Do the Job in Front of You

I’m reading a science fiction book about people being able to step from this Earth into multiple other Earths, as if all possible Earths were stacked together like a deck of cards, and people could go from one to another.

At first, it was kids who found a way to step, and suddenly, kids all over the world were disappearing. The cops didn’t know what was going on. Terrorists? Aliens? One young cop asked the sergeant-in-charge what he was supposed to do, and the sergeant relied, “Do the job in front of you.”

It’s funny how in a story about strangeness, such an innocuous remark should have caught my attention, but it seems to be good advice no matter what. For example, landscaping a yard and creating garden spots in that yard can be rather overwhelming. It’s not something that can be done in a season or even two or three. I’m starting my fourth season, if I counted accurately, and despite how nice some parts of the yard are, other parts are still quite wild and weed-infested.

I’ve never had much patience for such long projects — I’m more of a do-it-and-get-it-done sort of person. Or at least I was. Apparently, I am now someone who can embark on a project that will never be finished. Almost by definition, a garden is always in progress. Volunteer plants show up. Long-standing plants die. Weeds take over certain areas. The only way to deal with such a long-term, unending project, is to do the job in front of you.

This change in me, from wanting things to be done to being able to deal with things that never are done, is a holdover from grief. Grief is one of those things that are never finished, though oddly, grief comes about because a loved one is finished — finished with their life here on Earth. But for those left behind, it’s never finished. At the beginning, especially, it seems impossible. Not only are you going through the most horrendous pain and most confusing time of your life, you are faced with a never-ending list of end-of-life chores. A person who dies doesn’t just disappear. The body has to be dealt with. Their things have to be dealt with. The government has to be informed and dealt with. Banks have to be dealt with. The only way to get through all that is to do the job in front of you.

It’s the same way with writing a book — during the course of the months and sometimes years that it takes to complete a novel, there are thousands of decisions to be made. Some people can sit down and simply write, without a plan, without agonizing over every detail, but for others, writing is the details. And the way to write for those people is to do the job in front of them, whether a paragraph, a page, a chapter.

I suppose life is the same way. I tend to try to look into my future, to see what I can do now to prevent some possible effects of old age, but in the end, no amount of projection will protect me (or anyone) from the vagaries of life. All any of us can do is the job in front of us, and the job — the life job — is to live the best we can today.

Luckily, we are all (or at least I think we all are) dealing with a single Earth, which makes things just a bit easier to do the job in front of us.

***

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.

Gardening and Aloneness

A friend called this morning and asked if I was outside taking care of my “baby.” Meaning my yard. I had to laugh because I really was taking care of things in the yard. The only reason I had my phone with me was to get photos of the larkspur and the roses that had begun to bloom prolifically.

Obviously, my focus on the garden and lawn hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, the growing beauty of my yard is rather a conversation piece, something to share with neighbors who get the fun of seeing what’s developing without having to do the work. Until recently, I’d never realized that about gardening — that it wasn’t a lonely project but something to share. In fact, a neighbor a few houses away is going to be sharing her garden with me. Literally sharing. Tomorrow evening, I’ll be heading over there to dig up some of her prolific plants to transplant in my yard. She said, “I love sharing plants. I can’t wait to share some yard pretties with you.”

And I can’t wait to get them.

Although I’m surprised that I’ve taken gardening to heart, since I’ve never really been all that much into gardening, I’m not surprised that I’ve become focused on something outside of myself.

When you live alone, you need something to keep you going, something outside of yourself to expand your reach, something . . . more. I have friends and neighbors, a couple of siblings I am in occasional contact with, and a job that occupies my attention a few hours every week, but the rest of the time, when I am inside and the door is shut, there is only me.

I will eventually get back to fiction writing, but for now blogging is all I can handle. Any long writing project, such as a novel, seems incredibly lonely. I spend too much time in my own mind as it is. Admittedly, when you write a novel, you people your mind with various characters, but that simply masks the truth of being alone.

Since I need something more than just me alone, it might as well be gardening. At worst, babying a yard is a lot of work. At best, it’s a joint creative endeavor between me and nature and a couple of neighbors. And in the middle, between best and worst, is a whole lot of yard pretties!

***

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.

Not Everyone Loves a Parade

There was a parade in town yesterday. I hadn’t planned on going because I am not a fan of parades, maybe because most of the parades I’ve seen as an adult are small town affairs that are best appreciated by those who know the folks participating in the parade. I am especially not a fan of this town’s parade. I saw it soon after I arrived in town, and I found it amusing that the town is so small, the parade consisted of mostly official vehicles from the sheriff’s department and the fire department.

Still, when a friend asked me to go with her to this year’s parade, I opted to go. (I am still trying to say “yes” to most invitations). It was nice. Instead of standing around waiting for the parade, we walked along the parade route and talked to people we knew. (One woman told me a horrific story of a neighbor’s dogs jumping their fence and attacking her and her dogs. The neighbors called the police, blaming the woman. The neighbors escalated the situation on FB, and eventually, somehow, the woman’s husband got blamed for the situation and he was fired. Yikes. Many of the dogs around here are a menace! Luckily the dogs on either side of me are tame, and even if they weren’t, they can’t jump a five-foot fence.)

When the parade drew close, we stopped and watched.

I was surprised by how much I appreciated seeing all those official vehicles in the parade this time. Considering the fires in the area as well as the ongoing danger, it was a tremendous comfort to see at least a half a dozen modern fire trucks and loads of equipment. The fire department is a volunteer organization, but there seem to be enough people brave enough to answer the call when the siren blows.

I was also tickled by the mounted police. I thought the police I saw were just mounted on horses for the purpose of the parade, but when I checked out the sheriff department’s website, I discovered the police on horses belong to an actual mounted posse. Some of the members of the posse are law enforcement officers, but many are members of the community who have full-time jobs and serve in their spare time as volunteer members.

The members of the sheriff’s posse participate in training to learn the different skills needed by law enforcement officers. The mounted unit trains and practices horsemanship skills, mounted law enforcement techniques, and ranch skills. The horses used in the mounted unit are owned by the members of the posse. All members of the sheriff’s posse have the opportunity to learn law enforcement skills; some of these skills are arrest control techniques, traffic control, report writing, and methods for searching for evidence or people.

Too bad I don’t have a horse, don’t know how to ride, and am too old and decrepit to be of use to a posse, otherwise the posse would be something I might be interested in. Even if I can’t join the posse in real life, I can certainly have a character be part of the posse. Sounds like a fun addition to whatever book I decide to write once I re-retire.

I had no idea a parade could be so interesting. Who knows? Maybe I’ll go again next year.

***

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.

Red-Letter Day

The term “red letter day” refers to the practice, dating back to the Roman Empire, of using red calendar numbers to signify important days. Although this was (and still is) a common practice for perhaps a couple of thousand years, the actual term “red-letter day” wasn’t used in print until 1663. Unlike so many words and terms that have begun to mean the opposite of their original meanings (bully originally meant a darling; harlot originally meant a goofy fellow; naughty originally meant having naught; nice originally meant silly; silly originally meant blessed), the meaning of “red-letter day” seems to have remained unchanged for centuries.

Despite this discussion of “red-letter days,” today is more of a “white blossom day” than a “red-letter day” because the blossoms are what make this such a momentous day. “What blossoms?” you might ask.

The blossoms on the greengage plum tree I planted last year. Those blossoms. And oh! They are so pretty, and such a sign of hope.

Flowers of all kinds seem to symbolize hope, of course, but fruit blossoms bring with them the added hope of someday having fruit. There might be too few blossoms to merit even a single plum this year, but still, it’s nice seeing the flowers.

Today is also a “black hat day.” My use of the phrase “black hat” isn’t used idiomatically to mean a villain, but is used literally. A neighbor gifted me with a beautiful black hat! A wonderful side effect of being known as “Pat in the Hat,” is that if anyone has a hat to donate, I am the first one to come to mind.

It’s also a grey cloud day, and a pink tulip day, and probably all sorts of other “days,” but all these important days can be found under the single umbrella of “red-letter day.”

I hope you’re having a red-letter day, too.

***

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.

Bloggers and Bloviators

A fellow I read about mentioned that he hates “bloggers and bloviators” because he thought they do more to exacerbate problems rather than to help. I didn’t take offense at the “blogger” comment, because although I do have a blog, which technically makes me a blogger, I’m not a capitalized Blogger. (I actually meant I wasn’t a major blogger, a blogger with a capital B, but it is also true that I don’t capitalize on my blog since I don’t make money from it.)

I don’t have much of a following because I tend to write about simple things and stay away from the topics that attract masses of readers: politics, sex, celebrities, clothes, food. The one really important thing I write about — grief for a spouse, life mate, soulmate— is only helpful to a small segment of the population, and certainly isn’t a topic one reads for its entertainment value. And now I seldom write about even that. Mostly I write to write — for the habit of it.

As for bloviators: according to Wikipedia, ‘bloviation is a style of empty, pompous, political speech that originated in Ohio and was used by US President Warren G. Harding, who described it as “the art of speaking for as long as the occasion warrants, and saying nothing”.’

Admittedly, I often say nothing of any import on this blog since, as I mentioned above, it’s more for the habit of writing than because I have anything significant to impart, but I am definitely not pompously political. Or even non-pompously political.

What I do like is the alliteration of the words “bloggers” and “bloviators,” which, of course, is why I am going through the motions of pretending I have something to say on the subject. And since apparently I don’t have anything to say, I’m going to cut this short lest I run the risk of becoming a bloviator myself.

***

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.

Elasticity of Time

The older I grow, the more elastic time seems to get. Whatever needs to be done can barely be fit into the time allotted before and after work. You’d think then, that days like today, when I go in a little later, that I would have an extra couple of hours to get things done, but it doesn’t work that way. Here I am, struggling to get a blog written, a meal fixed and eaten, and myself dressed before work as I always do.

So what happened to those extra two hours? Lost in the elasticity of time, obviously.

I tend to think of elasticity as something that only stretches, such as rubber band, but it seems to be also something that shrinks. Otherwise, I’d have plenty of time to do . . . whatever.

I suppose I should be grateful — and I am — for the discretionary time I do have. Things could be worse (they always can be, even for those of us who like to think things can always be better). Time could simply shrink all the time and never stretch back to what it was. Though some days, it feels like it only shrinks.

As I’m sure you can tell, this is one of those semi-nonsensical fill blogs, where I have nothing to say (and little time to say it), but since I’m on day 932 of a 1,000-day blog challenge, I need to post something. Not that I will stop blogging every day once I meet that goal, you understand, it’s just that having a goal keeps me going. I need the discipline of blogging every day. Just as posts like this are place holders for my more thoughtful essays, the blog itself is a placeholder for my novel writing since the habit writing something every day is good practice for that, too. When I am re-retired, I will get back to writing books, but meantime, here I am, trying to stretch time by cooking and writing at the same time, and not succeeding very well. (Burnt the bacon and splattered myself. Ouch!)

Still, time has stretched enough to get everything done. I might even make it to work on time!

***

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.

Aphantasia

Ever since I became an author and interacted with other authors, I have been fascinated by the different ways peoples’ brains work when it comes to writing. Some people sit down and start writing, and the words appear on the page almost without their volition. Some people envision whole scenes, and interact with those scenes. Some people see a movie in their head, and simply write down what they see.

I have never experienced any of those things. For me, writing has always been a puzzle, putting together words to create characters and conflicts, scenes and scenery, plots and passions. But I have never once seen an image in my mind’s eye of anything I have cooked up in my brain pan. I simply don’t think in images, and never have.

I remember once telling my mother about a girl who clerked at the local Safeway. This pretty girl was kind and thoughtful, and never seemed to think the work a burden. My mother said she’d look for the girl. Weeks later, she told me she finally met the girl, and she shook her head at me. “It would have been easier if you had told me she was black.” I was taken aback because I didn’t remember that particular detail. I only had an impression of her, a vague idea of what she looked like. I took this to mean I was color blind as to race, when it really meant I was mentally blind.

Another time a friend mentioned a fellow we worked with who had a full beard. I thought the friend was joking because I was sure we didn’t work with anyone like that. The friend pointed out the fellow, and sure enough, there he sat, a few feet away from me, full beard and all. That time I took my lack of attention to this detail as a general lack of attention, when it was really another example of where I was mentally blind.

I’ve never understood how people could utilize visualizing techniques, because I can’t visualize. I can remember, of course, but my memories don’t take the form of images. They depend more on a sense of . . . essence. Needless to say, I would be a terrible witness if it ever came to that. I do notice things, and I do pay attention, but I don’t have the detailed visual recall necessary to a be good witness.

It turns out there is actually a word for the inability to see mental pictures: aphantasia. For some reason, aphantasics tend to be introverted, while hyperphantasics (those with well-developed mental imagery capabilities) tend to be extroverted, though what one condition has to do with the other, I don’t know.

Supposedly, there are techniques that can help “cure” me of this ailment, if in fact I have it. I do see vague images at times, which some researchers say means I am not aphantasic, though other researchers say that some aphantasics have visual memory recall. Either way, it makes no difference to me. After so many decades of not seeing pictures in my head, I’m fine with my lack of visual imagery, no matter what the condition is called. And anyway, at this advanced stage in my life, strong imagery could only confuse me.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

An Egregious Error

In a book I read the other day, a 1929 speakeasy waitress (a flapper) was trying to solve the mystery of why a patron had been murdered. She went into a hardware store that one of the suspects owned, and started out her investigation by innocuously asking to see a Black and Decker electric drill.

That stopped me cold. It’s hard on me as a reader when anachronistic elements show up in a novel; it takes me out of the story, and makes me wonder what the author was thinking.

The worst example of such a literary crime was in a best-selling (or so she claimed) novel by a self-published writer who wrote racy regency romances. That’s so not my thing (though I did enjoy the books by Georgette Heyer, who has been credited as the creator of the modern regency romance genre). Still, at the behest of my publisher, I took a look at the books to see what the big deal was, and just about the first thing in the first chapter was a breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup. What? How could anyone have made such a ridiculous error?

Maple syrup wasn’t served on pancakes until after the regency era, and who knows if it would have arrived in England by then, and even more doubtful if it was used on pancakes. In addition, although pancakes have been around for hundreds perhaps thousands of years, they were not a common breakfast food in regency England. But I will give the author the benefit of the doubt since I can’t for sure say that rich people wouldn’t have eaten pancakes with maple syrup back then.

Also, although chocolate was known and favored during those times and served in the morning, it was in the form of a hot chocolate drink. Chocolate chips, however, were not invented until a hundred and fifty years later. Created in 1938, chocolate chips were called “morsels” until sometime in the 1940s when “chocolate chips” became the more common term, though “morsels” is still used by the first company who sold them.

Needless to say, I never read more than the first few pages of that book.

The flapper book turned out not to contain this sort of error. In fact, Black and Decker was in business in 1929; it had been founded in 1910. And they were selling an electric hand-held drill by 1917.

I had no idea that electric tools went back so far! It makes sense, though, that power tools would have been one of the first uses of electricity after lighting since electric tools make work so much easier.

As for the flapper book — after time out to research Black and Decker and power tools, I went back and finished the story. Apparently, it wasn’t that great because I can’t remember a thing about the story, but at least it didn’t suffer from an egregious error like the chocolate-chips-in-the-regency-era novel.

***

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

Traveling Books

Although you might think this post concerns books about traveling, it’s actually about books that travel. I’d never given much thought to how far books travel, and probably never would have if it weren’t for the confluence of two events. First, my friend who returned to Thailand to be with his ailing wife, took my book Bob, The Right Hand of God with him, which, according to him, makes me an international author. Sounds good, doesn’t it, being an international author? More accurately, it makes the book itself an international book because the author — me — is definitely not international since I’ve never been out of the USA. But my book is now out of the country, having gone by way of car, plane, bus, and perhaps even train, so that makes it a traveling book.

The second event concerns the book I am currently reading. It was written by a Spanish author and translated and published in the U.K. And somehow a copy of that book, printed so very far away, ended up in the local library in the ongoing book sale section. It looks like a well-read and much-loved book, so who knows what sort of roundabout journey that book made to get here. And now it’s in my hands.

This made me think of other traveling books I have known. For example, a friend sent me a trio of books about trees for a house anniversary gift, and those books also came from the U.K. Actually, they came from Amazon in Las Vegas, which is mystifying because she ordered the books from a business located in U.K. Still, since those books were published in London, they had to have traveled to Las Vegas somehow, before they ended up here.

I’ve also been an agent a couple of times for someone overseas who needed out-of-print books that were not available where he was living, and if I remember correctly, at least one of those books originated over there.

Most books don’t travel that far, at least I don’t think they do, but still, they rack up the miles going from the printer to the distributor to the seller to the buyer and then to the reader if the buyer and reader aren’t the same person. Eventually, books travel to a secondhand store and then continue their journey to another home. I ordered one such book from a used book outlet in Oklahoma, and the gift card inserted into that obviously unread book showed that it had been gifted to someone in New York. It was delivered to me in California, and then I myself brought it to Colorado.

But that was a simple journey. Some books travel in a more convoluted fashion. I heard of a woman who had donated her childhood books, then later in life found one of those very same books in a used book store far from where she grew up. She bought it, of course, because obviously it wanted to go back home to her. One can only imagine the secret life of that book — where it had traveled, who had read it, who loved it, and how it ended up back in the hands of its original owner.

A huge percentage of books don’t enjoy that kind of far-reaching journey. 77,000,000 unsold and unread books are pulped — destroyed — each year by the major publishers. (Print-on-demand, where only books that are already sold are printed, hasn’t changed things much because bookstores need the product on hand even though they return up to 40% of those books to the publisher, and up to 95% of those books are sent to landfills or recycled into paper pulp.)

But that’s too depressing to think about. I’d rather imagine the journeys books go on. It’s only fitting that they get their own journeys since so many of them take us on mental journeys and allow us flights of fancy such as this blog post.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.

People Like Me

I finally finished the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. Whew! It really got tedious, all the shopping and designer clothes and idiomatic terms that were translated in footnotes.

The most bizarre thing about the books is that I would have thought they’d be used as examples of how not to write, but apparently, if a book makes money, no one cares about the lack of a plot, the lack of clearly defined major characters, the lack of any sort of character arc, the insertion of too many characters that have no point except to pound home the point that the rich, no matter the nationality, are different.

One of the many things I didn’t understand were those footnotes. Though the story was written in English, these people were not actually speaking English in their own homes among their own families, yet the author kept inserting Asian terms in the midst of what should have been Asian people talking in one of the many Asian languages. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just translate those terms as he did the rest of their dialogue and forget the footnotes. Admittedly, there were times they spoke English, and I suppose they would bestrew their English sentences with Asian terms, but I don’t feel like giving the author the benefit of the doubt, especially since he kept inserting himself in the footnotes. I had to look at the footnotes to see what the heck the characters were talking about, which was bad enough, but it was especially jarring to have all that author intervention. Anyone who knows about writing knows that the author should be invisible. A story is a conversation between the reader and the characters, and no author should ever poke his head into the conversation. It disrupts the fictive dream and takes the reader out of the story.

In this case, I don’t suppose it really mattered since there was no real story. Just a lot of rich people doing rich people things.

Luckily, I’m finished with that particular literary non-event and will go on to a completely different book, this one about a middle-aged, middle-class woman in the sandwich generation — caught between raising young children and taking care of aging parents. I’m not sure I’ll be any more into this story than I was into the rich folk saga — both are alien situations that I can’t really identify with. But then, if I only read books about people like me (assuming, of course, there are any books about people like me), there’d be no reason to read because I know about people like me.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive? If you haven’t yet read this book, now is the time to buy since it’s on sale.

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God.