Unimagined Possibilities

This new year will bring many changes to my life, though I have no idea what those changes will be. I will be leaving my father’s house, of course, but other than that, the future is blank. (Not bleak, just blank.)

The only thing I know is that I don’t want to settle down somewhere and stagnate. I realize that settling down does not necessarily bring stagnation, but in my case, I am afraid that entropy would win. (If you’re not familiar with entropy, my understanding is that entropy is the quantity of energy in a closed system that becomes disordered and unavailable to effect changes in the system, and so the system gradually degrades into chaos, or even worse, inertia.)

The fireworksreduction to inertia is not inevitable. Some of the disordered energy can be allowed to escape, which reduces the amount of entropy, and new energy can be introduced. The problem is that when one lives alone, it takes a lot of energy to introduce new energy to the system. It’s so much easier just to go with the flow, and if you have no one to disrupt the flow as you do when you are living with someone, the flow is toward a decrease in available energy. At least for me and other introverts. Extroverts by their nature increase the energy in a system. It’s what makes them extroverts. (The strange irony here seems to be that although introverts prefer to be alone, they need a shared life much more than extroverts.)

At the beginning of a settled life, I would do things, of course, but as time passed, I would become entrenched in my habits, would get tired of the same sights, the same errands, the same . . . everything. And my world would shrink and continue shrinking until I became the crazy cat lady sans cats.

Such a shrinking is natural. Bruce Chatwin understood our heritage as nomads and explained the necessity for keeping on the move, especially by foot. Chatwin wrote:

Some American brain specialists took encephalogram readings of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self disgust and violent reactions.

Chatwin goes on to say: We should follow the Chinese poet Li Po in “the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way”. For life is a journey through wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it was biologically true. None of our revolutionary heroes is worth a thing until he has been on a good walk. Che Guevara spoke of the “nomadic phase” of the Cuban Revolution. Look what the Long March did for Mao Tse Tung, or Exodus for Moses.

I do not know if I have the physical capacity for walking long distances carrying a heavy pack. (Hmm. Maybe I could hire a Sherpa. Are there Sherpas for hire here in the USA?) I have no interest in being a revolutionary hero or a spiritual leader, but I do want, need . . . more. More than stagnation. More than simply enduring the coming years. More than any life I can imagine.

If in fact, we do live in the closed system of our lives, perhaps it is possible to poke holes in that system to let in more light. Perhaps it is possible to gently push back the boundaries of that system to allow for greater breadth or let new experiences create greater depth.

Perhaps it is possible to . . .

The thought of how that italicized sentence might end fuels my new year.

Wishing you a year of yet unimagined possibilities.

***

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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On a Pilgrimage

Today when I mentioned my idea of walking up the coast, a friend asked, “Why walking?” I had to stop and think about that. I originally planned a journey by car, crisscrossing the country, so I’m not sure how the idea of driving metamorphosed into walking, or why the idea took hold except that I’ve always had an affinity for walking.

When I first started roaming the desert after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I would follow the paths drawn in the sandy soil by bikes and ATVs, always wanting to see what was up ahead, around the next turning, behind the next knoll. I had to be careful not to wear myself out because I needed to make sure I had enough energy to get myself back to home base, and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if there were no home base, if I could just walk until I got tired, and when I was rested, continue on. Such practical things as being able to carry enough water, food, and protective coverings to get me to wherever I was going didn’t enter the equation. I just like the idea of walking to see . . . whatever there was to see.

Back then, I was still going through the pain of first grief, and walking was the only way I could find any peace. Somedays I walked for hours, limited only by my strength and the amount of water I’d brought. My walking, though it was always circular rather than to a special place, seemed like a pilgrimage, a long journey to a new life. My old life was dead, cremated along with my life mate/soul mate, and somehow I had to find a new way to connect with the world. My current idea of walking up the Pacific coast seems like a continuation of that grief-born pilgrimage.

“Pilgrimage” has been defined variously as any long journey, especially one undertaken as a quest; a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance; a walk in search of something intangible. Although making a pilgrimage was not my intention when I first thought of walking up the coast, “pilgrimage” seems to define most what I want out of the journey. I don’t want the journey to be one of survival (though I do intend to survive it, of course). My wilderness survival skills are nil, so in any contest between me and the wilderness, the wilderness would win. My ability to carry a heavy pack is also nil. And yet, I would like to see the coast more intimately than from the window of a car passing by at 65 miles an hour, with only periodic stops to rest. I would like to see what I am made of. Could I handle the endless hours of nothing to do after my walking stint is finished for the day? How would I connect with the world? Could I handle the uncertainty of never quite knowing what will happen? Could I spend so much time outside without becoming ill? I’d stay in motels when I could, but for long stretches, there would be just me and whatever was around the next bend.

Meantime, I am on another pilgrimage. Bruce Chatwin in Anatomy of Restlessness wrote, “To dance is to go on pilgrimage.” Some people see dancing just as exercise, but for me it’s a way of connecting with life, of being alive, of searching for something intangible, if only proficiency and grace. Dance is a journey of the spirit just as I would hope an epic walk would be, and it’s changing me in some ephemeral way. For example, for the first time in my life, I have no body image problems. All that time in front of a mirror is making me comfortable with the way I look, both my good points and bad. Dancing also seems to reach inside to hidden places and pull out previously unknown joys.

Dancing is the one thing besides physical inability that would change my mind about walking up the coast. It’s a rare and special privilege to be able to learn how to dance at any age but especially when one is sliding down the banister of life.

At the beginning of my journey into grief, a wise woman told me that I could be entering the happiest time of my life, and though it took longer than I expected, I can see that she was right. The pain of grief seems like a portal I went through, and now on the other side I can feel the possibility of true happiness and joy.

Walking. Dancing. Embracing whatever the future might bring.

My pilgrimage.

***

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

Spending Too Much Time in Shuttered Rooms

After my life mate/soul mate died, it was all I could do to get through the day. I couldn’t imagine a future without him in the world. Didn’t want to imagine it. When my grief started to wane and I could again contemplate the future, I would wonder where I should go to settle down, but my mind always rebelled at the thought. Settle down? Alone? How? He was my home. Without him, there was no home, just a place, and one place seemed the same as another.

Although I am gradually coming to terms with both my loneliness and my aloneness, I still rebel at the thought of finding somewhere to settle when I leave here. (I am currently staying with and looking out for my 97-year-old father.) For a person with hermit tendencies, such as I, settling down alone sounds like stagnation. At the beginning, I would do things, of course, but then as time passed, I would become entrenched in my habits, would get tired of the same sights, the same errands, the same . . . everything. And my world would shrink and continue shrinking until I became the crazy cat lady sans cats.

Most people have not been able to identify with this scenario. They see me now, embracing new ways of living, and say that it will always be so. Perhaps they are right, but still I do fear the stagnation that would come from being too long entrenched in one place alone.

The truth is, whether we are aware of it or not, some form of stagnation happens to all of us. In “It’s a Nomad, Nomad World,” Bruce Chatwin spoke of our heritage as nomads and explained the necessity for keeping on the move, especially by foot. Chatwin wrote:

Some American brain specialists took encephalogram readings of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, than a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to the another, should feel the need for journeys of mind and body, for pep pills or tranquillisers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms. . . . 

The best thing is to walk. We should follow the chinese poet Li Po in “the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way”. For life is a journey trough wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it was biologically true. None of our revolutionary heroes is worth a thing until he has been on a good walk. Che Guevara spoke of the “nomadic phase” of the Cuban Revolution. Look what the Long March did for Mao Tse Tung, or Exodus for Moses.

I have no interest in being a revolutionary hero or even a spiritual leader who wanders in the wilderness until fate thrusts me into a new role. But somehow, I instinctively knew the truth — that settling down means mental stagnation. When you live with someone, you don’t stagnate quite as much because there is someone to help disrupt the rhythms of your life. But who disrupts the rhythms of your life when you are alone? (Cats, I suppose, which could be why so many old women alone end up tending  a houseful of cats, but that’s not for me.)

I do not know if I am physically capable of a life on foot — I’ve never been athletic. Even if my capabilities weren’t an issue, the problem of getting enough water seems insurmounatble. The sheer volume of water a person needs is staggering. Some areas in the west, you can go up to hundred miles between towns, and in the wilderness sometimes it’s almost as far between watering holes. Considering that a gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds (just the water, not the container), and considering that a someone on foot needs to drink almost that much a day, and considering that at the most I could walk 10 miles a day (and that is being optimistic),  I’d need to drag along almost 84 pounds of water. (I read about a college student who dragged that much water with him on a cross-country trip. Actually, he didn’t drag it, he pushed it. Used some sort of cart.)

I don’t know what the answer to my conundrum is, but I have a hunch it will take care of itself. I’d probably start out in my ancient vehicle, and if it broke down or fell apart . . . well, then I’d have to finish the trip on foot.

It’s also possible that I end up doing what everyone does in the end — spend my life in shuttered rooms.

As a matter of fact, right at this moment, I am in a shuttered room. It’s not so bad.

***

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