Originally published 41 years ago. Borrowed from repost at Daily Kos, Brainwrap.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Japanese/German author Yoko Tawada is a study into both what it is to be human and also into the often strained relationships between humans and other mammals. It narrates the history (memoirs?) of three generations of polar bears and the humans they interact with, whether in the circus, at the zoo, or at an international conference. The polar bears themselves are at one time creatures of the great northern wilds and at another time balancing on a large blue ball and even, without any anthropomorphic explanation, excelling at a corporate “desk” job and attending important conferences around the world.
Who knew that a polar bear could write a best-seller based on memoirs from the circus?
It has been about ten months since my daughter moved me down to Florida to make her family unit multigenerational: her two kids at one end and me at the other. Most of the construction is now completed and I am very comfortable in my two rooms with all my books, my T-shirts, and my dog Ricky (we miss Luci).
This last weekend the more active members of the family spent a few days cavorting at the beaches of the gulf and I stayed behind to enjoy cold-brewed coffee and read poems by Allen Ginsberg. It was only two days but the peacefulness of being alone with my thoughts was refreshing. When the family returned, my precocious little granddaughter brought me a cowry shell with Apalachicola engraved on its top and a gold sticker announcing Made in the Philippines on the bottom.
Fifty years ago I became hypnotized by the world of photography. My then wife was taking a photography course at the university and since we were an impoverished student couple, we saved our pennies, denied ourselves garlic bread at Mario’s, wore out-of-date clothes because they still fit, and still couldn’t afford a decent camera.
Ten years later, on the other side of the country, I loaded a camera bag with all the goodies I could buy, including a modern SLR camera, and surprised my new girlfriend while celebrating her birthday at the local drive-in theater. She loved it; I used it.
What I found myself doing was lugging a heavy bag of extra lenses, beaucoup de film, tripod, filters, flash, and handy instructional pamphlets around New York City in search of the perfect shot. What I got in the end was a sore shoulder and a few pictures of the shadows on a subway grating. Being a self-appointed purist, I used only Black and White film. I also scanned the magazine advertisements constantly for the ideal enlarger and the tools and chemicals I would need to convert my single-purpose bathroom into a state-of-the-art darkroom with a red warning light outside the door.