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.

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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.”)

Finding the Wildness

Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
she takes up a tambourine, made of taut skin
and rimmed with castanets of brass,
and she begins to dance. The sound of flutes
blares out wildly, reaching even to the depths
of the underworld, so loud, so clamorous is it.
Look what the goddess does when she is sad:
she finds the wildness in herself, and as she does
she finds that there is joy there too.
~ Greek dramatist Euripides

A reader left this lovely poem as a response to my post In the Presence of Death…, and Euripides’s words are so very apropos. Although I am far from being a goddess, I am hoping to find the wildness within. And I am dancing.

I don’t dance wildly — the classes I take are all classical dances with practiced steps and choreographed movements, but dance does speak to something wild deep inside of me. For someone who’s life has always been about words — both reading and writing — dance is a way of reaching the wordless depths, of finding the woman beneath the trappings of civilization and expectations and other people’s stories. I sense it’s also a way of awakening more of the wildness within, bringing with it the strength and courage to live fully and gracefully.

I once read an article that talked about stream-of-consciousness being the brain’s default mode. The journalist reported that in depression, the default mode network appears to be overactive, that a depressive brain shows a pattern of balky transitions from introspective thought to work that requires conscious effort, and it frequently slips into the default mode during cognitive tasks. A depressive brain also shows especially weak links between the default mode network and a region of the brain involved in motivation and reward-seeking behavior.

This could be the reason why blogging is so easy for me and writing fiction so hard. Blogging for me is stream-of-consciousness writing and brings immediate rewards, while writing fiction is more cognitive and takes more conscious effort than I am sometimes willing to spent. (A fellow writer once described writing as a mental prison, and while most authors seem to find freedom in fiction, I find it restrictive, especially since the rewards of a finished project are delayed for sometimes years.)

But dance . . . ah, that transcends both stream-of-consciousness and cognitive thinking. It’s a matter of concentration and memory, of training the body to do your will (or rather, your teacher’s will). And where there is neither stream-of-consciousness nor cognition, there is no depression, no sadness. Or so it seems.

Although I still have upsurges of sadness when I am alone, I am seldom sad in class and never depressed. I don’t always find dancing joyful. It’s often hard for me and frustrating at times when my body simply will not do what I will it to do, or when I cannot get what seems to be a simple step. But dancing is always compelling, even when it is difficult — especially when it is difficult. The discipline of stretching just a bit further or reaching a new understanding of a movement, helps dig beneath what I know of myself, helps find the wildness in me. There is joy in that, and joy is its own reward.

There is also joy, of course, in dancing in unison with other not-so-young women who are also dedicated to the art, and there is vast joy in having learned a new dance, particularly for someone such as I who never in her life conceived of such a possibility.

During class, after we warm up, before we work on the current dance, we practice the dances we already know. And each time we dance one of those numbers, there comes a point in the dance where I can feel a huge smile on my face as I realize that oh! I am dancing! And for that moment, I feel like a goddess.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, andDaughter 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.