Inauspicious Day

This was another long day at work, and it turned out to be a good thing, not just because of the extra money but because this was not an auspicious day to do much of anything.

For one thing, last night I dreamt that the neighbor’s tree, which creaks horrendously in the wind, fell and destroyed my garage (even though in actuality, if the humongous branch would fall, it would be his garage that would be destroyed, not mine). This morning, before I was fully awake, tree trimmers came and started working. They were trimming a different neighbor’s tree, but I did not like the coincidence of both the dream and the reality.

Even worse, my tarot card today was the ten of swords (called the ten of weapons on this particular deck) followed by the nine of wands (nine of staves.) The ten of swords is not a good card to get because there is nothing remotely cheerful about it, speaking as it does of misfortune on a grand scale. The second card was the nine of staves, a card of great strength and denotes being prepared for any contingency.

My preparation for the looming disaster was simply to go about my day as planned.

One good thing about a tarot reading (beyond the fact that the cards I turn up so often have nothing to do with me) is that the effects last only until the next reading. Which means tomorrow is a whole other story.

Speaking of story . . . when I was at my client’s house, I read an excerpt from a book where the character mentioned that the tale of how she met her husband was different for each person she told it to. I thought something like that — telling the truth, but picking different elements of the truth to focus on each time you told it — would work well in the small-town novel I am thinking of writing. Perhaps each person in town thinks they know the truth, but since they assume everyone knows the same truth, the salient points get buried until our hero (me!) starts asking questions and sees the variations of the truth. I guess it would be sort of like the folk tale from India about blind men “looking” at an elephant. Each person who touched a single part of the elephant found out a truth that reinforced their own belief, but it was only when they put all the concepts together that they came across the greater truth of what an elephant was.

In a way, I suppose, all mysteries are like that, with every character believing they know the whole truth but only knowing part of it, so perhaps it wouldn’t be such an interesting idea after all. And anyway, I am no closer to writing the book now than I was when I first started thinking about it, so I have plenty of time to figure it out.

Meanwhile, I missed all the commotion of the tree trimming even though the woodchipper was parked in front of my house because I left to go to work. Luckily, the tree was trimmed without any damage to my property except for a few small twigs in my rocks that did not get swept up. I’m back at home now, safe from whatever dangers lurked out there for me. And tomorrow is a new day . . .

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Books and Blogs

I seem to be doing my blogging later and later as time goes on. Unfortunately, inspiration is hard to come by when one spends most of one’s time alone. And then there is the matter of laziness, perhaps, or simply a tendency toward procrastination. Either way, here I am with my lights on since it’s dark outside, trying to think of something interesting to say. One of these days, I will give in to the temptation to let a day or two slide, but for now, I’ve committed to daily blogging for the rest of the year.

Just about the only thing I’ve been thinking about (other than that it will be another six months before I can get back into gardening) is the awful book I just finished reading. I could have put it aside at any time, of course, but then the uneasiness fostered by the story would have lingered much longer than it would by finishing it. Normally I don’t read contemporary women’s lit, but I needed a break from my usual diet of murder and suspense, which is a mistake I won’t be making again soon.

There seem to be two types of books that are targeted specifically for women — happily-ever-after stories (romances that tell the beginning of a relationship), and unhappily-ever-after stories, (novels that tell what happens to the loving couple after many years of being together).

This particular book was of the second variety. The main theme was about communication; none of the characters every told their partner what they were thinking. They expected the other person to know what was going on in their minds without their having to say a single word, and each character interpreted their partner’s actions in light of their own insecurities rather than the partner’s.

Even worse, the novel told three very loosely connected stories. The only connecting element was a house that none of them end up with; otherwise, the three stories had nothing to do with one another. Worst of all, there was nothing in any of the stories to offset the growing sense of dread and dreariness as the couples all drifted further apart. Just misunderstanding built on misunderstanding built on misunderstanding.

Simple discussions at the beginning of the book would have swept away all those misunderstandings. But then, there would have been no book for me to suffer through. Nor would I have had anything to write about today.

One of the stories was about a couple who were divorced from their original partners, and who ended up getting married. Since each had children from the prior marriage, and each child brought their own insecurities to the new home, dread was piled on dread. Some of that dread, I am sure, has to do with my own situation. I am at the age where, if I ever ended up in another relationship, it would be complicated by his children and grandchildren and perhaps even a great-grandbaby or two. (Unless, of course, he’s the type to eschew all family, in which case he wouldn’t be worth having.) The mere thought of having to sort out and find a way to combine the baggage of two lifetimes wearies me.

Luckily, I have no interest in another relationship. I have a house (and this blog), and that’s about as much responsibility as I want in my life.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Raking Up the News

I didn’t watered my grass for a couple of days — the first day was too cold, the second day was very warm but I had to work all day. Even though I didn’t notice any difference in the grass, I gave it a good watering today, letting the hose run while I raked up leaves. Odd how I have no trees except a couple of babies, and yet I get a yard full of leaves from all the neighbors’ trees. In previous years, I never paid attention to the leaves, but I need to make sure they don’t damage my sod, so I did the work. I considered giving the leaves back to the neighbors, but despite my blisters, I was glad to get the leaves. I dumped them among some bushes, thinking they will help rejuvenate the soil when the leaves break down. As someone once said to me, “Compost happens.”

I had to unfortunate task of laying off a handyman who was working at the house I’m taking care of. He was in such a panic over the loss of income, that I hired him to do a couple of small paint jobs the contractor has been putting off. I was kind of surprised (but just kind of) when he never showed up, so even though I’d paid twice for those jobs, I ended up doing them myself. At least the raw wood surfaces are protected now.

A friend had some good news today — my contractor is going to work on her house, which was left unfinished when her husband died. It’s a huge job, and they are both glad to be connected — she needs the work done, and he needs to keep his employees busy. I’m not sure what it will mean for me, though I tend to think my jobs as always will be delayed. I’m not really sure I care, at least not all that much and not all the time, because the undone work gives me a sort of lien on his time. When I have an emergency, he comes right over or sends one of his guys. If all the work around my house was finished, perhaps he wouldn’t be as conscientious about taking care of my problems. On the other hand, he probably would especially now that I recommended him for that big job. And anyway, he does try to look after me when he can.

I asked my friend if she minded if I mentioned her and her unique situation, and she said okay. She was born in Malaysia of Chinese parents, and educated by Irish nuns. She has three sisters — one lives in Malaysia, one in Singapore, one in Australia, and she, of course, lives in the United States. Talk about a far-flung family! Luckily, there is Skype. The sisters talk every weekend, which is more than I do with my own siblings, and they live here in this country.

She would make a great character for my book, though I’m not sure how her story would contribute to whatever story I come up with. For now, I’m just collecting interesting characters and waiting to see if they want to engage with one another, literarily speaking.

Well, that’s about all the news I can rake up for you. I hope you had a more exciting — and blister-free — day than I did.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Reversing an Adaptation

The only place I ever came across the idea of reversing an adaptation other than in evolutionary terms was in the novel Dead Sleep by Greg Iles. The story was obviously forgettable because I have no idea what it was about even though it wasn’t that long ago that I read it, and an online synopsis didn’t help much. But I do remember what he said about reversing an adaptation. Or rather, I remember making note of the quote from the book. “Missing persons cases that have lain dormant for years, then suddenly the child or husband turns up. It’s disorienting to people. Homo Sapiens survived by adapting to change, even terrible change. Being forced to reverse an adaptation you’ve made to survive can cause a lot of strange feelings. A lot of resentment.”

That struck a chord in me somewhere deep down because I wonder at times what I would do if Jeff ever returned. I know he’s dead; I was there. The only way the scenario would work would be if he showed up on my doorstep and said, “God decided to let me come back. So here I am.”

It seems such a betrayal of both him and my grief, but part of me is glad I will never have to deal with a reversal of my adaptation to his death. For eleven and a half years I have been adapting to his being gone. For eleven and a half years I have slowly been turning someone I wouldn’t even recognize if I were to see me from the point of view of the woman I once was. For eleven and a half years I have been developing new values — not deep down values, the ones I’ve had all my life, like kindness and loyalty — but other values, such as having a place to live out the rest of my days; of owning that place. Owning a house is not something I ever wanted or valued, and yet here I am, grateful every day for this boon.

Without knowing the name of this phenomenon — reversing an adaptation — it must have been in the back of my mind for a long time. Years ago, I was involved in a time travel writing project with other authors. My character, a widow, went back in time, saw her husband, saw herself, and was appalled at how small her life had been. She could see that she had been on the way to becoming like her colorless mother-in-law, and once back in her “real” time, she threw off the shackles of her dowdy clothes and decided to live a little.

I do think sometimes of what my life would be if Jeff were to show up here. I try to think how to fit him into my life, into my house, but he doesn’t fit except as a photo I talk to every night. It’s been too long that he’s been out of my life. It’s been too long that I’ve been in this new life I’ve slowly been creating out of the ashes and shards of our shared life. I think it helps that I had no choice — I had to become the person I am to survive the shock of severance, the angst of his absence, the utter pain of grief.

To this day, I miss him and I continue to feel the void where he was ripped from me, so if there was an option, would I want him back? Could I deal with the truth, whichever way I decided? Could I reverse the adaptation? I have no idea.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

A Day to Celebrate

Despite the controversy surrounding Thanksgiving in the United States — people say that it celebrates colonialism, brutality, genocide, epidemics, and slavery — it’s still a day of celebration for most of us. We don’t celebrate the mythical origins of the holiday, we merely take the day as it is presented to us — a day of being thankful, of being grateful for the good in our lives.

And truly, that is a wonderful thing — people getting together to celebrate thankfulness.

Languages evolve over time, meanings evolve, holidays evolve. What a holiday once meant, it no longer does. (In fact, the word “holiday” no longer means what it once did; it’s come a long way from the original “holy day.”) Just look at Halloween. It means something different to everyone, from the most religious to the most profane, and yet, there it is.

Thanksgiving is turning out to be the same. For most of us, the story of the first Thanksgiving has no meaning. We are newcomers. (I am a second generation American. The woman I spent the day with is a naturalized citizen.) And so we create our own traditions layered upon the older traditions.

I had no intention of getting into all this even to the extent that I did, but I wanted to point out that despite its mythical and self-serving origins, Thanksgiving is still an important day. Though come to think of it, I don’t need to have a day set aside to remind me to give thanks. Every time I look around my house or meander the paths in my yard, I give thanks for what life has offered me.

Today I did have a special reason to be thankful. A friend spent the day with me, and we feasted both on food and good conversation.

And that, too, is worth celebrating.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Life’s Path

The weather pattern was weird today. Normally, at this time of year, the highest temperature is around 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but today started out in the fifties (Fahrenheit), and got increasingly colder. Luckily, I checked the weather before I made plans — though to be honest, my plans are rather uncomplicated. In fact, I had no plans (plural) for the day. I had just a plan (singular). And that plan was to water my grass. Since I checked the weather, I was able to get out when it was relatively warm (relative to the expected lows of 18 degrees), though relatively warm still meant wearing a coat.

I must admit, I do feel silly being out there watering in these last brisk weeks of fall, but I would feel even worse if my grass were to die of neglect before it even rooted itself. And anyway, it gives me a chance to meander around my paths. They don’t form a labyrinth, but as with walking a labyrinth, walking my paths seems to center me. A labyrinth is a journey into wholeness, a symbol of life’s path, and a reminder that we are on the path we are supposed to be on, and with my paths, I am literally on the path I’m supposed to be on. I don’t need the symbolism of a labyrinth. (The photo is of a labyrinth I walked when I was on my cross-country trip.)

I am hoping that over the years as I become more adept at gardening, every bend in my paths will lead me to something beautiful to contemplate, whether flowers, a bit of artwork, and of course, the grass that I am so assiduously caring for.

I still haven’t planted my wildflowers yet. I’m waiting until right before the first snow, though despite the chill today, it doesn’t seem as if we will have snow for a while. If there still isn’t any snow by Christmas, I’ll plant the seeds anyway and hope for the best. If they don’t come up in the spring, I can always plant more in the spring.

I’m trying not to hurry myself through the fall and winter months (I try to take each day as it comes), but I am looking forward to seeing where my paths (both life and garden) lead me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Reading to Sleep

I was reading when I had to stop and think about what I’d just read. Oh, it wasn’t anything important, not one of the issues of the day or the eternal questions, just a silly thing, really. In the story, a mother read her child to sleep. It’s a common thing, for sure, but suddenly, it struck me as all wrong. By reading to children until they fall asleep, it makes sense that it would give them a love of stories and perhaps help them develop the habit of reading, but just as often, wouldn’t it tell youngsters that books are boring? That they are a soporific, not an intrinsic part of one’s day?

My parents didn’t read us to sleep, but I do remember my mother reading to me once when I was sick. (“The Land of Counterpane” from A Child’s Garden of Verses.) I’m sure she read to us at other times, just as I read to my younger siblings, but it was never at night. I realize one example does not prove a point, but I am a reader and my parents never read me to sleep. Coincidence? Who knows.

On the other hand, but still on the subject of reading to sleep (which is what I do, come to think of it — read myself to sleep — but then, I also read myself awake, read while I eat, read while I wait, read while I think), I wonder if that learned tendency to fall asleep when reading is why so many books promise to keep you awake all night or at least until you finish the book. (I also wonder how that sales technique works with insomniacs since so many find reading an effective sleep aid.) The truth probably has to do with the plethora of boring books. I tend to fall asleep even in a bright afternoon if the book is boring enough. So saying that a book will keep you awake is just another way of saying that the book isn’t boring. But boring is in the eyes — and mind — of the reader; one person’s thriller is another person’s yawner.

It’s funny, now that I think about it, that such an intellectual activity as reading has become so intrinsically entwined with both falling asleep and not falling asleep. I wonder why that is. Maybe I need to add that query to the list of eternal questions, such as the meaning of life, if the dead still exist, and where consciousness came from.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

Being Myself

It’s no surprise that people all over the world have ill-formed ideas about people from the USA, and that we have ill-formed ideas about people from other countries. Unless one is well read (meaning a familiarity with books by various authors from various countries on various subjects), one’s perceptions are created by the media. It’s the news agencies — national and international — that decide what is worth printing or talking about or recording, and decent people going about their daily activities of taking care of themselves and their families are not fodder for news. Instead, the world is fed a constant diet of articles and editorials showcasing the worst behavior of people in the United States, for example.

That’s the same here. The worst behaviors are newsworthy, and so that’s what we hear about. If I only knew of my fellow citizens by what I read in newspapers or see on television, I’d be disgusted, too. Luckily, I don’t read newspapers or watch television (except sometimes with the older woman I help care for), so I am free to make up my own mind — without preconceived notions — about the people I meet. I have also defriended people online who are so single-minded they can never conceive that their ideas, fostered by the media, can be wrong, and so they perpetrate the same myths about the horror of life here in the USA.

It’s a good thing, too, that I accept fiction for what it is — made up stories told by people with their own particular world views — otherwise, I’d really have a bad idea about this country. When so many books detail murders and serial killers and vigilantes, you’d think this truly was a terrible place to live. As would be Canada and Britain and France and Scandinavia and all the other places where the books I read take place. All those countries would also be places that are riddled with ghosts and things that go bump in the night as well as enough heat from sex scenes to add to the ambient temperature.

Wait!! I just thought of something. Around the same time that global warming began to be heavily touted, books began to serve up steamy loves scenes at a greater rate and greater heat than ever before, a direct result of ebooks. People who would not be caught dead reading soft porn paperbacks could suddenly read such fodder without anyone knowing, and “hot” books proliferated. Could there be a connection? (You do know I’m being facetious, right? At least, I think I am.)

If grief — and my writing about grief — has taught me nothing else, it’s that we are all so much more alike than we ever imagined. I have “met” people from all over the United States, from every economic strata, from cities to farms, as well as people from all over the world. And we are all suffering the same sorrows, all going through the same patterns of grief, all missing the one we love.

So, in my own little way — just being myself, writing about my grief, my trips, my dreams, my life, and now my house and yard — I am promoting a sense of peace and amity (and sanity) so often lacking in the news media. I don’t delude myself that it makes a big difference, but I’m not adding to the negativity, either.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Assumptions

In my wanderings through the internet, I came across one of those ubiquitous articles trashing the USA, written from the perspective of people from other countries. I don’t know why I even looked at it since I don’t appreciate such articles, mostly because they don’t reflect my life at all. What people hate about us are so often the policies enacted by politicians without regard to any of us — neither those of us living here, nor those living elsewhere. And if it’s not those policies that earn us such disregard, it’s the international corporations that destroy us as much as anyone else. (Why such corporations are considered to be American, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s easier to talk about how horrible the people in the USA are then point the finger at themselves?)

What stuns me is how much contempt people have for us while at the same time they have their hand out for the USA taxpayer’s money. (I read somewhere once that the United States should declare itself a third world country, that way some of our foreign aid could go to fix our own problems.) As for why we are handing out money — I don’t understand that, either. For example, we send money to China, yet we borrow money from China so that we can send it to them. Even more absurd, the people we send aid to hate us just as much as everyone else. And most absurd of all, so many of those same people want to move here so they can change this country to be just like theirs.

But none of that was in the article I mentioned above. It was more about cultural expectations and assumptions. Some people found it shocking that each of the states and each section of each state has its own particular culture and history and lifestyle. Others found the level of patriotism a bit over the top. Others were appalled at both the level of fitness in the country as well as the level of obesity. Some were shocked by the huge open spaces while others were stunned by the reality of the big cities, as if they’d assumed New York and Chicago were sets created as backdrops for various movies, even though neither are in the top ten of the largest cities worldwide. Some people thought the number of stores ridiculous, even though some areas (such as where I live) have very few stores. Some people were shocked that contrary to the hype, we generally are a friendly bunch. And on and on and on.

To me, this article wasn’t about the terribleness of the United States, but about the ignorance of the people who made these assumptions. A few minutes spent with Google, for example, can tell people that New York is real, and as large as it is, other cities in other countries are so much more populous.

Also, a brief look at statistics can show why assumptions of any kind regarding the USA are ridiculous, especially for those who are looking for some sort of uniformity throughout the country. Although the corner of Colorado where I live is approximately the size of the Netherlands, only about 100,000 people live here compared to the 17.4 million living in Holland, and yet this area is part of the same country that includes unwieldy cities such as New York, Chicago, and Seattle. And that’s not all. The USA and Europe are roughly the same size, though there are twice as many people living in Europe as live in the USA and 45 times more countries in Europe than in the USA. (45 European Countries vs. 1 USA country.)

So, what have I learned from all this other than that assumptions are simply assumptions and not fact? That’s easy. Stay away from articles purporting to tell me how terrible we in the USA are.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

The Limelight

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly conceited or self-absorbed beyond what is normal and healthy. In fact, I tend to be more self-effacing than is probably good for me and am seldom comfortable seeking the limelight.

[I had to pause here to look up “limelight.” Interesting to note that it actually was a “lime” light — a cylindrical piece of the mineral lime that when lit produced a bright white light that was used to light theater stages in the early l800s. By the late 1800s, “limelight” had already taken on its present meaning of being the center of attention.]

Despite my unease at being the center of attention, there are times that I enjoy being noticed, or should I say, there are things about me that I enjoy being noticed. For example, my car. When I took my various trips, from coast to coast and border to border, it thrilled me that so many people noticed and commented on my vintage VW. It’s the same with my hats — people notice me because of my fancy headgear (actually, it’s not me they notice but the hats. Without a hat on my head, I’m not sure as many people would recognize me).

And now, I have my grass. When I am out there watering, passersby all comment on my gorgeous lawn. The color is bright, for one thing, and for another, there I am, in the middle of November, watering the greenery when everyone else has let their grass turn brown. Of course, “everyone else” hasn’t recently spent a small fortune on their lawns, so it behooves me to take care of my investment.

[Yet another aside: my silly self is acting up, wondering if a horse can be said to be behooved.]

You’d think my books would be on that list of accoutrements that bring me notice, but although they originated with me, they’re not part of my personage. You can’t tell I’m a writer by looking at me the way you can tell that I am “Pat in the Hat.” In some way, my books don’t feel as if they are a part of me at all, though I do take the credit when someone tells me they like one or another of my tales. Now, if I were a recognized “name,” things might be different, and who knows, there still could come a time when I can test that theory.

But for now, I take my fame — and the limelight — where I can get it.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.