Writing is a Bear

…as Discussed in 8th Grade ELA after an example by John McPhee

“You see, even if you don’t like to write you have a handy topic: writer’s block itself. You could start out with a letter, like John McPhee advises. ‘Dear Mr. Nelson,’ you might say, ‘I do not like to write! I have such a hard time thinking of a topic. This assignment is a total bear.’ And you could go on and on saying why, and what it feels like to have no ideas and feel blocked and stymied, whining about how useless it feels. ‘It’s like strolling through the woods, minding your own business,’ you could write, ‘when you round a corner and you startle a bear. He comes thrashing through the bushes to investigate.’ This bear-writing assignment does not like surprises and he’s big and hungry. So he starts moving towards you with a famished look in his eyes. And you must decide, shall I run for it? But then you think better of that option since the bear is going to out run you. I’ll climb a tree! Silly. Bears are better tree climbers too. Play dead? You’re ticklish. Wouldn’t last long. And here his big furry self comes, heading straight towards your lunch bag, which his big black nose has detected, licking his lips and no doubt thinking, Easy pickings, this one. So now you’re down to your last option which is to look the bear in the eye and prepare to stand your ground and out-fierce him—and you do—until finally you are toe-to-toe, breathing his hot stinky bear-about-to-hibernate breathe, thinking, My, what big teeth you have. And the bear is thinking, I am so misunderstood. All I wanted was a morsel of that peanut butter and honey sandwich that smells so heavenly. And you wonder, Perhaps he would settle for my PBH sandwich.  So you pull it out of the bag slowly and offer it on the palm of your hand, and the bear sniffs it and decides that it seems like a very fair deal and involves far less effort than picking your own berries, one by one, or invading a bee hive and stealing honey from little buzzing things that sting. And so the deal is silently struck, and the bear gets lunch and you get your writing assignment done. You take John McPhee’s advice and just remove ‘Dear Mr. Nelson’ from the page and retitle it ‘My Lunch with the Bear.’” Sometimes the bear eats you (or your sandwich), and sometimes you eat the bear (or, the assignment).  Now you’re thinking, I wonder if that bear has cubs?



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