The Bear That Wasn’t

tashlinI am so psyched to mention something I’ve been doing for a couple of months now: blogging for Dover Books on Medium.

I KNOW right??? It’s the best thing ever! 

I write a weekly blog post focusing on one category of book or on a particular author or on the season or whatever is appropriate. I spend lots of time combing through the offerings at Dover and thinking, writing, and researching. And it can take up a chunk of time because, I assure you, you will never get to the end or the bottom of  Dover’s offerings. It’s crazy because there are always more books or some book by someone famous that you wouldn’t expect: Vincent Price and his wife Mary were gourmet cooks and they wrote two cookbooks! H.G. Wells wrote a book about playing war games with toy soldiers!  Graphic novels! Coloring books! Crafts! Education! You need to go to the website!

But seriously folks, it’s thrilling and an honor to be associated with Dover. I love this company and I have loved them ever since my parents bought me a copy of The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin at a book store in Travers City, Michigan, in 1968 or so. The book was reprinted by Dover in the early 1960s after initial publication by E.P. Dutton in 1946. Tashlin was an animator for Disney, among other studios, as well as a writer and director. The man directed Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Geisha Boy (ah … well) among other films. I knew he was an animator but doing the IMDB thing lead me down one of those delightful rabbit holes and so I found out all of this stuff.

But it’s The Bear That Wasn’t that sticks with me, a story of a bear who no one believes is a bear. The poor creature had the misfortunate to wake from hibernation in a factory built over the top of his den. A foreman sees him wandering about and tells him to get back to work. “I’m a bear,” said the bear. “No you’re not,” said the foreman, “You’re a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.”

The bear insists he’s a bear and a series of higher-ups insists that he’s not a bear but that he’s a silly man who needs a shave etc. A zoo bear and some circus bears don’t recognize him as a bear because he’s not like them. And finally, the bear capitulates.

Isn’t this picture grand? The men at the bottom are as angular and stiff as buildings or furniture. The bear is round and furry, but he performs the same tasks as the faceless workers. Thetashlin_clockwork machine harks back to Chaplin’s Modern Times or even earlier, to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s plain old brilliant, and the book does that great thing that children’s books and stories do, with an accumulation of characters (think of “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly” or “The farmer in the dell”). And the repetition of silly-man-who-needs-a-shave-etc. is so maddeningly wrong and kids can tell. They can tell the poor bear is being pushed into a role for which he’s unfit. And it’s funny and goofy and totally irritating.

The factory closes and winter comes again. But the bear is out in the cold and snow because he was trying so hard to be a man and do what he was told  — but it’s not working and he might die!

(You can see why I like this, yes? I bet you like it too.)

In the end, he goes back to being a bear. Of course. And he doesn’t die. And Frank Tashlin tells the reader,  “the truth is he was not a silly man…and he was not a silly bear, either.”

Add this one to the gift list for the little non-conformist in your life, OK?

 

 

How to write things: three ways to find inspiration

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Ack! The Blank Page! It’s soooo horrible blah blah blah – but heavens that is indeed the truth. You’re supposed to write things except that the universe is showing you the back of its head and precious little else. What’s a writer to do when there is nothing to write about?

Want to read more? Click on “How to write things: free newsletter!” above and fill in the form.

News you can use!

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Launched a newsletter: How to Write Things. It’s blog-post short, focuses on writing and publishes every other month. Feedback is welcome. I take requests. Don’t forget to tip your beautiful bartenders and waitresses.

Get out your handkerchief!

EPSON MFP image
EPSON MFP image

 

This morning, it happened again. I interviewed someone with a great story and started to choke up. It starts with a prickling in my eyes and then it threatens to turn into tears. If I’m face-to -face with the person, I’m going to have to blow my nose. Sorry.

I’ve had the privilege of talking to some people for whom modern medicine has made a real difference. Today, it was a man whose cancer was arrested early, while he was in his 30s. He went from assuming the news meant death to a life that opened back out into limitless possibilities for his family, his career, and for those he is now able to help.

Another time, I talked to a woman whose Parkinson’s was made immensely more tolerable with a brain implantation. The surgeons mapped out her brain and then, on a future visit, put the technology in place. Not only does she not shake, but she looks up and looks people in the eye, walks with confidence and has her life back.

The two that moved me the most, however, when my eyes filled up and I had to wipe them fast so that tears didn’t spill (Dammit, Jim! I’m the interviewer, not the interviewee!) were the interviews I had with two adult men who had their hearing restored after childhood, their adolescent years and even parenthood. They both had soft and gentle voices and were the kindest, most humble gentlemen. They suffered from isolation their whole lives – not around the circle near the fire, as one man described it, but just outside the circle. The other had been an excellent student but as his hearing deteriorated, his choice of jobs whittled down to nothing and his future narrowed.

But now the world was opening for them. They had agency and self-determination and could hear birds and the voices of grandchildren and laughter and …

No, I’m fine, really. Just got something in my eye.

But I thought I was doing something!

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After I got home from the grocery this morning, I was psyched to check the number of steps I’d most assuredly racked up. I’d forgotten some stuff when I thought I was done, so had to trek back to the deli section for the prosciutto after I’d already picked up a big orange block of sharp cheddar from the dairy case. All that pushing a cart and stuff had to be good for something, yes?

No.

Barely 350 steps.

But it seemed like so much more! And I was tired!

Tired, yes, but actually suffering from consumer-over-stimulation-fatigue (COST).

Bright lights, hard surfaces, a chaotic jumble of color designed to discombobulate me into buying more things in packages.

Mostly? I’m frustrated that I didn’t get that much done.

Not on my goals, anyway. I did a good thing in that I brought home the prosciutto, but I’m barely any closer to getting in 10K steps.

Sometimes we’re busy but we’re not getting a thing done. We can’t look back at the day and say I DID THIS. The time that I want to dedicate to work is all to easily frittered away in necessary but distracting things.

How am I going to fix this?

By recalibrating for today.

I might not be looking at scoring a 10K day — but maybe it’ll be a 5K day. 5K’s better than 1K, for sure.

Can’t do 8 things today? OK. I can do 5. Or 4. But it’s better than zero.

And I’ll set myself up for tomorrow and a goal of 10K

Plus I brought home enough food for a couple of days! Grocery store, see you LATER!