Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

On your last day, what do you want people to say about your writing? (10/15/12)



Featured writer: Catherine Crawford



Contributors this month:
Barbara Shine
Catherine Crawford
Don Edgers
Joan Zerrien
Sara Etgen-Baker
Susan Bono


R.I.P.

by Catherine Crawford

When this question popped up, I had to laugh. The timing was perfect. I had just finished updating my will—a job that's really nice to have done. About this time, I also discovered a book called Paintings that Changed the World. It made me think about authors who've changed the world with their writing.

Who wouldn't like to leave posterity a classic? That thought makes every writer drool. But most of us aren't writing work that will thunder through the ages like that of the apostles or William Shakespeare. A Nobel isn't coming. At least not for me. I just hope a few readers will vouch for my lively curiosity. The way I've struggled to find what endures and praise that.

I'd like people to say I wrote clearly and wisely. I'd like them to say I focused on essences and didn't waste their time. I'd like it if my writing fed people's famished affections or if it broke new ground. Since women in my generation were often raised to be someone's good daughter, I'd to think my work kept a few out of that trap.

A couple weeks before finishing my will, I wrote a poem praising a bug called the burying beetle. One of nature's janitors, it lays its eggs on a rotten carcass and then buries eggs and carrion—a boon to holding down disease. A writer I showed this to say the beetle was lucky to have me as an ally. Too bad insects don't read. "We were lucky to have her" would make a great epitaph.

Catherine says writing makes her feel a little less ephemeral than an insect . . . but only a little. Her email:
greenwriter1960@gmail.com


The Last Laugh

  by Barbara Shine

In the chairs at Faulkner's funeral home, every eye is damp and a few chins quiver. Grey, white, and auburn-dyed heads bend to whisper about the final illness and murmur the requisite, "It was a blessing, really."

My friends' sadness seems incongruent with their attire: riotous citrus colors of capri pants and sparkling flipflops that reveal razzle-dazzle toenail art. Here on the tranquilizing Chesapeake Bay, our community of retirees is on permanent vacation. Women don't own even a cocktail dress, much less a funeral frock. The men wear khakis and polo shirts. But all are comfortable in their choices: They know that if I were on their side of the urn, I'd be cazh, too.

My husband/widower Bob stands and addresses the walnut box holding my cremains: "Here's that song you asked for, Sweetheart." A CD recording plays "By My Side," from Godspell.

Since we both despise the recent ritual of an open-mic "roast" of the departed, Bob will be the only speaker for this memorial. He will praise me for a compassionate heart and a generous spirit, for my educational and inspirational writings, for how I mentored new writers and advocated for victims of sexual and domestic violence.

To encapsulate my writings, Bob refers to a publications list from an old resume. "Shine got her real start in technical writing with a medical booklet titled, ‘What You Need To Know About Cancers of the Colon and Rectum.' One of her kids claimed that Stephen King called it ‘a real page-turner!'" Bob tells about when I was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and he got a kick out of telling every doctor, "She wrote the book on this disease! Literally!"

The first giggle erupts and gets shushed. But as Bob reads down the list of dry titles--addressing somber subjects from epilepsy and breast cancer to lung disease and obscure blood disorders--clusters and then waves of chuckles break out, like cheeky accessories to the raucous beach outfits. Given who I am—or was—and who he is, Bob starts hamming it up: "And who can forget her crucial role in producing Lexicon for the End of Life: A Glossary of Funeral Service Terminology? Now that book was killer!"

Bob talks about how I used humor to buoy myself and others through chronic illness and successive traumas. He reminds our friends how my essays captured a loved one's journey through Alzheimer's disease with both compassion and jokes; how I compared the annoying clicks of my mechanical heart valve to castanets in the hands of novice Flamenco dancers.

With more smiles than tears, friends remember how I introduced my rolling oxygen canister and nasal cannula as a pet on a leash: "This is ‘Tank.' He's an American hairless." Celebrants at my memorial service laugh because they know I always could. Some go home and reread my tragicomic essays, and if, somewhere, I'm aware, I'm glad to provide them one more laugh.

Barbara Shine is a freelance writer, mixed-media artist, victim advocate, and apprentice crone. She is co-author and editor of The Pen Is Mightier Than the Broom: Memoirs, Stories, and Poems, available from amazon.com and other online booksellers. You can enlist Barbara for editing or coaching in creative nonfiction by emailing barbarashine1204@yahoo.com.

R.I.P.

  by Catherine Crawford

When this question popped up, I had to laugh. The timing was perfect. I had just finished updating my will—a job that's really nice to have done. About this time, I also discovered a book called Paintings that Changed the World. It made me think about authors who've changed the world with their writing.

Who wouldn't like to leave posterity a classic? That thought makes every writer drool. But most of us aren't writing work that will thunder through the ages like that of the apostles or William Shakespeare. A Nobel isn't coming. At least not for me. I just hope a few readers will vouch for my lively curiosity. The way I've struggled to find what endures and praise that.

I'd like people to say I wrote clearly and wisely. I'd like them to say I focused on essences and didn't waste their time. I'd like it if my writing fed people's famished affections or if it broke new ground. Since women in my generation were often raised to be someone's good daughter, I'd to think my work kept a few out of that trap.

A couple weeks before finishing my will, I wrote a poem praising a bug called the burying beetle. One of nature's janitors, it lays its eggs on a rotten carcass and then buries eggs and carrion—a boon to holding down disease. A writer I showed this to say the beetle was lucky to have me as an ally. Too bad insects don't read. "We were lucky to have her" would make a great epitaph.

Catherine says writing makes her feel a little less ephemeral than an insect . . . but only a little. Her email:
greenwriter1960@gmail.com


Does it Really Matter?

  by Don Edgers

It won't really affect me one way or another what people say about my writing after I'm kaput.
After reading something I've written, it would be nice to think they would say, : "I'm glad he shared his writings because his stories and books are interesting, informative and fun to read."


Don writes in Port Orchard, WA. Two of his books are now available on Kindle from www.amazon.com.
His website: www.anislandintime.com


Songs of Praise

  by Joan Zerrien

These would be my friends, mind you… maybe my daughters and my writing group, may I always have one. I don't expect to be spoken of as a writer in my obit. But I'd want the people who knew me to say:

"I'm so happy she made time for her writing these last years."

"I know it made her really happy to write."

"Her dialogue sounded genuine, I felt I knew those people."

That would be plenty satisfying to me. It's something to aim for.

Joan Zerrien is raising teenage daughters is the wilds of the San Fernando Valley, and she writes between running a shuttle service and napping. She dimly realizes that the time to build a post-parenting life is…now.
Jayzee22la@gmail.com


YO-HO-HO AND A BOTTLE OF RUM

  by Sara Etgen-Baker

It's impossible for me to think of pirates without thinking of Robert Louis Stevenson and Treasure Island. Long ago, Stevenson introduced me to yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum, Long John Silver, treasure maps, pet parrots squawking, pieces of eight, and a host of other traits that have been carried down through pirate stories from Captain Hook to Jack Sparrow.

Stevenson also introduced me to Jim—-the courageous, adventurous, and whimsical main character—-who struggled as he tried to understand some of life's most critical dualities: childhood versus adulthood and the lawful world versus the lawless pirate world. By the story's end, I realized that Treasure Island was more than a fanciful adventure tale; it was a skillfully-crafted heroic narrative about growing up, facing truth, and making choices.

In short, I remember Stevenson for inventing new words, phrases, and images that became a part of our culture. I remember how he ignited my spirit of adventure and my desire to be heroic. I remember him as a writer who, despite ailing health and difficult circumstances, continually took risks in order to improve his writing craft leaving us with memorable novels like Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

I am no Robert Louis Stevenson. Yet, on my last day I'd like my life and my writing to be remembered in a similar fashion-—that in my own small way I took risks, overcame difficulties, willingly gave the gift of words, and changed humanity for the better.



Sara Baker is a retired educator turned freelance writer. In addition to writing memoirs and personal narratives, she has begun writing her first novel. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with her soul mate, Bill, with whom she has been married 29 years.

Last Words

  by Susan Bono

On my last day, they will come to me, all the words I've written—from the letters, postcards, and journals, to the work published in newspapers, books and magazines. Even my first clumsy poems, the doodled-on high school lecture notes, those florid early diary entries thrown away so long ago, they, too, will crowd around my bed murmuring, "We haven't forgotten you." With only some occasional confusion and jostling, my writing will come forward, piece by piece, to breathe its blessings on me. Each one in turn will share a favorite line or two, some brief insight, or a life-changing revelation we experienced in the process of creation. We'll laugh together, cry, or sigh, my words and me, the fragrance of all those vowels and consonants perfuming the air around my pillow.

This long parade of words will be slow and delicious for me, happening outside the realm of ordinary time, as these life reviews are said to do. Any of my loved ones keeping vigil might see only the slightest of shadows crossing my face for a few minutes. My communion will remain a mystery to them, but they will still feel oddly comforted. Some of my words will slip into their pockets, or climb onto their shoulders, or up into their warm hair, and go with them where I cannot. My loved ones' dreams will be laced with music that will sound familiar, even if they can't name it. They will catch the scent of gardenias and cinnamon, and those who understood me best will remember that aroma from our last visit on earth.

While a few left behind will cherish some of my writing, at least for a while, even they will lose, destroy, or forget it someday. But the words themselves will live on, as all words written or spoken always do, woven into the fabric of history, notes in the song of time. Even if I forget the words I'm writing now, on my last day, they will come to pay their respects. "You'll always be in our hearts," they'll tell me. "We would be nothing without you."


Susan Bono hopes to get a few more words written before her last day 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.

Back to Searchlights & Signal Flares