Molly Fisk: Ursus Californiensis

19507438772_e683f00dbf_zCalifornia Black Bear (Ursus americanus californiensis). Photo by Wade Tregaskis via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Earlier today I was sitting at my favorite café thinking about writing. Various people came over to talk to me and an hour later the page was still blank. I’d done a lot of laughing, which is always good for a person, and imbibed my morning caffeine — right now a requirement for sanity — but nothing on my mental to-do list was checked off.

Next I drove over to the 10-Minute Oil Change and sat at one of their tables for the 45 minutes it took to do my car. One item crossed off the list, and I committed the list to paper, which was kind of fun and made me feel productive. This is a delusion, of course.

The rain had stopped and the sky turned that bright gray it gets when the sun is hiding behind only a thin layer of clouds. I looked out the Oil Change lobby plate glass for a while, watching the weather. This was not on my to-do list, but it should have been. Humans, especially poets, need to watch the world in action, from spark plug to thunderhead. It’s how we make sense of our lives, but no one remembers this. I think January, the slowest, most self-effacing month of the year, was invented as a reminder.

My next stop was the vet’s office for worm pills. Five out of five cats have been chomping up gophers, voles, lizards, and — I hate to say it — one bunny. Plus, it’s tick season. All of this leads to tape worms, for whom I harbor complete disgust. It’s no fun to cram a pill down anyone’s throat, but at least it’s quick and I’m well-practiced. Each cat hates me until dinner time, and then we’re cool.

I don’t have any coaching clients today, nor writing deadlines, edits due, blog posts to think up. It’s just me, January, and rain. I could and possibly should write a poem about this. Or I could build a fire instead, eat some soup, and take a nap, thereby bowing at the altar of my inner California black bear (Ursus americanus californiensis). Taking pleasure in moving, eating, snoozing, and laughing honors the animals we truly are, and we really don’t do it enough.

I’m not sure whether bears think, or what they might be thinking about. Honey? Salmon? They do write, though, on trees with their enormous curved claws, scraping into the bark a version of what we’re all trying to say, beneath our plain or fancy syntax: “I was here. I exist.”

Today, I can feel that I exist.

I’m smiling into my rearview as I drive the last miles home. I just remembered my favorite motto, something I heard spoken on the radio decades ago by an old blues musician and have never been able to trace. He was laughing at the interviewer, in a great deep bear-like voice:

“Start out slow,” he said, and paused. “And then . . . ease off.”


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  • Shirley February 1, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Yes, please give me more information on the March class. Thanks!

  • Penelope Marshall January 31, 2016 at 9:12 am

    Sometimes after a re-e-ally slow day, I have to add things to my delusionally productive list like “eat breakfast”, “feed dog”, “feed cat” (separate entries critical) and even “pick up mail”. I mentioned this once in a graduation address. The girls were unimpressed, their mothers were my friends for life!

    I’d like to hear more about your March 21 course, please. I spend a great deal of time these days sitting on my bed, book flat on my lap, looking out the window, thinking, so may not be able to fit it in but am hopeful. P

  • Molly Fisk January 31, 2016 at 1:14 am

    Boot Camp is just poetry, Shirley, but I teach a class called A Voice of Your Own which is all genres (women only) and the next one begins March 21st. Let me know if you’d like more information. 😉

  • Shirley January 30, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I notice you teach online creative writing class through Poetry Boot Camp. Is this just poetry or other types of writing also?