Playing Famous Author

Despite a few minor downturns, for the most part, my life lately has been truly a gift. I am having an incredible time housesitting — I have the opportunity to try on other people’s lives for a few days, which is an awesome adventure. And last night I got to play “famous author.” Well, maybe not “famous.” Maybe just “author,” but it was a fantastic experience for all that.

A local book club chose my novel Daughter Am I for this past month’s read, and they invited me to the discussion. I was afraid the discussion would be stilted because if they didn’t like the book, who would have the courage to admit it with the author sitting right there? But they all liked it for their own reasons.

One fellow seemed a bit tepid at first. He thought it a fun read that didn’t put him to sleep, which in itself is balm to a writer’s ears, but he got enthusiastic about the book when it dawned on him the story was a take-off on The Wizard of Oz. When he said as much, I couldn’t help emitting a triumphant, “Yes!” Although the book wasn’t specifically a take-off on The Wizard of Oz, it was a retelling of “The Hero’s Journey” as described by Joseph Campbell. (Actually, it was more a retelling of the retelling since I read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey rather than Joseph Campbell’s tome.) And the mythic structure of “The Hero’s Journey” underlies many familiar tales. Not just The Wizard of Oz, but also such stories as Star Wars and King Arthur.

The other fellow in the group didn’t seem all that impressed with the structure or the fun of the story — he was caught up in the conspiracy aspect and his own search for my “truth.” He wanted to know what truth I was trying to illuminate. He thought it was both “Truth” with a capital “T,” and the specific truth that nothing is as it seems — although good is good and bad is bad, good can also be bad and bad can also be good. Again, I was impressed. Because yes, that is basically the truth of this particular book. Or one of them. If characters are true to themselves, then ideally readers can find whatever truth they need from the story, and all those truths are equally relevant.

The women in the group invariably were reminded of relatives or places they grew up, making the book personal to them.

It was a thrill and a true honor to sit around the table, eating delicious snacks and discussing my book. I never imagined such a gathering, never imagined what a privilege it would be to hear what the book meant to readers, never knew how gratifying it would be when people saw what my intentions were in writing the story. I wanted to write books that were simple to read, but had a subtle complexity that those of a more thoughtful bent could find. And apparently I did.

I’m so used to not seeing myself as an author, or as anything special when I do see myself as such because my online community consists primarily of authors. And when everyone is an author, well . . . no one is special. But last night I did feel special. As if I had done something incredible by writing the book.

I had an interesting insight when the topic strayed to other books they had read with despicable characters — I will never be a world famous author or a household name because none of my POV characters are ever despicable. They are kind folk who are nice to each other. The stories are never about their interpersonal conflicts, but their joint conflict with an outside antagonist.

And that is okay. Those are the types of characters (and people!) I want to spent time with.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Mosquitoes, My Bugaboo

A truly fabulous benefit of living in the high desert is: no mosquitoes!! I am one of those folks who are attractive to the little monsters, so I have always had to be careful not to go out at dawn or dusk, and to tuck my pants into my socks if I do, as well as dab myself with citronella oil, though the oil makes me as nauseous as mosquito bites do. In the desert, though, I have had much more freedom, going outside at any time of night or day.

For some reason, the other day I ended up with a bunch of insect bites on my legs. They seem to be non-poisonous spider bites, but even though the bites aren’t noxious, they itch like crazy, and none of my usual panaceas seem to work. (A Mary Kay dealer suggested using a face mask on new bites because the mask pulls out the excretions, but by the time I heard her suggestion, the bites were a couple of days old.)

These bites reminded me of the dreaded mosquito situation, and their prevalence on various trails, along with ticks. Oh, my.

Everything I have read about long hikes lead me to believe that while the benefits might outweigh the drawbacks, there is a lot of torture associated with such a lifestyle. I am so not into torture, so a lot of my research is about how to eliminate the pain without eliminating the benefits of the experience. (I am not one of those who subscribes to the rather ludicrous philosophy of “no pain, no gain.” What’s wrong with “gain, no pain?”)

In books and even online, people are always blasé about mosquito bites, but the insects are dangerous disease-bearing creatures, and for people who seem especially sensitive to the toxin, they are to be avoided at all costs. Hence today’s research in how to avoid mosquito bites.

Some of the best advice is what I have always followed: stay inside. But that advice is counter to the idea of a hike. Other suggestions stay away from water and stay away from trees. As far as I can see, if one goes for a walk in the woods, it’s hard to stay away from trees. And water seems to be a necessity of life. (I haven’t yet tested this theory. I’ll take the experts’s word for it.) Most important: stay cool and avoid exercise. Is it possible to hike without moving? Something to ponder.

I could follow the dictate to wear white and bright colors since black and dark colors attract the pests, but I have done so with little to no effect.

There are mosquito repellants, of course, though the directions on all the repellants say not to use for extended periods of time and to wash it off as soon as you go inside. But what if you don’t go inside but have to stay outside? And what if there isn’t a way to wash? Minty teas are supposed to help, as does (it is rumored) Skin-so-Soft by Avon. (These repellants work by changing one’s smell.) It’s possible to treat clothes with insect repellant, and to wear various mosquito-net hats, gloves, etc. There are even mosquito net full body suits. Would I wear them? I don’t think so. Just more gear to carry around, and besides, the point is to connect with the world, not to walk around in some sort of see-through Michelin man suit.

Winter hiking is a possibility, especially considering the problems of excessive heat in the summer along with the need to carry a huge amount of water, but winter hiking brings its own problems. I mean, it’s winter!!

When one thinks of walking and hiking, the dangers that are so often mentioned are bears, mountain lions, and other wild creatures. But bugs are my bugaboo. Don’t get me wrong. I like insects and don’t kill them (I always trap them and take them outside so they can come in again and be retrapped). But I draw the line at being eaten.

Note: a bugaboo is something that makes people worried or upset, and is akin to bogey as in bogeyman, coming from a Welsh word meaning “ghost.” Or maybe it is more African in origin, from words meaning “bug.” Any time such a dichotomy exists, I tend to believe in an earlier origin, one that encompasses both meanings.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

The Cloud

A couple of people I know were talking about the cloud the other day — not clouds in the sky, but “the cloud” as in “cloud storage.” One said that there was only one cloud where everything was stored, and  the other, an engineer, kept insisting the cloud must exist somewhere.

I agreed that it must exist somewhere. Nothing comes from nothing, and nothing goes nowhere, though the impression we are given of the cloud is that perhaps it’s a nebulous cloud of electrons that exists to serve us without taking up space.

A bit of research told the truth.

As romantic as the notion might be, the cloud is not cloud at all. “Cloud” is a metaphor for the internet. Apparently, a diagram of the internet, in all its complexity, resembles a cloud. In truth, the “cloud” is/are huge data power centers, with acres of computers, processors, applications, and computer servers. (Servers are computers that supply data to other computers.) Instead of individuals and companies needing to buy massive machines with enormous processing power, they can harness the power of the machines other people own, and instead of warehousing their accumulated data on their own machines, they can rent space in these virtual storehouses, access them remotely, and get the benefits of the massive power structure.

Email systems (such as gmail) which are internet based are not stored on your computer, but in the euphemistic “cloud.” They are stored in someone else’s physical computer center and can be accessed by any computer. Friends who own the various houses where I have been staying, have kindly offered me the use of their computers. If I took them up on their offers, I could, of course, access my emails, FB, and various other sites just by using my password, but many of my files would be inaccessible because they are stored in my personal computer, not somewhere in the internet.

It’s comforting to think of “the cloud” as being a natural resource like the sky clouds, but when you think of the vast acres of these data centers springing up in physical locations around the world, each one costing hundreds of millions of dollars and generating untold wealth for their owners, the comfort vanishes and all sorts of questions arise. Who actually owns the data stored in the “cloud”? What are the stewards doing with the data entrusted to them? And why the heck do we need all that data? Once upon a time, data existed as words on paper, not ones and zeroes stored in and accessed by infinitely complex and massive computing machines.

Once you know that the cloud is a simple word for describing a system that is anything but simple, it’s easy to understand. Or at least understand the concept. For who among us ever understands this electronic web that binds us all together?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

The Hero’s Journey, Daughter Am I, and other Literary Matters

DAIsmallI had a wonderful discussion with a friend today about my books. Actually, there were two discussions with two different friends. One was about the dance studio murder story I’d planned to write using the students from the dance academy as characters, but that is so not a good idea. I don’t want to inadvertently hurt people, and I’ve come to see that what I like about certain people are not things they like about themselves, the interplay I find fascinating might have negative connotations, and the compelling characteristics — characteristics that define the person — are not always admirable. All those are good elements of a story, but in a real-life relationship? Not so good. Still, the idea is percolating somewhere in the back of my head, and maybe someday it will take on such import that I have to write it down to get it completely out of my head.

The other discussion was about books in general. I’ve been staying at this particular friend’s house, and I am still in residence. I will be the guest of honor at her book discussion this Saturday (Daughter Am I is the book being discussed!), and so she’s keeping me captive until the weekend. It’s not a bad idea, keeping me captive, considering my newly gallivanting ways. In fact, I’ve found another housesitting privilege (it is more of a privilege than a job, this staying at other people’s houses) that begins this weekend, so she’s right to remind me of my impending guesthood.

We spent the afternoon discussing books we’ve read and movies we liked, and it made me see the possibilities in writing again. It could be fun to create a world as did Anne McCaffrey. Or maybe it would be fun to jump into a ready-made world, such as regency England with its comedy of manners and rigid rules like Georgette Heyer did. (Maybe creating a character of an old woman because all the usual characters seem impossibly young, even those considered as being on the shelf.). Perhaps it would be fun to write a series, maybe a continuation of my as yet unwritten dance murder book, or a sequel to one of my already written books. (There are all those babies in Light Bringer, after all, and the possibility of more aged gangsters for Daughter Am I.

I don’t have to settle on any one possibility, of course — I could try out all the various ideas to see what sticks, but for now, it’s more important for me to fill my brain pan, stir it all up, then add the heat of imagination and see what (if anything) boils to the surface.

Still, it was nice talking about various literary matters, such as the hero’s journey and how it applies to Star Wars, The Wizard, of Oz, the legend of King Arthur and Daughter Am I. And if that wasn’t joy enough, there still is the bookclub meeting to look forward to.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Life Might Not be a Bowl of Cherries

I just got news my idyll is coming to an end. I’ve been mostly lounging around the past week or so, as if I were on some sort of spa weekend instead of merely housesitting, but today the house owners texted me and said they were coming home.

I’ll still have a place to stay for a few days. When I mentioned leaving, she said, “Oh, no. You have to stay until Saturday.” She’s having her book club meeting here on Saturday, and I have been invited, though I still don’t know whether I’m to be the guest of honor, sort of a writer-in-residence, or if I’m to be a sacrificial goat. (A poor attempt at humor. I’m sure the invitation is more that . . . well, that I am an author, and it is a book club.)

cherriesI had planned to leave town for a few days next week, maybe practice camping for a night or two to make sure it’s something I want to do before I spend the rest of my savings on gear, but without a car, it’s hard to go anywhere. I could walk, of course, but we are having a spell of wickedly hot weather, and besides, it would take me two or three days just to walk out of town. I’m sure people would frown on my camping in their yards for the interim nights, or horror of horrors, finding me behind a city bush doing my business.

There are many differences between walking and hiking, most of which are uncomfortable, such as uneven footing and heavy packs when hiking, but the one difference I do appreciate is that when one is hiking, every bush has the possibility of being a restroom if one needs to go. (Hmm. Maybe I’m being indelicate? If so, scratch the last sentence.)

I wonder how I will feel when my car is finally finished. Nervous, perhaps. I haven’t driven in almost three months, and when I did, I was driving a throwaway car. After all, the thing is 43-years-old and it looked its age, with multiple dents and rust spots, so it didn’t really matter what happened to it. But after spending half of a fortune to get the body fixed up, it will be a responsibility. And I like having no responsibilities.

Apparently, the car is worth something, especially since it has the original engine, and even more especially since I have the repair bills for the past 35 years. (I don’t know what happened to the first ten years of bills or why I have the rest. I guess after ten years, I figured I needed paperwork to prove the low mileage. It has less than 160,000 miles on it.) The bug will be worth more after the body work is finished since he’s doing a true restoration, not just patching the dents and such with whatever goop it is that cheap body shops use. I have to remember my sole reason for getting the car fixed is so that when/if I finally take that cross-country trip, I won’t look like a bag lady in a rattletrap. And it will be even more of a conversation piece when it looks good than when it looked . . . not good. And for someone like me who is reluctant to talk to strangers, it’s good to give them an excuse to approach.

Here I am again, talking about what I am going to do. I feel silly at times still talking about my possible plans as if I’m all mouth and no action, but the truth is, I am doing things. Getting my car restored. Learning to live an unsettled life. Researching trails and backpacking equipment. Continuing to take dance classes, even though in a couple of classes I am way out of my depth. (In one sequence of steps in ballet class today, we were supposed to relevé on the left foot, bring the right foot to passé, and then do a backward turn — a turn to the right. The others turned as instructed. I just stood there, feeling foolish and inept. How the heck does one spin around on one foot when there is no momentum? I so do not belong in that class! And yet, there I stay, at least for now.)

Well, I still have one more night to myself, so I’ll log off. I hope you have as good an evening as I intend to have. Did I mention I have cherries to munch on? Life might not be a bowl of cherries, but still, a bowl of cherries is a nice thing to have.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Feeling Very Old

I’ve feeling very old at the moment, though come to think of it, youth (relatively speaking) is gradually creeping back.

I barely made it through tap class this afternoon. Tap is one of the harder dance classes for me since tap is not just a matter of remembering steps and sequences, or even getting the beat right. There is all that, of course, but there is also the tapping — the sounds one’s feet need to make. And today, my feet secret simply didn’t want to cooperate. Added to that ignominy, a young woman dancer came to class, and her hopping and bopping made me realize I was way past being young. Maybe even . . . shhhh, don’t tell . . . old.

In my defense, I’d walked the two miles to the studio in 100° weather, and tap was my third class of the day in a studio with a broken air-conditioner. I imagine anyone would be exhausted after such a day in such heat, even a much younger woman. I did wimp out and accept a ride back to the house where I am staying, even though the temperature had dropped to a temperate 99°.

Days like today remind me I am a hothouse flower, used to a fairly consistent environment, and they make me reassess the feasibility of a long trip, whether on foot, in a car, or both as I am currently considering. What would I do in terrible heat if there were no cool place to rejuvenate? How would I handle any sort of relentless weather? But ah, that’s the adventure, the ifs and the hows.

My research is leading me into all sorts of fascinating areas. Did you know there was a hiking trail around Lake Tahoe? The Tahoe Rim Trail is 165 miles, and you end up at your starting point! So no hitchhiking to get back to one’s vehicle at trail’s end, which seems a bit of an iffy proposition to me. The whole point of adventuring, at least in my case, is to live, not to court death by taking unnecessary risks, and any talk of a thru hike on one of the long trails always seems to include hitchhiking. All of the national parks have exquisite trails, both long and short, and those would be the first to explore. Long trails would come, if at all, when I know more about life on the road.

Luckily, I’m already feeling younger, so such thoughts are not as wildly improbable as they were when I started writing this blog. Amazing what a cool and controlled environment can do for one’s well-being. And I’m thinking of giving up such an environment, even if only temporarily? Yep. Sure am. For the adventure of it.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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 Important to Say

It seems odd to me that during the four years I blogged every day, I seldom found myself with nothing to say, but now that I blog only when circumstances allow, I have a hard time finding anything to say.

I suppose when one is involved in the discipline of daily blogging, it’s not the words that count so much as the discipline, so I felt free to expound on any topic, no matter how trivial or inane, but now I feel I should have something important to say.

And I don’t.

I could, of course, write about the silly book I read today by a brand-name author, where every character used “proverbial” clichés:

Capture the provesmileyrbial brass ring
Out like the proverbial light
Bite the proverbial bullet
Kick the proverbial bucket
Shining like the proverbial beacon
Deer in the proverbial headlights.

If only one character had used the word “proverbial” to preface every cliché-ridden speech, then I could chalk it up to a character flaw. But when all the characters proverbialized, then it was obviously author laziness. Prefacing a cliché with ‘proverbial” has been used so often it has become a cliché in itself. Even worse, it says that the writer is too lazy to come up with something original, but since she coyly admits she’s using a cliché, it’s okay. But it’s not okay, even if you are a multi-million dollar author.

Or I could write (again) how strange it’s been without my car, which is still being prettified. (He says I almost waited to long to have the body work done, but how was I to know the thing would still be running after 43 years?) I’ve been without my car for so long, it will seem even stranger when I finally get it back. But there’s really nothing else to say about the matter. The car will be done when it’s done, and then I might find something to say. “Hooray,” if nothing else.

I could write about all my recent insights. But . . . um . . . um . . . I can’t think of any.

I certainly don’t want to write about my loneliness. I’ve looked forward to being by myself this weekend with nothing to do, but along with the wonderful aloneness came the not-so-wonderful loneliness. I don’t want to seem as if I am feeling sorry for myself (even if I am) because I only have things to be grateful for. I’m grateful I have a lovely place to stay, even if only for a few more days. I’m grateful I have more than enough to eat. I’m grateful I have dance classes and feet to dance with. I’m grateful I have no debilitating illnesses or painful ailments. I’m grateful I have friends who take pity on my unvehicled state and give me rides.

Most especially, if you’ve read this far, I’m grateful for your indulgence. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something important to say.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Twitter

Twitter BirdTwitter.com is a microblogging site where you post 140 characters at a time. I’ve written 100-word stories, 100,000-word novels, blog posts of various word counts, but anything that can be said in 140 characters or less almost doesn’t seem to be worth saying, so I’m having a hard time finding a home in the Twitosphere (or do I mean the Twitterverse?). Still, I’ve learned a few things about this twitterish world.

1. Tagging your tweets. You add tags to your tweets by using hash marks. For example, when I tweet this post, if I add #twitter to my tweet, people who are interested in finding out who is tweeting about Twitter can search for #twitter, and discover all recent posts with that hash mark. One of the most popular hashtags for writers is #amwriting.

2. The difference between # and @. # is how you index your posts so other people can find them via the search function. Don’t use the hashtag for your name because no one will be looking for you that way. Use @ with your Twitter user name. (For example, @patbertram.) People can then click on your name and be taken to your profile. If @ is at the beginning of the tweet, then only the person you mentioned will see it, so if I put @patbertram at the beginning of a tweet, no one would see it but me. If you want to just mention the person rather than leaving them a message, put the @ in the middle or at the end of the tweet. That way anyone can see the tweet.

3. Retweeting. If you see something interesting, retweet it. (If you don’t see the double arrows at the bottom of a tweet, hover your cursor over the the tweet and they should appear.) This helps interesting posts get more exposure, and introduces you to a wider audience so that you will eventually get retweets.

4. Respond to people who respond to you. Respond to interesting comments. Twitter is like a crowd of people all talking at once, so there are many different conversations going on at any one time.

5. Favorite-ing. Under each tweet is a star. If you click on the star, you “favorite” it. It’s a way of acknowledging that you read and liked something. It’s also a way of bookmarking items so that you can find them again. (You just go to your profile and click on “favorites.” It should be just off to the right of your profile picture, It’s a lot easier to find a tweet in that list rather than on your Twitter home page.)

6. Trending topics. On the right sidebar of your Twitter home page, there is a list of “trends.” These trends are topics that are currently popular (as in right-this-very-minute popular) and are compiled from the most retweeted tweets. Browse the trends or jump right in and contribute to the cause. It’s a great way of joining the crowd.

7. Lists. You can create lists of people you’d like to keep up with so they don’t get lost in the ever moving Twitter stream. To make a list, click on your photo in the upper right hand corner, click on “lists.” Look to the right hand side of the screen and click on “create a list.” There is also a link to click to learn more about lists.

8. Graphics. A friend who is an expert at online promo suggested that I use photos to illustrate posts on twitter. When I started with Twitter, photos weren’t shown in the feed, but now they are, which makes them very important. She also suggested doing graphics for my books for twitter and FB. A graphic is just a background image with a brief hook and a photo of the book cover, something compelling to catch the eye. Once you have made a couple such graphics, you can use them over and over again, posting them on alternate days, or however you’d like to use them. It’s fun to make the graphics. If you have a photo editing program like photoshop elements, you can make them using that program. Or you can do them online using a site like canva.com. You can find a couple of examples of such posters here: Pat Bertram – Timeline Photos | Facebook. Don’t forget to use # before keywords so others can find your graphic when they look for similar posts.

9. Pin. You can pin your graphics or any tweet to the top of your twitter profile. After you have posted your tweet, look for the three dots at the bottom and click on them, then click on “pin to your profile page.” That way, anyone who goes to your profile page will see it. 

10. Interact with people! If someone responds to your tweet, respond back. If you see something of interest, reply or retweet. Twitter is a like a world-wide cocktail party. Stroll around and listen in.

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to offer them!

Thank you. @patbertram

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.

Odd Days and Odd Ways

Well, so much for being alone in a stranger’s house. The fates shifted the pieces in the kaleidoscope of my life, and suddenly I am sharing the house with an exotic dancer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday evening, I went to a drum circle with a friend. I’d never been to one before, and I was curious to see what sort of healing I could expect or feel, so I invited myself along.

The first part of the ceremony was a spiritual cleansing. I’m not sure what we were being cleansed of — negativity, perhaps. She did us one at a time, having each person stand with arms outstretched. She worked on some people for what seemed a long time, maybe six minutes, pulling out the unclean bits, heaving some bits away, stomping other bits into oblivion, and then she finished the cleansing by going over the body with the healing smoke of sage. When she came to me, she had me stand with my right arm up and my left arm down. Slid whatever it was that she found down from my right hand to my left, then gently tossed it away. She spend a minute or so with the sage, and that was it. I’m not sure why she gave me a different stance, not sure why she spent so little time with me. Maybe she sensed my lack of engagement (whatever the others felt — peace, healing, spirits, love, the end of pain — apparently passed me by since I didn’t feel anything but interest). Maybe she didn’t sense much negativity in me, or perhaps she simply decided I couldn’t be healed.

It’s possible there’s not much to be healed. My mental chatter has died down, I have little to say, no conflicts to be conflicted about, no ailments. I like living in the moment, not thinking too far ahead. More importantly, for the first time in a long time, I’m at peace with myself and with the world.

drumAfter the cleansing, we beat drums to summon the spirits, then closed our eyes and went on an inward shamanistic journey. We were supposed to find a way into the earth for this journey, so I replayed a dream I had when I was in my early twenties. In that dream, I went deep into the earth. Although I was descending, it felt as if I were ascending — I took an elevator down, then got out and walked up three steps to another elevator, went down a ways, then got out and walked up three steps again. After the final descent/ascent, the doors opened into an amphitheater with a woman standing at an altar-like table. And from somewhere, a voice boomed, “You are now six hundred feet beneath Death Valley.”

Despite this great mental portal to otherwhere, I didn’t go anywhere. I just lay there listening to the drumbeat, noting the stray thoughts that drifted through my mind.

Afterward, everyone else recounted their journeys. One person went to a beautiful garden. One went to the Grand Canyon. Others had symbolic visions or could see the spirits we had summoned up. Me? I had very prosaically thought of food. (I guess I was hungrier than I imagined.)

Did these people really feel/see the things they said they did? I don’t know. It’s possible, maybe even probable, but the whole thing seemed like some sort of interactive stage play to me.

The part of the evening that was mine alone occurred during the final drumming phase. I watched the shadows of the drummers on the wall and ceiling, and they looked eerily shamanistic, almost animalistic. I enjoyed the play of light and dark, and then it was over.

When my friend pulled up in front of the house I am staying, I noticed that the lights were on inside, but I couldn’t remember leaving any lights burning. Then a woman came running up to the car, asked if I were Pat, and introduced herself as the house-owner’s daughter. Apparently she needed a place to stay for a couple of days. So much for my being alone. Still, we had a nice visit, all part of my going with the flow of what comes my way.

I’d intended to text the house owner this morning and ask her if she still wanted me to stay but changed my mind. I figured there was no point in putting such thoughts into her head. Alone or not, I’m in a lovely house, have my own bedroom and bath, a place set up for my computer, and food to eat. The woman knows her daughter is here, and if the woman had a change of heart where I was concerned, she would have let me know. (Or maybe not. She’s a nice woman and knows I needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks. Besides, she plans to have me attend her book club meeting next weekend, though I am not sure if I’m the guest of honor or a sacrificial goat.)

The strangest thing that came of my evening was this morning when I was waiting for the dance studio to open. With nothing else to occupy myself, I planned this blog and wondered how to explain the drum circle. A newspaper happened to be lying at my feet, and a title of an article was visible. The title? “Drumming Circles for Healing.” The article was about the shamanistic healer who had conducted the ceremony the previous evening.

The article quoted the healer, who said, “monotonous drum sound brings one into a state of higher consciousness, which in turn can open passageways for healing.”

I’ll have to take her word for it.

***

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.

Alone in a Stranger’s House

This is the fourth house I have stayed in since I left my father’s house, and the first one where I’ve been totally alone for any length of time. I’m tiptoeing around, feeling a bit guilty about borrowing another orangeroseperson’s luxury, especially since I don’t know the people all that well. (I know the woman from Hawaiian dance class, but I’d only just met her husband.) She assured me I am doing her a favor by being here since she doesn’t have to worry about stopping the newspaper, putting a hold on her mail, and risking the death of her plants, but still, I feel as if I’m encroaching. I suppose it’s this hesitancy to encroach that makes me an ideal housesitter — I’m not disrespectful of other people’s space and belongings.

They’ll be back at the end of next week, and when I mentioned the possibility of my leaving after the end of those ten days, she said, “Oh, no. You’re staying through Saturday, at least.” Her book club meets that day, and apparently, I will be the main attraction, the sacrificial lamb, or the guest of honor. Not sure which. With any luck, my car will be done by then, and I’ll be able to go to my storage unit and dig out my books. And if not, maybe I can find a ride. It will be nice to play author for a change.

People still tell me I need to make plans for my future, that I need to move on, but this is how I am moving on — embracing the uncertainty of life. Some people understand my reluctance to settle down, especially those who have also lost parents, spouses, soul mates, but others look at me with bewilderment, as if I am an alien species.  For now, though, I’m enjoying this catch-as-catch-can existence. It helps me appreciate the immediacy of life, concentrating on today, and not callalilylooking too far in the future. I have a comfortable place to spend this cloudy and humid night, and for several nights to come. After that, things will work out or they won’t, but either way, those future “things” whatever they might be, have nothing to do with today.

Today I had dance classes. Today I had lunch with a friend. Today, my friend and I explored my new neighborhood, peeking through wrought iron gates to see the secret community hidden within. (Lovely stone houses, so at odds with the usual bland stucco and tile architecture of this area.) Today I read a book. Today I ate well, maybe too well! Today I watched the birds at the bird feeder and the hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder. Today I took photos of flowers that caught my eye. Today I have my computer set up, which always gives me a feeling that all is right with my world. Today I am blogging, and so I know all is right with my world, even if — especially if — I am alone in a stranger’s house.

***

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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