Getting Back Into Dancing

Now that much of the chaos of the past year is gone — buying a house, moving, settling in to a new town, meeting people, fixing things that need to be fixed — I’m gradually getting back into exercise. There is still much to do around the house, such as having a garage build and a bit of landscaping done, but on the days when no one is here working, there is certainly no reason for me not to exercise. Except laziness, of course, but that’s not a reason, just an excuse.

Nor is having all the stuff that was once in my garage piled into the back room (aka enclosed porch, aka exercise room) a reason. It finally dawned on me if I removed the folding table and chairs from my dining area, I have a perfectly acceptable workout space. Even better, it’s warmer than the back room.

So, having run out of excuses, I’ve had no other option than to exercise.

It’s appalling how quickly one loses flexibility when one has not been exercising or even stretching. (“One” meaning me, of course.) Yikes. I can still get down on the floor, so it won’t be long before I get some flexibility back. Meantime, I’ve been having fun practicing belly dance steps.

From the first time I took a belly dance class, I thought it would be a perfect way for me to get in shape because it seems more intuitive — more natural — than other dances. (Ballet, for example, is known for going against nature, and it certainly went against my nature, though I did work to the best of my ability.) Although I loved the belly dance class, I became disenchanted because so much of the class time was taken up with performance talk and costume planning. What was left of the hour went to learning and practicing a routine, so there was not much time dedicated to basics.

Since I can now schedule my own “class,” I am focusing on basics. I’m curious to see if a concerted effort at this sort of exercise will have the benefits I hope for, but if not, well . . . dancing. Dancing in itself is a benefit. Every step I take, every move I make is a blessing, and I am grateful to still be ambulatory, still breathing on my own, still fairly active. (I was going to say “spry,” but I’m not old enough yet to be spry.)

I do miss the energy of choreographed dancing with a group — it always seemed I could do more than when I was by myself, but I don’t miss performing.

I did my first belly dance performance with the group only a few months after I starting taking classes, and though I was no slimmer then than I am now, I was okay with it — I had a fabulous costume, a flattering wig, and a great attitude: “This is who I am. Deal with it.” As time went on, I lost that attitude, and so performing became more of a chore and less of a joy, though I did retain the love of dancing for dancing’s sake.

Of all dance forms, belly dance seems to lend itself to solo dancing, to pulling energy from the soul rather than the spirit of a group, to being one with one’s body. It helps that I’m not dancing in front of a mirror — I can feel young and beautiful and graceful without the unpalatable truth glaring at me.

Once the garage is built and my back room available to me once more, I will be able to do some barre work, maybe some tap or jazz, and perhaps even Hawaiian. Until then, there’s me, a veil, an open floor, and belly dance.

***

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 Trip of a Lifetime

The trip referred to in the title is not a day trip or road trip or any kind of fun trip. It is a trip, as in . . . splat.

It was a gorgeous day with mostly clear skies, a warm sun, and a caressing breeze. I went for a walk because it seemed the perfect way to participate in such bounty at the very beginning of winter. As I passed the carport on the way out of my yard, I noticed the strap that was still attached to one of the support poles. The strap had been used to secure my just-delivered gates and even though the gates have now been installed for a few weeks, the strap is still there. Why? I don’t know. Haven’t a clue why the workers left it there.

There are a lot of tools and supplies spread out over my yard waiting for the contractor and his employees to return to work. Even more than the rolls of fencing or the bucket of ties, that strap suddenly struck me as hazardous, and I thought I really should do something about it. But I didn’t want to interrupt my walk, so I continued on.

Since I was out, I stopped by the grocery store, and headed home with several pounds of apples, a pound of nuts, a pound of butter, and maybe a pound or two of something else. A lot of pounds, in other words. I wasn’t carrying the groceries in my hand but on my shoulders via a BackTPack, which is supposed to be better for the back than even a properly fitting backpack.

A couple of blocks from the house, I felt a desperate need to relieve my bladder, so I quickened my steps. “Just a few more minutes,” I told myself as I opened the gate into the yard. I hurried, bypassing the zigzagging sidewalk and cutting through the carport and —

Yep. You guessed it.

It was the hardest I had ever fallen, partly from the velocity — I was really hurrying when my foot got caught in the strap — and partly from the weight of the groceries I was carrying. Even when I’d destroyed my arm, I hadn’t fallen as hard. Back then, I landed on my wrist, and bounced onto my arm, pulverizing the wrist, destroying the elbow, and splintering my radius. I had no other injury, not even a bruise, since that arm bore all my weight.

This time, I landed flat, a full-frontal drop onto the bare ground. Luckily, I caught myself before my face hit the concrete sidewalk that I should have been walking on. I lay for a few seconds, shocked and scared and hurting and angry at myself and ruefully aware of the irony of the situation (not just the strap that I hadn’t moved when I should have, but also having mentioned just the other day that the last instructions my orthopedic surgeon gave me before releasing me from his care were that I wasn’t allowed to fall). When I took stock, I realized nothing was broken, nothing was sprained, so I clambered to my feet and hobbled into the house. I divested myself of my groceries and coat, emptied my still-full bladder, got cleaned up, slathered my knees with arnica gel, and dug out my ice pack. (Not peas, but a medley of stir-fry vegetables.)

My left knee hurt the most, so it got the attention. Later, though, other pains started making themselves felt. Since I was so stiff and sore and afraid of my joints stiffening up even further in the night, I took a couple of ibuprofen at bedtime. (Oddly, I never even thought of taking pain pills until a friend mentioned she needed to take some to relieve the pain from her fall, which had happened shortly before mine). I managed to sleep, at least as well as I ever do.

Today, I can feel the rest of my body, not just the knees. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Some of the pains I understand, like that knee (which must have been the first thing to hit), and the side of my foot, which might have been wrenched by the strap. Some pains I don’t understand, such as my very sore triceps. Nor do I understand why my deformed wrist and forearm don’t hurt. Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad they don’t — but I distinctly remember landing on that hand, too, and there is a small bruise on my wrist to prove it.

Needless to say, I am taking it easy.

I’m hoping this really is the trip of a lifetime, and that I never fall that hard again. But dare I confess? I have yet to go out and find a way to remove that strap.

***

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.

Oh, the Responsibility!

About two months ago, a friend gave me a small succulent (3” including the pot). Even though I liked both the plant and the pot it was in, I hesitated about accepting it because . . . well . . . responsibility. I’ve had enough responsibility in my life and now I don’t want to be in charge of another living thing. In the end, though, I accepted the gift — I figured that come spring, I could plant the succulent in my yard.

But no. A little research showed that this particular gem would not be able to survive the winters here.

So, now I have the responsibility for watering the plant and making sure it gets enough sun. Oh, my! Such an onerous task! I’ve already had to water once. And I will have to water again in a couple of weeks.

Despite my tongue-in-cheek tone, I do worry about the poor thing. My record for keeping plants alive is . . . hmm. Let me think. Oh, yes — zilch.

I’m not much of a gardener, never have been. My second to last attempt to plant anything was eight years ago when someone gifted me with a Bonsai kit (planter, soil, seeds), and that result was typical — seedlings that poked their head above the soil, looked around, saw who they would be dependent on for their very lives, and promptly gave up their ghosts. I planted lights in the planter after that, and we’re all happy. Nothing to kill, just a bit of beauty when the nights grow long.

The results of my last attempt, planting bulbs in my new yard, are still to be determined. Meantime, my little succulent seems to be doing well.

But oh! The responsibility!

***

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.

Actually

After I made a comment to a friend the other day, she said, as if to herself, “Actually.” Then she smiled, not derisively, but in delight.

“Did I say “actually” too many times?” I asked. “I actually do have a tendency to overuse the word.”

She responded, “No, I like it. It’s not a word you hear that often.”

Well, if you hang around me, you will actually hear “actually” a lot. Since I actually do overuse the word, I actually have to go through my manuscripts try to edit “actually” out of my work. (See List From Hell to see what other words I tend to overuse.)

I’d actually never realized I had an actual problem until I once played back a blog radio show where I’d been interviewed. And there it was . . . actually. Actually, there were a lot of “actually”s. I don’t remember how many times I said “actually” in that half-hour segment, but enough that by the time the program ended, I was actually appalled.

The next time I was on blog radio being interviewed, I was very careful with my “actually”s. For a while, I actually tried to censor my everyday speech, but somewhere along the way I actually forgot, so now I’ve reverted to overusing the word “actually. Actually, now that I think of it, I even forgot to de-actually my last couple of finished manuscripts.

I actually don’t know why I use the word so much. It could be from my need to always set the record straight, but I don’t know for sure, actually.

***

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.

And the Streak Continues!

Can you believe it? It’s been fifty days since I started blogging every day again. Wow, that went fast! For me, anyway. For you, it might have been a long slog since my post topics have been all over the place, with only a thin theme to bind them together: what goes on in my life and in my head.

I blogged every day for many years, and then things happened to get me off the track. Buying a house. Moving. Starting a new life. Even before the house, though, I’d stopped blogging about whatever came to mind. When I was trying to find an agent for Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One, I needed to present myself as someone who knew what she was talking about, and a post about apples, for example, just wouldn’t cut it. So I tried to focus on grief topics.

The problem was that I had nothing left to say about grief. I’d spent months working on Grief: The Inside Story, and I included everything I had learned about grief in the book, especially the things that the professional grief community got wrong.

When I started writing the book, I’d been more or less pain free for a year or two (there are always upsurges of grief that one cannot plan for), so I had to dig deep to reconnect with my grief, and in doing so, I’d wrung myself dry.

Consequently, there were no non-grief posts, but no grief posts, either.

As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered whatever I wrote for this blog. Literary agents are only interested in people who have tens of thousands of followers, and I’m nowhere close to that number. The irony of it all is that if I had such a following, I sure as heck wouldn’t have needed the agents!

By that time, though, I’d lost the habit of daily blogging, so I finally challenged myself to blog daily for 100 days in an effort to kickstart my writing.

Now here I am, halfway through that self-imposed 100-day blog challenge, and enjoying it immensely. I’d forgotten how good it feels to find something to write about each day, something that happened, maybe, and try to show why it was important.

The challenge ends on January 2, 2020, which means there are forty-eight days left until the end of the year.

What are you going to do with those days?

I know what I’m going to do: blog!

***

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.

Social Calendar

It seems odd to have a social calendar. For many years, the only social activities I participated in were my dance classes, and from week to week, those classes were generally at the same time and on the same days. If I went to lunch with anyone, it was usually after class. Any other activity was easy to remember because it was such a rarity.

But now? After only seven months, I’m so entrenched in the community that without my calendar, I’d be lost. There’s always something coming up, such as a movie (Downton Abbey) and lunch with friends this Saturday, a meeting at the museum tomorrow to set out clues for the Murder at the Museum Night that will take place next week, porcelain painting classes, and a special note to remind me about Blogging for Peace next month.

It bewilders me, all of this. But then, much of my life bewilders me.

Was I really that woman? That woman who watched a man slowly die, who wanted the suffering to end, yet whose love was so ineffectual she couldn’t make him well or take away a single moment of his pain? That woman so connected to another human being she felt broken — and lost — years after his death? That woman who screamed the pain of her loss to the winds?

And am I really this woman? A homeowner? A part of a community? A person with a social calendar?

Apparently so, because there I was and now here I am.

It’s possible life will always bewilder me. I might never know the truth of any of it — life, death, purpose . . . me.

But that’s the beauty of a having social calendar. At least on those particular days, there are no questions or bewilderment. I know what I am supposed to do, where I am supposed to be. I even know who I am supposed to be — a pleasant companion, a kind friend, a generous volunteer.

The rest of the time? Well, if it’s not on the calendar, perhaps it’s not important.

***

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.

Expunging Flaws

There are many words and phrases I would like expunged from the English/American language, such as “veggies” (I don’t see what’s wrong with “vegetables”), intestinal fortitude (a meaningless phrase since all that is necessary is “fortitude”), executive decision (a phrase that is often misused in place “decision” when someone is talking about a simple personal decision rather than a decision made for a group or a decision with executive power).

My latest problem word is “flaws.” To be honest, there is nothing wrong with the word, just with the concept, especially when it comes to people. This is a word loved by writers who insist it’s necessary to write “flawed” characters for them to be believable, but I have always and will always disagree with this premise.

Tell me honestly, except for a few physical attributes that you might not like about yourself, do you think you have flaws? No, of course you don’t. You think you have problems. You laugh about your quirks. You are beset with internal conflicts. You might even have a list of traits that you try to work on, such as trying to be kinder or more disciplined, but you don’t have flaws. You are who you are. All the parts, good and bad (and who is to say which are which) make up your character.

And if you do think you have flaws, why do you think so? Aren’t you perfect in what you are — you? Who else can be you? Who else can you be?

To have flaws means to have imperfections that mars a person or thing. Why would any part of you be an imperfection? Why would you allow anyone, even yourself to think you are intrinsically imperfect?

You might have things you dislike about yourself. Other people might see things they dislike about you. But why are these flaws? These traits are the very fabric of your being.

Who gets to define perfect? Imperfection? Flaw? And why would we give anyone the power to define such terms?

We are who we are.

Often, we try to “improve” ourselves with diet, exercise, different thoughts, different activities, but these are all just gild on our already perfect selves.

I might not have paid attention to the latest batch of “flaw” words, might have continued to keep my irk to myself, but I recently read an article that attempted to list all the flaws in a certain person in the public eye, and oddly, the article had a completely different impact on me than it should have. All those “flaws” combined to make an incredibly unique human, someone perfect in and of themselves. Hated, of course. Loved, to be sure. Scorned. Admired. Vastly rich according to some people. Bankrupt according to others.

But, oh such a perfect individual.

As are we all.

When we look at a scene, at a flower, a field, we don’t see “flaws,” we don’t even notice imperfections because any supposed imperfection is lost in the whole. And, as with humans, who is to say what those imperfections might be? A flower is perfect in its perfection. A bucolic scene is perfect in and of itself.

Are we less than the fields? The flowers?

Nope.

To think of ourselves as flawed seems to put us above whoever or whatever happened to create us. It’s as phony an idea as the Persian rug makers who purposely put a flaw into each of their rugs supposedly because of their belief that only God can make something perfect. That speaks to me of arrogance, to believe you are so absolutely perfect you have to create a flaw to make yourself less than perfect.

Billions of years ago, the universe was born. Through untold eons it learned how to fashion various life forms, and finally, it formed a semblance of a human being. A million years later, our present species came into being, and many thousands of years after that, I was born. You were born. Each of us is the culmination of an untold number of twists and turns in creation. How can the end result not be perfect?

So, change the thing you don’t like about yourself, but don’t believe that thing is a flaw. It is not.

***

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.

House Proud

People keep asking me when I’m going to write another book, and I finally have an answer for them: when I stop being so house proud.

I recently read an article telling authors not to get distracted by housework, which never used to be a problem for me. I didn’t mind clutter. mostly because I was too involved in other things to pay attention to it. I didn’t mind a little dust or even a lot of dust — I figured it was better sitting on the top of tables and such rather than floating in the air.

But now, I like seeing my place clean. I like the clutter-free rooms and the dustless furniture and floors. It tickles me to get up in the morning and see my charming living room.

It even pleases me to mop the floors and dust the furniture. I especially like being able to dust the ceiling fans. (The last place I lived the ceiling fans were so caked with greasy dust that I was never able to get them clean.)

Surprisingly (surprisingly to me, that is), all this housework doesn’t feel like work. It feels like playing house.

Maybe if I’d owned a house when I was younger it wouldn’t be such a joy taking care of this place. I certainly wouldn’t have had the same feeling of connection, and I know I would have worried all the time about things falling apart. (Entropy seems to loom large in my life.) For now, though, it’s been fun doing small repairs around the house, most recently rescreening the windows. (I have vinyl windows, and it’s easy, though time consuming, to replace the old screen fabric with new.)

It’s not just physical time I spent on the house but mental time, time I would normally have used for writing (or more probably, thinking about writing). I think about where I want the fence to go, where to plant the multitude of bulbs I ordered, when to order the small trees I want and where to put them. I think about a container garden I would like to put in a small triangular space between the house and the back-door railing.

Ah, so many things to think about!

Someday, perhaps, I won’t be so enamored of all this house care, and will free up my mind for writing.

Meantime, I’m proud to be house proud.

***

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.

Recognizing Ourselves

I just finished reading a book where a woman woke up with total amnesia. When she looked in the mirror, she freaked out because the face peering back at her wasn’t hers. The face had chubby cheeks, extra chins, and an unfamiliar nose rather than the gaunt, model thin face she was used to.

The woman unknowingly had been a twin, and she and her twin had been in the vicinity of a car bombing. The model-thin twin died. The one who weighed a bit more (just a few pounds — she was far from obese) survived but with total amnesia. (Though she did remember how to talk, and apparently, she remembered how she thought she looked.)

Supposedly, the two women had somehow become mingled in the same body, the reason for the unfamiliar face in the mirror, but to me, that was a cop out. The real story would have been how we see ourselves deep down, beneath thought and memory.

My sister once told me that when she was thirty-five, our mom mentioned that she felt she was thirty-five, thought of herself as thirty-five. My sister thought that was cool, that she and Mother were basically the same age.

In my case, I don’t see myself as young as my mother and sister, though I do tend to think of myself as younger, thinner, more agile than I really am. I certainly don’t see myself as truly young. In fact, I no longer remember who that little girl was, perhaps because I never really did see myself as a child. I always felt old when I was young.

So, if I ended up with no memory of myself, would I freak out when I saw the truth of myself in the mirror? Would I freak out when I felt the truth? (The aches and pains in the morning would certainly discomfit someone who thought they were much younger.)

Once, in my early middle years, I was walking past a store window and caught a glimpse of my mother. I looked around, confused. What was Mother doing in that town so far from where she lived? Not seeing my mother, I looked once more at the reflection in the window, and realized I was seeing myself.

Now that freaked me out! I had no idea I looked so much like my mother at that time. I no longer look like her. In fact, I look more like her mother. Or rather, the photo on my driver’s license looks like a photo I once saw of my grandmother — a faded but staunch and stoic country woman from the old country.

So, if I were to lose all memory of myself, who would I see when I looked in the mirror? Would I see “me”? (Whoever that might be.) Would I look too old? Too heavy? Too sad or morose? Or would I see a pleasant woman with bright eyes and a nice smile? (Assuming, of course, I would be able to smile under such circumstances.) Would I care?

We tend to grow into our bodies, to identify with our bodies, but we are not our bodies. Perhaps, without memory, we wouldn’t even remember ourselves as having a body, so any reflection of ourselves would seem unfitting.

What about you? If you didn’t know who you were, would you recognize yourself in the mirror?

***

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.

One Month Anniversary!

This is the one month anniversary of my new love — my house! This love comes as a surprise to me because I’ve never been particularly interested in things, and a house is definitely a thing. A big thing!

At a time (and age) when people are downsizing, here I am — upsizing. Not only have I accumulated a house, I’ve accumulated furniture, stocks of cleaning supplies, extra dishes. And flowers!

This daffodil isn’t mine exactly. Although it’s on my property, I didn’t plant it or do anything to help it grow, so it belongs to the sun and the earth and to itself more than to me. But still, it’s mine to enjoy.

Work on the porch has come to a standstill. The gas pipe going into the house needs to be moved otherwise it will become embedded in concrete. Meantime, the contractor will be here sometime this afternoon to see if they can straighten the garage. One corner lists to the right, so the door doesn’t work, and there is a huge crack in the floor they will try to repair. All that damage was done because of overwatering the flowers that are planted along the edge of the garage, so I’ll have to eventually relocate the flowers if I want to water them. Poor daffodil. I hope it survives the move; who knows, maybe it will thrive as much as I am with my own move!

I went to a dinner play last night put on by the youth group of a nearby church, and it was very good, both the actors and the food. A new friend invited me, and I saw a couple of people I’d already met, so that was nice.

I moved here for the house — it was by far the best house I saw in my extremely low price range, and it seemed to call to me — but the town is turning out to be a great place for me, too. People are friendly and welcoming, the streets uncrowded, and everything I need (especially the library!) is within walking distance. I still go to a bigger town once a week to shop — it’s an excuse to drive more than anything else because otherwise my poor car would sit there unused.

It’s amazing to think I’ve been here a month already. It’s even more amazing to think of all I’ve done in that month.

***

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.