Tired of Being Nice

I’ve been mulling over a rather strange concept recently. The other day, I was helping someone, and I heard myself think, “I’m tired of being nice.” That rather shocked me because I don’t often have stray thoughts hijacking my mind, and besides, being nice is sort of my defining characteristic. I am unfailingly pleasant and agreeable, not overly effusive or extravagantly generous, just . . . nice.

I wouldn’t even know how to be not nice, assuming I could figure out what that would be. Rude? Selfish? Unpleasant? Disagreeable? I couldn’t be those things — I am too empathic, too aware of other people’s feelings to purposely upset anyone even if they don’t deserve my consideration. (Like people who are rude to me.)

Even when I border on being not nice, I am still nice. For example, a few weeks ago I had to visit the house I’m taking care for an absent friend and fire the fellow who was working for him because the friend needed the money for an emergency. The fellow was distraught, pulling his hair, wandering in circles, frantic about what he was going to do because they had no food to eat and he wouldn’t be able to buy the phone card he needed.

I felt bad for him, but I also got tired of listening to his problems, so I gave him money for his phone card and some food. I also gave him ten dollars to do a couple of small jobs for me (paint a doorframe and a part of the railing leading up to the house). It does sound like much pay for the jobs, but they should only have taken him about fifteen minutes. I know because he never showed up and I had to do the work myself, and that’s how long it took: fifteen minutes.

The point of the story is that yes, I was nice, but not for a particularly nice reason. Still, he got his phone card and some groceries, so that was good. Unfortunately, it didn’t solve any of his problems. I saw him a few days ago, and he had another slew of problems to lay on me. This time, I just listened and said I was sorry for his troubles. When he said he intended to pay me back, I told him to forget the money and went about my business. There was nothing else I could do; his problems went way beyond anything my niceness could solve.

After cogitating about this whole “tired of being nice thing,” I still have no clue what I meant, except to pay attention to the first three words. “I am tired.” I’d read once a long time ago that when people said they were tired of such and such, it often simply meant they were tired, and I think that’s true in this case because I fell asleep reading and slept most of this afternoon.

Some part of me might still be tired of being nice, but at least I’m not tired.

***

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.

Nightly Recap

During the past year or so, I’ve gotten into the habit of talking to Jeff at night when I am pulling back the bedcovers to get ready for bed. I don’t really tell him anything important; I just say a few words about my day or how I feel about things such as growing older or his being gone or anything else I feel like mentioning. I don’t think he’s listening — if he still exists somewhere, I sure as heck hopes he has something better to do than hang around and listen to me whine — but still, I talk to him, or rather I should say, I talk to his picture.

Occasionally I think it’s a bad habit and one I should break, because after all, it is a bit . . . not crazy, exactly, but off in some way . . . to talk to a picture. On the other hand, it’s not hurting anyone, least of all me, so why not continue? I’m not trying to hold on to him. After almost twelve years, it’s very obvious to me that he is gone. I’ve also built a good life for myself, so it’s not as if I am yearning for the past. I’m simply voicing the highlights (or lowlights) of my day. Although talking to a photo of a dead guy is basically the same as talking to myself, doing so gives me the feeling of imparting my feelings to someone other than to me.

This habit makes me wonder how important such a time of storytelling is, even if it is one-sided. In previous eras, clans and tribes, communities and families, would gather together around the fire in the evening and tell stories about their day. It was a way of saying, “I am here. I am living. I have meaning.” It was also a way of defining the clan, of gathering all their stories into one pot.

People living alone in houses or apartments seems to be a relatively new phenomenon. In previous eras — post-clan and pre-industrial age — families would gather in those members who were left alone, such as widows and maiden aunts and elderly patriarchs, but now, so many people, both young and old, are left to fend for themselves. Not that I want it any different for myself; it’s just an observation about changes through the ages, and how for most of human occupancy on this earth, we told our stories at night.

Whether it was a cultural evolution or written in our genes, it does seem as if this nightly recap is necessary. Oh, we can live without it — I did for over a decade before I developed this new (old) habit — but looking back over the many thousands of years of human interactions, this gathering of people and stories and thoughts seems important to our mental health or at least our sense of self and self-worth.

Of course, I could just be alibiing my habit, finding reasons that my behavior is reasonable, but still, I wonder.

***

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.

The Wisdom of the Wildflowers

We’ve been having wintery weather the past few weeks, mostly just cold and wind, but also a storm that left several inches of snow behind. It’s been gradually warming up, and the past couple of days have been spring-like. In fact, it barely got down to freezing last night and quickly warmed up because of the searing sun. I’d planned to water my grass this morning to make sure it didn’t dry out, but instead I was called in to work.

So not only did my grass not get watered, I spent this lovely day inside. It might as well have been a winter day, for all the good it did me. Still, it was a nice day, no great hardships or catastrophes, and besides, there will be more such days, though not for a while. Tomorrow winter weather returns, accompanied by a high wind warning, removing any possibility of giving my lawn a drink. I hope this lack of water won’t be a problem, but even if it is, well, all I can do is what I need to do, and today I needed to work.

I did notice that a few larkspur are timidly poking above the ground. Apparently, the cold spell followed by warm weather tricked the seeds into thinking it’s spring. Larkspur are hardy things, especially when they plant themselves as these did, and I tend to trust what a blog reader said, that the wildflowers know what they are doing. So chances are, they will survive the next winter spell or two.

I hope my grass borrows some of the wisdom of the wildflowers and will find a way to survive these up and down times.

This photo of the larkspur is from last year. Bits of green might be poking through the soil, but no wildflower that I know of is so wise as to be able to survive weather extremes. It’s amazing that we humans can, but then, we are lucky enough to be able to create our own indoor habitats that protect us from the worst of the weather.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Pandemics, Fictional and Otherwise

I just finished reading a novel about a pandemic written about twenty years before the onset of The Bob. It reminded me of the original prognostication about the death toll when the virus first showed up, and how over 80% of the world’s population was supposed to succumb. With so many people getting sick and with the death tolls still rising, I’m sure it feels that terrible to a lot of people (especially those who are sick themselves or have to deal with the death of a loved one), but that original estimate is upside down. 80% of the world’s population did not get infected. In fact, WHO says 90% did not get infected.

About 98% percent of the people who get infected recover, which means that a huge percentage of the world’s population didn’t die. (Less than two percent.)

Again, for those who got ill or know someone who did, these statistics seem a slap in the face because for them the percent was 100%, but the point I’m trying to make is that we are a far cry from an 80% fatality rate.

It’s almost impossible to imagine such a scenario (and it is understandable why leaders and health leaders freaked out about it), but I don’t have to imagine it because I just lived through such a pandemic in the book I mentioned. In fact, most books I have read with a pandemic theme were of that variety, where huge swaths of populations disappeared, and life would never be the same.

It will be interesting to see if there is any sociological residual to The Bob. There is what is called “the great resignation,” which seems to have come about because the momentum all the corporate drones and service workers and everyone else who did what they were supposed to do was broken, giving people time to think about what they really wanted. Or more probably, what they didn’t want. But for the most part, life seems to go on as before.

In novels about vast pandemics, life is unalterably changed. Oh, don’t get me wrong — I’m fine with the status quo (mine anyway) right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to put anyone through the horror of a broken civilization and bodies piled everywhere. (Or thrown in a pit, as I had my characters do in A Spark of Heavenly Fire.)

Still, it was interesting reading the book during this particular time. One thing I found interesting was the “blood passports.” There was no vaccine for this fictional plague, but people had to carry a small book that recorded their blood test results. Sound familiar? It was spooky in the book, and spooky in real life, where people need to show vaccine cards and test results before they can do group activities.

Luckily for me, I’m fine without concerts and major shopping expeditions and traveling. Quite frankly, you couldn’t pay me to get on an airplane right now, or ever again, actually.

So that’s my residual to The Bob — doing what comes naturally without any guilt.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Creative Air

A few weeks ago, I checked the online catalogue for this library, and found a book on my reading list, so I placed a hold on the novel. Although the book was supposed to be on the shelf, the librarians never set it aside for me, so I checked the shelves myself and didn’t find it. I asked about the book. They looked it up and discovered that although they were supposed to have two copies, they had none. Apparently, right before I moved here, the books disappeared.

They ordered the book from another library for me, and since that copy never showed up, it got me thinking. Suppose someone is out there removing all copies of this book? It certainly would make an interesting story, and who knows, someday I might even try to develop the plot. An obvious conundrum to figure out would be if the book is disappearing everywhere or just in this vicinity. Another one would be what the book thieves are looking for or trying to accomplish.

There must be creative air circulating around me, because not only did I come up with an idea for a book, but I also got a yen for cooking. Normally, if I get a rotisserie chicken, I throw away the bones and skin because chemicals and heavy metals like lead can settle in the bones, but the chicken I got today was enormous, and it seemed wasteful tossing out what in olden days would have been turned into a nutritious broth, so I went ahead and made a soup stock from all that waste. Another reason I don’t bother with making broth isn’t so much the question of health but that I’m not particularly fond of soup. But you never know — the creative air might descend another day and give me an idea for using the broth.

I also chopped up peanuts to mix in with a creamy peanut butter. I can’t find a natural crunchy peanut butter without sugar, so I made my own. Sort of.

And I fixed a meal that took an inordinate number of pots and pans, dishes and cans. It might have been creative, that meal, but it wasn’t all that tasty despite the benefits of chili powder and cumin and garlic and onion.

It’s funny, though, that this creativity air would descend right before I go back to a regular schedule at work. For the past couple of months, I’ve been more or less on call, just working sporadically because of quarantines and such, and now I will be working more days than I don’t. It’s as if my brain is scurrying around, thinking of all it could have done the past couple of months with so much free time, and suddenly, it wants to do two months of creative thinking in one day.

Or maybe my brain thinks this is the perfect time for a jolt of creativity because it knows I can’t feel guilty about not following through if I am otherwise engaged.

Not that I would feel guilty. I am mostly just going with the flow. Tomorrow the flow will be whatever it will be, but today the flow was through a creative air.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Too Old to Shovel Snow?

I read an article today in the local paper that said a person should probably stop shoveling snow after they turn 45 years old, and definitely stop after 55. It sounds like an ad for snowblowers, though this was advice from a doctor, not a hardware store. (And anyway, snowblowers create their own risks.) The strenuousness of shoveling is exacerbated by the cold, so shoveling overstresses the heart, increases blood pressure, and constricts the arteries, which puts anyone with heart problems in the danger zone for a heart attack, and oh, yes: apparently studies have shown that perhaps 85% of adults have some sort of underlying arteriosclerotic cardiac disease even though most don’t know it. All this leads to approximately 1,000 heart attack deaths from shoveling every year, as well as thousands of other injuries, including approximately 4,000 back injuries from overextension of the back.

It doesn’t really help knowing this, because there is so much left unsaid. Are those who die sedentary folk who suddenly put their body through the tremendous workout of shoveling snow? If a person is otherwise healthy and physically active, is it still a problem to shovel snow after 45, or 55, or even 65? If you are aware of your physical limitations, can you do small sections of the work at a time without harm?

Mostly, though, it doesn’t help me knowing about the risk of heart attacks and other injuries because I am the only one here to shovel the snow, though occasionally a neighbor will do my walk along with his (but not often because he isn’t a kid, either). “Shoveling,” in my case is rather a misnomer. We mostly get light dry snow around here, so a couple of good sweepings with a stiff broom — one in the middle of a storm and one at the end — keep the need for shoveling to a minimum. And if by chance I do have to shovel, I push the snow with a bent-handled shovel (which is ergonomically designed to reduce stress on the back). And I stop frequently to look around and enjoy the day, because clearing my ramp and sidewalk are about the only times I go outside during snowy times. (I am cognizant of iciness and falls risks, so even if I feel like going out for a walk in such weather, I generally don’t.)

I reduce my snow-related risks in other ways to make up for possible shoveling hazards, such as not driving at all when the roads aren’t completely clear, and I wear heavy all-weather hiking shoes and use trekking poles if I do have to walk on treacherous surfaces.

It’s ironic, now that I think of it: this article was on the same page as an article about the dangers of climate change in Colorado, though (facetiously speaking), you’d think that less snow would be healthier for us considering the dangers of snow removal.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Dedusted

I actually felt like playing house today and had the energy to do it, so I dry mopped then wet mopped the floor and dedusted all hard surfaces.

Yes, I know — dedusted is not a word, but it should be. The way the word stands, “dust” as a verb is the opposite of itself. For example, when snow dusts the ground, it means that a light coating of snow was deposited on the ground. Some cookie recipes require you to dust the finished cookie with powdered sugar, which means to putting a light coating of sugar on the cookie. I dusted today, but I did not leave a coating of dust on the ground. In fact, the rooms were already dusted with a powdering of dirt particles. So, see? When I cleaned off that dusting, I dedusted. If I had redusted, then I could say I dusted the room, but I didn’t add another layer of dust; I removed what was there.

Look at it a different way: if you bug a room, you place electronic bugs in the room. If you debug the room, you remove the bugs. If you code a text, you put that text into code. If you decode it, then you remove the code to reveal the plain text. If you clutter a room . . . You see where I am going with this.

It is interesting to me though, that a whole slew of words mean the opposite of themselves, not just “dust,” as I pointed out here, but “cleave,” which means both to cling and to unite and “trim” which means to add something or remove something. In fact, there are so many such autoantonyms, they have their own category name: contranyms.

I just realized that spell checker didn’t underline dedust, so I looked it up, and lo and behold, it is a word, and means exactly what I said it should — to remove fine particles and to free something of dust. Who knew? Not me, obviously, because I thought I was being so very clever and whimsical. The truth sort of puts the kibosh on this whole essay, but I’m posting it anyway because whether I dusted or dedusted, the house is clean.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Dark and Dreary

It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, but it was a dark and dreary day, which is almost as bad. I’d planned to clean today, but in the gloom, the dust wasn’t visible, so I put it off. As a friend said, the dust will still be there when I’m ready.

I did go for a walk, but it was just a walk. A grey walk. Skies were gray, streets were gray, the buildings I passed, despite their color, all seemed gray, too. You’d think with all this talk of gray, my perceptions were gray, too, but no. It was truly the lowering clouds that created the gloom. I’m fine, though come to think of it, I am dressed in a gray jacket to help stave off the chill. The house does keep its temperature, but there’s always that spell when the temperature drops and before the heater kicks in to remind me of the cold.

The only thing in my mind of interest — to me, anyway — is my ongoing study of the tarot. (If a few minutes a day can be called a “study.”)

The card I picked today to represent my situation was the 11 of Trumps. In some decks, this card is called Justice, while the 8 of Trumps is called Fortitude. In some decks, the 11 of Trumps is called Fortitude or Lust, while the 8 of Trumps is called Justice. In this deck, the card is called Lust for Life, because supposedly Aleister Crowley, the occult scholar, who updated the tarot at the beginning of the last century, thought that naming the card either Strength or Lust would limit its function in the eyes of many to the material plane. In essence, though, the card is about spiritual strength (linking up with spiritual roots), mental strength (courage and fortitude in the face of difficulties), and physical strength (stamina, resistance to ailments, and applying effort with joyful purpose — hence, Lust for Life).

To me, all this shows the rather arbitrary nature of the tarot. It seems as if most people are okay with the shifting sands upon which the tarot is built, but I need more of a foundation. Without a foundation, one can only blindly follow those who have gone before, who have blindly followed those who have gone before, who have . . . etc, etc. Then you get to people like Crowley who don’t blindly follow, but recreate everything according to his own mystical and “magickal” (the word he used to describe himself) inclinations.

If, as so many books about the Tarot say, that they are a help for mediation, then shouldn’t any stack of cards help? Christmas cards, birthday cards, get well cards — I bet there are enough out there to create a “Hallmark” version of the tarot.

And for those who use the simple explanations of the cards, such as justice or fortitude or strength, when doing a reading, then shouldn’t a plain deck of cards with just those words on them mean the same as the “official” picture/symbol cards?

And if the cards are about getting in touch with our own spiritual roots, then . . . I don’t know. I’m obviously missing a big part of the big picture when it comes to the tarot. I suppose if I stick with it long enough, something will click, and I’ll suddenly get the whole tarot thing, but so far, that’s not happening. Maybe when I find the deck that speaks to me (this particular deck definitely is not it) and stick with it for a while, I might start sensing some of what I am supposed to sense. Meantime, it’s a good daily discipline, as is writing this blog even when (like today!) I have nothing to say.

I do have one thing to add to the “nothing to say.” Not about the tarot but about the gloom. There’s no more gray to this day, no more dreary. Night fell while I was writing this post, and now it’s dark, or as dark as it can be with all the outdoor (and indoor) lighting.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Lost in Time

Last evening, for just a minute, I mentally lost track of the days. I normally don’t keep track if I go for long periods with nothing planned, so I frequently don’t know what day it is, but I generally have a sense of where I am in the week, whether it is at the beginning, middle, or end. But yesterday, I hadn’t a clue.

It was a bit disorienting, sort of like being on the verge of waking up from a deep sleep and thinking you have to go to school then you remember it’s Saturday and anyway, you’ve been out of school for decades. I couldn’t immediately go check my phone to find out the day of the week, so I tried to think of something I did during the day to give me an idea of where I was.

I finally remembered I emailed my time sheet that morning, something I do only on Thursdays, so I was able to reorient myself. But yikes. What a strange feeling that was, being lost in time.

It makes me wonder how important time is for our well-being.

[I had to pause here to look up the spelling of well-being. I wanted to use two words without a hyphen, but spellcheck insisted it was one, unhyphenated word. It turns out that the hyphen is correct because when you combine an adjective and a verb, the hyphen is necessary for the words to become one. It used to be that the hyphenated version was correct in the USA and Canada, and the non-hyphenated version prevalent in other English-speaking countries, but the word has started to lose its hyphen in North America now.]

Whether knowing where I am in time is important for my well-being, obviously, being grammatically correct is.

Before there were days of the week to keep track of, maybe it didn’t matter. People were always where they were supposed to be, in their family or clan or tribe or whatever, so it didn’t really matter what day it was. Until increasing populations and civilization made days of the week and calendars imperative, I imagine there were no days but today and yesterday and perhaps tomorrow.

[Why isn’t it tomorrowday? I had to stop to find out this vital fact. “Morrow” is an archaic word meaning “the following day,” so tomorrowday would be redundant. Tomorrow used to be hyphenated — to-morrow — until the fifteenth century when it became one word, so losing hyphens isn’t simply a sign of modern laziness.]

I seem to have strayed far from my topic, which is . . . me. Well, me being lost in time. So far today, I know exactly where I am. Saturday, perhaps. Or maybe it’s Sunday. I’m joking; actually, it’s Friday. I think.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.

Back to Normal

It was cold this morning, with supposedly a wind chill of 25 below. The weather service issued a warning to be careful, that such a chill could give exposed skin frostbite within 35 minutes. I wasn’t concerned because I always bundle up, then I remembered — my face! I don’t wear a ski mask or anything like that, not even a muffler pulled up over my nose, because it tends to fog my glasses, and then the fog freezes. It’s so much better to simply stay inside.

So I did.

Because I’ve been spending so much time inside lately, the Christmas clutter has been getting to me. I figured today was a good day to start putting things away, and to my surprise, not only did I start, but I finished!

Without all the decorations and Christmas boxes and ribbons and such, the living room seems bare, but by tomorrow I will be used to the bareness again.

It’s funny to me how so often in mystery stories, a character who lives in a stark place with no pictures and knickknacks strewn around is suspect. Such a person has to be secretive, burying a shady past or hiding a felonious present.

I hope that’s not true in real life, that people who see my empty walls and lack of knickknacks don’t automatically assume I am not as I appear. And if it is true, I don’t suppose it matters. Mostly, though, people seem to be comfortable when they are here. Without being suffocated by my stuff, visitors can — for the time they are here — write themselves into the place. Many people love to have photos and knickknacks everywhere, which does put a personal touch to their space, but it can be overwhelming to live with. For me, anyway. Hence my empty walls and tables.

I do have a couple of personalizing touches — a book shelf and a glass-fronted cabinet — so my space isn’t a complete blank, but there’s nothing on the coffee table and the only things on the lamp tables are lamps.

There is one room with clutter, and that is my work/play room, but the clutter is that of living — electronics and books and notes and started projects. Oh, and a shelf for all my tarot cards.

I’m hoping for one more cold stay-inside day so I can do a thorough cleaning. I did vacuum up as much of the glitter as I could, but I’m sure a lot of sparkles drifted under the couch and bed the way dust does. Of course, no matter how well one cleans, there will always be a bit of glitter hiding in corners and cracks, so it’s a lost cause, but I would at least like to make an effort now that my living room is back to normal.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.