Getting a Head Start on New Years Resolutions

I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. Except for the calendar change, there isn’t anything that makes one year different from another. Seasons are cyclical, orbits are cyclical, life is cyclical — and by their very natures, cycles have no beginning or end. Still, a new year is a useful convention in the same way that a new day is a useful convention, giving us the feel of a new start, and so I am getting a head start on my resolutions.

Often during the year, I resolve to go back to a healthy diet and be more conscientious when it comes to an exercise program, but however disciplined I am, there comes a day when I simply do not care, and there ends the discipline. (This is, I think, a lingering effect of my grief over Jeff’s death, and seems to be a cycle that many of us left behind succumb to. On the one hand, we want to do what’s right. On the other hand, it makes no difference what we do — healthy or not, we all end up in the grave or the crematorium.)

I am going through one of my disciplined stages (or rather, my wanting-to-be-disciplined stage since this is only day two of this new cycle) in an effort to “youth” instead of “age.” Impossible, probably, to ratchet back the toll of the years, but it would take such a miraculous feat to enable me even to attempt my impossible dream of an iconic hike.

The only item on my disciplined to do list that I did not follow yesterday was perhaps the least important — the no eating after 6 o’clock rule. The others I did — stretched, lifted weights (very light weights considering my weak hand, wrist, and elbow), ate plenty of vegetables, and skipped the sugar, wheat, and milk products. Most importantly, I strapped on my backpack, added a bit of weight (the whole contraption weighed maybe eight pounds) and went for a two and a half mile trudge around the neighborhood.

Who would have thought so few pounds would make such a difference? I could walk but not with any bounce, speed, or glide to my step. And even though I used trekking poles and kept myself upright (too often you see people with backpacks bent over from the weight) my lower stomach muscles feel tight, and the inside of my thighs right above the knees are sore. (These must be muscles that my various dance classes don’t develop.) Those pains are in addition to an all-over body ache.

We’ll see what happens after a few days of this disciplined life. Before even the new year begins, I might have already broken my resolutions. But maybe not. There is that impossible dream — the unreachable star — to stretch toward.

Or trudge toward, as the case may be.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

All I want for Christmas

Unlike you — or should I say unlike some of you — I did not go shopping today. I did get a burrito at a taco stand, though I don’t think that actually counts as “shopping.” Instead, I again spent the day at my storage unit, clearing out more of my things. After getting rid of three carloads of stuff, the storage unit looks even fuller than it did before. (Admittedly, a Volkswagen Beetle carload is not the same as an SUV carload, but there should have been some obvious indication of all the work I did.) I still haven’t gone through everything — I only managed to get to about a fourth of what’s in the unit. The rest is packed in tightly, but little by little, I will find a way to get to it all.

Next I have to clean my room. Much of the stuff I need to sort through I brought here, so the room looks like a mini storage unit. So unattractive, and such a mess!

But that’s a project for tomorrow.

Tonight I’m writing this blog and drowning my sorrows in sparkling apple/peach cider.

Not that I have any real sorrows at the moment other than the very sore muscles and aching ex-broken hand from all the lifting. There’s nothing I particularly want. (Lucky you! If you were thinking of getting me a Christmas present, you are now off the hook.) And, considering the amount of stuff I still have, there is apparently nothing I need.

The few things I do want are more for the future, and I am making a concerted effort not to worry about things I cannot (or will not) change right now. When the time comes to worry about money or . . . anything . . . then I will. So even though someday there will be things I need, I don’t need them now.

Of course, there’s still that impossible dream, but that’s not about wanting, either. It’s more about doing. Striving toward a goal. To that end, I got my backpack out of storage, and beginning in January, I plan to stash a gallon bottle of water in the pack, and see if I can walk around the block. (A great tip I read once — use water to weight a practice pack, that way, if you get too tired or sore, you can dump the water to lighten the pack. There will be no dance classes that first week in January, so if I destroy my feet carrying that extra weight, I’ll have plenty of time to recuperate before I need to use them again.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Dandelion Fluff and Veins of Gold

A friend left this comment on yesterday’s post.  Your blog titled 1000 Days of Grief read: “But now I know freedom was his final gift, though it was as unwanted and as unasked for as the grief. I haven’t learned yet what to do with this freedom. Perhaps if I embrace it as I did my grief, it will also take me where I need to go.” In the grief blogs I have read so far you never apologize for following your grief, actually quite the opposite, you give all of us permission to feel what we feel. I may be wrong but you sound apologetic for your ambiguity now. It strikes me as “OK” you feel two ways, even three, four or more about freedom as you follow it, trusting it will take you where you need to go.

Very astute of her!

A few days ago, I wrote about impossible dreams and how important they might be. I followed up with a post congratulating myself (more or less) on having found a direction to point myself, as if the impossible dream was perhaps not quite so impossible after all. Meantime, in an article about how to get in shape for a backpacking trip, I read that the best way to prepare is to fill your pack with however much weight you were going to carry, add five pounds, then strap a two-and-a-half pound weight to each ankle, and go out and hike five miles.

And so the whole pack of cards came crashing down on me. Not only did I re-realize the impossibility of the impossible dream (with all that weight, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand up, let alone walk a single step) I felt foolish for my on-again/off-again dreaming, as if I were a child pretending to be an adult. And because of my posting all these thoughts, my wishy-washiness was out there for all to see (or at least the “all” who manage to find me in the blogosphere), which seemed . . . well, embarrassing.

It wasn’t until the end of yesterday’s blog (the blog that seemed apologetic) that I connected my ambiguity with grief, because how can any of this have to do with grief? After all, I haven’t had a massive upsurge (or even a mild upsurge) of angst for nine months. It was easy to write unabashedly about grief when I was pouring out my heart along with my sorrow, but it seems less heroic just to . . . waffle. And yet it is all about grief. When you have lost the most important person in your life, no matter what you do, it is always about grief.

And in the world of grief, I am but a child, a child in the eighth year of life.

People talk about grief as if it were merely an emotional aberration and that soon we will be back the way we were. They talk about us going through, moving on, healing, journeying, all different ways of describing the grief process, but the truth is, more than anything else, grief is a matter of being. Of becoming. Of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is roughly translated as “golden joinery” and is the Japanese art of embracing damage, of mending broken pottery with veins of gold, turning what might have once been a simple ceramic piece into a work of art.

And that is exactly what grief is. When you lose the most important person in your life, a person who seems connected to your very soul, you can never be the same. Oh, sure — you look the same, people still treat you the same (or try to), but you know you’re not the same. What you do, however, is embrace all the shards of your shattered life, and one by one you glue each piece back to the whole with veins of gold, and if a piece is missing, you fill in the void with more gold. As time goes on, you turn your life into something new, a work of art that maybe only you can appreciate because only you know the effort it took to put yourself back together again.

So yes, I am ambiguous. I say one thing one day and another thing on a different day. Sometimes I hold on to dreams, and sometimes I blow dreams away as if they were dandelion fluff. Like a child, I pretend I can do anything, pretend that I can be anything (with no regard for reality). And like a Kintsugi artist, I carefully add one vein of gold at a time.

And so I grow.

And there is no need to ever feel apologetic about that.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.

Dreams and Dreaming

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. Not night dreams, so much — I really don’t like dreaming except in the rare case of a dream that seems to mean something but doesn’t really, such as my white dream. But the other kind of dream — cherished aspirations, ambitions, or ideas — that’s what I’ve been thinking about too much lately.

I had a bit of an insight today, though considering my cold, it could be more of a fever dream than a true insight: I wondered if maybe it’s time for me to put away the dreams of the past, impossible or otherwise, and create a new dream, something I’ve never dreamt before. But that assumes a dream is important to have.

Do we need dreams? Dreams seem counter to a life in the now, a life that goes with the flow and accepts what comes.

But we are never just one thing or another. Well, you might be, but I’m not. I often seem to be straddling the line of two opposing ideals.

While the ideal me thinks it’s important to live in the now, just flowing as life unfolds, the pragmatic me thinks and plans.

While the ideal me loves the idea of striving toward an impossible dream, the practical me realizes that impossible means impossible, and there is no reason to waste energy reaching for an unreachable star.

While the ideal me loves the idea of living a completely disciplined life, always eating the right way, exercising and stretching and doing weights almost every day, writing every day, being always kind and thoughtful and caring, and oh, yes, making a living, the realistic me realizes that I can only push so much without getting sick. (That’s what happened this time — I was doing too much and in my weakened state, caught a cold.)

While the ideal me loves the idea of a wildly spontaneous life, whether living in place or setting out on a journey, trusting to the universe and fate that everything will work out, the fearful me thinks I would end up on the streets (and not in a good way). On the other hand, if I did the practical thing and settled down somewhere, the fearful me thinks I would stagnate.

What I end up doing, of course, is always struggling to find a balance, which goes against all my natures. (Not the balance part, that I believe in, but the struggling part.) And thinking too much. I always overthink everything, and blogging every day gives me an opportunity to voice those thoughts.

I still have the strange idea that if I don’t do something spectacular with my life, I will be wasting the freedom Jeff’s death has given me, though part of me realizes that life itself is spectacular. It’s just a matter of paying attention to the spectacle.

For that, do we need dreams? I don’t know. I just know I want . . . something.

Even while writing that last sentence, I find myself thinking, maybe even overthinking, wondering if the wanting is part of my grief cycle. If Jeff were here, would I still be wanting something — wanting to be something — that seems just out of sight? I don’t remember ever having dreams while we were together — apparently, just living our shared life was enough.

Maybe eventually just living, even stagnating, if it comes to that, will be enough, but for now, I still cling to the wondering. And the wandering.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.