What a Difference the Internet Makes

The past week has been the laziest one of this trip. Except for a few excursions — going to a cultural festival, getting my car tuned up, buying a few items at the grocery store, taking a walk or two — I computerhaven’t done anything. There has been almost no new input, and what input there is, such as being in a new place, has been muffled by the frequent rain. If I lived in such a rainy climate, I would probably go about my life as if the skies weren’t weeping on me, but coming from the desert, I am used to spending rainy days inside.

And so, that is what I am doing. Staying inside. Being lazy.

These mostly empty days are giving me an opportunity to process the past three months on the road, but to be honest, I still don’t know what to make of it all. What I had originally planned — spending most nights in a tent and most days hiking — didn’t happen. There were some such days, of course, but weather, spring break (it seemed someone was on spring break from the middle of March to the end of April, so camp grounds were often full before I got there), and going where the wind blew (or do I mean “didn’t blow”?) took me on a different path. Mostly I have been visiting people I know online, sometimes staying with them, sometimes making a stop just for lunch.

The one thought that sticks out in my mind as I try to make sense of it all is how different this trip would have been without the internet. I would have followed my own path, struggling with maps and trying to figure out places I would like to go, but with Google Maps, whenever I couldn’t figure out a fun drive, I set the destination on my phone, and let Google Maps direct my journey. This made the driving much more fun — I could just sit back, hold the car steady, and gaze out the windows at the passing scenery. 9,000 miles is a LOT of scenery!

And I probably wouldn’t have visited many people. Of all the people I have visited, I only knew three people pre-internet days, two of which I reconnected with through the internet or email. (Well, there was that one woman I visited after meeting her at a campground, but I don’t exactly know how to classify that visit.) All the rest are internet connections, and because of them, I have seen extraordinary things, had wonderful conversations, found reasons to visit places I would never have considered.

People often talk about how the internet is destroying communication and relationships, but that is not at all my experience. The internet has allowed me, a rather hermit-y woman, to meet people and make friends that would never have entered my life otherwise. In not a single case was meeting them in person a letdown, but a continuation of the friendship we had established online.

But what does it all mean? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps this trip is exactly what I had in mind, even if the path I took and the logistics of getting to my various destinations did not follow my original vision of the trip — a way to keep me from stagnating.

And I certainly have not been stagnating. Even when seemingly doing nothing — driving for many hours a time or staying put in an empty apartment — the adventure continues.

***

(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.”)

 

Lazy Days

I am taking a hiatus from travel for a week. I was offered a place to stay in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, while a friend went out of town, and I jumped at the offer. I’ve been moving around for so long, driving vast miles (9,000 miles seems vast to me, anyway), that I’ve sort of lost trrainbowack of myself — I could be anywhere. At times, it’s disconcerting to realize I am so very far from where I’ve lived the past few years, so far from anything familiar, and yet, in a way it’s all familiar.

A gray, rainy day in a room in an apartment in Wisconsin is not a whole lot different from a gray, rainy day in a room in house in the desert.

Lazy days.

I had planned to get recentered while I was here. Stretching every day (which I actually have been doing). Walking every day (which I have only done a couple of times because of the rain). Eating better (which I hava bit better, anyway — more vegetables, more protein, no wheat, only trace amounts of sugar).

I sit here staring out the window, thinking of all the things I could be doing if I weren’t so lazy — working on my dance class novel. Shopping to replenish my stores for the last few weeks of my journey. Repacking my car.

That’s what I really need to be doing. Repacking.

I unloaded all my gear before I took the bug to a mechanic because it was going to be at his shop for a few days, and it didn’t seem prudent to leave everything in the car. If it were just a matter of stuffing it all back in, I could do that before I leave on Sunday, but I need to reorganize. During my more than three months on the road, and despite my best efforts at being disciplined, things have become a bit discombobulated. Maps unfolded, used bottles stuffed in any which way, scraps of trash, accumulations to be organized.

And yet here I sit, staring out the window. Occasionally I drag my attention back to this page, but then, I lose focus again.

Lazy days.

***

(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.”)

Finding the Gem at the End of the Rainbow

This trip/journey/quest I am on was never supposed to be a sightseeing trip but more of a sight-experiencing trip. Still, it’s hard to bypass the touristy sites — often they are the most memorable places, places my host or hostess wish to show me.

Which is how I ended up at City of Rocks on the border of Georgia and Tennessee. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. Fake fairy tale scenes and garden gnomes dotted the rockery, and people pushed and shoved their way through narrow openings between boulders.

But then I found the gem at the end of the rainbow trail — an incredible panoramic view that supposedly allowed someone standing there to see seven states.

One of those states was North Carolina, the next stop on my journey. North Carolina seems like such a diverse state (most of them are) that I’m not sure what I want to explore. Some people have suggested Cape Hatteras or Wrightsville Beach. Others think I should go to Natahala Gorge. I suppose I should at least step on the Appalachian Trail.

When I began this journey, I thought by the time I reached North Carolina, I would be ready for a backpacking trip, and yet, I am now in worse shape than when I started. I haven’t hiked much at all in the last few weeks, spending my time non-driving time visiting people and places.

My return journey will be completely different. Because of the weather, I won’t be going further north, so there won’t be any more people to visit.

I am looking forward to seeing what I will do and what gems I will find.

***

(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.”)

***



2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 72,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

What Pain Are You Willing to Embrace?

When I was young, I thought it unfair that those who liked physical activity, who preferred sports and exercise and dancing to all other activity, should reap the rewards of beautiful bodies and glowing health. We bookworms might have reaped the rewards of a deeper empathy, but who cared about that? Though we had sluggish bodies with low energy reserves that were easily depleted, we were always urged into doing what didn’t come naturally, as if the athletic folk were somehow superior. And maybe they were, but they were only doing what came naturally, as did those of us who read.

wantIt still don’t think it fair that both groups do what comes naturally, but if we in the non-athletic group want to achieve better health or better muscle tone, we have to put ourselves through a regimen that is not only beyond our meager physical resources, but sometimes downright painful. I don’t believe the good things in life should be accompanied by pain, especially because if it’s a pain we cannot like, we will soon give up.

For a long time, I followed groups of women on Facebook who thru-hiked (or attempted to thru-hike) the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, and so often it seemed that those who finished the hikes were those who loved the challenge of the trail and who enjoyed even the pain of it. (And apparently, there is a lot of pain to work through, which is why thru-hiking is as much a mental challenge as it is physical.)

This is National Novel Writing Month, where perhaps millions of “book athletes” are running their own sort of marathon, attempting to write 50,000 thousand words in a single month. Oddly, though I am a writer, such an effort is beyond my imaginational resources, and is even painful. There is no way I can dredge that many cohesive words out of the depths of my mind and there is no way I can focus on the story for so long. My untrained mind begins to wander. And so does my untrained body.

I recently read an article that claimed it is the pain we are willing to sustain, the pain we want in our life that determines our happiness. Those who love working out in the gym or running marathons or dancing until their feet bleed, will be rewarded with gorgeous bodies, good health, and grace. Those who love writing for hours on end will be rewarded with a finished book at the end of a month.

Me? I never liked pain of any kind, though I am willing to make an effort. I enjoy physical activity, such as dancing and walking, but when it gets to the point of pain, I lose interest. (Which is probably a good thing since so often pain means damage and sustained pain means irreparable damage.) I do write, but only what I like and when I like. (Even though I know the sort of books that would catapult me to the level of being able to support myself through writing, I can’t sustain the emptiness and pain that kind of writing would bring me. The people who get the rewards from writing those books are the ones who love it.) I had considered doing NaNoWriMo, but here it is, the second half of the month, and I pretty much forgot to do it. (That’s my problem. I forget. Once upon a time, I ran a mile every day, but then life took a different turn, and I simply forgot to get out in the morning and run. It took me years before I remembered, and by then it was too late.)

Luckily, with both walking and dancing, many of the rewards come from effort and dedication and concentration rather than sustained pain.

Still, I do accomplish some things while avoiding pain. I have written hundreds of thousands of words and walked thousands of miles. I’ve learned dances and even danced on stage.

My life is not pain free, of course. No matter how much I have tried to avoid pain and embrace comfort, pain came anyway. (After a certain age, aches are a given.) Oddly, because of it, I am now more wiling to do things that might be painful than I once was, but even so, pain is not something I value.

And anyway, maybe the point is not pain so much as energy, not what pain we are willing to sustain, but what sort of energy we have to spend. Some people simply do not have the energy resources for a physical life. Some simply do not have the energy resources for a mental life.

But somehow, we all muddle through, doing the best we can, doing what comes naturally, even doing a bit that doesn’t come naturally.

***

(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.”)

Anti-Loneliness Plan

I went walking in the desert yesterday, the first time since I left my father’s house. It was easy to get to the open space when I lived within walking distance, but now that I am ten miles away, it’s harder to find the motivation to drive to “my” part of the desert. I always thought it silly to drive to a place of exercise, but in this case, it’s not exercise I needed. Well, I did need it. Let’s just say I needed more than exercise, like a feeling of connection to the world.

I’ve been feeling my aloneness lately, more so than usual, been feeling disconnected, and I simply cannot let my gloom (as one friend called it) continue past the point where I can handle it. So I worked on my book a bit in the morning to get my mind off myself, which was sort of a silly plan because the book is mostly about me. (Apparently, I am becoming the main character since my character is the only one who is connected to all the other characters.) But writing did help. And it helped give me the energy I needed to get in the car and drive to the desert.

The desert worked its magic. (Well, except for the part where my knees were scraped from a slide down a loose gravelly slope and my shoulders ached from the use of the Pacerpoles. The poles help take the weight off the lower joints, but the weight has to go somewhere.) As I picked my way along the rocky trail, stopping periodically to feast my eyes on the hills, I realized what the problem has been. It’s been a year since my father died, and such anniversaries are always difficult. From the beginning I’ve had a harder time dealing with his death than I expected because we weren’t particularly close, but we did live together in relative peace for almost five years. And his death, like the death of my life mate/soul mate, catapulted me out of my status quo and into a different life.

That I am in a different life has been masked by various circumstances. I spent the first six month in his house, cleaning out his things and getting the house ready for sale. Three of the next months were spent with friends and three were spent housesitting, so now is the first time I am truly feeling the effects of my aloneness.

Oddly, this sort of profound aloneness is what I expected to feel on my trip, especially if/when I am camping by myself, but since I seldom can guess how I will feel ahead of time, I have a hunch the trip will make me feel connected. But what do I know? I’m just a woman tossed on the grief heap and left to make my way however I can.

A further complication leading to a feeling of disconnect is that I’m currently rationed when it comes to the internet (which has always been a place of refuge for me) because all I have is the data on my phone to get me through the lonely times. Consequently, those times seem to loom greater than they normally would. There is enough data for me to post to my blog, so maybe I should try to go back to blogging every day despite not having anything to say. When did having nothing to say ever stop me before? (Be forewarned!)

I also had another rather mundane revelation while out walking — I leave on my extended trip in just a month, so I better start figuring out what sort of food to bring! I’ll be staying with various people along the way, so I’m sure I won’t starve, but I also need to take the time to visit national parks and forests, to hike in various locales, to camp when I can or must, so having supplies will be important. Because I’ll be in my car, canned goods won’t be a problem, and I will have my backpacking stove if I need to cook something, so I’ll be able to bring anything, even a bit of fresh food. Might be an interesting experience. I’ve never bought food for a camping trip before.

So, here’s the plan — walk more, write, blog, stockpile food, and stop reading as much. (Yep, reading is something else that makes me feel disconnected, though reading was the only way I managed to get through my lonely childhood. Now, for some reason, reading depresses me, maybe because the characters get together, which makes me feel sad for myself, or they don’t get together, which makes me feel sad for them.)

None of this will erase the fact of my aloneness, but it will help me forget it.

I’ll let you know what happens.

***

(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.”)

So, What Am I Doing?

What I am doing? I don’t really have an answer to that. At least, not an interesting one. I’m still researching the gear and clothing I will need for my road/camping/hiking trip, though I’m a bit sick of the whole thing. Too much thinking about silly stuff, such as the efficacy of base layer fabrics and waterproof outer layers, what type of potty — if any — to get, what sort of first aid and emergency products I would need. Admittedly, this research will not seem so silly when I am trying to stay warm and dry in an El Nino deluge. But for now, it seems like . . . oh, horrors . . . shopping. (I’d be one of those people who still wore the same clothes they’ve had since high school except that I outgrew them many pounds ago.)

jugglingI’ve been doing some volunteer work, helping a new company develop its social networking sites. Been reading unnoteworthy books for the simple reason they are close at hand. Been destroying my teeth. (Well, one tooth. Apparently, sitting for hours at the computer, elbow propped on the desk, chin in hand is like gritting one’s teeth, only worse.) I’ve been playing an insane number of solitaire/spider solitaire/free cell games, and, of course, I’ve been taking dance classes. (We’re learning Italian dances to perform at a spaghetti dinner next Saturday, which is perhaps the only new thing I’ve been doing.)

For the most part, I’m just living. I haven’t been hiking much, or even walking more than a few miles a week. It was easy to roam the desert when I lived just a few blocks away, easy to hike up in the Redwoods and on the beach when I had someone to ferry me to the starting point and pick me up at the end, but somehow, the mere act of driving anywhere puts me out of the mood for walking.

I’ve been trying to find my next temporary place of lodging, and even though it will be for only six weeks, no place seems to fit my requirements. Too restrictive, unfriendly dogs, no internet, bad parking, shared bathroom, all things I’d just as soon not have to deal with even for so short a time. So I’ve been going around and around in my head, trying to weigh drawbacks against positive points. I finally had to laugh at myself. It’s this sort of roundaboutation that inspired my desire for a long trip in the first place. Just to go and to let go. To have nothing to think but the moment.

And then there is the added frustration of my publisher going out of business with one publishing company and starting another separate company. I don’t know the reasons for the change, but if I want my books to be published (and not by me), I pretty much have to go along with the deal. So here I am, with internet an iffy proposition, and my needing to change all the buy links on my website, blogs, and social networking sites. Eek. I’m wondering if I can just remove the links and not worry about fixing them, but still, one way or another, there are a lot of links to attend to. More mental activity going nowhere.

See? Lots of living, none of it interesting.

***

(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.”)

Adding “Script” to “Nondescript”

I just read a description of a character as “nondescript,” which made my hackles rise. “Nondescript” is a way of saying someone is so ordinary that no one would notice the character and be able to describe him later, but for an author to use the word “nondescript” is a cheat. As an author, you have the ability (and responsibility) to describe your characters, no matter how nondescript. As readers, we need a bit of “script” to put the character in mind. It doesn’t take much, perhaps something like, “there was nothing remarkable about the fellow — not his lusterless brown hair, his round face, or even his well-worn jeans.” See? A description!

The thing that made the non-description of this nondescript character so heinous was a later description of the character as wearing an ill-fitting wig. Huh? An ill-fitting wig is certainly a description, and takes a character out of the nondescript category.

eyeThere is no such thing as nondescript anyway. I was sitting here trying to imagine a character so bland as to truly be nondescript, but everything I could think of tended to be a “script.” Most people have moles, so the mention of a mole, while ordinary, would be a bit of description. Everyone has a nose — big, small, ski slope, well-proportioned, hooked, babyish — though generally we only remark on those that fall beyond what is considered “normal.” But still, the mention of a nose gives some description. And lips — size and color varies. Eyes vary also — size, spacing, color. (I always tell people I have eye-color eyes since the color doesn’t really exist anywhere that I have seen. I used to call my eyes gray, though they are more of a dark blue gray with a brownish halo around the iris than a true gray. Now I call them hazel, though generally, hazel is considered a greenish brown.)

But back to non-descript. Try to think of a description of a nondescript fellow, and I guarantee you will come up with a description that will make him unique. Admittedly, any description will give readers the idea that the particular body part mentioned was important, even if it’s not, such as the mention of a mole. As I said, most of us have moles, so there is no reason to mention them, and yet, there they are. (In grade school, one of the boys in my class used to count the moles on my face. So embarrassing! And yet, I was one of those mostly unnoticed children.)

Apparently, nondescript is a recurring issue with me because I found another blog post I wrote about the same topic: Describing the Nondescript. In that post, I confessed my own use of “nondescript” in my books, but I guarantee, I will never use the word again. I hope you can say the same.

***

(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.”)

Building a New World for Myself

When a writer builds a world for her novel, she can either begin with the known earthly world and add details to make it her own, or she can create a world from scratch, building the world from the outside in. First, the broad view of how the world looks, smells, feels. Second how the inhabitants make this world their own with cities, farms, and designated wild areas. Third, the infrastructure of this world — the basic divisions of society including cultural, racial and governmental . Fourth, the creatures of the world and how they relate to their environment and each other. Finally, the minutiae of life in this special world — how and what the inhabitants eat and drink; how they deal with bodily waste, move around, survive, find comfort.

heavenI  frequently think about a writer’s need for worldbuilding now that I am carving my own world out of the known world. I’ll be leaving in a couple of months for a road/camping/hiking trip, and though the first three steps of worldbuilding are already in place (I am going adventuring to see what is there, not creating the environment itself), I hope to find new ways of relating to the world and its creatures. To this end, all the minutia of life in this new world has to be thought out.

For example, when some people take off on such a trip, they acquire a recreational vehicle, a home away from home that is larger and more luxurious than the places most of the world’s population live. Other people go minimal — taking just what they can carry on their backs.

Me? I’m far from wanting the conspicuous consumption of the monster RVs, or even the convenience/inconvenience of a camper, but I’m also not yet ready for a minimalist adventure. I will have a car (though my automobile is rather minimalist, now that I think about it. An ancient VW Beetle is about as minimal as you can get and still be driving an enclosed vehicle). I will stay with friends occasionally or in motels when inclement weather so dictates. But for the rest of it, I have to create my own world. What sort of shelter will I use? How will I stay warm? What will I sleep on? How will I deal with body functions in the middle of a frigid night? What will I wear? What will I eat? How will I cook? How can I create a modicum of comfort?

So many details!

I’m not going off on an expedition to a remote corner of the galaxy, where I need to bring everything for survival. I probably will never be more than an hour or two drive from civilization, where I can rectify any oversight or under buying, but still, the point is to be as self-sufficient as possible. Or maybe not. Maybe the point is to prepare as best as I can and see happens.

One of the things I want to seek on this expedition is darkness, places that are far from the light pollution of cities, where stars are so numerous you feel as if you are falling up into the sky. Last night I had a vision of myself in a lounge chair, lying under the stars, and letting myself fall into the infinite sky. Romantic, I know. The truth is probably more dangerous and uncomfortable — frigid temperatures, no protection from the small creatures of the night, and none from the large bidepal ones. But still, I’ve been searching for a strong and comfortable folding lounge chair to make my vision a reality.

Other details I still haven’t worked out, such as disposal of body waste. I had planned on getting a portable camp toilet since I’m not sure I have the muscle tone to squat for as long as I would need to do to my “duty,”  but so far I haven’t found one I like. Maybe plastic bags and kitty litter would work. And maybe I am stronger than I think.

Some people find my preparations amusing, and to be honest, sometimes I do too. But I also find the mental exercise a challenge — rethinking every part of life to see what the alternatives are.

In this, too, my preparations reflect the way a writer builds her world, because isn’t writing about rethinking life as we know it to see what the alternatives are?

***

(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.”)

Disenchantment

I’ve been managing a blog for an online company on a voluntary basis, and all of a sudden today, things erupted in a mess. One person posted a bloggerie with a bit of eroticism that offended another blogger. Eroticism is inappropriate in a g-rated blog, but somehow, before I ever got wind of the contretemps to fix matters, the whole thing was blown out of proportion, and one of the parties involved quit. Now I feel heartsick and wonder what the heck I’m doing getting involved in such a situation.

Even before this happened, I’d grown tired of the online world and wanted a break from the internet, so I was going to accept the offer of a place to stay next month where there is no internet. As it turns out, before I could accept, I was disinvited. It was a strange deal — the rainwoman needed someone to fix meals for her for six weeks, look after her dog two or three weekends, and drive her when necessary. All in return for a small wireless-less room. That would have been okay, but she wanted me to sign a contract saying, I think, that I would work so many hours and then be out of her house by a certain date. (Apparently, she was afraid I wouldn’t leave, though she should have been more worried I wouldn’t stay in such cramped quarters.) Since I wouldn’t sign a contract (it seemed as if I were doing more of a favor for her considering what she wanted me to do in exchange for a place to stay and I don’t think favors should be contracted) she disinvited me.

Not a problem. Now that I have my car back, I can stay at a motel if I can’t find a room to rent, but my willingness to be without the internet did point out to me how disenchanted I am (at the moment, anyway) with online life.

To tell the truth, I’m disenchanted with offline life, too. Not sure why. Just going through a phase, I guess.

I do know I need an adventure, something fun, but for now, the rains are mostly keeping me inside. Roads out of the high desert were closed for a while due to cars trapped in mudslides, and that has made me wonder about the wisdom of my winter trip. Admittedly, I will be hanging south, away from the worst of winter’s work, but the forecasts are for cold and copious precipitation even in normally moderate climates. Still, I am planning the trip, planning to camp even in inclement weather (making sure to bring enough food, water, warm clothing and quilts for any emergency), though who knows if the weather will permit such an excursion. Adventure is one thing, foolishness another.

Meanwhile . . .

One day at a time.

***

(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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