Settling Into Unsettledness

For the past ten weeks, ever since I left my father’s house to the new owners, I’ve been living off the kindness of friends. My homelessness wouldn’t have been a problem except that my car is at the auto body shop being restored. (I’ve had the thing for 43 years, and apparently I’m not yet ready to give up on the old bug.) The job that was supposed to take three weeks has now taken three months and it’s still not done. (Maybe by the end of this month I’ll have it back. Maybe.) A car would have given me more options, including, of course, taking off on an adventure. Even knowing the truth about how long the restoration was going to take would have given me options. I could have taken a freighter to New Zealand and Australia without having to worry about where to store my car in my absence since it would have been with the auto body guy.

ripplesAt first, it was fun living a borrowed life, sometimes as a guest, sometimes as a housesitter, but all of a sudden, it’s become . . . well, dangerous. Not physically dangerous. Mentally dangerous. Although I have been welcomed wherever I have stayed, and although people are glad to do what they can for me, it’s apparent I add complications to their lives. Even more, I’m beginning to feel as if I don’t belong here. Not just “here” meaning where I am staying, but here on Earth. As if I’m superfluous. Nobody is making me feel this way, you understand. It’s something in me making me feel this way. (That everyone I have stayed with is married and very settled makes my unsettledness feel even more unsettling by comparison.)

It’s strange (or perhaps not so strange) that I never felt as if I didn’t belong when Jeff was alive, though I often felt that way before we met. And now . . . well, the feeling is something I am struggling with, one of the last lingering effects of my grief. (Wanting to go home to him is still prevalent, but that is an adjunct to the whole “not belonging” thing.) Needing to feel as if I belong is one of the main reasons I wanted to take an epic walk — I hoped it would help me feel connected to the earth in a more fundamental way.

When the last of my housesitting ventures is finished, if my car is still out of commission, I’m going to . . . do something. Take a bus trip, maybe — go to the bus station and board the first bus going anywhere. Or perhaps by then I’ll have found a room to use as a hub for my adventures. Or I could start writing another book. (People keep telling me I need to write, and I suppose that’s true. Although being just another author among millions makes me feel as superfluous as everything else, at least when I’m writing I don’t think about it.)

Meantime, I’ll just settle back into my unsettledness, and keep finding the fun in this unsettling transitional period.

(I sound ungrateful, don’t I? But I’m not. I’m truly grateful for my friends and their kindnesses.)

***

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.

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

My housesitting job for July has fallen through. My car still is not finished. Since I don’t have wheels, I haven’t been able to go searching for camping equipment, and since I don’t have a local address, I haven’t been able to order anything online. And so my adventure continues.

I’ll be able to find places to spend the night, places where people won’t turn me away even if they weren’t exactly thrilled about my staying with them, which is nice. I certainly don’t like the prospect of living on the streets in this weather. 105° yesterday. Oh, my. Not that I would have to live on the streets. I could go stay in a motel somewhere, but I’d be pretty much trapped.

My main focus next week will be to see if I can light a fire under the body shop guy. I’ll call, go visit him, see if I can get others to go on my behalf. I understand this isn’t his only job. I understand it’s taking longer than he expected. I understand it’s an old car and needs special care. But enough is enough. (It wouldn’t bother me so much if I still had the housesitting job, but I’m not ready to be out in the world without transportation.) I’ve considered taking a trip by plane or by bus, but if I weren’t here to nag the auto body guy, I might never get the car back.

Meantime, I’m just going with the flow. Waiting to see what if anything transpires. Making lists of people and places to visit. Dreaming about sleeping under the stars (though what good that will do me since without my glasses on, I couldn’t see them anyway).

This isn’t exactly the way I’d planned to spend these months, living on the mercy of friends and acquaintances, but to paraphrase my Aunt Mil, when things don’t go as planned, that’s when the real adventure begins.

***

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.

Odd Days and Odd Ways

Well, so much for being alone in a stranger’s house. The fates shifted the pieces in the kaleidoscope of my life, and suddenly I am sharing the house with an exotic dancer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday evening, I went to a drum circle with a friend. I’d never been to one before, and I was curious to see what sort of healing I could expect or feel, so I invited myself along.

The first part of the ceremony was a spiritual cleansing. I’m not sure what we were being cleansed of — negativity, perhaps. She did us one at a time, having each person stand with arms outstretched. She worked on some people for what seemed a long time, maybe six minutes, pulling out the unclean bits, heaving some bits away, stomping other bits into oblivion, and then she finished the cleansing by going over the body with the healing smoke of sage. When she came to me, she had me stand with my right arm up and my left arm down. Slid whatever it was that she found down from my right hand to my left, then gently tossed it away. She spend a minute or so with the sage, and that was it. I’m not sure why she gave me a different stance, not sure why she spent so little time with me. Maybe she sensed my lack of engagement (whatever the others felt — peace, healing, spirits, love, the end of pain — apparently passed me by since I didn’t feel anything but interest). Maybe she didn’t sense much negativity in me, or perhaps she simply decided I couldn’t be healed.

It’s possible there’s not much to be healed. My mental chatter has died down, I have little to say, no conflicts to be conflicted about, no ailments. I like living in the moment, not thinking too far ahead. More importantly, for the first time in a long time, I’m at peace with myself and with the world.

drumAfter the cleansing, we beat drums to summon the spirits, then closed our eyes and went on an inward shamanistic journey. We were supposed to find a way into the earth for this journey, so I replayed a dream I had when I was in my early twenties. In that dream, I went deep into the earth. Although I was descending, it felt as if I were ascending — I took an elevator down, then got out and walked up three steps to another elevator, went down a ways, then got out and walked up three steps again. After the final descent/ascent, the doors opened into an amphitheater with a woman standing at an altar-like table. And from somewhere, a voice boomed, “You are now six hundred feet beneath Death Valley.”

Despite this great mental portal to otherwhere, I didn’t go anywhere. I just lay there listening to the drumbeat, noting the stray thoughts that drifted through my mind.

Afterward, everyone else recounted their journeys. One person went to a beautiful garden. One went to the Grand Canyon. Others had symbolic visions or could see the spirits we had summoned up. Me? I had very prosaically thought of food. (I guess I was hungrier than I imagined.)

Did these people really feel/see the things they said they did? I don’t know. It’s possible, maybe even probable, but the whole thing seemed like some sort of interactive stage play to me.

The part of the evening that was mine alone occurred during the final drumming phase. I watched the shadows of the drummers on the wall and ceiling, and they looked eerily shamanistic, almost animalistic. I enjoyed the play of light and dark, and then it was over.

When my friend pulled up in front of the house I am staying, I noticed that the lights were on inside, but I couldn’t remember leaving any lights burning. Then a woman came running up to the car, asked if I were Pat, and introduced herself as the house-owner’s daughter. Apparently she needed a place to stay for a couple of days. So much for my being alone. Still, we had a nice visit, all part of my going with the flow of what comes my way.

I’d intended to text the house owner this morning and ask her if she still wanted me to stay but changed my mind. I figured there was no point in putting such thoughts into her head. Alone or not, I’m in a lovely house, have my own bedroom and bath, a place set up for my computer, and food to eat. The woman knows her daughter is here, and if the woman had a change of heart where I was concerned, she would have let me know. (Or maybe not. She’s a nice woman and knows I needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks. Besides, she plans to have me attend her book club meeting next weekend, though I am not sure if I’m the guest of honor or a sacrificial goat.)

The strangest thing that came of my evening was this morning when I was waiting for the dance studio to open. With nothing else to occupy myself, I planned this blog and wondered how to explain the drum circle. A newspaper happened to be lying at my feet, and a title of an article was visible. The title? “Drumming Circles for Healing.” The article was about the shamanistic healer who had conducted the ceremony the previous evening.

The article quoted the healer, who said, “monotonous drum sound brings one into a state of higher consciousness, which in turn can open passageways for healing.”

I’ll have to take her word for it.

***

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.

Alone in a Stranger’s House

This is the fourth house I have stayed in since I left my father’s house, and the first one where I’ve been totally alone for any length of time. I’m tiptoeing around, feeling a bit guilty about borrowing another orangeroseperson’s luxury, especially since I don’t know the people all that well. (I know the woman from Hawaiian dance class, but I’d only just met her husband.) She assured me I am doing her a favor by being here since she doesn’t have to worry about stopping the newspaper, putting a hold on her mail, and risking the death of her plants, but still, I feel as if I’m encroaching. I suppose it’s this hesitancy to encroach that makes me an ideal housesitter — I’m not disrespectful of other people’s space and belongings.

They’ll be back at the end of next week, and when I mentioned the possibility of my leaving after the end of those ten days, she said, “Oh, no. You’re staying through Saturday, at least.” Her book club meets that day, and apparently, I will be the main attraction, the sacrificial lamb, or the guest of honor. Not sure which. With any luck, my car will be done by then, and I’ll be able to go to my storage unit and dig out my books. And if not, maybe I can find a ride. It will be nice to play author for a change.

People still tell me I need to make plans for my future, that I need to move on, but this is how I am moving on — embracing the uncertainty of life. Some people understand my reluctance to settle down, especially those who have also lost parents, spouses, soul mates, but others look at me with bewilderment, as if I am an alien species.  For now, though, I’m enjoying this catch-as-catch-can existence. It helps me appreciate the immediacy of life, concentrating on today, and not callalilylooking too far in the future. I have a comfortable place to spend this cloudy and humid night, and for several nights to come. After that, things will work out or they won’t, but either way, those future “things” whatever they might be, have nothing to do with today.

Today I had dance classes. Today I had lunch with a friend. Today, my friend and I explored my new neighborhood, peeking through wrought iron gates to see the secret community hidden within. (Lovely stone houses, so at odds with the usual bland stucco and tile architecture of this area.) Today I read a book. Today I ate well, maybe too well! Today I watched the birds at the bird feeder and the hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder. Today I took photos of flowers that caught my eye. Today I have my computer set up, which always gives me a feeling that all is right with my world. Today I am blogging, and so I know all is right with my world, even if — especially if — I am alone in a stranger’s house.

***

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.

Tortoise Sitting

My computer has been in storage the past month. I’d been staying with friends, and I didn’t really have a place to set up my machine. Nor did I have enough quiet and alone time to do all the work I needed to do. So I just went with the flow of my friend’s life. Now I am tortoise sitting for another friend while she’s on vacation. Actually, I am housesitting, and Franklin goes with the house. He doesn’t need much care. I’m tortoisejust supposed to make sure he has plenty of water, kale, petunia petals, and some b-vitamin pellets, which seem to be the extent of his diet. [As an aside, what is a “housesit ting”? MSSpellcheck says housesitting is not a word and wanted me to change it to “housesit ting”. Huh?]

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening on the computer, catching up on some of the emails and housekeeping chores (or rather, computer-keeping chores) that have piled up in my absence, and it felt good. Like coming home. It was amazing how little I did yesterday, but the time flew. When I looked up from my computer, the sun had been long gone, and it was past time to retire for the night.

Other than having a couple of computerized weeks coming up (I am housesitting for one friend this week and then for another friend next week, so I’ll have alone time and a place for my computer) I have no plans. Well, a belly dance performance in December, but that’s a long way off.

I really can’t make plans even if I wanted to — I have no idea when my car will be done, though I have it on good authority they are working on it. The husband of the woman who recommended the body guy went to see what was going on (I think she felt guilty for recommending the fellow), and the husband saw them sanding the car. The body guy apologized to the husband — not to me, to him. Men!!! Still, it’s nice to know that at least a bit more has been done.

Although I didn’t have my computer during the past month, I did have a phone that connected to the internet, so I could continue my research into backpacking, but it’s good to have other things to do online now. The more I read about backpacking long distances, the more it seemed ho-hum. As if everyone in the world were planning some sort of epic walk. I suppose it’s possible they are — I seem to follow trends unwittingly. First writing, now talking about long-distance walking. Just goes to show I’m nowhere near as individual as I think I am. (The truth is, though I don’t like to admit it to myself, I am exceedingly normal, which is how I knew that whatever craziness I felt during my grief process was normal.)

I’m doing well. Despite my precarious-sounding situation, I’m content. Happy even. I hope you are, too.

***

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.

The Last Few Days of a Settled Life

Such a strange transitional state, these last few days of a settled life. I’m at my computer, perched on a stool at the kitchen counter, which is the only table-like surface in this empty house. (I’ve never quite got the laptop aspect of a laptop computer. Too much heat on my legs, and too hard to type.) Because of the uncomfortable stool, I have to get up every few minutes to stretch, which makes it hard to think. It’s a good thing, then, that I have nothing to think at the moment.

I had lunch with a friend this afternoon, who half-jokingly told me I could stay at her house when she took a trip, and as soon as I accepted, the joking tone disappeared. She’s delighted to have someone stay there when she’s gone. An empty house is an unstable house. What if a pipe breaks? What if the plants die? Well now she doesn’t have to worry. (Unless, of course, the plants commit hari-kari to get away from my black thumb and what they might see as a tortured death.) The dates are unspecified as of yet, but it will be good to have a plaangelce to alight for a couple of weeks.

Someone else told me about a “trail angel” job opening up. The usual trail angel (someone who helps those who walk the long-distance national trails) can’t do it this year, and he is looking for an angel to fill in. I don’t suppose I could be called an angel under any circumstances, but what an interesting experience for a writer — a completely different point of view about thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I can’t commit to the whole time (because of the afore-mentioned house-sitting situation) but maybe he’d be willing to let me do just a few weeks.

A nomadic life, at least for now, seems way more exciting than simply renting a room or even an apartment. Every week or two, circumstances would change, and perhaps new choices and challenges would present themselves, including teaching myself the rudiments of camping and backpacking. (There are all sorts of programs and books available, but only I know the circumstances of my needs, and in the end, everyone has to hike their own hike.)

The same friend (the one I had lunch with today) told me I was so very brave to go camping by myself, and I had to remind her that I am still all talk. I have yet to step into a tent or climb into a hammock, though I did sleep on the floor last night because I felt too lazy to drag the old mattress from the garage (where it had been stored) to the bedroom. Besides, sleeping on the ground will be good practice, though the half-dozen or so pillows I used to prop myself up probably defeated the purpose. Maybe a hammock would be better than a tent, but how does one hang a hammock in the Redwood Forest?

So many things to learn! So many places to go, trails to walk, parks to visit. And dances to dance. (The good thing about housesitting for my friend is that I would be able to take classes again!)

All of those things are still just words on paper, but someday . . . someday . . . the tug of adventure will call me beyond words to the reality.

***

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.