Ivan the Gorilla Was Right After All: How Success Can Sneak Up On You


In looking back over the past year on my blog, I’ve noticed something that surprised me and made my writing heart happy.

I posted The One and Only Ivan and a Measure of Peace after reading a kid lit book based on his life. The One and Only Ivan is a fictional story about a gorilla based on a true story of an animal I saw as a child in the Tacoma B&I. Katherine Applegate’s story sunk deep into my heart, and I published my review feeling like it was one of my best. No one commented or seemed to notice.

I paused for a bit like I do when I get crickets and then kept writing.


It took me a while to notice, but over the last year and a half Ivan has gotten more hits than any other post. People have viewed it 151 times. Ivan has gotten more views than the nostalgic pictures of Auburn High before the wrecking balls came through this past summer in My Doomed High School (74).

It doesn’t always take this long for others to notice posts I’ve poured my heart into. The Triple Amputation School of Beauty got noticed around the world quite quickly but still does not have as many views as Ivan.

And, honestly, I have no idea why people have been drawn to my posts. The interest in Ivan may have nothing to do with how well I wrote it. Maybe clickers are drawn to the book by an interest Applegate or maybe they just love gorillas. But a little slice of joy lights up inside me whenever I notice that people are still looking at my words about a story that captured me.

In case you want the graphics, here’s the full review of 2014 including a map of the places in the world where people could be reading about a gorilla who once lived in Tacoma, a condemned high school, or a brave woman who lives life to the fullest.

Click here to see the complete report.

I wish you all found memories of your time in 2014 and the years that came before. This year I learned sometimes it takes a while for people to notice when you’ve done your best work.

Besides. Those stats reminded me that even if people never noticed and even if they were only looking for a book review, I would still be glad I wrote about the inestimable Ivan. May you all keep doing whatever it is that brings you slices of joy whether you get crickets or clicks.

The One and Only Ivan and a Measure of Peace


Ivan look alikeI know I once saw Ivan the gorilla at the B&I shopping mall on South Tacoma Way. My mother used to love to shop for art supplies at the sister store near that funky little mall and we went inside the bigger mall for relief after what seemed like hours of tedious waiting on mom’s browsing.

I can’t fully remember seeing him. My sister remembers clearly as she often does, but I only remember a deep sadness in looking at his ‘domain.’ I never did like to see critters in cages, and I felt guilty he was stuck in there. I thought I should do something though I don’t know what my 9 year old self could have done to change his world.

As I started to read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I checked online to see that the ending would be good. Since it is, I pressed on. The writing is spare and poetic as I imagine Ivan would be if he could narrate a story. Applegate uses white space to break up brief paragraphs or lines of dialog. She has small headers in italics that give hints of what each scene will be about.

I fell in love with all of Ivan’s fictional friends from the janitor’s daughter to the baby elephant who arrives after the book begins. I felt their sadness at leaving each other even though they got a measure of freedom by going to a zoo.

In the book, Ivan has a need to use art to express himself. He uses these words to describe an incident with cake and a refrigerator door during his time living in a home with the mall owner:

“The frosting wasn’t as easy to work with as jungle mud. It was stickier and, of course, more tempting to eat.”

I also appreciated that the mall owner was not a total villain. Mack is complex enough that I felt I understood him even though he keeps Ivan in a cage for 27 years.

Animal stories are often difficult for me in the same way that working at an animal shelter pushed me to breaking. It’s not the animals who wound me but rather what happens when humans and animals connect. For all that we love them and adore going to zoos to see them, we also hurt them in ways intentional and unintentional.

Not too long ago, I went to  the B&I again with my sons. They ran around and looked at the toys, rode the aging carousel, and took in the knick knacks at the various booths. Ivan was no where in sight. His absence was good for him and good for all of us humans, too.

The One and Only Ivan does an excellent job of telling a story that hurts and yet finds ways to redeem. I think Katherine Applegate did the best we could do for Ivan the gorilla.  She gave him a voice and let him play a part in his own fate  —  at least in fiction.

To those who helped Ivan leave to find a home with other gorillas, I am also very grateful. I’m glad they also did the best we could do for Ivan. As Stella the elephant said: “A good zoo is how humans make amends.”

And if you’d like to see the Ivan from my blurred memories, you can find photos of the real one and only Ivan here: