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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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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Answering the Muse

Cat Ni, 7 — Orange Fuzzy Cat

Morning Thoughts and Cat No. 7

          I can procrastinate with the best, but underneath I’ve always had a strong work ethic – from doing homework assignments on time to always doings what I’ve signed up to do, which includes showing up for my writing even when the muse is on vacation in Paris or Timbuktu.

          As Octavia Butler says: “Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t.”

          Or as Natalie Goldberg says: “There’s no such thing as a writer’s block. If you’re having trouble writing, well, pick up the pen and write.”

          But life has changed for me. I’m no longer a working mother or a woman chasing a career. I’m a retired old broad. And while I keep myself quite busy, I no longer have a time schedule to follow.

          For the first time in my life, I am able to answer the muse when it visits, and to follow Henry David Thoreau’s advice to “Write while the heat is in you … The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”

          It’s exciting to be able to sit down and write when an idea crossed my little gray cells. But I have to admit, the outcome doesn’t seem to know the difference. The butt in chair action doesn’t seem to care if the muse is looking over my shoulder or not. In the end, the important thing is to just do it.

          And that, if you remember, is my New Year’s Resolution.

          Pat Bean is a retired 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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Cat No. 6 — Happy Fat Cat with Blue Eyes

          Somewhere around 5 a.m. this morning, a nearby pack of coyotes begin to howl.  My canine bed-partner Scamp sat up beside me and listened – and continued in that same position until I finally got up at 6 a.m. to walk him.

          The coyote howls brought back the time I had encounters with coyotes on Antelope Island in Great Salt Lake. I saw one or two often, especially when I visited the island to bird watch in winter.

          Once, when I was researching a story about coyote research at Utah State University, a playful coyote stole my camera bag. I admire the animal’s survivability, despite mankind’s desire to eliminate the species. 

          I live in Tucson, a city of more than half a million people, in a large apartment complex, near the corner of two busy four-lane roads, with banks, grocery stores, a MacDonald’s, two bagel places, a Starbucks, an animal clinic, two pharmacies, an Ace Hardware, a UPS office, several restaurants, and more businesses to the north and east.

          South and west of me is a scattered residential area broken up by desert ridges, washes, and even a dry river bed, to accommodate the area’s occasional monsoons, which recently have been rare.

          If you like having all the conveniences of a city but still a bit of nature in your life, as I do, it’s an ideal place to live.

I’ve seen bobcats in the parking lot, great horned owls raising chicks in large trees I walk by daily, rare North American birds from my third-floor balcony, and once or twice passed by javelinas that came into the complex when someone left a gate open.

          And then there are the coyotes that serenaded me and Scamp this morning. It was a good song, I thought, remembering my recent repair bill because desert packrats got into my car’s engine compartment.

Without coyotes, the desert rodent population might rise to take over Tucson. Just because they are different from us doesn’t make them evil.

          Hmmm! Now that’s a thought that can be expanded on.

          Pat Bean is a retired 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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Limiting One’s Options

Cat No. 5 — Black and White Striped Cat

Rethinking Ideas.

          Having options is a good thing. True or False?

          Without much thought, I would answer true. Then I read what

Carla Sonheim, author of Drawing: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun, and who dreamed up that crazy idea to draw 30 cats that I accepted as a challenge, has to say about having too many options.

          “Even though I love drawing and have completed hundreds, each day I have a little mini war with myself when I face that blank page.”

          To get over that hump, she has what she calls an arsenal of starter exercises – rules, restrictions and challenges to work within – to get herself going.

I immediately understand.

Carla’s starter exercises for her art are the same as prompts writers use to start their brains. “It’s a paradox: when you have complete freedom, you often freeze up and do nothing,” she says.

OK! Back to drawing cats. I’m actually having fun with the exercise.  

Pat Bean is a retired 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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Cat No. 4; Cat in a pink room.

Morning Thoughts and Cat. No. 4

About the Cat: It’s my version of one of the cats given as examples in the art book: Drawing: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun. The goal was to quickly draw 30 cats from imagination while lying in bed. I guessed that the goal was to get the reader/artist to stop feeling like they had to be perfect, because the cat illustrations were certainly not drawn realistically.

Learning to accept that I wasn’t perfect, somewhere in my mid-30s, was one of the best moments my life. Remembering this got me thinking about other lessons learned during my 81 years on Planet Earth. I decided to make a list of 10 things, but only got to eight before my brain shut off. They are:

          No. 1: Accept that you’re not perfect and be happy about it.

          No. 2. Don’t take anything personal unless it makes you feel better.

          No. 3. Realize that people are more concerned about how they look than how you look.

          No. 4. Get a dog and walk it daily.

     No. 5. Find your passion in life, and follow it.

     No. 6. Get back on the horse when you fall off.

     No. 7. Learn something new every day.

No; 8: Get enough sleep most nights. I say most nights because us old broads still gotta have fun once in a while.

Perhaps readers can lengthen the list by sharing things life has taught them.

Pat Bean is a retired 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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Cat No. 3: The Covid Cat

          I moderate a writer’s chat group called Writer2Writer for Story Circle Network, an international writing support group for women. Each Wednesday, I provide a writer’s prompt.

          This week, wanting to inject a little silliness into the life of writers, who like all of us are living on Covid time, I asked them to have a conversation with an animal who could respond with words instead of just a nodding of the head.

          Below is what my oldest daughter, Deborah, who is a member of W2W, wrote. I laughed all the way through. So, to give a bit of time to dog lovers to go along with my promised 30 artful cats, I decided to share it. I hope reading it brings a smile to your face.

Nightcap with Whiskey and Kahlua

By Deborah Bean

Welcome to the world of a new senior citizen (me) and my two lovable dogs. Whiskey weighs in at 25 pounds and is a Schnauzer/Cocker Spaniel mix — a Schnocker that you have to imagine with a Scottish accent. Ten-pound Kahlua is an energetic, sometimes frenzied Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix – a JackChi. Ironically, re names, I’m a teetotaler.  

Me: (Nighttime, Take 395) Okay, Whiskey, bedtime.

Kahlua: (Scampers downstairs) I’m going, I’m going, I’m going.

Me: Whiskey, come on.

Whiskey: (Opening one eye) Harrrrumph. (Then he closes that eye)

Me: Whiskey, it’s time for bed.

Whiskey: Your bed be much morrrre comfortable. Just leave me be.

Me: Whiskey! Time for bed!

Kahlua: (Scampering back upstairs and starting to bark) Hey it’s bedtime. Time to go pee and then I get a treat! I like treats. Treats are good.

Whiskey: I be in a bed, ye frrrenzied Kahlueless. And it be comforrrtable. And Mistress, if ye please, get idget down tharrre to be quiet.

Me: Whiskey, it’s bedtime. Coooome ooon. (Grabbing his hind legs and pulling slowly, I work his body off the edge of the bed)

Whiskey: (Still not getting up) Hey! What be you doing? And keep yerrr bloody hands offin me prrrivates! (I gently slide him off the bed so his hind feet touch down before I pull him all the way off) And how, the now, did I get down herrre. Ye bloody well tricked me, ye wench.

Kahlua: (Racingdownstairs and back up a second time) C’mon, c’mon, c’mon! Time to go outside – then I get a treat! Treats are good. Don’t you want a treat Whiskey? And we’ve got a comfortable crate with pillows and blankies.

Me: Alright. Downstairs now.

Whiskey: I be strrrrretching. And yawning. And be ye sure ye don’t want me back in that tharrrre comfortable bed. I’d be keeping you warm all night.

Kahlua: (Racing up and down the stairs a third time) Time to go pee. I’m a good puppy. I know what to do.  Go outside, go pee, get my treat, and then off to bed in our crate.

Me: Whiskey, let’s go. It’s bedtime. Come on.

 Whiskey: (Grumbling all the way down to the kitchen door) And it’s a crrruel human ye be. Forcin’ me out of me comforrrtable spot. And now you sends me out into the darrrk to be a’peein.

Kahlua: (After making several circuits of the yard before stopping to go potty) I’m done. See, I went potty. I’m a good puppy. You love me because I know what to do. I’m loved, I’m loved. (Then races up the stairs to see the husband, barking all the way. He sends her back down as Whiskey saunters in from the yard. Kahlua is panting)

Me: Okay, into the crate, both of you.

Whiskey: (Giving me the evil eye, again) And, I be askin’, what will ye be givin’ me? Kahlueless over there may be willin’ but she be titched in the head.

Me: Of course. Here’s your treat. Now into the crate.

Kahlua: I got a treat. Treats are good. Now I’m in the crate. I’m a good puppy!

Whiskey: I’ll not be likin’ this a bit, but since thare be a treat, so shall it be.

Me: (Sighs) Why do I put up with this? It’s a good thing you’re such a snuggle bunny.

Whiskey: Hey! Who ye be besmirchin’ wit’ your bunny talk? It’s a fierce fighter I be — at least five minutes of the day. Hmph!

Me: Night puppies. Love you. See you in the morning.

Whiskey: Hmph! Well, at least there be comforrrtable blankets. Scootch over ye idget. Give me space.

Kahlua: (Snuggles between Whiskey’s legs) I did good! I said goodnight, peed, and went to bed with a treat. I’m a good puppy!

Whiskey: Quiet little beastie. I be tryin’ to sleep here.

          Pat Bean is a retired 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, and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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