Saying “No” to Outrage

In a cold war spy novel I am currently reading, I came across the sentence, “Outrage is a luxury available only in the West.” It was meant to explain the stolidity of the Russian workers, and I might not have even noticed the sentence if not for all the outrage that is so prevalent. Outrage in the USA is growing, and was most especially noticeable during the last presidency. Too many people thought they were the only ones who knew the truth, were the only ones who knew the best thing for the country. It didn’t matter what side of the line they were on, they were outraged at the folks on the other side for being liars, cheaters, racists, communists, sexist, for not caring enough about the poor, not caring enough about the economy, and on and on and on.

Outrage has been called a drug, one we really can get addicted to because it makes us feel smarter than other people, more in the know, more powerful. When outraged folk make comments, in their mind, it’s not opinion, it’s fact, even though the comment is no such thing — no matter how widespread, an opinion is just that — what something assumes is the truth.

Even worse are the outraged folks who do “research,” which means they read an article or two on the internet that solidifies their opinion.

Worst of all, of course, are those who try to ruin other people’s lives and careers because those other people deserve it for not agreeing with the current party line. And the person who did the ruining gets to feel puffed up and self-righteous when all they are is ignorant and arrogant.

Still, whatever the truth of the assertion that outrage is a luxury available only in the West, and however dangerous outrage is, outrage does seem to be one of the last freedoms we have.

Over the years, our freedoms have gradually been eroded in the name of safety. (Which is why I wrapped the story of Bob, The Right Hand of God around the theme of freedom vs safety. How much freedom we’re willing to give up for safety, and how much safety we’re willing to give up for freedom.)

Until outrage came along, the mainstay of freedom was the ability to say “no,” which is basically a power of the powerless, but gradually, that freedom is being taken away. For example, at the moment, it’s a choice whether one gets the current vaccine, though some people want to make it mandatory. In other words, saying “no” is no longer always possible. We’re so used to going along with the flow, doing what we’re told, that most of us no longer even think to say “no,” even when it is possible.

So what’s left is outrage. A luxury, perhaps. A freedom still.

Personally, I have no interest in being outraged about anything, which is why, except to see if someone left me a comment, I no longer spend any time on Facebook, watching the news, reading novels based on current policies, or anything that might draw me into the outrage culture.

It’s simply not worth it.

Luckily, I still have the freedom to say, “no.”

***

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?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Cold War Spy Story

I’m reading a spy novel from the early eighties. Back then, the story would have been straight from the news and a real nail biter. Many decades later, I would have thought it would be more of a curiosity than a compelling novel. After all, there was that whole glasnost and perestroika thing in the late eighties, which should have relegated all these old cold war era book obsolete, but here we are, once again, in a competition with the Russians.

And so this old book is, for the second time, straight from the news.

I’m still rather mystified by the whole thing. I mean, there we were in the nineties and aughts, one big happy family, with only the middle eastern terrorists spiking our Kool-Aid. Makes me wonder what the heck is really going on now.

To be honest, the cold war conflict wasn’t much of a war. Oh, we were told it was, and the newspapers did their job of riling up folks, but behind it all, if you dig deep enough, you can find western countries (most notably the USA), parceling out technology to both sides. Apparently, Eisenhower’s “military industrial complex” was too complex to willingly let go of all the power they’d garnered during WWII and then Korea. And so they kept us frantic about the possibility of a wide-scale nuclear conflict. (Nu-clee-ar, not nuc-u-lar!) [If you’re curious, Anthony C. Sutton, a British-American economist, historian, professor, and writer, was one of the incredibly knowledgeable researchers who tended to find out the truth of such matters.]

Still, the cold war hostilities did come to an end for whatever reason. Probably because nuclear power became old hat. Other means of annihilation are so much more efficient. Just think what would happen if some erstwhile favored country didn’t like the USA’s new economics policy that tried to even out the trade deficit, and instead of unleashing their nuclear weapons in a great show of force, they gradually let out a lethal bio-weapon that killed off the old and feeble rather than the young and healthy as the old way of war did. A lot of people would become causalities of a war they didn’t even know was being so stealthily fought.

Of course, that could never happen to such news savvy people as we are.

And anyway, we are back to the old days where Russia is once again the enemy. I have no idea what happened to glasnost and perestroika. Apparently, I was so busy reading about the past, I neglected to keep up with the present, so it came as a shock to find that Russia is once again up to their old anti-American spy tricks. (Or perhaps being put up to their old tricks?)

The end of the movie Blast from the Past was supposed to be humorous, with good old Christopher Walken unable to believe the truth that the Russians were no longer the enemy. Knowing how wily they were, he immediately began planning a new bomb shelter to protect his family from them. And what do you know — the ending of the movie turns out to be less than simply humorous and a lot more prescient.

***

If you haven’t yet read A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my novel of a quarantine that predated this pandemic by more than ten years, you can read the first chapter online here: http://patbertram.com/A_Spark_of_Heavenly_Fire.html

Buy it on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0024FB5H6/

Download the first 30% free on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842

Taking Life As It Comes

In a group text conversation, several women I know mentioned how they could hardly wait for spring, and it struck me as odd. The sentiment, of course, isn’t odd; in fact, it’s understandable, considering the heavy snows and arctic temperatures we’ve been served this winter. What is odd is that I am so out of the habit of longing for things to be different that I had forgotten other people were still in the habit.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the weather is clearing, even temporarily (more snow on the way!), and I am glad that we’re returning to more normal temperatures for this time and place, but it never occurred to me to want something different. This is what I have, so this is what I have to deal with. Admittedly, these arctic times are worrying; I have an old car, a battery that’s past its prime (though technically, it still has a couple years of use left), and an old house. I won’t know if there’s any problems with the car until I try starting it when it warms up a bit more, but a frozen water pipe was my only problem with the house, and even that wasn’t a problem. It was defrosted quickly, and it gave the workers a chance to insulate the pipe and to see a crack in the foundation that needs to be fixed. (The crack would have been fixed if the weather had cooperated; they’d bought the necessary supplies right before the snows came.)

What also is odd about my reaction to that conversation is that I hadn’t realized how much I really do live for the day. I make plans, of course, and worry way too much (though I am trying not to), but longing for things — even something as minor as weather — to be different died somewhere during my decade of deaths. (During a ten-year span, not only did Jeff die, but so did both my parents and the two brothers closest to me in age — one a year older, one a year younger.)

No amount of longing, wishing, hoping, changed one iota of those deaths or my grief. Nor did it change any of their lives. My parents lived long and happy lives, but Jeff and my brothers all died relatively young, and at least one of them had a miserable life. And I could not go back and change a single thing about any of it.

So a long, hard winter? Child’s play compared to all that. Besides, as I have learned, things change. Spring will come, bringing its own problems (wind!!), and then summer, and before we know it, we’ll be back in the midst of winter. There’s no real point in wishing my life away, in longing for something that’s either laid to rest in the past or is yet to be unearthed in the future.

Of course, this is today. By tomorrow, I might be longing for spring as much as everyone else, but for now, for today, I’m taking life — and the weather — as it comes.

***

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

Disdaining Improper English

A character in an older book I just finished reading was a stickler for proper English. Many of his objections were constructions I had no idea were improper, such as the use of “due to unforeseen circumstance” rather than “owing to unforeseen circumstances.” Since I didn’t know it was improper, I’ve always said “due to” rather than “owing to,” though now I will make sure I say it properly.

It made me wonder what other phrases I have been using improperly all my life, which led to the realization that my own disdain of improper English is probably misplaced. If improper phrases such as “due to unforeseen circumstances” are so prevalent as to seem proper, then today’s ridiculous constructions that I abhor will become (in some cases have already become) the preferred usage among the populace. “Veggies,” for example. I despise the cutesy word, suitable only for small children who have to be enticed to eat food they don’t particularly like. It isn’t at all a grown-up word, and yet everyone uses it. I can’t remember the last time anyone but me used the proper word, “vegetables.”

“Intestinal fortitude” is a phrase used in place of courage and the strength of mind to bear adversity, which is utterly silly. “Fortitude” alone means exactly that. I imagine somewhere along the line, someone thought they were being cute, using an erudite-sounding construction instead of saying “guts,” but eek. The phrase “intestinal fortitude” irks me as much as “veggies” does.

“Supposably” instead of “supposedly” has become so common, it no longer grates on my poor ears, though I will lop off my tongue if I ever hear myself say it.

An “executive decision” is one made by a person or group of persons who have executive power, so a person who decides something for a group of people is making an executive decision, but a person making a decision for himself alone, one that affects no one but himself, is not making an executive decision, but going by what I read and hear, everyone nowadays must be an executive because they are all making what they claim to be executive decisions. A decision is a decision. It needs no qualifier.

As for “get out of Dodge.” I can’t believe how often I read that phrase in books. Characters no longer get out of town, they always “get out of Dodge,” even if they are living in a major metropolitan area that in no way could be compared to Dodge. Luckily, so far, it is only a common phrase in fiction; I don’t hear many people saying it in real life.

Did you see what I did here? I said that my disdain of improper English is probably misplaced, and yet here I am, being disdainful. At least I kept the list of words and phrases I abhor short. Be thankful I didn’t go on a diatribe about the president of the United States being called the leader of the free world. Does anyone in France consider POTUS their leader? Does anyone in England? Or Germany? Or Canada? And what is the free world anyway?

Oops. I almost went on a diatribe after all.

***

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?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Freeze!

The temperature last night was twenty-three degrees below zero (Farenheit). Is that even a real temperature? Adding in the wind chill factor brought the temperature down to thirty-five below.

I’ve been warm. Although part of the county lost power last night, this area didn’t. What I did lose was the cold water in my kitchen. It was amazing how quickly the pipe froze. I made myself a cup of tea, using the cold water from the faucet, and then, an hour later, I decided to leave the spigot open slightly to keep the pipe from freezing, and there was no cold water. Almost an instant freeze!

I knew from the previous owner that the cold-water pipe in the kitchen had a tendency to freeze, but an insulation cap on the outside faucet was supposed to take care of the problem. And I thought the had solved the problem because the pipe hadn’t been an issue until last night. I just figured it was the immensely cold temperatures (more than forty degrees below average for this area). I put a space heater down in the basement near that particular pipe, but it didn’t help.

So I called my contractor. That’s not the sort of job they normally do, but he’d invited me to call him whenever there is a problem with the house. A little later he showed up with a couple of his workers. One shoveled the sidewalk from the house to the garage (a lovely surprise!) while the other located the frozen water pipe. No wonder the space heater didn’t solve the problem — it was a different pipe than I thought it was, so the insulation cap was doing its job. The frozen pipe ran along the inside wall by one of the cracks in the foundation (cracks that were being fixed before all the storms hit). So, the men unfroze the pipe and insulated it.

No damage was done, which sort of surprised me because the pipes, although not more than a decade old, are brittle and need to be replaced. That job is on the contractor’s to-do list, but it hasn’t been a priority, and I didn’t want to make it a priority until some of the started jobs are finished. So, whew! I don’t have to worry about replacing the pipes for now.

The town has been talking about trying to get more retirees to the area, thinking it’s an ideal location for older people since houses are relatively cheap (though the prices are going up a bit), and it’s touted as a mild four-season climate. I wonder how these temperatures will affect those plans? Not that I care except as a matter of curiosity.

What I do care about is staying warm and keeping my pipes from freezing. Luckily, we’re in a heat wave — it’s up to zero degrees right now, and the low tonight will be only minus four.

I know one thing — until it warms up to a decent temperature and all danger of pipes freezing is past, I’m just going to let the kitchen faucet drip.

***

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?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Uncoupled In a Coupled World

Valentine’s Day is such a couple’s day that it is a particularly hard day for those were uncoupled by death. Too many people have been left with a broken heart that seems even more broken on February fourteenth.

All holidays are hard, of course, but this is an especially difficult one because romance, with its emphasis on love and couplehood, is the theme. Clichés about love abound: You’re nobody unless somebody loves you. Love fulfills you. Love makes the world go round. All you need is love. Love is all that matters. Two hearts beating as one. Soul mates. Everlasting love.

Wherever we go, whatever we do, we see images of happy couples. It seems as if the day is taunting us with our loss, reminding us that once we were part of a couple, and now we are not. Hence, today, more than any other holiday, we have to guard against bitterness.

I say “we,” but I truly don’t include myself. Well, the part about the songs and love clichés is a problem all year round, or at least, it was. I’m mostly okay with being uncoupled in a coupled world because the truth is, you are someone even if you are now alone, even if yours is the only heart that is still beating. But Valentine’s Day itself was never a special day for me and Jeff because we didn’t really celebrate holidays; neither of us saw the point of buying candy or a present just because someone designated a certain day for that purpose.

Still, I am aware that it is an especially difficult time for many who had to deal with the death of a life mate, soul mate, spouse, and my heart goes out to them. Mostly, though, I wanted to present a different side of the heart and flower theme, to let people know that Valentine’s Day is not a good day for everyone.

Today could have been a hard day for me for an entirely different reason: the high right now is zero, and it’s going to go down to minus fifteen tonight, with a wind chill of minus thirty-five. Yikes. That’s cold! I’ve dealt with such temperatures before, but not when I’ve been living alone, and not when I am nearing “elderly.” But so far, I’ve been fine. I even managed to go out a couple of times to clear a path on the sidewalk. I couldn’t do the whole width — as someone kindly reminded me, it’s dangerous doing physical labor in such frigid conditions.

I hope you’re doing okay, too, whatever adverse situation is you might be dealing with today. Some things change if we wait long enough, such as the weather. Even though it seems as if it’s been winter forever, chances are the days will get warmer. Other situations, such as the death of loved one, there’s nothing to do but get up each day and deal with it the best we can. Even then, sometimes things change if we wait long enough. At the very least, we get used to being uncoupled in a coupled world.

***

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

Adventuring

Although I might not be having adventures of the traveling kind, I am certainly having an adventure of the weather kind — we’re experiencing an arctic cold front that has brought the temperature forty degrees below normal for the area. I can’t say it’s a fun adventure, but it is an adventure, this trying to stay warm in the chill temperatures. Luckily, I don’t have many reasons to go out and brave the cold, though today I did have one of those reasons.

I was invited to lunch at a friend’s house, and that was an adventure of a different kind — a culinary adventure spanning the gamut of Asian countries. First we had an appetizer of vegetable rolls — various vegetables wrapped in edible rice paper and dipped in a wasabi sauce.

Next we had a deliciously spicy clam-in-the-shell stir fry. After that was grilled eel on a bed of rice topped with a special eel sauce. An interesting taste experience, that’s for sure! I can’t say eel will ever be one of my favorite foods, but I did enjoy it this once, mainly, I think, because it was so different from anything I’ve ever eaten. It wasn’t slimy, as you might expect, but it wasn’t flaky like fish, either, though it did have a mild fish flavor.

To drink, I had Thai cream soda, which is nothing like American cream soda. I don’t know what flavor it is, actually, perhaps similar to an Asian fruit, like rambutan or lychee. Which, incidentally, were served for dessert.

That’s plenty of adventuring for me for now. Tonight, we’re supposed to get snow and even colder temperatures. Tomorrow’s high will be zero. Or maybe 1 degree above zero if we’re lucky. I will have to go out to clear the snow from the ramp and the sidewalk in front of the house, but that will be it for me. The rest of the day I will snuggle under a comforter to read and drink hot tea and be grateful for the warmth inside my cozy little house.

***

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?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

At Home

Several friends have each recently bought a travel trailer, motor home, or camper, and are planning on hitting the road. I don’t know why the sudden urge people have to be on the move. Perhaps their age dictates a now-or-never attitude. Maybe it’s being holed up at home for so long. It could be any number of reasons, actually. Not that it matters. They are going and I am not.

I spent my one-last-trip travel money on a garage, which, considering the weather this year, was a great investment. My car is out of the cold, and when I do need to drive, I don’t have to spend the time uncovering it. Nor do I have to clear away snow or worry about the car not starting. (What I do have to worry about is the choke — the last guy who worked on the car either didn’t set it right or knocked it out of whack, because when it’s frigid out, the poor car bucks and stutters, and I haven’t had a chance to get it fixed yet.)

I haven’t gotten rid of any of my camping or hiking gear in case I do decide to go on a camping trip someday, but for the most part, I am where I want to be. No amount of wanderlust, no desire to be in the mountains or to see different things outweighs the sheer joy of being in my own house, wandering around my own yard.

It seems odd that after all those years of looking for adventure, the only outdoor adventure I find is in my own backyard, though admittedly, it’s been so cold, I don’t spend much time outside except to sweep snow off my ramp or to shovel the sidewalk, but still, it’s my place to go out and enjoy whenever I wish.

I feel fortunate, not only to have a place to call my own, but that I actually want to be there! So often, during the years after Jeff’s death, I didn’t want to be anywhere, and whatever place I happened to be didn’t really seem to fit; I could feel itchiness and discomfort as if I were wearing ill-fitting clothes. I had such a need to escape those “clothes” that being on the move seemed to be the only time I felt vaguely like myself.

Now, surprisingly, I feel like myself all the time. That’s a major change, and a welcome one. Not only do I not feel the need to travel to understand my very existence as I once did (hence the poster accompanying this blog that I made back in my wanderlust days), I’m not sure I even worry much about trying to understand my existence. It’s more important for me just to be, to be in the here and now, to be at home.

***

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?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Red Hat and White Trees

Yesterday while I was taking photos of the fog-frozen trees, a friend snapped my picture. Normally, I don’t like my picture taken when I’m unaware, but I can see why this image intrigued her. I probably would have done the same if our positions were reversed because the contrast between the red hat (actually, red with black polka dots) and the the white background really is stunning.

The trees remained white for several days, and in fact, the frost grew thicker each day. This is odd for the lower elevations of Colorado. Frost tends not to hang around for very long because of the heat of the sun on even the coldest days. But the sun seems to be absent for now.

It’s interesting how people remember things differently. My brother remembers the years in our youth when snow lay on the ground all winter. I remember the year when we didn’t have to wear coats on Christmas because of the heat, but had to bundle up at Easter because of the snow. Mostly, though, I don’t remember much about the weather back then; the only reason I remember the year of the sun at Christmas and the snow at Easter is because I remember telling someone that’s what I liked about Colorado — the contrary weather.

Well, I am certainly getting contrary weather this year! Colorado advertises itself as a place that gets more than 300 days of sunshine a year, but this year (or this month, anyway) it’s fooling us with one dreary day — one dreary cold day — following another.

People did warn me at the beginning of this winter that February was the coldest month. (Where Jeff and I lived on the western slope, December or January were the coldest.) And yep. Here we are! At least, I hope this is the coldest month. By this weekend, we’ll be lucky to get above zero. Brrr!

I’m still hoping by next year, I’ll be more acclimated to the winters, but for now, I’m mostly staying inside, going out only when necessary. And when I do go out, as you can see from the photo, I bundle up.

***

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?

Click here to buy Bob, The Right Hand of God

Mixed Feelings

Today was a day of mixed feelings — happy, sad, shocked, sublime. I hadn’t been going anywhere or seeing anyone for a while, so when I found out the art guild was meeting today, I decided to attend. The town seems to be picking up the pieces of life, with various events that have been cancelled the past year being scheduled once again. For me, it mostly means coming up with another historic murder mystery scenario, but I have several months to think about it.

I was happy being around people, happy to do a project (we made small valentine banners), but I was shocked and oh, so saddened to hear about the death of one art guild member’s husband. My heart goes out to this friend. I’m just like everyone else when it comes to not knowing what to say, so I merely hugged her and said I was sorry. I also let her know I would be available if she ever needed anyone to talk to, which I think she appreciated, but I tend to think she’s still too shaken to be able to put her chaotic thoughts about her loss into words.

The sublime part of today (and the past couple of days) was the frozen fog. I don’t remember if I’d ever seen frozen fog before, though perhaps I did when I was young because the scene has a familiarity about it. I certainly hadn’t seen anything like it when I lived in the desert of California or the high plains of Colorado, so I enjoyed the whiteness. The white trees and shrubs, the white sky, the white . . . everything. It looks like snow, but it isn’t — we haven’t had snow for a couple of weeks. Apparently it’s cold enough (and yes, it is cold, though not as cold as it’s going to be this weekend; they’re talking about a high of zero on Sunday) to freeze the fog in the air and the moisture on the flora.

I’m still on hiatus from work, so it was nice seeing people, but it will be equally nice tomorrow when I stay inside and enjoy the frozen fog from the warmth of my rooms.

***

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