Just For Fun

Today’s blog prompt: List five things you do for fun.

Knowing me as well as you do, I’m sure you’ve figured out what the first thing I did was. Yep, I Googled, “What is fun?”

I had to research the word because the truth is, I don’t really know what “fun” is. To me it’s about doing something with pleasure or joy or playfulness or laughter or silliness, and very little of what I do includes those feelings. That kind of fun connotes fellowship of some sort, going outside of oneself. I mean, it’s hard to be silly and laugh when one is alone, especially someone like me who spends so much time inside herself. Admittedly, I do a lot of things to “spend” time, such as reading or blogging or playing a game on the computer, but there’s no real element of what I’d consider “fun” to any of those things. I just do them. Especially reading. Reading is as necessary to me as breathing, and I don’t consider breathing to be “fun.” It’s just something I do, something I need to do.

I enjoy the company of others (though preferably just one or two at a time). We talk and we often laugh, but despite the lightheartedness of many of our conversations, I don’t consider them “fun.” Being with people is about connecting, about creating a space for friendship, about feeding the soul, an experience that goes so much deeper than the easy entertainment and party atmosphere that “fun” connotes. If reading is akin to breathing, then friendship is akin to food, and while food can be considered “fun” at times, it’s too necessary to ever fall strictly into the category of “fun.”

Things like hiking and traveling weren’t strictly for fun, either. There was a deeper intent there — sort of a vision quest, or maybe even just a quest (though I was never sure for what I was “questing”).

Writing certainly isn’t fun for me — despite a playfulness that sometimes shows up in my books, writing is way too hard for me to classify it as fun. (And it goes back to the idea mentioned above of spending time within myself.) Gardening is the same — too hard to be fun, as well as serving to pull me deeper into myself.

As it turns out, my idea of fun (the word “fun,” that is) is pretty close to the mark. Various online definitions of fun include: “pleasure without purpose;” “lively, joyous play or playfulness;” “light-hearted pleasure, enjoyment, or amusement;” “boisterous joviality or merrymaking;” “hedonic engagement and a sense of liberation;” “diversion, amusement, mirthful sport;” “a cheat, trick, or hoax;” “foolishness, silliness.” Also “any activity on the positive side of valence” (whatever that means).

So what do I do for fun? I’ll have to get back to you on that — when and if I ever manage to think of something to do just for the fun of it.

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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.

What Is Your Spirit Animal?

Do you have a spirit animal? That’s the blog prompt for today: “What is your spirit animal?” I have no idea how to figure out what mine is. Aboriginal Americans found their spirit animal through a vision quest, some spiritualists find theirs through a dream, other people are lucky enough to have their spirit animal find them.

Me? As far as I know, I don’t have such a guide, and if I do, it hasn’t made itself known to me. At one time I wanted to do a long-trail hike, thinking it would also work as a vision quest, but that didn’t work out. I did try to do some of those quizzes that supposedly introduce you to your spirit animal, but the very first question on a few of them stymied me: “What is your favorite element — water, earth, air, fire, wood, space?” How the heck does one answer that? I mean, you need those to live. Without wood (trees) there would be no breathable air. Without space, there would be no Earth. Without water, earth, air, fire (energy) there would be no life.

I did manage to find one quiz that asked different questions, but most of the questions did not pertain to me, such as what sort of television programs I watch — news, reality TV, documentaries, and a few others. Since I don’t watch television, it was a bogus question, as were several others. Still I did stumble through the quiz, and according to them, my spirit animal is a raccoon. Supposedly, the racoon embodies creativity, discretion, and keeping your ideas close to your chest until you’re ready to unveil them. Sounds feeble enough to apply to almost anyone.

I also found a site that linked spirit animals to one’s birthday, so depending on what culture I espouse — Western, Chinese, Native American, Celtic — my various spirit animals are fish, rabbit, wolf, snake. Not exactly a unanimous consensus, or even a general consensus!

The only dreams I ever had that could possibly be considered a vision quest or a way for my spirit animal to make itself known were both white dreams. In the first, I was walking in the white sands of the desert, with a white sky above me and a white path stretching before me. As I walked, three white horses sped across my path, then four white bunnies in a bunch, then two small white squarish creatures I could not identify, and finally, one immense white owl. For sure a mystical dream! All of those creatures are powerful totem animals, except perhaps for the small squarish animals. Another time I dreamt of a white tiger, a spirit animal that is drawn to a soul with inner strength.

So there you have it — all I know about me and my spirit animals. Since there is such a plethora of them, it could mean I need a whole lot of help. It could also mean that at different times, I was influenced by different manifestations of spirit. Or it could mean nothing at all, which, to be honest, is what I tend to believe.

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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.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

As a person gets older, the first times dissipate. At the beginning, of course, everything is a first — first step, first word, first tooth, first birthday, first day of school, first night away from home, first date, first kiss, first job, first apartment. When the obvious firsts are gone, there are others to look for, such as first overnight hike, first cross-country trip, first mortgage. And then there are the other firsts that no one should ever have to deal with yet all of us do, such as the death of a loved one.

After the firsts come the seconds and thirds and the ho-hum of having done everything so many times before, that it seems as if there are no firsts left. And yet there are more firsts — at least I hope there are.

What made me think about all this is that just yesterday was the last time I did something for the first time — I celebrated the Chinese New Year.

This Asian holiday is something I’ve never before celebrated, never even considered celebrating. After all, I’m not Chinese or from Chinese ancestry, so it didn’t seem right to be glomming on to another culture’s traditions, but yesterday I was invited to join the celebration by my friend who does have a Chinese heritage. We didn’t do much, just dressed in red and went to a Chinese restaurant, but that seems to be the main way of celebrating — family, friends, and food.

To make sure I didn’t commit any major faux pas, I looked up Chinese New Year and found that the Chinese don’t call this holiday “Chinese New Year,” which makes sense. That’s like us calling our January 1st celebration “American New Year.” They simply call it New Year or Spring Festival. The problem with calling this Lunar New Year a Chinese New Year is that many other Asian countries also celebrate a lunar new year. Luckily, since my friend is of Chinese heritage, my calling it the Chinese New Year (as she did) didn’t offend her.

Anyway, it was nice starting this particular new year by doing something new, and it was it was especially nice celebrating the newness with good friends and good food.

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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.

Do-It-Yourself State

I read the other day that you don’t need a blood test to get married in Colorado. Wondering if that was true, I checked various sources online, and yes. That’s true. What truly surprised me, though, is that in Colorado, self-solemnizing marriages are legal. This means that in Colorado you don’t need to have a judge or a minister or even a friend officiating at your wedding. You don’t need witnesses or vows or a wedding gown or guests or any of the other trappings of so many weddings. In fact, when you apply for your marriage license from the Clerk and Recorder, you can both sign it right there, give it back to the county clerk, and it’s done. A mere twenty minutes after you enter the building, you’re married.

You can, of course, get your marriage license, go to the mountains or your back yard or some other special place, dress up, exchange vows, sign the license, then return it to the court within thirty-five days, and you’re married. (You don’t even have to be a citizen of Colorado, which makes this an even easier place for a quick wedding than Nevada because in Nevada, there must be an officiant and witnesses.)

If you don’t want even that minimum hassle of getting married, you don’t have to do anything — since Colorado one of the few common-law states, all you have to do is say you’re married, act married, let people think you’re married, and you’re married. Without the license, though, there could be problems. If one of you dies and there is no will, the property rights of the remaining spouse could be contested, though property rights in Colorado are the same whether a traditional marriage, a self-solemnized marriage, or a common law marriage. Strangely, if you’re common law and want to break up or marry someone else, you need to go through the courts to get a divorce, though if it’s an amical dissolution, you can do the paperwork yourself.

Another interesting situation in Colorado is that it is legal to bury someone on your property, though the burial must be recorded with the county clerk within thirty days. You can scatter cremains on your property without having it recorded — you just do it. If you want the ashes all in one place, such as beneath a tree, you need to neutralize the cremains because they contain an exorbitant amount of salt which is toxic. There are various mixtures you can buy that will turn the cremains into soil, or you can make sure you scatter them widely to mitigate any danger.

Colorado is also the only state that doesn’t license funeral homes and crematories. Colorado law even allows families to forgo a funeral director and conduct their own home funeral and burial service, though it has to be within 24 hours of death, otherwise the Colorado requires the body to be embalmed. It’s also the only state with a legal, open-air funeral pyre.

Apparently, this is a do-it-yourself state, from home births to self-affirming marriages to personal burial practices. Who knew? Certainly not I. At least not until now.

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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.

Happy Saturday the 14th!

cat

Whew! We made it through another Friday the thirteenth! I hope you managed to hide from bad luck and dire deeds. I sure did.

To tell the truth, I have no particular opinion or fear about thirteen or Friday or Friday the thirteenth, though I do find a lot of irony associated with the avoidance of thirteen. For example, buildings with more than 13 floors don’t call the 13th floor the 13th floor, but instead skip the number and go directly to the 14th floor or call it 12A. It’s still the 13th floor, right? So do people simply fear the number rather than the actual floor? And if they fear the number, do they refuse to buy baker’s dozens of donuts or cookies? (Though perhaps that is dating me — I don’t think I’ve come across a baker’s dozen of anything in a long time.) And if it’s the number thirteen they fear, why is only Friday the thirteeth a fearful day? I realize it’s the conjunction of fateful Friday and the ominous number that causes friggatriskaidekaphobia, but still, for those with the simpler case of triskaidekaphobia, wouldn’t any thirteenth day of the month be cause for concern?

(Interesting side note — in many Spanish speaking countries, Tuesday the thirteenth is the unlucky day, so for them, the movie Friday the Thirteenth was renamed Tuesday the Thirteenth.)

If Friday the thirteenth were really an unlucky day as more than 20 million Americans believe, to be on the safe side, shouldn’t the calendar makers follow the example of builders and change all 13s that fall on a Friday to 14 or maybe even 12A? And speaking of calendars, our current calendar was not universally adopted in Europe until the eighteenth century. So is our current Friday the thirteenth the real Friday the thirteenth? Wouldn’t the day fall on other dates using other calendars?

Whether or not you believe that Friday the thirteenth is bad luck (and if you do, please forgive my levity), I hope you had a fearlessly wonderful day.

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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.

Wolf Moon

The full moon we experienced on Friday is called the Wolf Moon because traditionally wolves howl at the moon at this time of year. As romantic as that sounds, the supposed reason for the howling is rather sad — they howl at the moon because they are hungry. Actually, they howl at other full moons, too, though perhaps they are not actually howling at any moon. They are crepuscular creatures, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, and the Wolf Moon in January (at least it did this January) rises in the dusk. The howl is a social cry to rally other wolves to hunt; it’s also a territorial call. Because raising their heads makes the sound travel further, it makes it seem as if they are howling at the moon.

Whatever the truth of wolves and the moon, this full moon was supposed to be a powerful one. According to astrologists and spiritualists, the wolf moon is an emotionally charged one, signaling a time of change and introspection, a time to face our fears and trust our instincts, a time to use our inner strength and wisdom. It’s also a time to connect with the earth.

Whether the Wolf Moon means anything beyond its astronomic meaning — that it’s a micromoon, appearing smaller than a normal full moon because it takes place at the moon’s furthest point from the earth (252,146 miles away) — I decided to take action as a sign of female empowerment. So, as I walked home under the bright light of the moon, I howled.

Why howling at the full moon is supposed to be an empowering thing for women to do, I have no idea. I certainly didn’t feel any different yesterday or today. What was different is that as I walked home Friday evening, I was accompanied all the way by the howling of dogs. Apparently, I did make some sort of connection, with those dogs if not the earth.

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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.

Through an Author’s Eye

In yesterday’s post, “Body Image vs. Self-Image,” I touched on some of the difficulties in describing characters realistically. For example, if you are writing about ordinary characters and mention that they are overweight and out of shape, you’ve already lost your audience. Even in non-romance genres, such as thrillers and suspense, readers want the fairy tale of beautiful heroine/princesses finding their hero/prince.

To that end, writers are limited in how they describe a character. Characteristics that in the real world have no meaning but are merely the luck of the genetic draw, become destiny in fiction. For example, a weak chin denotes a wimpy character, though in actual fact, it means nothing of the sort. Thin lips, while common in the real world and say nothing about the person, seem to denote a strait-laced character who looks at the world with disapproval. A receding hairline, which means nothing in real life except perhaps an excess of testosterone, makes a male character seem less than manly. Likewise, thin hair on women characters makes them seem ungenerous, though luxurious locks certainly don’t indicate generosity.

Eye spacing is also part of the genetic crap shoot, though wide-spaced eyes are used to show innocence and narrow-spaced eyes to show deviousness.

A character past their youth can have laugh lines, which makes them seem pleasant. But crow’s feet or marionette lines seem to indicate not someone who is simply getting older, but someone who is not taking care of themselves as they are getting older.

I’ve learned to stay away from describing characters other than perhaps mentioning eye-color, hair-color, and a ready smile, and leave the judgement to another character. Although a character — like a real person — might not be all that attractive, they can be beautiful when seen through the eyes of love. Evil characters who might be considered attractive under other circumstances could be seen as ugly from the point of view of the character who is caught in their clutches.

It’s not just body parts that hint perhaps erroneously at character that has turned me away from giving more than cursory descriptions of my characters (more than three attributes is unnecessary in any case) it’s that too many authors who write that their character is beautiful then go on to describe facial characteristics that other people obviously find attractive, but that I don’t, such as pillowy lips, high cheekbones, and a narrow nose. In fact, because of this, I never read descriptions of characters any more — or settings, either for that matter.

It’s a good thing that in real life we have photographs that might tell the truth of how we look (I say “might” because as far as I know, no one’s driver’s license photo looks like them). If we had to describe our thin hair, thin lips, lumpy bodies, to people who have not yet seen us, no one would ever want to meet anyone.

Thinking about this and how we become fast friends with people who would never physically meet the standards of a literary protagonist, it makes me wonder if in real life we ever do see the physical person or if the body is sort of a mirage pasted over the truth of the person, as if we are seeing each other through the mind’s eye. If so, how lucky we are to see each other that way rather than through an author’s eye.

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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.

Body Image vs. Self-Image

In a book I recently read, a woman who’d recovered from anorexia but was slipping back due to stress, reminded herself that body image is not the same thing as self-image. That really made me stop and think because too often our self-image is reflected by our body image. For example, even though I am fairly realistic, seeing my body as it actually is, I don’t always like the way I look. I try to minimize my flaws, of course, but with mirrored closet doors in my bedroom, it’s hard not to see the unclothed truth. And, even though I generally accept myself for what and who I am, there are times when I can’t help but be influenced negatively by that mirror image of myself.

As a culture, we seem to think that beautiful, thin, fit folks have more worth than those of us who are rather ordinary and out of shape. Although people don’t treat me badly because of my looks (perhaps because the hat amuses them and my smile delights them), I can’t help but feel as if I’m not worthy of all the good things in life. Well, that’s not exactly true. I am worthy. It’s just . . . well, it’s hard to overcome that conditioning.

To be honest, I don’t want to fall in love again — I really am fine as I am — but it does bother me that deep down I think that I am not romantic material. Perhaps it’s due to my reading. In almost all books, whether thriller, horror, mystery, romance, suspense, the heroine — no matter what her age — is beautiful, tall, intelligent, feisty, fit, and attracts the well-muscled handsome hero.

Even if a writer wanted to have an out-of-shape, unattractive heroine, there’s really no way to present the character in a good light. All the adjectives to describe someone of oh . . . I don’t know, perhaps someone of my body shape, are rather unpleasant. Even “pleasingly plump” despite the “pleasingly” part, is rather negative especially since so many of us not-thin folks are not pleasingly plump — unpleasingly lumpy is more like it.

Stout, chunky, hefty, overweight, heavy, obese, chubby, dumpy, rotund, flabby, paunchy, stolid, pudgy, corpulent — these are not words that bring “heroine” to mind. Nor are they words that lend themselves to a love affair, even though most people do not fit the ideal portrayed in books or movies. One of the most disappointing movies to me was “Shallow Hal.” Jack Black was supposedly hypnotized into seeing the inner beauty of a 300-pound woman. Except he didn’t see the inner beauty — he saw her as a thin person which just exacerbated the whole “the only worthy woman is a thin beautiful woman” mystique. Or worse, that “inside every fat person is a thin person struggling to get out.” The movie would have been so much more satisfying if he actually saw the fatness but could see beyond that to the inner person.

It’s amazing to me that anyone of any body shape manages to develop a good self-image despite the current body image situation. Everything we see and hear corroborates that social norm of beauty as all important, so not-so-beautiful people tend to be at a disadvantage. It’s hard not to live down to that body image. As for those with the socially acceptable image, I imagine it’s hard to live up to it. Truthfully, I don’t have much sympathy for tall, beautiful woman because no matter what their self-image, all sorts of good things accrue to them because of how they look. (Of any two job candidates, the winner is generally the taller and prettier.) But still, I do concede that social conditioning is a hard thing to break out of.

No wonder I was so taken with the comment that body image is not the same thing as self-image. It’s an important point to keep in mind as we — no matter our size or age or level of attractiveness — navigate the pitfalls of life.

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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.

Cheers

I’ve never really celebrated New Year’s because it doesn’t mean that much to me and it’s a relatively arbitrary date. The calendar numbers change, but that’s all. It’s certainly not a universal new beginning. The Chinese New Year this year is on January 22, the Jewish New Year is on September 15, the Tibetan New Year begins on February 21. Various other cultures celebrate their new year on completely different dates.

January 1 is not even the beginning of a new season or of a solar cycle such as a solstice or an equinox. Nor is there any personal demarcation — no black line separates the old from the new. The world is no different today from yesterday, nor are we. We carry the old year with us because we have the same problems, sadnesses, hopes, fears.

Despite all that, last night when the fireworks awakened me at midnight, I felt relieved that the old year was done with and a new year was beginning.

Oddly, 2022 wasn’t that bad. In fact, a lot of it was good, though there were no major milestones to celebrate or times of especial gladness. Still, at midnight, there was that catharsis of letting go of the old.

Perhaps it would have been the same as every other year — just a mild annoyance at being awakened by the fireworks — but yesterday was rather unsettling. I’d accepted an invitation to spend the afternoon with some friends, but somehow the guest list changed to be more of an extended family gathering (their family, not mine), and no one told me. I didn’t feel comfortable — too many people in too confined a space, too many people I had nothing in common with, and too many more chances of catching one of the diseases going around. If I had known about the change ahead of time, I could have graciously made my excuses, but I didn’t find out until I was there. Since it would have been rude for me to turn around and leave, I stayed.

Some of it was nice, some not so nice, and the rest, just . . . ho hum.

In retrospect, it seems a fitting end to yesteryear. Some of the year was nice — I truly did enjoy seeing things grow, but the work did get hard to do, especially with my wonky knees. I also feel bad about my spate of compassion fatigue — it didn’t seem right to just drop people and stop my daily blogging because I couldn’t handle any more grief, mine or anyone else’s, but I didn’t see any other recourse. The rest of the year was unmemorable. To be honest, now that I’m looking back, I don’t know if it was truly unmemorable or if I simply didn’t remember a lot of what happened. (Though perhaps that’s the same thing? Anything memorable that happened would probably have been remembered, right?)

I don’t know what I expect of this year, but I am going into it with the attitude that it is new. A time not to start over so much as to start fresh. Today, when the year has just begun it seems sparkling with promise, as if anything could happen. I’m trying not to let the gray day or my normal realism dim the promise. And who knows — it could be a very good year, not just for me, but for you, too.

Cheers!

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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.

Wishes for You

If you don’t celebrate this day in some way, I still wish all these wonderful things for you.

If you do celebrate Christmas, then choose your preferred greeting: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, Peace and Joy, Warmest Wishes, Happy Solstice, Good Yule, Noel, Good Cheer, Good Tidings, Merry Xmas, Happy Holy Holidays, Warm Greetings, Holly Jolly Holidays, Let it Snow, Ho Ho Ho, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Mele Kalikimaka, Buon Natale, Buone Feste Natalizie, Feliz Natal, Nollaig Shona, Fröhliche Weihnachten, God Jul, Wesołych Świąt, as well as any other greeting you use to acknowledge this special day.

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