Ursula lifted her snout to look at the mountain. The meadowed foothills she stood in were dotted with poppy and primrose and cranesbill and cowslip, an explosion of color and scent in the late spring sun, the long grass tickling her paws and her hind legs; above that the forested slopes, birch and rowan and willow and alder rising into needle-pines and gray firs; above that the snowline, ice and rock and brutal winds.
And above that, at the top, God; and with God, the answer Ursula had traveled so far for: what kind of bear am I meant to be?
She shouldered her bonesack and walked on.
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This story is the most naked attempt I've ever made to appeal to an editorial team. The bears are for Aidan. The badgers are for Elise. And there should have been dinosaurs for Rachael, but the raptors kept eating everyone so it had to be conversations with God instead. And then, having set out to write a story for three other people, I got to the end of the first draft and looked back at Ursula Bear and realised oh, whoops, I've actually written this story for me. That is me. I am that bear.
I am (as I write this) 33 years old, and I still don't really know who I should be. My wife will often remark on how much I change around other people, moulding myself around what I think they expect me to be. I don't mean to, it's not conscious, I just... want people to like me. (I'm a writer: the crippling self-confidence issues and overwhelming need for validation are part of the territory for most of us, I suspect.)
The romantic, artistic thing here would be to say this story finally healed me: that it gave me answers, and peace with myself. Would that it were so easy. But it's the one story I've written where I can most clearly hear that I'm having words with myself. It seems like everything is painted in certainty these days, with no space left for doubt and questions, and I don't think that's a healthy aspiration to have. I think it's okay to not be sure yet, to wait for answers down the road, to not be ready for those answers. None of us are born knowing everything. I doubt any of us die knowing everything. So there must be--will be--gaps where we have to say, "I don't know yet". And that's okay, right? That's not failure. That's just an admission you're not done growing as a person. I hope I'm never done growing as a person, to be honest. It sounds a very dull place to arrive at.
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