An Element of Futility

In ballet class today, we spent almost half an hour on a step that I have never been able to do and will never be able to do, no matter how much I try. As I stood there, feeling utterly frustrated and foolish beyond belief, it occurred to me there is a strong element of futility in my life. I spend too much time trying to do things that are truly impossible for me, such as some parts of dance class, the whole hiking the Pacific Crest Trail thing, or trying to get my poor deformed arm to perform tasks it simply cannot do any more.

I once knew a woman who got upset with anyone who used the word “can’t.” “I can take you to the store and show you a lot of cans,” she would say, “but I won’t be able to show you even one can’t.” (She never appreciated my pointing out that if she can’t show me can’ts, then there was something she can’t do.) Still, there does come a time when we really can’t do things, and refraining from using the word doesn’t make those can’ts any more possible than if we told the unpalatable truth.

It’s important to try new things, but once you reach the point where you know for sure you can’t do that thing, is the frustration of continuing to try to do the impossible worth it? I don’t know. I used to like (or at least not mind) the struggle to do what I can’t do, but now . . . not so much.

Stagnation is not something I appreciate either. Nor is giving up.

Someone pointed out the other day that a common thread with my blog posts is that I have no idea what is around the corner, and this is certainly true with this post today, because I sure as heck have no answer to this conundrum.

Maybe I’ll go take a nap. That, at least, is something that comes without the added element of futility that seems to be haunting me lately because I sure could use the rest!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Stardust of Reality

I’ve been going through an upsurge of unbelonging lately. I first experienced this unbelonging after Jeff died, when I lost the feeling of belonging to someone, to a place, to life itself. This needing to feel as if I belong somewhere is one of the main reasons I’ve focused for so many years on the dream of an epic walk/hike — I hoped such a trek would help me feel connected to the earth in a more fundamental way. And I needed something bigger than me in my life.

Couplehood is bigger than either of the partners, and when we lose that connection, not only are we set adrift in an alien world, we are set adrift in a life that suddenly seems so much smaller than it was. Grief’s immensity gives an illusion of connection to our deceased life partner, but as grief wanes, the unbelonging becomes even more apparent.

Hence, my need for the dream of an epic walk. Now that I have whittled that dream into something I can handle — just a few miles — it is no longer bigger than my life. (Going from “impossible” to a couple of days on the trail was an incredible step, but it is still 2,645 miles short of the dream of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.)

I didn’t mind when I just had the dream of thru-hiking the PCTrather than the reality, because that way, I never had to think about what came next. But now I know — life as usual. That’s what comes when the dream ends.

And so here I am. Once again, feeling unbelonged.

Someday I hope to get strong enough do a longer backpacking trip, but for now, I have other things I need to concentrate on, such as my new book about grief.

I’m still at the preliminary stage, which means I’m thinking about the book and trying to arrange it in my head. I’ve also been going through blogs and emails, looking for topics to include in the book. As I was going through emails from a woman who encouraged me in my grief journey, who kept me focused on the need to grieve rather than to hide from the pain (and made me see that my grief posts were neither whiny nor self-indulgent but necessary for me and for my readers), I came across the following comment:

“You belong, my friend, simply because you are part of the stardust of reality!”

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I love that — “stardust of reality.” It’s something to keep in mind as I navigate this post-dream stage of my life.

And who knows, maybe I’m setting myself up for a new dream, a new reality.

Last night I got a text from my sister that included a screenshot of comments on my blog where people mentioned how adventurous I was. She said, “Apparently, I’m not the only one who sees you as an adventurist.”

I responded, “Apparently, I am the only one who thinks I am a bit of a fraud. But I tell a good story.”

She texted back, “We—all of us—think on some level we are frauds. No joke.”

Later, much later, I realized that when it comes to writing, I don’t feel like a fraud.

That should tell me something about where to look for belonging.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

No Resfeber for the Weary

I must admit, I am completely bewildered by my backpacking trip, a bewilderment that began the night before I left. For one thing, I didn’t feel any resfeber. (Resfeber is a fabulous Swedish word meaning the mingled excitement and dread a traveler feels just before the journey begins.) I just felt . . . ho hum. As if it were the night before an ordinary day. At least it felt that way until I finished packing my backpack. When I added food and water for four days (there are many places on the Pacific Crest Trail a person can hike and not need to carry more than a liter of water because water sources are ubiquitous, but not around here), what had been a moderately light pack turned into a monstrous load. Water is heavy. Sixteen ounces of water weighs a pound. The proverbial eight glasses of water a day weighs four pounds. Four pounds times four days. Eek.

I sat on the bed to put the pack on because it was too heavy to sling onto my shoulders any other way, and walked around the room for a bit. I moved okay, and it didn’t seem that much heavier than my backpack practicing weight, though I’m sure it was about ten pounds more than I’d ever tried carrying. (Did I mention that water is heavy?)

I worried about the long, steep climb up the Acorn trail to the Pacific Crest Trail, but decided I’d take things as they came. If it took me all day to climb those three miles, well, then, it would take all day. It’s a good thing I didn’t spend much time worrying about that climb because I ended up experiencing some trail magic. The fellow who let me park in his driveway drove me to a different trail head right off the road, where two easy steps took me onto the trail.

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As I started walking, I could feel a big smile on my face. The day was lovely, the pack seemed doable, the trail (and a sense of freedom) stretched ahead of me.

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After a less than a mile, I paused to get a silk scarf from my belly pack to put around my ears to protect them from the wind. A young fellow stopped just in front of me to remove something from his pack, and we talked a bit. He was thru hiking the PCT, had spent the night in town to do some work on the computer, and was now hurrying to catch up to his hiking buddies.

He apologized for speeding ahead, and then he sped ahead. Within a few seconds he had disappeared around a bend. Watching him practically run with his pack, I thought how nice it must be to be a young male, so strong and full of vigor and testosterone. And then I looked around and thought it wasn’t so bad being an old (well, older) woman, either.

I didn’t see another person on the trail, so I got my solo wilderness experience, except it didn’t feel any different from any other hike I took alone. Just a hike.

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But it wasn’t just another hike. I’d never before carried much more than a bottle of water, even on the long hikes I took a couple of years ago in the redwood forests and on the beaches in northern California.

At one point, I had to stop to retie my shoe laces to keep my feet from sliding forward on the downhill slopes. Since I couldn’t bend over, I perched on a low tree stump, tied the shoes, drank some water, and then tried to get up. Absolutely could not. I ended up having to take off the pack, stand up, drag the pack to a higher stump, heft it onto the hump, and reposition it on my back. Not elegant, but it worked.

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I hiked most of the day — one slow step after another, picking my way up (and down) a narrow, dusty, and sometimes gravelly trail. Then I hit a section of steep down slope, and after about a half mile, my legs stopped working. I simply could not take another step. Luckily, I’d arrived at about the only flat place I’d seen all day. I collapsed, rested, then hauled myself to my feet and set up camp. I went inside the tent and lay there. It was only about five o’clock, way too early to go to sleep, but I had no energy to do anything else. I just lay there listening to the wind howling through the trees above me. I was totally alone, the closest road a thousand feet beneath me, and it felt like . . . nothing out of the ordinary.

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The ordinariness, actually, was not bewildering. I’d experienced that sort of thing before, where I thought something would be life changing, but when it came time to do the thing, it turned out that the change had happened before the actual event. (Or maybe living in the moment makes every moment feel ordinary because it is the only moment that exists.)

What did bewilder me was that I didn’t feel any soreness after carrying the pack all that time. I just got exceedingly wobbly, then I hit a wall. What bewildered me even more is that the trail seemed to consist of steep ups and downs, but on an elevation map, it looked fairly straight. What bewildered me most of all is that it took me five hours to hike a mere four miles. Four miles??? That’s nothing. It’s what I normally walk, though admittedly, the desert paths I frequent are wide and packed solidly enough that even with a pack, I can stride along without having to carefully settle one foot before lifting the other. And I have never carried such a heavy pack. But still, five hours to walk four miles? Apparently, I am not as strong as I think I am.

The next day, I broke camp early and was back on the downward trail with steep switchbacks.

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By the time I got to the end of that section, I was almost done for. Couldn’t go up the next steep slope, couldn’t go back up the steep slope I’d just descended to return the way I had come. So I headed up the highway. After a couple of miles, a fellow stopped to offer me a ride. He moved his pack off the seat to make way for me. I tossed my pack in the back of the truck (well, pushed it up as far as I could and then tipped it over into the truck bed) and we took off. Turned out he’d been going in the opposite direction, on his way for a day of hiking when he saw me and took pity on me. (He said he turned around because he could tell I was at the end of my strength, but I think he was magicked into it.) He asked where I was going, and when I told him, he went silent as if he didn’t really want to drive that far, but the silence only lasted a second as he made the mental readjustment. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to drive me all the way back to my car. Not only would it give him a late start for his hike, but he’d end up where he started. Turned out my car was parked a block from his house.

Very nice fellow. He understood about the heavy pack. Apparently, he and the friends he goes on backpacking trips with are all about my age, and even though they are all lifelong hikers, they don’t do dry sections anymore because they can’t handle carrying all that water. (That made me feel not quite so weak and inept.)

Today, I am sore, but bewilderingly, I ache in places I’ve never even felt before. My knees didn’t hurt at all on the hike, but the muscles behind the knees are now sore. And my upper midriff is so stiff I had a hard time lifting myself out of a reclining position this morning.

So what does all this tell me? Not much. As I said, the whole experience bewildered me.

But it was an experience, which is what I wanted. And, although I wasn’t out there for as long as I’d planned, I did it! I spent a night on the Pacific Crest Trail.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Why Do You Want to Do This?

In response to my post, Date With a Driveway, a reader very respectfully asked, “Why do you want to do this?”

If by “this” she means the short backpacking trip I’ve planned for the coming weekend, the answer is easy: I need to know if I can do it. There is no dance class on Thursday, so I will have a few days up in the hills (including a punishing hike up to the Pacific Crest Trail) to see what I can do. There is a campground close to the connecting trail, so that if those three uphill miles are all I can do that first day, I’ll have a place to hang out and recuperate. And shortly beyond that, there is another campground if I am too exhausted to hike very far. Besides which, it’s a fairly well-traveled part of the PCT so that I won’t be completely isolated my first time out.

If by “this” she means hiking the Pacific Crest Trail itself, that’s a more complicated question, though oddly, one I haven’t asked myself recently. It’s just something that’s been in and out of my head for a long time.

Many years ago, when Jeff first got really sick and I realized how devastating his death would be for me, I read about the Pacific Crest Trail and I figured hiking the whole thing would be a great way to lose myself after he was gone. After he died, I was too busy and too distraught (such a mild word for the tsunamis of grief I experienced!) to think of anything at all.

During those first months (and years!) of grief, I used to walk for hours in the desert. I always had to make sure I had enough energy to get back to the house, and so I wondered what it would be like to walk and just keep on walking without having to return to the starting place. It seemed as if it would be so freeing — just walking forever without a thought in my head or a care of any kind except to walk. And oh, did I want that freedom!

Then one day, I went on a search for the San Andreas Fault, and came across a marker for the Pacific Crest Trail.

I took a few steps up the trail, in awe at being on such a legendary path. It surprised me that the trail was so far inland — somehow, never before having been to any Pacific coast state, I figured any such long distance trail would follow the coastline. (The California Coast Trail is something completely different, and isn’t really a trail so much as an partially connected bunch of trails, paths, sidewalks, beaches and boardwalks with very few places to camp.)

I liked the idea of walking away from my life and my grief. Liked the idea of all the new experiences — perhaps even some sort of transcendental experience — such a long hike would bring, experiences that would buffer me from my now dead life and take me further into a new life. Liked the thought that maybe I wouldn’t be me at the end of all that, that maybe I would become strong and wise and able to handle growing old alone. Liked the idea of connecting with the universe. (Being disconnected from that one particular person left me feeling as if I had no connection to the earth or to anything, as if I were hovering uncomfortably to the side of life or even worse, eternally falling into the abyss.)

A couple of months after the San Andreas Fault hunt, I started walking in the evenings with a hiking group, and from that sprang a few day hikes on the PCT. It was during our evening walks that the topic of a thru hike first came up (thru hiking means hiking the whole thing from Mexico to Canada in one hiking season). Gradually I learned how difficult such an undertaking would be, not just the vast swaths of land one had to cover each day but also the lack of water in many places and the dearth of stores to buy food along the way. Every book/article/blog about hiking the PCT also talked about hitching a ride to this town or that, and the thought of hitching as much as anything else made the idea seem impossible.

So I gave up on the idea and instead went on a cross-country road trip.

A few months ago, I listened to the song, “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” Having an impossible dream seemed like such a wonderful thing, and then I realized I did have such a dream — to thru hike the PCT. (Such dreams seem to run in my family — though he never attempted it, I remember my father talking about wanting to walk up the coast of Portugal.)

So I started backpacking practice. I mean, a dream that goes nowhere, a dream that just sits in the back of your head seems like no dream at all. Thru hiking the PCT in a single season really is impossible for me. Multi-year thru hiking might also be impossible. But attempting any sort of hike on the trail seems worth taking a chance. It beats stagnation, right? Beats sitting alone in a rented room and reading about life. Beats fading away into loneliness and decrepitude.

And I still want the new experiences, want to see things up close at walking pace and not as they pass by outside my car window. I still want whatever changes such an experience will bring, especially physical and mental strength. I still want to walk away from my solitary life. I still want a deeper connection to . . . something. And I still want to be free.

An illusion? Perhaps.

An impossible dream? Probably.

And yet there the trail is. And here I am, at least for now. The twain must meet, wouldn’t you think?

On the other hand, all this could be bunk. It’s possible the whole PCT dream is my way of fleeing from the unthinkableness of the past decade and the even more unthinkableness of the coming decades.

Whatever . . .

I’m still heading out at the end of the week to see what I can see.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

What Would You Like Included in a Book About Grief?

It seems as if I am being pulled back into the world of grief, not because I am having upsurges of grief, but because other people are discovering my grief posts and my grief book. Also, I have been talking to friends as they go through their grief upsurges, and at the same time, I am getting emails from newly bereft people who have read Grief: The Great Yearning, a sort of memoir about my first year of grief. (I wonder if I am the only author who cries every time I get a letter from a reader. I am glad they contact me, but oh, so much sorrow!)

As if this weren’t enough of a pull, people have begun suggesting that I write another book of grief, sort of a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, but from the perspective of eight years later. (At one time, I’d considered doing a sequel focusing on the second, third, and maybe fourth year called Grief: The Great Learning, but I didn’t have enough to say to fill even a small book.)

This isn’t something I can start today — I need to finish that decade-old manuscript first, then I have my trip to Seattle, and finally a dance performance. But by the beginning of June, I will have cleared out all my obligations, and would have time — both calendar time and mental time — to start a new project.

If I do undertake such a project, what aspects of grief would you like to see included in the book?

Is there a particular one (or many) of my grief blog posts you’d like to see expanded for the book? (For those of you who have already offered suggestions, I will be going through the comments and emails to find those suggestions if you don’t want to repeat yourself here.)

Are there any aspects of my life, such as my penchant for adventures, that should be included? Because a need for adventure is part of the grief process, not just for me, but for many folks. It’s as if once our lives are turned upside down, only undertaking something challenging helps get us back on a new track.

By its very nature (or rather, the very nature of the author), the book won’t be a practical guide for getting through grief, won’t offer platitudes or comfort except of the roughest kind (such as telling people what they already know — that grief is impossibly hard). There are certainly enough grief self-help books on the market, and anyway, I don’t have anything to offer along those lines. I think what I do have to offer is a safe place for people to explore their own grief, maybe even offer something for them to compare themselves to. (All grief is different, but for those who have suffered the same sort of profound loss, such as the death of soul mate, grief does tend to follow the same patterns.)

I hope I’m ready for such a project. At least it will be non-fiction, so I won’t have to relive grief through my characters like I did for Unfinished. That just about did me in!

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Wishing You the Joy of This Day

A new month starts today, maybe even a resurrection of sorts. Despite the predominately religious meanings of this time of year, there is a more personal spiritual meaning — that no matter how down (or up!) we are, we can find a renewal, a liberation, a breaking open of the constraints that bind us so we can burst forth into a new day, a new way of being.

Or something like that.

After yesterday’s feeling that much of what I’ve been doing is just plain silly, today I am taking a break from all of those things. Well, most of them. Obviously, I am blogging, but I did not go sauntering with my pack (though I did chat with a fellow on FB about various sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington), did not go to dance class (that counts even though there was no dance class today), have not added any words to my book (though I did delete some, which doesn’t seem anywhere near as silly as adding words).

So did doing not much of anything feel silly? Nope. It felt good just to be. To enjoy the moment. I do enjoy the moments when I am doing something, of course, but when I am not doing “nothing,” the enjoyment is sort of a tagalong feeling to whatever it is I am doing — enjoying the desert while sauntering, enjoying the energy of dancing — rather than enjoyment as a separate entity.

I so often feel a push for more — to carry more weight in the pack, to walk more miles, to write more and better, to get stronger, healthier, wiser — that it’s good once in a while to burst out of the winding cloths I’ve wrapped myself in, and step out into the joy of being

I’m overdoing the metaphor a bit, but so what?

It’s a new day. And today I can do whatever I want. Be whatever I want. Well, in my own mind at least. There is still the matter of a body that doesn’t always cooperate, but that is a matter for another time.

Wishing you the joy of this day.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

My Life After All

It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that I’ve been ambivalent about taking dance classes lately. I still love dancing, but now frustration and unhappiness seem to occur more often than joy. It’s not just having to deal with people I don’t want in my life, it’s also feeling that I’m living someone else’s life. I’m not sure why I feel this way after all these years of classes, though I suppose it has a lot to do with my never having had any inclination to be a dancer, not having any natural aptitude for dance, being too heavy for grace, and lacking musicality. I suppose it has even more to do with my sinking back into myself after Jeff’s death catapulted me to hell and beyond, and so I feel more myself than I have in ages, and “myself” is … well, not a dancer, which makes me feel more and more like an imposter. (Oddly, I dance more than I write, but I consider myself a writer even when I don’t write.)

And, of course, there’s my dubious financial situation, which adds even more ambivalence to the issue because I really should be working rather than depleting my savings on ungainful activities.

It’s no wonder then, that I woke the other morning with these words echoing in my post-dream-state brain: You can teach an elephant to dance, but that doesn’t make her a dancer.

Still, I have the strange idea that I can get stronger, more agile, and more balanced by combining the dance classes with the backpacking saunters, and before I settle down to some ridiculous job, I want a chance to see what I can do physically.

If I am ambivalent about dancing, it’s nothing compared to my ambivalence about long distance backpacking. Even if by some miracle, sheer determination, or a combination of the two, I am able to carry the weight I need, it’s still remains to be seen if my body will cooperate.

For example, I’d been feeling a pinch in one knee occasionally when I went uphill and a pinch in the other when I went downhill, so I researched how to walk downhill properly, and then my knees really started to hurt! Apparently, the advice was all wrong for me. It was more for powering down a hill rather than saving one’s knees. So now that I’ve found the right “right way” (hypothetically, by shifting weight side to side as you walk downhill, you use more hamstrings than quadriceps, which helps keep the muscles in balance and protects the cartilage), we’ll see if I can keep from destroying my knees.

Still, ambivalent or not, living my life or a borrowed life, I plan to keep moving ahead with the combined strength and agility training. And maybe, someday, whatever I end up doing will feel like it’s my life after all.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Marching Along

March begins tomorrow, and suddenly, it feels as if the the months are speeding by too fast. January seemed about three months long, and February about three days. At the rate I’m going, March will feel like three hours, and that is not enough time to do everything I need to do. Like print out more information about campsites and such for my May trip. Like get strong enough for a short backpacking trip. Like convert a bit of fat into muscle. Like work on my poor abandoned book.

In January, when I decided that March would be my novel writing month and marked “book” on my calendar, I felt as if I had forever to get in writing shape, and suddenly, here I am on the cusp of the month, and all I’ve done to prepare is drag out my printed copy of the manuscript.

I truly have no specific intentions other than to spend a bit of time every day focused on the book and maybe move the story along a bit. I have no word count goals, not even any expectation of finishing the book. I should be able to do that, right?

We shall see.

***

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

The Nature of Dilemma

I walked out of dance class yesterday. I can’t even remember the last time I walked out of anything in anger. Now that I think about it, though, I wasn’t really angry. Just fed up.

I’ve mentioned before that I have problems with one of the women — a total narcissist. I get tired of the almost constant sound of her voice and the way she makes everything about her, but more than that, I get tired of how she treats me.

And yesterday I’d had enough.

It’s my own fault, really. Sometimes we as writers have the power to make things happen. When I was writing A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I always saw a silver Toyota Tacoma in the grocery store parking lot. I used the vehicle for the book, and oddly, after the truck was stolen in the story, I never saw that Tacoma again. Made me wonder if somehow I managed to get it stolen in real life.

Then, when I was writing Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, I didn’t want to use her real car — a PT Cruiser — since it could identify her, so I changed her vehicle to a Kia. A couple of days after I gave her the pseudonymous car, she drove to the studio in her new Kia.

Such things are common occurrences for me, but never before have I conjured up a person.

Those of you who read Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare are familiar with a character named Deb. This character started out being based on the idiosyncrasies of a couple of women in class, but I skewed the character far from those women to fit the needs of the story. This skewed character seemed to see herself in competition with the narrator (whose name, coincidentally, is Pat), and this competition, one way though it might have been, fueled the story.

When I was able to return to class after my various surgeries, lo and behold, there was Deb. Her name and physical description are not the same as my fictional Deb, but the rest of it is pretty darn close, perceived competition and all.

Did I conjure her? I doubt it, but still, whether her emergence is my fault or not, this woman is in my life, or rather, in my life as long as I continue to take dance classes. It’s only two months until my trip, which will give me a break from all that has been bedeviling me, so I’ve been trying to ignore the woman, stay as far away from her as possible, and to hold my tongue to keep the peace, but yesterday I simply did not want to have to deal with her anymore.

As I was going out the door after the incident that fueled my need to leave, she continued with her unwanted comments. I just wish narcissists would understand that not everything is about them, that other people have their own lives and needs separate from theirs. But then, if they understood that, they wouldn’t be narcissists.

Unfortunately, it’s too late to rewrite the story to make Deb nicer and less of a narcissist, and it’s too late to make her vanish since her fate was already written. (And anyway, when I write things on purpose hoping they will happen, they never do.)

So I have the dilemma of getting her out of my life and missing out on the good parts of dance class or keeping the status quo.

Not a fun dilemma. But isn’t that the very nature of dilemma? If the choice were easy, it wouldn’t be a dilemma.

For now, I’ll continue going to class. Maybe something will happen to tip the scale one way or another.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Reclaiming “Can’t”

After my second dance class four or so years ago, I was chatting with a fellow student as we changed into our street shoes. “I don’t know why I can’t do this,” I said, referring to the few dance steps I’d been trying to learn.

Another woman (Rhett in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare) said not to me, but to the teacher, “I hate people who say can’t.”

That seemed so rude to me, I was rendered speechless, but the woman I’d been talking to spoke up. “Pat didn’t say she wouldn’t try or that she’d never be able to do it but that she can’t do it now.” I smiled at her in gratitude, thanked her for sticking up for me, and said, “If I could understand why I can’t do the steps, maybe I’d be able to do them. I’m going to continue to try, of course, but at the moment, my feet won’t do what they’re supposed to.”

Rhett responded, “I can take you to a grocery store where you will see a lot of cans, but you won’t see a single can’t.”

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Despite that inauspicious beginning, Rhett and I generally got along. But I was careful not to say “can’t” unless I was in a contrary mood, even though my feet often didn’t do what they were supposed to.

Now, though, I’m back to saying “can’t” because there are many things I can no longer do. And again, people (though not Rhett) are giving me a hard time for using the word.

Their attitude mystifies me. What difference could it possibly make to anyone if I say “can’t”?

Even if I refrained from saying “can’t,” it wouldn’t help. My left arm, wrist, and elbow seem normal enough for most things (which is why people often forget there are things I can’t do) but none of those parts work right. The  arm is twisted a bit, doesn’t reach areas of my body it used to be able to reach, such as my left shoulder, and doesn’t have a lot of strength. The elbow creaks and groans, and the fingers don’t close properly. (We’re not even talking pain here, simply range of motion.) I am working to improve all these areas, but there are physical limitations to what I will ever be able to do.

I am grateful for the things I can do and accepting of the things I can’t. In a way, saying “can’t” honors both what I can and cannot do because it speaks the truth. Truth is more important to me, and will always be more important to me than a fake positivity.

Besides, can’t is a perfectly respectable word despite its negative reputation. Sometimes it reflects a cry of frustration rather than refusal to try. Sometimes it’s a sign of momentary defeat and offers a respite from the stress of trying. And sometimes it’s the simple truth.

So, I’m reclaiming “can’t.”

And you can’t stop me.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.