Having a Human Experience

I did a Bollywood dance performance eight nights ago, and a few minutes later, I was lying in the parking lot outside the theater screaming in agony. Apparently, as I crossed the parking lot to my car, I tripped over a free-standing cement parking curb. Shattered my left wrist. I drove myself to the hospital (I didn’t want to leave my car in the lot, and somehow, fueled by adrenaline and unreasoning pain, it seemed the most expedient solution for getting to the emergency room.)

After a night in the ER, I was admitted to the hospital until they could do the surgery a couple of days later. When they got me on the cart to wheel me to the operating room, they told me the only panties I could wear were the mesh hospital panties, and since I was already wearing those, I didn’t think anything of it. Then, before they wheeled me away, the nurse came and pulled off the panties under the mistaken assumption they were not allowed. And I started crying. Up until then, I’d accepted the pain, the emergency room, the drugs, the hospital stay and everything else that happened to me with equanamity (or the numbness of shock?) but the removal of the panties did me in. I felt unutterably vulnerable and alone.

I still do.

I’m out of the hospital, dealing as best as I can with drug-fuddled mind and only one usable hand/arm. I’m trying not to feel sorry for myself, and mostly succeeding, but this is the culmination of a very traumatic ten years. It started with the death of the brother closest to me in age nine years and eleven months ago. Since then, I have had to deal with my mother’s illness and death, my life mate/soul mate’s long dying and subsequent death, my elderly father’s care and his death. Also, I broke an ankle, scalped myself, lost a tooth, and now have multiple fractures in my wrist/arm.

Lots of life — and death — going on.

But for now, what’s important is the current injury.

People ask me how I am interpreting this particular experience and what the message is. I am trying not to find messages. Trying to see the fall as simply an accident because anything else, such as the possibility that internal conflicts could manifest themselves physically, is simply too frightening.

Although I don’t believe in rites, such as funerals, I went to my mother’s funeral to see everyone in my family one more time. But shortly after I got there, I broke my ankle. Spend the viewing at the ER and the funeral at the bone specialist’s office.

And now, once again, I’d been faced with doing something I didn’t want to do — that dance performance. I really, really didn’t want to be part of a multi-day show and even told my class if they badgered me into it, something bad would happen. Somewhere along the line, I stopped saying no and ended up being understudy for that one particular show because they truly did need me. I enjoyed the performance, did it perfectly. And then, a few minutes afterward, I lay screaming in the parking lot.

If there is a message, it’s for me to stop doing things I don’t want to do. Or more accurately, to stay away from internal conflict. (There are actually two internal conflicts at play here — the dance recital and the book I am writing. I don’t want to write it, but I want to finish it, and now I am forced to take a hiatus.) But the truth is, I don’t want to believe that there is any correlation between internal conflict and broken bones. Way too frightening!

It’s better if I think of this latest trauma, as with all my traumas, as my being a human person having a human experience.

If I say it enough, I might actually come to believe it.

***

(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.”)

Coming Home

I am creating another writer’s retreat for myself this weekend, but to tell the truth, right now my whole life feels like a writer’s retreat. I continue to feel conflict free, partly because I have put off worrying about the future and what is to become of me, and partly because I have temporarily found a safe place to land. (Hard to believe, but I’ve been here a whole month already!)  So far, my roommates are working out, with only minor irritations that I choose to let go and not obsess over. Surprisingly often, I have the house to myself, and best of all, even though I still don’t have a remote garage door opener, I do have use of the garage, which pleases both me and my aged vehicle.

I am living day to day (to the extent that it’s possible), making a point of noticing my moments, and being grateful for the good things in my life. With the questions and worries that usually plague me on hiatus, my stream of consciousness has nothing to do but let my work in progress steep, so I don’t often find myself tongue-tied (finger-tied? word-tied?) when I open the computer to work on my book.

I am going to dance classes four days a week and enjoying it as much as I did in the beginning, perhaps because when people irritate me, I can take them out of my head and put them in my story. Although I spend the remaining three days of the week working on my novel, I am sticking with the 250 words a day club, so I manage to write a bit every day. I am usually not one of those writers who live by word counts, but because of the club, I am keeping track of my words. I was thrilled when I realized that in the past two weeks, I have added 10,000 words to my novel. Wow! You might not be impressed, but I am.

I do continue to have a bit of a reality lapse when I go from my fictitious class to my real-life class, but trying to remain in the moment helps. And my teacher in life as well as in the book is always kind to me, which helps make for an even transition.

A real boon for my book has been my online life. For the most part, once I got online, I stopped writing fiction and went to blogging. I blogged everyday for about five years, but without conflict or adventure to fuel my posts, I don’t have much to say, so I have let fiction writing replace blogging. Now whenever I have a question, I Google it rather than spending months trying to find the information in the library, and if Google doesn’t have an answer for me, there is a whole slew of people all around the world to ask. Not only have I gotten medical information from a doctor friend, and help with the structure of a mystery story from a writer’s group, people have even offered me wonderful suggestions for motivation. (Not being a murderous type myself, ingenious motivations for committing such a crime are hard for me to come up with. I’d be more of a slam-bam-goodbye-ma’am sort of killer rather than a revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold murderer.)

The most wonderful thing about being back in writer’s mode is that I feel as if I’ve come home. So much of my internal conflict since Jeff died and more recently my dad, is that I have nowhere to call home. And now I do — inside my head, playing with words.

Not a bad place to be.

***

(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.”)

My Writer’s Retreat

I’ve been wondering if I should do some sort of writer’s retreat to get me back into writing fiction, and as it turns out, all unknowingly, I created my own retreat. Last weekend, beginning Thursday afternoon when my last dance class was over until Monday when the first class of the week began, I did nothing but indulge myself. I started the days with my old workout, the stretching routine and weight training that fell by the wayside when I started taking dance classes. And I worked on my book. Not the whole weekend, of course, because I am not one of those who can sit down and write for the entire day — I need to do a lot of thinking about where to go next — but I did a couple of sessions each day. Even better, I ate only the food I had in the house — good food, no junk. — so I never had to leave my retreat. Best of all, my next room housemate was gone, so I had nothing but quiet (and a bathroom to myself) the entire time. Ah, joy!

A couple of weeks ago, I had experienced a day where I felt blessed, and that feeling has been with me all this time. I have been magnifying the mood by paying attention to the moment because the power of our lives is in the moment. And I’ve been cultivating gratitude, though that particular discipline is not hard to do — tballoon2here is so much in my life to be grateful for in any given moment.

During these blessed weeks, my internal conflict about where to go and what to do has faded because I have made commitments to continue with dance classes at least until the end of the year, to build up my strength, to refrain from worrying. (I worry more than I should about what is to become of me and how I will support myself in my soon-to-be old age.) And so I let the air out of all my conflicts (which is why I haven’t had much to blog about).

I joined an online writing group where the only requirement is to write 250 words a day. It’s a month-long commitment, but every month, I can recommit, which is what I plan to do at least until the end of the year. Even a writer who plods as slowly as I do can manage 250 words in a couple of hours. I usually spend the first hour reading the previous chapter to get in the spirit, to take into consideration past story actions, and to plan the next move. And I still have time to grab 250 words from the vortex of my mind, and sometimes a lot more!

I’ve never been one to write by word counts, so the count in itself is unimportant, but the commitment is. (Oh, who am I kidding. Having written 5,000 words in a week feels great!)

This weekend’s writing retreat will be different than last week’s because I will be performing with my class at a luau on Saturday, but that is still in the realm of creativity.

Dancing, writing, living. Ah, life is good in the moment.

***

(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.”)

Life Shouldn’t Be So Hard

In response to my post, Still in Flux, where I lamented that after 12,000 miles, I didn’t notice any change in me, a reader commented:

I think everything’s changed, Pat, but you seem to be missing it right now. You have changed. Significantly. Go back to when I first met you; at three months; and see the fears then and look at yourself now. Indeed everything’s changed.

I responded: It’s odd, but returning here has thrown me back into grief mode. I would have expected such sorrow if I had gone back to Colorado where we’d lived, but he never lived here, never even visited here. It started when I drove into town, even before I remembered that the last time I had driven that bit of highway into town, he was still alive, waiting for me at home. But then, this is where I brought my memory of him. This is where I brought my pain. This is where I cried out for him. I know I am lucky we were deeply connected for all those years, but that doesn’t help with the empty/disconnected feeling I am still struggling with. I feel inept at times. Life shouldn’t be so hard. Or maybe it should be. How would I know.

And she came back with: “Life shouldn’t be so hard” What does this mean, Pat? What is the “hard” you are dealing with? Is it that you still feel moments of grief? Is it that coming back to town is filled with the energy of your grieving place? Is it hard because you don’t accept his death despite intellectual acknowledgement? Is it hard because most of al you miss companionship/relationship/whatevership and hate being alone.

Nail what is actually so very hard right now in July 2016. It will help with your thoughts about the future.

And so, I have been thinking. What is so hard about my life right now?

In some respects, I have it easy. I am basically healthy, with only a few odd problems that the right stretching routine should ameliorate. I have no responsibilities, so I can live at my own whim. I have a vintage car that is mostly reliable. And I have a bit of savings to cushion some of life’s blows for a little while longer.

And yet, and yet . . .

Although it has been six years since the death of Jeff, my life mate/soul mate, I still feel his absence. The void he left behind is not as deep and black as it once was, but it still confounds me, still pulls me into sorrow. I have accepted his death in every sense, but the truth is, acceptance does not always bring with it the peace we think it should. Because accepting that he is gone from this life leaves me even more alone with his absence. (And being back here, where I can still feel the energy of my grief, makes it all the more difficult.)

What is particularly hard is that I have no roots. I often feel (especially when I think of the future) as if I am suspended over an abyss with nothing to hang on to. The high desert was a place of refuge for me during my years of profound grief, its harsh climate mirroring my own inner environment, but now it seems alien, even though I have friends here, and dance classes. The sun is excruciatingly hot, which is dangerous when driving in an old car without air-conditioning. When I lived here before, mosquitoes didn’t bother me, but now I seem to be just as much of a magnet to the critters as I was on the outer banks of North Carolina. I didn’t think my trip changed me, but it must have because I don’t seem to fit the cookie cutter outline of me I left behind.

Part of the hardship comes from not being able to find a place to live. I have looked at tiny windowless rooms scarcely larger than closets with a higher rent than the three-bedroom house Jeff and I lived in, gated communities that are merely fenced rooming houses, apartments with incredibly stringent requirements. I am staying at a fleabag motel on the outskirts of town, which at least gives me a place to get out of the heat and a fairly comfortable place to lay my head, but staying here isn’t conducive to writing. To write, I need a place where I can concentrate, and believe me, a transient motel is not such a place.

Maybe I don’t belong here in the desert. Maybe I don’t belong anywhere. But then what?

Which brings me to the thing that is most hard about right now, July 2016. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I don’t want, either. Most people my age don’t necessarily want anything since they already have the things they want, the very things I don’t have — spouses, houses, families, places they’ve grown roots.

I spent the past couple of decades taking care of my sick and dying, uprooting myself after Jeff died to take care of my nonagenarian father. Consequently, I don’t have the retirement funds I would have had if I’d had a regular job all those years, and yet, I did what I needed to do. Now I need to build a life, and I have no idea how to go about it.

The truth (at least as it appears to me at this moment) is that I am restless but not yet ready to be a perennial wanderer, tired but not yet ready to settle down. I like being alone, and yet I am desperately lonely, missing the effortless companionship of our years together. I want and want, and yet I don’t know what I want.

So many internal conflicts! Life shouldn’t be this hard, especially since, for the most part, my life is fairly easy.

***

(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.”)