Want. Not Want.

At lunch with friends today, the topic of “wanting” came up. I said I didn’t want anything. “You have no ambition,” one woman remarked. Ambition is defined as an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment. So yes, she’s right. I have no ambition. Since I have no earnest desire for anything, I have no particular willingness to strive for its attainment. I would like to be renowned as a writer, of course, but that’s not really an earnest desire, more of a wistful longing. Still, some people love my writing, so that’s renown of a sort, maybe even more so than being recognized by an admiring (or unadmiring) bog.

I do want to dance yinyangbetter, and I am willing to strive for that goal by doing my best at as many classes as I can take, but dancing is not really a “want,” maybe more of a need. Learning is what I do — the ability to learn is the one true talent I have — and at the moment, I am focused on dancing.

I softened the blow of my non-ambition by admitting that I did want to want something. My family, my life mate/soul mate, my various loves — both human and inanimate — have defined my life at different times, but now there is only me. Wanting something would help set a path, create a passion, establish a goal. Wanting something would define my life for me.

And yet . . . I am just mystical enough to not want to want anything — to simply go with the flow of life and see where it takes me, to be open to possibilities of all kinds, to be spontaneous and follow my instincts of the moment, to experience the world in a more intimate way than through the shutters of a familiar room. (Besides, the very act of definition imposes limits, and I am trying to open up my life, not limit it.)

Taking dance classes came from a spontaneous flowing when I noticed a nearby dance studio. I never had any desire to dance, never even conceived of such a possibility, in great part because I am not limber, disciplined, or musical. (To show how non-musical I am, for the past seventeen months in Hawaiian class, we’ve been doing two different types of warm-up exercises to the same piece of music, and I never even noticed that the music was the same until someone pointed it out to me a couple of days ago. Eek. How is that possible?)

I also want an epic adventure, and to that end, I consider such foreign ideas (foreign to my nature, that is) as walking across the country, hiking a national trail, stealth camping wherever I might find myself, and whatever else my magpie mind fancies at the moment. But whether I physically set out on such a journey or just live as fully as I can, there will always be epic adventures. Dancing is such an adventure for me. Leaving my father’s house after it is sold, will be another adventure since I have no idea where I am going or what I will do (except continue to take dance classes).

So . . . Want. Not want. Either way, it doesn’t make much difference to me. Seems as if that’s an adventure in itself.

***

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.

Grief and the Loss of Identity

I don’t feel disempowered as a women, perhaps because I seldom define myself by gender, religion, nationality, age, or any other consideration. I am simply . . . a being in flux. I have felt powerless at times, but not because of being a woman. The powerlessness came from being in situations greater than my abilities to cope. Sometimes I developed the necessary abilities, such as when I decided to be a writer, other times I simply endured, such as when grief slammed into me after the death of my life mate/soul mate. Either way, I managed to move beyond the powerlessness and regain my equilibrium.

This is not the way things always were, of course. When I was very young, many limitations were imposed on me because I was “just a girl.” (How I hated those words!) Luckily, the early limitations were offset by my experiences at the all-girl high school I attended. In a school where everyone is female, there is no gender bias — all activities are done by and all offices, honors, and awards are won by young women.

warriorIt’s no wonder then, that when I fell in love, it was with an unbiased man. For thirty-four years, we lived in gender harmony. We played no roles, set no rules, followed no conventions. Never once in all those years did he tell me I couldn’t do something. Never once did I refuse to let him do something he wanted. Never once did he make me do a chore. Never once did I remind him of a task he promised to do. If one of us saw a job that needed to be done, we simply did it. Usually, though, we worked together. Some of my fondest memories are of us fixing meals together — he washing vegetables for a salad, me cutting them up. He reading seasonings off a recipe card, me tossing the herbs into the pot. (Or vice versa. What made it especially rewarding is that we’d created those recipes together.)

During the last few years of his life, I did many things by myself in preparation for the time when I would be alone. I took long solitary ambles, went on trips, learned to use a computer and the internet. This became our life — he dying, me struggling to live.

Somehow I thought this would always be our life, but then he died, and “our” life ended.

My grief was so profound I felt as if part of me had been amputated. The pain, the angst, the loneliness were unbearable, but the worst trauma was the sudden and shocking loss of my identity. Being with him had allowed me to be myself, to be comfortable with both my good points and my bad points. Since I wasn’t in thrall to him (though I did often follow his wishes because I didn’t care what we did or what we ate as long as we were together), it never occurred to me there would be a problem when once again I became single. But I’d grown so used to being with him, that nothing, not even something as simple as watching a movie, seemed important when I did it alone. He’d been the focus of my life for so many years that without him I felt lost, felt as if my life had no meaning. Felt silly for unknowingly letting my identity get so caught up in “us” that when he died, I no longer knew who I was.

The truth is that even for those of us who have a strong identity and know almost everything there is to know about ourselves, a trauma such as the loss of a soul mate shakes our self-concept. Our psyches are like nesting dolls or boxes within boxes or doors within doors (choose your cliché). We never see the doors, so we think we know who we are, but a great emotional upheaval can cause a door to open, letting us see more of ourselves and what we are capable of, revealing a part of our identity that might have been hidden from us until that moment. We get to know who we now are, adding to or changing our idea of ourselves, rethinking the past in light of this new awareness. We might even get comfortable with this revised self-concept until a new trauma opens another door.

And so it is with me. It’s been three and a half years since his death, and until a new trauma comes along, I again know who I am — a being in flux, still strong, still developing my abilities, still learning to empower myself as a person.

***

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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.