Mystery Evening Critique

The Roaring Twenties mystery fundraiser was a success. It had the biggest turnout to a local event that I’d seen, it made money, and people had fun. At least, they had fun to the extent that the evening met their expectations. The people with no expectations and those who were willing to get into the spirit of the game had the most fun. Those who expected to sit and watch a play were not quite as satisfied.

People’s comments to me revealed their expectations, and said more about them than it did about my writing. Some people said I did great, and I could see they meant it. Some people avoided me. Others damned me with faint praise: “It was good for a first attempt.” Or “You’ll do better next year.” Others said it was fun, but that they couldn’t hear most of the play.

A friend warned me about this — how nerve wracking it was for scriptwriters who had to sit back and see their dialogue not working the way it was supposed to. I’d glibly responded to him, “If it doesn’t work, I’ll get to blame the role-players for not doing their job of engaging the audience.”

And so it was.

Few people, even those to whom I had explained the concept, got the point — that it was a game, a role-playing game, with some scripted parts to keep things going. Everyone who came was supposed to play a role, and to that end, each had been given a cheat sheet with a bit about their character. For example: You bet on Sugar Beet since it was supposed to be a sure thing, and now you think Mr. Big sold you out. Or You strongly approve of the suffragette movement, and you think flirts like Poppy give women a bad name.

The people who played the various scripted characters were supposed to sit among those without lines and get them involved. Only a couple of women did this, and did it admirably, but I could see the strain it was for them since so few responded to their attempts. Some of the younger people who volunteered to play a part were great, but others huddled in a corner with their friends instead of getting the non-scripted folks to participate, and they kept sitting when they too-quietly spoke their lines rather than standing up when they were supposed to speak.

After the murder, non-scripted people were supposed to have been interrogated, but that part was dropped, maybe because of the problem with getting attendees into the spirit of the game.

I’d thought that during the event the characters would become less my creation and more theirs as they adlibbed, took things further than what I had suggested, and got other non-scripted guests to participate. None of that happened. And since I wasn’t one of those who were supposed to be chivvying others into participating, there was nothing I could do about it. Nor was there anything I could do about lost lines, swallowed punchlines, clues that no one could hear, participants with jitters and nerves, and people who wanted to do things their own way.

That the evening was a success was due to the efforts of those who did get into the spirit of the thing and who so wonderfully (and in the case of the bartender, so chillingly, and in the case of the jockey, so charmingly) delivered their lines.

From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the evening. It was interesting to see how far I had come in the eleven months since I’d moved here — how many people I knew or recognized, how many people knew or recognized me.

From an author standpoint, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable, mostly because of my own expectations. The game never took on a life of its own, as I had hoped. I’d seen it as sort of a flash mob thing, where scripted characters, seemingly from the audience, would jump in with their lines as if on the spur of the moment, which never happened because of the aforesaid huddling. And I woefully overestimated how many attendees would get into the speakeasy attitude and play along. (I should have known what would happen when only a smattering of people with non-scripted lines made any effort to dress the part.)

So what’s the solution? Insist on having greater control of the process? But then, this wasn’t really about me as an author, but about the community. Give explicit instructions to the scripted players, making sure they sit among the “audience,” and write additional lines so they aren’t expected to adlib? When people make a reservation, ask if they are willing to say a few lines, and then give them specific things to say? Wait to see who shows up in costume, and give those people lines? The characters who were the most enthusiastic and who really carried the evening were those who had been coopted almost at the last minute, so is the solution to coopt more people like these, people with big voices and bigger personalities? Or is the answer to give up on the idea of an interactive experience and give people the play they expected?

But then, that raises the question: Is this who we have become? A people who would rather simply sit and watch rather than get involved?

I don’t know the answer, and I don’t need to since my scriptwriting days are done.

Besides, the evening really was a success, and in the end, that’s all that counts.

***

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.

Validating Grief

People often ask me what they can say to comfort someone who is grieving the loss of a spouse, and I have to admit that there is nothing they can say to bring comfort. There are no words, no reminder that the deceased is no longer suffering, no platitudes or original thoughts that can make one whit of difference when a person’s world has just imploded.

Even worse than trying to find the right words is to ask questions. Brain fog — the grief-induced amnesia, dazedness, and inability to think that shroud us after the death of a life mate — seems unreal, but it is a very real condition. This fogginess is common when a person is undergoing severe trauma, and make no mistake, such a profound loss, such an abrupt change in one’s circumstances is traumatic. So questions simply do not compute. “How are you today?” “Is there anything I can help you with?” “What are you going to do?”

Anything, anything at all that demands a response causes the brain to shut down. It is already overloaded with trying to deal with the loss, the unfathomableness of death, the disappearance of habits one shared with the deceased. It’s like having to learn to walk and talk and breathe all over again. What once came naturally, no longer does. Even a question as simple as “how are you” is a problem for the bereaved. And anyway, why are you asking that question? You already know how the person is. They are in pain, feeling lost and bewildered, and have no words to describe what they are feeling.

This leaves the person who wants to do something to show they care at loss, because you do have to say something. Just staring at the bereaved person (as so many do) makes them feel as if they are an exhibit in a freak show.

So, keep your words simple. Say “I’m sorry.” Although most people think “I’m sorry” connotes an apology, the first definition of “sorry” is: “feeling distress, especially through sympathy with someone else’s misfortune.” Which is exactly what we want to say to someone who is hurting.

If you are close, a hug is a good. If you knew the deceased, speak of them, relate a special memory. If you want to do something for the griever, don’t ask, tell. Offer to get groceries. Heed what they say, and if they mention something that overwhelms them (in my case it was cleaning the house) then say you will do it.

Mostly, listen. Listen to what they say and what they refrain from saying. Be there. Validate their pain.

In the end, what most people who have suffered a traumatic loss want from other people is validation. Respect for their grief. An acknowledgement that what they are going through is extraordinarily traumatic and painful.

Too often onlookers try to minimize the pain of grievers, which allows the onlooker to deny the validity not just of the loss but of death itself. “You weren’t married, so you can’t possibly feel bad over the loss of your mate.” “You divorced your first husband in order to remarry, so you got what you deserve.” “She was drinking and driving, so she doesn’t deserve to be mourned.” Or, as one particularly obtuse acquaintance said to me, “How did Jeff allow himself to get so sick?” As if it was his fault that he died, and so was not worthy of being mourned.

Even less boorish people inadvertently try to minimize the pain of grievers. “At least he’s in a better place.” “At least you still have your children.” “At least you have your health.” Of all the minimizing, non-validating phrases you can say, “at least” is the absolute worst, so please, never, ever say “at least” in any reference to their loss. They are living the absolute worst that can happen. There is no more “at least.”

Sometimes people compare their loss to the griever’s. As someone said to me, “I know how you are feeling. My dog just died.” I am not going to get into a discussion here about how some people think grief is grief no matter the loss. Just believe me when I say that by comparing the loss of your pet to the loss of a spouse and all the collateral losses that come with such a death, like the loss of income, the loss of a best friend, the loss of a home, the loss of one’s very identity, will not endear you to the griever.

The only time mentioning your own loss is if it is in the same magnitude. After Jeff died, I found comfort in people telling me that they still have grief upsurges even years after the death of their husband. And though I could not understand their pain, I was grateful for the people who told me about the loss of a child. These stories helped me realize that some people did understand, and that I would survive.

The upshot here is, don’t worry so much about what you can say to comfort your grieving relative or friend. Be aware of what they are feeling, not what you are feeling. Let them know that you know what a catastrophe the loss is for them. Respect their pain and sorrow. As difficult as facing their pain might be for you, realize that it is a thousand times worse for them. You go home to your own life, to your spouse (perhaps). And they go home only to more pain.

***

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.

Shadow World

There is a shadow world that most people don’t know about. It’s a world of pain and confusion, of courage and change.

It’s the world of widow and widowers.

Jeff’s death, of course, thrust me into that world, but more than that, it’s been my writing about grief and loss and hope that have made me a citizen. From the beginning of this “journey,” as people so quaintly call the horror of loss and the resulting grief, I’ve written about my experiences, and others have responded.

I remember them all.

The woman halfway around the world who encouraged me in my grief even as those closer to me urged me to move on.

The woman who told me that even though her first husband died ten years ago and she’s happily remarried, she still has upsurges of grief, such as when their daughter graduated from high school and he wasn’t there to see it. I couldn’t fathom ten years down the road, and yet here I am, a mere seven weeks from my own tenth anniversary.

The woman who asked her widowed mum about grief and what I might be feeling, and passed on her words of wisdom, “Their absence comes to mean the same thing their presence once did.”

The woman whose husband died on the same day Jeff did. The woman whose husband died exactly one month before. The women whose husbands died one month, two months, three months later.

The women who have lost their husbands more recently.

The men who were (are) every bit as heartbroken and confused as the women, though seemed more reticent to tell their stories.

The men who have to hide their grief because society still does not always accept that their way of life could be a way of love.

The man who was instrumental in getting me to write a book from the perspective of years after the loss — Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved Onehoping we could make the world (and the so-called experts who had never experienced such a profound loss) more accepting and understanding of grief, and only managed to make ourselves more accepting and understanding of our own grief.

Everyone has a story, and I remember them all because they are my story. I used to remember the dates, too, but hundreds of death dates are too much to carry. But I remember the grievers. I remember their stories.

People all over the world have read my grief posts or one of my grief books. No matter our language, no matter our heritage, we all shared the same pain. We all are all part of that shadow world of widows and widowers.

To us, of course, it isn’t a shadow world. It is our world. But the world at large doesn’t know it exists. Doesn’t know we exist as other than the pleasant person who stands in front of them in a grocery store line, the kind person who volunteers their time at church, the gracious person who listens without comment while they talk about their problems with their still-living husband.

The shadow world exists. We all have a story, of course, whether we suffered a heinous loss or not, but the statistics show the truth: the absolutely most stressful life event one can experience (the most stressful by a huge margin) is the loss of a child or a spouse. Divorce comes a distant second. What makes these losses so stressful is that we don’t survive them. Not only have we lost the one person who makes our life worth living, but we lose ourselves. Often, we lose our homes — sometimes voluntarily, sometimes involuntarily — and we end up miles from where we once lived our own version of the fairy tale that turned out to be not so happily ever after.

We become the person who can survive such a loss. We create new ways of living. We survive. Most of us even —eventually — thrive. But through it all echoes the pain, the loss, the death that brought us to this new place.

And no one but us knows this. Most people who haven’t glimpsed this shadow world don’t want to know it exists. They want to believe we are exactly as we seem — happy and kind, peaceful and hopeful — without the undercurrents of grief that sometimes rise up and overwhelm us. They want to believe — need to believe — it can’t happen to them, and if it does, it won’t be that terrible after all. And so the most important part of us becomes a shadow, hidden sometimes even from ourselves.

But I see your shadow, all of you I have connected with this past decade. I hear your pain. I remember your story. I remember you.

I remember.

***

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.

Remembering

Our bodies remember trauma even if we don’t consciously remember, and for those of us grieving the loss of an intrinsic person in our lives, body memory accentuates the strong emotional impact of anniversaries.

Body memory is often associated with extreme stress. Body memory is not a flashback, where you are actually experiencing the trauma again. Nor is it simply a vivid memory. In fact, the body memory comes first, and only afterward do we remember why we felt such an upsurge of emotional and physical grief reactions.

People often tell us to try to put our deceased loved ones out of our minds. They have the erroneous idea that if we don’t think of our mates, then we won’t grieve.

At first, it’s impossible not to think of our loved ones all the time. Perhaps we feel as if by holding them in our minds, we can stave off their death, even though it’s already happened. Or maybe we want to continue to feel connected. Or it could be that the enormity of death is so overwhelming, we can’t think of anything else.

But eventually, we do learn not to hold as tightly to these thoughts, and sometimes we even forget to think of our loved ones. But our bodies still keep the faith.

I’ve been feeling downhearted lately, more than simply the dreary skies would account for. There is an echo of tears to the melancholy, which made me stop and wonder why now. The tenth anniversary of Jeff’s death isn’t for another few weeks. But ah, I remembered — this is the month where the end started. He bent down to pick something up, felt a terrible pain, and never had a pain-free moment again.

He resisted going to the doctor for as long as he could because he knew it would be the end of him as he knew himself to be. But finally, in the last week of February when he simply could not stand the excruciating pain any longer, he went to the doctor.

And he was right. He never was the same after that. Luckily, we only had six weeks to deal with the horror. (Even though the doctor had said he had six months.) I say “we” because those weeks were hell for both of us, but for different reasons.

Except for this melancholy (and my missing him, of course), there is no real angst, at least not today. He has, after all, been gone long enough for me to get used to the void he left behind. Instead, it seems as if I am keeping vigil as I did that February so many years ago.

The truth is, though, I wouldn’t mind an upsurge of grief. It’s good at times to feel the loss, to know in my bones we had shared our lives, to know that I once loved and once was loved. To remember that I was so connected to another human being, that when he died, it felt as if part of me was amputated.

I’ve been sitting here for the past few minutes trying to find an end to this article, but there is no end. He might be gone from this earth, but he will always be a part of me, a part of my life, if only in memory.

***

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.

Website Rebuilding

With as amazing as the computers and the internet are, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. I checked my website (patbertram.com) today to make sure it was still online. I am using a retired website builder as well as a defunct template, and occasionally the people who supply my domain will downgrade the site to a different server, which often causes problems.

The site was still up, but I found a black x at the top of my homepage. I have no idea what had been there originally, so I simply removed the x and hoped for the best. Then I checked out my book page and noticed that several of my book covers had also disappeared.

No problem. I just needed to add them back. Well, I added one photo, but when I tried to resize it to fit in the original slot, I kept getting strange messages. First, it said that flash player is outdated; click here to update. When I clicked, I got another message that said flash player was blocked, but to click to allow flash player one time. So I clicked. Then I got other messages saying, at various times: this page is opened in two windows, we couldn’t save your work, couldn’t update, error, try again, call technical support.

I figured there was some sort of glitch, so I closed out the browser and restarted my computer. Same thing.

After a couple of more tries, I finally gave in and called technical support. His suggestion was to clear my cache, which I did, then I tried again to resize the photo. Still all the same problems and messages.

His next suggestion was to try a different browser. So I downloaded Firefox but had to abort the download because I hadn’t unchecked the boxes that allowed a whole bunch of stuff I don’t want to be downloaded at the same time. When I tried to download again, I couldn’t find where the download had been stored. Sheesh.

Finally, got Firefox downloaded, and tried fixing my website again. This time, when I got the message saying that I needed to update flash player, it updated. But then all the same messages started reappearing, and the photo still didn’t resize.

By this time, the poor tech fellow was as frustrated as I was, but he came up with a different suggestion: to resize the photo and then upload the resized photo. I did that, but since I couldn’t remember what size I needed, I made the photo too big. To my delight, this time the resizing mechanism worked.

The only thing either of us could figure out was that the original photos had somehow become corrupted, because replacing the rest of the photos and resizing them went quickly.

Still, what should have been a five-minute fix ended up being a three-hour chore.

Luckily, I don’t often have to deal with my website. The last time I did a major overhaul was when Grief: The Inside Story — A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One was published. The next time I will have to do anything major is when my new book is published, hopefully sometime this year.

I paused here to double check to make sure I put the books covers with the correct blurb, and noticed that Grief: The Inside Story is not on the page with all the rest of my books. There is always something, isn’t there? Well, adding the book will just have to wait for another time.

The website is there mostly for convenience, anyway. This blog functions as a website, and is much more interesting, besides. At least, normally it is.

As if that weren’t enough, I hid the favorites tool bar on my browser so I could get a bigger image of the website to post here, and then couldn’t find the tool bar again to unhide it.

I think I’m done for the day.

***

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.

Moribund

Tuesdays seem to be a busy day for me, and yesterday would have been no exception, but I ignored all that I’d planned to or agreed to do, and just stayed home. Took a snow day.

There hadn’t been much snow to speak of (though I did, in fact, both speak of it and write about it). The snow had mostly melted by midmorning, but I didn’t feel like battling the cold. And oh, was it cold! (In the evening, when I should have left for a meeting, it was 6˚.) I simply wasn’t interested in dealing with the weather. I have plenty of warm coats and hats and scarves and mittens and such, but not even a muffler wound around my lower face can keep off a wind-driven chill.

It was fun staying home and cozying up with a book. Toward evening, though, my sinuses started acting up, and I wondered if my lack of energy and ambition were the result of allergies or . . . eek . . . the beginning of a cold. (Please, not a cold! I don’t want to miss my murder mystery dinner this Sunday.)

Whatever is going on with me, it sure wiped me out. I got up at my regular time this morning (or as regular as it ever gets), turned on the heat, and went back to bed until the house warmed up. By the time I resurfaced, it was almost noon. Noon? Sheesh. That’s hugely late even for me.

Although I feel okay, I’ve been dragging a bit today. Despite my lack of energy, I still dusted and mopped the floor in case my lethargy was a dust-created allergy attack. (Sluggishness has always been a major factor of my allergies, even more so than sinus congestion.) Because I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t simply having an allergy attack or even a bout of laziness, I danced a little, but not too much on the off chance that I really was getting sick.

I relaxed with a cup of tea for a few minutes, then made a clean-out-the-refrigerator salad with all the tag ends of vegetables as well as a few olives that had gotten pushed out of sight in the back of a shelf. It was a great salad. And now . . .

I don’t really have the energy to think of something witty or wise, wonderful or wry to blog about, but since I prefer not to break my 135-day streak of blogging every day, here I am with this oh, so very mundane post.

Did I say mundane? No, the post is moribund. [To save you from having to look it up, moribund means a) at the point of death or b) lacking vitality or vigor.]

And that’s sure me (and my post) today — lacking vitality and vigor.

Moribund.

***

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.

This, That, and the Other

This

Snow this morning! Although a storm had been forecast, I didn’t expect it to materialize since so far this winter, few of the storms we were supposed to get managed to find their way here. It was rather a tepid storm, maybe an inch or so that was easily swept away, but there is a possibility for a bit more snow. For now, though, it’s just spitting a few flakes at me

More snow is supposed to come this way on Friday, and I hope it does. I’ve been concerned about all the bulbs I planted. Not being much of a gardener, I had no idea what to do, considering the dry conditions, a few unseasonable days, and weather spikes. (The high on Sunday was rumored to have been 84, the low tonight will be 4. Yikes!)

I didn’t want to water, thinking that if the bulbs were still alive, the water coupled with the high temperatures might make them think it was time to start growing, and it’s way too early. At this point, I’m just hoping that a flower or two comes up this spring.

That

Yesterday I got “that” bill — the one everyone seems to get upset about. But not me! It was the first property tax bill I’d ever received, and it seemed like some sort of rite of passage. I’ve always paid property taxes in roundabout sort of way since landlords include such expenses in the rent, but yesterday’s bill came directly to me. It was fun to look at that bill, to see where my money goes. Among other things, the bill includes $.02 for abatements, whatever those are, $5.00 for the library (doesn’t seem like enough), and $11.80 for dikes. Yep, I’m all for dikes and dike maintenance — the Arkansas River is close enough to be a problem in flood years.

I’m sure by next year I’ll be complaining like everyone else, but for now, getting that bill made me feel as if I were a homeowner for real.

And the Other

I’d never heard of Shakira until all the talk on Facebook about the half-time entertainment during the Super Bowl. I found the show on YouTube and tried to watch it. I can see why some people thought the show inappropriate, and I can sort of see why others thought it empowering, but either way, it didn’t matter to me. What made me feel out of place was that I couldn’t understand more than a word or two of the songs. So I got bored and turned off my computer.

It did remind me, though, that in my search for belly dance instruction videos, I’d came across one called, “Shakira-style belly dance.” I’d passed on it at the time because I had no idea what that style of dancing was. So today, I found the video and did the routine. Well, sort of. What I managed to do didn’t look at all like what the instructor was doing, so I’m sure it bore even less resemblance to how Shakira had danced in that particular song. (And it bore no resemblance at all to what she’d done in the half-time show.)

But, for what it’s worth, today I learned a Shakira-style 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.

Kicks and Kick-offs

While people were preparing for kick-off yesterday, I was getting a kick of a different kind. The enjoyment kind. The amusement kind. The small town kind.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, the warmest in months, and since it was also shortly before the super bowl kick-off, the local grocery store was packed. If I’d considered super bowl preparations (and why would I since the super bowl is just another day to me), I would, of course, have waited until everyone was ensconced in front of their televisions to venture forth, but then I would have missed out on the kick of a small-town experience.

I happened to see the mayor in the store, and we stopped to chat a moment. (Think about that. How often have you met your mayor at a grocery store, and he — or she — not only recognized you and knew your name, but stopped to chat with you? Ah, small town living!) He introduced me to his wife, and I blurted out, “She’s your wife?” He said, ”You seem surprised.”

And I was. Not that she was his wife, but at the coincidence of having met her for the first time at the library a couple days previously. She’d looked at the titles of the stack of books I was checking out and said, “I’ve read all those.” That seemed astonishing to me, not that she read, but that her reading tastes were as eclectic as mine — everything from cozy mysteries to deadly thrillers, from women’s fiction to hard-hitting novels.

Then she added, “Except the Michael Crichton one.” It wasn’t really a Michael Crichton book that I was getting, just a sequel to The Andromeda Strain someone else had written. She mentioned that she didn’t read books like that, and I had to admit I didn’t like them either, but I needed another book to balance out my bookbag. (I use a BackTPack, which has side packs instead of a single back pack, which is supposed to be a better arrangement, orthopedically speaking. Being a well-known library book consumer, I am allowed to take more than the allotted five, which is great, because it’s hard to balance five of something.)

Then the woman (the mayor’s wife, if you’ve lost my train of thought) showed me the book she had just returned and said I would like it, so I went ahead and checked it out, too. But now my packs were unbalanced, so I had to repack to put two slim volumes on one side to balance the Crichton book on the other.

To be honest, I would have done better to leave the pseudo-Michael Crichton book at home. It was truly awful. If you subtract out the ridiculous Andromeda strain story, what you have left with is a mysterious man (though to whom he’d be mysterious, I don’t know; his identity was obvious almost from the first page) who meets a dedicated woman. Together they vanquish the villain and *Spoiler Alert* end up as parents to a foundling. Yep. Awful. Trite. Bad writing. Unnecessary embellishment. Meaningless action. Simplistic storyline.

Before I completely derail my original train of thought about the kick I get out of small town living, I better go back and finish the grocery story.

Anyway, there I was in the grocery store, talking to the mayor and his wife, and he mentioned he hadn’t known I was an author until he’d seen a post of mine on Facebook. (He also said he’d asked his wife, a great reader, if she’d ever heard of me, which she hadn’t — no big surprise there — but when he showed her my FB photo, she recognized me as the woman she’d met at the library.)

Since the topic of writing had came up, I told them about the mystery I wrote for the dinner this Sunday and urged them to come. It would be nice if they could put in an appearance (the more the better — for fund raising efforts, if nothing else), but if they are unable to attend, it does not in any way diminish the potent kick of this small-town experience.

What makes it all the more interesting, this small-town experience, is that I’ve lived in small towns most of my adult life, though apparently they were either too big for the experience to manifest itself (10,000) or too small (800). Apparently, this town is just the right size for me.

And that, too, is a kick.

***

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.

Playing at Being an Author

Yesterday was a true delight. I went to the museum where the upcoming murder mystery dinner will take place and met with Art Guild members as well as those who had volunteered to act in my skit. It was a thrill to meet the various characters, especially when I realized how perfect the casting was — as if I had written the parts specifically for those people.

The mistress of ceremonies of our fictional speakeasy explained how the room would be laid out, the seating she had planned for several of the key players, and what would happen after the murder. (We couldn’t let the poor victim lie there unmoving for the rest of the evening!)

After the logistics session, I explained the basic scenario for the story, and then we began to read through the script, with each person saying their lines. And oh, wow! What a rush! Hearing the words I had written coming out of the mouths of other people made me feel like such a Svengali (a Svengali who was kind and had no sinister purposes, that is), as if I were controlling, for the moment, all those lives.

Everyone seemed pleased with their parts, and as we read through the few pages of scripted dialogue, they really got into it. I could feel the smile on my face when I realized this mystery could really work. (I wasn’t too worried since I knew adrenaline and excitement would carry everyone through the evening, but I had no experience with this sort of mystery game, had no idea how to go about creating one, and wasn’t sure how the finished game would play out.)

During the actual event, the words (and characters) will become less my creation and more theirs as they adlib, take things further than what I had suggested, and get other non-scripted guests to participate.

I am looking forward to the experience of seeing my characters in full costume take on a life of their own. Writing is generally a solitary activity, even something like this mystery. I did have some input from other Art Guild members, but mainly it was me, my computer, and whatever I could pull from my mind and from my copious research into the 1920s, horseracing scandals, the woman’s movement after the nineteenth amendment had passed, and especially — most especially — how to create a murder mystery dinner.

During all the research and thinking and grabbing at words, we writers don’t necessarily feel like authors. We are so tuned to what we are doing, we feel the work rather than feel ourselves doing the work. After the writing is finished, and (if we are lucky) people read our creation, we don’t necessarily feel like authors because we don’t see people reading what we wrote, and if we do, we can’t see what is going on in their head while they are reading, nor do we hear what they are experiencing because reading is generally a silent activity.

So to hear one’s words? To see the effect of one’s writing on others? To have a chance to actually play at being an author? Utterly priceless.

***

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.

Small Challenges of Homeownership

There have been a few small challenges I’ve faced lately in my new adventure of homeownership. For most people, especially if they are coupled, none of these things would even be considered challenges. The person who knows how to do things simply does them. But when you are alone, you have to hunker down and deal with the situation yourself.

For example, the other night the water went off. If the electricity goes out at night, a quick look out the window lets me know if it is an area outage or if the outage is mine alone. But with water, there’s no way to tell. I did look out the window to see if my neighbor’s lights were on — if so, I could have texted her to see if she was having the same problem. But she seemed to be down for the night. Since I couldn’t call her, couldn’t call the water company, I started to panic. There is nothing that makes a person feel so alone as when there is a problem and there’s no one around you can ask “What do I do now?”

Well, I took a deep breath and realized there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t as if I were in any danger, and I had plenty of water to drink, to brush my teeth and get cleaned up for the night. I even had enough to pour into the toilet tank in case I had a flush emergency. If there was a problem with my plumbing, such as a broken pipe, there wasn’t anything I could do in the middle of the night anyway.

So I went to bed. End of problem. Literally the end. When I got up, the water was back on.

Today, I dealt with another small situation — changing the furnace filter. I suppose I should have done it a couple of months ago, but I am not fond of going down to the basement, though it does seem a bit less dungeon-y than when I first moved here. When the walls and floor are painted, I hope that will be the end of the dungeon feeling, but there will always be those steep stairs to give me pause.

Still, I did what I needed to do. Luckily, I’d already been tutored on how to change the filter, so that wasn’t a problem. It did make me wonder though, what to do if the furnace goes out. Is there a gas shut off valve? Or does the furnace automatically shut off? I’ll have to ask next time the contractor comes (next week, maybe!)

I know what to do when the electricity goes out — mostly just wait until it comes on. (I have flashlights within easy reach, head lamps to make reading easy, and plenty of batteries.) I now know what to do when the water goes off. I know what to do when the smoke alarms start chirping. I even know what to do when they start shrieking for no reason (pull the crazy-making thing out of its socket!) I figured out how to change the battery on the thermostat when it needed changing.

So gradually I am meeting all these small challenges of homeownership, and once met, they are no longer a challenge.

There is always something new to contend with, however, and as long it’s not something dangerous, like the house filling up with gas fumes, I’ll be fine. If something dangerous does happen, well, I’ll do the best I can. Meantime, I am careful. Dryers have been known to start fires, so I never leave the house when the washer or dryer are being used. I am careful about turning off the stove and making sure there is nothing on the surface that can catch fire or melt. Even though it’s electric, it can still cause problems. (I once unthinkingly wiped a drip from the ceramic top, and melted a so-called cotton cloth. Since cotton doesn’t melt, it had obviously been mislabeled.)

I figure such good habits will serve me well in my old age when/if I get more forgetful and less vigilant. But that’s not problem for today, and hopefully, not ever. Supposedly, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” And the challenges of homeownership are certainly sufficient unto each day without having to worry about things that may never happen.

***

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.