Letting Go

My first out-of-town adventure in this new rootless life of mine was going to be a pilgrimage to dispose of Jeff’s ashes. (For those of you who are new to this blog, Jeff was my life mate/soul mate who died five years ago, catapulting me out of our shared life and into a life of accepting whatever comes my way.) I’d been taking care of my nonagenarian father, but now that he’s gone, too, my stuff is in storage. And, I am appalled to admit, so are Jeff’s ashes.

It’s past time for me to dispose of those cremains (as the funeral industry do quaintly calls them), but I don’t know quite where to release the ashes. Disposing of them is more a matter of myth and ritual than reality. I know he is gone and that they have nothing to do with him or his life, but they are his last earthly remains, the inorganic part of his body that was left behind when he was cremated.

I’d planned to take the ashes to northern California when I went to visit a friend, to scatter them in the ocean near the Redwood Forest because he loved both water and trees, but since neither of us had ever been there, it seems wrong, somehow. Disposing of this last vestige of his life should feel right to me —- I am the one left to deal with his goneness. But I don’t feel right about any of it. I don’t feel right about his being gone, though when I subtract him out of the equation of my life, I’m fine. Happy even. I certainly don’t feel right about keeping his remains in a rented storage unit, but they’ve been there five weeks already, so I don’t suppose it matters if they are there a while longer.

People tell me I will know when the time is right, and this time does feel right. It’s the place that confuses me. Do I take him out to the desert on a windy day and let him go where he wishes? Do I take him back to Colorado, back to the creek where we talked about our future, or maybe back to where we lived? Do I take him to Minocqua where he’d dreamed of opening a mom-and-pop store on the lake? But oh! He’d feel so far away. As if he isn’t already so far from me.

In the days after Jeff’s death, a minister friend advised me to save some of the cremains, which was good advice. I’d never planned to keep them but having them with me brought me comfort. But I don’t feel right about keeping some and getting rid of the rest. It would feel so . . . scattered.

Though I have his ashes with me, it feels as if I left him in Colorado. I left his car there. (I donated it to hospice.) I think I would feel better if his ashes were there, too, for no other reason than that is where I picture him. We never talked about what to do with his ashes, but once when I mentioned I was considering taking them to the North Fork a mile or two from where we lived, his eyes lit up.

It will be a while before I get back to Colorado — I have a dance performance coming up, housesitting jobs, and a New Years resolution to keep. (I promised an online friend — my first and staunchest fan! — that we would meet this year for sure, so with or without Jeff’s ashes, I’ll be heading for northern California first chance I get.)

I never thought it would be hard to scatter his ashes — after all, they are doing no earthly good sitting in a storage unit — and now I realize it’s going to be immensely difficult, that final letting go.

But it has to be done. Doesn’t it?

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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.”)

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The Medium is the Message. And the Massage.

(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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It seems strange to have no time to think, no time to write. It’s not that I’m particularly busy, it’s just that I’m so seldom alone. I was afraid of settling into my same old routine of blogging, spending way too much time playing computer solitaire, watching old movies I have seen too many times before. And thinking, thinking, thinking.

But life has different plans for me. I’m staying with friends until my car is finished being prettified, and so I live on the edge of their life. I end up watching television programs I’ve heard about but never seen, such as People’s Court and programs I haven’t watched in years, such as the news. (I don’t suppose it will come as a shock if I tell you I almost never watch television.)

The thing that seems strangest to me about the television medium is how often newscasters and other folk mention social media. When did what folks are saying facebook and what they are twittering become news? To me, so called ‘social media’ isn’t really ‘media’, but then, considering my lack of television watching and radio listening, I don’t much consider the traditional forms of media ‘media’, either.

I suppose Marshall McLuhan would understand why social media has become a message for the media. He coined the phrase ‘The media is the message’ long before computers and the internet ever entered mainstream living.

I always liked the alternative saying: ‘The media is the massage.’ All media — social and otherwise — is a massage for us masses. (Apparently this variation of his saying is also attributed to McLuhan. When a book came out illustrating with weird typesetting McLuhan’s point — The Medium is the Message — the cover typesetter made the mistake of using ‘massage’ instead of ‘message’ and McLuhan insisted they keep the typo.)

The Wild phenomenon is an example of how the media and the message distort non-media life. The droves of new and inexperienced hikers on the trail is changing it forever. Already special regulations are in effect, requiring new permits that allow only fifty people a day to begin through hiking. From what I have read, the Appalachian Trail is already nearing capacity for through hikers, and this is even before a new movie based on the book A Walk in the Woods, about a through hiker, is released.

The message to me is do my own hike wherever and however long it might be. Meantime, I’m taking life a day at a time, and looking forward to whatever strangeness comes my way.

I hope this blog doesn’t sound as rambling to you as it does to me. I’m writing this on my phone, and apparently the media with which I write helps create my message, whatever that might be.

“Wild” is Tame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Testing 1 2 3

I figure since my internet access might be a problem, I should learn how to blog by email. I read the tutorial but there is no way to find out if I learned anything unless I test myself. Okay let’s do it. Abracadabra! Post!

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Posted via phone. Since this smartphone is probably more intelligent than me, blame any mistakes on the phone.

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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.

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.

***

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.

The Courage to Remember

One of the lies we’ve been told about grief is that we should put the deceased out of our minds to keep from being so sad, but the truth is that it’s important to remember . . . anything.

Carrie Jane Knowles, author of the soon-to-be re-released memoir, The Last Childhood (a book about the impact her mother’s Alzheimer’s had on their family), wrote a blog today: Art as an Act of Memory. She talks about the devastating effects of not being able to remember even the simplest things, and mentions a far-flung theory she’d read that Alzheimer’s patients developed the disease because they wanted/needed to forget.

Of the four of us, I’m the only one still living.

I am not a believer in blaming the victim for a disease, but this particular idea has merit. We spend most of our lives burying that which is too painful to remember, whether the memory of loved ones lost to death, world-wide tragedies, wars, deprivations, abuse, that it seems impossible so much buried pain could leave us unscathed.

As Carrie Knowles says, with all the “tragedy we’ve witnessed in recent years, what chance do we have of not developing Alzheimer’s? How will we have the courage to remember?”

Courage. So much of life is about courage, about living despite the tragedy in our lives, about remembering no matter how much sorrow it brings us.

Philosopher Eugene T. Gendlin wrote: What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes. Most people don’t know this. They think that by not permitting the feeling of their negative ways they make themselves good. On the contrary, that keeps these negatives static, the same from year to year. A few moments of feeling it in your body allows it to change.”

At times I’ve felt strange about continuing to write about the effects of the death of my life mate/soul mate five years after the fact, but from the beginning, I knew it was important to feel whatever I was feeling. Not that I could have buried the feelings — I don’t have that sort of discipline — which is just as well.

I am starting my life from scratch, or at least mostly from scratch. I’ll have a storage unit full of things that I can’t yet get rid of, a brain full of fading memories, a soul full of old sorrows, and a psyche that will always feel the absence of the one person who connected me to the earth. And I’m okay with that. What I wouldn’t be okay with is if any of those things held me captive. I have a world to explore, adventures to embark upon, experiences to savor. My moments of sorrow will only add piquancy to my future if I continue to have the courage to feel and the courage to remember.

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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.

April Fools

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

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

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

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

And happy April Fools’ Day from me, too!

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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.

Fan Mail Brings Me Grief

Grief: The Great YearningI must be only author who grieves when she gets emails and comments from readers. For most authors, fan mail is a wonderful and affirming event. It is for me too, but the affirmation is usually accompanied by my tears because most often when readers write to tell me how much one of my books meant to them, they are referring to Grief: The Great Yearning.

It’s nice to know that people who are going through grief find comfort in my words, but oh, it breaks my heart to know that yet another person is dealing with the devastating loss, disbelieving shock, unfathomable pain of losing a spouse.

Those who haven’t lost their life mate, soul mate, partner, the person who makes life worth living, the person who connects them to the world, cannot comprehend the reality of the situation. In fact when people tell me they can’t imagine having to deal with such loss, I tell them not to even try. There is no way anyone can imagine the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional upheaval such a loss brings. And yet, the people who reach out to me in their grief know. As do I.

And so I weep.

The tears don’t really help anyone. We all have to find our own way through the horror, and yet, there they are, these prisms refracting my soul. Still, I do love hearing that my words mean something to people, that they brought a bit of comfort. It helps give meaning to those long years of pain.

If you are suffering a soul-numbing loss, maybe you, too would find comfort in my words. And I promise, despite my tears, I’m always glad to hear your story.

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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.

Shhh. I’ll Tell You a Secret

My father’s house is sold, and I have thirty days to get out. There is a fourteen day contingency removal, so for the most part, I’m not going to do anything for those two weeks except enjoy the calm before the chaos. The following two weeks will be hectic because I’ll have to try to get rid of what little furniture is left, find a storage unit and move my stuff into it. And, of course, look for a room to rent.

When I first found out about the sale, I had an adrenalized few moments when I realized how imminent the future is. (Though technically, the future for all of us is eternally imminent and comes relentlessy at the same pace — one minute at a time.)

But today? I’m not concerned at all.

Many years ago, I saw an episode of “Taxi,” a ridiculous and at times sadistic series staring Danny DeVito that I couldn’t see the point of. (To be honest, I can’t see the point of most television, so that’s nothing new. It’s why I never watch TV. Well, except for last night. Someone mentioned that “Dancing with the Stars” was on, and I wanted to see what the hoopla was about. Didn’t see the point of that show either. People dance and other people rate them. Ho hum.)

Anyway, in the episode of “Taxi” I watched, one of the drivers who had poor English rented a fabulous place. He thought he was paying rent for a year and about died of shock when he realized it was just for a month. So what happened? He and all his Taxi buddies made use of that house for the month, really lived it up. The idea of such an all-then-nothing gesture really captured the imaginations of both Jeff and me. We called the experience “taxi-ing it” and often talked about doing something totally out of character by spending our savings on some extravagant gesture — a lake house for the summer, perhaps, or a trip to Norway.

It was all talk.secret Neither of us ever had the courage or foolhardiness to do such a thing because we knew the truth. At the end of the month, we’d be broke, maybe even destitute. And besides, there was his ill health. All our savings went to pay our living expenses during his protracted dying.

But this last month here in this enormous, almost new house, I’ll have to opportunity to taxi it — enjoy the space, the quiet neighborhood, the fantastic view, the nearness to the desert and the dance studio with no regard for the future.

And when the month is over, well . . . Shhh. I’ll tell you a secret. I love not knowing what I will do. I love not caring. I love taking it a day at a time. I love believing that, one way or another, things will work out.

When I am ejected from this house, the world will be at my disposal. I’m looking forward to seeing what mischief I can get myself into. And oh, I will be so disappointed in myself if I don’t find more ways of taxi-ing it.

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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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