Fabric Houses

I’ve been researching tents, trying to find one that is livable for more than a night or two. If I ever went on an epic walk, I’d probably have to get something extremely lightweight, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to carry it, but if I went car camping, I’d have many more options.

The simplest tents are little more than a tarp. The most complicated have multiple rooms and even more complicated set-ups, especially if one person has to do it alone. The cheapest tents cost about $40. The most expensive top $4,000. The biggest tents seem to be circus tents, which are not something I have any interest in owning. (That’s just a guess about circus tents being the biggest. For all I know, the military has constructed temporary hangars that would make a circus tent look small.) The most terrifying are the bivy bags — they look like something a vampire would sleep in. I can’t imagine waking up in the middle of the night, still half-asleep from remembered nightmares of being buried alive to find the tent inches from my face. Oh, my. Sounds like heart failure waiting to happen.

Tents as both portable and ptentermanent housing have been around for probably 40,000 years. The list of materials used for making tents throughout the ages reads like a mini history of peoplekind — mammoth hides, deerskin, silk, canvas, nylon, cuben fiber. Colors varied, too, from basic dead animal skin to rainbow hues, to camouflage and other “natural” tones.

When I imagine tent living, I don’t think of modern miracles of lightweight shelters that keep out both bugs and rain (though of course, I would need both such amenities). What I think of are glorious and sumptuous structures right out of Scheherazade or the Arabian Nights or even a fabric representation of Jeannie’s genie bottle — lots of jewel-toned pillows, rugs, silk swaths.

Sounds kind of fun, actually. I doubt I would make such a colorful tent — way too much trouble especially since there are thousands of styles on the market. Besides, I’m more of a practical person, at least on the outside. I can see getting a durable and sensible tent but inside, where it counts, furnish it with simple, colorful, lightweight portable luxuries.

I’m probably being silly since I don’t know what is feasible when it comes to fabric-home living, but I like the idea of decadent luxury coupled with sturdy practicality. Who says I have to get a solo tent? Who says I have to use a boring old sleeping bag? Who says a fabric house can’t feel like a home?

Who says I can live in a tent, even for only a night or two? I certainly don’t know, but as with all the rest of my whimsies, it’s fun thinking about.


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

Going Along for the Ride

I’m going to be without a car for about three weeks starting on Monday, and when I mentioned this to a woman I dance with, she said, “Maybe you’ll have to ask your friends for help.” She said it sweetly and kindly, but the impression my friend gave me was that I was just too damn independent. Others have come right out and said the words, not meaning them as a compliment, and I suppose it’s the truth. I don’t like to put people out or put them on the spot or make them feel burdened by my requests. Still, people do like to help. So . . .

Maybe it’s time for me to be less stubbornly independent.

Or not. What do I know? Not as much as I once did, that’s for sure.

But my friend is right. If I am without transportation at such a critical time — when I am about to be ejected from the only home I’ve known for the past five years — then I will have to ask for help, even though it’s my decision to be without a vehicle. (I’m going to have my ancient VW bug de-rusted, de-dented and re-painted in celebration of my new start in life. Makes me smile to think of restoring the bug while I am restoring me.)

It’s interesting all the changes — outer and inner — that are coming at the same time as the fifth anniversary of Jeff’s death. (The actual anniversary is this Friday.) I feel like I’m crossing some great divide, though I’m not sure what the divide is dividing. Maybe the last of my old life and the beginning of my new. Coming to my father’s house to take care of him was a transitional stage for me. A place where I could grieve, where I could move away from my old shared life without having to start anew.

And now it’s time to start anew. (We never really do start a new life, of course. Every stage is an extension of our one life, but sometimes it feels like a new start, particularly when so little of the old remains.)

Another friend said about my current situation, “Grief and joy mixed up with movement. That’s a recipe for . . . I don’t know what.” She suggested asking the I Ching. Sounds so exotic! Now I just need to think of the proper question to ask. (Not a yes or no question.)

The oddest thing about this upcoming odyssey is how many friends I have. (It bewilders me at times that so many people seem to like me.) Some friends have said I simply cannot leave the area, that I have to stay here so they can have the benefit of my company. Others say I have to go on an epic journey so they can experience it vicariously.

Me? For now, I’m just going along for the ride. And starting next week, I will literally be going along for the ride. No driver’s seat for me for a while. Should be interesting.


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

I Hear Adventure Calling

I went to a backpacking store today. That’s not what the store is called, of course, but I don’t want to give them any publicity since I was underwhelmed by the experience. These people have always been touted as fantastic help, but not so in my case.

I’ve been having problems with slippage on the trails when I go hiking, and I wanted real hiking shoes. I tried on several pairs, but in all cases, the arch support on the right foot ended up beneath my heel. In cheap shoes, I have no objection to ripping out the support, but not if I’m going to pay a small fortune for something that will wear out in a few months anyway. When the salesclerk shrugged off my problem, and didn’t bother to offer any alternatives, I wandered over to look at backpacks.

I have a hard time with backpacks. My core balance is below my waist, so anything high on my back causes an imbalance. I’m also short waisted, which adds to the difficulties of fitting and carrying packs. I found one that fit today — in a gorgeous purple color! It had so many wonderful and mysterious pouches and packs, straps and buckles and zippers, that it seemed as if it would be fun to carry, but the salesclerk told me I couldn’t use it on an extended backpacking trip, that it was for day use only. I put the pack back on the rack. What the heck would I need to carry on a short day hike that would need all that space? Two or three bottles of water, an extra pair of socks, a bit of food, a camera. That’s all I take with me. I certainly don’t need to spend almost $200 to carry so little. I can continue using the kiddie pack that I bought years ago for less than twenty dollars.

trailsThe guy kept asking me what my plans were. He said that I needed to buy a pack that fit with my trip requirements. He didn’t seem to understand that for me, the reverse was true. Once I find a pack that fits, then I will see what the pack can hold, what I can carry, and then decide what my trip requirements will be. Obviously, if I can’t carry enough food and water to last several several days, I will have to make plans accordingly. Makes perfectly good sense to me, but he seemed to think I was being obtuse and contrary and suggested I take a backpacking class.

Someone recently accused me of being contrary when I said I wanted to do things my way, and perhaps I am contrary, but just because everyone does things a particular way does not make them right. Everyone can be wrong. Not that I think I’m always right, it’s just that I believe I have the right to explore alternate ways of doing things based on my needs, not what someone else thinks I need.

That store I visited today was filled with products I don’t need and wouldn’t buy even if my life depended on it. Freeze-dried food that costs more than a restaurant meal. Elaborate tents. Expensive clothes. So not my style! (If I had to define my style, I’d call myself mystical in a down to earth sort of way, as contradictory and contrary as that might sound.)

I do admit I go overboard with a do-it-myself attitude, but what difference does it make? Well, it does make a difference to those who think I disagree for the sake of being contrary, and perhaps it makes a difference to me in that sometimes it takes me a long time to learn on my own what I could pick up in a few minutes from a teacher.

And yet, Taoism 101 says: we are always our own best teacher. Give yourself credit and patience to be such a teacher to your own life.

Little by little, I will teach myself what I need to know for my great adventure. I don’t want to be foolish and do things that would be more dangerous than spiritual, more grueling than fun. If it turns out that a hike would be too much for me, I’ll walk. If a walk would be too much, I’ll drive. If a drive would be too much . . . I’ll think of something.

I hear adventure calling, and someday I will answer that call. I might even get that lovely purple backpack and let its advantages and drawbacks help decide where I will go.


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

I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me, Thank You

Several months ago, a friend told me about Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian healing process. I’m not sure I would have paid much attention, but I’ve been learning Hawaiian dance, which is very spiritual, and the idea of Ho’oponopono seemed an extension of that spirituality. I really didn’t have anything to say about this form of healing, so I just filed the note away as a possible topic for a blog post someday. I’d forgotten about Ho’oponopono until this morning when I read a comment a friend left on yesterday’s blog post about The Imponderables of Life. The friend commented: The greatest of all powers, it might be said, is the power of forgiveness.

ILOVEYOUI don’t really understand the mechanics of Ho’oponopono, but it has to do with accepting that we are 100% responsible for everything that happens in the world. So, to affect any healing changes, we first have to heal ourselves. For example, if someone hurts me,  I have to take responsibility for the hurt, and heal myself for hurting me. I also have to forgive myself for the hurt.

It seems like it’s one of those “full circle” things. When we are children, we blame ourselves for everything that happens. If our parents fight, we think it’s our fault, even though it probably has nothing to do with us. Growing up means learning to see beyond ourselves to the truth that we are NOT responsible for everything that happens. That sort of thinking traps us further in the hurt, and besides, we simply are not powerful enough.

And yet, and yet . . .

We are all linked. In some respects, we are all one. We are all made of stardust, all connected by the same waves of energy, all created from the same nothing/everything. According to Dr. Haleakala S. Hew Len, “For the ancient Hawaiians, all problems begin as thought. But having a thought is not the problem. So what’s the problem? The problem is that all our thoughts are imbued with painful memories, memories of persons, places, or things.”

It’s odd to think that all unknowingly, I’ve been practicing Ho’oponopono, or trying to.

I came to take care of my father after the death of my life mate/soul mate because I knew that one day I would be ready to embrace life again, and I didn’t want to be held back by old resentments and unfinished business. I figured that if I could do for my father what he could not do for me — pay attention, listen, nurture — that I could clear some sort of Karmic debt and free myself. And it worked. When my father died, our troubled shared past died with him. My memories are not tinged with bitterness or regret. They hold no pain, carry no baggage.

A few nights ago, another driver made an error that caused us to collide, but I bear her no ill will, feel no anger. (Of course, if I had been hurt or my car totally demolished, I might have felt differently.) Even though I was not legally at fault in any way, I take responsibility because . . . well, because I was there. It seems strange that we hugged before parting that night, but then, wouldn’t suing her be even more peculiar? A lawsuit would have kept the incident in my life for months to come and caused untold frustrations. A hug, and it was done. Over. Ho’oponopono.

Ho’oponopono means “to make right,” or “to rectify an error.” Those who practice Ho’oponopono believe we are here to make amends. Dr. Haleakala S. Hew Len says, “The intellect working alone can’t solve these problems, because the intellect only manages. Managing things is no way to solve problems. You want to let them go! When you do Ho’oponopono, what happens is that the Divinity takes the painful thought and neutralizes or purifies it. You don’t purify the person, place, or thing. You neutralize the energy you associate with that person, place or thing. So the first stage of Ho’oponopono is the purification of that energy.”

[In a blog a month or so ago I wrote, “It’s rather a literary cliché, one that most of us have come to believe, that the more intelligent a person or species is, the less emotional. Mr. Spock from Star Trek and Lucy from the recent movie Lucy are two such examples. But what if this belief is not true? What if emotion is a form of intelligence, and the more emotional we are the more intelligent?” If the mind is simply a management tool, then perhaps my surmise is correct.]

So how does one purify the energy? By forgiving. By trying to find the place within ourselves where the hurt resides, and telling it/ourselves/the world, “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”

So much to think about and to learn on this strange journey to redemption we call life.

I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.


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

Sitting on the Wall

It’s hard to get anything done when I’ve spent half the day outside sitting on the wall separating my dad’s property from the one next door so that people looking at the house can have privacy, but luckily, I don’t need to get anything done. I can simply sit and enjoy the blossoms dancing in the warm winter air. (80 degrees today. And it’s still technically winter!)

It’s funny that I dreaded this period in my life when the house was on the market making my time not my own, when homelessness (or rather rootlessness) was incipient, when things were about to change in some as yet unfathomable way. But none of this is bothering me at all. In fact, other people are more concerned about what I am going to do than I am.

Either things will work out or they won’t. It’s as simple as that. And if they don’t work out, there is nothing I can do now to make them work out because I don’t know what the conditions will be at that particular time, so there’s no point in worrying about it.

My situation is apparently one that galvanizes imaginations. Each person’s suggestion for what I should do is more a response to their own yearnings and inclinations than to my needs. Buying an RV and living in an RV park was one of today’s suggestions. The woman admitted it is what she would do and thought it was a good idea for me. And yet, if I did get an RV, why would I stay in one place? The whole point of a recreation vehicle is to go recreationing.

But there are dance classes to take into consideration  . . .

I have offers of spare rooms and couches for a few days that I can accept in an emergency. Or I could stay in a motel. Or take off on a road trip. Or any number of things.

People keep telling me I have to make a decision, if not now then soon, and I just shrug off that dictum. Again, this advice is more of a response to their fearful imaginings than my reality. I don’t have to make a decision. I can simply do whatever is I feel like doing when the time comes. Knowing me, I’ll probably cry. Grief seems to rise up during times of change, because I am reminded of why I am so rootless, but even that is okay.

But for now I am enjoying sitting on the wall and letting the future take care of itself.


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

Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day

I’m declaring this Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day. I mean no disrespect to people who suffer involuntarily from such an ailment, but it seems to me that the rest of us could use a bit of amnesia.

We often talk about living in the present, though generally what we mean is we will try to concentrate on today and let the future take care of itself. But the past is always with us. It’s hard to block out memories windof past hurts, misunderstandings, bad behavior, and to treat people as if we have just this moment made an exciting new friend. There is much history, even good history, between us and the folks we know, history that shades our relationships. There are many established patterns of communication that may now be outdated because one or both of the people have changed, yet the habits remain.

I have a dear friend that I cannot seem to re-establish lines of communication with. We both have our idiosyncrasies to such an extent that, like England and the U.S. we seem to be two separate countries divided by a common language. Just for today it would be nice if neither of us remembered our differences and started out with new points of view. Or started out with no points of view at all. Just a willingness to see where life takes us.

And so, with that attitude in mind, I am declaring this Voluntary Retrograde Amnesia Day.

Hi. My name is Pat. I don’t remember ever seeing you before. It’s so nice to meet you!


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

A Perfect Day

This is one of those perfect days, a gift from the universe. The weather isn’t particularly nice, none of my problems have been resolved, I’m still facing life alone and yet . . . and yet . . .

I’m walking around with a smile on my face. (I’m cracking up here. I accidentally wrote “with a simile on my face”, and I suppose that could be true, too.)

It’s possible my recent bout of tears/sorrow/grief shook something loose in me and when things settled back into place, they settled into a more harmonious whole. It’s possible I’ve reached a new level of acceptance of my life, because as I have discovered, every step forward is accompanied by an upsurge of grief for what I am leaving behind. It could be that the grief I’ve felt over the loss of a friendship has smoothed over with the realization it’s how I feel about the friend that counts, not what the friend feels about me.

Or it could be the alchemist affect.

wizardPeople frequently remind me that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result each time, and if we lived in a closed system where everything remained the same, repeating the same ineffective actions would be insane. But every day things are different. And it’s that difference the alchemists banked on. We picture the alchemists doing the same procedure repeatedly in a crazed attempt to perfect their experiment, but the truth is, they did the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way in the hope of getting different results. Sometimes everything came together as they hoped, and they transformed lead into gold or themselves into a higher form of life or atoms into energy.

The alchemists knew the truth — that we do not live in a closed system.. The earth hurtles around the sun at 67,000 mph. The sun hurtles around the galaxy at 140 miles per second. The entire universe is also moving and expanding, so from one second to the next we are in a completely different place with a possibility of different factors. Add in more localized variables, such as humidity, temperature, sun spot activity and solar winds, and it would seem insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect the same results.

Does it really matter why I feel good today? Not particularly. It’s enough to know that it is possible for me to have a day that makes me feel good even though such days are as incomprehensible to me as those where I can’t stop crying.

For all I know, it’s not even me who cried the other day. Maybe it’s not even me who feels good today. Maybe I’m just a conduit for unrecognized cosmic energies.

Which would make today exactly as I said, a gift from the universe.


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

And So It Begins . . .

The real estate agent was here today, taking photos of the house and putting a lock box on the door. She was kind to me, understanding that it’s different for me than for my siblings. For them, selling the house is just a task to be completed or ignored. For me, it’s . . . well, it’s the first step into a whole new anchorless life.

Having anchors isn’t always good because anchors keep us trapped. But anchors also keep us grounded, connected. And I will no longer have an anchor. First Jeff (my life mate/soul mate) died, then my father (not that I was deeply connected to my father, but I did come to look after him after Jeff died, which gave my life an anchor), and now his house is being sold. All I have left will be a storage unit full of stuff. (And friends. I do have a lot of those, both online and offline.)

It feShipels at times as if I’ve stepped off a curb into empty space, and I’m sure that feeling will be even stronger in the days to come.

No one, including me, thinks the house will be on the market long. It’s too nice, too almost-new with a fantastic view. And it’s in a wonderful, quiet, safe neighborhood. The thought of a quick sale is good because I won’t be inconvenienced for very long by visiting realtors and buyers. (Should be interesting. They want me out of the house when lookers come. “Just take a short walk,” they said.) But then, after the house is sold . . . (here again are those ubiquitous ellipses signifying nothing!)

Yesterday I felt as if I were being punished for coming here to look after my father. Today I’ve gained a bit of equilibrium, though the tears I couldn’t stop shedding yesterday are still close to the surface.

Ah, those pesky tears! They make me feel like such a baby, but I’ve come to understand that most often my tears aren’t a result of self-pity. They are more of a reaction to the incomprehensible. And unfortunately, I keep running into emotionally unfathomable and intellectually inconceivable situations. In other words — life.

Not only am I losing my anchor, I’m feeling rudderless. (Weird that I’m using all these nautical clichés — me, who’s never been on a boat in my life except for a ferry once eons ago, and an amphibious vehicle a few years back). I’ve mostly finished my packing. Except for furniture and what I need for daily living, the house is empty.

I’m living out of tubs. In this case, “tub” is not some sort of nautical term, but is literal. I have small tubs for my personal items so that I can quickly scoop them off the bathroom countertop and stash them out of sight. Same with my dishes and computer accessories.

And so it begins, another transitional stage in my life.


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

A Kind of Screwtape Letter

One thing I love about the internet is that you meet people you’d probably never meet in real life. Either they are mired in a different profession, live halfway around the world, or are of a poles-apart generation.

Just like real life, online folk can break your heart or make your day. Rob M. Miller is one who has been very kind to me. He recently said (wrote):

There are lots of facets to you, no doubt, but of equal certainty, one of them bears the hallmark of a warrior. I like that — a lot. You’re the best.

Oh, I so needed to hear those words, especially from someone I admire, like Rob.

Rob is knowledgeable, witty, and generous to other writers. His infrequent comments to members of Suspense/Thriller group on Facebook are memorable and worth repeating. In fact, I’ve posted a couple of those comments here on this blog to make sure they didn’t get lost in the great maw of Facebook. (Is Talent More Important Than Passion andPersistence? and How many subplots in a novel areacceptable?)

When I posted a new rule to the group a few days ago telling the members they were not allowed to discourage other writers, Rob was the lone dissenter. Not that he thought it a bad rule, more that it was too specific, making new rules for other offenses probable and ultimately chaotic in the same way the tax code has become incomprehensible and unwieldy. To that end, he posted a kind of Screwtape Letter to break the rule without breaking the heart of it. (The Screwtape Letters is a satirical and spiritual novel written by C. S. Lewis.) Rob’s letter was just as satirical. And written off the cuff in a few minutes. Oh, my. To be so talented!

Besides wanting to break my rule, Rob wished to show (as he said) the use of figures of speech, and, in this case, the use of an extended figure(s). Personification, of course, was used by having an epistolary piece written by the Devil, but the overall figure was that of tapeinosis, which means to say something in the negative to infer a positive. More modern examples of this figure is when one might hear a person say something akin to: “That movie looks bad … can’t wait to see it,” or calling something “the bomb,” or describing something as “sic,” meaning it’s “cool.”

In other words, by writing a letter to discourage authors, Rob actually encouraged us. Even I have the urge to write!

Thank you, Rob, for letting me post your wonderful and witty piece.

A Kind of Screwtape Letter by Rob M. Miller

Haven’t written in awhile?

Didn’t know “a while” should be two words?

Then maybe you should quit.

After all, writers write. Everyone knows that!

Don’t like the process? Are you like that primadonna:

“I hate writing … but love having written.”

Then maybe you should quit.

Have poor english, but great story …

… spot-on English, but a lousy tale?

Do quit, quitquitquit.

Why face all those ugly hurdles:
• the impossible-to-write query that works
• the agent you’ll never land
• the house for which you will NOT get signed

Quit, quit, quit.

You’ve bills to pay, are already retired (and surely way, waaay too old), are caring for an ailing loved one, and gawd! there’s those kids to raise, have been told you’ve no talent—and they were right!—are better at doing this, or that, or the other thing, but not really writing.

Not at all.

And you already know that.

The many rejection letters have proven it.

Just quit.

The challenges never end: all that marketing, Facebooking, blogging, websiting, plugging, blurbing, and what-the-hell’s a tweet?

Just stop.

And do remember, even if you’re successful, even if you were to write the Great American Novel, like with Harper Lee, I’ll make sure your troubles never end, with exploitation, impossible schedules, horrible critics, IRS hassles, and crazed number-one-fans just waiting to hobble your ankles.

I’ve no stomach for writers. They’re human, yes. Some are ugly, some are fat, some have this disorder or that, some are indefatigably optimistic, while others are suicidal, there’s writers with talent, many with only a smidge, some want to publish, some do not care, but all are drawn to the page, compulsively or intermittently, but drawn all the same. They are dragon fighters, archers, brave men and women (even when they do not know it), courageously putting down what others are unable or unwilling to put down.

I hate them.

Do me a solid then and quit.

I might even give you a break now and then—just to show my thanks.

With both fiction and non, writers illuminate on the human condition, and I most certainly do not want that.

All my best,

Most affectionately from your left shoulder,



SideshowAbout Rob M. Miller: With a love for reading and writing that started in his youth, Rob has traveled far to get to the place where he can now concentrate on breaking into the horror market.

Born and raised in the “micro-hood” of Portland, Oregon, he grew up as the oldest of three children, the son of a book-lover and a book-hater.

It was after two years of free-lance stringer work, and a number of publishing credits, that he tired of non-fiction and decided to use his love of the dark, personal terrors, and talent with words to do something more beneficial for his fellow man -– SCARE THE HELL OUT OF HIM.

Rob edited and contributed to Sideshow, a horror anthology.

Kindness and Generosity Trump Free Speech

People who don’t like the way I run my writers’ group on Facebook often cite “free speech” as a reason for leaving.

I suppose they have a point. The group has a very narrow niche — discussions about the craft of writing and the sharing of tips and techniques. Nothing else. All the crap that destroys the value of other writing groups, such as promotion and discourtesy, is simply not allowed. The offending posts are deleted, and often the violators are banned. Making matters worse (from my detractors’ point of view), I don’t keep many posts permanently. Too often, the discussions are repetitions of those that have already gone sheriffbefore, and how many times can you pay attention to the same people claiming the same bad writing techniques are acceptable? Once is too many, in my opinion. Still, I don’t police the comments for good information. (In fact, I seldom police comments, though sometimes someone will contact me to point out a nasty remark, and sometimes I stumble upon an inappropriate remark, such as one member trying to discourage another from writing.)

But it does make me wonder at times if I have the right to delete disrespectful comments and posts that have overstayed their welcome. Maybe it’s just me who finds them repetitive and offensive. But . . . (There’s always a but in my posts, isn’t there?)

Offline conversations have an expiration date. They only hang around as long as one person remembers what was said, and sometimes the conversations are so unmemorable no one remembers them an hour or two later. We don’t walk around like cartoon characters with permanent dialogue bubbles over our heads, making our words available for everyone to see ad nauseam. (Literally, to the point of nausea. Who could deal with all that vomitus?)

That’s all I try to do — keep the discussions fresh.

I’m not really a fan of free speech anyway, at least not the way most people use the term. The USA First Amendment gives us and the press the right to express our opinions without government interference, which is important. According to Cornell Law School, however, the Supreme Court recognizes that the government may prohibit some speech that may cause a breach of the peace or cause violence. Also, the level of protection any speech receives depends on the forum in which it takes place.

So basically, freedom of speech is whatever the Supreme Court says it is. Pornography. Bullying. The right to fling insults. That’s what they protect at all costs. But say something against the government or mention God in certain venues, and wham. The gates of free speech close.

Despite what people seem to think, there is nothing in the constitution about all of us being able to say whatever we want whenever we want. The only concern here for me is that free speech in no way pertains to insignificant venues such as my group. We’re on our own. And in my world, kindness and generosity trump free speech anytime.

If you are concerned about comments you left here on this blog, don’t worry. Only spam is deleted. I’ve kept even the insulting comments, though my first impulse was to delete them. But here, I only have my own sensibilities to worry about. When it comes to a group, especially a long-standing online writers group, it’s more important to create a safe environment where incipient writers as well as professionals feel free to talk about their writing woes.

Oh, heck. Maybe that’s all rhetoric and I’m just a petty despot exerting whatever power I can.


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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,950 other followers