Scheduled Obsolescence

I’ve grown up with planned obsolescence, so that idea is nothing new to me, but scheduled obsolescence took me by surprise.

There are various types of planned obsolescence. Psychological obsolescence is common in the fashion and automotive industries. Each year, the companies create new designs to make last year’s designs psychologically less appealing, though the product itself is still usable. Physical obsolescence is prevalent in other manufacturing fields, where the designers decide how long a product should last and then only use materials geared to last that long. (In a way this makes sense — if a vegetable grater, for example, goes dull after a year or two, there’s no real reason to make the thing out of expensive materials that will last long after the product has outlived any usefulness.) Often, manufacturers even go so far as to use inferior materials that will make the product wear out faster and speed up replacement time.

Some people argue that planned obsolescence encourages competition and improvement while others claim it increases waste. I don’t believe in waste, though I do understand the need to keep the economy going — if everyone was like me, the economy would have ground to a halt years ago. I mean, how many people out there bought a car forty-two years ago and are still driving it as their one and only source of vehicular transportation? (If you guessed the car is a Volkswagen you’re correct. Back then, Volkswagen bragged about not believing in planned obsolescence, which has worked in my favor.) And then there’s my poor hair dryer that died just this morning — it was only twenty-five years old! If you’re smart (or thrifty) you can often bypass planned obsolescence by doing such things as unplugging lamps and other electrical equipment rather than using the cheaply-made and soon-to-break on/off switches. As for fashion — well, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what was in fashion, either today or twenty years ago.

In some cases, planned obsolescence worked in my favor. Planned obsolescence (thank heavens for spell check! I have mistyped the word obsolescence every single time I’ve used it!) helps keep products cheap. When my camera died after only a couple of years (oddly, the screen burned out right after I took what turned out to be the last photo of my now deceased life mate/soul mate), it would have cost more to repair the camera than to replace it. And when that second camera died in a tragic fall shortly after purchase, I was able to get a replacement that works better than either of the others.

But I’m getting off track. As I said, I’m used to planned obsolescence, but last night I came up against scheduled obsolescence. The end of support for Windows XP made me interested in when support for Vista, my current operating system, will end. I discovered that the end had been scheduled for April 10, 2012, but that they extended it to April 10, 2017. Whew! I still have three years! By then, of course, my computer will be so outdated and so slow I will probably be glad to update my whole system. Or maybe technology will have changed out of all recognition making me want to hang on to this poor machine until its last byte. If nothing else, I could use it as a word processor, unconnected to the internet. That way any vulnerabilities won’t be a problem.

Still, it does seem strange to have the exact date when my operating system is scheduled to become obsolete.

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Ah, the Small Joys of Life!

A few days ago I ranted about my experience with this area’s designated communications company, and the hassle the representative gave me when they called to tell me some upgraded equipment would be here on Thursday. It seemed important to them that I know the exact date, yet after all that frustration on both our parts, they got the day wrong. The equipment came today. Wednesday. Not a problem, of course, just ironic considering their unpleasantness.

Installation was supposed to take only a few minutes, but wise in the ways of technology updates, I waited until the afternoon when I had many free hours. And I needed them all. Setting up the equipment was easy. I just followed the directions. The hardest part was in moving the couch to access the cable connection. The next hardest part was figuring out which power cord went to the router and which to the modem since neither cord they sent matched the image on the instructions. (I don’t know why I need a router when I didn’t have one bcomputerefore, unless the router was somehow part of the old modem.) Still, my guess seemed to work because all the appropriate lights came on. I even connected my computer to the wireless network despite their having given me two different sets of passwords and network IDs. And then all my efforts came screeching to a halt. My computer didn’t recognize the connection, or maybe the connection didn’t recognize my computer. Every time I tried to open a browser, I got an error message saying they hadn’t sent a package and to call the communication company.

Of course, the representative didn’t know what was wrong, either. She made me reinstall everything. (Luckily, it was just hardware I had to deal with, and hardware is easy —simply a matter of unplugging cords and plugging them in again.) In the end, after many different suggestions and attempts to connect to the internet, she told me to try restarting the computer, and that did the trick.

Although this updated equipment is supposed to make my computer run faster when on the internet, it seems the same to me. Of course, my computer is aged as computers go — more than 7-years-old — but still, there should have been some difference, especially since I added extra memory not too long ago. I’m just glad it doesn’t run slower, which is what happened after the last upgrade.

Despite the nuisance of the experience, I’m smiling as I write this blog. I learned something fun from it. Because of getting two different sets of login information, I could see a pattern in how they came up with passwords. joyfultuba265 was one. jaggedtomato193 was another. (Well, no it wasn’t. I’m not about to plaster my password all over the internet, though I don’t suppose it would matter. It only would work if you were camped outside my father’s house, and if you’re so desperate for free wifi that you would do such a thing, then be my guest.)

It used to be that people were cautioned not to use whole words for passwords, but recently I read that you should. That new decryption programs seemed geared more for nonsense. (Like those riddles where you rack your brain for a solution to no avail, and when someone tells you the answer, it’s so simple you feel like an idiot for not catching on, especially since your five-year-old came up with the answer hours ago.) Either way, from now on when I need a password, I’ll have fun with it. brokenapple964. crookedcucumber157. sillysink414. bananaunt762.

Ah, the small joys of life!

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Are You Lazy? Am I?

There are hundreds of laziness tests on the internet that will tell you how lazy you are, that is if you’re not too lazy to take the tests. A Facebook friend recently took one such test and posted it on his profile. He commented, “Some of the choices are disgusting!” And he is right. Some of the choices are disgusting — it’s amazing to me that anyone thought of putting them on a list, let alone considered doing such things. The test seemed more an indication of how much of a slob you are than how slothful you are.

But . . . (you knew there would be a “but”, didn’t you?)

The test made me think about what laziness really means. According to my dictionary, “lazy” means “disliking activity or exertion; not energetic or vigorous.” It comes from the Middle Low German word lasich meaning “feeble.”

To us, laziness has negative connotations. When we say someone is lazy, we are generally referring to an able-bodied person who has the ability do a task but doesn’t. The word itself, however, has no such pejorative meaning. Just because people dislike exerting themselves, it doesn’t mean that they won’t. And just because people like to be involved in activities, it doesn’t mean that they will. And anyway, who is to say that disliking exertion is wrong? You don’t always have a choice in what you like or dislike. Besides, the whole thrust of human invention has always been about making things easier for us rather than harder.

napIf you are in a communal situation, such as a marriage, a family, a job, it is necessary to keep up your end of the work, but failure to do so isn’t necessarily because of laziness — it could be a sense of entitlement, insensitivity, or thoughtlessness. But if no one is depending on you, who is to say what is laziness? If you’re not engaged in any activity, but don’t need to be, what is wrong with lolling around doing nothing? Who says we have to fill our days with activity? I consider myself lazy because I am not currently working on a novel, but why should I write? Just because I can? At the moment, writing won’t improve my life, won’t gain me recognition or riches. It will simply use up time, and for now, I am using my time for more physical pursuits. (Oddly, the idea of my laziness — my lack of energy — is so ingrained, I don’t consider myself unlazy while doing these various physical activities.)

Not everyone has the same level of energy. Some of us are “not energetic or vigorous” by nature. We have to push ourselves through life, one trudge at a time. Others shoot through life like rockets, spewing excess energy to the winds. If the low-energy person is resting from his/her exertions while the high-energy person is still zooming around getting things done, why is the first person considered lazy? Both are doing what their natures dictate.

It seems to me that there isn’t really such a thing as laziness. For example, people who scam the welfare system in the USA are often considered as being too lazy to work, but the system is so laborious that many people who are eligible do not have the energy to deal with the bureaucracy. Those who do know how to work the system in nefarious ways are not lazy — they are awash in a sense of entitlement that borders on fraud.

If we can do something but don’t, if we choose to stay in bed instead, it could be that we aren’t lazy so much as that we need the rest. Despite all the machines that have been invented to make our lives easier, our lives are stressful. If someone repeatedly hits the snooze button in the morning, it might not be a sign of laziness but of exhaustion.

More than that, what we call laziness seems to be lack of motivation rather than a true disinclination to work. We almost always find the time/energy to do the things we love if the rest of life doesn’t get in our way. (To most of us, work is what we don’t want to do. The lucky ones are those who get paid for doing what they want to do. Tests have shown that if people are allowed to work on whatever project they wish when they are at their jobs, they are happier, more productive, and work longer hours. If they have to work on a project that is assigned, that they have no affinity for, then their job suffers.)

We get out of bed on Saturday if the sun is shining and we are going for a run/walk/hike/picnic — anything that’s fun. If only bad weather and detestable chores await us, we have no motivation for getting out of bed, so we stay there. And what is wrong with that? Again, I am not talking about a communal living situation such as a family. In that case, it’s only fair to do your share of the chores. But if no one is depending on you, it makes no difference if you wait a few more days to clean the house or do laundry.

Perhaps I’m wrong in my assessment about laziness, but I’ve decided to strike the word from my vocabulary anyway. No more laziness. If I have no inclination to do a chore, then I’m gathering my strength. If I have no desire to write, then I’m letting my ideas steep. If I have no will to exercise, then I’m giving my muscles a rest.

Works for 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

I Do Not Want to Blog About . . .

There are so many things I do not want to blog about today.

I don’t want to write about my father and his continued decline. Anyway, there’s not much to say. He’s doing exceptionally well for 97, but still, he is 97 and has congestive heart failure, hearing problems, and isn’t thinking as clearly as he did just a few months ago.

I don’t want to write about my future plans. (Yeah, I know — “future plans” is redundant since “plans” connotes the future, but in this case I’m talking way in the future, not what I plan to do tomorrow or next week.) The truth is, I have no plans, just dreams. Although I like the idea of roaming the country on foot, the realities are bleak (lack of water sources, possible health issues, inexperience). I also am getting uncomfortable talking about what I’m going to do after my father’s death, as if I’m trying to hurry him out of this life, though the truth is that he could be gone in an instant, and just like that (a snap of my fingers), I’d be homeless. I’d be foolish not to consider my options. But not today.

I don’t want to write about my homeless brother who is camping out in my father’s garage. (It sounds mean, but it’s the best my father can do for him. He is too dysfunctional to live in the house — he creates havoc, and my father wants/needs peace. Besides, if my brother were to live in the house where I had no protection from him, I would leave here.) Said brother is going through one of his manic phases, which means he is intolerable, demanding, insanely vocal, and very needy. I can’t fulfill any of his needs at such times, especially not the one he most wants — awed respect.

I certainly don’t want to write about his legal problems. He was arrested for being intoxicated in public a few months ago, didn’t show up for the court date, and now there is a warrant out for his arrest. When they catch him (because of course he won’t call the courts to get the matter straightened out as the deputy who made the courtesy call suggested), he will expect me or our father to pay his $5,000 bail. I won’t do it, and I sincerely doubt our father will. Besides, as much as I hate the thought of him in jail, I hate even more the thought of him here bedeviling me. I could use the rest. (As I was writing this, I got a phone call from him. He’s been arrested again for being intoxicated in public, but for some reason they waived bail, just gave him anther court date for both charges. I so could not handle being an alcoholic! Way too much work.)

I don’t want to write about grief and the death of my life mate/soul mate that precipitated my move here to look after my father and more recently (and very unwillingly) to do what I can for my brother. I’ve said about all there is to say about grief. It comes. It stays. What else is there to say? Well, I could say I’m mostly happy now which is true, but he’s still gone. I will never be happy about that until I’m gone too.

I don’t want to write about writing, my fallback topic. With self-publishing and we’ll-publish-anything-presses so prevalent, making authors believe they can write however they wish, there’s no reason to discuss right ways to do things. (Despite what most authors seem to believe nowadays, there are right ways. I just don’t feel like fighting about it anymore.)

Nor do I want to write about my aches and pains. I especially don’t want to talk about the gum infection that has me on high doses of antibiotics. (And probably why I’m not exactly overflowing with joy today.) The good news is that if I have any other infections, susunflowerch as strep or pneumonia, those microbes will be killed along with whatever caused my gum infection. The bad news is side effects. At least so far, all I’ve had to deal with is nausea. I haven’t developed a black furry tongue. (Fingers crossed here.)

While trying to think of a suitable ending for this blog post about what I don’t want to write about, I stopped by Facebook and clicked on a link for a test to see what flower I am. The results said: “You are a sunflower. You are the eternal optimist, always looking up. Nothing can shake your sweet, happy spirit. Friends enjoy your company because they find your joy contagious.”

Yep. That’s me today. Sweet, happy spirit. Contagious joy.

Gotta love the irony!

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Rant About the Idiocies of Corporate Monopolies

I am not one to waste my blog time ranting about the idiocies of corporate monopolies, but at the moment I feel like ranting. (Feel free to head out and do something more interesting than listening to me. Like watching a pot boil or eating a liverwurst sandwich.)

The other day my father got a bill from Charter Communication that reflected a $50 increase in his monthly bundled rate. When I called them to find out what was going on, they said that his contract had expired, so the rates defaulted to the normal rates. I asked if they needed him to sign a new contract so he could get a lower rate, and phonethey said no, that their new rates were lower than his old rates, and they would just switch him over to the new normal rates.

By this time, I was thoroughly confused, so I asked why they hadn’t just automatically given him the lower normal rate. Their oh so logical response: “Because we couldn’t get into the account to change it.” But they could change it to the higher normal rate? Yep. That makes sense. (Apparently, their normal rates are whatever the representative decides. A friend tried to find out what her new rate would be, and she and her husband were each given three different figures.)

They also said my father was eligible for an equipment upgrade — a faster router and modem. I’m all for that. Some sites, including one of my email sites, have so many ads and videos going at once, that it takes forever to load the page. They ended the call by telling me I’d have the package in a week, which means it will come on Thursday.

Just now I received an automated phone call from Charter. They said there was a problem with my recent upgrade and they had an important message for me. I waited for a couple of minutes for a live representative to come on the line, and the first thing she asked me for was the phone number. Huh? They called me and didn’t know what phone number they called? (Her explanation, “It’s an automated system,” wasn’t much of an explanation, but it’s the only one she offered.)

I don’t know the phone number here — I never call it. And I have no need to know it since I never give it out. My father is 97-years-old, and he likes answering the phone when he is awake, so I don’t want to bother him with answering calls for me. (Since he was napping when Charter called, I got the all the fun, though I would have had to deal with them anyway. He can’t hear very well, and he gets easily confused, so he would have turned the phone over to me so I could get confused instead.) I went searching for his phone number, finally found it, and gave it to the woman. At her request, I gave her the address, which I do know. And then she asked for the security code. Yeah, right. That’s something I waste precious brain cells for, carrying that number around in my head. (When I called them, of course, I’d gathered all the information and had it ready. Since they called me, it was their responsibility to have the information ready. She didn’t see it that way, of course.)

The representative wasn’t very patient with my frustration and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t thrilled to be talking to her. She kept saying she needed the information to get into the account so she could tell me why Charter called. The thing is, Charter had called me — yeah, I know, I keep repeating that, but it’s an important point. When I call someone, I feel safe (safer, anyway) giving out information on the phone, but for all I knew, it might not have been Charter who called. It could have been a scam and someone wanted the information to . . . well, to do whatever scammers do with personal information.

At long last, the representative accessed the account. The important message? That the equipment will arrive on Thursday.

Sheesh.

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Meaning of Flowers

“Say it with flowers” is an ad slogan dating from 1917. Apparently the slogan strikes a chord with us, otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted almost a hundred years, but what, exactly, are we saying when we say it with flowers?

Roses Yellow Rose with Ladybugsay “I love you,” but each color has a has a secondary meaning:
Red roses — Love, passion, respect, courage
Yellow roses — Joy, friendship, freedom
Pink roses — Happiness, gratitude, appreciation, admiration
Cream roses — Thoughfulness, charm, graciousness
Peach roses — Admiration, fascination, enthusiasm
Orange roses — Desire
White roses — Innocence, purity, secrecy, reverence

Some flower meanings seem obvious, either because of their names, their common usage, or their natures:
Aloe — healing
Forget-me-nots — remember
Monkshood — beware
Narcissus — egotism
Orange blossoms — eternal love or fertility
Poppy — oblivion or eternal sleep
Sage — wisdom
Venus Flytrap — caught at last
Violets —modesty
White lilies — purity
Withered flowers — rejected love.

Other flower meanings seem haphazard, as if the symbolic language was assigned randomly without much thought:
Daffodil — regard
Hollyhock — ambition
Morning glories — affection
Peony — shame
Sweetpea — departure and/or thank you for a lovely time
Sunflower — false riches
Wintergreen — harmony
Wisteria — welcome

Most of us have our own meaning for flowers. For me, lilacs mean remembrance, but in the languange of flowers, lilacs mean first love. (Which works well for me, too, since the man lilacs make me remember is my first love.) And for me, big red poppies mean lack of luck since unluckily we can’t plant them anymore.

In the end, though, sending flowers always means the same thing: “I am thinking of you.”

It’s kind of odd, now that I think about it — the few times someone sent me flowers, I was truly touched, but never in my entire life have I been able to send flowers to anyone. Whenever I considered it, all I could think of were the soon to be dead blooms and the screams of agony of the flowers being so cruelly lopped off the plant.

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Spending Too Much Time in Shuttered Rooms

After my life mate/soul mate died, it was all I could do to get through the day. I couldn’t imagine a future without him in the world. Didn’t want to imagine it. When my grief started to wane and I could again contemplate the future, I would wonder where I should go to settle down, but my mind always rebelled at the thought. Settle down? Alone? How? He was my home. Without him, there was no home, just a place, and one place seemed the same as another.

Although I am gradually coming to terms with both my loneliness and my aloneness, I still rebel at the thought of finding somewhere to settle when I leave here. (I am currently staying with and looking out for my 97-year-old father.) For a person with hermit tendencies, such as I, settling down alone sounds like stagnation. At the beginning, I would do things, of course, but then as time passed, I would become entrenched in my habits, would get tired of the same sights, the same errands, the same . . . everything. And my world would shrink and continue shrinking until I became the crazy cat lady sans cats.

Most people have not been able to identify with this scenario. They see me now, embracing new ways of living, and say that it will always be so. Perhaps they are right, but still I do fear the stagnation that would come from being too long entrenched in one place alone.

The truth is, whether we are aware of it or not, some form of stagnation happens to all of us. In “It’s a Nomad, Nomad World,” Bruce Chatwin spoke of our heritage as nomads and explained the necessity for keeping on the move, especially by foot. Chatwin wrote:

Some American brain specialists took encephalogram readings of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, than a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to the another, should feel the need for journeys of mind and body, for pep pills or tranquillisers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms. . . . 

The best thing is to walk. We should follow the chinese poet Li Po in “the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way”. For life is a journey trough wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it was biologically true. None of our revolutionary heroes is worth a thing until he has been on a good walk. Che Guevara spoke of the “nomadic phase” of the Cuban Revolution. Look what the Long March did for Mao Tse Tung, or Exodus for Moses.

I have no interest in being a revolutionary hero or even a spiritual leader who wanders in the wilderness until fate thrusts me into a new role. But somehow, I instinctively knew the truth — that settling down means mental stagnation. When you live with someone, you don’t stagnate quite as much because there is someone to help disrupt the rhythms of your life. But who disrupts the rhythms of your life when you are alone? (Cats, I suppose, which could be why so many old women alone end up tending  a houseful of cats, but that’s not for me.)

I do not know if I am physically capable of a life on foot — I’ve never been athletic. Even if my capabilities weren’t an issue, the problem of getting enough water seems insurmounatble. The sheer volume of water a person needs is staggering. Some areas in the west, you can go up to hundred miles between towns, and in the wilderness sometimes it’s almost as far between watering holes. Considering that a gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds (just the water, not the container), and considering that a someone on foot needs to drink almost that much a day, and considering that at the most I could walk 10 miles a day (and that is being optimistic),  I’d need to drag along almost 84 pounds of water. (I read about a college student who dragged that much water with him on a cross-country trip. Actually, he didn’t drag it, he pushed it. Used some sort of cart.)

I don’t know what the answer to my conundrum is, but I have a hunch it will take care of itself. I’d probably start out in my ancient vehicle, and if it broke down or fell apart . . . well, then I’d have to finish the trip on foot.

It’s also possible that I end up doing what everyone does in the end — spend my life in shuttered rooms.

As a matter of fact, right at this moment, I am in a shuttered room. It’s not so bad.

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Perfect Day for Hunting

The sun was warm today, but the air was cool and breezy — perfect weather for hunting. Armed and ready to shoot, I went out to the desert with a group of hikers to search for . . . wildflowers.

It wasn’t hard to find what we were looking for. Lupine and coreopsis lined the road.

lupine

Goldfields carpeted vast swaths of land.

goldfield

Patches of poppies and chia sprung up on hillsides.

poppies and chia

And dainty cream cups soaked up the sun alongside poppies.

poppies and cream cups

Most of the time, the desert seems drab, with little color to break the beige monotony, so today was a real treat!

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

We Are Public Property

”You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” The author of these words, Anne Lamott, was speaking about writing, but her comment also holds true of life. Everything that happens to you, everything someone did to you, everything someone said to you, all belong to you. These things are a part of you and your life story, and you can do with them as you wish. (Ownership doesn’t negate Untitledtresponsibility or consequences, however. If you write or talk about what people said or did to you, they have no obligation to like it. You might even lose them as friends, assuming you were friends in the first place.)

The corollary to the quote is that other people own everything you do or say to them.

We are savvy enough online not to write or post anything we don’t want coming back and slapping us in the face or kicking us lower down on our anatomy, long after we’ve forgotten what we posted, but offline, we are much more casual, saying whatever comes into our minds whenever there is someone around to hear our voice. Most people, don’t really pay attention, so what we say drifts past their ears or in and out of their mind moments after our words are spoken. Except, of course, when we say something we wish we hadn’t. Those words remain hanging in the air long enough for them to register. Many times people have quoted something I said back at me, and it stunned me, usually because I didn’t remember telling them, or at least not the way they understood my words to mean. Not that it’s a problem. I have no secrets. Offline, as well as online, I am what you see.

Still, it is a bit of a revelation to think that we extend way beyond ourselves. If people own what we do to them, then our actions are public property. If people own what we say to them, then our words are also public property. We are not the autonomous creatures we think we are, safe within our own little sphere of noninfluence. Just as we are continually affected (and infected) by others, they are affected (and infected) by us.

It’s a sobering thought, and one that should make us think twice about what we say to people and how we treat them.

***

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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

A couple of months ago when my exercise class was asked to do a demonstration for a seniors’ expo, I agreed to do it. It seemed like a life-altering experience since I’d never performed in front of a group before. I had once given a speech at a writers’ conference, and after the first few minutes of nervousness and a shaky voice, I did great. But speaking about a subject I know well is one thing, and doing a new, physical activity is another thing completely, and way out of my comfort zone.

Despite all my walking and exercising, I am not really fit. (When a friend found out about all my physical activities, she asked if I had an ounce of fat left on my body. I could only laugh.) I’m not being self-denigrating when I say I’ve never been particularly graceful or rhythmic. (Except for walking of course. One foot in front of the othstageer — I can do that!) Despite this, I thought it would be good for me to go in front of a crowd with my classmates, do the best I can, and let the mistakes fall where they may — a celebration of who I am at this moment.

The past two months have been a flurry of practice, costume discussions and creations, and more than a few disagreements, followed by a disastrous dress rehearsal and even more upsetting final practice. At one point, I thought of dropping out, but I reminded myself of how important the experience would be. I mean — me? Going in front of a crowd? Performing?

The exhibition was on Saturday. All the participants were asked to get there at noon, though my group wasn’t on until three. So there was plenty of time for nervousness, and I was, just a bit. But then we got on stage, did our number, and . . . that was it. Oddly, although I’d been looking forward to the applause, it never registered. I can’t even remember it.

Afterward, I waited for the triumphant feeling I expected, waited for a shift in myself. Waited for . . . I don’t know what. But nothing was different. Then this morning it dawned on me — as so often happens with life-altering experiences, the changes came in the doing. All those weeks of preparation turned me into the sort of person who could go on stage and give it her all without much ado.

Bad things seem to have an effect all at once, but good things have a slower, less obvious demarcation. (A therapy friend says that this is survival. It’s important to remember the bad things and the bad effects so we can try to keep them from happening again, but good things don’t matter much when it comes to survival.) Still, in my case, I did get the effect I wanted, just not the great emotional payoff. And that’s okay. Emotions fade. Confidence and competence remain forever.

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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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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