Adventure Update

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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My adventure is slowly taking off –just baby steps at the moment. Literally, baby steps. Yesterday and today I participated in March of Dimes’ walks to support the cause but mostly to honor a baby who died before he was born.

Other than that, my life seems much as always, though it isn’t, really. I’m staying with friends until I get my car back, then I have to find a place to stay for a month — I certainly don’t want to wear out my welcome, and I need to stick around town for a while to rehearse for a dance performance.

The last days at my father’s house were hard — empty rooms and memories — so I’m glad I don’t have to be alone just yet. People are being very kind to me, which is helping make this transition easier. I sometimes wonder if all my talk about adventure is simply that . . . talk, but the idea is becoming very real to me, so I will do something. A friend told me about a woman who walked out of her house after her husband died, and never went back. Never had another permanent home. I understand how that is possible, and it might be the path I take.

Life beckons.

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Haunted by the Specter of Empty Rooms

The last night in my father’s house. I’ve been wandering through the empty rooms to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything, and I can’t stop crying. It seems as if during the past five years I’ve tapped into a well of endless tears, and though the weepfests are fairly rare now, tonight brought them back.

It’s the end of so many things.

I came to this house after the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, to look after my father and ensure he could be as independent as possible during his last years. I fulfilled that task, and now he is gone, too, having survived my mother by almost eight years.

I no longer know who I weep for. All my dead? The woman I once was? Death itself?

I came here shattered by grief — totally desolate with no idea how to go on by myself, no idea how to want to go on by myself. Now I have dance classes, friends, dreams. Would Jeff even know me now? Would the woman I once was know me?

I rememb016ber how at the beginning of my grief, I used to marvel that so great a trauma as the death of the one person who tied me to earth and made life worth living didn’t change me. But something did — perhaps living. There is a whole world out there if I have but the courage to take it, and yet here I am, soaked in tears.

Tomorrow I will gather myself up and forge ahead with hopes and a smile, but tonight, well, tonight there are just too damn many empty rooms. Too damn much sorrow.

I know this is the cycle of life. People are born. They live a few years or many. They die. But my heart doesn’t want to know that particular truth. My heart wants what it can no longer have — to go home to Jeff. But that home is gone, too. Those rooms I emptied before I came here are filled with other people’s belongings. Jeff for sure isn’t there. Nor is he in my future.

The specter of empty rooms haunts me.

I used to love empty rooms. Jeff and I never put furniture in our living room. A weight bench. That was all. But now, empty rooms remind me of ends, not beginnings. And I am tired of ends. (That’s probably why I like the idea of a nomadic life, though I doubt I would like the reality — there are no ends, only beginnings.)

I wish I were strong and wise and brave, but the truth is I simply do what everyone does — keep on going however I can.

And tomorrow I go, leaving these empty rooms behind.

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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.

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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

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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.

The Last Few Days of a Settled Life

Such a strange transitional state, these last few days of a settled life. I’m at my computer, perched on a stool at the kitchen counter, which is the only table-like surface in this empty house. (I’ve never quite got the laptop aspect of a laptop computer. Too much heat on my legs, and too hard to type.) Because of the uncomfortable stool, I have to get up every few minutes to stretch, which makes it hard to think. It’s a good thing, then, that I have nothing to think at the moment.

I had lunch with a friend this afternoon, who half-jokingly told me I could stay at her house when she took a trip, and as soon as I accepted, the joking tone disappeared. She’s delighted to have someone stay there when she’s gone. An empty house is an unstable house. What if a pipe breaks? What if the plants die? Well now she doesn’t have to worry. (Unless, of course, the plants commit hari-kari to get away from my black thumb and what they might see as a tortured death.) The dates are unspecified as of yet, but it will be good to have a plaangelce to alight for a couple of weeks.

Someone else told me about a “trail angel” job opening up. The usual trail angel (someone who helps those who walk the long-distance national trails) can’t do it this year, and he is looking for an angel to fill in. I don’t suppose I could be called an angel under any circumstances, but what an interesting experience for a writer — a completely different point of view about thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I can’t commit to the whole time (because of the afore-mentioned house-sitting situation) but maybe he’d be willing to let me do just a few weeks.

A nomadic life, at least for now, seems way more exciting than simply renting a room or even an apartment. Every week or two, circumstances would change, and perhaps new choices and challenges would present themselves, including teaching myself the rudiments of camping and backpacking. (There are all sorts of programs and books available, but only I know the circumstances of my needs, and in the end, everyone has to hike their own hike.)

The same friend (the one I had lunch with today) told me I was so very brave to go camping by myself, and I had to remind her that I am still all talk. I have yet to step into a tent or climb into a hammock, though I did sleep on the floor last night because I felt too lazy to drag the old mattress from the garage (where it had been stored) to the bedroom. Besides, sleeping on the ground will be good practice, though the half-dozen or so pillows I used to prop myself up probably defeated the purpose. Maybe a hammock would be better than a tent, but how does one hang a hammock in the Redwood Forest?

So many things to learn! So many places to go, trails to walk, parks to visit. And dances to dance. (The good thing about housesitting for my friend is that I would be able to take classes again!)

All of those things are still just words on paper, but someday . . . someday . . . the tug of adventure will call me beyond words to the reality.

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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.

Nothing to Do

It seems strange to have nothing to do. The house is empty except for small pockets of the clothes and accoutrements of my life. The furniture is gone and my possessions are stored, which means no movies to watch, no books to read. Just my computer to use. Normally having only a computer wouldn’t be a problem since I frequently spend most of the evening online, but the only seat left in the house is a kitchen stool that is not kind to my tailbone. I could go for a walk, but after two hours and forty-five minutes of dance classes today in addition to the mile walk there and back, I’m ready to relax. But there’s nothing to relax with.

miningWhen I first mentioned my idea of an epic walk, a friend asked what I would do with all that time. I had no answer but it’s a valid question. What does one do with time? We fill our time with the chores and piddling tasks of tasks of living, and the time that’s left over, we fill with movies, television, books, magazines, lunches and dinners out with friends. But what does one do if one can’t do any of these things? Since I can’t walk for more than two hours a day especially if I am carrying a pack, there will be a lot of empty time. I could write, of course, but it’s hard to write with an increasingly untamed mind. (Many authors can sit down and watch the story unfold before their eyes, but I have to excavate every idea, every word from the morass at the bottom of my mind, and at the moment, I seem to have misplaced my mining equipment.) Would I be bored? I suppose it’s possible, but it’s just as possible that time will do what it always does, expands or shrinks to fit the available tasks. (The less you have to do, the less time you have to do it in.)

Tonight is easy. I’ll finish this blog, sign a friend up for a March of Dimes walk, download and install the available computer updates for my machine, play a few games of solitaire, and then suddenly, the evening will be gone. But what if I were out by myself somewhere, sitting in a tent, doing . . .

I don’t know. What do you do when you have nothing to do, nothing you can do? If I’m lucky (or unlucky?) someday I’ll find out. Meantime, I hear a game of Spider Solitaire calling my name.

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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.

Wanderlust and Wonderlust

I can already feel the wanderlust taking over, which is not altogether a good thing. I said I was going to leave my fate up to the fates, but this wanderlust is starting to dictate my future. For example, I talked to a woman today who is looking for someone to rent a room from her elderly mother, so that her mother will have companionship, and I’m hesitating. For one, I don’t want to be a companion — I need time to write and do other solitary activities when I am not walking or dancing. For another, the rent she is asking is too high since they want more from me than simply money. And finally, the place is far from the dance studio, she has a rambunctious dog, and has no internet service.

old woman

Do you see the old woman? Do you see the young woman?

And yet, at one time, it would have seemed a good deal to me. The silly thing is the woman’s age. The daughter went on and on about all the things her mother is still capable of doing, such as driving short distances and doing a bit of grocery shopping. Then she listed the things her mother was not capable of doing, such as yard work, getting herself to doctors’ appointments, and picking up a week’s worth of groceries.

I envisioned someone decrepit, and there is no way I want to deal with another old, sick, or dying person, so I asked the mother’s age. I had to have her repeat the number three times because I could not believe it. This elderly woman is my age.

Huh? I’m not elderly. Not even close! I’m not sure what the beginning date for “elderly” is, but I’m not there yet. In fact, according to the US Census, I’m still middle aged. Rapidly sliding down the banister to old age, as are we all, but I am not elderly. And certainly not suited for being a “companion.”

Still, I’ll have lunch with the woman and her daughter next week. Can’t hurt, and for all I know, we could hit it off. I do understand the mother somewhat, even unseen and unmet. The poor woman lost her husband five years ago and her brother (who lived with her) a few months ago. So much sadness and sorrow is enough to throw anyone off kilter.

Meantime, I’m savoring every minute of dance class, and dreaming of the wonders that await me when I begin my wanders.

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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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