Where Am I Going?

I’m sitting here staring out the window, no will to do anything. I had a brief spurt of activity a couple of hours ago — packing my assortment of wide-brimmed hats and a few other last-minute, hard-to-pack items in preparation for moving most of my stuff into a storage unit tomorrow. But all of a sudden the idea I was working so hard for . . . well, for basically nothing . . . brought me to a halt.

A.A. Milne’s poem “Spring Morning” keeps churning around in my head:

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

sunflowerOddly, the words I hear are spoken in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice — or perhaps not so oddly. I think the only time I ever heard the poem was when he read it to the children in the movie Kindergarten Cop.

What does it matter where people go? Or more specifically, what does it matter where I go? Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

I still have approximately ten days in this house, though every day it becomes emptier and emptier. The furniture people have spoken for is gradually being picked up, and my last week here I’ll be sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

And then? I still don’t know. I’ve been looking for places to stay, calling folks who put ads in the paper, mentioning my predicament to everyone I talk to. Others are doing the same on my behalf. I promised to stay until June, and it’s a promise I intend to keep, not just because I like to keep my promises, but because I need those two months of dance classes. The studio has added balletrobics to the roster, and the intense workout will be good for me. I need to get in shape for . . . well, for wherever life takes me.

I’ve been researching various shelters for on the go, such as vans, tents, hammocks, and I’ve become quite intrigued with the idea of such a primitive/advanced sleep system as the hammock. (These are not those rope hammocks with the crossbars that eject you from your place whenever you move, but are made of parachute nylon, which makes them more transportable and comfortable, and come with mosquito net enclosures and tarps to protect from the rain.)

I have to laugh at my pretensions sometimes. Me on an epic walk? Me on a solo camping trip? Me living loose and carefree out in the world? So absurd! Maybe even foolish.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

***

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.

You Are the Universe . . .

This quote expresses my current philosophy of life, though that philosophy is subject to change without warning at any moment.

quotescover-JPG-10 copy

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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.

***

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 Unending Process of Dying

In just two weeks, my father’s house will be gone. Well, the house won’t be gone — it will still be here — but it will belong to someone else. I’ve mostly been looking at my leaving here from a practical point of view (or impractical, considering how loath I am to rent an apartment), exploring my options. As of now, I still don’t have a place to stay other than with a couple of willing/unwilling friends. (Both offered me a place to stay, but were quick to mention that it was for a short time. Even if I have to take them up on their offer, I wouldn’t stay long. That’s a surefire way of not having friends any longer!)

Last night, though, it hit me that when the new people take possession, my parents’ last earthly possession will be gone. Nothing will tie them to this life any more. Well, their descendents, of course, will always tie them to this earth, but no “thing.” No place.

And so they will be truly gone.

When a person dies, they don’t die all at once. (Even though sometimes it seems so.) First there is the clinical death where there are no more clinical signs of life. (This only means that the person has moved beyond the tools clinics use to measure life.) Then, about four minutes later, the brain begins to die and decay. Any successful resuscitations happen between these two “deaths.” (New research has shown that after clinical death, there is a surge of electrical activity in the brain before it dies, which could explain both the idea of near-death experiences and life flashing before your eyes at the time of death.)

After the brain dies, there is still cell activity and a proliferation of microbes along with various other processes. We don’t call this living. But it is still the process of dying.

Even after a person is buried or cremated, they continue to die to those left behind. Each further loss a survivor experiences seems a new phase of their death, and so it is with my father’s house. It feels as if both he and my mother have died again.

Oddly, though Jeff never visited here, it feels as if he died again too. Although I accepted long ago that I would never be going home to him, there must have been crossed fingers or a whispered “ways out” deep inside me, because most evenings now I still have a brief few minutes of grief as I remember once more that he’s gone, that I will never go home to him, that I am on my own.

And so it goes . . .

***

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

A Home for my Stuff

Wow! According to a recent slew of emails, I’m rich! I just need to send a bunch of money to a widow somewhere in the Middle East so she can come and share her fortune with me. I’ve won a half-dozen sweepstakes. And google wants to share its profits with me. Is that all? Hmmm. No. There was the gentleman who . . . well, never mind what he wanted.

It’s a good thing I have all these riches coming to me by email. I just found a home for my stuff that will cost about as much as my first apartment. It’s a nice place, lovely views, close to a garden, far from the highway, with good neighbors. Mostly seniors, or so the manager said. Too bad my stuff is inanimate and won’t have any idea how well I’m looking out for it.

fearI chose a space, smaller than I wanted, but with better insulation, and facing away from the wind and summer sun. It was also more than I wanted to pay, but the cheaper indoor storage units were downright creepy. The first one the woman showed me used to be an outside unit, but because of problems with rain, they had to build a wall to enclose the spaces. It was dark and oh, so dungeony! I could almost see hear the clanking chains and raspy calls for help.

The second space she showed me was bigger and brighter. Too bright. The narrow hall was covered with something that looked like white enamel, the expanse only broken by the cracks delineating the doors. I had to hold my breath when she unlocked the door lest the smell of formaldehyde from the rotting bodies within would assault my tender nose. No bodies, of course. At least not in that unit. I have no idea what was stored in any of the other units, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of illegal operations of the medical variety being performed within.

If this were a fairy tale, the third space would have been just right, but as grim as the adventure was to that point, it wasn’t one of Grimm’s. Although this space had a drive-up entrance, it had no insulation and faced the summer sun, and the resulting heat would have melted my china. (If I had any china, that is.) Wind blew dust into the space as we stood there, her looking expectantly at me, me trying not to look at the shady fellows lounging by the pickup three doors down.

Luckily, there was a fourth option.

So now my stuff has a home, or it will be when it’s safe inside. I’m not so settled. I do have a couple of offers of emergency bivouacs, but nothing more permanent than that. Some people are still trying to find me a place because they don’t want me to leave. Others seem to be rushing me on my way so I can fulfill their dreams of wondrous adventures. Even the songs that follow me in grocery stores and restaurants seem to be nudging me to leave. “You say you want to start something new . . . take good care . . . It’s a wild world . . .”

Even though I have but two weeks left in this house, I’m still taking it a day at a time, enjoying the comfort and luxury available to me while I’m waiting for all those sweepstakes and wealthy Middle Eastern widows to pay off.

***

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.

Pilgrims and Pilgrimages

I just got a notice on Facebook that I’ve been approved for a group called “American Pilgrims on the Camino,” though I’d never requested to join, never even knew there was such a group. I do know that El Camino de Santiago is the name of the pilgrimage route(s) to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. Many people make the pilgrimage for religious or spiritual reasons, but others have a more secular agenda, such as an adventure or challenge.

desertThe first I’d heard of The Camino came from a women I walk with who mentioned that she wanted to do it. It seemed quite romantic, this pilgrimage, even for a non-believer, but the truth is, any hike I do is by way of a pilgrimage. Walking for me is not a sport, not an endurance test. It’s a way of connecting to the outer world as well as a way of exploring my inner world.

Christine Valters Paintner wrote: “I am captivated by the image of pilgrimage as a metaphor for our human journeying. Not just the physical journeys we make to outward places, but to the interior places of the heart, the new landscapes we are called to explore. Can we allow our own trajectories to be oriented in a new direction? Often the call arrives to our own lives unbidden. Something happens which we did not expect and we need to shift our perspective to open our eyes to this new possibility.”

I feel the call, but I don’t know what is calling me or what I’m being called to do. It certainly has come unbidden, this pull toward adventure, but I am opening my eyes to new possibilities. It seems as if the whole world is out there for the taking if I only have the courage to grab it.

I doubt the Camino is in my future. Although travelers rhapsodize about crossing a lower ridge of the Pyrenees, walking on farm roads through areas of rolling vineyards and crossing several mountain passes, and tramping through the forested river valleys of Galicia, the truth is that much of the Camino is paved, and is better suited to bicycling. In some ways, such a pilgrimage would agree me because stores and inns line much of the road enabling me to carry a light pack, but it seems silly to travel all the way to Spain for a pilgrimage when I can do something even more spiritually rewarding here in the USA.

Still, for now, I’ll keep my membership in The Camino group. I could end up doing almost anything, including making such a trip. Or I could end up just making small pilgrimages. After all, there are dance classes to consider, and dance is a pilgrimage in itself.

***

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.

Desert Procrastinations

I have about 12 hours of work I have to do this weekend, so like any well-disciplined person, I got up early, went right to work . . . and checked out Facebook and emails on my computer. Then, because apparently I hadn’t procrastinated enough, I spent a couple of hours resurrecting old email addresses. They hadn’t been used in so long, I had to go through a lot of rigmarole to prove I was human and that these near-defunct emails were mine. (Tell me honestly — can you remember the exact day you opened your email account? And if you have one that’s been inactive for a long time, can you remember the exact day you last used it? Well, gmail expected me to remember. Sheesh.)

Actually, a couple of the email addresses were not strictly mine — they were emails I set up for Jeff. (I don’t have any idea why I decided to keep them alive. But they are available if he ever decides to contact me.) A couple of other addresses were emails I had set up years ago when I was playing around with downloading music. In one case, I used the email a single time before it became flooded with so much spam, it became unusable. (It’s not often you can tell exactly where the spam originated, but since that was the only thing I had done with that email, it was obvious.)

Realizing this online activity wouldn’t get my work finished (or even started), I turned off the computer and went for a walk. A long, long walk. It felt good to stretch out. Felt good to visit the desert again. (Felt even better not doing my work!)

desert knolls

I had a few pangs of nostalgia thinking that in a couple of weeks this near-private patch of desert will no longer be mine. I’ve grown fond of the stark landscape, the tans and taupes,

the rare but brilliant spots of color.

poppy

Still, the thought of all the new places I might walk offset the wistfulness.

When I returned from my walk, I got right to work . . . on this blog.

I just can’t seem to force myself to get the 12-hour task done. The job is tedious and almost anything would be more fun. Watching water boil, for example, would be more fun. Or watching rocks race each other across the desert floor.

Maybe I’ll get up early tomorrow. Start working before I know what I’m doing.

Yep. That’s what I’ll do.

For sure.

***

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.

Centering Myself

I’m sitting here trying to find my center. I had a great day up until now. Jazz class, great weather, sold my dad’s couches. Found myself smiling at odd times. Just felt great.

Then I came online and had to deal with frustration after frustration. Not with the internet or the computer or even Facebook for a change, but with people. Misunderstandings. Folks who can’t follow directions. People who assume . . . whatever the hell it is they assume.

circlesI’ve been trying to teach neophytes how to blog, and yikes. People, even older folks — especially older folks — don’t seem to know how to follow directions. But, as a friend always says, “Not my problem. Not my circus. Not my elephant.” As long as I stay around this area, I’ll probably have wifi, but if I take off “into the fog” as another friend put it, then internet connections will be sporadic. I certainly won’t use my limited data allowance (and my limited desire for writing long emails via phone) to help people who should be able to help themselves.

But then, I could be in the neophyte category myself soon, so I should be more accepting. If I don’t have access to wifi, then I’ll be doing my blog posts via email when cell service allows, and that’s a whole new dimension of blogging. It doesn’t really seem difficult, just a different way of doing things, and like most things, when taken one step at a time, it’s doable. Apparently, the first step is to create a secret and private (is that redundant?) email address to send the blog post to. (It has to be secret/private because anyone who had the address could post to the blog as me.) The subject line will be the title of the post, the body of the email will be the body of the post. I just need to make sure I have a phone email service that takes rich text formatting. Photo attachments will show up in the body of the post. Categories and tags are added by short code. For example: [category x,y,z] and [tags a,b,c].

Maybe I should practice first. I don’t want to be up in the mountains somewhere with a very rare cell signal, and then screw up the post.

But not today. Today is complicated enough, though I have re-centered myself. No more frustrations. At least for the moment.

***

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.

Countdown To Homelessness

Such a very strange time in my life — this countdown to homelessness. Strangest of all is that I, a world class worrier, am calm — even happy — about the whole thing. I do have occasional brief moments of panic and just as many moments of excitement, but mostly I think my situation is . . . amusing. Yes, that’s the word. Amusing.

I find myself musing about the future. I find myself bemused by the chain of events that lead me here. I find myself smiling in amusement at the possibilities of an uncertain life. And the necessary research keeps me amused for hours.

desertOddly, I am quite content with the thought of living nowhere in particular, but the truth is, as long as I am alive, I do have to be physically present somewhere, and that does give me pause. There is no place I really want to be, and the thought of being anywhere in particular spooks me.

The main conflict right now comes from my desire to continue taking dance classes, but unless I find a place to stay here, I will be heading out. (Maybe just for the summer or until I can find a place here. Thanks to the internet, every place is everywhere, so I don’t have to be present to continue looking.) I have offers of places to stay in an emergency, and I will probably take people up on their offers since I have promised to continue taking classes until June. (We have a performance at the end of May — a Hawaiian War Chant and a trio of Tahitian Apurimas. I love both these pieces. Energetic and so very exotic!)

I am leaving future to the fates, God, the universe . . . whatever you choose to name the Great Unknown. If I find a place, I stay here in the desert. If I don’t, well, I have friends to meet all over the country, and actually, all over the globe. But specifically, I have offers of places to stay temporarily in Northern California and Texas. Invitations to hike in Door County. Lunch in Ohio. A dear friend in Louisiana to connect with. An old friend near Tucson to reconnect with. A friend to meet in Quartzsite (and maybe even a place to stay if she hasn’t sold her RV.) An invitation to visit a friend in New Zealand. Plans to meet a friend in Australia. (If you want to be added to this list, please let me know!)

To be honest, considering the state of my finances, I should get a job, but there’s nothing much I’m suited for except looking after the sick, old, and dying (it’s all I’ve done the past 10 years) and I’m ready for LIFE.

I’d considered getting a van and turning it into a camper, considered getting a larger car that I can sleep in, but somehow (not sure how, exactly) I decided to get my ancient VW Beetle restored. It started with my wanting a paint job so I wouldn’t look like a bag lady living in a decrepit car, but no place would paint a car with rust even if I signed a waver, so the rust had to be removed, and if I did that, I might as well have the dents fixed, and if I did that, I might as well . . . see? Somehow it all just happened.

And somehow, my future will just happen, too.

I do love the idea of traveling around the country in my bug, visiting my online friends, camping out in remote and not so remote areas, getting a feel for the world and my place in it. (Maybe preparing for some sort of epic walk while I’m at it.) Since I have no experience camping and have no gear, there is a whole new realm to get to know. Where can I tent camp for free or almost free? I don’t want to be around RVs, won’t need the same sort of amenities, and wouldn’t really be a part of that culture, anyway. And I definitely don’t want to camp in the middle of a busy campground. So I’m researching tent campgrounds and camping equipment. I covet the eight-person tent I saw — multiple rooms, plenty of space, even a closet! — but it seems a bit impractical. There are wonderful camp toilets, but the practicality ends with the cost of the liners and fillers. They would be fine for a week or two, but months? No. Way too expensive. So, lots and lots of research!

Whether or not I ever do any of this — camping, traveling cross-country, taking a freighter to New Zealand, staying here and continue taking dance classes — it’s a true experience rethinking what is necessary for both my comfort and safety. The internet is a necessity, of course, but I can use my phone to post my blog (which I would do whenever I could find a signal) and use truck stops and other public places when I need to use the computer.

If I’m traveling in my car rather than on foot, I’d have no problem carrying enough food, water, shelter, pillows whatever I need for comfort and cleanliness. But safety? Eek. I just read about a guy sleeping in a tent who had been bitten in the head by a black bear. Oh, that is so not on my agenda!! Nor are ticks and miss-quits (as a friend calls mosquitoes because they never miss and never quit). So more research needed!

Do you see what is most important to me? Internet, comfort, safety, in that order. Hmmm. Don’t quite know what to think about my priorities. Might have to research that too.

***

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!

***

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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