Sisterhood

When my two sisters and I were on Whidbey Island, we realized that with all the photo-taking, we not did have a single picture of the three of us together. We didn’t see anyone who seemed approachable enough to ask them to take a photo, but we decided it was okay, that maybe every time we got together for a sisters’ event, we could say that it was another time when we didn’t get a photo.

We all liked the idea, actually, until we discovered the 3 Sisters Market and 3 Sisters hooded sweatshirts.

Although the “hood” connection to sisterhood didn’t come to me until after the fact (it was one of those “duh” moments that makes me wonder why it took so long to see the connection) I get such a kick out of the above photo, because — how perfect! Three sisters with hoods celebrating sisterhood. (The pictures on the wall above us are of the three sisters the market — and the farm — are named after.)

It seems weird to me how much we look like sisters in the photo. We never did, not really. We must have grown into it. Nor has there ever been any “sisterhood” among the three of us. We always paired up or if we were together, it was with others in the family. More than that, though, we never considered ourselves “three sisters,” perhaps because we were so far apart in ages and had brothers in between each of us. We are also so different from one another, as if we are sides of an equilateral triangle. (Which makes me wonder what is in the center of that triangle.)

We had such a great time (and surprisingly, got along better than any of us ever imagined) that we are planning another adventure for next year — a camping trip at The Three Sisters Wilderness Area.

How odd to think that after all these years we have discovered our sisterhood.

***

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

The Sun Shines Brightly on Me

I currently reside in the desert, so very few days pass without some sun, but this month has seemed dark to me. Admittedly, we have had an upsurge of winter-cold days, with lots of blustery wind and even some rain, but the sunlessness has extended beyond mere weather factors.

For one thing, I turned a year older. The years don’t matter to me — what difference does a number make? I never notice the wrinkles unless I look in the mirror, and sometimes not even then. The gray in my hair is not an issue except for my dance teacher who thinks I look good in the wig I use for performances and says I need to dye my hair that color (and except for my sister who thinks I need a purple streak). What does matter is that every added year now brings new aches and pains and weird afflictions, and I have struggled with some small thing every day since the birthday — a pop in my thigh, a cramp in my calf, a swollen eyelid, aches in my fake elbow, and on, and on, and on.

For another thing, March brings the anniversary of Jeff’s death. Like my birthday, the number means little, except to marvel that I have survived so many years of pain and change, but it is a time of remembrance, of yearning, of sometimes even of reliving the last days I ever saw my life mate/soul mate.

This March added another burden, my problem with Deb. Although I do not think I caused the problem, considering that possibility added a different layer of pain to an already untenable situation. For all I know, I could be the narcissist. Do narcissists know what they are? Supposedly they do, at least on some level, so if you wonders, chances are you are not the narcissist. (Narcissists love to make their victims think the problem is with them.)

Another small thing adding darkness to the month was the realization that I will not get as strong or as fit as I would like to be for my upcoming trip, but that’s really a minor blip in the March darkness.

I didn’t just lie down and let March victimize me, however. I’ve been taking shorter but more frequent walks with my backpack. Succumbed to the tears that honor Jeff and the anniversary. Dealt with each small physical infirmity as best as I could. Spent some time writing each day (except for the two days dedicated to grief, and even then, I wrote my blogs). And, most importantly, I did a cleansing ritual in the desert on Sunday.

I discovered this particular ritual on a website about dealing with narcissists. To break the energy and the hold the narcissist has over you, you imagine a thick cord of energy connecting the two of you. You visualize a big, bright pair of gold scissors, such as the ceremonial scissors used for a ribbon cutting event, and you snip the cord of energy. You envision her half of the cord snapping back into her, and you take your half of the cord — all that energy you’ve wasted on her — and send it up into the sun.

So that’s what I did.

Yesterday in class, whenever I thought there might be a possibility of her getting to me, I thought of the sun shining down on me, blazing with the addition of my own energy. How can one be sad under such an image?

Today was the first day I’ve been out walking since the cleansing ritual, and oh! The sun shone so warmly and brightly on me, it gave me new hope for the days that lie ahead.

***

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

Bright Scissors And Dull Rocks

I was raised in a narcissistic family, where the children had to cater to the needs of the parents. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that it dawned on me that children are not supposed to make allowances for the parent’s lapses, but instead, the parents are supposed to help the children with theirs. We all grew up eventually, parents included, so that helped, and by doing for my parents what they hadn’t done for me once I was out of diapers — help them at their neediest — I paid off whatever karmic debt had been accrued.

Then, I had to deal with a brother who had some sort of personality disorder, enhanced by the grandiosity of a narcissist. After two years of his abuse, I literally drove him away — took him back to Colorado and dumped him on the street. I didn’t want to do that — I’d planned on getting him a motel room for a week or two, but the laws in that particular city made that impossible. Leaving him there was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I cried the entire 1000 miles back to where I was caring for my dad in his last days. I have not seen my brother since. I did not give him my phone number, and the address he had for me now belongs to someone else. It makes me very sad to think I had to resort to such measures, but it truly was a matter of survival.

You’d think by now I’d have learned to deal with the narcissists that get their claws into me, but since another narcissist has shown up in my life, one I have been calling “Deb” after a character in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare I am once again researching narcissism. A lovely and very wise woman told me that you cannot control a narcissist, whether by making nice, ignoring, praying, meditating. If they want whatever it is they perceive you have, they will attempt to destroy your reputation, and if you confront them, they will play the victim card. Her advice was to ease my way out of the situation. Although I know the only way to deal with such narcissists is to walk away from them forever, as I did with my brother, in this case, I’d also be walking away from something that once was a lifesaver — dance classes. And I’d be walking away from a friend who is almost like a sister to me.

One thing I found in my research is that narcissists, for all their bragging about how strong they are, are inherently weak. They project themselves onto another person, seeing their bad qualities in that person (because they can’t face them in themselves), and subsuming that person’s good qualities into themselves. And, despite what it might seem with all this recent blogging about the Debs, I am strong. No wonder she has fixated on me!

Just knowing all this will help, but I also came across two pexels-photo-236118.jpegvery good ways to deal with the Debs. One is to envision the energy that connects the two of us, and using bright gold scissors, cut that cord of energy. Visualize her energy snapping back into her and my half of the energy cord shining brilliantly as it rises to the sun. I love this idea because it is energy that really seems to be the issue here — both her negative energy that disturbs the energy created when dancing, and the energy I have been giving to the situation.

Another way to handle the Debs if you can’t escape is to be like a rock. Apparently, narcissists play with people the way children play with Barbie and Ken dolls (or whatever the current doll fad is), but they tend not to be interested in dull, gray rocks.

I’d been mostly doing okay by retreating into rock form and not goading her into the drama that she feeds on, but from what I have been reading, even something as minor as a flinch or a turning away (which I have to admit, I have done) can escalate the drama, especially if another person is there to help it along by calling attention to the reaction.

So, bright scissors and dull rocks.

Sounds like a plan.

***

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

Dealing With the Debs

Ever since I started writing about my ongoing problem with a Deb, I’ve been collecting enough hints on how to deal with such characters to write a primer.

(For those of you who haven’t been following this saga, Deb is — was — a narcissistic character in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare who has come into my life for real, and has been bedeviling me for the past year.)

Following first my own inclinations and then advice from friends (a couple of whom are therapists), this is the list of what I have done so far:

I tried ignoring her, but for the Debs who love attention, being ignored makes them ramp up the pressure for attention.

I tried setting boundaries, real physical boundaries (before my arm was completely healed, it frightened me to have people invade my personal space) and asked her to honor the boundary, but she took the request as a challenge and refused.

I tried being super nice, as a friend suggested, but somehow, the Deb took this as a sign of my conceding, and she stepped up the aggression. (You know the kind of aggression I’m talking about — small insults she laughs off as “just funning” and make you sound foolish if you complain about them.)

I tried standing up to her, in fact got right in her face, and she gave me the innocent act. Though, with the Debs, it’s hard to know if it’s an act. I get the impression sometimes they really do think they are innocent of abusing others.

I tried running away from her — literally running — but she completely misunderstood and thought I was running from someone else.

I tried breathing out the bad energy and breathing in the good, but I got the sequence wrong. You’re supposed to breathe in the bad energy, transform it into good energy and breathe that out. How does one do that? Haven’t a clue, but I will try it.

I just recently tried Ho’oponopono and though saying those phrases (I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you) didn’t seem to work, it did help me to dispel the bad energy as soon as I was alone.

I’ve also just recently tried to use that pent-up energy to propel me into doing something strenuous, for example, the last time, as soon as I got home from class, I strapped on my backpack and went out walking, even though I was already exhausted from class.

One thing I haven’t yet tried is to do standing Kegel exercises in class. Apparently, the pelvic muscles are the ones that dispel stress, and by doing Kegels, you can find your center.

Another thing I haven’t yet tried is to give myself permission to fixate on the issue when I’m alone, which, along with the Kegels, is a suggestion from a therapist friend. She advised really giving in to the energy of the conflict, but to allow myself no more than say thirty minutes to obsess. That seems like a good idea. When I get something in my head, I fight the thought, which keeps it going around and around and around. By giving the thoughts space and validity, maybe I can stop the cycle.

It does makes sense — when you try to think your way out of such a problem, it causes circular thinking because you can’t logically find a way out of an illogical situation.

Eckhart Tolle says, “True intelligence is to rise above thinking as the source of intelligence.”

Dr. Haleakala S. Hew Len, a proponent of Ho’oponopono, says, “The intellect working alone can’t solve problems, because the intellect only manages. Managing things is no way to solve problems.”

So, there you have it — a brief compendium of ways of dealing with the Debs and the negative energy they spew.

If I had known from the beginning that this particular real-life Deb was my Deb, my creation, I might have done things differently before they escalated, but how was I to know? One does not expect one’s nemesis in a novel to appear in one’s life. Now, I’m to the point where I have no desire to deal with her — my only hope is to keep that energy from affecting me, and to dispel whatever energy I do allow to affect me.

Sounds like bliss!

***

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

Practicing Ho’oponopono

I do not buy into the philosophy that everyone who shows up in our life is there for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” but maybe sometimes it is true.

Lately I’ve been talking about a woman in dance class who seems to be my character “Deb” from Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare come to life. Like my fictional Deb, this woman acts as if she is in competition with me, and her behavior follows the typical pattern of a narcissist. First, she tried to control me with patronization. When I put a stop to that, she tried to crowd me both physically and with small torments. When that didn’t work, she tried to turn the teacher against me. She made a couple of tactical errors there. First, the teacher and I are friends, though it might not seem like it at a casual glance, because she does not pay particular attention to me in class. Second, Deb started to forget herself and make disrespectful comments to the teacher.

Now Deb is aligning herself with another woman, and in doing so, is changing that woman’s attitude toward me.

If it weren’t such a ridiculous and stressful drama, I’d feel sorry for Deb and her need for attention, but it is not my responsibility to fix her, if that were even possible. Nevertheless, she remains a problem.

A new blog friend left a comment yesterday: Why is there always a Deb? And it does seem as if there is always a Deb bringing a dark energy with her. Another friend said that if I quit dance class because of this woman, another Deb would show up in my life.

Which makes me wonder if perhaps this woman is in my life so I can learn how to deal with the Debs once and for all. I have to admit the idea of never again having to deal with a Deb sure is a pleasant one, so I should try to get from this experience what I can.

One of the many reasons I took care of my father after Jeff died was that I wanted to resolve my old problems and lingering issues with him. I knew there would come a time when I was alone and needing to start a new life, and I didn’t want to start that life with any baggage from the past. It worked. By looking after my father, by reversing the parent/child roles, all those conflicts gradually disappeared. There were no father/daughter conflicts at the end, just a dying man and the woman who was there to help him pass out of this world.

Could there be some of this going on with my “Deb”? Am I supposed to learn how to deal with folks like her without reacting to their machinations? Or am I just supposed to be able to see the pattern and do with it what I will?

I do know that when I was younger such situations confused the heck out of me because I could not understand their fixation on me, their insistence on competing despite my dislike of conflict, their tendency to push me around when I did not fight back, and their attempt to get people to see me as they did.

Being honest with myself, as I try to be, I’ve explored the possibility that the problem is with me, but now, even if it is true, I no longer want to admit any culpability, which could be a step in the right direction. That I can see the pattern is perhaps another step. Knowing I can’t fix her is possibly a third step. The fourth step, maybe, is learning to step outside the confrontation so that it doesn’t affect me so much. If so, I have a long way to go, because this situation, like any conflict and unfairness, raises my hackles.

Today, in an effort to overcome the reaction to the energy she spews out, I tried to practice Ho’oponopono around her.

Ho’oponopono means “to make right,” or “to rectify an error.” Dr. Haleakala S. Hew Len says, “The intellect working alone can’t solve these problems, because the intellect only manages. Managing things is no way to solve problems. You want to let them go! When you do Ho’oponopono, what happens is that the Divinity takes the painful thought and neutralizes or purifies it. You don’t purify the person, place, or thing. You neutralize the energy you associate with that person, place or thing. So the first stage of Ho’oponopono is the purification of that energy.”

How you neutralize that energy is by repeating four phrases to yourself: I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.

So, that’s what I did today. It didn’t make any difference, but we’ll see.

***

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

Prevailing

A friend who follows astrology told me that March 20 (yesterday) begins a time of great change for me, and although no astrological prediction pertaining to my life has ever come true, this one almost did.

After yesterday’s dance class contretemps (hey! I spelled contretemps right without needing spellchecker to correct it for me, though I did need spellchecker to check the spelling of spellcheck), I’d had enough. I simply did not want to play in that sandbox anymore (and sometimes, it does feel as if we are in preschool rather than postschool), so I called my dance teacher and told her I was taking time off.

A long silence, then, “How much time are you taking off?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Ten days. Ten years. I just can’t do it any more.”

She said I was too good a dancer, and she refused to accept my resignation. I’m sure part of her consideration was the performance we will be doing at the beginning of June, but also as a good friend and a lifelong dancer, she has some inkling of what dancing means to me, though it’s hard to explain.

It’s not for exercise — I get plenty of exercise on my own, and would do even more if I weren’t going to class. It’s not for camaraderie, because I’m reverting back to my hermitic ways, and being around people exhausts me. It’s not for fun or enjoyment, though the stress-free classes give me both. It’s more of a thing of energy, of nourishment for my spirit, and too often lately a black miasma hangs over the class that others sometime respond to, but apparently only I can feel.

Still she does know of a lot of the byplay between me and the other characters, and she told me not to let anyone take dance away from me.

I agreed to stay. For a while. So the big change — not taking dance classes anymore — did not happen. But I also firmed  my decision to step up my training saunters with the backpack to allow for a different sort of change.

In the middle of all this, I realized something — no matter what happens, I will prevail.

Did you notice above where I called my classmates “characters’? I meant characters in a book, which they all are — characters in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare. It seems to me that a lot of what happened in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare is happening in a sort of parallel reality in class, with the Deb character playing out her solitary (and totally inexplicable) feud against Pat and pulling those who don’t know the truth in to her mind-set of “Oh, poor me. Look what Pat’s doing to me.”

It’s entirely possible I am the villain — writers don’t always recognize the truth of their characters. But I do know one thing — no matter what happened (happens) to any of the other characters in the story, at the end, Pat did prevail.

***

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

Ain’t Life Grand

I often use this blog as a way to organize my thoughts and try to figure out how to deal with problems, but after such posts, I sometimes go through a period of embarrassment for laying my not-so-admirable self bare.

To my amazement, my online community, both the readers of this blog and my Facebook friends, have never exacerbated the embarrassment by pointing out how childish I am. Instead, they’ve been supportive, probably because we have all been in situations with bewilderingly self-centered folks who treat us badly for no reason we can fathom.

In a recent blog post, The Nature of Dilemma, I said I felt as if I’d conjured up my nemesis because she was the personification of the character Deb in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare.

One fellow writer commented: Oh dear. I shall now be warily looking for characters from my stories too. And I’m wondering if you now have a very intriguing plotline growing from this.

I hadn’t looked at the problem from that angle, but what a great story that would be — a writer creates a character who comes alive. Although the character torments her, the writer can’t do away with her literarily because the character has already met her fate in the book, so the writer has to . . .

Now if I can only figure out what comes next in the story, maybe I’d know what to do in real life!

I suppose I could out-nice her, as one friend suggested, by being sweet and standing my ground in a nice, kind, way, not letting her ‘get in my space’ or steal my joy of dancing. Or I could be rude and tell her to stop being “up herself,” as the Aussies say. As satisfying as those suggestions might be, holding my tongue as long as possible is more my speed. (But I do have to consider that my speed isn’t very effective, though to be honest, I doubt anything will get through to her.)

Another friend sent me this quote: When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth, just like you did.

I think others are beginning to see the truth (although, unfortunately, we all also see the truth of her and her unhappy life, and so feel sorry for her, which complicates the issue), but still I need to stay above the situation or at least find a way to ignore that which I cannot control.

Life! Ain’t it grand.

Actually, irony aside, life is grand — pitfalls, toxicity, tragedy, and all — especially when you have supportive friends.

***

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

The Nature of Dilemma

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

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

And yesterday I’d had enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Weight Shaming

I’ve read a lot about ultra lightweight backpacking, and it makes sense — the less weight you have to carry, the easier it will be. Sounds good, right? But ultra lightweight gear is generally absurdly expensive, and in some cases, those who desire to go ultra light end up with gear that seems counterproductive. For example, some ultra lightweight backpacks are ultra lightweight because they leave off the hipbelt (making the shoulders take all the weight) or making the pack a lot smaller. (Small ultra lightweight packs hold as little as 35 liters, which makes me laugh, thinking about the fellow at REI who refused to sell me a 38 liter pack because it wouldn’t hold enough for a long trek.) And some people don’t carry important emergency items in order to make their packs lighter because they don’t think they will ever need them.

The real issue is the weight shaming that so many of these elitist backpackers indulge in. They look down on, and make fun of people who carry a heavier pack. Some go in for body shaming, too, mentioning the absurdity of heavy people trying to cut back the weight of their pack rather than their body weight, but most shaming goes toward the pack base weight. (Pack base weight is the total weight you carry including the pack but minus food, water, and fuel.)

Apparently, the motive for the ultra lightweight hikers is to chew up the miles. Their method is hike, eat, sleep, repeat. That’s it. They seem to believe there is no reason to take anything to read or to write with because they say if you have energy left at the end of the day, you’re not doing it right. (Apparently, although these folks spout the hiker’s mantra, hike your own hike, they don’t mean it.) The latest thing I’ve been hearing is the importance of cutting back on tent weight (for these folks, often a tarp is enough) and sleeping pad. They say it’s better to be comfortable walking than comfortable sleeping.

Even without checking to see who these folks are, I would bet they are youngish males. No older woman would ever consider the idea that being too uncomfortable to sleep is better than carrying a couple of extra pounds in her pack, even if it means she has to go slower.

The real issue with the weight shamers seems to be the same issue that shows up in any other inter-human relationship — the inability to understand that others might have different values than you. They don’t consider that maybe people are out there to do other things besides simply walk. Writers need to write about their experiences while the feeling is fresh. Photographers want to indulge in their artistry. Readers might find comfort in the familiarity of words in the vastness of the night. Aesthetes need time to appreciate. Nature lovers need time to commune with the world around them. Pilgrims have to search for spiritual meaning in the quest.

So many reasons to embark on a long hike. So many reasons to put other considerations before pack weight.

I don’t know what my base weight is since I have not yet gotten to that point, but the weight of my “big three” (pack, tent, sleep system) is a mere ten pounds, though it’s still considered heavy by some. Regardless, that weight is about as light as I can get it unless I want to invest in an ultra lightweight tent and a lighter backpack that together will cost about a thousand dollars. Even so, the most weight I can save by spending all that money is two or three pounds. (I can’t go lighter on my sleep system or there will be no sleep!)

And anyway, my goal is not to hike, eat, sleep, repeat. It’s to experience whatever I can as deeply as I can. And if that means carrying a bit of extra weight in my pack, so be it.

Actually, the biggest weight in anyone’s pack comes from food (some hikers eat four thousand calories a day) and water if there is no water source. (Water weighs a bit more than two pounds a liter, and we need at least that much every day.) If we could learn to get our food and water from the air, just think how light our packs would be!

Something to aim for?

***

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

Grief’s Gravity

I’ve had requests to continue writing about grief, but the truth is, it’s hard to write about something I no longer particularly feel. And yet, whether I write about it or not, grief is still part of my life.

It’s been almost a year since my last real upsurge in grief, and though I’m just as glad not to have to deal with the horrendous sorrow and the bleak outlook that comes from grief, I feel that something is missing — not just Jeff, because of course he is missing from my life, but also a wildness that came from grief.

I had never experienced anything as massive as grief before Jeff died, except perhaps falling in love. Grief is an all-consuming state that seems to swallow you whole. In addition, if you have been deeply connected to the deceased loved one, you often feel as if you are straddling the line between this life and eternity, as if part of you went to the other side with him, and part of you remains here. Gradually, you move away from the abyss, but that feeling of being on the edge of eternity, as much as the death itself, leaves its mark.

Whenever I have to explain what my life is like, I usually mention how little I have to anchor me to the world, with no house, no children, no living parents, no place I really want to be, and no mate. The other day a woman told me, “You say Jeff is gone, but he is still in your life.” This wasn’t a patronizing remark; it was said more as an observation.

The truth is, he is gone from my life in any real concept of the term — I cannot touch him, cannot hear his voice, cannot see his smile, cannot take care of him, cannot be comforted by him.

His absence, however, is in my life. His absence bounds my life.

If I were still with him, I would never have come to the desert, never have taken dance classes, never have gotten the madcap idea of an epic hike or even a short backpacking trip. I wouldn’t be searching for something to fill the hole in my life because there would be no hole. I wouldn’t be looking to experience “something more,” because I probably wouldn’t know there was more.

It’s grief that taught me about “more.” If there is such an awe-full and awful state as grief that we humans can experience, a state that changes our very being, perhaps there are other unknown states to experience. Love, of course. But could there be more?

A downside to this lingering phase of grief, for lack of a better term to describe it, is difficulty in putting up with some people’s spirit-draining chatter and their perpetual self-aggrandizement. Even if their narcissism comes from a sense of their own inadequacy, I can understand and sympathize, but in no way do I want to have to deal with their negativity. Because if there is more, I don’t see why I should have to settle for so little.

To be honest, no one — grief-stricken or not — should have to settle for less than pure wonder. There is a whole lot of world out there to experience. If you can walk, you don’t even need to go to other countries, don’t need to do tours and such to see the wonders. Every step shows you a new marvel, every turn of the path gives you a new view to contemplate.

What it comes down to is that even though I’m not exactly grieving anymore, not trapped in the wild center of the whirlwind we call grief, I am still caught in the outer fringes by grief’s gravity.

And chances are, I always will be.

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