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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

1953 House of Wax Movie Poster

Back in the mid-1950’s, I watched a movie called “House of Wax,” starring Vincent Price, whose character created his wax figures using people he killed. The part of the movie that stayed with me for months afterwards involved a missing head.

 Every time I went into the garage, which held a freezer and a washing machine, I feared I would come across that head. Perhaps the fact that the movie was presented in 3D had something to do with my fright, but I’ve not watched a true horror film since then.

But I have children, grandchildren and friends who love nothing better than going to a scary movie. I thought about the reason behind this willingness to be scared this morning. It popped into my head while I was reading Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, in which the author talked about the fear of letting oneself be imperfect when writing that “first shitty draft.”

Before you ask, I have to say I don’t know why my brain made this odd connection. It just did. And then it jumped to what I have done over the years that gave me a fright. For one thing, I loved riding roller coasters, the bigger, faster – and scarier – the better.

And then in my 40s, I took up white-water rafting. There was nothing I enjoyed more than sitting in the front of a raft facing a roaring rapid – even after I fell out of the boat in Granite Rapid floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. When I was pulled back into the boat, after being thrashed through the racing water quite vigorously, I was still eager to take on the next stretch of rapids, of which there were many ahead.

 Was I afraid? Yes. But adrenalin coursed through my body and I felt more alive than ever. Remembering this, I might have just answered my own question of why people want to be scared.

But no way will I watch a horror movie.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Great blue herons on frozen Farmington Bay in Utah: One of the best things about being a writer is that it makes you more observant because you will want to put what you see with your eyes into words. This is just one way being a writer has enriched my life.

I Think of Writing as a Gift

  For 37 years, as a newspaper journalist, I wrote almost every day. It meant I often saw my name in print, and the thrill of this never dimmed. It’s probably why I write a blog, as I’ve eschewed having ads on it.

Author Anne Lamott, whose book Bird by Bird is one I’m currently rereading for the third time, says some writers need to see their name in print to know they exist. I think I am one of them.

Now retired and having lived over eight decades on Planet Earth, I still get a joyful satisfaction in seeing my byline, whether it is on the book I have written, on magazine articles that occasionally get published, or this blog.

 And I was overjoyed yesterday, when I learned that my blog earned third place in Story Circle Network’s blog contest for my post Then Being Then.  https://patbean.net/2021/11/03/then-being-then/ The well-deserved first place, in case you are interested, went to Stephanie Rafflelock for We Matter at Every Age https://www.byline-stephanie.com/post/we-matter-at-every-age

As an old broad, writing has come to be just about my only outlet to still try and make a difference in the world, however tiny it might be.

 To date, I’ve posted 1,499 blogs. I’ve often encouraged readers to be kind, to be more open-minded, to not believe everything they hear or read, and to get their news from multiple sources – and I’ve written thousands of words about birds and nature, two things that keep me sane when chaos reigns.

These days, I write a lot about past experiences, a validation for my own life, but hopefully the posts let others who have had similar experiences know they are not alone. And I also try to make readers laugh or be awed by some trivial fact – as I laugh or am awed.

I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I can’t imagine being anything else.   

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob

The Meaning of Words

I came across the word cowabunga recently, and it brought Howdy Doody memories floating through my head. For those of you a bit younger than me, Howdy Doody was a puppet with his own television show, which my children loved to watch.

 Howdy was created by Bob Smith – known as Buffalo Bob on the show –when Smith was a radio announcer, and later given a puppet’s body for the television screen.

The children’s show was pure corn – and I sometimes silently groaned when my children turned it on – and sometimes laughed along with the craziness.

But it wasn’t Howdy Doody who first uttered cowabunga. It was a character on the show in 1953, one called Chief Thunderthud, who used the then non-existent word.

Cowabunga, like the frabjous words made up by writer Lewis Carrol, took root, and today’s dictionaries define it as an exclamation used to express delight or satisfaction.

 Surfers adopted the word as slang for a great ride, and the word was also adopted by the Cookie Monster and the Mutant Ninja Turtles. These are all fun memories.

  The word, however, holds yet another memory for me, one closer to my heart. It was the favorite saying of my oldest grandson David, who is now in his mid-40s. As an adorable young boy, he used to stomp around shouting the word when he was excited about something — or wanted attention.

Years have taught me that the meaning of words has more to do with the people speaking them, or listening to them, than a formal definition. Because of David, my mind translates cowabunga as meaning joyful.

I also like the feel of how the word cowabunga rolls off my tongue. What’s one of your favorite words?

 Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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The Meadowlark and the Chukar: I wrote a bird column for three years back in the early 2000s, and a chukar I saw on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake was the first bird I wrote about. — Art by Pat Bean

 My mornings start with my to-do list, which is a carry over from the day before, and the day before that, and the days before those. Eventually a dreaded chore finally gets done because I’m tired of looking at it.

The daily list actually is two lists in one. The tasks I need to do, or simply want to do (like watch a bird cam located in Panama), and the list of the books I’m reading, or want to read.

As an old broad, my body appreciates many breaks during the day, and the reading list gives me something to fall back on besides computer games – which according to my self-imposed rule must not be played before 4 p.m. This rule, because I love playing games is often broken. So as a reminder I have a note taped to my refrigerator that says “You could be reading.”

 Besides the daily list, I keep lists of books I’ve read, places I’ve been, the proverbial bucket list, menu lists and an idea list, from which I always can find a topic to write about.

But one of my favorite lists is the one I begin on April 1, 1999 – the day I joined the world of avid (translate crazy) bird watchers.

 I keep a list of every bird I’ve seen, noting the place and the date. But thankfully, I’m not like the birder who once passed me on a favorite birding trail. I was dawdling along, watching red-winged blackbirds flash their scarlet marked wings while listening to a couple of breeding male meadowlarks trying to out sing each other.

Barely slowing his pace, a middle-aged hiker came upon me and asked if I had seen a chukar. I replied that I often saw this partridge-like bird in the rocks near a bend up ahead. About 10 minutes later, the man ran past me going the other way. 

  “Got it … that’s 713 birds for me now.” His voice was like the rumble of a passing freight train.

How sad, I thought, that he didn’t take a minute to admire the flashy scarlet markings on the blackbirds or to enjoy the melodic voices of the two meadowlarks.

 Numbers and names on a list are only that. It’s being present in the moment – seeing the golden yellow on a meadowlark’s throat as it tilts its head toward the sky in song, or the magic of a sunrise slowly coloring the sides of a canyon – that make my heart beat faster. And I’m thankful I enjoy such wonders whether I’m seeing them for the first or the hundredth time.

 Seeing birds is always delightful – but then so is getting my oven cleaned after seeing the chore on my to-do list for three weeks running.

  I’m glad I’m a list-maker.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining. 

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In Left at Oz, a profusion of flowers at a farmhouse represents Dorothy’s Oz. — Photo by Pat Bean

It’s All About the Tiny Details

I just started reading Left at Oz, a Jennie Connors cozy mystery by Sandra Carey Cody. It was a free Kindle book, and since the title intrigued me, I downloaded it.

Occasionally I’ll read a book and never really understand what, if anything, the title has to do with the story. For some as yet unknown reason, this bothers me. But I knew before I had read half a dozen pages why this book had been named.

Jennie, the protagonist of the book, was following directions to find her lost car, and one of those directions, given to her in an anonymous phone call, was to turn left at Oz. As a fan of L. Frank Baum, she immediately recognized Oz when she came upon it after passing a gray and dusty landscape. Oz was represented by a white farmhouse surrounded by a profusion of brightly colored flowers.

Clever, I thought. And my writing brain wondered how Sandra had come up with such an idea, especially after finding her car with a dead body in it. Perhaps while taking a shower, or a walk, or as often happens to me simply through my fingers as I type on my keyboard. Such little details are what makes reading, or watching a movie, delightfully enjoyable for me.

My wandering-wondering brain than jumped to Death on the Nile, a movie featuring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot that I recently watched, and which is based on Agatha Christie’s book of the same name.

Long an Agatha fan, I knew to watch for unexpected and trivial clues as a way to identify the killer. One of my goals in reading murder mysteries is to figure out who done it before the killer is revealed. In this case, one of the clues was simply a missing tube of red paint. I don’t think I’m giving much away as it happens early on, and it takes a lot of other details to make the connection to the killer.

The clue was something totally different in the 1978 movie version of Death on the Nile, in which Peter Ustinov played Hercule Poirot. That version also starred Maggie Smith, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow and David Niven — of whom I’m sure many younger readers are asking: “Who were they?”

Other than the primary setting – a boat floating down the Nile River – the two movies are quite different. I enjoyed them both, but Ustinov was my favorite Poirot. And because I watched closely for insignificant details, I successfully figured out who the killer was before the end of both movies.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out who done it as I continue to read Left at Oz, which I think must be a clue in itself. Or perhaps it’s just a red herring. I’m not far enough along in the book to decide.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited) and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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The Joy of Wonder

Who wouldn’t be full of wonder at seeing a Cooper’s Hawk sitting calmly in a tree? – Photo by Pat Bean  

Little Things Mean a Lot

“It doesn’t have to be the Grand Canyon, it could be a city street, it could be the face of another human being – Everything is full of wonder,” wrote A. C. Grayling, a former British university professor and author of over 25 books on philosophy.

I agree. And I also believe my continuing ability to retain a sense of wonder and enjoyment, whether it be about the passing landscape during a country drive or working a jigsaw puzzle with a granddaughter, is one of the greatest blessings I enjoy during this eighth decade of life. I still wake up looking forward to a day in which I might learn something new.

It was easy for me to keep this sense of wonder when I was a newspaper journalist because everyday was different, and I was usually involved in newsworthy stories, from interviewing people like Maya Angelou – my favorite interview of a 37-year career – to learning about cold fusion, a topic that kept me up researching most of the night before the next day’s interview.

Thankfully, however, I have managed to maintain my wonder — even as my days have become less active and more confined.

Yesterday, I was awed by a story in the New York Times about an eight-year-old Idaho boy who wrote and illustrated an 81-page book, the Adventures of Dillon Helbig’s Crismis, and then stuck it into his local library’s fiction section.

When the librarians learned about it, they were charmed and entered it into the catalog system in the graphic novel category because of its many illustrations. By the end of January, 56 people wanted to check it out.

The book had lots of spelling errors, for example, in “Chaptr 1,” Dillon writes, “ONe Day in wintr it wus Crismis!”  But the tale is a good one, the librarians said, and goes on to transport Dillon, both the protagonist and the author, on a time-traveling adventure after the star on the tree explodes.

Spelling, I long ago came to realize, is not as important as being able to tell a good story. A good editor or, these days spell check, can correct the mistakes.

Wondering, meanwhile, is how I have come to look at life. For example, wondering if our resident great horned owl recently increased its nightly hooting because it’s looking for a new mate. In recent years, I’ve always heard one hooting owl getting a hoot back from a second owl. Currently I’m hearing only one bird’s voice.

Wondering, at least for me, is often as satisfying as finding an answer.

But not always. I wonder how come there seems to be so much hate in the world these days, and no answer to this question would make me feel better or satisfied.  

Thankfully stories like Dillon Helbig’s Crismis lets me forget about that for a while. And to remember there are still good news stories out there to read and wonder about.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Happy holidays to all.

          It’s that time of year again. The time when I start thinking about resolutions for the New Year – even though I’ll probably break them before the first week of January has passed.

          The past two years, 2020 and 2021, haven’t been particularly great years for me because of Covid, but then that’s true for just about everybody. And being retired, 82 and with a small but adequate fixed income, I’ve fared far better than most. So, I’ll quit my whining and look for the silver linings.

          That’s harder this morning because the virus reared its ugly head and stared me straight in the face. My granddaughter and I had planned a road trip to Whitewater Draw two hours outside of Tucson to watch sandhill cranes. That was canceled because my granddaughter was with a friend who had been exposed to the virus. Since she loves me, she canceled our outing.

          Sh-ee-t! (I was raised in the South so this is how my favorite consternation word comes out sounding) I’ll be eating the picnic lunch that I had already prepared for the trip by myself today. Of course, there’s a silver lining with that. I won’t have to cook.

          Meanwhile, I love my own company and sharing that solitude with my canine companion Scamp – so I never feel lonely. That’s two more silver linings right there.

          But as a mother and working woman who once never had a moment to spare, I have now become the sole CEO of my own life. And while at my age, one has learned to let a lot of things go, I still want to make my days meaningful. Time, which passes so silently – and quickly – is very precious to me.

          That’s why I’ll be spending the next few days making a list of my New Year’s resolutions. I want to write more, learn more and be more. But I especially want to spread a message of kindness, which I believe the world is sadly in need of these days.

          Will you help?

          Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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I can’t count the number of Lassie books, movies and TV programs that have left me in tears. How many of you young oldsters remember this photo? And who the young boy is? And did you know that Lassie was usually portrayed by a male dog.

A Good Old Girls’ Club in the Making

I haven’t seen a movie or television show that has left me crying in at least a couple of years. Now, you should know, when I make this statement, that I have cried a water tank full of tears over the years, beginning with books like Lassie, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Black Beauty to a couple of Marvel movies.

Surprise of all surprises, the crying jag was restarted with Wednesday’s night’s episode of The Challenge All Stars, Season 2.

Now I know that people consider this peace-loving 82-year-old a bit strange — for someone who doesn’t like conflict, nastiness and mean people – because I’m a fan of both Survivor and The Challenge, whose weekly episodes usually display all of these traits.

I excuse myself because the participants are all playing a game, like Poker, in which dirty tricks, lying and outwitting your competitors are all allowed –Actual hitting gets you expelled from the game. I love the outdoor adventures and competitions. And amazingly, I also find memorable minutes of good sportsmanship and of finding some good in even the meanest people.

I’ve watched every episode, so far, of Survivor. I came late to The Challenge, but have watched as many episodes as have been screened.

So, what, you might ask, made me cry in The Challenge. It came at the end of a combined puzzle and weight-pulling competition, where one of the two female competitors simply wasn’t strong enough to do the weight-pulling, The other woman, by the way, outdid even the two men who competed in the same competition earlier, which, of course, thrilled me.

When the female winner finished, she went over to her competitor, and said “Come on, we’ve got this.” She then helped her pull her weight to the finish line so the woman could finish strong. It was one of the best female support actions I’ve ever seen. Even some of the bystander competitors even had tears in their eyes. (Just to note, I have seen men support their losing competitors in similar ways many times.)

But both these two women are mothers – and not so young anymore. The All-Stars episodes brought back players from 15 or more years ago. I found it very inspiring to see women staying active and supportive of their gender. Perhaps it’s the start of a good old girls’ club to compete with the good old boys’ clubs that have been going strong for way too long.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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Chickadee and berries. — Art by Pat Bean

Fingers Take Over Brain

Amy Hale Aucker, in her book Ordinary Skin, writes about her choice to camp in a primitive area near a natural hot-spring pool despite warnings against doing just such a thing. While her mother only told her to be careful and not talk to strangers, others asked where she was going to plug in the hair dryer.

Even the campground host Jim, an older gentleman, asked if she was sure she wanted to do this.

She did, and she talked to strangers, even a rough-looking vagrant who joined her in the hot pool one night. Jim just happened to wander by, a few times, just checking out the campground. But Amy knew that he was making sure she was OK.

“He was taking care of me,” Amy wrote, noting that other men had also taken care of her during her life.

My first thought on reading this was the campground host, also an older gentleman, who daily checked up on me at a lonely Michigan campground during my solo RVing days.

It felt nice. Taking care of women was how most men were raised in my generation. And some of then took it very seriously. But then along came the female rebellion, when women decided things like opening doors for them wasn’t a good thing at all because it let the man feel superior.

Ha! Men have felt superior from almost the moment they were born, often simply because of the way they were treated by their loving parents, who gave them more freedom than their sisters, and made sure if there was only enough money for one child to be educated it would be them.

I was even told by a male high school teacher that females had no reason to go to college. They would be taken care of by a man. I remembered that clearly the day I realized nobody in my life would be taking care of me, but me. I had no problem with men opening doors for me. All I cared about was getting equal pay for equal work.

That, at least, was/is my generation, and I’m an American woman. In some eras and countries, female babies weren’t even allowed to live. Even today, in some countries, women can’t walk outside their homes without a male escort.

Hmmm. This essay took an unexpected turn, which often happens to me when I have my fingers on a keyboard and they take charge of the brain. My original thoughts were to compare Amy’s experience of Jim looking out for her, with the times men looked out for me.

And, like Amy, I, too, wouldn’t let the fear of being harmed by men stop me from doing the things I loved to do, like my solo RVing across America, or hiking a mountain trail alone because that was my favorite way to be in nature.

And also to note that if I saw a man with his hands full, I would quickly open the door for him. It’s the little courtesies between us all that make life more pleasant. And we don’t have enough of them in the world today.

Sorry for the detour from my first nice thought. But it’s hard escaping the real world.

Kindness, meanwhile, knows no gender.

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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A storm’s brewing — but the sun will come out tomorrow. — Watercolor by Pat Bean

Trying to Think Positive

          Sometimes stuff – translate shit — happens that might be a blessing in disguise. At least that’s what I would prefer to think about losing a writing folder on my computer.

About a year ago, I started writing a book about my journalism years. I’ve titled the book Between Wars, because it’s how I see my 37-year newspaper career.  My first significant bylined story was an interview with a mom whose son had been killed in Vietnam – we cried together; and one of my last pieces was an editorial urging the president not to take us back into Iraq a second time – he didn’t listen.

          Anyway, I got about 10,000 words into it when I realized what I had written was garbage. OK, maybe not quite garbage, but I’m a writer, and like most writers, I usually feel that what I write is never good enough. But this time I believed I was right – my narrative bored me. So, how in the heck was it going to keep readers turning pages

I finally just put the project away because I couldn’t figure out a way to go forward.  Lately, I’ve been reconsidering tackling the project again. Perhaps you’ve even noticed that I’ve been using my blogs, writing about journalistic events in my life, to stimulate my thinking. And I started a new computer folder to keep track of research and ideas for the book.

          Yesterday, I decided it was time to go back and read what I wrote a year ago, and salvage anything usable. The folder, however, was missing – which had me saying that four letter S word numerous times.

          Had I accidentally deleted that old Between Wars folders when I had done a cleanup of my computer a couple of weeks ago? Maybe. Then I started asking myself if that was actually a bad thing? Or was it a good thing because it meant I truly had to start over?

          After a bit of wailing and hair-pulling, my silver-lining syndrome kicked in and I began thinking positive. But excuse me while I stamp around and rage, and maybe even cry, for at least another hour.  

Pat Bean is a retired award-winning journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon (Free on Kindle Unlimited), and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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