, mysterious, legendary. But when I stumbled on the book, The Highly Selective Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate by Eugene Ehrlich, I started using words that few people knew, words such as alcatory (depending on luck or chance), magniloquent (lofty in expression), veridical (truthful), cachinnate (laugh loudly). The odd thing is that most of the adjectives in those 192 pages were not exactly uplifting. As interesting as the words look, dysphoria, fractious, louche, purulent are not states to which I aspire.

It’s become something of a treasure hunt to discover hidden gems such as eupathy, which means a happy condition of the soul. Don’t we all strive to be eupathic? It gave me great pleasure to bring this jewel to light.

Today I discovered another wonderful word. Habromania — a kind of insanity in which there are delusions of a cheerful character or gaiety. [It comes from the Greek words habros meaning graceful or delicate and mainesthai to be mad] I don’t imagine that it’s a comfortable state since it is a form of insanity after all, and yet, those who have it would, by definition, be happy. David E. Kelley, the man responsible for Ally McBeal, seemed to like habromaniacs since he used them occasionally in the series. In one show, an old man was wonderfully happy, giving away his fortune to the dismay of his children. It wasn’t until the man’s wife died and he found himself unable to cry or even be sad at her passing that he allowed himself to be treated.

It seems to me our world could use a few more habromaniacs — people who are happy even though sanity seems to dictate misery.

So, today I will be . . . habromaniacal.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

And oh, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive

I went to a dance recital at the college the other day, and wow, those kids could fly! So young, so fit, so lithe. None of the dancers would have even a glimmer of clumsiness while doing the sitting test with incredible ease. Of course, the test is geared toward older folk, but even when I was young I didn’t have the strength and agility those kids had.

warriorThe first dance is the one that had the most impact on me, probably because it was the first. I’d never seen some of the stunts they pulled. Although dozens of dancers were on stage at all times, not everyone performed the same steps. It seemed as if two or three dances were going on at the same time in a dizzying blur of interconnected motion. But one thing they all did at one point— lie down as if they were going to do pushups, and then, on hands and toes, hop to the side again and again.

It was a very powerful dance, and no wonder — the song they danced to was “thatPower”. Not a song I was familiar with. Not one I would ever have willingly listened to. Most of it was  . . .  well, to be kind, let’s just say it’s not my kind of music. The chorus, however, is haunting me, and I’m allowing it to play in my mind.

In the midst of the non-song, the chorus (sung by Justin Bieber) was surprisingly tuneful and uplifting:

And oh, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive
And oh, I can fly, I can fly, I can fly
And oh, I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive
And I’m loving every second, minute, hour, bigger, better, stronger power.

Usually I can’t stand when a song plays itself repeatedly in my head and do what I can to remove it, but I like this message, this affirmation. I am alive. I can fly if only in my thoughts and dreams. And while I might not be loving every minute, I am living every second, minute, hour. And I am getting better and stronger, more powerful. Sometimes I can even feel the power, though I don’t know where that power comes from. The earth maybe. Grief maybe. Myself maybe.  I do know I am more confident than I’ve ever been. More accepting of life and its ups and downs. Enjoying being alive — coming alive — for the first time in many years.

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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.

Grief: Yes, There is Hope

A woman whose husband died six months ago contacted me to say she’s reading Grief: The Great Yearning and is finding comfort from knowing that what she is feeling, others have felt. She mentioned that some things I wrote were identical to things she wrote in her journal, which goes to show that grief is individual, and yet much is the same when it comes to losing a husband or a soul mate. The pain goes down so deep, it hits places in our psyches we didn’t even know existed.

The woman asked how I was doing, then posed the question that haunted me for years: “Is there hope for me?”

It’s hard to believe, when you are lost in the cyclone called grief, that there will ever come a time of peace. Since I had no such belief, I held tight to the belief of others that the pain will ebb, that I will find renewal. TheCalifornia sunrisey kept telling me to be patient, that it takes three to five years, but around four years most people find a renewed interest in life. And so it is with me. I feel alive again. I still have an underlying sadness. I miss him, of course, and always will — I even cry for him occasionally, though the tears pass easily without lingering pain.

I am finding that certain songs, movies, days, memories, bring about an upsurge of grief, and apparently, from what others have experienced, this will be true for the rest of my life, but at least I feel as if I am alive. I felt disconnected from life for a long time, as if I too had died. And partly, that is true — the person I was when I was with him did die. But now I need to be the person I am when I am with me. I can no longer take him into the equation of my life. My being alive does not make his being dead any less significant, though oddly, his being dead does make my being alive more significant. I once loved deeply. I once was so connected to another human being that his death sent me reeling for years.

But now, I am me. Just me. Not a bad thing to be.

This change in me is obvious. I met someone on my walk today, someone I’d talked to sporadically over the past three and a half years. He stopped me, asked me how I became such a star. (Radiant, he meant.) He barely recognized me, even though I was wearing the same sort of comfortable and inelegant clothes I always wear when walking. In fact, he said at first he thought I was young enough to be my daughter. He hunched his shoulders forward to show me how I used to walk — like an old woman.

So yes, there is hope. If you’re still grieving or feeling unalive after suffering a significant loss, take heart. If I can find my way back to life, so can you. Just grieve, find comfort where you can, try new things, and be patient with yourself. The pain does ebb, and chances are, around the fourth or fifth-year anniversary, you will find a renewed interest in life. Until then, wishing you peace.

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

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