Wordlessly Hibernating

Almost every day, it seems, I get on the computer to write a blog and end up playing an hour or two of various solitaire games before shutting down without ever having written a word to post. Haven’t even written a word to add my work in progress, either. I seem to be in a sort of wordless hibernating mode. I can’t even say I’m waiting for anything, except for maybe something worth waiting for.

During all those long years of grief, I expected something astonishingly wonderful to happen because only something stupendous could balance out the horror and impossible pain of Jeff’s dying. I no longer expect that awesome thing to happen, though I suppose it’s still possible for something miraculously good to happen. I’ve had many great experiences during the past seven years, but the only things that “happened” all on their own were the not-so-wonderful things such as my father’s death, my having to leave another home, and destroying my elbow/wrist/fingers. The good things didn’t just happen; I had to push for them, such as learning to dance, taking a cross-country trip, finishing two of my WIPs. And now I seem to have run out of pushability.

I still do push myself, of course, but I don’t seem to be able to push myself beyond a few simple tasks. I manage to get to my dance classes. I exercise my hands to try to get them to work better. (The hands work for most important things, such as driving and typing and gripping a ballet barre, but the fingers tend to act more like claws than human fingers.) Because of the intense heat, I hadn’t been walking, but now it cools off a bit after the sun sets so I can walk a couple of miles before dark. That’s a long way from the hours I used to be able to ramble, but I’m hoping to build up my strength again. I still have intermittent dreams of an epic hike, but that epic hike has shrunk from something like walking across the country or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to maybe a week or so of back-packing. (Still an impossible dream at the moment because I can barely carry myself along, let alone a thirty-pound pack. And anyway, thoughts of an epic hike seem to surface when I want to run away from life, and I seem to be doing that just fine in my current hibernating state.)

It feels good to be out walking again, so I’m glad I can push at least that much — somehow I feel most myself when I am walking — and there is always something lovely to see, such as the owl tree I often stop to touch to connect in a hands-on way with the wonders of the world.

Hope you are doing well and surviving this intense summer.

***

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.

Is Researching a Type of Planning?

People keep telling me I need to plan, that a person can’t go blithely into the future with no idea of what she is going to do, especially if she expects to undertake an epic adventure. Seems to me that not making plans guarantees adventure, but maybe I’m being too blithe.

Does research constitute planning? If so, then I am constantly planning.

I research the Pacific Crest Trail in case I want to through-hike the most challenging of all the USA national trails. (Well, second most challenging. The Continental Divide Trail is supposed to be even more daunting.) And I research other national trails, such as the Florida National Scenic Trail, the Arizona National Scenic Trail, or even the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail in Hawaii in case I want to go where I’ve never gone before. I research types of backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, food, water purifiers to find the best and lightest for my needs. There is no way I can or would ever want to carry 30 pounds for long distances. And yet, and yet . . . despite the drawbacks and physical challenges, the idea of a through-hike still lingers.

angelI research the state coastal trails of California, Oregon, Washington in case I want to walk along the edge of the world. I even have a friend who will help me dip my toe into such an adventure by taking me a ways up the coast from her house so I can walk back. She has even offered to keep me supplied so I won’t starve or dehydrate. My own personal trail angel!

I research walking across the USA in case I want to follow the roads. (This would have the advantage of maybe not needing to carry a lot of water. It seems to me that carrying a sign AUTHOR WALKING ACROSS USA. NEEDS WATER would be a heck of a lot easier to carry than gallons of water, and maybe as effective.) People who have taken such a walk leave with nothing and trust to the journey, but I can’t see me mustering that kind of trust. Or they push/pull a cart to make sure they have the water and food they need for the long dry stretches, and I cannot see myself doing that either. Still, the lure is there. Walking across the country is not a rare occurrence, but I sure don’t know anyone who has done it.

I research rooms for rent, apartments, and extended stay motel/hotels so I can stay in this area to continue taking dance classes.

I research freighters to New Zealand. Even though they are not that expensive ($100 to $150 a night) what adds to the cost is the medical and travel insurance ($400 to $500 per trip) and a whole panoply of red tape — doctor certificate of health, passport, shots (depending on where the freighter stops). I research distances. New Zealand is 6,000 miles from the USA. Australia is 1324 miles from New Zealand. If I go to New Zealand, would it make sense to extend the journey to include Australia? If I did go to Australia, should I go walkabout? (I found a two week walkabout trip for about $3500. But is that figure Australian dollars? One Australian dollar is worth $.78 American dollars, so would the walkabout be $2954 American dollars? Still a lot of money for such a trek.)

I research cars and other vehicles for a possible extended tour of the USA, the national parks, and all my online friends. Do I want to find a small camper that fits in my budget, and so have to deal with another aged vehicle with a lot of miles? Do I want to get a small van such as a Ford Transport Connect and build my own nest inside? Do I want to get a small SUV-type, such as a Kia Soul, which has plenty of room to sleep when the back seat is folded down, or a Honda Fit, which gets about the same highway mileage as a Prius? Do I want to get a junker, and let it take me as far as it can before it breaks down?

But oh! I already have such a car. Today is my bug’s birthday. I got it new 43 years ago today. I checked with my insurance agent about insuring it if I restored it, and apparently, unless I can get it classified as an antique, which allows but 2000 miles of travel a year, then all I would get if anything happened to the car is the blue book value of nil.

See? Research.

You’d think I’d be wasting my time by researching instead of actually doing something or even planning to do something, but the odd thing is, as I research, the impossible adventure becomes . . . possible.

One of the hardest things to do to make an adventure come true is to overcome the status quo of one’s life, but luckily, my status quo is going to overcome itself without any help from me once my father’s house is sold and I am . . . wherever I will be.

So, back to researching . . .

***

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.

 

A Good Day

I woke this morning with no energy, no enthusiasm for anything, no ideas. I lay there dozing until long after the time I would ever admit to staying in bed. I finally dragged myself from the warmth to take a walk. Took more energy than it should have. In fact, when I sat to put on my shoes before I left, I just sat. And sat. Not thinking anything, not doing anything. Just sitting.

Eventually, I did make it out the door. It was a lovely day — blue skies, moderate temperatures, barely moving air currents. Due to other activities, I haven’t been out to the desert in two or three weeks, so it was nice reconnecting to that wild world. (Or as wild as land so close to a housing development ever gets.)

desert roadAs I walked, I found myself wondering what it would be like to simply continue walking, heading . . . wherever. And it dawned on me why the idea of an epic walk keeps nagging at me. I feel most myself when I am walking. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what that means except perhaps that when I am walking, I want nothing else, need nothing else. The easy movement, the ever-so-slightly changing scenery, the present moment are all enticingly hypnotic.

I am not so naïve as to believe that an epic walk would be as beguiling. There would be no shelter from the night or unpleasant weather, no home base, no ready source of water or food once I used up the small amount I carried. And yet. And yet . . . I’m sitting here smiling at the very idea.

I often express my worry about settling down — not just creating a nest for myself, but settling for less than I want. When I expressed that sentiment to a friend today, she first asked me what I wanted. I had no answer other than that I wanted to become enlightened, stronger, wiser, more courageous. She told me that I was too far on my path ever to settle even if I did settle, which is comforting. Life is a terrible thing to waste, and I want . . . I want . . . I want something I can’t even imagine.

Luckily for me, all I have to deal with is today. And today, I got out of bed. Went for a walk. Lived in the moment. And now I am writing.

As it turned out, despite the inauspicious beginning, this was a good day.

I hope your day was rewarding, 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.

Walking and Volkswalking

No wonder I do so much alone. I don’t understand the point of many group activities that people seem to enjoy.

Someone suggested I look into volkswalking since I walk a lot, but it doesn’t really appeal to me. It seems to be organized walking in groups, and I get that with the three-nights-a-week conditioning walk with the Sierra Club and an occasional hike with one of the hiking groups in the area. Volkswalking also supposed to be non-competitive walking, but anyone who completes a walk or a certain amount of mileage gets a badge or a stamp in a book (which they pay for themselves) to show masseswhat they accomplished. To me, anytime you give people “achievement awards” for completing something, it’s competitive, even if there isn’t one so-called “winner.” Why else do you need a badge? You know you did it — a badge can’t give you that. Only you can.

The premiere purported purpose of the various volkswalking clubs is to promote regular physical fitness for overall good health. So if you’re already walking, half of what they have to offer is negated. I suppose if I were in a new area and wanted to meet people, I’d go on one of the walks, but otherwise, if I were interested in the area, I’d just . . . walk.

That’s always been the benefit of walking — if you have two working feet and legs or reasonable facsimiles, that’s all you need. You just put one foot in front of the other, and you’re walking. What can be simpler?

Still, over 400,000 people take part in American volkswalking activities every year, so the bewilderment over the phenomenon is obviously mine alone.

So, if you’re interested in walking and need more incentive than simply going outside and putting one foot in front of the other for as long as you want (or can), then perhaps volkswalking is for you.

***

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.

Walking: A Miracle of Life

It was 95 degrees today when I finished my exercise class. (It was actually a ballet class, but “ballet” sounds graceful, elegant, and light-footed, none of which can be used to describe my fledging efforts. And anyway, we mostly spent the time doing stretches and other barre exercises.) Someone asked me if I were going to walk home, and she sounded surprised when I said “yes.” I suppose it is foolish to walk in the heat, but I am well protected. Wide-brimmed hat. Long sleeves. Long pants. Plenty of water. (Although skimpy clothes in the heat are the norm, it’s actually more comfortable to be covered up. You can’t feel the direct burn of the sun, and clothes trap cooler air between the cloth and your skin.)

For me, walking is much easier than driving. You put one foot in front of the other, shift your weight and put the other foot in walkingfront. You keep repeating this until you get where you want to be. What an innovation! No ignition. No keys. No gas. No oil. No tune up. No tires to fill. No oil pumps to break down. No brakes to fail. Just your feet and you.

There are drawbacks to walking, obviously. It takes more time to get anywhere, your mileage is limited, your carrying capacity is restricted. And if your body breaks down, it’s harder to fix and costs more than if your car breaks down. (Though maybe not much more since mechanics nowadays seem to empty your bank account as fast as doctors do.) Which, of course, is why I own a car, though after 42 years, the poor thing only has only 152,000 miles on it. I’ve also put more than 42,000 miles on my feet in those years. Both means of transportation — car and feet — are a bit worse for wear, but both still work.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to move around on both feet, so I feel very fortunate that I can walk, and generally walk without pain, though sometimes after the mile to the dance studio, an hour or two of classes, and the mile back to the house, my feet do protest. Even more fortunately, after a bit of rest and perhaps a change of shoes, they are ready to go on the move once more.

Walking is truly one of life’s miracles.

***

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.

Life After the Death of a Soul Mate

What I love most about blogging is that sometimes when I start writing a post, new or buried thoughts percolate to the surface, ending up on the page and surprising me with insights. Yesterday, when I wrote Living Offline, I had no idea I was starting to look forward to the rest of my life. I’ve kept my head down, plodding along, trying new things, meeting new people, visiting new places, and apparently, somewhere along the line, I went through a renewal of sorts.

Many people who had gone through a grievous loss have told me that it takes three to five years to find a renewed interest in life, and so it is with me. In just a few days, it will be three years and seven months since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I find myself involved deeply in life, not just with such difficult matters as looking out for my 96-year-old father and dealing with problematic family members, but also with taking care of myself and my well-being.

Sierra Club conditioning walkI’m physically active, eat right, and have accidentally become part of an intelligent and talented coterie. I say “accidentally” because when I joined a group of walkers, I didn’t expect to end up going to art shows that feature members’ work, hearing one member in a choir of madrigal singers, and seeing others dance. Because of these people, I’ve also learned not to fear old age. Although people of all ages walk with us, some of the most active members could be considered elderly, but I can barely keep up with those in their seventies. I have no idea what life has is in store for me, of course, but I do know that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean getting feeble. It just takes a bit of luck and a lot of physical activity and mental stimulation.

Grief goes in cycles, so chances are I will still be experiencing occasional grief surges (especially on the weekends when I can’t feast on the endorphins and friendship of the group walk), but now I know the truth: there is life after the death of the person who connected you to the world. There is even laughter. Maybe even joy.

***

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.

Figuring Things Out

For the past two months, I’ve been dealing with a situation I can’t write about. It’s outside the scope of this blog, and the people involved would be terribly hurt if I were to make the drama public. It’s a sadly inevitable predicament, with roots dating back to my childhood, and without being able to write about it, I haven’t had any way to deal with my grief over the situation except walking. And tears.

I’ve foundDesert paths myself crying at odd moments, and it’s been comforting, being in the embrace of this old friend. Like most people, I used to think tears were a sign of weakness, but now I know they are a way of getting rid of the hormones that build up with stress. They are also a way of connecting to one’s inner self, as if that self is saying, “There, there. Everything is going to be okay.”

And maybe things will be okay. Eventually. I’ll figure out my dilemma, if only how to deal with the fallout of the situation.

Today I went out walking earlier than normal to try to beat the heat, and apparently that’s what many others did because I saw a lot of people out and about. I don’t like meeting other people when I walk. Walking is my private time, a means of getting in touch with myself and my surroundings, a place to open myself to inspiration and mystical thoughts, a way to deal with my problems, and people disrupt all that. Since the foot traffic kept me away from my usual route to the desert, I took a different direction to get to the back trail I prefer — the trail is a demanding walk with lots of ups and downs and in certain areas a cool wind comes drifting down the hills. Also, for some reason, it’s where I talk to my deceased life mate/soul mate. (I’ve never been able to figure out why I associate him with that particular area. He never liked the desert, he hated the heat, and he’d never been within a thousand miles of the place.)

When I found my way to that back trail, I said aloud to him, “See? I figured it out.” And then I realized how true the words were. During all these years of dealing with the dying of my life mate/soul mate and my ensuing grief, I’ve had a lot of trauma thrown at me, but I figured out each step. I had to deal with funeral services people, get rid of his things, clear out the twenty-year accumulation in our home, store what I wanted to keep, get myself to my father’s house so I could look after him, learn to live with grief and all its torments, deal with the challenges of the book world and of the world in general.

Although I worry too much (I call it weighing my options), and don’t always know where I am headed, when it comes time to take action, I do manage to figure things out. And I have no doubt I’ll continue doing so, which is a good thing. Life isn’t finished throwing challenges at me — besides my current dilemma, there’s still my father’s decline, my need to restart my life when he’s gone, the vicissitudes of aging to deal with alone, and a host of other difficulties that will be sure to taunt me — but I will figure things out when I get there.

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Wild Heart of the Desert

I met an old friend out in the desert today. It was nice seeing the Mojave green rattlesnake again since I hadn’t seen one for a couple of years. I didn’t even notice it at first. I was walking down the middle of a sandy path, minding my own business, when a hiss and a whirring rattle startled me. I stopped, looked around, and there it was, about eight feet away, sunning itself beyond the shadows of a creosote bush.

I edged away from the rattler, and it inched away from me, back into the protection of the bush. And then I continued my walk, a smile on my face. I don’t know why such encounters make me feel good, perhaps because it’s nice to know that there is a wild heart still beating beneath the calm veneer of the desert.

I also got to rediscover the truth: I am not afraid of snakes, just healthily wary, and rightly so. The Mojave green rattlesnake will not attack, but if disturbed or cornered, they will defend themselves. Apparently, bites occur if people accidentally step on a snake or purposely harass it, so if people are careful, they can keep from being bit.

I know people who will run down snakes if they see them in the road, and sometimes they even go hunting for them on the assumption that the only good snakes are dead snakes. The only time that makes sense to me is if the snakes leave the wilds of the desert for the tames of our neighborhoods, but that doesn’t happen very often.

Nor does it happen very often that I get to see such a fearsome creature, so meeting up with it has made my day.

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

I Am an Eight-Month Grief Survivor

When you love someone deeply, their well-being is as important to you as your own, but what do you do with that feeling when your someone is gone? Eight months ago, my life mate died, and now he has no need for stories to amuse or outrage him, no need for tasty meals to tempt his appetite, no need for comfort or caring or kindness, and yet my habit of thinking of him remains. Eventually, I imagine, the habit will wear itself out, but for now I still find myself thinking of ways to make his life a bit easier or a bit more enjoyable.

After eight months, I am still in . . . not shock, exactly, but a state of non-comprehension. I can’t comprehend his death, his sheer goneness. I can’t comprehend his life, though perhaps that is not for me to bother about. Most of all, I can’t comprehend my sorrow. I never saw much reason for grief. Someone died, you moved on. Period. I thought I was too stoic, too practical to mourn, and yet, here I am, still grieving for someone who has no need for my sorrow.

Despite my continued grief, I am moving on. My sporadic tears do not stop me from accomplishing the goals I set myself, such as NaNoWriMo and daily walks. My sorrow doesn’t keep me from taking care of myself — or mostly taking care of myself. (I don’t always eat right, and I don’t always sleep well.) Moving on, as I have learned, is not about abandoning one’s grief, but moving on despite the grief.

Grief is much gentler on me now, and I can sidestep it by turning my mind to other things, but I don’t always want to. I have not yet reached the point where thoughts of him bring me only happiness, and I need to remember him. If tears and pain are still part of that remembrance, so be it.

We shared our lives, our thoughts, our words — we talked about everything, often from morning to night — yet even before he died, we started going separate ways, he toward his death, me toward continued life. I often wonder what he would think of my grief, but just as his life is not for me to try to comprehend, my grief does not belong to him. It is mine alone.

And so the months pass, eight now. Soon it will be a year. Sometimes it feels as if he died only days ago, and I expect him to call and tell me I can come home — I’ve proven that I can live without him, so I don’t have to continue to do so. Sometimes it feels as if he’s been gone forever, that our life together wasn’t real, perhaps something I conjured up out of the depths of my loneliness. Sometimes my grief doesn’t even feel real, and I worry that I’ve created it out of a misguided need for self-importance. Such are the ways of grief, this strange and magical thinking. This could be magical thinking, too, but it seems to me that having survived eight months of grief, I can survive anything.