Life Might Not be a Bowl of Cherries

I just got news my idyll is coming to an end. I’ve been mostly lounging around the past week or so, as if I were on some sort of spa weekend instead of merely housesitting, but today the house owners texted me and said they were coming home.

I’ll still have a place to stay for a few days. When I mentioned leaving, she said, “Oh, no. You have to stay until Saturday.” She’s having her book club meeting here on Saturday, and I have been invited, though I still don’t know whether I’m to be the guest of honor, sort of a writer-in-residence, or if I’m to be a sacrificial goat. (A poor attempt at humor. I’m sure the invitation is more that . . . well, that I am an author, and it is a book club.)

cherriesI had planned to leave town for a few days next week, maybe practice camping for a night or two to make sure it’s something I want to do before I spend the rest of my savings on gear, but without a car, it’s hard to go anywhere. I could walk, of course, but we are having a spell of wickedly hot weather, and besides, it would take me two or three days just to walk out of town. I’m sure people would frown on my camping in their yards for the interim nights, or horror of horrors, finding me behind a city bush doing my business.

There are many differences between walking and hiking, most of which are uncomfortable, such as uneven footing and heavy packs when hiking, but the one difference I do appreciate is that when one is hiking, every bush has the possibility of being a restroom if one needs to go. (Hmm. Maybe I’m being indelicate? If so, scratch the last sentence.)

I wonder how I will feel when my car is finally finished. Nervous, perhaps. I haven’t driven in almost three months, and when I did, I was driving a throwaway car. After all, the thing is 43-years-old and it looked its age, with multiple dents and rust spots, so it didn’t really matter what happened to it. But after spending half of a fortune to get the body fixed up, it will be a responsibility. And I like having no responsibilities.

Apparently, the car is worth something, especially since it has the original engine, and even more especially since I have the repair bills for the past 35 years. (I don’t know what happened to the first ten years of bills or why I have the rest. I guess after ten years, I figured I needed paperwork to prove the low mileage. It has less than 160,000 miles on it.) The bug will be worth more after the body work is finished since he’s doing a true restoration, not just patching the dents and such with whatever goop it is that cheap body shops use. I have to remember my sole reason for getting the car fixed is so that when/if I finally take that cross-country trip, I won’t look like a bag lady in a rattletrap. And it will be even more of a conversation piece when it looks good than when it looked . . . not good. And for someone like me who is reluctant to talk to strangers, it’s good to give them an excuse to approach.

Here I am again, talking about what I am going to do. I feel silly at times still talking about my possible plans as if I’m all mouth and no action, but the truth is, I am doing things. Getting my car restored. Learning to live an unsettled life. Researching trails and backpacking equipment. Continuing to take dance classes, even though in a couple of classes I am way out of my depth. (In one sequence of steps in ballet class today, we were supposed to relevé on the left foot, bring the right foot to passé, and then do a backward turn — a turn to the right. The others turned as instructed. I just stood there, feeling foolish and inept. How the heck does one spin around on one foot when there is no momentum? I so do not belong in that class! And yet, there I stay, at least for now.)

Well, I still have one more night to myself, so I’ll log off. I hope you have as good an evening as I intend to have. Did I mention I have cherries to munch on? Life might not be a bowl of cherries, but still, a bowl of cherries is a nice thing to have.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Back to Class

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the experience of a break from school, but I’ve been taking dance classes, and since the year-end holidays all fell in the middle of our class week, we haven’t had lessons for a long, long, long time. Well, it wasn’t that long, but considering how important those sessions have become to me, it seemed as if I’d started leading a whole other danceless life during the break.

Luckily today, our first day back, we took it slowly. Much strength and elasticity is lost with just a couple of weeks of inactivity, and there is no way to make up the loss in two-and-a-half hours. (One and a half hours for ballet, one hour for Arabic dancing.) Supposedly every day lost to dancing takes a week to make up when one is young, so there’s no telling how long it will take now. I’ll just be patient with myself and hope the teacher will do the same.

danceStill, it was good to be moving, to feel alive. Since most of today’s ballet class wasn’t taken up with all our usual barre exercises and stretches, we had time to learn a little dance. “Dance” might be too grand a word for those few basic steps, but it was elegant for all that, with développés, pas de bourrées, glissades, sauté arabesques, and soutenu turns. (I’m showing off. Can you tell?)

It’s amazing to me that anyone is willing to teach someone who comes to dance at such an advanced age, particularly since I will never be a “real” dancer, just as I will never be a “real” writer. Neither dance nor writing will ever be the sole focus of my life. I will not tolerate suffering for the sake of either art. (Quite frankly, I have no interest in suffering at all.) I have no passion to bring to either activity — I seem to be missing the passion gene, and the consensus seems to be you need passion to be a dancer or a writer. Although writing and dancing bring much life to my life, both seem to be not ends so much as means to what I really want, though continuing to be frank, I have no idea what I really want. (Which is sort of the problem, because of course, if I knew what I wanted, I could start doing whatever it is I needed to do in order to get what I wanted.)

But I’m getting off the topic of this particular bloggerie, which is today, dance, life.

Today I danced. Today I lived. Can’t ask for better than that.

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

Using Dance

When I told an acquaintance I was taking classical dance lessons — ballet, jazz, tap — she gave me a blank-eyed stare and said, “How do you use it?” From her point of view, the question apparently seemed logical. She had once taken ballroom dancing, and she could use her skill if/when she went to a ballroom or nightclub or wherever such dancing takes place. I have no corresponding “use” for classical dancing, though I have been invited to participate in a few performances so I have used some of the dances I know.

danceStill, in the year and a third that I’ve been going to class, I never once considered whether there was a use for dancing. If anything, it’s more that dance has a use for me. It takes me beyond myself and at the same time, takes me into myself, making me more comfortable with who I am than I’ve ever been in my entire life. (I think it has something to do with living in front of a mirror for all those hours each week.) It’s the only thing I’ve ever done that demands all of me — mind, body, spirit, strength, dedication, loyalty. (I listed “mind” first without even thinking about it, and I was going to change the order to put body first, but this is the right order. Without the mind — learning, memory, imagining — there is no dance.)

Dance is a generous taskmaster and gives back more than it demands. Although I am nowhere near as graceful, balanced, and strong as I would like to be, I have come a long way since I began taking lessons. I can feel muscles now where there used to be . . . whatever there used to be. And I am a bit more balanced and graceful than I was before. Best of all, these benefits will remain with me even when I can no longer take dance classes.

There’s no need to “use” dance. Dance is its own reason for being.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Trauma and Conflict vs. Happiness And Harmony

Trauma and conflict are much more compelling than happiness and harmony, which is why fiction is filled with terrible events such as murder, wars, killer weather, and other horrors. It’s the same in every day life, or at least the life we write about. Grief, pain, illness, conflict make for great news stories and blog posts. But happiness and harmony? Not so much.

danceToday was a great day for me. I took two dance classes: ballet and jazz. The combination of steps we practiced in ballet was especially hard for me. I knew the steps, but there was a glitch somewhere between my brain and my feet that kept me from getting the proper sequence and rhythm. And we’ve been learning a new dance in jazz, which is always tough for me — it takes all my concentration to keep up with the rest of the class, most of whom have a background in dance. But still, despite those problems, there’s not much to write about. It’s the difficulties I encountered today that made them good classes — learning is what galvanizes me. (And oh! The joy when I finally get the steps right!)

When I got back from class, my sister (who is here helping take care of my father) and I went shopping. She wanted art supplies and I wanted paper raffia to make i’is (Tahitian hand tassels) for Tahitian class. We got neither, though I ended up with a multi-colored feather boa to decorate a hat. (A wild purchase for me!) Later we fixed a meal together. I’ve heard it said that two women can’t share a kitchen, but the few meals we’ve cooked together have been harmonious events. She does what she wants, I do what I want, and we end up with something special. In this case, tuna melts with sunflower bread and gouda cheese, and fabulous double-cocoa brownies studded with chunks of 70% Belgian chocolate for dessert.

In fact, after a rocky beginning (although we had talked frequently on the phone over the past year, we hadn’t seen each other for many years and didn’t know each other’s habits or the meaning of each other’s gestures, and we had the added problem that we disagreed on how to deal with my problematic brother), we’ve consistently been dealing harmoniously with each other. She’s leaving next week, unless, of course, I can talk her into staying. My father doesn’t really need care. He’s ambulatory, still fairly strong, stays up most of the day, but he refuses to get himself food — he doesn’t want to be bothered, though he has no objection to bothering us when he’s hungry — so it’s been nice having someone else help wait on him. (Such duties irritate me. I will gladly do anything he needs done, but I have no interest in simply indulging him, though he finds that surprising. He keeps saying he thought I liked doing for him. I wonder if he’s confusing me with my mother?)

So, no wild emotions today. No grief. No trauma. No conflict. Just happiness and harmony.

I hope you had a harmonious day too.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.