Rebelling Against Life

Early in the twenty-first century, I set out to fulfill a lifelong dream to be a writer. I wrote a book that was so terrible, I packed it away and never looked at it again. I kept writing, though, and I studied the craft of writing along with the art of getting published. I wrote a book I was proud of, and set out to find a publisher. When I racked up too many rejections, I took a break and went back to writing. Wrote an even better novel, and when it was finished, I sent out query letters and proposals to agents and publishers. Still no takers. So I wrote another novel and then another.

By the end of six years, I had four solid novels (including my magnum opus) and more than 200 rejections. So I went back to writing. But this time I decided to forget trying to write something readers would want to read, agchainents would want to agent, or publishers would want to publish. I decided to write something silly and unpublishable as a rebellion against the system.

I wrote half of this new novel, and then things changed. My mother became ill and died. My life mate/soul mate kept getting weaker and weaker. I got a computer and the internet, and learned blogging and emailing and various new ways of querying agents and publishers, racking up even more rejections.

During all this time, my silly story just languished. There was too much real life going on (if either death or the internet can be called real life), and I had no time for foolishness. I finally found a publisher who loved my books, which started a completely new focus for me — editing, promotion, Facebook, networking. And then my life mate/soul mate was diagnosed with inoperable kidney cancer, and “real life” took on a whole other meaning.

My silly story continued to languish. What use is whimsy when my world had collapsed? Why rebel against the system when life itself seemed to be rebelling against me? I could barely smile for more than four years during his illness, his death, and my grief let alone be able to see the humor in the world coming to a fictitious end.

I still don’t see the humor in life, but I am beginning to sense the stirrings of rebellion. I don’t much like this brave new world of publishing where anyone who strings a few unedited words together can publish their scribblings and call him or herself an author. I don’t like spending so much time on the internet hoping to attract readers (though I do like getting to know people). I don’t much like the real world, either. I don’t like sickness and death. I don’t like loneliness and heartache. I don’t like . . . well, there’s no need to make a list of the things I don’t like. The point is, I am feeling that same rebellion I felt when I started writing my silly story.

Oddly, until this very moment, I thought the emotion driving the story was whimsy, when in fact it was rebellion. I’m not in the mood for humor or wit or looking at the absurdities of life because the realities are still too strong. But I can do rebellion.

And I will.

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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.

My Punctuated Life of Equilibrium

I never understood evolution, especially Darwin’s version of how it happens. I mean, a bat is always a bat. Bats beget bats and have been begetting bats for millions of years. So how does a bat become something else? And how did something else become a bat? Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of punctuated equilibrium is the only evolution theory that ever made sense to me since batsit mirrored what I knew — that bats always beget bats until . . . they don’t.

Punctuated equilibrium says (at least the way I understand it) that everything exists in a state of equilibrium, with very few evolutionary changes except on a local level. (By “local level” I mean within a species. A species of creatures that becomes separated by a river, for example, will undergo minor changes as time goes on, with those individuals most able to adapt to the new environment surviving to procreate. But still, the adapted creature is recognizably the same species as its forebears.) These vast times of stasis are occasionally punctuated with relatively short (on a cosmic scale) periods of genetic changes, and then things settle down into another long, long, long, period of equilibrium.

This is what my life feels like — long, long, long periods where everything is static, and then brief but frenetic periods of change before stasis sets in once more.

During all the years when my life mate/soul mate was dying, our lives seemed stagnant. We did things of course, but there were no major changes, nothing to yank us out of our torpidity. Day after day, year after year, he got sicker and weaker and I became more emotionally anesthetized since I could not bear what was happening to him and I couldn’t do anything to help him get better.

As the years passed, I felt as if it would always be that way — he dying, me struggling to live. And then one day, things changed. He bent down to pick something up, and a horrendous pain shot through him. He bore the pain as long as he could — three unbelievably agonizing weeks — because he knew that any drug strong enough to kill the pain would also destroy him. And it did. When he finally got on morphine, it made him disoriented. Sometimes he didn’t remember me, and sometimes he didn’t remember himself.

I hunkered down for a long siege since the doctor said he had three to six months to live.

And just like that, three weeks later, after one last breath, the long years of stasis were over. I went through a few months of rapid changes, getting rid of his stuff, putting mine in storage, moving in with my father to take care of him.

These past years of grief have masked the truth. That my life is still basically the same. Stagnant. Living with a man (my father this time) who is declining. Struggling to find a way to survive live despite the situation. I’ve agreed to stay to the end, which could be years, and I’m okay with that. (Designated Daughter, don’t you know.)

The end of this stage of equilibrium will be punctuated with another brief but frenetic period of change as I adjust to the new situation of having no one but me to be responsible for. And then . . .

I’m hoping to figure a way out of this punctuated equilibrium of mine, maybe find a way to incorporate small but steady changes to punctuate my future and keep things from becoming one long run-on sentence, to keep me ever-evolving until the inevitable period is put on the end of my life.

Of course, this is easy to say. It’s harder to do. No matter what we plan, life scatters punctuation marks where it will.

***

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.

Putting a H.A.L.T. to Grief

It’s been eighteen months since my life mate — my soul mate — died of inoperable kidney cancer, and I’m still chugging along. I do okay most days, but still there are times when the thought that he is gone takes away my breath. His death was so final, his absence absolute. He never responds when I talk to him, never sits down to watch a movie with me, never seems to care when I get angry at him for rejecting me. (I know it’s not his fault, but still, death is the ultimate rejection.)

During this past year and a half, I’ve learned a lot about grief. I learned the importance of facing the pain head-on, accepting it as part of the process, and waiting for it to diminish, which mine has — significantly. I’ve learned how to find peace in the sorrow (or perhaps despite the sorrow). I’ve learned that grief cannot be hurried, that months or even years might pass before we bereft find ourselves again. And most of all, I’ve learned the secret of H.A.L.T.

People who make major life changes, such as alcoholics who give up drinking, smokers who give up cigarettes, diabetics who make diet and exercise changes are often urged to watch themselves so they don’t get Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. That’s what I mean by H.A.L.T. Did you think I actually meant putting an end to grief? You should know by now I’m letting grief wear itself out, whenever or however that might be.

Hunger, anger, loneliness, and exhaustion make us vulnerable, which makes it easy to backslide into old behavior patterns.  I recently noticed that grief often surges when I am tired, so I’ve been trying to steer clear of these vulnerabilites, but the trouble is that all of those states are effects of grief, so exhaustion and loneliness and anger causes grief and grief causes exhaustion, loneliness and anger. A sad cycle. But now that I’m aware of it, I can try to be more careful. Although I’m willing to let grief take its course, I have no intention of letting grief rule the rest of my life. I intend to be as bold and as adventurous as possible, a wildly inappropriate woman who just likes to have fun. But not quite yet. I still have some sadnesses to deal with.