What Would You Like Included in a Book About Grief?

It seems as if I am being pulled back into the world of grief, not because I am having upsurges of grief, but because other people are discovering my grief posts and my grief book. Also, I have been talking to friends as they go through their grief upsurges, and at the same time, I am getting emails from newly bereft people who have read Grief: The Great Yearning, a sort of memoir about my first year of grief. (I wonder if I am the only author who cries every time I get a letter from a reader. I am glad they contact me, but oh, so much sorrow!)

As if this weren’t enough of a pull, people have begun suggesting that I write another book of grief, sort of a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, but from the perspective of eight years later. (At one time, I’d considered doing a sequel focusing on the second, third, and maybe fourth year called Grief: The Great Learning, but I didn’t have enough to say to fill even a small book.)

This isn’t something I can start today — I need to finish that decade-old manuscript first, then I have my trip to Seattle, and finally a dance performance. But by the beginning of June, I will have cleared out all my obligations, and would have time — both calendar time and mental time — to start a new project.

If I do undertake such a project, what aspects of grief would you like to see included in the book?

Is there a particular one (or many) of my grief blog posts you’d like to see expanded for the book? (For those of you who have already offered suggestions, I will be going through the comments and emails to find those suggestions if you don’t want to repeat yourself here.)

Are there any aspects of my life, such as my penchant for adventures, that should be included? Because a need for adventure is part of the grief process, not just for me, but for many folks. It’s as if once our lives are turned upside down, only undertaking something challenging helps get us back on a new track.

By its very nature (or rather, the very nature of the author), the book won’t be a practical guide for getting through grief, won’t offer platitudes or comfort except of the roughest kind (such as telling people what they already know — that grief is impossibly hard). There are certainly enough grief self-help books on the market, and anyway, I don’t have anything to offer along those lines. I think what I do have to offer is a safe place for people to explore their own grief, maybe even offer something for them to compare themselves to. (All grief is different, but for those who have suffered the same sort of profound loss, such as the death of soul mate, grief does tend to follow the same patterns.)

I hope I’m ready for such a project. At least it will be non-fiction, so I won’t have to relive grief through my characters like I did for Unfinished. That just about did me in!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

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Wishing You the Joy of This Day

A new month starts today, maybe even a resurrection of sorts. Despite the predominately religious meanings of this time of year, there is a more personal spiritual meaning — that no matter how down (or up!) we are, we can find a renewal, a liberation, a breaking open of the constraints that bind us so we can burst forth into a new day, a new way of being.

Or something like that.

After yesterday’s feeling that much of what I’ve been doing is just plain silly, today I am taking a break from all of those things. Well, most of them. Obviously, I am blogging, but I did not go sauntering with my pack (though I did chat with a fellow on FB about various sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington), did not go to dance class (that counts even though there was no dance class today), have not added any words to my book (though I did delete some, which doesn’t seem anywhere near as silly as adding words).

So did doing not much of anything feel silly? Nope. It felt good just to be. To enjoy the moment. I do enjoy the moments when I am doing something, of course, but when I am not doing “nothing,” the enjoyment is sort of a tagalong feeling to whatever it is I am doing — enjoying the desert while sauntering, enjoying the energy of dancing — rather than enjoyment as a separate entity.

I so often feel a push for more — to carry more weight in the pack, to walk more miles, to write more and better, to get stronger, healthier, wiser — that it’s good once in a while to burst out of the winding cloths I’ve wrapped myself in, and step out into the joy of being

I’m overdoing the metaphor a bit, but so what?

It’s a new day. And today I can do whatever I want. Be whatever I want. Well, in my own mind at least. There is still the matter of a body that doesn’t always cooperate, but that is a matter for another time.

Wishing you the joy of this day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

My Life After All

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that I’ve been ambivalent about taking dance classes lately. I still love dancing, but now frustration and unhappiness seem to occur more often than joy. It’s not just having to deal with people I don’t want in my life, it’s also feeling that I’m living someone else’s life. I’m not sure why I feel this way after all these years of classes, though I suppose it has a lot to do with my never having had any inclination to be a dancer, not having any natural aptitude for dance, being too heavy for grace, and lacking musicality. I suppose it has even more to do with my sinking back into myself after Jeff’s death catapulted me to hell and beyond, and so I feel more myself than I have in ages, and “myself” is … well, not a dancer, which makes me feel more and more like an imposter. (Oddly, I dance more than I write, but I consider myself a writer even when I don’t write.)

And, of course, there’s my dubious financial situation, which adds even more ambivalence to the issue because I really should be working rather than depleting my savings on ungainful activities.

It’s no wonder then, that I woke the other morning with these words echoing in my post-dream-state brain: You can teach an elephant to dance, but that doesn’t make her a dancer.

Still, I have the strange idea that I can get stronger, more agile, and more balanced by combining the dance classes with the backpacking saunters, and before I settle down to some ridiculous job, I want a chance to see what I can do physically.

If I am ambivalent about dancing, it’s nothing compared to my ambivalence about long distance backpacking. Even if by some miracle, sheer determination, or a combination of the two, I am able to carry the weight I need, it’s still remains to be seen if my body will cooperate.

For example, I’d been feeling a pinch in one knee occasionally when I went uphill and a pinch in the other when I went downhill, so I researched how to walk downhill properly, and then my knees really started to hurt! Apparently, the advice was all wrong for me. It was more for powering down a hill rather than saving one’s knees. So now that I’ve found the right “right way” (hypothetically, by shifting weight side to side as you walk downhill, you use more hamstrings than quadriceps, which helps keep the muscles in balance and protects the cartilage), we’ll see if I can keep from destroying my knees.

Still, ambivalent or not, living my life or a borrowed life, I plan to keep moving ahead with the combined strength and agility training. And maybe, someday, whatever I end up doing will feel like it’s my life after all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Marching Along

March begins tomorrow, and suddenly, it feels as if the the months are speeding by too fast. January seemed about three months long, and February about three days. At the rate I’m going, March will feel like three hours, and that is not enough time to do everything I need to do. Like print out more information about campsites and such for my May trip. Like get strong enough for a short backpacking trip. Like convert a bit of fat into muscle. Like work on my poor abandoned book.

In January, when I decided that March would be my novel writing month and marked “book” on my calendar, I felt as if I had forever to get in writing shape, and suddenly, here I am on the cusp of the month, and all I’ve done to prepare is drag out my printed copy of the manuscript.

I truly have no specific intentions other than to spend a bit of time every day focused on the book and maybe move the story along a bit. I have no word count goals, not even any expectation of finishing the book. I should be able to do that, right?

We shall see.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

The Nature of Dilemma

I walked out of dance class yesterday. I can’t even remember the last time I walked out of anything in anger. Now that I think about it, though, I wasn’t really angry. Just fed up.

I’ve mentioned before that I have problems with one of the women — a total narcissist. I get tired of the almost constant sound of her voice and the way she makes everything about her, but more than that, I get tired of how she treats me.

And yesterday I’d had enough.

It’s my own fault, really. Sometimes we as writers have the power to make things happen. When I was writing A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I always saw a silver Toyota Tacoma in the grocery store parking lot. I used the vehicle for the book, and oddly, after the truck was stolen in the story, I never saw that Tacoma again. Made me wonder if somehow I managed to get it stolen in real life.

Then, when I was writing Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, I didn’t want to use her real car — a PT Cruiser — since it could identify her, so I changed her vehicle to a Kia. A couple of days after I gave her the pseudonymous car, she drove to the studio in her new Kia.

Such things are common occurrences for me, but never before have I conjured up a person.

Those of you who read Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare are familiar with a character named Deb. This character started out being based on the idiosyncrasies of a couple of women in class, but I skewed the character far from those women to fit the needs of the story. This skewed character seemed to see herself in competition with the narrator (whose name, coincidentally, is Pat), and this competition, one way though it might have been, fueled the story.

When I was able to return to class after my various surgeries, lo and behold, there was Deb. Her name and physical description are not the same as my fictional Deb, but the rest of it is pretty darn close, perceived competition and all.

Did I conjure her? I doubt it, but still, whether her emergence is my fault or not, this woman is in my life, or rather, in my life as long as I continue to take dance classes. It’s only two months until my trip, which will give me a break from all that has been bedeviling me, so I’ve been trying to ignore the woman, stay as far away from her as possible, and to hold my tongue to keep the peace, but yesterday I simply did not want to have to deal with her anymore.

As I was going out the door after the incident that fueled my need to leave, she continued with her unwanted comments. I just wish narcissists would understand that not everything is about them, that other people have their own lives and needs separate from theirs. But then, if they understood that, they wouldn’t be narcissists.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to rewrite the story to make Deb nicer and less of a narcissist, and it’s too late to make her vanish since her fate was already written. (And anyway, when I write things on purpose hoping they will happen, they never do.)

So I have the dilemma of getting her out of my life and missing out on the good parts of dance class or keeping the status quo.

Not a fun dilemma. But isn’t that the very nature of dilemma? If the choice were easy, it wouldn’t be a dilemma.

For now, I’ll continue going to class. Maybe something will happen to tip the scale one way or another.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Reclaiming “Can’t”

After my second dance class four or so years ago, I was chatting with a fellow student as we changed into our street shoes. “I don’t know why I can’t do this,” I said, referring to the few dance steps I’d been trying to learn.

Another woman (Rhett in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare) said not to me, but to the teacher, “I hate people who say can’t.”

That seemed so rude to me, I was rendered speechless, but the woman I’d been talking to spoke up. “Pat didn’t say she wouldn’t try or that she’d never be able to do it but that she can’t do it now.” I smiled at her in gratitude, thanked her for sticking up for me, and said, “If I could understand why I can’t do the steps, maybe I’d be able to do them. I’m going to continue to try, of course, but at the moment, my feet won’t do what they’re supposed to.”

Rhett responded, “I can take you to a grocery store where you will see a lot of cans, but you won’t see a single can’t.”

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Despite that inauspicious beginning, Rhett and I generally got along. But I was careful not to say “can’t” unless I was in a contrary mood, even though my feet often didn’t do what they were supposed to.

Now, though, I’m back to saying “can’t” because there are many things I can no longer do. And again, people (though not Rhett) are giving me a hard time for using the word.

Their attitude mystifies me. What difference could it possibly make to anyone if I say “can’t”?

Even if I refrained from saying “can’t,” it wouldn’t help. My left arm, wrist, and elbow seem normal enough for most things (which is why people often forget there are things I can’t do) but none of those parts work right. The  arm is twisted a bit, doesn’t reach areas of my body it used to be able to reach, such as my left shoulder, and doesn’t have a lot of strength. The elbow creaks and groans, and the fingers don’t close properly. (We’re not even talking pain here, simply range of motion.) I am working to improve all these areas, but there are physical limitations to what I will ever be able to do.

I am grateful for the things I can do and accepting of the things I can’t. In a way, saying “can’t” honors both what I can and cannot do because it speaks the truth. Truth is more important to me, and will always be more important to me than a fake positivity.

Besides, can’t is a perfectly respectable word despite its negative reputation. Sometimes it reflects a cry of frustration rather than refusal to try. Sometimes it’s a sign of momentary defeat and offers a respite from the stress of trying. And sometimes it’s the simple truth.

So, I’m reclaiming “can’t.”

And you can’t stop me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

The Great Adventure We Call Life

I am planning a fall adventure with a friend. We’re considering a camping trip to King’s Canyon National Park. I’m assuming there is a canyon in the park, but basically all I know is that there are trees. Giant trees! That sure will be a change from the desert, a needed change for both of us. Like me, she’s alone and needs adventure, needs to get out, needs to live larger than she is.

Actually, there are a lot of us in that situation. An east coast friend wants me to go on an adventure in Harper’s Ferry with her for those very same reasons, and perhaps I’ll be able to do it next year, but I’m not yet ready for another cross country road trip. If I go, I would like to saunter along the Shenandoah National Park section of the Appalachian Trail, and I’m not ready for that yet, either.

Despite my rhetoric about traveling alone, I am looking forward to this proposed fall trip — it’s a different sort of adventure, one that isn’t dependent on me alone. It also adds an adventure to my life without taking away from my solo adventures. Assuming I haven’t come to hate backpacking by then, I’d like to do a solo backpacking trip this fall, but there will be plenty of warm weather after the King’s Canyon adventure. And if not, if it gets cold before I can go backpacking, well, I’ve never been to Death Valley. And never backpacked in Joshua Tree National Park. Or the desert portion of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Adventures galore!

It might not seem as if my life is going anywhere, it might seem as if I am always talking about the same things — what I’m going to do, what I would like to do, what I’m trying to do — and yet, there are changes.

I keep working my elbow, arm, and hand, and though the arm and wrist are slightly deformed, I can do most of what I did before. Some things are difficult, such as not being able to touch my left shoulder with my left hand, but I can now use the left trekking pole with the left hand (without an inordinate amount of pain) and oh, so many things that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do.

I’ve been walking, adding distance to the saunter and weight to the pack. I don’t know if I’m actually getting stronger, but I carried twenty-five pounds today for five miles. That’s something.

And I’ve been good about not eating wheat or sugar.

Little challenges. Little changes. Will they add up to big changes? I don’t know, and at this point, I don’t suppose it matters. What does matter is that today I went sauntering. Today I ate healthy foods. Today I spent time with a friend. (A woman I met at dance class has been joining me on my Sunday saunters lately. It’s been a great way to visit, and keeps me going just a bit longer than I might have otherwise felt like trudging.)

All part of the great adventure we call life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Living Large

Three years ago almost to the day, I wrote about living small, and I still live small. I leave a small footprint on the earth — driving as little as possible, walking wherever I can; buying little, recycling what I can; getting rid of what possessions I can, scaling back on what I can’t. I am also a small thinker. Though I like to think I think big thoughts, I actually get bogged down in minutiae and over thinking. When I listen to music (which is almost never), I keep the sound turned way down. I would like to write expansively, but I write small, dredging each word and each idea out of the depths of my mind. As you can see, I’m not one of those people who take a mile when given an inch. In fact, when given an inch, I generally only take a centimeter.

Back then, I was still at my father’s house. (I just realized — if he were alive, he’d be 101 today!!) I was living in two small rooms even though the whole 3,500 square foot house was at my disposal. In fact, keeping to my habit of living small, I hadn’t even removed the curtain on the glass doors that separated my rooms from the rest of the house.

When my sister-in-law came to help ready the house for sale, she commented on how full of contradictions I was, talking about living out in the open on some sort of epic adventure, but living behind a curtain in that house.

I conceded she had a point and took down the curtain. It wasn’t exactly living large, but it was a start. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to today. I am again talking about some sort of epic adventure while living small in a curtained-off room. (Not literally curtained off — this time the room is separated from the rest of the house by solid doors.)

It’s not as if I haven’t done anything in these intervening years — I did go on one near-epic road trip in my restored VW Beetle and I . . . Pausing here to think. Was that it? Just that one adventure?

Sheesh. I do live small.

I need more adventures!

In late April, I will be heading out for a five-week road trip to Oregon and Washington. It was going to be six weeks to two months, but I told my dance teacher I would try to get back at the end of May to do another performance at the local college with my dance class. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to know I am ambivalent about it. I don’t like having to cut my trip short, don’t like having to travel on Memorial Day weekend, don’t like the idea of going back to the scene of my fall (the last time I did a performance at the college, I destroyed my arm). But . . . I love my belly dance costume, love the dance, and considering the state of my finances and the need to make a change one day soon, it might be the last time I ever get on stage.

So around and around I go.

Yep. Living small. Overthinking.

People have asked me what I expect from a wilderness trek of some kind, and maybe that’s the answer — to live large. Live large in the world. Live large in my own mind. Of course, then I’d have to ask my minutiae-oriented self what I mean by living large, and as with so much else in my life, I haven’t a clue.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Risk Management

I have never been a risk taker. I do not like pain or discomfort of any kind — not taunts, not scoldings, not broken bones, not cuts, not illness. For most of my life, my adventures were the literary kind, and oh, I was intrepid. Actually, that’s not true. I never identified as the hero. I was always sort of a companion, analyzing the risks and trying to figure out how not to have gotten into the scrapes the character did, and thinking about how I would get myself out the situation.

The habit of analyzing risks followed me into real life. For example, although I had no aptitude for dancing when I was young and there was no way for me to take dance classes, I’d still decided at a young age that dancing wasn’t for me. I didn’t want the foot pain and bleeding toes, the horrendous hours of work, and all the rest that goes into being a dancer. I still don’t want any of that. As dedicated as I am about taking dance classes now, at the first sign of debilitating pain (other than the muscle aches from too many plies), that will be it.

Even before I fell and broke my arm, I’d fall-proofed wherever I lived — stayed away from area rugs, made sure the night time trek from bed to bathroom was completely open. Now I have bars in the bathtub, but I’d always been careful getting in and out of the shower, been especially careful picking up soap if I dropped it because I knew that’s how and where most home injuries occurred.

How did I know all this? I have always been a researcher. And I think things through and rethink things to the point of overthinking.

That being said, the truth is, there is no way to avoid risk. Many terrible things have happened to me over the years, from being held up at gunpoint, to having to deal with devastating grief when Jeff died, and most recently, the destruction of my arm. Everything bad that has ever happened to me has happened in the city, sometimes even when I was with someone else.

If I were still with Jeff, or if I hadn’t had to deal with the horrors of grief, my adventurous spirit might never have been kindled, but now the wild woman in me is struggling to get out. I have an inordinate desire to live. To experience. To be. To become.

I realize this call to adventure (whatever the adventure might be) involves more risks than reading in bed (though I have known people who broke hips when they fell out of bed), but all I can do is minimize the risks. As I have always done, I research ways to be safe, I imagine myself in precarious situations, learn what others have done and what I would do to get out of them. Even following a well established trail, it’s easy to get lost (as many people have discovered too late), but my years of venturing into the nearby desert have taught me to mark the way back to the trail if I have to leave it, to pay attention to my tracks (and the tracks of other creatures).

I make sure my cell phone is fully charged, and I am always wary, never acting as if I am in a safe place, though the truth is, I am safer wandering in the desert than I am in the city. (A lot safer than driving, that’s for sure!) The most dangerous thing I do is cross a street. I’m not joking here. To get to the dance studio, I have to cross one of the busiest and most dangerous intersections in town where six roads with multiple lanes meet, cars going all directions, and no cross walk. (Sometimes I jaywalk, which is safer, unless I’m caught, and then I face an $80 fine).

I have driven cross country alone, hiked in national parks and wild places alone. I have camped alone. It’s not as if I have no experience being alone in potentially dangerous places, but still, people worry about me.

Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate the concern. I really do. It’s pleasing — and comforting — to know that people care. Lately, though, so many people have cautioned my about putting myself at risk, that I’m getting scared. And I don’t want to be.

Of course I’m at risk, and I will be at even greater risk when I take my trip in May, but so what? I can’t live my life in fear of something bad happening to me. I take more than reasonable precautions, but I will not be bounded by fear, mine or anyone else’s. If something happens, will it be worse than Jeff dying? Will it be worse than being held up at gunpoint? Will it be worse than destroying my arm? Will it be worse than living in fear? Will it be worse than stagnating, worse than squandering this opportunity of freedom where I am still healthy enough to go where adventure calls, worse than squandering myself?

I understand that terrible things could be waiting for me out there, and if any of those things happen, I’ll deal with it then.

But think of this. What if I can handle whatever comes as I have always done? What if nothing bad happens? What if something wonderful is waiting for me if I only have the courage to grab hold of adventure and life?

So yes, please worry about me, but don’t forget to encourage me, too. I need both.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Is it Really so Important to Label Ourselves and Others?

My four-mile saunter today wasn’t quite as exciting or as heartening as yesterday’s. The pack weight was the same, the distance the same, but various parts of me ached at different times. (I haven’t been able figure out how to stop the slight chafing of the shoulder strap, but it’s possible it’s a design defect of the pack since it was mentioned in at least one review.) Still, I met the challenge. And the whole experience was fabulous in its own way.

Although I might be sore, and I might be staggering a bit after all that effort (I have a hunch I didn’t eat enough yesterday), my mind is at rest.

It’s always a joy getting away from the city, even if my “wilderness” is just the expanse of desert beyond the neighborhood. Out there, by myself, there are no labels. There is just me, whatever that might be.

I sometimes call myself a writer but only when it pertains to my books. I don’t call myself a blogger even though I blog more than write. I don’t call myself a hiker even though I hike more than blog. I don’t call myself a dancer even though I dance more than hike. And I don’t call myself a sleeper even though I sleep more than all of those activities put together.

Most especially, in today’s world where gender is such a hot topic, I don’t bother to place myself anywhere on the gender spectrum, nor do I place myself anywhere on the political spectrum.

I am.

What more do I need?

What more do you need?

Is it really so important to label ourselves and others?

I’ve been deleting “labelers” from my Facebook page, even those I’ve kept because I thought it diplomatic not to delete them during past purges, but I am tired of all the labels we slap on others. Ists and isms. Gender classifications. Political views and identity politics.

Even if people deserve being called racist or sexist or ageist or bigot or anything else, why say it? Labeling makes us feel superior because we, of course, are none of those things. Labeling puts people in what we feel is their place, and keeps us from seeing their greater (or lesser) truth.

One thing that grief taught me is that we are all works in progress, even those we dislike or those who anger us. We are all on our own personal Ferris wheel, filling every one of the buckets, but the wheel keeps turning and so all the buckets are us at various moments during the day, at various times during our lives. It’s only when someone dies that the Ferris wheel stops, allowing us (perhaps) to see each of their many parts. By labeling a person, you put a spoke in their Ferris wheel as relates to you, stopping it at that particular view of the person. You never see all the rest of the buckets. Never see that beyond your label, the wheel keeps turning.

I tried to explain this to a friend who insists that I am opinionated, though I do not think I am arrogantly and conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in my opinions. (Which is the definition of opinionated.) And every time she tells me I am opinionated, she uses the same example, “You don’t just say ‘I don’t like Meryl Streep,’ like other people do, you say, ‘I hate her.’” Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I ever thought about the actress, can’t remember the last time I spoke her name, can’t remember the last time I saw one of her movies, but apparently, years ago when we were discussing movies and she was extolling Streep’s virtues, I said I hated the actress. And forever after, in my friend’s mind, that proves I am opinionated.

(As an aside, I told her that the one-time friend who called me contrary was perhaps the most contrary person I ever met. The person who called me negative was so negative I could barely handle being in her presence. Before I could suggest that this friend turn the opinionated finger to herself, she said, “I can see where this is going.”)

So, here’s a thought. What would happen if everyone stopped labeling everyone else? Calling someone racist ignores all the blatantly unracist things the person does. Calling someone leftist ignores . . . etc, etc, etc. But even if they were consistently racist (or whatever label you put on them), why say it? It might not make the world a better place if we stopped the labels, but it sure would make Facebook a much more pleasant place to hang out.

Meantime, there is always the desert, where there are no labels. Just sand and wind and sun and me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.