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.”)

Dreaming of a White…Tiger

My untethered life is getting weirder by the day. I thought the last place I stayed was strange, with an incipient serial killer as a roommate, an old folks gated ghetto for a neighborhood, and a Gestapo-like management company that kept track of who was doing what.

I’m being dramatic. It wasn’t that bad. The roommate was just a . . . well, I don’t know what he was, but I don’t think he had killer instincts. Too lazy. And I seem to be the only one who found the neighborhood depressing. (People tell me that I should be careful what I say since I too am old, but I want more for myself than a life full of road bumps, cinder block barriers, and people who have nothing better to do than mind other people’s business.)

tigerI did learn something, though. I am a nester. It didn’t take me long — a day or two of housecleaning and moving things around to make room for me — until I felt at home. (Because, wherever I am, there I am.) Though I have to admit that when I was evicted by the management company and told I had a week to get out, I couldn’t stop smiling. It felt good to be untethered, unnested and stagnation free.

I don’t suppose it will take long before I am used to this new place, but the trouble is the dogs. Well, one of them. One likes me, one wants nothing to do with me, two can take me or leave me, two live in the garage, and one aggressively hates me. Which means either he or I is always segregated behind closed doors. And dare I admit an embarrassing truth? I fell out of the very high, very narrow bed. That sure woke me up in a hurry! Interesting times.

If I can come to an accommodation with the place, I might stay until March. If it continues being uncomfortable, I will leave for my trip at the beginning of February. The later I leave, the better the chances of taking a more northernly route back and might even allow me to bypass some storms. The earlier I leave means the earlier I get to begin my adventure. Either way, I’m ready. Or mostly ready. It turns out I have two carloads of stuff — car camping and backpacking equipment takes up a lot of space in my tiny car. And then there is the stuff for a more civilized life, the original trip I’d planned years ago. Nicer clothes. Computer. My books to sell. Hats for fun and class. So now I have to cut back to a more reasonable level, though it will still seem like a surfeit of stuff.

People keep telling me they admire my courage and my sense of adventure, but the truth is, I am all talk. I still haven’t taken a single step or driven a single mile on this epic adventure. Perhaps I will earn admiration. Maybe I will always be talk. It’s possible that I will get in the car, drive to the other end of the country in a few days and don’t stop to see a darn thing. (That’s how I usually travel.)

But in this case, the destination isn’t the goal. The trip is the goal.

And I am slowly becoming the person who can make such a journey.

Last night I dreamt of a white tiger. (And lots of dogs.) Apparently, a white tiger is an auspicious sign, and means the dreamer has a powerful patron, a friend that always supports her, and also that she has dealt with all her inner doubts and come to a decision.

The tiger didn’t tell me what I decided (the dream ended when I fell out of the damn bed), but since I was walking (the dogs were following along but the white tiger twice passed me going in the opposite direction) I presume the trip is on.

I’m hoping I have the courage everyone seems to think I have.

I certainly have the gear.

***

(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.”)

Whatever Comes My Way

I spent the morning buying food for a cross-country camping/hiking/backpacking road trip — dried fruit, nuts, protein bars, foil-packed tuna, even a few freeze-dried meals from the sporting goods store. When I got back to the house where I am staying (for the next two months, or so I thought), the manager of this manufactured-home park accosted me in her silly plastic-wrapped golf cart and told me I was here illegally and that I had a week to clear out.

“Illegal” seems a bit harsh since I am here by the owner’s permission. Apparently, however, my being here breaks some sort of park rule saying that non-owners can only live here if the owner is in residence. What it comes down to is that, illegal or not, I have to leave in a week.

old manThe people I’m renting from have a small room in another house they will let me move into for a couple of weeks. It’s in a home for old people who need care and I won’t have my own bathroom, so it’s not an ideal situation by any means. It might not be particularly admirable of me, but I cannot handle being around the sick, old, and dying. I’ve had too many years of that, and now I need to feel alive while I still have a bit of youth left in me. (Well, I suppose it’s more accurate to say while I still have a bit of middle age left in me. People keep reminding me that I am no longer young.) People also tell me I am too sensitive, and that is true. I feel for those folks, which makes it all the harder, but they are not me, and I am the one I have to be.

So, unless something else happens to either delay or jumpstart my trip, I will be heading out in about three weeks. I am mostly ready. I still have a few bits of gear to get, such as a polyester hiking shirt. I only have cotton shirts, and apparently, one should wear polyester when one is backpacking because cotton loses its ability to insulate when it gets wet. To me, the solution is not to get wet, but I am trying to pay attention to wiser and more experienced folk. I also need some sort of hanging food sack, but again, I only need that if I am around various wild animals, insects, and rodents. And of course, there are none of those critters out in the wilds, are there?

I’m being facetious, of course. I know I need some sort of food protection if I am camping away from the car. (If the food is in the car, in an odor-proof bag, there shouldn’t be a problem.) I’m just not yet sure what sort of protection to get. A bear canister is overkill for most of where I will be.

People seem to be worried about my taking off in the winter (others are worried about my taking off by myself during any season) but it’s time for me to be adventurous. To see what’s out there in the big wild world. I do heed their worries, though I don’t have many of my own. If the weather is truly atrocious in three weeks, I might talk the woman into letting me stay a couple of more days, or I might get a motel somewhere along the road.

Or . . . whatever comes my way.

***

(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.”)

Happy Youthing!

I realized a couple of days ago that I’ve spent so much time, money, and attention on rejuvenating my ancient VW, that I haven’t been paying attention to myself, so I’ve resolved to take better care of myself. Be more cognizant of nutrition. Eat more vegetables. Erase wheat and sugar from my diet. Go to bed earlier. Walk more. (I’ve gotten lax on walking, mostly because I live far from anywhere interesting to walk.) Maybe even write more, if only on this blog.

This isn’t a New Year’s resolution, you understand. Just a resolution. The proximity of a new year is coincidence. It’s simply time to pay more attention to myself before the habit of sloth gets insurmountable. I’ve always tried to take care of myself and to stick to such a healthy regimen, but trying and sticking have both deserted me in recent months. Now I’m ready to get back into my youthing program. (Youth-ing, not you-thing, though I suppose both are accurate in a way.)

And none too soon. I met an old man at the dumpster in the complex where I am living, who watched me walking with my bag of trash. He said, “Luckily I can drive.” I just smiled, but I thought, “Luckily I can walk.” And I want to make sure I keep that ability for many years to come. Although I have given up on the idea of an epic walk, something in me keeps wondering. Could I? Would I? Should I?

But such thoughts are for another day. For now, I’m just gosalading to get back into the swing of walking. And, of course, concentrate on vegetables and nutrition, even if some of that nutrition comes from supplements.

I want to make sure I am strong enough to enjoy the good days I have left. Tragedy strikes without warning. Cancer develops in secret to spring forth fully grown. Joints get old. But I don’t have to tell you about the vicissitudes of life. You know what I’m talking about.

One thing I have no plans to change is my attitude, though people often tell me attitude is the key to keeping young. The trouble is, people are so gung-ho in their belief in the necessity for positive thinking that they forget that downs as well as ups are part of living, and should be celebrated in their own way. (Celebrated meaning observed. Celebrated meaning commemorated. Celebrated meaning felt, acknowledged, and processed.) Crying, screaming, whining even, are all appropriate at times. If others don’t appreciate these sorts of reactions, then, well . . . then nothing. There’s not a single thing I can do about their attitude, only mine.

Sometimes there is no way to “at least” your way into feeling good about a trauma. “At least” we’re together. “At least” it’s curable. “At least” you/he/she/it isn’t suffering. Some things are truly terrible and have to be dealt raw without the insulation of “at leasts”. To do otherwise, to raise positive thinking to such a degree as to mitigate the horror, causes untold stress and makes any true adjustment toward a new life all but impossible. And makes a person old before their time. (I realize I am in a minority in my belief. Everyone deals with trauma the only way they can, which is generally to pretend to be happy regardless.)

It now looks as if my cross-country trip will be more of a spring trip than a winter one, so there’s more preparation to do. I don’t have spring/summer hiking clothes, so I’ll need to rectify that. And figure out how to keep to a sort of nutritious diet on the road. Vegetables don’t come refrigerated, so is it possible to make salads and take them along? (Salads that are long on vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, and short on lettuce.) Or do all cut vegetables go bad quickly? All part of the learning process, I suppose. All part of my youthing resolution.

Happy youthing to you, too.

***

(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.”)

A Time of Preparation

The lazy days are flowing one into the other, and it seems as if my life has come to a standstill, as if the stagnation I fear has already set in, but however I feel, the truth is, this has been a year of unprecedented adventure, change, and awe.

I started out the year in my father’s house, dealing with grief for all my dead while I cleaned out his “effects” and readied the house for sale. I gathered all my friends together for a Pre-Probate Party to celebrate the last days before his will went into probate, the last days I knew for sure I would have a place to live. Since then, I have never been without a place to live, though I stayed on couches, lived in a camper, house-sat a few times, and even rented a room for a couple of months. (Oddly, I am ending the year in this same precarious position as I started because my current room is in a house that’s for sale, and soon I will again be Stepping From The Known Into The Unknown.)

Sometime during those last days at my father’s house where I tried to imagine Unimagined Possibilities, I found myself with a new philosophy: Either Things Will Work Out Or They Won’t, which allowed me to stop worrying so much and instead let me enjoy the uncertainties of my new life. If things work out, obviously, I don’t have to worry, and if they don’t work out, there’s nothing I can do about it now because I have no idea in what way they won’t work out. Or things might work out in a way I couldn’t even fathom, which is what usually happens.

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And so I drifted through my days. I continued to take the dance classes, which I love, but I dreamed of . . . more. Something epic. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or the as yet unfinished California Coastal Trail. Perhaps stepping foot on the Appalachian Trail (which a friend recently told me is pronounced Apple-atchian. Okay. Got it. Now I know the most important thing about the trail if ever I decided to hike a bit of it.) I also considered a more realistic venture since I do not think I have the ability to carry a heavy backpack for many miles — visiting national parks and day hiking to sample a variety of trails and terrains.

WANDERLUST

A friend, who knew my dreams of adventure, invited me to stay with her and volunteered to drop me off at trail heads and pick me up when I was finished with my hike so that I could experience adventure in a relatively safe manner. And so began two magical months of hiking along the ocean, losing myself in the forest (not getting lost geographically, more like letting the forest take me over), becoming one with . . . myself, perhaps. I am usually of two minds about everything, so I am often beset with doubts, worry, and internal discussions. But not up in the redwoods. Not by the ocean. There, I was simply me. Simply happy.

One of the things I had been of two minds about centered around my ancient VW bug, A Forty-Three-Year-Old Lemon. I considered replacing the iconic car with some sort of van I could turn into a mini-home, considered getting an automobile big enough to sleep in, considered, oh, so many possibilities, but in the end decided to keep the poor old thing a little longer. After all, how many people can say they have only owned one car in their whole life, a vehicle they bought new and kept going through the decades? And the way I figured, if I bought a new car now, in five years, it would be old. If I bought a new car five years from now, five years from now it would be new.

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Still, if I were going on a long trip to visit parks and meet online friends, I would prefer to look like a near-classic lady in a near-classic car rather than a homeless woman in a rattletrap, so I found someone who would do the body work. All I wanted was a couple of holes patched and enough rust gone so it could be painted, and six months later, six months of learning to do without a vehicle, what I found at The Great Reveal!! was a full body restoration. And because the outside looked so beautiful, I had to have the inside reupholstered because it truly looked pathetic in relation to the lovely body. And then, when I took it to my mechanic for a tune-up before my cross-country trip and he expressed concerns about the engine lasting for all those miles, well, now I have a new engine, transmission, and a lot of other new parts, and Oh, My, My Erstwhile Lemon Is a Beauty!

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Despite the awesomeness of this year, it seems to me as if it is . . . was . . . a time of preparation, not just for the coming year, but for a new way of living and thinking. I can’t go on a cross-country trip until I have put 500 miles on the new engine and have all the kinks worked out, but I am ready to meet the changes and challenges of both the trip and the coming year.

At least, I hope I am.

 

***

(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.”)

The Truly Creative Mind

A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing my work-in-progress with a friend. This WIP is about a murder in the studio where we take dance classes, and my idea is that each of us should have an unconscious hand in the murder. Ideally, each of our flaws would become a fatal flaw. For example, if one person hadn’t been late, if another person hadn’t left something behind, if a third hadn’t picked up something by accident, the poor woman wouldn’t have died.

We discussed possible flaws to assign to our classmates, then my friend said, “You know what’s wrong with you, don’t you.” I gave a rueful smile because I knew what she was going to say even before she said it: “You’re too sensitive.” (I don’t know how to work sensitivity into the story equation, so for now, I’m thinking my character’s flaw will be disdain, which I have to confess I sometimes feel when people say things that are patently untrue.)

This seems to be the consensus nowadays, that I’m too sensitive. I take things to heart, am sensitive to slights, hurt terribly by unintended insults, feel unfairness no matter who it’s directed at, wounded by disloyalty, and being ignored or shot down when I speak silences me completely.

I’m not sure why my sensitivity bothers others, but there it is. It would be a lot more comfortable for all concerned, of course, if I were able to accept with insouciance what anyone said to me, and yet, sensitivity has always been part of me. Grief blew whatever defenses I’d built to smithereens, and now everything bothers me, partly because I think people should feel honored that I have deigned to spend time with them. (I’m joking, of course, though there is an uncomfortable kernel of truth to the matter.)

To be honest, I’m not sure what being less sensitive will gain me. Why would I want to feel less? To insulate myself from unpleasantness? To ignore nuances of voice (both complimentary and chastising)? To accept other people’s view of the situation as the only reality?

I read something when I was a very young girl that has stuck with me throughout the decades because it seemed to be about me. I found this quote in the forward of a Pearl S. Buck book. (I was a precocious reader, having read everything in the children’s library by the time I was in second grade and everything in the young adult library before the fourth grade).

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” —Pearl S. Buck.

I’m not as hypersensitive as Pearl Buck, at least not anymore, but I was that sensitive as a child and a young woman, and apparently, I am heading once again in that direction. I have a hunch this sensitivity is something that being so connected to Jeff all those years protected me from, because I didn’t feel so abnormally sensitive when he was alive. His presence seemed to give me a safe place to “incubate,” to be myself without fretting about my difference from everyone else (because I was like him). Then later, his long illness dropped me into a period of dormancy, of numbness, of simply getting through the days, weeks, years.

And now? Without the cocoon of our relationship or the numbness of his dying, I am thrown once more into the world to deal with life however I can, to feel whatever I can. I seem to have fallen into a period of relative joylessness, but one day, the joy will return, and what will I have gained if I have learned to shut myself off from my sensitivities?

Of course, if people considered my feelings first, debates about my hypersensitivity would be moot. And since that will not happen, all I can do is deal with the fallout as best as I can with walks and tears and chocolate. And blogging.

***

(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.”)

Me? Cantankerous?

I have a hunch I am not going to be a sweet old lady when I become elderly, one of those geriatric dears everyone loves because . . . well, I don’t know why people like them. I just know I’m not going to be one of them. I’m going to be the crotchety old crank who won’t give an inch, and who has nothing but contempt for the fools who manage to find their way into her orbit.

Oh, wait. I am that crank now.

After class today (where I kept my mouth shut when our exercises were interrupted with a political harangue by a woman who didn’t know what the hell she was talking about), we went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We all ordered the same thing, windexcept I added an extra condiment, which made my bill 80 cents more than everyone else’s. But I was charged almost $2.00 more. I pointed out the discrepancy, and the cashier told me they gave me the same discount they gave everyone else. I tried to explain that they gave me a 10% discount on one item, not the total bill. I should have just shut up and let the matter go, but the more the two young women ganged up on me, arguing that they were right, the more I dug in my heels. I can’t say it was the money that bothered me, can’t even say it was the principle of the thing. It was simply a matter of their rudeness and their refusal to concede they might be wrong. (The way I see it, the world would be a lot better off if people just listened to me.:-) )

And I was cranky.

After all that, I didn’t feel like eating, so I told them to give me my money back. They said they couldn’t do that — the manager would have to do a refund, but the manager wasn’t there. So I took the food home and gave it to my very strange roommate.

I apologized to my companions for making a scene. My dance teacher said I had to calm down, I’ve been too nervous lately. She asked if I were worried about our upcoming belly dance performance or my trip, and I said no, though the truth is, upon reflection, I find I am nervous about both things.

I enjoy our small performances, but the big productions we participate in at the college a couple times a year are not fun for me. It’s a huge commitment of time (for example, on dress rehearsal day we are there from about 1:30pm to 10:30pm, though we are on stage approximately 6 minutes total for our two dances.) There is a level of competence expected that I so often cannot meet and, for some reason, this year I have become self-conscious about how I look on stage. It didn’t bother me the first time we did a belly dance, mostly because for me it was about laying it all out there, saying “this is me.” But that was then, and this is now. I am two years older, no thinner, and I hear the echo of a friend telling me after our last performance that we looked ridiculous, us older folk among the energetic college kids. (A friend I’ve since dropped.)

And I am having second thoughts about taking a trip in winter in an El Nino year. It is frigid here in the desert, the winds have been fierce, and there seems to be more precipitation than normal, which makes me wonder what it will be like elsewhere. I worry about traveling in unsafe conditions, especially since drivers lately seem to have gone berserk. Three times today alone, drivers moved into my lane with apparently no sense I was there. Luckily, all three times, I was able to move into the next lane or slow down without incident.

So yes, I am a bit anxious, though not enough to be losing sleep over. Mostly, I’m just cantankerous.

Want to make something of it?

***

(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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