Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers? (08/15/10)



Featured writer: Sara Baker



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Becky Povich
Claudia Larson
Dan Coshnear
Don Edgers
Jodi Hottel
Maryann Schacht
Rodney L. Merrill
Sara Baker
Susan Bono


UNEXPECTED MEMORY—A PARADOX

by Sara Baker

Sometimes an unexpected memory arrives, like an unwelcomed tourist, on the shores of my subconscious from the ship named Fallibility whose port-of-call is the continent of my conscious mind. When he disembarks the ship, at first I do not recognize him, for he wears many haunting faces.

Paradoxically, I have unknowingly both summoned and denied this occasional dark and foreboding stranger who carries his heavy baggage surreptitiously camouflaged as pain, fear, anxiety, doubt, guilt, poor decisions, and even misused time.

However, each time this unwelcome tourist arrives, I must face this same internal gauntlet and decide. "Do I keep him on the shore, or do I allow him to come inland and reside?"

Hesitantly, I conclude that denying his presence makes me a poor navigator of my conscious. All memories, even the dark and foreboding ones, are part of the continent of my soul. Allowing even these unwanted guests to leave the shore and head inland makes me a more reliable navigator—a better reader of my internal compass.

So, I compromise with this unexpected guest. I tell him, "You may visit my continent; observe it only for a short period of time; and even alter its landscape. You may sup with me, for doing so will build a better relationship between you and me. Before you leave, I will even embrace you as I would my own fallibility. You may not, however, permanently reside here with me."

Sometimes an unexpected memory arrives as a welcomed tourist who approaches the land of my conscious mind much like the guest at a surprise birthday party. I recognize him, for he wears many attractive faces. His baggage is light and airy, containing packages wrapped with joy, hope, confidence, enthusiasm, acceptance, and love.

Like his dark counterpart, I did not summon him. But because he approaches me with positive fanfare, I accept his presence and allow him to head inland. His nature nurtures the continent of my soul and makes me a balanced navigator—a better interpreter of the language of my soul.

No need to compromise with this unexpected guest. I simply ask him, "Please, remain with me; guide me eternally; and even change my scenery. Do no leave; stay and soften the winds on the sails of the ship of my fallibility."

Sara Baker is a retired teacher and freelance writer who lives in Allen, Texas.

When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?

  by Arlene L. Mandell

I do, all the time. As easy as ringing the doorbell at my childhood home on Hemlock Street in Brooklyn. Push a button and a memory pops up, complete with sounds and color.To wit:

I'm six years old, eating a slice of white toast with yellow American cheese. My brother Edward is in his high chair. My mother has gone to the corner grocery store for more milk.
I would have been happy to give Edward mine. I hate milk and plan to pour it down the kitchen sink carefully so there's no evidence.

I hear a squeak. A small brown mouse is climbing up the tablecloth, its pink nose and whiskers twitching. I shriek and rush for the broom. He runs around the table as I whack near him, not wanting to actually squish him.

Edward starts screaming and turning red. My mother returns. I finish my bread and cheese and go to school.

Push the button again; another memory will start.


Arlene L. Mandell and her Scribe Tribe wrote about this question on a sunny July afternoon. She's still squeamish about rodents, dead or alive, and relimquishes her "I am woman" posture to a bigger and braver member of her household.

Somebody Get the Door….Never Mind, that Somebody is I!

  by Becky Povich

As I sit at my desk, with wrists on my laptop, fingertips on the keyboard, and with semi-good posture, I ponder this question. Mentally I poke and prod my brain. I perform a few physical exercises without leaving my chair. I do a couple of neck bends and twists, shoulder rolls and deep inhales.

Because I'm in the midst of writing my memoir, unexpected memories are a common occurrence. Until I discovered the necessity of always having pen and paper at hand, many arrived at the most inopportune moments. Would I make it home from the grocery store before I forgot? Are you kidding? I'd forget whatever it was before I drove another block or two. Now I have notepads and pens in every nook and cranny in my home and car.

Unexpected memories pop into my mind like children's bubbles blown through a wand. I scribble as fast as I can before *poof* they are gone and forgotten.

Sometimes I answer as myself, the adult. Other times I answer as my child-self.

Oh, what joy! What a gift I have received by answering that door, because no matter whether those memories are good or bad, they are mine.

Becky Povich is trying to stay in The Zone and complete her book this fall. Bubbles surround her as if she were a guest on The Lawrence Welk Show.
www.beckypovich.blogspot.com


Who's There?

  by Claudia Larson

I open the door. There stands a gaggle of what appears to be trick or treaters. Three of them have horrid masks, the kind that repel as well as attract with a macabre interest. The rest of them have sweetly appealing visages, the heart-melting sort.

Candy bowl tucked under my right arm, I grab as much as my left hand can hold and extend it towards the mesh bags held by Disappointment, Trauma and Sadness. I hope my offering of abundant sweets will offset their attempts to strew toilet paper, throw eggs and scrawl graffiti.

I offer the same-sized handful to Prairie Skies, Dad When He Was In This Life, Mom's Home Baked Caramel Rolls and My Children When They Were Kidlets, each bit of candy flavored by long lasting gratitude, affection and wonder.

They leave, one by one. The candy bowl is empty. My hands feel full. My bones seem sturdier. My blood pumps more easily through my veins, arteries and capillaries, a result of answering the door, giving the guests what they needed, what I needed.

Claudia Larson lives in Sebastopol, CA where memories and present day intertwine as she weaves her life.


I'll Get It

  by Dan Coshnear

When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?

You guys come up with some heck of questions, but this one! I do! If you're talking about one of my memories. If you're talking about someone else's memory, well then, they do! But maybe implicit in the question is a presupposition - that there's more than one me. A plural me, like the royal we, only opposite. And I'm not at all sure I buy that. We'll try to have an open mind.

An unexpected memory: Recently I sat near a gentleman at an RW conference thing. The man reminded me very much of a fellow I will refer to as BJ because those are his initials, and because if he were to read this, he might be offended. I haven't seen him since the seventh grade. He wore his pants very high on his waist when it was cool to wear them low. BJ was an A student. He was a poster child for perfect posture. So sad. He was dreadfully serious, and always so clean.

We used to see the J family at church and my mother once remarked, "They look like they've been sterilized." It was an uncharacteristic remark from my mother, who would be 87 this year. When my brother and sisters and I were young, her favorite complaint was: "Who do you think is going to pick up after you?" Her favorite words for describing us: "sloppy" and "slovenly." She'd been in the navy and one thing she learned was how to make a bed - crisply. She'd look at us, me especially, and say, "Where did I go wrong?"

Incidentally, for reasons I can't fully remember, I had this idea we were over-privileged. I felt guilty about it. All of my heroes were poor, most of them black, some of them born with corrective leg braces on. For reasons that are hard to explain, I wanted to go to school with gaping holes in my pants. I wanted to be poor, black and have a broken arm. I fancied myself a diamond in the rough; the diamond part was difficult, but rough I thought I could pull off. Point is, it wasn't about you, Mom. I wasn't trying to punish you, wasn't trying to disgrace our family. Still, we're sorry. And late. I think we understand why you felt what you felt.

Who answers? In this case, it's me the child, and it's me the adult, the parent. Maybe the nature of unexpected memories, the memorable ones, the jarring ones, is they take us out of time.


Daniel Coshnear is a fiction writer. In Guerneville. And elsewhere. He is hard at work on a new bio.

Knock, knock – Who’s there?

  by Don Edgers

After plopping a handful of change on the counter of a coffee shop, I was short a nickel. This triggered the memory of a similar situation many years earlier.

I was five when I began my daily visit to the nearby general store by myself. Once in the store, I would ask for an ice cream cone, Dixie Cup, or Popsicle and tell the proprietor, "Charge it to the Edgers'!"

Few Fox Islanders paid cash for their groceries; instead, everyone had a charge account, which was kept in an account book stored in a big drawer underneath the cash register. Accounts were payable on a weekly basis. The only thing not chargeable was soda pop. It was in a machine on the store's porch and required a nickel.

I didn't drink pop very often because my dentist-father was an anti-pop zealot who pounded dental propaganda into my young brain. However, on especially hot days, the lure of a cold Coke overpowered the fear of rotten teeth, and I would head to the porch to peruse pop bottle tops. Several flavors of soda were kept icy cold in a refrigerated water cooler that held the pop bottles' necks in tracks. The buyer had to guide the bottle of the chosen flavor from its track to a slot that would release the bottle when a nickel was fed into the coin slot.

The only ‘money' I carried in my pocket was a collection of tax tokens I had managed to find. Each token had a hole in its center through which I strung a small chain. I knew that I could swap tokens for real money by asking whoever was behind the counter in the store, "How many tokens does it take to make a nickel?"

"Fifteen!"

Removing the tokens from my pocket, I unstrung them from the chain, putting them into piles of three. I knew that I needed five piles to equal five cents.

"I only got twelve. Can I bring you three more tomorrow?"

"I'll tell you what. Keep yer tax tokens, cuz we got enough already. I'll just lend you a nickel, and then later today or tomorrow you can bring me a nickel to make us even. Okay?"

"Okay," I said stringing the tokens back on their chain.

Back to paying for my coffee:

Among the pile of coins was a wrapped mint candy. Teasingly, the five-year-old in me, asked: "Could you count the mint as a nickel?"

The cashier answered, "Keep the mint. I'll catch you the next time you come."

Don Edgers lives, writes and drinks his coffee in Port Orchard, WA. His website: www.anislandintime.com

Unexpected Calls

  by Jodi Hottel

When an unexpected memory calls, I pick up the phone and listen half-heartedly, bored by the stale tale I've heard so many times before.

When the doorbell rings, I sense the cold water of dread rising in my gut and realize I'm holding stale air in my lungs. I slam the door shut.

Other times, I'm eager for that sunny visitor, whose arrival satisfies a longing I never knew was there, gladness coursing through my veins.

Of late, youthful memories seldom visit or call. Instead, yet-to-be-formed memories keep ringing and ringing. I resist the urge to answer, willing the machine to pick up.


Jodi Hottel keeps trying to live in the present moment in Santa Rosa.


You. Again.

  by Maryann Schacht

When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?

The me that's unoccupied with venues and menus, that larger me that lives in the remembrance chamber located somewhere in my heart space.

That's who answers.

I'm walking down a wooded path when the He of my memory appears. "Go ahead you take the dogs. I'll just sit here a minute and catch my breath."

The larger me, the soul me, awakes, startled, and asks,"Love, is that you?"

We've walked this path so many times-- you leading, corgis frolicking, sniffing, yelping.
I hear you say, " Go ahead, I'll just sit here a minute and catch my breath."

Why today? Why now?

Why not?

You pop back into my life vividly alive.

I know you're always with me, but still my eyes are tearing. Did you think they needed washing so that I would remember?

I remember.

I still know to greet the unexpected, the oxymoron of sadness/joy.

Emotions co-exist, residing in my remembrance chamber even as years pass. They do pass but you are always there, a constant photograph in the holograph of my life .


Dear old friend.
Thank you for reminding me of the precious time we spent together.

Come again. Come often. I miss you.



Maryann Schacht is a member of The Scribe Tribe in Santa Rosa, CA.


Do I know You?

  by Rodney L. Merrill

When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers?

I am looking at this question askance, not sure I am understanding it rightly. Is it asked in a spirit such that it could as well be worded: "When you answer an unexpected memory who asks it?" That is, is the point that the one who answers and the one who asks cannot be one and the same because then the question would not be unexpected. Thus, who asks and who answers?

Well, I'm glad you asked!

I have been asking a lot of similar questions in my doctoral dissertation that I hope very much to finish this Fall and defend in Winter. From one social constructionist perspective (by its very nature there can be no definitive social constructionist perspective), the idea that we are a single, integrated, coherent self is the product of early modernist philosophy and, later, a necessity capitalist economic theory.

Alternatives to the integrated, coherent self include dialogical self, narrative self, looking glass self and others that see the sense of an integrated self with a coherent history as a trick of language and social convention. That is, we are a collection of stories that we co-create with others during social interaction and force into a single coherent storyline because, well, we are expected to. According to this way of thinking, we are a story that has many voices and many branches, subplots, and subtexts that we largely ignore in an effort to be sensible and to make sense to others.

Our "self" is not some kernel inside; it is a narrative that exists only in the space of social interaction and seems "deep inside" only because we always have a conversation going on in our heads. And this conversation is carried on not by one coherent self talking to itself but among all the voices and conversations and narratives we have ever experienced. Sometimes, when I think I am "talking to myself" inside my head, if I listen very, very carefully, I can begin to recognize my mother, my father, my grandfather, my grandmother, teachers and pastors, all long gone but still alive in me as me. Sort of.

So ... When an unexpected memory comes calling, who answers? The I-we ("me") of the moment answers with the many transformative voices, conversations and narratives from that moment to this. What does that mean? It means that the "I" who encounters the unexpected memory today is not the same "I" who lived the experience. The old "I" has become "other" and the experience has become the experience of an "other" and the memory is always already changed. You can never go home again and you can never fully recapture a memory as it was at some other point in your life.

Who answers? It depends. On when and under what circumstances. It is always "me" but the question is "which one"?

At least, that's what I think today.

Rodney Merrill expects to complete a PhD in Applied Social Science in Fall 2010 and will defend a dissertation titled: "Who Writes and About Whom in Personal Narrative?" He lives in Astoria, Oregon, where he mutters to himself constantly and is occasionally understood by others.


UNEXPECTED MEMORY—A PARADOX

  by Sara Baker

Sometimes an unexpected memory arrives, like an unwelcomed tourist, on the shores of my subconscious from the ship named Fallibility whose port-of-call is the continent of my conscious mind. When he disembarks the ship, at first I do not recognize him, for he wears many haunting faces.

Paradoxically, I have unknowingly both summoned and denied this occasional dark and foreboding stranger who carries his heavy baggage surreptitiously camouflaged as pain, fear, anxiety, doubt, guilt, poor decisions, and even misused time.

However, each time this unwelcome tourist arrives, I must face this same internal gauntlet and decide. "Do I keep him on the shore, or do I allow him to come inland and reside?"

Hesitantly, I conclude that denying his presence makes me a poor navigator of my conscious. All memories, even the dark and foreboding ones, are part of the continent of my soul. Allowing even these unwanted guests to leave the shore and head inland makes me a more reliable navigator—a better reader of my internal compass.

So, I compromise with this unexpected guest. I tell him, "You may visit my continent; observe it only for a short period of time; and even alter its landscape. You may sup with me, for doing so will build a better relationship between you and me. Before you leave, I will even embrace you as I would my own fallibility. You may not, however, permanently reside here with me."

Sometimes an unexpected memory arrives as a welcomed tourist who approaches the land of my conscious mind much like the guest at a surprise birthday party. I recognize him, for he wears many attractive faces. His baggage is light and airy, containing packages wrapped with joy, hope, confidence, enthusiasm, acceptance, and love.

Like his dark counterpart, I did not summon him. But because he approaches me with positive fanfare, I accept his presence and allow him to head inland. His nature nurtures the continent of my soul and makes me a balanced navigator—a better interpreter of the language of my soul.

No need to compromise with this unexpected guest. I simply ask him, "Please, remain with me; guide me eternally; and even change my scenery. Do no leave; stay and soften the winds on the sails of the ship of my fallibility."

Sara Baker is a retired teacher and freelance writer who lives in Allen, Texas.

Maybe Next Time

  by Susan Bono

Over the years I've gotten way too suspicious of people's intentions. When the doorbell rings unexpectedly, I blend up against the nearest doorjamb and freeze, trying to become invisible should the caller happen to glance through one of the windows near the front door. I keep my gaze averted to avoid any possibility of eye contact with shady salesmen or religious proselytizers trying to fleece or save me. For some reason, I never imagine a psycho killer adjusting his jacket to hide his instruments of torture, but I don't ever say to myself, "Maybe it's the Publisher's Clearing House Prize Patrol!" or even "UPS with a package!" So when an unexpected memory presses the doorbell or raps smartly, I wait, barely breathing, until whoever or whatever it is gets discouraged and goes away. I listen for the sound of shoes brushing the tops of the brick steps and that curious twang our wrought iron banister makes when someone lets go of it. Then I know the coast is clear. No matter that I'm lonely for a little company or change of pace. My house is already full of memories. I always tell myself I'll think about answering the next call—should there be one—tomorrow.

Susan Bono is thinking about making room for some new memories in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow


Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for 52perfectdays.com, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email: greenwriter1960@gmail.com

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at Writergal53@aol.com, or visit her blog at www.beckypovich.blogspot.com.

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at: TheresaLSanders@charter.net

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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