Outfitting the Out-Fit

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc) seems to be synonymous with hiking. No matter who I have talked to or whatever blog/discussion group I have visited, inevitably the name of that store has come up as the place to buy everything you need for a backpacking trip. People have extolled the store’s virtues ad infinitum, citing a generous return policy and helpful employees.

Researching backpacking gear and wilderness safety tips have confused the heck out of me. “If you see a bear, look it in the eyes.” “If you see a bear, don’t look it in the eyes.” “Ticks only climb up your legs. They don’t fall out of trees.” “Ticks fall out of trees, so be sure to wear a hat.” “A hammock is the best way to camp.” “Hammocks are illegal in some parks, and besides, they are bear tacos.” “Wear wool.” “Wear synthetics.” So, when a friend invited me to go with her to REI “down the hill” as they say around here, I jumped at the chance. I needed a pair of shoes for walking/hiking, I wanted to get a backpack, and I wished to check out the tents, clothes, and various types of gear available.

The woman in the shoe department brought one pair of shoes at my request. When the left foot fit and the right didn’t, and I asked for suggestions, she just shrugged. I could, of course, have bought the shoes and taken out the offending right insole, but it was glued in. Besides, there was no way I was going to buy a $150 pair of shoes and immediately start cannibalizing it. I might have to do so anyway, because there are various insoles one can purchase that are supposedly better than the insoles that come with the shoes, but I need that to be my choice, not a choice by default. So, not getting any further help from the shoe department, I wandered through the clothes department, found not one garment that would fit, then headed toward backpacks.

I found a backpack that was comfortable, had a fun assortment of pockets, and sported a suspension system that would allow air to get between my back and the pack. When I cornered a clerk and asked for advice, he merely said it was not good for overnight camping, but offered nothing in the way of an alternative, just kept saying I shouldn’t buy the pack. So I didn’t.

I flagged down another clerk and asked about tents. He waved me toward the tents, but very few were on display, so I could get no sense of weight, size, convenience, ease of set up. And there was no one to ask — the clerk had wandered away. My friend showed me various products that she used, which helped me get a sense of what I might need, otherwise I would have left immediately.

I didn’t really think anything else about the trip — the folks I encountered seemed typical bored retail clerks — until a couple of days ago when once again someone recommended REI. I explained the treatment I had received, and he said, “You know why, don’t you? You don’t fit the profile.”

Tahitian CostumeThat took me aback, not just the remark, but his saying it. What had he seen when he looked at me that made him think I didn’t fit the profile? My age? My extra pounds? I have no real body issues. I know what I look like, and I’m fine with it. I certainly don’t spend any time thinking about characteristics others might see as negative. Would I like to be gorgeous, young, fit? I was going to type “yes”, but the real answer appeared on the screen instead: “Not particularly.” My body has its own sort of peasant beauty, thick legs and all, and it’s a lot more fun to wiggle one’s hips in Tahitian dancing when one has hips to wiggle. Most of all, my body works. It does what I ask it with a minimum of discomfort,  It might not always do what my ballet teacher asks of it, but that’s not my problem. I am developing wonderful muscles, so whether or not I can stand in a reasonable facsimile of fifth position is not a personal issue.

It had never occurred to me that I might not fit a profile — any profile — but the more I got to thinking about the man’s comment, the more it bothered me. So I wrote REI, explained the situation, then finished with, “So what if I’m overweight and over age. Is that any reason to treat a customer so poorly?”

The customer service rep apologized and forwarded my email to the store in question. The manager responded, saying, among other things, “It is especially disappointing to know that you did not feel welcomed because of any personal reasons. At REI we have no “profiles”- only a mission to eagerly serve all our guests by inspiring, educating and finding the right products- towards whatever end goal our guests want to enjoy.”

“Because of any personal reasons,” he said. Putting the onus on me, as if I were unduly sensitive. He went on to say, “I’m personally grateful and excited that we have such a variety of people who shop with us to gear up for recreation -no one deserves to have assumptions placed on their passions or abilities because of outward appearances, and at REI we won’t tolerate such behavior -you as our guest deserve better!” Yeah, right. That’s why not a single piece of clothing in the store fit me. They might not have an overt policy of profiling, but they do have a de facto policy. Where are the clothes for the out-fit to wear? (Out-fit because such folk are not necessary unfit, just outside the range of what is usually considered fit.) People twice my size go backpacking. Where were the clothes for those women? Where are the sleeping bags for the short and wide folks. (You can get wide bags, but they are also very long.)

The manager ended his letter by saying he had dealt with the person who had been in the camping department that day, and that he was proud of the service that 95% of his staff gives, and he hoped I would return.

By that time I was sick of the whole mess and wished I hadn’t said anything. So I wrote back, “If I wanted you to deal with your employees on my behalf, I would I have told you in person when I was there. I only wrote when I heard from someone else who had a similar experience with what appeared to be storewide profiling. You assure me that’s not the case. So fine. Nice to know. But there is no guarantee that if I were ever to shop at your store, I wouldn’t once again encounter some of the 5% who weren’t helpful. And it’s too far to go to find out. But thank you for responding.”

So why am I telling you this? I have no idea. Maybe because of the realization that I have no body issues though apparently it looks as if I should have. Maybe because the experience is just another step in the adventure that has become my life. Or maybe because . . . ta-da! . . . it’s a blog topic, and blog topics are almost as hard to find as outfits for the out-fit.

***

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.

The Cloud

A couple of people I know were talking about the cloud the other day — not clouds in the sky, but “the cloud” as in “cloud storage.” One said that there was only one cloud where everything was stored, and  the other, an engineer, kept insisting the cloud must exist somewhere.

I agreed that it must exist somewhere. Nothing comes from nothing, and nothing goes nowhere, though the impression we are given of the cloud is that perhaps it’s a nebulous cloud of electrons that exists to serve us without taking up space.

A bit of research told the truth.

As romantic as the notion might be, the cloud is not cloud at all. “Cloud” is a metaphor for the internet. Apparently, a diagram of the internet, in all its complexity, resembles a cloud. In truth, the “cloud” is/are huge data power centers, with acres of computers, processors, applications, and computer servers. (Servers are computers that supply data to other computers.) Instead of individuals and companies needing to buy massive machines with enormous processing power, they can harness the power of the machines other people own, and instead of warehousing their accumulated data on their own machines, they can rent space in these virtual storehouses, access them remotely, and get the benefits of the massive power structure.

Email systems (such as gmail) which are internet based are not stored on your computer, but in the euphemistic “cloud.” They are stored in someone else’s physical computer center and can be accessed by any computer. Friends who own the various houses where I have been staying, have kindly offered me the use of their computers. If I took them up on their offers, I could, of course, access my emails, FB, and various other sites just by using my password, but many of my files would be inaccessible because they are stored in my personal computer, not somewhere in the internet.

It’s comforting to think of “the cloud” as being a natural resource like the sky clouds, but when you think of the vast acres of these data centers springing up in physical locations around the world, each one costing hundreds of millions of dollars and generating untold wealth for their owners, the comfort vanishes and all sorts of questions arise. Who actually owns the data stored in the “cloud”? What are the stewards doing with the data entrusted to them? And why the heck do we need all that data? Once upon a time, data existed as words on paper, not ones and zeroes stored in and accessed by infinitely complex and massive computing machines.

Once you know that the cloud is a simple word for describing a system that is anything but simple, it’s easy to understand. Or at least understand the concept. For who among us ever understands this electronic web that binds us all together?

***

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.

Odd Days and Odd Ways

Well, so much for being alone in a stranger’s house. The fates shifted the pieces in the kaleidoscope of my life, and suddenly I am sharing the house with an exotic dancer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday evening, I went to a drum circle with a friend. I’d never been to one before, and I was curious to see what sort of healing I could expect or feel, so I invited myself along.

The first part of the ceremony was a spiritual cleansing. I’m not sure what we were being cleansed of — negativity, perhaps. She did us one at a time, having each person stand with arms outstretched. She worked on some people for what seemed a long time, maybe six minutes, pulling out the unclean bits, heaving some bits away, stomping other bits into oblivion, and then she finished the cleansing by going over the body with the healing smoke of sage. When she came to me, she had me stand with my right arm up and my left arm down. Slid whatever it was that she found down from my right hand to my left, then gently tossed it away. She spend a minute or so with the sage, and that was it. I’m not sure why she gave me a different stance, not sure why she spent so little time with me. Maybe she sensed my lack of engagement (whatever the others felt — peace, healing, spirits, love, the end of pain — apparently passed me by since I didn’t feel anything but interest). Maybe she didn’t sense much negativity in me, or perhaps she simply decided I couldn’t be healed.

It’s possible there’s not much to be healed. My mental chatter has died down, I have little to say, no conflicts to be conflicted about, no ailments. I like living in the moment, not thinking too far ahead. More importantly, for the first time in a long time, I’m at peace with myself and with the world.

drumAfter the cleansing, we beat drums to summon the spirits, then closed our eyes and went on an inward shamanistic journey. We were supposed to find a way into the earth for this journey, so I replayed a dream I had when I was in my early twenties. In that dream, I went deep into the earth. Although I was descending, it felt as if I were ascending — I took an elevator down, then got out and walked up three steps to another elevator, went down a ways, then got out and walked up three steps again. After the final descent/ascent, the doors opened into an amphitheater with a woman standing at an altar-like table. And from somewhere, a voice boomed, “You are now six hundred feet beneath Death Valley.”

Despite this great mental portal to otherwhere, I didn’t go anywhere. I just lay there listening to the drumbeat, noting the stray thoughts that drifted through my mind.

Afterward, everyone else recounted their journeys. One person went to a beautiful garden. One went to the Grand Canyon. Others had symbolic visions or could see the spirits we had summoned up. Me? I had very prosaically thought of food. (I guess I was hungrier than I imagined.)

Did these people really feel/see the things they said they did? I don’t know. It’s possible, maybe even probable, but the whole thing seemed like some sort of interactive stage play to me.

The part of the evening that was mine alone occurred during the final drumming phase. I watched the shadows of the drummers on the wall and ceiling, and they looked eerily shamanistic, almost animalistic. I enjoyed the play of light and dark, and then it was over.

When my friend pulled up in front of the house I am staying, I noticed that the lights were on inside, but I couldn’t remember leaving any lights burning. Then a woman came running up to the car, asked if I were Pat, and introduced herself as the house-owner’s daughter. Apparently she needed a place to stay for a couple of days. So much for my being alone. Still, we had a nice visit, all part of my going with the flow of what comes my way.

I’d intended to text the house owner this morning and ask her if she still wanted me to stay but changed my mind. I figured there was no point in putting such thoughts into her head. Alone or not, I’m in a lovely house, have my own bedroom and bath, a place set up for my computer, and food to eat. The woman knows her daughter is here, and if the woman had a change of heart where I was concerned, she would have let me know. (Or maybe not. She’s a nice woman and knows I needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks. Besides, she plans to have me attend her book club meeting next weekend, though I am not sure if I’m the guest of honor or a sacrificial goat.)

The strangest thing that came of my evening was this morning when I was waiting for the dance studio to open. With nothing else to occupy myself, I planned this blog and wondered how to explain the drum circle. A newspaper happened to be lying at my feet, and a title of an article was visible. The title? “Drumming Circles for Healing.” The article was about the shamanistic healer who had conducted the ceremony the previous evening.

The article quoted the healer, who said, “monotonous drum sound brings one into a state of higher consciousness, which in turn can open passageways for healing.”

I’ll have to take her word for it.

***

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.

Hawaiian War Chant!

My Hawaiian dance class was invited to perform in a dance concert at the local college. We wowed them with our rendition of the very powerful Hawaiian War Chant! And rightly so. Aren’t we gorgeous?

(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.”)

At Dress Rehearsal!

(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.”)

***

“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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,114 other followers