Tag Archives: bears

Memoir Monday, October 24th, 2016

polar-bears

I didn’t plan to write about bears two weeks in a row, but then this past Saturday happened.  It was completely unexpected, but I had the most extraordinary encounter with two bears, Gus and Ida.  These aren’t just any bears, they happen to be polar bears which is my favorite animal of all time.  Gus and Ida also happen to be figments of Caron Levis’ and Charles Santoso’s imagination, but that does not make them any less real to me.

This past weekend I was home in Harrisburg for a day before I headed to Fall Philly, a Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators event sponsored by the Eastern PA chapter.  While there, I went to the East Shore Branch of the Dauphin County Public Library to check out some of the latest children’s picture books (FYI – if you want to be a better writer, read as much as you can in the genre you’re interested in) and there they were, displayed on a wall.

ida-always

Ida, Always, was the first book I came across that day and so naturally I immediately picked it up and started reading – how could I resist a picture book about polar bears?! At about the halfway point, my eyes started tearing up.  By the end of the book, tears flowed down my cheeks and I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my emotional unraveling at a simple children’s book about friendship, love, and loss.

As usual, no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to anyone other than themselves or their children,

so I wiped my eyes and tried to get my act together.

I can’t remember ever being so moved by a picture book.  When I was finished with it, all I wanted to do was call my husband and tell him I loved him.  Being still in the library, I didn’t think it an appropriate venue for an emotionally-charged phone call declaring gratitude and affection for our relationship, so I waited until I got home.  But even after I affirmed my love for him, I was still thinking about Ida, Always.

Reading this book was a gift; not only did it inspire me to connect with someone I love and feel appreciation for our life together, but it also inspired me as a writer.  These feelings are especially apt as I start pitching my own picture book stories to agents.

One of the things I struggle most with my own work is how to know when it’s my very best.  Last May I attended the SCBWI’s Wild, Wild, Midwest conference in Naperville, IL, where one of the recurring lessons presented throughout the conference was only submit your best writing.  Apparently, a lot of people don’t and it makes for very large slush piles and tired and frustrated agents and publishers.

At that conference, authors, agents, and publishers all made recommendations on how to revise your own work (which I do) and stressed the importance of critique groups (which I attend on a regular basis). 

But it’s hard to have an unbiased and blind eye towards your own writing in determining the quality of it.

That’s why I’m so excited and grateful for my most recent bear encounter.  I now have a new benchmark for my manuscripts.  In addition to following the typical rules of story arc, character development, and pacing, I will ask myself the following: what sort of emotional response does the story evoke?  If I cannot identify what I want my readers to feel because of my story and if I do not see evidence of that response in their feedback either through direct comments or personal observation, then I will know that my story still needs some more work.  I feel grateful to have this guidance and I am optimistic my writing will continue to improve.

In the meantime, I will continue to reflect upon Ida, Always, a story that is perfect in many ways.  Thank you for coming into my life.  If you end up being my only bear sighting for the time being, I’m okay with that.

Memoir Monday, October 17th, 2016

bear

The other day I saw something move outside from the upstairs bedroom window.  I called to my husband, “It’s the bear!” and we scrambled to the window to get a better look, but then we didn’t see anything.  We headed downstairs and turned on the outside lights.  I put on my glasses because it was dusk and my vision isn’t too keen in the dark.  And there it was!  No, sadly for me, it was not the bear that’s been spotted around town, but a big, beautiful white-tailed deer.  Exciting to see in the front yard, yes, but not what I wanted.

Apparently black bears wander in and around the town of Norfolk, CT, on a regular basis, and everyone keeps seeing them except for me.  

I find this wholly unfair because I LOVE BEARS! 

When I was three-years old, I fell in love with the polar bear at the Philadelphia Zoo and I have never looked back.

When I started working for a research group back in the early 2000s, I was asked by one of my coworkers to name my favorite wild animal.  I said, “POLAR BEAR!” and then she asked me to explain why.  I told her it’s because they are white, adorable, fun, and they like to play in the snow. Turns out that was a “psychological personality test” and I just explained to everyone at work how others see me.

For reference, if you want to play this game at home, you can also ask, “What is your favorite domestic animal and why?”  That answer determines how you see yourself.   My answer to that question was dog, of course, and then I said it’s because dogs are loyal and always happy to see you.

But, I see plenty of dogs every day all day and while this is great fun for me and I would never want to not have a dog to play with, I long to see a bear ambling down the street.  One of my favorite children’s stories I’ve written thus far has to do with a bear breaking into to someone’s house to take a look around and unlike many of my children’s stories, this story was not inspired by observations from my daily life (oh, how I wish!), but it came solely from my love of bears.

It feels like every day someone comes into the café where I work and mentions a bear sighting.  Someone saw them on Route 44!  Another saw one on Maple Ave!  Not just one, but a mama and three babies! I know this is a lot of exclamation points, but I’m pretty sure a bear is my spirit animal and it doesn’t seem fair that everyone is seeing them except for me.

To add to my dismay, a regular came into the café just yesterday and complained that someone had let their dog poop in the middle of the walkway.  As a big believer in karma, I felt once I knew about such a crappy situation (HAHA, pun totally intended) it was my job to clean it up.  You can’t just leave a mess for someone else…only, I’m pretty sure it was bear poop once I got out there.  Universe, why must you torment me? 

My husband says I have to stop looking for one.  Only then, will it happen.  I suppose he does have a point, considering that’s kind of how we met.  It was early January and I was thinking about the imminent end of my job as an associate professor.  I had handed in my resignation October 1st, 2015, effective for May 31st, 2016, which may seem like a ridiculously long time but I wanted my university to have plenty of time to find a replacement for me and if you didn’t know, things move at a snail’s pace in academia.

I realized that given the life I was about to start (i.e., writing, wandering, dreaming), I didn’t want to find anyone who was settled with a house and lots of stuff as a potential mate.  I had just spent months getting rid of almost all of my belongings.  I remember thinking very clearly to myself, what I really want is someone who will travel around with me and go from one housesitting job to another, NOT a person with a house and job in IL.  So I immediately stopped looking because I was on my way out of there.

I kid you not, less than one week later I attended a writers group at a local college where the group always goes for a little socialization afterwards at an in-town restaurant.  I walked into the restaurant, sat down at the bar, and on my right-hand side sat my future husband.  He was in town for work and he had asked his colleagues for a recommendation about where to get some good old-fashioned Chicago Deep Dish pizza.

A few weeks later we eloped in Nashville.  So, I think it’s clear I need to do something similar with my bear quest.

I am now putting this out there to all the bears: 

Bears, I love you!  I long to see you from a distance while you romp and play in the wild.  If you could be doing funny antics, that would be awesome, too, and if you give me enough time to get out my phone to take a picture so I can post it in my blog and on social media, I would be ever grateful.  Thanks!  Love, Kelly

Call Me Bear – A Flash Fiction Story in 496 Words

Call Me Bear

“Adorable!” I hear my human squeal from the deck.  She pulls her phone out and snaps a picture of me.  I keep running, but I suppose I can’t blame her.  I am an exceptionally good looking dog.

My official name is Bear; she hardly ever calls me that.  More often than not it’s Big Bear — one of my many nicknames.  Pooty Butt I don’t really care for.  Not only is it unbecoming of a Berner, but my butt is pretty clean as far as dogs go.   But now is not the time to think about my butt.  No, there is something in the yard that shouldn’t be here.

I got the scent of it all the way in the house.  I had to scratch at the door three times before she let me out.  In that time, the interloper absconded.  All that’s left is a faint trace.

I stake out under the deck.  I will stay here for hours if I have to.  I dig a hole, just in case that’s true.  The dirt helps keep me cool in the August heat.  Just as I settle down, I hear a voice above me.  “Num nums,” she calls.  “Big Bear, come and get some num nums.”

I wish she wouldn’t call them that – what am I, a puppy?  I guess she still sees me that way, even though I now weigh 100 lbs.  But she ponies up for the good stuff and I might need my strength later, so I go get my treats.

As she goes back in the house, the unwelcome scent nips my nose.  I leap off the deck and run like a greyhound to the edge of the garden.  Then I freeze.  I see our uninvited guest.  Its black body coiled like rope.  The head raises.  A soft tongue slips out in a hiss.

This creature is not my friend.  Nor is it my enemy.  Still, I know my human would rather it not be here.  I cock my head, trying to get a good measure of it.  Its tongue is still tasting the air, weighing the situation.

I want the snake to retreat back into the woods and find a new home.  But how to convey that without scaring it to attack?

I take a step forward, then another.  I do not bark; I do not growl.  I inch ever so closer.  Another lash of its tongue.  I wait.  Every muscle in my body alert, I am ready.  Yet I do not want to preemptively strike.

The snake uncoils like a ribbon and retreats, slithering away.  I watch until it disappears.  The female calls me again.  “Bear, time to come in.”

“There’s my Pooty Butt,” she says as I run to her.  More like snake whisperer I think as she scratches my head.  But she doesn’t know.  She’ll never know if I have my way.  I love her.  And she loves me.  We just have very different ways of showing it.