Destination: Joy

I’ve been writing about my problems dealing with my emotionally unstable brother, and the writing has been helping me find peace and sanity in the madness of my current life. Normally, my brother wouldn’t be a major issue, but he is currently camping out in my father’s garage and seems to think I am here for his convenience, to be his scapegoat / sounding board / disciple. When my brother goes into one of his demanding (demented?) states, he continually bangs on my windows for attention. I usually respond to the first few raps, but when he gets abusive, I ignore him. bookHe does not like being ignored, and will pound on my windows until I respond. If I don’t respond, he keeps rapping. Relentlessly.

I’ve been keeping a journal of his actions. The other night he rapped forty-one times. Actually, it was more like 123 times since each time he tries to get my attention, he knocks on three different windows in two different rooms. Finally, he got so angry at being ignored, he broke a window. This panicked me. I was afraid that the patterns of childhood would repeat themselves, and he would be punished unmercifully for his actions.

I’m ashamed to admit, I screamed at him. Until he came here with all his emotional baggage, I haven’t screamed at anyone since childhood, hadn’t even known that it was still in me to raise my voice in such a manner, but I was furious, fearful, faithful to old conditionings I only vaguely remembered. My father had said that if my brother broke a window, he’d have my brother arrested, but when I told my father about the broken window, he just shrugged the matter off, which gives me hope that some of the old patterns of fear and punishment are finally being destroyed. At least in me. I truly do not know if there is hope for my brother because he doesn’t seem to see a need for change.

I came here to my father’s house to look after my aged parent, of course, but I also came for redemption, though I’m not sure what or whom I am trying to redeem. I just know I didn’t want to be carrying the same patterns of thought throughout my entire life, and I somehow felt that looking after my father and allowing him to be as independent as possible would help close the circle of the past. If the universe is unfolding as it should, it might not be an accident that my brother showed up here, too. (In fact, he has often told me he doesn’t know why he is here.) He is a big part of the puzzle of my youth. I’ve always felt torn between my brother and my father, as if I were the rope in their tug-of-war. Each seemed to want my total loyalty, though neither ever really did anything to warrant such loyalty.

The shackles of the past seem to be diminishing rapidly now. Oddly, I woke up this morning with an inward smile that has been with me the whole day. It could be that I really am doing some good here, perhaps even finding that redemption I am seeking, maybe even finding a bit of freedom.

I used to think that freedom came from being unencumbered by the past, that I could only be free when both my father and brother were out of my life, but now I see that one can be free even while cumbered. It’s a matter of gracefully and lightfully carrying one’s past and present as one travels into a more joyful future.

A friend sent me this quotation by Danielle La Porte in response to yesterday’s blog, I Come From a Narcissistic Family:

Freedom does not come from a checklist, and a ‘zero inbox’ is not a life aspiration.
If liberation is a chore, it’s not really liberation.
You can’t contract your way to freedom.
You can’t punish your way to joy.
You can’t fight your way to inner peace.
The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.
Let me offer this again, in reverence to your life force:
The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.
And again, with respect to your potential:
The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.

Since my destination is joy (I didn’t realize until this very moment that joy is in fact, my destination), my journey also has to feel like joy. And my inner smile is telling me that it is possible.


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.

What Does Not Destroy Us Makes Us Stronger. Or Weaker. Or More Fearful

Nietzsche said, “What does not destroy me makes me stronger.” I’m not sure if that is strictly true. Sometimes that which doesn’t destroy us makes us makes us weaker because it makes us fearful of living, fearful of more trauma, fearful of fear itself.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

In life, we often have to do the thing we think we cannot do. Too many times during the past eighteen months I’ve felt that I can’t survive the pain of losing my life mate (we were together for 34 years). Panic kept washing over me, as if I’d been set down in the middle of an alien world with no idea how to deal with all the horror being thrown at me. I feared every new step, every change. I’d been especially fearful of growing old alone. Sometimes I still am. I’ve seen what dying can do. It’s a terrible way to end one’s life, and it seems even more terrible when one has to face it alone. Of course, there’s a chance that it will be decades before I have to face the grim reaper, and who knows what will happen until then?!

Well, I do know one thing that will happen: this discussion about life, writing, and the writing life!

So, what do you fear? How do you deal with your fear?

If you are a writer, how does that fear work its way into your stories? What do your characters fear? How do they deal with the fear? Is the fear a plot driver, something that drives the story forward or is it more of a subplot, a way of developing your character? Is the fear justified? Is the fear realized? (I mean, does the thing the character fear happen, and if not, why not?) How does the character deal with the fear? How does the fear change the character? How does facing his/her fear change the character?

I Fear, You Fear, We All Fear

Sheri Parks, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, says that many teens today have had years of exposure to violent video games and media images, which studies show desensitizes them to violence.

How odd to think that there are now studies showing this desensitization. Many of today’s — and yesterday’s — video games were developed by the military because studies had shown that repeated images of violence and death inured people to killing. In World War II, as many as 85% of soldiers fired over enemies’ heads or did not fire at all. After World War II, there was a concerted effort by the military to overcome this natural reluctance to kill, and apparently they succeeded, because during close combat in Vietnam, only about 5% of soldiers failed to aim to kill.

These same desensitizing “games” were later released as toys for children. Is it any wonder that teens today stand by and take pictures while a young girl is gang raped?

Today I am a guest at A.F. Stewart’s blog talking about fears. I kept my post light in honor of Halloween, but findings such as these about desensitization scare the heck out of me. Author Lee Child says that we don’t write what we know, we write what we fear, and that certainly is true in my case. I fear the machinations of the powerful, deadly, and calculating men and women who control our lives behind the scenes.

This theme is most prevalent in More Deaths Than One (in fact, I came across the information about desensitization while researching the military, soldiers, and killing for that particular novel) though it shows up in milder forms in all of my novels. Conspiracy? Perhaps. Truth? Probably. Fear? Definitely.

Now that I have scared you, go check out a lighter side of fear and tell me: What Are You Afraid Of?

More Deaths Than OneMore Deaths Than One is available from AmazonSecond Wind Publishing, and Smashwords. (You can download 30% free at Smashwords as well as buy in all ebook formats.)

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Unreal Characters From Real Life

In a couple of previous bloggeries, I spoke of finding ideas, and how many thousands of ideas need to be accumulated to create a story. Ideas for characters — both believable and unbelievable — can come from real life. And not necessarily your own life.

In the 1973 book Cecil B. DeMille by Charles Higham, Higham talks about DeMille’s problems with Victor Mature while filming Samson and Delilah.  DeMille, who chose Victor Mature to be Samson because of his role in Kiss of Death, was horrified when he first saw Mature at a costume test. He was badly out of condition, with fatty, flabby muscles. DeMille sent him to a gym for weeks of severe training until he lost thirty pounds. But that’s not the interesting bit.

Once shooting began that fall, Mature turned out to be even more problematica. He was a victim of numerous phobias: fear of water, fear of lions, fear of swords, and practically everything else as well. His genial, charming personality was far too weak for DeMille’s severe and stoical taste. When  Mature appeared in the battle of the jawbone in which a great wind swept through the studio, he took fright at a particularly violent, machine-made gust, and fled, hiding in terror in his dressing room. DeMille had him brought back like a naughty boy who had run away from school. He picked up his megaphone, and in a voice icy with disgust, shouted in full hearing of the immense cast and crew: “I have met a few men in my time. Soem have been afraid of heights, some have been afraid of water, some have been afraid of fire, some have been afraid of closed spaces. Some have even been afraid of open spaces — or themselves. But in all my thirty-five years of picture-making experience, Mr. Mature, I have not until now met a man who was 100 percent yellow.”

A few notes about John Wayne from the same book: John Wayne hated horses. He was a good chess player. He got straight “A”s toward the end of high school. The sand in the batch of cement outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater where John Wayne put his prints came from Iwo Jima. Also, John Wayne only had to read his lines one to memorize them. He was a voracious reader. 

These are the kind of ideas I like, the ones that make us think of characters in a different light: the hero who is afraid of everything; the big, physical man who is a great reader.

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