Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What themes do you keep coming back to? (07/15/11)



Featured writer: Nancy Wallace-Nelson



Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
Catherine Crawford
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Marilyn Petty
Nancy Wallace-Nelson
Sara Baker
Susan Bono


Time and Again

by Nancy Wallace-Nelson

Well, obviously, as I am finally getting to this submission in the wee hours of the 26th, late as always, TIME is a subject to which I return often: time and my fear and mismanagement thereof; time and how there is never enough of it for all I want to do; time and how much of it I've mismanaged in my life; time and how it outran me and made me old before my time.

I often think about the poem I wrote when I was 15, the poem that won a school prize, the poem about playing the piano, how the hands that skim over the keys when young falter when old. What odd premonition made me write that when so young, and how on earth did I get so quickly to faltering hands?

It seems like yesterday I wrote the poem, and now my piano playing is difficult with early arthritis. When I visit with a 90 year old cousin who has just lost her sight because of glaucoma, and who has told me she still feels as she did at 65 when she retired and began her new life in the town where she now lives, I know that TIME is an issue to which I will keep returning for all years I get before the fates cut my thread.


Nancy Wallace-Nelson faces her TIME issues on the Mendocino coast, loving the trees and longing for more sun on her aging bones. She has not given up hope to have one creative work with which she is happy before TIME runs out.

Memories & Kodak Moments

  by Becky Povich

I do not consider myself a writer of fiction or poetry, although I do enjoy the challenge of writing micro fiction pieces when I get the chance.

I honestly only have one theme and that is memoir and personal essay. Those little snippets of life, those bittersweet recollections, the good and the bad.

Keeping track of various characters in countless scenes would be close to impossible for my overcrowded brain. It's already so full of all the junk that was my childhood, the nonsensical that were some of my younger adult years, and the gobbledygook of today.

Becky Povich wrote this on her first day of vacation in Georgia. She hopes to write some scathingly brilliant chapters of her book while there.
Writergal53@gmail.com


Holy Orders

  by Catherine Crawford

When I was young, my family said when I grew up I'd become a priest or marry a turtle. Even now, I'm not sure how much of that was jest. Luckily, they loved me with my quirks and for some of my "funny ideas." But I was really over the top about animals. What could good Protestants make of a child whose adoration of fur, feather, and claw wasn't just a youthful phase?

Today, I'm neither a priest nor a Mrs. Turtle, though I love hiking in wilderness near my home. Adult ego has done its work of separation. It's harder to bond with nature now, given the grown woman I've become.

But nature is a theme that keeps coming back to me—-not the other way around. It reminds me of that cartoon of a little boy standing at his front door. His parents have just answered the bell. There's a moon in the sky and a turtle at the boy's feet. "Can I keep him?" he begs. "He followed me home."

Sometimes when I write, my boundaries fall away, and I recapture that link-—but just for a moment. My pen scratches along. I think of St. Francis with dirt under his nails. My writing desk becomes a tree I climbed as a child. I view my world with the humility of a leaf.

Catherine Crawford often carries writing around in her backpack, and, like a turtle, is at home wherever she goes. Email her at: greenwriter1960@gmail.com


Returning

  by Claudia Larson

I return to the prairies, the land where meadowlarks toss their songs into the air, the land where grasshoppers lay eggs in the dirt.

I return to skies so vast that thunder storms can be seen forty miles away.

I return to the family farm, the place where my mother still lives, the place where Dad was born, the place where we seven kids drove tractors and dump trucks, looked for bird nests, climbed on the threshing machine and shooed cattle back into the pasture.

I return to the prairie roads, two narrow strips of soil striping over the hills.

I return to the barn roof, the one that Grampa shingled, hammering each nail with one strike.

I return to the chicken house, the nesting boxes where some hens were so protective that little kids' hands needed a glove for protection when picking eggs.

I return to the horseradish, planted by Gramma so many years ago.

I return to bring Dad his lunch in a black metal lunch box, standing with my siblings, smelling the coffee as he opens the thermos.

I return to watch Mom make pancakes and fried Spam and home-canned peach halves heated on the griddle.

I return to siblings who are still my best friends.

I return. Often.

Claudia Larson created a Sebastopol, CA farm where she daily returns to her roots.

An Examined Life

  by Don Edgers

When we read tomes titled "The Letters, Poems, Plays, Works of - - - - - we can usually be assured a theme will emerge.

Examining the entries of a diary of my junior high days, my themes gravitated to unrequited love. Throughout my time in a military high school and a hitch in the army my letters the theme of family yearnings were pervasive.

In the last quarter of my life, I keep writing and returning to the themes of life on Puget Sound and the "Wonder Years" of the 1940s and 1950s on Fox Island and Seattle.

The themes that pervade all of my writing are: PERSIST - Be prepared - do what you can while you have the time - don't sweat the small stuff.

Don Edgers keeps on keeping on in Port Orchard, WA.
His website: www.anislandintime.com



What themes do you keep returning to?

  by Marilyn Petty

I write poems. Much of the time, I write poems about my backyard, my garden, my domesticated wilderness. My garden, in a pleasant neighborhood in the middle of town, is not large. A five and a half foot grape-stake fence gives the illusion of privacy. Cats, raccoons, skunks, an arrogant squirrel, bugs and birds all ignore the fence; come and go as they please. When present, I am an inconvenience.

Once, I thought a tiny tree frog sitting on the glider was a dead leaf. I wrote a poem about our brief but cordial encounter. I've watched Towhees dancing on the fence in a complicated courting (I assume) ritual, and a vulture that landed on the patio arbor tormented by two irate crows. I wrote about each of those.

I have composed poems about the backyard archeology here where I have lived nearly 45 years. The dreary expanse of junipers went not long after we moved in. The play house and sand box outlived their purpose, zucchini and tomatoes thrived until trees grew, making too much shade. The swimming pool is long gone, filled in and covered by brick pavers in the shape of the swimming pool.

Once, what I thought was distant traffic noise turned out to be bees buzzing in the rich nectar of the ivy flowers covering the gazebo. That went into a poem as did stars and sunsets and winter rains seen from my backyard. What I haven't succeeded in writing about is the awe and wonder I experienced when a gray fox sashayed down the trunk of the pear tree, casual but alert, perused the backyard, retraced its path up the tree and disappeared. I have only my mind's eye to see it now. The right words haven't come yet.

Marilyn Petty tries to make her garden and her words grow in Santa Rosa, CA.


Time and Again

  by Nancy Wallace-Nelson

Well, obviously, as I am finally getting to this submission in the wee hours of the 26th, late as always, TIME is a subject to which I return often: time and my fear and mismanagement thereof; time and how there is never enough of it for all I want to do; time and how much of it I've mismanaged in my life; time and how it outran me and made me old before my time.

I often think about the poem I wrote when I was 15, the poem that won a school prize, the poem about playing the piano, how the hands that skim over the keys when young falter when old. What odd premonition made me write that when so young, and how on earth did I get so quickly to faltering hands?

It seems like yesterday I wrote the poem, and now my piano playing is difficult with early arthritis. When I visit with a 90 year old cousin who has just lost her sight because of glaucoma, and who has told me she still feels as she did at 65 when she retired and began her new life in the town where she now lives, I know that TIME is an issue to which I will keep returning for all years I get before the fates cut my thread.


Nancy Wallace-Nelson faces her TIME issues on the Mendocino coast, loving the trees and longing for more sun on her aging bones. She has not given up hope to have one creative work with which she is happy before TIME runs out.

Tracing the Paradox

  by Sara Baker

When I begin writing a manuscript, my family and friends ask, "What is the theme of your story?" In the beginning I honestly haven't the foggiest idea. But that's why I write—-it seems-—to find out. It's a journey a bit like traveling without a map to a place where I've never been; everything is unfamiliar and vivid.

Sometimes, though, the journey takes me to a familiar place, but it's as if I am navigating it for the first time and seeing it with a fresh perspective. So it seems as if my writing is a paradox—-an attempt to make new things familiar and familiar things new. Perplexing.

At some point during the writing journey, I feel moved—-deeply touched-—and somehow transformed. Then, another writing paradox emerges. Despite the poignancy, I often find myself without adequate words—expressionless, for words elude me like stars vanishing at dawn. Perhaps it is this paradox in that inexplicable void that motivates me to write. Interesting.

Perhaps it is paradox itself that is the motive or ongoing theme of my writing. As I reveal myself in story, I become aware of the continuing core of my life that exists despite the fragmented surface of my experience. I also become aware of the multifaceted "I" who is the storyteller—-those contradictory versions of myself that I created for different situations, different circumstances, and different periods in my life. Odd.

Paradoxically, I become aware of myself as a storyteller and soon realize that what I understand and imagine about myself is itself a story. Then, I recognize that I can use my stories to heal myself and make myself whole. Enlightening.

So, what themes do I come back to? I suppose I seek paradoxes—-those contradictory whispers of truth that illuminate the human condition. Comforting.

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 28 years.

Looking Back

  by Susan Bono

Flipping through an old journal last night, I came across another vignette from childhood that brought back the smell of school lunch boxes and chalk dust and the sounds of "Red Rover" on the Dingle School playground. These snippets of memory please me beyond reason. I say "beyond" because my experience tells me that as lovely and poignant as they might be to me, everyone else is going to be yawning after about three paragraphs and thinking, "Her endless quest to recapture childhood's wonder. So f***ing what?"

I've always pitied the football heroes and homecoming queens for whom nothing after high school will ever be as wonderful. But lately I've started to fear that my own shining glory happened somewhere between the third and sixth grades. It's been a long downhill slide since then.

To give myself a shred of credit, I suspect I'm really writing about loss, and that is what is so compelling about these scenes. The sharp scent of mown grass or the taste of watermelon are never more overpowering than when we and our sensory apparatus are still brand-new. What makes every sniff or swallow recalled from memory so exquisite is the accompanying echo of "Nevermore."

But nostalgia is for greeting cards. If I were advising another writer who wanted to do something with this material, I'd exhort her to find the dark question, the trouble or struggle under the veneer of tender slanting sunlight. But that would bring irrevocable changes to these visions. I'm not sure I'm ready to leave childhood and have my theme become "growing up" instead.

Susan Bono is trying to manage her rate of growth 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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