Waiting to See What I Will See

I strapped on my backpack today and went out walking in the desert again. I’m surprised that the twenty-one pound pack doesn’t bother me all that much, though by the end of four miles, I did get a little wobbly. The cold wind today didn’t help, especially when it blew my hat down so I could only see a few feet of the ground ahead of me. So for all I know, this is what the desert looked like today.

Yeah, right. I would guess, no matter how little of the scenery I saw today, it was nowhere near as beautiful as the photo, which I took during my cross country trip on the Overlook Azalea Trail in Georgia’s Calloway Gardens. The Azalea Trail has understandably been called the most beautiful place on earth, though the California Poppy Preserve in Antelope Valley is a close contender.

But, even if today I didn’t see such vibrant April color (both photos were taken in April, though two years and a continent apart), I also didn’t see a skull in a bucket, like a friend of mine did. The skull incident happened several years ago so, although the bucket was found on a trail I have been walking, I am not in any danger of my skull ending up in such a place (so not an item on my bucket list!)

Although I’ve been feeling as if I Want to Run Away, the truth is, I also want to run toward. There is so much of this country I haven’t seen, so many fabulously beautiful places that are waiting to delight my eyes (and yours!). Fall in Virginia. Summer in Glacier Park. Lovely lakes hidden in the back country. Wildflower meadows beyond the bend. Peaks and valleys, creeks and twisty trails.

Luckily, I will be getting a peek at the wider world when I take a trip to the Pacific Northwest this May. I can hardly wait to see what I will see.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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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The Moment the Future Begins

In a little over two months, it will be eight years since Jeff died. It seems unfathomable to me that he’s gone. Seems unfathomable that it’s been so long. Seems unfathomable that it’s been such a short time.

Sometimes my shared life feels like it happened to someone else, and in many respects, it did happen to someone else. I’m not that same person. I don’t know what happened to her, don’t know exactly what (or who) has replaced her.

At other times, although I am no longer caught up in the breath-stealing agony of new loss, I feel as if my life stopped when grief began, and in a way, that is also true. I cannot live in the past. Although I am way too introspective for my own good, I never, ever, think about what my life would be like if he hadn’t gotten sick. If he hadn’t died. There is too much pain in that thought, too much negation of the reality of our lives.

At the same time, I cannot live in the future. We can never know what the future holds, can’t guess the traumas, such as my horrendous fall, can’t even guess what good might happen.

So, like this heron sculpture I photographed in the botanical gardens in Wichita, Kansas, I am forever poised in the moment with the past gone and the future not begun.

It seems odd to feel in any way that my life stopped when Jeff died since I truly have had an incredible number of experiences and adventures in the past years, experiences I would not have had if Jeff were still alive. I sometimes wonder what he would think of what I have done, what I have yet to become.

But that thought brings pain, too.

I used to think living in the moment was living on a knife’s edge, but now I prefer to think of it as living in the very instant before I take flight. It seems a bit more hopeful, as if I will eventually soar, but for now, all I have is that frozen flight.

I was going to add that I wish I knew that my life would work out (rather than the dread I have of being lonely and broke and old) but I really don’t want to know. If wonders are in store, then they will be a joyful surprise. And if not? Well, I’ll deal with that dreaded future when it happens.

So here I am — as we all are — poised forever at the very moment the future begins.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Wanting to Run Away

Lately I’ve had the feeling I want to run away. I’m not sure if I’ve been around people too much, especially those I don’t care for, or if I haven’t been around people enough, including those I don’t care for. Either way, especially today, I feel the need for something else, though I don’t know what.

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Originally, my May trip was supposed to be the beginning of a year-long road trip (partly because I do not want to spend another summer in debilitating heat) but I backed off because I need to give my arm more time to recover. And give me more time, too — after all, I spent six months juggling between narcotics and pain, in addition to being injected several times with the soup of drugs they use for anesthesia (some of which no one understands why they have the effect they do).

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But today I again wonder if it’s time for . . .

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I don’t know. More adventure?

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But May will be coming soon, and that should give me a taste of being out and about and help me decide when/if to continue my great adventure.

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After tomorrow, where I will have to deal with someone I would prefer not to deal with, I will have three days of adventuring in the desert. Maybe that will be enough to get me through another week without running away.

Or not.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Making and Breaking Habits

I’ve often come across the idea that it takes twenty-one days to create a habit, but in my experience, it takes way longer than that, fifty days at least, which is why I resolved to blog every day for the last fifty days of 2017. And here I am, sixteen days into 2018, and still posting a blog every day. I’m to the point where, if I don’t feel like writing something, I would have to make a special mental leap not to do it.

Of course, daily blogging takes its own mental leap to continue the habit because often there simply is nothing to say. But here I sit anyway.

(Wait a minute! Back up a bit. What was that? Only sixteen days into the new year? Really? It feels like months.)

I’ve also read that it’s supposed to take twenty-one days to break a habit, though from the struggles people have with trying to give up smoking, it seems as if it could take anywhere from twenty-one days to infinity to stop. But when it comes to breaking a good habit, such as daily blogging (assuming that blogging is a good habit), it would take a single day. If I made that leap to not blog today, then it would be easy to make the same leap tomorrow, eroding the impetus, and so the habit would disappear.

Oddly, when it comes to my not eating wheat and sugar, I am already at the “mental leap” stage where I have to stop and think if I feel like a treat, though it has been but twenty days. Not that the habit is engrained enough to truly be a habit. It will take at least thirty more days for that, and even so, it will take a single day for the habit to disappear. And it will disappear when I take my Pacific coast trip — I already know that. After all, the initial idea for the trip was to make chocolate turtles in honor of my mother. And after the habit is broken, who knows how long before I will be able to cultivate the no-sugar habit again.

But that’s a problem for another day.

Oftentimes it’s impossible for me to cultivate a habit because something interferes before the habit is established. For example, I’d planned to try to lift light weights every day to strengthen my upper body and especially my wonky arm for when I go on that brief backpacking trip this May, but the thing that interferes is . . . me. I simply don’t feel like pushing myself, especially on the days I have hand pain. But we’ll see. Maybe after the fifty days of no sugar and wheat are up and they’ve become an engrained habit, I’ll look to establish the lifting-weights habit.

Or not. Sometimes I think being disciplined is highly overrated.

But for now, I’m sort of enjoying the game.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

My Faux Backpacking Trip

Dance class was cancelled today, so I was going to take a “zero” day — in backpacking parlance, that means no miles — but since I had nothing better to do, I eventually shrugged on the pack and headed up the road. I figured, in a real backpacking situation, for example one in which I was running out of food, being lazy wouldn’t get me out of the predicament, and the saunters this weekend were supposed to — sort of — mimic a backpacking trip.

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Sixteen miles in four days carrying twenty pounds sounds like a lot (and feels like even more!) but for a real backpacker, that would be a day’s hike with a light pack.

But then, I’m not a real backpacker, and have no real aspirations to be. What I’m aiming for is time in the wilderness rather than monster miles through the wilderness, but one doesn’t get to remote areas without some effort, so that’s what I’m doing. Putting in the effort.

As of right now, I figure I’m carrying the basic pack, or rather the weight of a basic pack, which would include the pack itself, a tent, sleep system (a total of ten pounds for those three basic items), and perhaps another ten pounds of emergency supplies and tools and extra clothes. What’s missing? Yep — food and water.

I could, of course, get rid of some of the emergency items and tools, such as the external battery for my phone and the Solo camp stove, to make room for food, but an even better plan would be to get strong enough to carry more weight.

I’m doing well for just having started my conditioning for a backpacking trip. I’ve also stuck to most of my non-resolutions, such as no sugar, no wheat, almost no dairy, but the not-eating-after-6:00-pm has been a problem. Still, it’s on the list, and one day, perhaps, I can adhere to that item, too. I do other things on the list, such as stretching and lifting weights (very light weights because of my arm) most days, which hopefully will also help get me in shape for the trip. Oddly, dance classes have become something of a respite from the trail conditioning because even grand plies are easier than trudging around with twenty extra pounds piled on my body.

Best of all, by being disciplined and going out for a trudge, I got to enjoy the lovely day.

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***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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 Truth About My Desert

I always try to take the most dramatic photos when I am out hiking in “my” desert, which makes it seem as if the place is wonderfully remote and serene.

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Despite what the above photo shows, the truth is that folks in the nearby neighborhoods use the place as a dump. There are piles of junk everywhere, but instead of railing against what I consider a desecration, they become part of the mythology of the place and help keep me on track. For example, I know that to return to the city, I need to turn right at the pile of trash spilled from a black trash bag. At the top of that hill, to show me I am on track, is an entire suite of broken-down living room furniture. And on a more distant pathway in a more distant time, is this television.

One of my favorites was this lovely bear I found during my early days of grief. He always made me smile, reminding me that even on my darkest days, the desert, at least, loved me. After weeks of seeing the little fellow, I decided I should rescue him, but he’d disappeared. I never knew if someone else had taken him or if the strong winds had blown him to another sad woman who needed his message.

Mostly, of course, I see such things as discarded condoms, empty beer bottles, and ragged clothing, but sometimes a bit of color catches my eye, such as this toy I saw today, which shows there is beauty in unlovely things:

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Or this one yesterday that seemed to be urging me down a different path than I had planned:

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All in a day’s walk. All part of the truth of my desert.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Is it Really so Important to Label Ourselves and Others?

My four-mile saunter today wasn’t quite as exciting or as heartening as yesterday’s. The pack weight was the same, the distance the same, but various parts of me ached at different times. (I haven’t been able figure out how to stop the slight chafing of the shoulder strap, but it’s possible it’s a design defect of the pack since it was mentioned in at least one review.) Still, I met the challenge. And the whole experience was fabulous in its own way.

Although I might be sore, and I might be staggering a bit after all that effort (I have a hunch I didn’t eat enough yesterday), my mind is at rest.

It’s always a joy getting away from the city, even if my “wilderness” is just the expanse of desert beyond the neighborhood. Out there, by myself, there are no labels. There is just me, whatever that might be.

I sometimes call myself a writer but only when it pertains to my books. I don’t call myself a blogger even though I blog more than write. I don’t call myself a hiker even though I hike more than blog. I don’t call myself a dancer even though I dance more than hike. And I don’t call myself a sleeper even though I sleep more than all of those activities put together.

Most especially, in today’s world where gender is such a hot topic, I don’t bother to place myself anywhere on the gender spectrum, nor do I place myself anywhere on the political spectrum.

I am.

What more do I need?

What more do you need?

Is it really so important to label ourselves and others?

I’ve been deleting “labelers” from my Facebook page, even those I’ve kept because I thought it diplomatic not to delete them during past purges, but I am tired of all the labels we slap on others. Ists and isms. Gender classifications. Political views and identity politics.

Even if people deserve being called racist or sexist or ageist or bigot or anything else, why say it? Labeling makes us feel superior because we, of course, are none of those things. Labeling puts people in what we feel is their place, and keeps us from seeing their greater (or lesser) truth.

One thing that grief taught me is that we are all works in progress, even those we dislike or those who anger us. We are all on our own personal Ferris wheel, filling every one of the buckets, but the wheel keeps turning and so all the buckets are us at various moments during the day, at various times during our lives. It’s only when someone dies that the Ferris wheel stops, allowing us (perhaps) to see each of their many parts. By labeling a person, you put a spoke in their Ferris wheel as relates to you, stopping it at that particular view of the person. You never see all the rest of the buckets. Never see that beyond your label, the wheel keeps turning.

I tried to explain this to a friend who insists that I am opinionated, though I do not think I am arrogantly and conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in my opinions. (Which is the definition of opinionated.) And every time she tells me I am opinionated, she uses the same example, “You don’t just say ‘I don’t like Meryl Streep,’ like other people do, you say, ‘I hate her.’” Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I ever thought about the actress, can’t remember the last time I spoke her name, can’t remember the last time I saw one of her movies, but apparently, years ago when we were discussing movies and she was extolling Streep’s virtues, I said I hated the actress. And forever after, in my friend’s mind, that proves I am opinionated.

(As an aside, I told her that the one-time friend who called me contrary was perhaps the most contrary person I ever met. The person who called me negative was so negative I could barely handle being in her presence. Before I could suggest that this friend turn the opinionated finger to herself, she said, “I can see where this is going.”)

So, here’s a thought. What would happen if everyone stopped labeling everyone else? Calling someone racist ignores all the blatantly unracist things the person does. Calling someone leftist ignores . . . etc, etc, etc. But even if they were consistently racist (or whatever label you put on them), why say it? It might not make the world a better place if we stopped the labels, but it sure would make Facebook a much more pleasant place to hang out.

Meantime, there is always the desert, where there are no labels. Just sand and wind and sun and me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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 Lilt in My Heart

Ever since I made the commitment to do a solo backpacking trip in May, I’ve had a strange feeling, one to which I am so unaccustomed that it’s taking a while for me to recognize the emotion. Maybe excitement. Perhaps anticipation. Or could it be . . . happiness?

It’s hard to tell. I haven’t felt lighthearted since Jeff fell ill decades ago. Watching him waste away destroyed my happiness, and the long years of grief after his death certainly didn’t do anything to remind me what happiness felt like. And even though dancing has been good for me, brought me back to life after Jeff died, it hasn’t been a consistently lighthearted endeavor. Sometimes it’s frustrating learning a new dance. Sometimes it’s hard making my body do what it’s supposed to do. (Yeah, point those toes!) And then there always seems to be one individual I have a hard time dealing with. (For me, dancing is about paying attention, everyone doing what they are supposed to, all moving as one — the zen of it. And some people insist on doing their own thing, no matter what the teacher says. I try not to let it bother me, but the truth is, their improvisations destroy the energy, pain amelioration, mental stimulation, and the joy that synchronized dancing brings.)

Still, it could be that this feeling has to do at least partly with dance classes. We are learning fabulous dances in both Hawaiian class and Belly dance, as well as reclaiming a great tap dance I sort of learned at the very beginning that got lost from disuse. And Hawaiian class was great this past week, going through all our old routines, which truly gave me the zen of dance feeling.

But that can’t be all of it, because there have been many such dances and days over the years. Mostly, I think, the lightheartedness has to have come from the idea of the backpacking trip.

A long time ago I read an article about dreams. If, for example, your dream is to visit Paris, and you are unable to go there for whatever reason, the suggestion was to figure out exactly what you want from the visit and what would give you the feeling you craved. Do you want the joy of sitting in an outdoor café eating brioche and sipping Café au Lait? Eating delicious French food in a fancy French restaurant? Visiting art galleries? Then try to find a substitute for whatever it is that you want. If you can’t go to a French café in France, find one near you. If you can’t afford an expensive French restaurant, save up your money and treat yourself — though it might be outside your budget, it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than airfare to France, and might give you a taste of the dream. And if art galleries are what you most desire, then visit those you can in this country. Or look for traveling exhibits from the Louvre.

What I’m getting at here is that whatever it is that I want from a remote backpacking trip, I am apparently getting at least a part of it now, though I have no idea what it might be. It’s possible that roaming the desert with a twenty-pound pack makes me feel as if I am already on that mythical trip. It could be the thought of walking around with my house (a tent, a sleeping system, and a camping stove qualifies as a house, right?) on my back like a turtle amuses me, even though at the moment, the turtle effect is only in my mind since the pack is filled with water bottles. (Each .5 ml bottle weighs approximately a pound, which makes it easy to add weight and calculate the total.) It could be that I like the challenge of training. It could be a lot of things, but I don’t suppose the reason matters.

All I know is that I woke this morning with a lilt in my heart that even the soreness of today’s saunter couldn’t dissipate.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Running Away

I was talking to a couple of friends today about my upcoming trip to Seattle and my plans for a solo backpacking trip when I’m there. They asked me why I even wanted to go out into the wilderness by myself, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure. All I know is that after Jeff died, the idea took hold of me, and that every time I had an upsurge of grief, the idea came back even stronger, and now it just won’t let go. (The desire for such an adventure is a common reaction to grief.)

One woman said it sounded as if I were running away. Well, yes. Of course I am.  But then, I am also running toward something I can’t yet imagine. When I explained that the trip is a spiritual journey, a vision quest, the other women said she hoped I would find what I was looking for.

Am I looking for something? I don’t know. Do I expect to find something? Not exactly.

“Aren’t you afraid to be out in the wilderness by yourself at night?” they asked. Well, sure. But I think that’s sort of the point. To feel the breadth and breath of the night. To be aware of danger but at the same time bask in the vastness. To be afraid and in awe of the very world we live in. We’re used to thinking of the wild world as our own backyard, and yet the world exists in and for itself, without a single thought for the oh, so arrogant humans who live on the surface. Perhaps a respectful fear is a good thing to cultivate — at least it’s a recognition that we are not the center of the universe or the galaxy or even the world. In many respects, we are superfluous. If we did not exist, the earth still would continue revolving around the sun. If the earth weren’t here, we’d be . . . nowhere.

I try not to have any expectations. I know it’s dangerous to be out there alone. I know even experienced wilderness hikers get lost, get hurt, meet up with dangers — not bears so much, but clouds of mosquitoes, lightning, corroded trails, raging streams, and unleashed dogs are all very real dangers. And yet, I can’t let my fears dictate my future — otherwise, I’d never leave the house. (Being a crazy cat lady sans cats is as realistic a fear as any of those I might encounter on the trail.)

So maybe what I am running away from is that untenable future? Maybe what I’m running toward is a way to change what seems fated?

The way I see it, only good can come from seeking the goal. (Not necessarily the trip itself, but the push toward the trip.) Using hiking poles is helping my miracle arm. (The one that was broken in twenty-five places but now acts mostly normal.) Carrying a backpack is strengthening my body. Projecting myself into possible unpleasant situations is strengthening my resolve. Research is stretching my mind. Eating a clean diet is making me healthier.

At least, that’s the theory.

I’m still a long way from actually doing the trip, but every time I go to ballet class or saunter with my pack or forgo a sugary snack, I am taking another step on the trail.

And that seems as good a reason for planning on going out into the wilderness by myself as any other.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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 Sad Story of Chocolate

I try to stay away from current issues because — well, they are current, and my focus is more on timeless topics, such as being, connecting to the world, creating meaning. But today I read something that irritated me so much that here I am.

According to the article, global warming will cause the extinction of chocolate in the next thirty or forty years because it’s getting too hot to grow cacao plants.

Um, no. I’ve known about the chocolate demise practically my whole life, long before the term “climate change” was ever coined. The threat to chocolate is that cacao trees need the shade of the rain forest to grow seedlings, the soil of the rain forest to nourish them, and full sun to grow. So chocolate farming is done on the edge of rain forests on cleared rain forest land. And rain forests are geared to go extinct in about forty years. So, no more rain forests, no more chocolate.

As a citizen of the United States, I am not one to talk about clearing forests. The land here used to be covered with vast forests, but the first thing any settler did as they moved west was clear the land. In fact, so many of the stories in our readers as schoolchildren were about those great folks and their great work ethic as they chopped down the great trees to build this great country. Cutting down trees has for hundreds of years been considered a good thing to do. It would be hypocritical of me, as one who has enjoyed the “benefits” of that destroyed primeval forest, to castigate others for doing the exact same thing.

But the truth is, half the world’s rainforests have been cleared in the past one hundred years, and at the rate they are continuing to be cleared — every year an area the size of England and Wales is gone — the rain forests will be erased in forty years.

If the rain forests were only cleared to grow chocolate, that would be one thing because the demise of the forests would be quite slow, but it’s a huge business — not just for the trees themselves, but the land for palm oil, soy, rubber, cattle. Not only does a percentage of the carbon dioxide emissions come from the downed forests — 12% — the forests themselves help clear human made pollution from the atmosphere. And with no rain forest, the pollution builds.

By the time the rain forests are gone, the population of Earth will be way over nine billion folks. (Hopefully, minus one — me.) What interests me is how few people talk about overpopulation anymore. Such an unpopular topic! How dare anyone suggest that people limit their reproduction or, horrors, not reproduce at all. But then, no one really wants zero population growth because zero population growth also means zero corporation growth. No growth, no profits.

Still, when I was young, I made the decision to ignore my own ticking biological clock and listen instead to the world’s ticking biological clock. And so I have no children. My footprint on this earth ends at my death. I met a woman my age recently who has more than sixty-five grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What could I possibly do to the earth in my lifetime that would equal even one tenth the effect this one woman has? Even if I never did anything to conserve, to recycle (recycle in the old use of the term meaning to use up and wear out), I would have done my part, but I walk very softly on this earth. I don’t need governments to try to change the climate for me, don’t need pundits to scare me with worst case scenarios, don’t need reactionaries to tell me how best to live my life. I’m doing everything I can for the world as it is.

Well, except for chocolate. I do sometimes eat chocolate.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.