i Tarocchi di Robot

I’ve been translating a booklet written in Italian that came with a deck of tarot cards, I Tarocchi di Robot. I thought it would be easy using MS Word translator and Google translator — just type in the text. And it was easy. Mostly. There were places of disagreement between the two translations, and even some words that seemed wrong in both translations. I’m pretty sure the writer meant suit of cups and suit of wands rather than seed of cups and seed of wands as presented in both translations, though who knows. When it comes to the tarot, people seem to like being mysterious simply for the sake of being mysterious. So I had to do some translation of the translation, if you know what I mean.

Most of the booklet was about the history of the tarot, which I didn’t bother with — I have several histories in English, which should be enough for anyone, and what was left seemed to be more about the philosophy of this particular deck rather than a practical application or practical information about the individual cards. According to what I could translate:

Robot is a word of Czech origin which means work. It was the playwright Karel Capek who invented the term robot in a novel, Rezon’s Universal Robots, which illustrated a utopian society governed by thinking machines. Later the word robot was used to designate automatons of various shapes and attitudes, and provided the inspiration for an infinite number of literary works, films, and comic books. But in the science fiction strands dedicated to the relationship between men and machines, Robot Tarot is an absolute novelty for the theme itself and for the way it has been developed.

Looking at the triumphal cards, or the Major Arcana, you immediately see that the characters represented, although they are obviously automatons, do not express the insensitive coldness of machines. On the contrary, they seem to be inhabitants of a world parallel to ours, or perhaps later than it. An extremely evolved world, where cyber science has been able to transfer human qualities to androids. Thus, the merits and defects carved into the genetic code of humans are found in the Robot Tarot. Among these automatons there can be love, madness, courage and lies. They too are divided by a social hierarchy, they know suffering and aspire to perfection, to that Paradise that only metaphysical thought is able to touch. There is undoubtedly a hint of poetry in these cards and also a lot of irony if the virtues of the tarot cards, which are difficult for humans to use, can be attributed to thinking machines. So, to be fully ironic about these figures, we want to give them even deeper meanings by imagining that metaphysics, the most sublime or most illusory science (since it tries to explain the meaning of things and life) finds itself projected into this world of steel, plastic and silicon where the soul would seem to be governed by capacitors and transistors and the spirit sacrificed to ideals of pure efficiency and productivity.

There’s definitely poetry in these cards — even without knowing what the images mean (in a tarot sort of way) and even without liking robots (I have no real interest in robots of any kind or in any medium) it’s easy to feel . . . something. The cards are truly stunning and unique, and yes, it delights me to think of automatons — creatures far from human thought — bringing us a deeper understanding of human life.

The main thing I learned from my efforts at studying the Italian prose was how the various suits translated into more traditional terms.

On the basis of what hidden logic have the coins turned into lights, the cups into scarabs, the swords into lasers, and the wands even into the suit of nothing? The answer to this question allows us to enter the philosophy of the Robot Tarot, thus tearing the veil of mystery that lingers on their fantasy world.

We have said that robot means work, and the Minor Arcana refers to work, not to manual and intellectual work but rather to natural work, that is, to those laws which, permeating the Cosmos in every direction, also dominate machines and inert bodies. We know that the creator of this deck knows the symbolic value of the beetle, a sacred animal not only among the Egyptians, because it is considered capable of being reborn from its own decomposition. In the Robot Tarot this figure replaces the Cup, another symbol of regeneration linked to the drink of immortality (think of the Grail Cup containing the blood of Christ, or the cup of the Hindu soma). The Scarab thus expresses the perpetual movement of life in the Universe, and in this movement three phases are distinguishable: one creative, one destructive, and a third one balancing.

The destructive energy, which does not necessarily have a negative meaning, and symbolized by the suit of Laser, replaces the symbol of the Sword (think of the Cherubim sword of fire, the Hindu vajira, or the lightning of Zeus). The creative energy, on the other hand, is represented by the suit of Light. This symbol, which replaces the Coin, is complementary to the Laser or, if you will, the other side of the same coin: as there is a light that destroys, there is another that gives life. The interdependence between these two energies was summed up by alchemists with the symbols of Mars and Venus, by the Taoists with the yin and yang image, and by the Hindus with the symbols of lingam and yoni.

The last pole, that of the permanent balance (equilibrium) and represented by the Nothing that replaces the suit of Wands, symbol of agriculture, of the seasonal balances and of the eternal fluctuation of the Galaxies (the Cosmic Tree). A thought of Heraclitus expresses the properties of this symbol: “Nothing is born and nothing dies, but everything becomes,” formula similar to the modern law on energy conservation.

And that’s all the booklet said about these cards in particular. Unfortunately, the very next part negated this information:

Playing with the analogies between Minor Arcana, symbols of esoteric traditions and universal principles of physics (motion, stillness, creation and destruction), we have proposed a logical structure capable of explaining the contents of the Robot Tarot. In any case, completely different structures could be built and other values and formulas discovered in them. But we prefer that it is the very reader who seeks, between the reflections of the plates (illustrations?) and the flashes of the lasers, the laws that link thought to forms, the relationships between the science of bodies and that of souls (i.e. among the Minor Arcana and the Major Arcana). After all, even this quest can turn into a game, as the history of tarot cards shows.

So in other words, the cards can mean anything a person wants them to mean. In a way, that does make sense since the tarot is not supposed to tell fortunes but help people gain a greater understanding of themselves and their relationship to life, as well as to help the reader of the cards develop a greater intuition.

But that doesn’t help with understanding the meaning behind the cards. I suppose, if I were to do a study of this deck, I’d have to check to see the traditional meaning of all the cards, and then interpret them in a robotically metaphysical way. (A metaphysically robotic way?)

Or I could just enjoy looking at the evocative images as I have been doing.


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.

Leaving Well Enough Alone

I’m one of those people who can’t leave well enough alone. In fact, until just now, writing “well enough,” I didn’t even understand what those words mean. Well, yes, of course I knew what they mean, but it’s such a common phrase that I’ve never actually stopped to contemplate the meaning in that particular construct.

“Well enough” is good enough for most projects, though I never aim for such a low expectation. Although I tend to aim for perfection, I am willing to settle for something a bit less. The problems come in deciding what that “less” is. If something offends my sense of balance or perspective, for example, I keep trying to even things out until . . . oops. I go too far in the other direction and have to scrap the whole project. For the most part, I’ve learned to do one attempt at fixing whatever it is that bothers me, and then let it go.

But I couldn’t let my bench project go (the design seemed wrong, somehow), and I didn’t want to ruin the bench, so I photoshopped the photo I posted of the bench to see if a fuller border would work. Then I printed the photo, and played around with different designs for the center, so that when I painted, I wasn’t winging it as I so often do.

I think it turned out well.

At least that inner critic is silent and if it ever raises its voice to me, I’ll ignore it. The silly thing is, that often what offends disappears into the background, and I never even notice it. For example, when I stuccoed over the dog door in the corner of the house, I thought I did a terrible job. So I stuccoed over the stucco patch and made matters worse. I did leave it alone (though sometimes I wonder if I should try again), and I hardly ever notice the patch. It’s just . . . there.

Well, soon the bench will be “just there” too, and it won’t matter that I spent so much time on redoing the design. It I’ll probably never actually see it again except in periphery. Or in case I purposely look at it.

Still, I’m glad that in this case I didn’t leave well enough alone. At least, I think I am.


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.

Anatomy of a Bench

A long time ago, perhaps fifteen years or so, Ace Hardware set benches out front with their logo on the seat back. Just “Ace” without the addition of the word hardware.

For some reason that I never understood, my brother called our father “Ace.” (Maybe to keep from calling him “Dad” or “Father. I suppose I could ask, but it seems too personal.) Anyway, when my brother saw the bench, he tried to buy it from the hardware store, but they wouldn’t sell to him. He kept at it, going around to several stores, and managed to get a bench. It sat in front of my dad’s house all those years, and by the time I finally saw it, the sun had bleached off the “Ace” and the bench itself was pretty much of a mess. But since it was still functional, there it stayed.

After my father died, my brother came to help get rid of some things, and while he was dismantling the bench so he could throw it away, he asked if I was aware it converted to a picnic table. When he showed that the bench back lifted up to become a table top, I was delighted. It just seemed wonderfully clever. So of course, I had to keep the bolts and framework just in case I’d ever have a place where I could put a bench.

Last year when my brother came to help me fix up some things around the house, he brought new wood for the bench and put it together. He kept the same colors, the white table and red seat, and I considered putting the “Ace” back in honor of my father, but that didn’t seem right. I’ve been trying to figure out a different sort of decoration, and today, I finally got around to painting the design.

It looks odd to me because I got used to that stark white, but what the heck. It’s finished. And even though it doesn’t say “Ace” on it, it is a nice tribute to both my father and my brother.


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.

Learning by Osmosis

I haven’t had a lot of problems with Windows 10 in the year and a half that I’ve been using it. It’s intuitive enough that I quickly picked up any differences between that and the previous systems I had. (First Vista, then Windows 7, which was basically Vista with a different name to offset Vista’s bad press.)

I prefer learning by intuition and osmosis when possible — it’s a lot easier than hard mental labor, for sure. (Most of what I know has come simply from reading, which is the ultimate osmosis medium. Read enough books, and things start to sink in.) This preference for intuition, osmosis, instinct, is what keeps me playing around with the decks of tarot that I inherited. If I finger them enough, perhaps the knowledge of how to read the cards will seep into my mind and I won’t have to actually study them or memorize them. The truth is, I’d like to know what they are all about, but I’m not sure I want to know badly enough to do the work. And I’m not sure I want to know what is hidden in the far recesses of my psyche anyway.

Meantime, there is the computer. It’s a wonderful tool for so many things, my most recent use being to translate an instruction booklet from an obscure Italian tarot deck into English. It’s slow going, but an interesting exercise.

One thing I do not like about the computer, Windows 10 in particular, is the way this system does updates. In previous systems, I could choose which updates to install, and if I uninstalled an update, it stayed uninstalled. Not now. There is no way to choose what to update. Windows 10 updates automatically. Oh, I could stop it updating automatically for a day or week, but then I’d have to install all the updates at once, and I’d be back where I started from. Besides, I don’t want to stop necessary updates, just problematic ones.

I mentioned yesterday that my computer no longer talks to my printer. I found out that a particular update caused the problem with the spooler, so I uninstalled the update. My printer worked perfectly! Yay. Well today, Windows reinstalled the update. Boo. I have to restart the computer to make it take effect, and I was able to put it off for a week, so I have a respite. (But if I have to restart the computer for any other reason during the week, I’m out of luck.) The best I can hope for is that in the interim, since this is a known problem, Windows will come up with a fix. I suppose if it doesn’t, I’ll uninstall the update again. Or wait until I need to use the printer and then uninstall it. So not optimal. So not an intuitive way of dealing with the matter.

And speaking of learning by osmosis — I am especially grateful someone other than me is installing the garage door. Though it seems that installing a door should be intuitive, especially for people who have done it before, the instructions for this door look as complicated as instructions for creating cold fusion would be. Not only are the directions for three different doors included in the booklet and not only does the order of those directions put the first parts last, and the last parts somewhere in the middle, but the instructions read as if they were translated from one archaic language to another and then finally into English. Even though I think putting up the door should be a two-man job, it’s a good thing there’s only one guy working, otherwise the two workers would spend all of their time discussing what the instructions mean.

Come to think of it, as complicated as the tarot is, it sure seems easier than computers and garage doors. Maybe I won’t have any problem learning how to read the cards whether by osmosis or intuition or instinct or even plain hard memory work.

Assuming, that is, I decide I want to.


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.

Shooting Troubles

My second bedroom, which is more of second living room because it’s where I have my computer and where I read, has doubled as a storage area ever since I moved in. (A huge stack of boxes in the corner off to the right, boxes under the bed, more stuff under the tables I use for a desk.) Even though the garage isn’t done, it is inching along, so with the hope that someday it will be finished, I’ve been sorting through storage items and reboxing those that need it.

What would normally have been a task that took no more than a day, has taken me weeks because of my knee. Not only have I not been able to lift things or even stand much, I also had no energy since all my energy seemed to go toward healing the knee.

Well, today I woke up with energy, so I finished carting the boxes to my dining room. I know it sounds silly, just moving stuff around, but it’s been nice claiming the room at long last. Surprisingly, it’s a good-sized room with all the extraneous stuff out of there.

After that, I tightened all the bolts on the daybed because it’s been doing a lot of creaking and clacking, and found one screw missing. Finally, when I cleaned the room, I found the bolt several feet away from where it had fallen.

And after that, I tried troubleshooting my printer connection. For some unknown reason, after more than a year of compatibility, this computer decided it didn’t like the printer anymore. It would show one document pending, then a few seconds later, would show 0 documents pending. But no document printed. No matter what I tried (even doing some things in the command prompt that made me nervous), nothing worked. So I dragged out my old computer to print the document, but since I let my security program lapse, I had to install a new antivirus protection so I could download the file I emailed to myself.

As wonderful as computers are when they work, they are horrible when they don’t. I have a hunch this printer problem has to do with a Windows update, but since I don’t know which one or how long ago, all I can do is wait and hope the problem will fix itself with subsequent updates as sometimes happens (when further updates don’t make things worse, that is.)

So now I’m exhausted.

Because of the isolation, everyone I know has their system — their physiological system — screwed up, particularly their sleep/wake cycle. For most people, this means going to bed later and getting up later. For me, it’s the opposite: getting up with the sun and going to bed with the sun, so now, early afternoon feels like late evening.

What does one do when one gets up so early? If you live on a farm or a ranch, obviously, there is plenty of work waiting, but for a sedentary person? Not so much.

Well, except for today. Today I sure found plenty to do!

This wasn’t at all the way I thought this day would go. I’d planned an excursion to see if I could find a few plants to plant, but fire warnings and high winds scared me off. (And I was hesitant because of the knee anyway, but apparently that wouldn’t have been a problem.) By the time I finally get around to getting any plants, there probably won’t be any left and anyway, it will be too late to plant, if it’s not already.

There’s always next year, though.

I’m trying to find the theme in this particular offering because without a theme, blog entries so often sound like a child’s diary entry. And this one definitely does!

Maybe the theme is troubleshooting. My knee, my room, my daybed, my computer, my yard certainly are all causing (or have caused) troubles that needed to be shot.


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.

Life, Death, and Tarot

According to what I’ve been reading about the tarot, there are infinite meanings to each deck, each spread, even each card depending on how it falls and how the reader reads it and what s/he reads into it. Such a lack of logic and unpermutability offends my sense of rightness (though it shouldn’t since in my own life I rebel against absolutes and allow myself to live however my personal wind blows).

If I ever do learn to use any of the decks, especially as they are supposed to be used — as a way to look inside oneself (at least that’s the impression I get for their true use) — I will need that intuition because some of the instruction booklets that come with a few of the more esoteric decks are written in Italian. Online translation programs help, but not when, as in one case, the booklet is written in an archaic version of the language that no one seems able to interpret. Too bad — it’s a lovely deck, with beautiful imagery, and all sorts of mystical symbols on the cards that are missing from other such decks. In another deck with an Italian instruction book, the suits are completely unfamiliar (lasers and scarabs. light and the void.) And one deck has an additional suit, which makes for an unwieldy stack of cards.

I’ve been spreading out the decks themselves, instead of the individual cards, to see if I can learn anything about the brother who collected them. I know he was interested in a world of things, both practical and mystical, and yet, since he was homeless, I have to wonder if he ever got a chance to use any of the things he collected, or if they were all for a future he never got to live.

The timing is right to be thinking about him — next month, it will be two years since he died. It’s not just his death that gives me pause, but that the death of this homeless man was instrumental in my gaining a home. (A change in my attitude, perhaps, from never wanting to own a house to thinking it would be a good idea, from believing it was impossible, to finding a way to make it work.) And then there is the age difference I mentioned a few days ago: growing up, he was always older and more knowledgeable, and no matter how old I got, there he was . . . a year older, too.

Well, he’s not getting any older, and I am. I’ve now lived a year longer than he did, and knowing that I caught up to him and beyond brings me no comfort.

Oddly, though, he does. Bring me comfort, I mean. Despite my being ambivalent about what if anything besides energy survives after death, I sometimes sense that he is watching out for me as he wanted to do in life but never quite managed. Obviously, I have no way of knowing whether it’s true or not, but this feeling allows me to live fearlessly in a house by myself.

It’s hard to know the truth of oneself, let alone another person, but here I am, moving the tarot decks around, trying to see . . . something. This is the second time I’ve done this — the first time was a couple of years ago when I first got the cards. Maybe this time — or the next — will bring enlightenment. I hope so. It would certainly be easier than actually learning how to use the cards.


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.


The Tarot and The Wheel of Time

A hot lazy day, today. With nothing better to do, I unpacked my tarot cards and sorted out my tarot books. Some of the books match a specific deck, and I like to keep the matched sets together. Other books seem more generic, or it could be I simply don’t have the decks the books mention. I also set aside the duplicates, the unopened packs, and those that might be collector’s items, such as the Dali tarot. I’ve never opened either the Salvador Dali tarot (supposedly a deck he was creating for the James Bond movie Live or Let Die), or the Tarocco di Sissi (from artist Amerigo Folchi and based on the life of Austrian Empress Elisabeth) thinking these might have more value still in their factory seal, but things only have monetary worth according to what people will pay, and I don’t know how to find people who want such things. I could keep them as part of my collection, of course, but when one has more than three dozen decks (and doesn’t use any of them), another one or two, especially one by an artist you don’t admire or one about a person you don’t know, doesn’t seem that important.

Just for an experiment, I attempted a one-card tarot reading for a friend who is trying to figure out whether to move or not, and I drew the King of Wands. To be honest, I have no idea how this card answers the question (apparently, it’s best to do a spread and see how the cards relate to one another, but maybe he can figure out if the card means anything to him), but I was struck by a coincidence having to do with The Wheel of Time. Coincidence? Considering the ten years that Robert Jordon put into researching, constructing his world, and developing the story before he started writing, I would have to say that it’s a good bet there’s no coincidence here.

In the book The New Golden Dawn Ritual Tarot, the King of Wands is described as “a red-haired man with blue eyes riding upon a fiery black stallion. The horse and rider both seem wild and warlike, but this is due to raw, unleashed power. The overall feeling that the card gives is one of great uncontrollable energy which erupts with volcanic force.” Another passage says “He is extremely dynamic. He is the Fire of Fire, the volatile igniting spark of the Father Force.”

In the Sadowscapes Companion, the King of Wands strides forward and “The trees part before him, lifting their branches to make way for his passage. The environment shifts to his will and obeys his unspoken desires and commands.” Also, he is charismatic, and is “a source of inspiration and bears his mantle of authority with ease as if he were born to it.”

If you know anything about The Wheel of Time, you will recognize The Dragon Reborn. Although sometimes his eyes are described as gray rather than blue, this is the savior character in the series, a clueless country boy who attempts to control the raw power of the universe at his command. Eventually he controls the power and develops into a fire-wielding king who rides a black horse. He becomes a charismatic leader who changes the very lives of those he meets, who molds the world around him however he wills. Also, the salamanders in the red tarot card are more like the dragons in the book than what we consider to be dragons.

At one time I thought it would be interesting to use the tarot to create a story, basing the story on cards chosen at random, as well as by a spread, but apparently, Robert Jordan has already done it.

Many of characters in The Wheel of Time are typical archetypes, such as the trickster, nurse, queen, shapeshifter, but now I suspect there’s a completely different element to the book, a tarot element, for me to deconstruct.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

What Happened to May?

April seemed to linger forever. The days themselves passed at a normal rate, but when I woke each the morning, I thought for sure several days had passed rather than just one. It could be due to waking several times extra each night because of pain in my knee, or it could be the dozes I fell into while reading. (As interesting as it is to study a work, such as I am doing with The Wheel of Time series, the passages I remember clearly, especially the dreary ones, tend to get boring so I skip them or fall asleep, which negates the purpose of deconstructing the story.)

For whatever reason, April did pass, and now suddenly it’s the middle of June. Huh? What happened to May? I don’t remember May at all. It must have gotten subsumed into The Wheel of Time, either the story or the Tibetan wheel that gave the series its name.

More probably, though, I was concentrating on moving things along that didn’t want to move — a knee that didn’t want to heal quickly, plants that didn’t want to grow (there aren’t many living things that can deal with a drought, freezing temperatures one day and ninety degrees the next, and an ignorant caregiver through it all), as well as a garage that is being built at an equally slow pace. Which made for a strangely unmoving experience where every day was the same as every other day.

But now it’s June and somehow things did change during May. The knee is better, the transplanted bushes are alive even if they’re not exactly thriving, the flowers that wanted to bloom did and the rest are resting in peace. And the garage is much further along than it had been. (We’re past the stage of needing an inspector, so my worries of needing to get a second building permit never came to fruition.)

I need a new plan for planting, though. The bulbs did not do well at all, so sadly, I glance at the catalogs full of spring blooms that decorate my otherwise empty mailbox, and toss them aside. It’s possible the bulbs would grow despite the clay soil if I dug deep holes, filled them with potting soil, and then . . . what? Water them? It’s hard to know what to do in a drought, so it’s best if I wait for the wheel to turn to a more propitious time (or for me to learn way more than I know now about taking care of the poor things).

So now here’s June, but it might as well still be May for all the changes that are occurring. The knee still is not well enough to take walks (though well enough to do whatever I need to do around the house without exorbitant pain.) The bushes aren’t growing in this horrible heat and wind. The garage still needs to be finished. And I’m still reading (or rather rereading) the same fantasy series.

I do know it’s June, though it feels more like July, so that’s something. At the very least, another month won’t slip into the same black hole that May did.

Not that it really matters what month it is. April, May, June — they are all just names for that which flows beneath the wheel of 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.

Elusive Knowledge

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a term for our inability to step back and objectively look at our aptitudes and behaviors. This is especially obvious when it comes to bombastic folk who act as if they know it all. These windbags talk incessantly about their own world view, but refuse to acknowledge the validity of any other. It makes sense, of course, because they’ve boxed themselves in with their pomposity, so that whatever is in the box is all that is real, and they know everything in their box.

Many people are touched by this effect in a small way, so that even if they are open-minded about some things, other ideas are boxed off, and they simply will not entertain different possibilities, especially in areas such as politics, current issues, religion. Which is why I try to stay away from such topics. I don’t mind people disagreeing with my own views if they extend to me the same courtesy I extend to them of listening to what they have to say, but too often, they have to have the last word. Or rather, the only word. And so I’ve learned to let them have that word early on to save a whole lot of aggravation later.

I hope I’m not one of those who are closed off without being aware of it. I do have pet ideas, of course — we all do — but I tend to think the way this Dunning-Kruger effect rules my life lies in a different direction, either by my underestimating my intellectual capability (some people think I’m smarter and more knowledgeable than I feel I am) or, as I so often fear, by my overestimating my capability and thinking I’m smarter than I really am. I have no way of knowing which is the truth because of the above stated inability for us to observe ourselves objectively.

I don’t think I have locked myself into a narrow box, though. I’ve always been aware that there is so much more out there than what I know. (Which is perhaps why I sometimes think I’m not all that smart or knowledgeable — I can sense how little I know, how little I can know.)

From what my mother told me, as a baby and as a toddler, and even into my early schoolgirl days, I idolized my older brother. It seemed to me he could do anything, and that year of life experience he had over me made him seem . . . omniscient. Each year, I could hardly wait until my birthday so I could catch up to him, and it always came as a shock that he was still a year older, still a year wiser.

Having bad eyesight at an early age added to the awareness of all that I didn’t know. It also created a sort of cognitive dissonance where I knew I was smart enough to get good grades but was too ignorant to know what everyone else seemed to know intuitively, such as what the names of streets were and how to tell the different trees apart. Even when I got my glasses and realized how everyone knew such things — they could see street signs! They could see individual leaves! — the dissonance remained.

My father didn’t believe in television for children. He wanted to raise his kids to be independent thinkers (as long as we thought the way he did), and that lack of cultural conditioning added to the feeling of not knowing. I remember a group of girls giggling about double-barreled slingshots, and they laughed at me when I asked what those were. It wasn’t until many years later when I happened to see a Beverly Hillbillies show that I got the joke. Way too little, way too late!

This idea of elusive knowledge, of knowledge waiting for me made me excited about school every year. For a week or two. Then I realized that whatever knowledge I wanted was still out of reach (I was one of those kids who read the school books during the first days of school, so I knew exactly what I would and wouldn’t be taught). I especially remember senior year in high school. “This is the year I will get to learn,” I thought. I was going to finally have a great teacher. (At least that’s what her previous students said.) On the first day of class, the teacher gave us an assignment: “Write an essay about what you expect to get from your senior year, and don’t give me any sycophantic nonsense about wanting to learn.” I just stared at her. This was the teacher who would finally teach me? As it turned out, no. Too many seniors wanted to take her class, and even though I had been one of the first to sign up, I was kicked out. (The only time my name was ever drawn out of a hat.)

Luckily, there were books. A lifetime of books. And just when I got to thinking I had a grip on some of what life had to teach, Jeff died, and the realization of how little I knew started all over again. If something as immense as grief had been hiding from me all my life, what else has been hidden? That question haunted me for many years, and in fact helped drive me through the worst of my pain. I thought perhaps something wonderful was waiting for me on the other side, but the only thing wonderful that happened was that I survived. And I gained a lot of knowledge about grief that has been of benefit to many people.

The sense of impending . . . something . . . has pretty much dissipated over the years since Jeff died, and I now let life offer me what it will.

Well, except for bombastic folks. Those I walk away from whenever I can.


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.

A Lovely Day

Today was a lovely day — immensely hot, but the still air and clear blue skies made up for any discomfort from the heat. It seemed such a harbinger of summer that I considered going in search of hanging plants, but tomorrow the wind will pick up again, and I don’t relish the idea of worrying about the poor things flailing around. Nor do I want to fill the planters I have until a more benign time. With any luck, once the windy season is gone, there will be some cooler days when I could do the work. And if not, the potting soil should last a while. If worst comes to worst, and the expiration date passes, I can always spread the soil on the ground. It won’t hurt, and it might help revitalize the dirt. (Odd to think of soil having an expiration date — dirt been around since the beginning of time. But then, salt has an expiration date, as does bottled water, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise.)

I built a bookcase from a kit today. It seemed a heavy mental burden, so the kit has been sitting unopened for a week or so, but when I got down to actually building the thing, it went together nicely. I also cleared the storage boxes out of the second bedroom to make room for the bookcase. Once the garage is done, those boxes will finally find a home, but for now they are in the dining room. I’m sorting out all the storage stuff into various piles — craft and fabrics, household goods, camping equipment, office supplies, — to make it easier when it’s time to move everything onto the shelves that will be set up in the garage. I’d planned to do the moving myself, but I don’t want to take a chance on reinjuring my knee, so the contractor and his workers said they’d do it for me, and I don’t want to waste their time dithering about where things go.

Meantime, I’m enjoying the extra space in the room where I spend so much of my time. No more cave-like dwelling!

I’m not sure what to put in the bookcase. My collection of tarot cards, perhaps, which was a legacy from my deceased brother.

I started learning about those cards before I moved here, but ever since then, they’ve been packed away. If they were where I could see them, maybe I’d take up my studies again. Or not. As interesting as I find the idea, it doesn’t seem valuable from a personal standpoint since any question I would want to ask the cards will be answered on its own given enough time. Still, the history of tarot is fascinating. And oh, there’s always the I Ching and the rune stones that came with the collection if I really wanted to delve into such esoteric matters.

Meantime, I’m enjoying the empty shelves. I seem to see any sort of emptiness as a place of possibility, and once the emptiness is filled, the hint of possibility disappears.

Also, once an emptiness is filled, there seems no chance of ever unfilling it, so it’s best to keep the shelves empty as long as I can. Things (in my life, anyway) tend to stay wherever they’re put.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, I also got to see two different friends at different times, as well as chat a few moments with the worker who was here painting the garage.

Yep. A lovely day.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.