Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Which is more useful to a writer, suffering or joy? (06/15/11)



Featured writer: Claudia Larson



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Becky Povich
Catherine Crawford
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Marilyn Petty
Sara Baker
Susan Bono


Chicken or the Egg?

by Claudia Larson

Just outside the back door, our eleven-year old cat sat in the garden, looking up intently, almost ferociously. I heard chiding bird sounds before I saw two or three small finches attacking a figure. It was a red-tailed hawk, its foot-high presence imposing itself on the fence rail. I walked towards the barn, worried about the chickens, whose fenced-in coop was still an open-air patio. Despite my worried walk, I felt an broad earthy joy seeing the hawk within my weak-armed ability to throw a stone.

Whether it was my hurried walk, Kali the cat's uninviting gaze or the finches' miniscule but steady attack, the hawk left its perch. Suddenly, it was only a blur, enough to make me doubt what I saw, but its talons clutched a dark figure the size of a young barred rock hen.

It took only a few steps to get inside the barn where there was only one barred rock teen-aged hen. Helen the hen was calling "hawk" outside the back barn door. Aurelia and Chub Chub milled inside the barn. Three other chickens were found cowering under chicken wire, a fourth hen wisely making herself small in a corner of the fence line. The second teenaged barred rock hen was gone. It was only a matter of time, given the delay in predator-proofing the hen house. Sorrow turned on the faucet. Yet, the broad, earthy beauty of that hawk on the fence rail rode sorrow's streams.

Claudia Larson lives in Sebastopol, CA, regularly watching the hawks soar over the pasture and laughing at the chickens’ waddling run to get the greens she tosses to them.

Wisp of White Fur

  by Arlene L. Mandell

I've reached the advanced age of 70 where my writing is informed both by joy and sorrow. Here's an example:

Gatsby, our snowy white shelter cat, died in May while lying next to me on the couch. He was only six years old, a powerful hunter and free spirit who prowled the woods and fields. We think he had a heart attack or stroke. We wrapped him in a towel, put him in a cooler and brought him to our vet for cremation the next morning.

He was a locavore, supplementing his predictable cat food kibble with fresh meat he caught at night. Early in the morning, I'd whistle for him, and he'd come running down the road. Or he'd be waiting on the roof and jump down onto the railing, startling me. Or he'd be sitting on the courtyard wall and acknowledge me with a flick of his ears.

Naturally I was sad at his sudden demise, but as I thought about his life of freedom and lack of suffering at the end, I was comforted in an odd way.

This morning I found a wisp of his silky fur caught in the flowering jasmine.

Arlene L. Mandell is busily brushing burrs from the coats of Maxwell and Ringo and trying to convince herself that the thousands of dandelions in the meadow are wildflowers, not weeds.


Seasoned

  by Becky Povich

Oh, Susan, you really did it to me this time! The questions you pose each month are always challenging, some more so than others. Some I can respond to in a humorous way, others not so much. But this one. This one…..

I don't think there is just one answer. Haven't we all lived through suffering times? And haven't we also lived in joyous moments? We write because of both emotions. I believe it to be especially so when writing memoir. Who wants to read an entire book of suffering? (Well, some people maybe, but not me.) And who would believe a story about a life that was incessantly joyful? I think we've realized that only happens in fairy tales.

Suffering and joy are the salt and pepper of life. We may not need both ingredients, but they certainly make life more challenging. There's that word again: challenging. YOU, Ms. Bono are the salt and pepper of this writer's life!

Becky Povich sweated bullets trying to write this response. If only the experience was more like sitting in a steam room, she may have received an added bonus of losing some weight. Ahhh, the suffering…. You can contact Becky at Writergal53@gmail.com. She also has a blog:
www.beckypovich.blogspot.com.


Through a Glass Brightly

  by Catherine Crawford

How many times have you heard pregnant women asked "Do you want a boy or a girl?" Choosing between two emotional states reminds me of this. How do you pick one or the other when both enrich life's experiences?

Suffering is a useful teacher whose lessons inform my writing. But joy is also part of the curriculum. The two are related, and what I learn from suffering can be a joy itself. Writing focused on the world's brokenness is writing stuck in suffering. So I write to honor my truth but to get through the pain to whatever I think is the pay-off.

I also enjoy bucking my puritan ancestors who didn't like joy very much. They viewed it suspiciously, like it was an extraterrestrial. When I was young, and a family member caught me admiring my breasts in the bathroom mirror, she said sourly "Well, don't get too attached to them." It takes determination to get past joy-hate like this.

Sometimes I'm stunned at how suffering and joy can play off each other and give writing emotional texture. Joy that comes out of suffering is more credible to me than joy that doesn't.


Catherine celebrates the mystical beauty of the Pacific Northwest, where she lives and works and is mentored by joy every day.



Chicken or the Egg?

  by Claudia Larson

Just outside the back door, our eleven-year old cat sat in the garden, looking up intently, almost ferociously. I heard chiding bird sounds before I saw two or three small finches attacking a figure. It was a red-tailed hawk, its foot-high presence imposing itself on the fence rail. I walked towards the barn, worried about the chickens, whose fenced-in coop was still an open-air patio. Despite my worried walk, I felt an broad earthy joy seeing the hawk within my weak-armed ability to throw a stone.

Whether it was my hurried walk, Kali the cat's uninviting gaze or the finches' miniscule but steady attack, the hawk left its perch. Suddenly, it was only a blur, enough to make me doubt what I saw, but its talons clutched a dark figure the size of a young barred rock hen.

It took only a few steps to get inside the barn where there was only one barred rock teen-aged hen. Helen the hen was calling "hawk" outside the back barn door. Aurelia and Chub Chub milled inside the barn. Three other chickens were found cowering under chicken wire, a fourth hen wisely making herself small in a corner of the fence line. The second teenaged barred rock hen was gone. It was only a matter of time, given the delay in predator-proofing the hen house. Sorrow turned on the faucet. Yet, the broad, earthy beauty of that hawk on the fence rail rode sorrow's streams.

Claudia Larson lives in Sebastopol, CA, regularly watching the hawks soar over the pasture and laughing at the chickens’ waddling run to get the greens she tosses to them.

Bi-polar?

  by Don Edgers

John Wooden, legendary basketball coach of teams winning the most NBAA championships ever, in response to a question on how he could take "average" basketball players and win so many titles: "There's no great satisfaction or joy doing something that's easy." I feel the same statement might be made for many of us who write.

After writing a memoir over a period of almost 20 years, the man who became my mentor (a retired English & journalism professor) virtually tore my manuscript asunder. His caveat - "Let me know if you think I'm being too difficult or critical, and I'll back off." It took another five years to put everything together and publish An Island In Time: Growing up in the 1940s. Joy to the world!

I read lots of writing from the Civil War. The suffering of slaves and soldiers is so intense that when the whole experience concludes, the joy extends into the stratosphere.

Suffering followed by joy seems to me to make writing fervid (HOT)!

Don relives his sufferings and joys in Port Orchard, WA. You can read some of his trials and triumphs at www.anislandintime.com.

What’s it all about?

  by Marilyn Petty

Oh, the joy of suffering and the suffering of fleeting joy! How could there be a story without both? They go together like love and marriage, horse and carriage - the hope-filled marriage that ruined love; the horse that bolted and killed the beautiful heroine. Where would the joyful union of Cinderella and the handsome prince be without her suffering those despicable stepsisters and their unspeakable mother? Every tale told tells of similar struggles.

How could we know joy unless we suffered? With nothing but joy, we could live out our lives happily - but bored to death. Where is the plot in that? We need the fat and the lean, the grief and the bliss. That's what life - and literature - is all about.

In spite of her certainty on this subject, Marilyn Petty is still looking for answers in Santa Rosa, CA.

Suffering Becomes Joy

  by Sara Baker

My inner mind hungers for harmony and connection. So, is that connection best achieved through suffering or joy?

I recognize that suffering and joy are two essential human emotions that fuel my subconscious. Sometimes, they even act like my personal GPS system allowing me to navigate my subconscious where all creativity—-including writing—occurs.

Oddly, suffering seems to satisfy my creative hunger. I ponder why. Suffering initially reminds me of the taste of bitter food; for a while that bitterness seems unbearable. Yet when I take another bite, I find it possible to continue. Strange.

Then I think about joy and realize there is a huge difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is shallow, for it dies when suffering arrives; it can't stand pain. Joy, though, rises from suffering and withstands the inherent pain, uncertainty, and sorrow. That deep sustaining joy transforms my suffering into endurance; my endurance into character; and my character into hope. Hope becomes new joy that sustains me and never disappoints me. That joy is the wisdom and understanding necessary to take as a writer.

So in the end, suffering comes full circle and reminds me that I am alive, capable, and creative.

Sara Baker is a recently retired educator who works part-time as an editor/proofreader and freelance writer. She enjoys spending time with her soul mate, Bill, with whom she has been married 29 years.

Treasure Hunt

  by Susan Bono

I used to marvel and scoff at my parents' vast collections: books, tools, table linens, antique napkin rings, coffee measures and tea caddy spoons, the thousand or so cigarette lighters housed in my brother's old room. Mom and Dad delighted in acquiring new specimens on trips to junk shops and flea markets, but their ever-expanding treasure trove meant very little to me. I confess I didn't listen carefully to the stories what went along with each prize, either. When they died, I was overwhelmed with stuff I knew very little about, only that they had loved it.

I was practical when I emptied their house and took only what I really cared about at the time. I was proud of my approach, and my husband and kids appreciated it. Now there are only four of my mother's fancy tea cups, a handful of grapefruit spoons, a few Hummels and wood carvings. But instead of the smugness I expected to enjoy, I have to stifle tears when I use the cups and dust the knickknacks, because now I want all of it back.

The suffering generated by this longing is surprisingly intense at times. The very excesses I cursed are the very things I weep for. Where is the dented pizza pan, the hi-fi cabinet, the cuckoo clock? I just heard a friend express similar remorse about her parents' stuff, which she sold off over a decade ago. As someone who still regrets cutting her Barbie's hair when she was five, I am doomed.

But I am learning to be grateful for this sorrow. I use my mother's cups with a reverence I never knew when her cupboards were full of china. My father's carving knives are well-designed, yes, but it's the memories of holiday dinners nevermore that inform my pleasure in them now. A few months ago, I put one of my grandmother's skillfully stitched quilts on our bed. With any luck, we will wear out together, along with all the embroidered pillow slips and tea towels I used to think were too good to use. It is loss that serves me best these days. What would happen to the price of gold if there was a pot of it waiting at the end of every rainbow?


Susan Bono is learning that loss is a way of editing 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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