Creative Air

A few weeks ago, I checked the online catalogue for this library, and found a book on my reading list, so I placed a hold on the novel. Although the book was supposed to be on the shelf, the librarians never set it aside for me, so I checked the shelves myself and didn’t find it. I asked about the book. They looked it up and discovered that although they were supposed to have two copies, they had none. Apparently, right before I moved here, the books disappeared.

They ordered the book from another library for me, and since that copy never showed up, it got me thinking. Suppose someone is out there removing all copies of this book? It certainly would make an interesting story, and who knows, someday I might even try to develop the plot. An obvious conundrum to figure out would be if the book is disappearing everywhere or just in this vicinity. Another one would be what the book thieves are looking for or trying to accomplish.

There must be creative air circulating around me, because not only did I come up with an idea for a book, but I also got a yen for cooking. Normally, if I get a rotisserie chicken, I throw away the bones and skin because chemicals and heavy metals like lead can settle in the bones, but the chicken I got today was enormous, and it seemed wasteful tossing out what in olden days would have been turned into a nutritious broth, so I went ahead and made a soup stock from all that waste. Another reason I don’t bother with making broth isn’t so much the question of health but that I’m not particularly fond of soup. But you never know — the creative air might descend another day and give me an idea for using the broth.

I also chopped up peanuts to mix in with a creamy peanut butter. I can’t find a natural crunchy peanut butter without sugar, so I made my own. Sort of.

And I fixed a meal that took an inordinate number of pots and pans, dishes and cans. It might have been creative, that meal, but it wasn’t all that tasty despite the benefits of chili powder and cumin and garlic and onion.

It’s funny, though, that this creativity air would descend right before I go back to a regular schedule at work. For the past couple of months, I’ve been more or less on call, just working sporadically because of quarantines and such, and now I will be working more days than I don’t. It’s as if my brain is scurrying around, thinking of all it could have done the past couple of months with so much free time, and suddenly, it wants to do two months of creative thinking in one day.

Or maybe my brain thinks this is the perfect time for a jolt of creativity because it knows I can’t feel guilty about not following through if I am otherwise engaged.

Not that I would feel guilty. I am mostly just going with the flow. Tomorrow the flow will be whatever it will be, but today the flow was through a creative air.

***

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

Dedusted

I actually felt like playing house today and had the energy to do it, so I dry mopped then wet mopped the floor and dedusted all hard surfaces.

Yes, I know — dedusted is not a word, but it should be. The way the word stands, “dust” as a verb is the opposite of itself. For example, when snow dusts the ground, it means that a light coating of snow was deposited on the ground. Some cookie recipes require you to dust the finished cookie with powdered sugar, which means to putting a light coating of sugar on the cookie. I dusted today, but I did not leave a coating of dust on the ground. In fact, the rooms were already dusted with a powdering of dirt particles. So, see? When I cleaned off that dusting, I dedusted. If I had redusted, then I could say I dusted the room, but I didn’t add another layer of dust; I removed what was there.

Look at it a different way: if you bug a room, you place electronic bugs in the room. If you debug the room, you remove the bugs. If you code a text, you put that text into code. If you decode it, then you remove the code to reveal the plain text. If you clutter a room . . . You see where I am going with this.

It is interesting to me though, that a whole slew of words mean the opposite of themselves, not just “dust,” as I pointed out here, but “cleave,” which means both to cling and to unite and “trim” which means to add something or remove something. In fact, there are so many such autoantonyms, they have their own category name: contranyms.

I just realized that spell checker didn’t underline dedust, so I looked it up, and lo and behold, it is a word, and means exactly what I said it should — to remove fine particles and to free something of dust. Who knew? Not me, obviously, because I thought I was being so very clever and whimsical. The truth sort of puts the kibosh on this whole essay, but I’m posting it anyway because whether I dusted or dedusted, the house is clean.

***

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

Happy New Year’s Eve Eve!

Happy New Year’s Eve Eve! That sounds redundant, but it’s the truth — tonight is the eve of New Year’s Eve. One night, one day, one evening, and then this year will be finished. I don’t know how to feel about that, to be honest. All things considered, it was a good year, but it seems unreal that this year is done for and another year is beginning so soon.

I have no real plans for the new year, just the same plans I’ve had all along — take care of my house and hope that more of my landscaping gets finished by and by, take care of myself and hope that my health holds up, take care of all the little things that arise and hope I have the stamina to deal with them. That’s a lot of taking care and hoping, enough to fill a year — and a lifetime — that’s for sure.

As for the remainder of this year, I expect to fulfill the last two days of my 100-day blog challenge. But that’s a given — not a special plan for these days — as is the continuation of my daily blogging for no other reason than if I took a day or two off now and again, I’d get in the habit of not blogging, and since it’s the only writing I do, I’m not ready to give it up yet. But blogging is all that’s on my schedule for the next two days.

Because this area is going to be subject to fierce winds followed by a huge temperature drop off from a windy high of 60 (degrees Fahrenheit) tomorrow afternoon to a bitter low of 9 tomorrow night (and a high of 19 on Saturday with a low of 0 Saturday night), today I went to the library and stocked up on books, then did one last bit of lawn watering. So for the rest of the year my time is my own with no responsibilities except to stay warm.

I don’t have any plans for tomorrow night, either. There’s no reason to stay up until midnight to toast the new year, though I imagine I will be awakened by all the fireworks set off by witless neighbors. (Witless because they ignore the law prohibiting fireworks in Colorado as well as discounting the fire danger inherent in high winds and low humidity.)

I hope your year end and your year beginning will be as pleasant as mine. Meantime, have a Happy New Year’s Eve Eve!

***

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

A Sort of Christmas Story

Washington Irving wrote: “There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” As I read these words several years ago, I could see her, a drab woman, defeated by life, dragging herself through her days in the normal world, but in an abnormal world of strife and danger, she would come alive and inspire others. And so Kate Cummings, the hero of my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire was born. But born into what world?

ASHF

I didn’t want to write a book about war, which is a common setting for such a character-driven story, so I created the red death, an unstoppable, bio-engineered disease that ravages Colorado. Martial law is declared, rationing is put into effect, and the entire state is quarantined. During this time when so many are dying, Kate comes alive and gradually pulls others into her sphere of kindness and generosity. First enters Dee Allenby, another woman defeated by normal life, then enter the homeless — the group hardest hit by the militated restrictions. Finally, enters Greg Pullman, a movie-star-handsome reporter who is determined to find out who created the red death and why they did it.

Kate and her friends build a new world, a new normal, to help one another survive, but other characters, such as Jeremy King, a world-class actor who gets caught in the quarantine, and Pippi O’Brien, a local weather girl, think of only of their own survival, and they are determined to leave the state even if it kills them.

The world of the red death brings out the worst in some characters while bringing out the best in others. Most of all, the prism of death and survival reflects what each values most. Kate values love. Dee values purpose. Greg values truth. Jeremy values freedom. Pippi, who values nothing, learns to value herself.

Though this book has been classified by some readers as a thriller — there are plenty of thrills, and though the book was written more than a decade before the current pandemic, there are enough parallels to give anyone the chills — A Spark of Heavenly Fire is fundamentally a Christmas story. The story starts at the beginning of December, builds to a climax on Christmas, and ends with renewal in the Spring. There are no Santas, no elves, no shopping malls or presents, nothing that resembles a Christmas card holiday, but the story — especially Kate’s story — embodies the essence of Christmas: generosity of spirit.

You can read the first chapter of A Spark of Heavenly Fire here: https://ptbertram.wordpress.com/free-samples/a-spark-of-heavenly-fire/

You can download the ebook on Smashwords in any format here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire. As my gift to you, the download is free for the entire month of December.

Collecting Local Stories

I’ve been collecting local stories in case I need colorful fillers in my new haven’t-yet-written-a-single-word novel, though to be honest, I have my doubts about some of the stories.

For example, right before I got here, a fellow was killed in a cottage across the alley. (Around here, a cottage is a house built onto the back of a garage.) Supposedly, they were drug users who got in an argument. Or maybe they were drug dealers. Or maybe they were narcs scoping out the drug situation in this neighborhood. In support of the third possibility, one neighbor told me that the dead guy was seen around the courthouse in a nearby city. In opposition, if they were DEA agents, they weren’t very good ones because another neighbor (who has since moved away. Yay!) was the local purveyor of illegal substances, and they never caught him. Though I suppose it’s possible they were looking for his supplier. The general belief, however, is that they were drug users who had a falling out.

Another interesting story is that a while back, many years before I got here, someone a few blocks away decided to put in a frog pond. He created the pond, then ordered a thousand frogs. Those frogs turned out to be toads who prefer a damp shady environment rather than a wet one, so they disappeared during the night. The toads I see are supposedly descendants of the mail order toads. It’s a cute story, but such a tale is not necessary to account for all the toads around here. After all, there are rivers and irrigation ditches, which could also be a source for the toads. When I lived on the western slope of Colorado, in a rural plains area similar to this (though surrounded by hills and mountains rather than the flatlands we have here), there were also toads. There seem to be seasons for toads because I remember one year when the baby toads were as plentiful and as fidgety as the grasshoppers.

There are other stories, such as the family who had fourteen kids, the fellow who won’t let anyone in his house because he doesn’t want anyone to see that he is a hoarder, the lady who lets all her dogs get killed, the dispatcher at the sheriff’s department who was married to the local drug dealer, the ex-soldier who was so “ex” there is no record of his being in the service. (His story is spooky, reminiscent of my novel More Deaths Than One). As everywhere, there are gossips and godly people (sometimes one and the same), courteous folk and curmudgeons, those who have lived here for generations and those who are elbowing their way into the power structure (such as it is).

I don’t know what I will do with all the stories I am collecting. I don’t even know if I can use any of them because I wouldn’t want people to think I was writing about them, even if I were. And even if I weren’t. (People often see themselves in a character even though I didn’t put them there.)

Some people would like to be in my book. In fact, the wife of the ex-soldier would like me to tell her husband’s story, but I don’t want to do another mind control novel. Though come to think of it, much of the latter part of that story is similar to stories of people who have been alien-abducted, which could be a way of introducing the story, and then only later letting it be known that our own government was the abductor. Still, it’s too tragic a story for me to want to tackle. I’d prefer a more lighthearted story I wouldn’t mind living since an author does live his or her story for however long it takes to write it.

But none of this matters at the moment since I’m just in the collecting phase of my new haven’t-yet-written-a-single-word novel. Once I’ve collected a critical mass of information, then perhaps the story will explode out of me, and I’ll finally rack up another novel.

***

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.

The Limelight

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly conceited or self-absorbed beyond what is normal and healthy. In fact, I tend to be more self-effacing than is probably good for me and am seldom comfortable seeking the limelight.

[I had to pause here to look up “limelight.” Interesting to note that it actually was a “lime” light — a cylindrical piece of the mineral lime that when lit produced a bright white light that was used to light theater stages in the early l800s. By the late 1800s, “limelight” had already taken on its present meaning of being the center of attention.]

Despite my unease at being the center of attention, there are times that I enjoy being noticed, or should I say, there are things about me that I enjoy being noticed. For example, my car. When I took my various trips, from coast to coast and border to border, it thrilled me that so many people noticed and commented on my vintage VW. It’s the same with my hats — people notice me because of my fancy headgear (actually, it’s not me they notice but the hats. Without a hat on my head, I’m not sure as many people would recognize me).

And now, I have my grass. When I am out there watering, passersby all comment on my gorgeous lawn. The color is bright, for one thing, and for another, there I am, in the middle of November, watering the greenery when everyone else has let their grass turn brown. Of course, “everyone else” hasn’t recently spent a small fortune on their lawns, so it behooves me to take care of my investment.

[Yet another aside: my silly self is acting up, wondering if a horse can be said to be behooved.]

You’d think my books would be on that list of accoutrements that bring me notice, but although they originated with me, they’re not part of my personage. You can’t tell I’m a writer by looking at me the way you can tell that I am “Pat in the Hat.” In some way, my books don’t feel as if they are a part of me at all, though I do take the credit when someone tells me they like one or another of my tales. Now, if I were a recognized “name,” things might be different, and who knows, there still could come a time when I can test that theory.

But for now, I take my fame — and the limelight — where I can get it.

***

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.

Pointless and Plotless

I accidentally checked out a Christian novel at the library the last time I went. Normally I don’t care what I read because almost every book has passages and even pages that I skip, such as graphic sex in romance, over-the-top violence in thrillers, and gory scenes in horror stories, so it’s no problem to skip the proselytizing in books written for a religious-oriented readership.

But this book . . . ai-yai-yai. Not a page went by without a sermon, and most of those “sermons” were given by the loving husband, which if they were given to me, would have turned me against him and religion both. He wasn’t a preacher by trade, which would have made his preaching understandable. I think he was a fireman, but that bit of information was swallowed up in the excess of religious rhetoric, so I’m not even sure if that’s the truth. He wasn’t a dynamic character, that’s for sure!

I did like one point he made, though, that when Jesus calmed the waters, he not only saved his disciples, but also all the little boats that were in the turbulent sea at the same time. It’s always interesting to think about those who we might have influenced that we never knew about. (Although I looked, my name was not listed at the back of the book with all the folks who unwittingly influenced another person.)

Still, one point does not make a story, and the story in this particular book was a cheat, mostly because there was no plot. (And despite the preaching, there was no real point to the story, either.) No matter what happened, God saved the heroine. For example, she found out later in life that killers had been set upon her when she was young. When she finally met one of her nemeses and found out about the contract on her, she asked why he didn’t kill her as he’d been paid to do. He told her it was because of the ten armed bodyguards that always surrounded her. (Not bodyguards with ten arms like the goddess Durga, but ten bodyguards with guns.) Apparently, they weren’t bodyguards but angels. Still angels with guns? But that’s an issue for another time.

That wasn’t the only case of her being rescued by angels. Oddly, there was nothing in the book that made her so special that she was surrounded at all times by an army of angels, and why other characters were so unspecial they were left to their fate. But ignoring that whole issue and going strictly by a literary rather than religious perspective, where’s the suspense? What could have been chilling encounters ended up being . . . nothing. Because nothing happened. Basically, she did what she wanted, and everything turned out for her. The only conflict was of her own making, if the mild unease the character experienced from time to time could be called conflict.

Oh, well, I can’t say this is the worst book I ever read. Some well-respected works that won major awards I found even more ridiculous, but that’s the risk one takes when one grabs a handful of books without spending time vetting them.

***

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.

Creatures of Words

I’ve long thought that what makes us human — and what separates us from other creatures — is our ability to tell and appreciate stories. From the beginning, as early humans huddled around the fire, they exchanged stories, and the best storytellers were revered.

Stories are our foundation, as necessary to us as love and probably always have been. Stories help us figure out who we are as individuals, and who we are as a people. Stories take us away from our problems, yet they also help us solve them because we can learn how to cope with tragedy, for example, from the stories of those who have dealt with a similar tragedy.

With all our sophistication and technology today, we haven’t come far from our primitive beginnings. Where once we huddled as a group around flickering fires, we now huddle singly before our flickering screens, but the need, the basic human need for stories is the same.

Underlying all this storytelling is language. Without language, there would be no stories. Some people believe that without language, there wouldn’t even be any thought because we need words for thoughts. Making the situation circular, without thought to think up words, there would be no language, either. Did the capability for language evolve at the same time as language itself? Did language create us as we were creating it?

There had to have been a time in our early history where communication was done by gestures and grunts, where any story had to be a simple matter of show rather than show and tell, but it’s hard to imagine such a time.

In trying to perceive a world without words, it becomes understandable that people who have to deal with various forms of dementia where they lose the ability to process words become isolated not just from others but themselves because more important than the stories we tell others are the stories we tell ourselves — about what we are thinking and feeling, what we want, what we hope for, what we regret, what we grieve for.

Memories aren’t just pretty pictures in our minds; since they are often accompanied by words, they too become stories we tell ourselves. In fact, stream of consciousness is all about the story of us that we tell ourselves, and stream of consciousness is words. The reverse is true, too. Without memory, we have no story to tell ourselves.

Words help us define what we are feeling, help us connect to those feelings, and ultimately help us leave those feelings behind. Without words, a feeling is simply that . . . a feeling.

Words must have some sort of survival benefit, otherwise they probably would never have come about, but as I once wrote:

Is language a tool of human evolution, or is it a tool of devolution? Are words a way of dumbing us down while smartening us up? Words seem to keep us focused on the humanness of our world, keep us connected to each other both when we are together and when we are far apart. But are those very words keeping us from a greater connection? Some people believe Earth is a living, breathing creature. Some people think solar systems and galaxies are also alive. Some even believe the universe  — all that exists, ever existed, will ever exist  — is a living, sentient being. If this is true, are words filling our heads and airways with so much noise that we can no longer feel the breath of Mother Earth, can no longer hear the music of the spheres?

I don’t suppose any of this matters. We are creatures of words. Words create us, and we create them. And even in a world where the spoken word seems to be in danger of being displaced by the various tools at our disposal, those tools themselves — texts, emails, blogs — need words to work.

In other words, words — ever changing though they might be — are here to stay.

***

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.

My Butterfly Mind

I read not simply for the story or context but also to give my conscious mind something to do while my subconscious does the work of processing the thoughts that flit like butterflies through my mind. The problem nowadays is that my shortest-term memory is shot, so as I watch those butterflies feast on each thought, if one catches my attention, a moment later, it’s gone, leaving me with the feeling that I was supposed to remember something that I forgot.

Usually the thoughts are not important. For example, the thought today that I sought to recapture and only remembered much later was to remember to take the vitamins and minerals that are supposed to boost the immune system. Actually, the stray thoughts are always relatively unimportant. If they were important, such as remembering that I have something cooking on the stove, then I immediately get up, forgetting the rest of my train of thought.

Hmm. Sounds as if I am mixing my metaphors, a butterfly mind with a train of thought, but I suppose a mixture is better than continuing to beat the first metaphor into redundancy. (Was that a third metaphor? Does it matter?)

You can tell that today was a relatively uneventful day since the only things on my mind are thoughts about thoughts. An uneventful day is good for me, though not so good for this blog. But then again, I am sure you are sick of my less-than-exciting treatises about my adventures in gardening.

I did speak to a couple of people today when I was out walking, making sure to keep my distance, so that was nice. It doesn’t take much to make me feel as if I am not totally alone. And I talked to a couple of people on the phone yesterday as well as received some texts. But still, I am mostly isolated with thoughts generated only by my own mind, and I follow along those thoughts as they flit about, gathering what nectar and nourishment they can, until . . .

Wait, what was that I just thought? I forgot, but I’m sure it was unimportant. Or not.

***

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.

Murder at the Museum Tonight

On the front page of the local paper, there is an article about the murder that is taking place tonight at the museum, and my name was listed as the writer of the mystery. There haven’t been too many times in my life when I’ve been mentioned in a newspaper article so that was nice. Of course, if the article was about my winning the Nobel Peace Prize or a Pulitzer Prize or something like that, it would have been much nicer. Or maybe not. Would I really like that sort of fame? Or any kind of fame? Luckily, this mention won’t change my life at all.

Being the writer of the mystery rather than an actor means I don’t have to attend the event, which is a good thing. I didn’t feel well last night and wasn’t doing much better when I woke up, so I slept most of the day. To be honest, not feeling well shocked me more than pained me because except for an occasional allergy flair up, I haven’t been sick at all since this whole Bob thing started. I haven’t been around people any more than I have the past eighteen months, so who knows where I got the stomach cramps and nausea. Maybe something I ate.

I was pleased with the mystery I wrote. I was even thrilled that I managed to come up with a few clues. A poster proved that a particular character was performing in another town on the day the sacred artifact was hidden in the hotel. A train stub proved that one suspect had come to town early enough that he could have checked into the room with hidden object if he had wanted to. A diary entry proved that two suspects had never been in that town before. A fingerprint proved nothing since it was a from a chambermaid who had an excuse for being in the room. And a guest register proved that the one person who had said she’d never been to the hotel had actually been a guest at the right time.

You can find the mystery here: Wow! What a Story!
And the characters here: A Murder of Crows

***

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.