The Length of the Chain Between the Imagination and the Stake of Reality

Last night I rewatched The Long Way Home, a 1998 Hallmark movie starring Jack Lemmon. While this is not his best movie (oh, wait — maybe it is. I never particularly liked most of his movies), it certainly spoke to me considering my present situation.

In a way, our circumstances are the opposite — I have too few loved ones left and he has too many. In my case, the house where I am living (my father’s house) will soon be sold out from beneath me, and I will be left to fend for myself. In his case, his children made the decision to sell his home after the death of his wife and have him move in with them. He is lost, doing not much of anything but sitting around, having accepted their belief that he needs to be protected from the death sentence supposedly conferred by old age. (He is only 75, which might be old, but not in my world where my mother lived strongly to 85, my father did it “his way” until he was 97, and my forever young dance teacher is 78 going on 48.)

But both Jack and I are poised on the precipice of a new life, struggling to find meaning, purpose, focus in the light of our losses.

I’ve been trying to envision various ways of continuing my life, perhaps traveling, and that is what Jack does — goes on a road trip. After a minor accident where he couldn’t make it home, he meets a college student on her way to Monterey where she will have to deal with her own family situation. Impulsively, instead of going back to his son and daughter-in-law, he decides to go with her, taking the long way home to his children in Kansas. (Kansas — a possible homage to the Wizard of Oz, the ultimate road trip / long-way-home movie?)

The main theme of this movie for me is freedom. The college student tells Jack, “Freedom is the length of the chain between the imagination and the stake of reality.” (She says it in such a way that it sounds like a quote rather than a spontaneous outburst, but I haven’t been able to find the citation anywhere.)

I never quite understood this quote, despite having seen the movie two or three times, but now I’m getting an inkling of what it means. Reality imposes such harsh rigidity on us, tying us to the necessities of taking care of others and ourselves, and keeping us bound to the inevitablity of death. And yet, and yet . . .

Our imaginations take us elsewhere, enabling us to envision other possibilities, which lengthens the chain that binds us, and sets us free to live not in the darkness left behind by our loved ones who are gone, but “in the light” of them.

The poster that hangs above the door of “my” dance studio.

 

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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.

In Between

I’m sitting here at the computer, playing endless games of solitaire, and dozing off. I didn’t even know it was possible to fall asleep at the computer, but I have a hunch I could fall asleep anywhere right now. The long days of caring for my father must have been more stressful and exhausting than I thought. Or maybe it’s that for the first time in more than a decade I don’t have to listen for calls of distress from the old and/or dying. There is only me in this borrowed house (borrowed from my father’s napestate pending probate and sale). There are no life or death matters to take care of, nothing major for me to accomplish (though I have a few minor obligations and things I promised to do).

During these years of caring for my father, I often blogged about my plans and possibilities for after he was gone, but at the moment, I have no desire to do anything but just float through my days, dealing with whatever comes my way. And to dance, of course.

Someday soon I’ll have to pack and put my stuff in storage in preparation for . . . I don’t know what. But now, there is no reason to do anything unless I feel like it.

I’ve always loved these in-between times. I remember as a child only being happy walking to or from school. It was a joy to leave the house in the morning, and a joy to leave school in the afternoon. But being either place didn’t particularly thrill me.

Some of the best times Jeff (my now deceased life mate/soul mate) and I had were when we packed up all our stuff, moved out of whatever house or apartment we were living, and headed across country to find a new place to live with no clear idea of where we were going. Leaving gave us such a wonderful sense of freedom that was all too soon offset by the need to find a place to live. I remember a truck stop in Utah, a motel in Iowa next to a rain puddle as big as a pond, a traveler’s oasis in Nebraska. All prosaic places that brought us a night of happiness.

And now here I am, in transition once more.

I understand now why I don’t want to settle down anywhere, why no place (except the dance studio) brings any thought of joy — being settled seems to be a sort of entrapment for me, and I am through being trapped. I suppose it’s silly to think this way — we are trapped in so many different ways — trapped in our minds, our ever-aging bodies, our society, our laws — that the secret must be to find freedom and wonderful possibilities within the entrapment.

But tonight is not a time to think of such things. It’s a time to bask in the quiet freedom, to know that these walls don’t bind my life, to feel the flutter of possibilities. And, apparently, a time to fall asleep at the computer.

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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.

 

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.

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

Facets of Freedom

It seem fitting that I’ve begun working on my poor stalled novel at a time when we are celebrating freedom. This book was supposed to be my declaration of independence from the dictates of the publishing industry, a story so silly it had no chance of ever being published. Oddly, somewhere along the way, the book metamorphosed from a whimsical story into something deeply metaphysical with a heavy theme: freedom vs. safety. More specifically, the book explores how much freedom we are willing to give up for safety and how much safety we are willing to give up for freedom.

Robert McfireworksKee, author of Story, wrote: “The revelation of true character in contradiction to characterization (the sum of all observable qualities) is fundamental to all fine storytelling. What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind the facade of traits.”

If my hero doesn’t know what he truly wants until he gets it, it will add another dimension to this theme. He first chooses freedom because he believes he wants freedom more than anything. Next he chooses incarceration and safety because survival becomes the most important thing to him. Then he chooses the excitement and danger of freedom over the boredom of safety because he wants to feel alive, to participate in creation, if only to create himself. Finally he accepts responsibility, which is a different facet of freedom (without responsibility, freedom is merely self-indulgence), and it turns out this is what he wanted all along.

By giving Chip an inner character in contradiction to his outer one, he should become a richer character, which in turn will allow the story to explore all the facets of the theme rather than the simple one of freedom vs. safety.

At least that’s the plan.

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