Memoirs of a Polar Bear

 "A fly bumped against my forehead, or wait, not a fly, a sentence."

"A fly bumped against my forehead, or wait, not a fly, a sentence."

The other day Amber Sparks asked the Facebook, "What subjects have you been told not to write about?"  A fantastic question, and the response was long: love, politics, family, animal death, sports, trauma, teenage girls, writers and writing.  In my mind, I think I've made my own private list - not necessarily that I should NOT write about them, but that they seemed easy pitfalls.  Too sentimental, melodramatic, touchy, too out-of-my-experience.  One of these has always been writing about writers.  It just seemed like a bad idea.  The only stories I'd read with writers in them were undergrad pieces about the drunkard trying to build up to writing his novel on his typewriter.  Oh, and this awesome 5th grade book about a squirrel writing poetry (but that one I didn't discover until about a year ago, to my intense delight).


Now I'm midway through Memoirs of a Polar Bear, where (in Part 1) we seem to be both reading the speaker's memoirs and dipping out of them.  Seeing the speaker writing.  Which includes (of course) the evasive parts: how she spills ink over her white belly, eats a fridge full of salmon, ducks into bookstores to learn German grammar, emigrates to Canada.  

The speaker is restless and romantic and prone to accepting advice even when she can smell the lies on someone.  She makes me smile because - I think she reminds me of how vulnerable writers can be.  Especially new writers.  She asks questions like, "How is an author to avoid repetition when one and the same scene keeps repeating itself in her life?" even though she already knows the answer, earlier in the novel: "My memories came and went like waves at the beach. [...] I had no choice but to portray the same scene several times, without being able to say which description was definitive."  She fears dying before she finishes writing her life.  She trades new installments of her memoir for bars of East German chocolate.  The Sea Lion editor seems greedy to read her work, but quick to dismiss her.  She is entranced by things she reads.  She is furious by others.  She realizes that writing an autobiography entails making up all the things she's forgotten, and wishes she could write the present instead of making up an "authentic-sounding past."

These are things I've felt -- fear and certainty and dismissal and feeling small and proud and over-my-head.  I think all writers have been because it's a humbling process, and an empowering one.  Near the end of this first section, our polar-bear narrator arrives in Canada and reads three books on the recommendation of her favorite bookstore clerk.  In the final book she pages through, she is so sucked in that I - reading Memoirs - cannot tell if I am reading what she is reading or if she is telling her future, or projecting it, or wishing for it - I kind of love that I can't tell, that my best hint is, "While I was copying out these passages from the book, I entered the story being told as its protagonist...down to the last punctuation mark."  I presumed she was reading and admiring, but as soon as Part 1 ends, what she's read has become prophetic - she has a daughter by the same name as the protagonist in the story she was reading.  If I'm reading it correctly.  If there's such a thing as correct.

Now I'm off for Part 2, where so far it's third person and her daughter's life.