“Wild” is Tame

I never had any intention of reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. — I didn’t want to be a me-too, living someone else’s adventure in case I ever decide to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and besides, I almost never read books that everyone is reading. To me, reading is a very personal thing, and the hoopla surrounding such books diminishes them for me.

Wild was a last-minute birthday gift from a friend who knew my feelings and so knew it was a sure bet I wouldn’t already have the book. During the last nights in my father’s empty house, I was desperate for something to do — there is just so much websurfing, blog writing, solitaire playing one can do, especially sitting on a very uncomfortable stool — and I happened to find the book I’d tucked away and neglected to pack.

Oddly, I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t particularly like it, either. I have heard so much about it, but much of what I have heard is wrong. (People have recounted episodes that simply are not in the book, which makes me wonder if they are in the movie.) Some people hail Strayed as a hero, though she is not. Some members of the hiking community vilify her, though she is no villain.

What she is, is a good character for a story, in the same vein (and vain) as Scarlett O’Hara. She wants something desperately, if only to be other than she is. She is willing to do anything and use anyone to get it, and her own imperfections create drama and tension. If she were what the hiking community wishes she were — responsible, a great hiker, someone who prepared and trained for her mission, someone who tested her equipment ahead of time, someone who followed the rules of “leave no trace,” someone who was sane and sensible — who would read her story? No one. Or only those members of the hiking community who read.

Although some people would pay to read a book written by me if I were to undertake such an adventure, it would reach only a fraction of the readership Cheryl’s book did because any book I write would not stir up controversy. I am not foolhardy. I am not desperate. I have nothing to redeem, no self-destructive tendencies to overcome. I am prudent and would not undertake such a mission unless I were prepared, training myself to carry a heavy pack (though the filled pack wouldn’t be anywhere near as heavy as hers). I am responsible, try to do the right thing, try to follow the rules if only because they make it easier for everyone, and so I would learn the rules of the trail, such as packing out toilet paper and digging holes for body waste. (That’s one of the things the hiking community was upset about — that she didn’t dig holes to defecate in, but the ground was frozen. I’d have done the same thing she did — cover it up with rocks — and so would everyone else.)

There is a saying among hikers — “hike your own hike” — and that’s what she did. Seasoned hikers are upset with all the amateurs who will follow in her footsteps, but I don’t think there is anything to worry about. Amateurs quickly learn or quit. I doubt many people who are inspired to try long distance hiking because of her story will have the implacable desperation to do what she did.

One of the problems with the book is that it was so obviously written long after the fact that it loses it’s immediacy and jerks me out of what urgency there is. For example, she talks about the snowpack being extraordinarily heavy that year, and that it wouldn’t be as heavy for another then or twelve years. There is no way she could know that as she was hiking. Yes, I know it’s a memoir, but still, it’s jarring.

Also, more than any other relationship, her relationship with her pack drives her and drives the book. Her hike was what it was because of the weight of the pack. In fact, the pack was so important, it was almost like a character, and yet she never really described what she carried, seldom mentioned using most of the things in the pack (and those she did mention would not have added up to the 50 or 60 pounds she carried).

And then there is the whole pain thing. Wild coupled with 50 Shades of Gray, which was out about the same time, seems to indicate a new trend in the world where pain is admirable, especially pain that is avoidable. Um . . . no. Not to me.

Mostly, though, the book seemed tame and not worth another thought.

***

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.

Giving Credit where Credit Isn’t Due

It’s almost impossible to rent a car without a credit card, but it is doable . . . for some people. Just not me. I tried. It would have been easier to deal with this move out of the house where I am living if I had wheels, but no luck.

To rent a car with a debit card, you have to be able to pass a credit check. The catch here is that if you can pass a credit check, you probably already have a credit card. For me to pass a credit check with my history of paying cash, I would need to have a job. They don’t care that I’ve spent the past ten years taking care of sick, old, and dying relatives. It’s not a paying job.

walkingEven if I were to get a secured credit card, where I have enough money in a separate account to equal to the limit on the card, they could refuse me, and according to the person I talked to, they probably would. No house. No apartment. No job. Not exactly a stable customer from their standpoint.

One solution to the not-being-able-to-pass-a-credit-check situation is to get a secured loan, say for $500. I put $500 in a savings account to secure the loan at 1% interest. They lend me $500. I put that money in another savings account, also at 1% interest, and I use that account to pay off the loan, for which they charge me 18% interest. Since all of this is reported to the credit bureaus, it helps establish credit.

Still, I’d be paying them so I could use my own money. Huh? This makes sense? And if I do all this, maybe, someday, I’ll be able to rent a car. It seems as if there is ever such an emergency, it would be cheaper to buy a junker and then resell it for pennies on the dollar. At least I’d have gotten something for my troubles.

To be honest, I never believed in credit. Still don’t. I hate being in debt. And I always figured if I didn’t have the money now to get what I needed, there was no reason to believe I would have the money at a later date. And if I did believe I’d get the money at a later date, then it made more sense to wait.

The onset of debit cards has made credit cards mostly unnecessary, except when it comes to renting a car. Luckily, there are alternatives when one finds oneself temporarily without a car — namely feet and friends.

Luckily I have enough of both to handle the current situation.

There is another problem, though. Without credit, it’s almost impossible to rent an apartment. But I don’t want to think about that now, and anyway, I’m not ready to settle down.

***

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.

Winging It

Yesterday was my last night of being homed. Today I start my odyssey as a homeless woman. I could rent an apartment (that is, I could if they didn’t do a credit check — I have no credit, never having borrowed any money, mortgaged a house, or bought anything on time), but I can’t force myself to do that. It just seems so terribly sad to settle down without Jeff. And then there is the problem of incipient stagnation. At first, I’m sure, I’d do things, but gradually entropy would set in, and there I would be . . . the crazy catless lady.

That scenario is not entirely accurate, but it feels accurate, and that’s all I have to go on . . . feelings. And my feeling is to wing it for a while. “Wing it” meaning to do something extemporaneously. “Wing it” meaning to improvise. “Wing it” meaning to fly.

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

(Chorus from #thatPOWER sung and written in part by Justin Beiber.)

The most complicated aspect of this homelessness is that at the moment I am also carless. My vintage VW is in the shop being prettified (it’s one thing to be homeless, another to look like it). I have also promised to stay in the area until after May so I can perform in a dance program at the local college. We will be performing two of my favorite numbers, a trio of Tahitian Apurimas and a powerful rendition of Hawaiian War Chant, so the promise wasn’t hard to make.

People are being very kind to me in offering to house me for a few days (and even longer), which is especially generous because my situation is of my own making. As I said, I could probably find a place to live, and my carlessness isn’t due to an emergency. (It’s like trying to get sympathy for a hospital stay when the surgery is strictly cosmetic.) On the other hand, maybe it is necessary. These visits will help ease my way out into the world.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. I’ll try to continue to blog every day (or most days, anyway), but don’t get concerned if I disappear for a few days. Ah’ll be bock. (That’s supposed to be a phonetic rendering of The Terminator’s infinitely imitated accent.)

Thank you for your support during these past five exhausting, angst ridden, grief stricken, terrible and wonderful years. Wish me well as I start this new phase of my journey.

***

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.

Leaving the Nest

The papers for the sale of my father’s house will be signed next Wednesday. The buyers came for one last walk-through yesterday, and as I sat outside on the small wall separating this property from the neighbor’s, I marveled at how little time these people had spent inside the house. Twenty minutes the first time they came to look. Ten minutes today. I suppose with all the information and photos posted online, it doesn’t take more than that to decide you like a house, but it seemed so little. I mean, I spend more time test walking a new pair of hiking shoes before I decide to buy.

But I have heard that buying a house is an emotional experience, not necessarily a logical one, and besides, there are appraisers and inspectors for the more practical side.

bowl of lightsThey still like the house and still intend to buy it, so there will be no last minute reprieve for me. Just as well. It’s time for me to leave the nest. Literally, the nest. I built a small nest of pillows and comforters in one corner of one room, and that’s where I’m staying. The rest of the house is empty.

It’s nice and nicely symbolic to have these few days in the empty house. No furniture, no clutter, not even many necessities except for my nest, a few personal items, and my computer. And my bowls of light. (Hey! I bet that’s why the house sold so fast! The magic of light!)

When the couple and the realtor finished visiting the house, I gave the new owner a small gift, hugged her and wished her much happiness in this house. That hug, too, was symbolic. A passing of the torch. And a more binding contract than the one they will sign next week.

***

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.

A Memorial to Dakota

On April 25th I will be walking with a team for March of Dimes. On April 17, 2007, the daughter of a good friend gave birth to a stillborn baby she named Dakota. As a memorial to Dakota, and as a way of making his absence count, his mother has become an indomitable fundraiser for the March of Dimes. She is also venturing into her own non-profit organization, to support and offer resources to those who suffered pregnancy losses.

I’m doing this three-mile walk as a way of giving thanks that I was born, and born healthy. And for the tacos my friend bribed me with. (Though I would have done it even without the bribe.)

If you wish to support the cause, let me know and I’ll email my paypal address to you for your contribution. If you happen to be in Riverside, California on April 25 and wish to join us, you can find out more about the walk here: Team Dakota.

If nothing else, pause to give thanks for all life has given you and spare a thought to what you can do to make a difference. Little Dakota never had a chance to draw even a single breath, and oh, what a difference he has made to so many people’s lives.

Team Dakota

***

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.

Dipping My Toe Into Wanderlust

Some of you have requested that I not leave you behind when I go adventuring. Of course I’m not leaving you behind when I take off on my travels! I seem to have adopted the philosophy that an unblogged life is not worth living, so I will be keeping up with this web log as data plans, phone signals, and wifi spots permit. Besides, blogging is how I make sense of what I experience — so much of my life seems to take place beneath the surface, and writing is how I connect with my own subterranean world.

My first foray into a life of travel will probably have to be more planned than I intended. I will be heading north to visit a friend, and on the way I will camp out on at least one couch that I know of, so I’ll need to coordinate dates with both friends if nothing else. But it’s not just that. The truth is, I really know very little about the world. In some respects, being in a closely-connected and highly intellectual relationship was like living in a cloister or an ivory tower, and now I need to learn how to do things, and how to do things on my own.

Choices are endless in this electronic world. Motels. Couchsurfing sites. Car camping. Tents. Hammocks. Free campsite sites. Primitive campsites. Expensive campsites geared for RVs. I spend hours every day researching equipment, places to stay, sights to see and sites to experience. As someone who walks a lot, I know that around every bend, up ahead a few feet, and off to the side is an ever-changing feast of life. Multiply those few square miles by the vastness of the earth, and there is no way anyone can experience it all.

I know I don’t have to be some place pretty to succumb to awe, but I do have to be some place. I have to sleep somewhere. I have to be warm and dry and safe (or as safe as possible. I might be listening to the call of adventure, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be reckless). Hence all the research.

I learn best by trial and error. I’ll probably need to buy my camping gear at one of those places that let’s you try things out and exchange what doesn’t suit. It’s the only way I will know what I need. But still, I’ll have to have an idea of what to buy, and that takes research.

I’m getting an inkling that this first trip will be a case of dipping my toe into wanderlust — not the start of adventure, but the start of preparing for adventure. I can sense I am headed somewhere — maybe on that epic walk I can’t get out of my head — and all this is but prologue. So much to learn. So much to become — better, stronger, wiser.

At the beginning, I’ll probably be coming back here to this desert town quite frequently to recoup. Get my vehicle checked over by the mechanic. Take dance classes to rejuvenate my spirit. Replenish my supplies. And then, the world again.

And through it all, I’ll be taking you with me.

Should be a wondrous adventure!

WANDERLUST

***

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.

Where Am I Going?

I’m sitting here staring out the window, no will to do anything. I had a brief spurt of activity a couple of hours ago — packing my assortment of wide-brimmed hats and a few other last-minute, hard-to-pack items in preparation for moving most of my stuff into a storage unit tomorrow. But all of a sudden the idea I was working so hard for . . . well, for basically nothing . . . brought me to a halt.

A.A. Milne’s poem “Spring Morning” keeps churning around in my head:

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

sunflowerOddly, the words I hear are spoken in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice — or perhaps not so oddly. I think the only time I ever heard the poem was when he read it to the children in the movie Kindergarten Cop.

What does it matter where people go? Or more specifically, what does it matter where I go? Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

I still have approximately ten days in this house, though every day it becomes emptier and emptier. The furniture people have spoken for is gradually being picked up, and my last week here I’ll be sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

And then? I still don’t know. I’ve been looking for places to stay, calling folks who put ads in the paper, mentioning my predicament to everyone I talk to. Others are doing the same on my behalf. I promised to stay until June, and it’s a promise I intend to keep, not just because I like to keep my promises, but because I need those two months of dance classes. The studio has added balletrobics to the roster, and the intense workout will be good for me. I need to get in shape for . . . well, for wherever life takes me.

I’ve been researching various shelters for on the go, such as vans, tents, hammocks, and I’ve become quite intrigued with the idea of such a primitive/advanced sleep system as the hammock. (These are not those rope hammocks with the crossbars that eject you from your place whenever you move, but are made of parachute nylon, which makes them more transportable and comfortable, and come with mosquito net enclosures and tarps to protect from the rain.)

I have to laugh at my pretensions sometimes. Me on an epic walk? Me on a solo camping trip? Me living loose and carefree out in the world? So absurd! Maybe even foolish.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

***

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.

Pilgrims and Pilgrimages

I just got a notice on Facebook that I’ve been approved for a group called “American Pilgrims on the Camino,” though I’d never requested to join, never even knew there was such a group. I do know that El Camino de Santiago is the name of the pilgrimage route(s) to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many people make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, but others have a more secular agenda, such as an adventure or challenge.

desertThe first I’d heard of The Camino came from a women I walk with who mentioned that she wanted to do it. It seemed quite romantic, this pilgrimage, even for a non-believer, but the truth is, any hike I do is by way of a pilgrimage. Walking for me is not a sport, not an endurance test. It’s a way of connecting to the outer world as well as a way of exploring my inner world.

Christine Valters Paintner wrote: “I am captivated by the image of pilgrimage as a metaphor for our human journeying. Not just the physical journeys we make to outward places, but to the interior places of the heart, the new landscapes we are called to explore. Can we allow our own trajectories to be oriented in a new direction? Often the call arrives to our own lives unbidden. Something happens which we did not expect and we need to shift our perspective to open our eyes to this new possibility.”

I feel the call, but I don’t know what is calling me or what I’m being called to do. It certainly has come unbidden, this pull toward adventure, but I am opening my eyes to new possibilities. It seems as if the whole world is out there for the taking if I only have the courage to grab it.

I doubt the Camino is in my future. Although travelers rhapsodize about crossing a lower ridge of the Pyrenees, walking on farm roads through areas of rolling vineyards and crossing several mountain passes, and tramping through the forested river valleys of Galicia, the truth is that much of the Camino is paved, and is better suited to bicycling. In some ways, such a pilgrimage would agree me because stores and inns line much of the road enabling me to carry a light pack, but it seems silly to travel all the way to Spain for a pilgrimage when I can do something even more spiritually rewarding here in the USA.

Still, for now, I’ll keep my membership in The Camino group. I could end up doing almost anything, including making such a trip. Or I could end up just making small pilgrimages. After all, there are dance classes to consider, and dance is a pilgrimage in itself.

***

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.

April Fools

When someone sends me an email, I figure it belongs to me, so I have no compunction about sharing it. Here is a letter I received today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It is from my clever and witty (and weird) publisher.

jugglingDear Author, as you know a great percentage of the royalties we receive and forward on to our authors comes from Amazon. We have been notified that Amazon, following upon the success of Bitcoin, has decided effective June 1, 2015, to move to an alternative form of currency. It is doing this strictly on a trial basis with a small portion of its business concerns. Unfortunately for us, since they started in book/publishing, Amazon is going to use this new currency initially as payment and receipts for book sales. Those of us whose titles are carried by Amazon must submit to the use of this new currency if we are going to continuing using their services. 

The exchange rate will be 7 to 8, meaning that you will receive 1 new standard of Amazon currency for every 1 American dollar. The new currency, because it centers around literature, books and publishing, will be called Amacoin Litibook, or just “litty” for short. Therefore, if you earned $80.00 American dollars, your royalty will actually be ©70.00 “litty,” or if you earned $100.00, you’d receive ©87.50 litty. Because this new exchange rate may be somewhat difficult to figure, we’ve decided to create a chart that will make the actual payment you receive easier to figure as it will clearly show the “lit scale.” Henceforth, those who do well in royalty earnings will be said to be “all lit up,” while lesser sales will be referred to as “half lit” or “un lit.” 

Please let us know if you have any questions about this new change in your royalty payment procedures. And happy April Fools’ Day.  –Your Publisher

And happy April Fools’ Day from me, too!

***

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.

Decked Out in Disco Duds

My jazz class performed in a local talent show last Saturday. We danced to “I Love the Nightlife” by Alicia Bridges. We sparkled, not just our smiles and spirits and steps, but our costumes too. The black outfits were decorated with prismatic smiley faces. Can’t get much more 70s than that!

20150328_142343a

In case you don’t recognize me, I’m fourth from the right, so thrilled I got to boogie!

***

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.

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