“It’s not for me, it’s for the bear”

5:00AM GMT, 11:00PM CST More than one of my readers has commented on how remarkable they find it that I can be so open about what I am thinking and feeling on my blog. “What if your students (EEK!) or colleagues (more eek?!) read what you’ve written?,” they ask. “Wouldn’t you be embarrassed?” Well, I might be, but then it really isn’t I who is writing this, now is it? It’s Fencing Bear, and Fencing Bear, being a bear, not to mention a bear in a mask carrying a sword, is much braver than Rachel or even Prof. Fulton [Brown] could ever be.

Rachel, for example, is somewhat nervous of flying, but Bear finds it simply exciting. She loves the view of the world from up above the clouds, and in her youth she even imagined wanting to be an astronaut.

Rachel is extremely shy about talking with strangers, but Bear will go up to almost anyone and start a conversation

or even ask for a ride.

Rachel worries that what she reads is sometimes not serious or academic or literary enough. Bear knows better than to apologize for reading fairy stories.

Rachel tends to wear fairly conservative clothes, nothing too trendy, nothing showing too much of her figure. Bear would like nothing better than to walk down the street wearing hot pink armor, looking for dragons.

Rachel, unlike her sister, is terrified at the idea of getting on a horse. Bear is ready to ride elephants.

“But,” you will say, “you are Bear. Everything that she thinks, you think; everything she feels, you feel; everything that she wants to do, you want to do, otherwise how could she write what she does?” Yes, of course, the bear in the pictures is only a toy; I am the one going around London asking taxi drivers if they will let me take pictures of my stuffed animal with their car and convincing stall owners that I am not trying to copy their merchandise, just create a picture blog. But somehow having the toy as an excuse makes it possible for me to do things that I otherwise would never do.

Ironically, of course, I should be even more embarrassed. I am, after all, a grown woman who has just spent two days carrying a toy bear through airports, posing it for photographs whenever the whimsy hit. But, weirdly enough, having the excuse of the toy actually made it easier to take all of the photographs that I have, even over the protests of my increasingly embarrassed son.

My husband, who knows better, simply helped hold the bear.*

I had not initially intended to bring Fencing Bear in the stuffing (as it were) with me on this trip. Typically, F.B. only comes with me to tournaments, not conferences or libraries, and even then, she usually stays in the hotel room without coming to the venue. But I found as I was packing on Saturday for this trip to Europe that I could not leave her behind. If I were five rather than forty-three in human years, I might say that she told me she wanted to come. Being forty-three, I realize that the compulsion is even stronger than simply wanting my “friend” to share my adventure with me: Fencing Bear, for all intents and purposes, is my totem.

Less sleepy bears would have something clever to say at this point about the way in which we project ourselves into the objects that we use. I am, in some sense, my foil as well as my pen (or laptop). But, again, I do not use Fencing Bear as I would a tool. She is something more like a mask, myself but not myself. Or, rather, myself as I would like to be if I were more courageous, outgoing, self-confident, willing to take risks.

In an important sense, she cannot be embarrassed in the same way that grown-up Rachel can because she is only a child-bear, but in other ways, she is much older than I am because she contains also all of the wisdom that I would like to have. And yet, she is also always much safer than Rachel could ever be because I (Rachel) protect her, carrying her in my arms and keeping her (when we are not traveling) on my bed.

As you can see by the date stamp on this post, I’m writing it in that jet-lagged limbo between real bed-time back in Chicago and sunrise here in London, so I doubt if I’m going to be able to be as coherent as I’d like. But the image that keeps coming back to me is of the conquistadores with their “saddle virgins”: little wooden statues of the Virgin Mary that they carried with them on their expeditions to the New World. Now, I do not pray to Fencing Bear as the conquistadores prayed to Nuestra Señora, nor do I think that Fencing Bear exists as anything other than an alter ego for myself. But I do somehow gain courage from her in much the same way that the conquistadores seem to have depended on their images of Mary.

Appropriately enough, the hotel that we are staying in is just off Spanish Place and our window overlooks the back of St. James Catholic Church, where I hope to attend a Latin Mass on Sunday. If I were the sort to look for signs, I might take one here. At the very least, what I do know is that carrying a toy bear around London with a camera is a great way to train one’s attention on things that one otherwise might not see and to start conversations that one otherwise might not have. Whether this means that it is I, Rachel, who is writing this or she, Fencing Bear, I will leave you to decide.

*And, when it came time to publish these photos, saved me from Blogger's refusal to let me put the pictures with the text in a comprehensible way.


  1. Wow..even when jet-lagged you're a novelist. I enjoy your blogging..

    i'm 38 and a guy, and read Harry Potter..i'd don the pink armor and think its hilarious Rachel the bear is riding on the tail.

    I sometimes personify myself with 'things' too .. so with that said .. Rachel Bear is too adactylous to write as well as you. :-P


  2. You'd be amazed the point control she has with her foil. : )

    I'm glad you're enjoying her adventures!

  3. So delightful to meet bear...I wonder what she would write in a book about Mary.


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