Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How do you get unstuck? (10/15/07)



Featured writer: Lakin Khan



Contributors this month:
Alegria Imperial
Arlene L. Mandell
Catherine Montague
Christine Falcone
David S. Johnson
Don Edgers
Harriet Gleeson
Lakin Khan
Mimi Ghez
Richard Comfort
Susan Bono
Tamara Sellman


How to do I get myself unstuck?

by Lakin Khan

If weeding and mulching the garden, vacuuming the entire house, washing all the curtains, changing the oil in my car, grooming the cats, answering email, writing thank-you notes for the past 3 gift-receiving occasions and laying in supplies for the winter hasn't worked, I apply the following 7 steps, in the method of a religious ritual:

1)Remind myself I can quite writing any time; it's not like I'm getting paid the big bucks here.

2)Find some walnuts, hard apples, stale chips, anything to gnash with my teeth as I have probably gnawed my fingers to bleeding stumps, thus accounting for the small red-brown smears on the final paper drafts, something electronic submissions can't yet transmit—thank you, thank you, Goddess of All Small Things.

3)Consume vast quantities of coffee to get the heart rate up and the blood flowing, hauling a fresh dose of oxygen up to the brain, shaking loose cobwebs, freeing up ideas, making connections.

4)Consume even vaster amounts of chocolate to raise the serotonin levels, lubricating all the newly loosened brain-parts.

5)Within the hour, I'll be jittery, sweaty and queasy from the odd combination of foodstuffs, caffeine-overdose and oncoming insulin shock. I bolt out the door for a very, very long walk around town, muttering to myself in the voices of my characters. That is, not only talking to myself but answering, the classic definition of schizophrenia.

6)Returning home, I'm exhausted and in some sort of trance. Surely something will arrive when I sit down at the keyboard, as there is nothing left in my puddin'headed brain to offer any resistance.

7)If all else fails, I write to the Tiny Lights question of the month. By the time I'm finished, the day has passed and I'm off the hook. Tomorrow, I swear, I'll finish the novella.

Lakin Khan is a freelance writer living in the North Bay; she’s had some articles and essays published here and there (mostly there). Currently, she writes a column titled “Nature’s Way” for Newsbytes, the staff and faculty newsletter for Sonoma State University. And oh, yes, I nearly forgot, she’s working on a novella.


How do you get unstuck?

  by Alegria Imperial

Stuck, I am often but not glued upside down on a ceiling though I had wished I were for years. If so, I thought I would simply force my body to defy fear, fear of a broken spine at least instead of the unknown. A free fall would release my feet as my weight decides which part of my body should break. Pain would then summon my whole being—the kind I could agonize on—overwhelm but free me with screams if I have to, and whines or endless groans that could later transform into words.

But stuck on a blank page I always am, which exacts more than a body feat—much more than pain. Stuck on a white space the size of a small hug terrifies me beyond sleep, beyond forgetting. The universe first contracts on that space and then expands, sucking me in. Paralyzed thus, I give in. Smothered in the whiteness, it is then, when like pinholes in the ozone, words begin popping.

There is though another kind of getting stuck I fall into these days--on a blank screen, a cursor shredding the 'now'. Worse than a blank page, it would seem, but not to me who often sees the pulse as some kind of hacking in space; and hacking always hints at urgency. I thus stare at the beat, feeling my heartbeat rise in decibels until these materialize as martinets marching after me: scratch, bite, cry, or die, scratch, bite, cry, or die . . . and it begins again. The terror then brings on the lines.

A wave of peace though slips in on rare moments, the kind that washes off the horror that clings to my being when stuck on the last word—like it were the world's end. This wave sways me like a cradle, soothing me to a wide-awake slumber. It hums and murmurs mythic promises that spell words like phoenix-wings for rebirthing, metamorphose in place of transmogrify. Out of the wave in the most ordinary way, I rise but not without spasms to shake off the ease of shaping the first image, mushy moonshine—huh? But, hey, by then, I am unstuck.

Yet, in truth, I am often stuck solid, dead-beat for no reason, whacked by nothing but blankness, bushed. Here is what I do then—weave a cocoon made out the last verses from Earle Birney's ‘Bushed' (1951):

‘And now he could only
bar himself in and wait
for the great flint to come singing into his heart.'


Alegria Imperial:

"An endless sense of wonder is all I think I have. It has been the source of all light for me. And each spark has been a flash of words—what else could it be? A retired Manila journalist, I started writing fiction and poetry only recently."


Arlene L. Mandell



Hereʼs a radical idea: Perhaps itʼs all right to be stuck sometimes, not to be a busy little writing bee frantic for that next fuzzy morsel of pollen. Badly mixed metaphors like this one often come from the need to put something, anything, on the page.

A poem of the Ute Indians expresses this idea more persuasively:

I am the woman who holds up the sky.

The rainbow runs through my eyes.

The sun makes a path to my womb.

My thoughts are in the shape of clouds.

But my words are yet to come.


Arlene L. Mandell is tending to her Santa Rosa garden and baking cupcakes. She will return eventually.


Coming Unglued!

  by Catherine Montague

For me, time is the key to getting beyond my temporary limits. I often need to put a project aside for a while before I can go forward. It's as though the words need to brew together for a while and get used to each other, or not. After enough time has passed, I can pick up the work, hiss and spit on it a little more, and maybe massage it into something other people might be interested in reading.

This cycle of devotion and neglect is one of several somewhat greasy leftovers from my previous career as a technical writer. I usually spare my present circle of writing friends the sordid details of the first 20 books I wrote. What used to happen was this: I'd cobble together a first draft of something, say a FORTRAN manual (this began in the 1980's), and then slap it on the desks of all the cosmicly overworked programmers on the review team. They would ignore it until a few days or a week after the date I set for getting comments and corrections back to me. While I was waiting, sending nagging emails every day or so and rescheduling the conference room for our review meeting, I'd get started on the next project. Which might be the second go-round of the UNIX System Administrator's Manual or some other insanely arcane techno-Bible. The point is: I always had more than one thing going. They certainly weren't going to pay me to just sit there and wait for the technical wizards to read my drafts!

Now that I'm writing to suit myself, there's no point in persisting with something that makes me feel stupid and frustrated. Whenever I stop feeling like I'm a freaking genius, writing the best stuff ever to ripple across a page, I take a break. I already go around feeling dumb and futile most of my waking life, and some of the time when I'm trying to sleep as well. I certainly don't need to add to the frustration by staying glued to some under-ripe corner of a manuscript. There are plenty of other corners for me to visit, to see what nearly-forgotten treasures I've hidden for myself, the last time I felt stuck.

Catherine Montague wrote the previous paragraphs during a brief pause before starting the fourth chapter of her memoir-turned-novel. While thousands of confused computer users mourn her exit from the technical writing profession, she writes poetry, essays, fiction, and journal entries in Sebastopol and other scenic places.


How do you get unstuck?

  by Christine Falcone

"Sometimes I feel a particular kind of depression where I just lose interest in everything I normally like. I've identified this state of mind as a hunger of the imagination, my imagination's overwhelming and unsatisfied need for something to seize onto for inspiration." -- From The Knitting Sutra

Last February, I had a friend visit me out at Stinson Beach where I was spending a week by myself writing. He thought it would be a good idea to drive onto the beach in his big Ford F150. Needless to say, he got stuck in the sand. After spinning his wheels for some time, sending a rooster tail of sand flying and causing his truck to sink even deeper, some locals took pity on him and offered to help. They let the air out of his tires, rocked the truck back and forth, put 2x4s under the wheels like ramps, and somehow managed, after about forty-five minutes, to get unstuck.

I think getting stuck in one's writing is like that, too. We need people to help us. And they so often do, without even realizing it. Someone will do or say something that jogs our memory or inspires a bit of dialogue and gets the pen moving again. And sometimes it's the natural world opening itself and offering the entirety of its big, wide body to us, free of charge and without warming. Like yesterday, on my hike up Mt. Burdell, a coyote walked right across the path in front of me, appeared like an apparition and disappeared just as suddenly. And that's how inspiration comes. That's how aid comes. You never know what form it'll take, but if we only ask, the universe almost always answers with a resounding yes.

Christine Falcone gets unstuck in Novato, California, where she has just painted her writing office purple, the color of inspiration!


Stuck in Baton Rouge

  by David S. Johnson

I started this essay in Baton Rouge with this line:

"A doctor of butt tuck stuck in a rut moved on to find a belly to suck."

It was the first thing that jumped from my fingers onto the keyboard and I thought I was going to make a clever and defiant statement about never being stuck in my writing, just being bored with it. And then it happened. I got stuck. I liked the line above so much that I didn't want to toss it so I tried a variety of ways to incorporate it, but I couldn't get the damn thing to fit. I stopped working on the essay.

The essay occupied my mind as I flew to Boston for a meeting. In fact, it occupied so much of my mind that as I tried to step onto the escalator in the Government Center with my poster tube, computer bag, luggage and apparent coordination of a three-legged duck, I did a cartoonish spinning of my legs and was flung backwards with poster tube and computer bag launched into the air. I landed on a small Asian woman who was kind enough to hide her face from my embarrassment. Or I had gashed her face with my poster tube, I'm not sure. A very generous Bostonian called me an expletive idiot, which I believe was him trying to be helpful by explaining to me that I was stuck on this essay because I lacked to mental capacity to complete it. Bostonians are very perceptive people. As for the escalator, unlike the essay, the second try was a success.

In Massachusetts, I stood looking over the marsh where I do my graduate work as an ecologist. October faded the lush, swaying sea of green Spartina grass to a skillet-butter brown. Fall is strange to this Louisiana boy. I grew up with it in Arkansas, but lost it as I moved closer to the equator. It has been a long time since I'd enjoyed its soft ostentation. The oranges and yellows hugged the stubbornness of the greens that remained in the few trees that refused to change; a scene smeared across the horizon of a dark tidal river. No wonder Robert Frost wrote so much as about this state. It was such a beautiful backdrop to free my stale, stuck mind that surely I could be like Frost and find inspiration in my environment. I decided to write some poetry and forget about the essay for awhile. But, just as quickly as inspiration hit, I got stuck again. This time I asked a friend for help. "Give me a word that rhymes with ‘window.'" My refined and demure female friend said, "Douche." I started to write it down. Nothing like having the inoculated tranquility of the moment poisoned by a smartass. I hoped to diffuse her. "That doesn't rhyme with window!" Without missing a beat she said, "Dildo." By now I'm inured to her spars. Maybe Frost had a rhyming dictionary.

I realize now that like the green leaves in Massachusetts, I, too, am stubborn - convinced that doing the same thing over and over will work even though the daylight of my creativity is too short and the leaves of the initial thought must be shed. I am now back in Baton Rouge, back for a new season of thought with budding new ideas. But alas, I am already late in submitting this essay and just like the leaves, I've run out of time.

David tried to write a clever bio, but alas, he got stuck. But that seems to obvious and I'm sure someone else has written that one (and I certainly can't be unoriginal!). I'll keep it as a default if I can't think of anything else.


Getting Unstuck Strategy Plan

  by Don Edgers

As writers we no doubt have a variety of techniques available to refill our diminished wellsprings of writing ideas. When I run on empty, I resort to two plans with multiple choices to get back into the writing groove.

PLEASANT (good) PLAN:

Listen to music with paper and pencil nearby
Take in fumes, aka aromatherapy
Browse in a bookstore
Read book covers and flaps
Bring a writing pad to the mall while drinking coffee
Go shopping
Walk with an ipod or Walkman and book on tape
Exercise - dance
Watch a subliminal video with motivational messages
Listen to a self-hypnosis motivational tape (not while driving)
Take a trip
Look at a magazine with lots of pictures
Make a list of topics for the future
Ride a bus on its full route
Row, fish, hike, jog, etc.
If you're religious - pray!



UNPLEASANT (evil) PLAN:

Change the oil in your car, outside, in the rain while listening to gangster rap
Drive in morning and afternoon rush hour traffic
Shop for a used car at several lots
See how long you can hang onto an electric fence - AC and DC
Order and eat a liver/anchovy pizza with tofu on top
Attend a political convention of the party you don't align with
Go to a foreign language karioke bar on Friday after 11 pm
Wait two months before defragging your hard drive, then watch it defrag till finished
Get a kitschy tattoo
Sit through a vacation condo sales pitch
Spend time answering want ads
Read a book in a genre you can't stand

The pizza delivery person is at the door, so I'll chow down on that liver pizza while I listen to a gangster rap CD and watch my computer monitor while I defrag.


Don defrags in Port Orchard, WA and just finished “Fox Island” for Arcadia Publishing. It will be out in March, 2008. www.anislandintime.com


Trusting the Thermals

  by Harriet Gleeson

I hadn't written a word for a week. Section one of the work in progress glided onto paper, referencing the metaphor that had become the theme for a series. Section two, however. I went into a nose dive, feathers clipped, hit the ground bruised and ruffled - I had no more poetry to write - that's it - it's all over!

The problem was possibly triggered when a respected mentor suggested that I could aim at a (first) chapbook using the theme Flight, the metaphor which has been winging its way into my work recently with no particular effort. The thought of publication was maybe too exciting - I started to WORK towards the chapbook perhaps - WORK the metaphor into my current piece, when what I needed to do was quit flapping and trust the thermals.

This time the problem hatched I realized that I had been trying to strangle words and images into the shape of the metaphor - deliberately setting out to write the content in terms of birds, flight, and other avian qualities. Sanity was further reinstated when I remembered that I do not need to pin every detail of the poem to the metaphor (indeed it would then be a poem about birds, I think). With this thought came relief. Immediately ways to proceed with the poem began to move in my consciousness.

The resulting feeling of relief led me to reflect on the experience and I remembered a quote from Jane Hirshfield: "A work of art defines itself into being, when we awaken into it and by it, when we are moved, altered, stirred. It feels as if we have done nothing, only given it a little time, a little space; some hairline narrow crack opens in the self, and there it is."

One application I take from Hirshfield's words: I write a poem which is a work of art, not when I attempt to wrestle words and images into shapes I have predetermined, but when I get my conscious self out of the way sufficiently to allow creativity to arise - then I fly.

During my next period of ‘stuckness' I will, for sure, check out the question: Am I allowing the creative process to move in me - or am I trying to manhandle the work?

Which reminds me also of some words of T. S. Eliot: Poets need to have "necessary receptivity and necessary laziness."

Harriet Gleeson is a poet come late to creative writing and having a wonderful time doing it. "I live retired from math/science teaching in Little River, Mendocino County, CA, two miles from the ocean and alongside a redwood forest with my partner and dog. Born and lived most of my life in Australia."

E-Mail harrienone@aol.com



How to do I get myself unstuck?

  by Lakin Khan

If weeding and mulching the garden, vacuuming the entire house, washing all the curtains, changing the oil in my car, grooming the cats, answering email, writing thank-you notes for the past 3 gift-receiving occasions and laying in supplies for the winter hasn't worked, I apply the following 7 steps, in the method of a religious ritual:

1)Remind myself I can quite writing any time; it's not like I'm getting paid the big bucks here.

2)Find some walnuts, hard apples, stale chips, anything to gnash with my teeth as I have probably gnawed my fingers to bleeding stumps, thus accounting for the small red-brown smears on the final paper drafts, something electronic submissions can't yet transmit—thank you, thank you, Goddess of All Small Things.

3)Consume vast quantities of coffee to get the heart rate up and the blood flowing, hauling a fresh dose of oxygen up to the brain, shaking loose cobwebs, freeing up ideas, making connections.

4)Consume even vaster amounts of chocolate to raise the serotonin levels, lubricating all the newly loosened brain-parts.

5)Within the hour, I'll be jittery, sweaty and queasy from the odd combination of foodstuffs, caffeine-overdose and oncoming insulin shock. I bolt out the door for a very, very long walk around town, muttering to myself in the voices of my characters. That is, not only talking to myself but answering, the classic definition of schizophrenia.

6)Returning home, I'm exhausted and in some sort of trance. Surely something will arrive when I sit down at the keyboard, as there is nothing left in my puddin'headed brain to offer any resistance.

7)If all else fails, I write to the Tiny Lights question of the month. By the time I'm finished, the day has passed and I'm off the hook. Tomorrow, I swear, I'll finish the novella.

Lakin Khan is a freelance writer living in the North Bay; she’s had some articles and essays published here and there (mostly there). Currently, she writes a column titled “Nature’s Way” for Newsbytes, the staff and faculty newsletter for Sonoma State University. And oh, yes, I nearly forgot, she’s working on a novella.


This Story Is About

  by Mimi Ghez

I once got some advice from a wise writing teacher, who assured me that inspiration lies in free writes. She said, every time I feel stuck for words or stories or even themes, take a piece of paper and write the words "This story is about" and then fill in the rest of the sentence with all the garbage in my head. So this is what I do. I dutifully write this clause down in my three-ring binder and sure enough, it's crap that comes out. Then, I begin the next sentence with the same phrase and see what other manner of drivel spews out, usually more garbage. Then I do it again. And again. And, eventually, something interesting emerges, like scribbled words that tell about the time I went to John Pembroke's father's funeral and saw a dead person's body for the first time, so still and strangely dressed in Sunday's finest. And suddenly I can remember the way I started to sob inexplicably, sorry John, for his brother, for their mother, for this dead still man who everyone came to say goodbye to and whom I had actually never met. I remember the Kleenex some nameless person handed to me as I walked down the aisle, the only white person in a black Baptist church. The long line snaking our way to pay respects before the coffin. My classmates waiting for me in the rear. John's expression. And suddenly, my pen is racing across the page - "This is a story about, This is a story about, This is a story about." Anytime I get stuck I write, "This is not a story about" and fill in the rest of that sentence, which takes me other places, just as interesting, first with crap that wastes more trees than I can count, and then I write down words to assure myself that this story is definitely not a story about my own quest for faith - what it is and what it is not to me - because I am not ready to tell about that yet. But here I am telling it anyway, about the way faith, for me, boils down in some small way to the Spirit that moved me to remember that square box of Kleenex a long-forgotten kindly woman handed me as I walked and sobbed my way from the coffin filled with the heavy man, back to the rear, where my middle school classmates waited for me. That act of kindness, long forgotten. Resurfaced and remembered through the silent and meditative quality of the writing process. By the Spirit that moves in and among us, the mysterious way everything lives and breathes in the present moment. And there it is, the thing that gets me unstuck - the calling of the story that wants to be told.


Mimi Ghez’ “Oracles, Egypt and Auras” was recently published in The Big Ugly Review, a story told in one long paragraph. She was also selected as winner of the Washington Post's "Vacation in Lights" contest for a travel piece about her trip to Yogaville, and was also published as part of the Post's "Twelve Days of Christmas" series. She was also a featured writer of the month for Tiny Lights, and will be published in 2008 as part of a forthcoming HarperCollins book called NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING: And Other Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. Mimi is also a life coach with a special interest in working with writers to achieve creative goals. See www.eaglecoaching.com.
www.eaglecoaching.com. She can be reached at E-Mail mimi.ghez@gmail.com


GETTING UNSTUCK

  by Richard Comfort

It's like going to the dentist. First you make the appointment. Getting unstuck is the showing up part; when you know that the first hurdle is going to be allowing the dentist to plunge a three inch needle inside the center of your upper gums until it sinks into the bone of your skull. That hurts. With that out of the way you should be committed. Some people never get there.

Try This. It works for me. If I don't have a subject in mind I open the dictionary and thumb through until I find a word that fascinates me. Not a big one, not esoteric. Usually it's a word I don't use often. A word that I need to explore. I understand it on the surface but I've never held it up to the light. For example, "plagiarism" pops into my mind. It seems possible for me to write 500 words without much effort, even if I have to plagiarize someone.

This works for me because I can write 500 words about anything. Ask me to go beyond that and I have to make a dental appointment. So I recognize my limitations. I do this 500 word thing regularly. After a time I review these to find a common thread. Theoretically the gates that allow me to exceed my own limitations are open. Now I actually have at least two thoughts I can begin to amalgamate (another building block word) into something worth reading.

I can't help it. I write fluff. Once when I complained about that very thing to a writer he answered, "Writing is writing." Ya think?


Richard Comfort writes often for Tiny Lights.

Oh Good, Stuck Again

  by Susan Bono

Getting unstuck means first getting stuck. Lately, I'm so adverse to frustration, so afraid of feeling like a rat at yet another dead end in the maze and no cheese again that I avoid getting into projects, especially writing. I know, life is all about problem solving, so I might as well celebrate every opportunity to grapple with my fate.

But getting unstuck is not like waiting for Prince Charming to appear and solve my problems with a glass slipper. It's more like one prince after another, none of them perfect, and the Cinderella in me being forced to turn up her nose at the passing parade until a good enough one comes along. Of course, there's no guarantee I'll know him when I see him, but that's everyone's problem when it comes to writing.

After all, no piece of writing is worth finishing if you already know what you want to say. Why pursue the obvious unless you're convinced you're God's sacred messenger, bound to deliver your message under threat of torment and damnation? Writing demands a state of confusion, which leads to groping, which in turn leads to dead ends and getting stuck, time and time again. The whole point is finding your way out. So I am working on learning to welcome those "Oh, shit," moments, because those are my chances to discover something new. And that's when I know I'm really writing.


Susan Bono gets herself stuck and unstuck in Petaluma, CA.


Tamara Sellman



I often feel as if I am writing myself into corners. The plot steps off the path I had previously prepared for it, or a character chooses to act differently than I expected, or the setting begins demanding more attention than I've given it.

Meanwhile, inside the back of my mind live all the answers to the unanswered questions and creative riddles that the elements of a given story might force me to face from time to time.

This can be an unpleasant side effect of being creative. While I'm a fairly prolific writer, I can still be stumped by unexpected twists and turns during the course of nailing down that first draft.

How do I unlock the answers to the unresolved questions in my work?

There's a Tom Petty song I think of rather often: "You're Jammin' Me." Those words stand in for the feelings I get when I've got a lot of things going on in my writing, working and personal lives. I think we are all trying to navigate the same media-intensive world, and the bombardment of information we must endure at every turn can create sticking points in our minds. I wonder: are we becoming victims of TMI (Too Much Information)? Maybe so.

One way out of that intellectual jam is to simply leave my writing environment for a while. There's something about staying put that keeps these answers from being more available to me when I need them. Maybe the air is simply fresher outside my office door. Or maybe the lighting is better, or the sounds are different. Or maybe it's the lack of media that cracks the door open.

So what do I do while I'm away? I leave the radio behind, the mp3 player at my desk, and the TV completely off. I let my laptop hibernate. I say "No" to blackberries and cell phones.

Then: I take a short hike. Pull some weeds. Bake bread. Pick up groceries. Run simple errands in my car. Do a load of laundry. Read a book not related to my project. Window shop in a small town not my own. Help out in my daughters' classrooms.

This change of scenery and pace can unlock a lot of previously stuck doors. While digging dandelions out from underneath the arborvitae, a word might come to mind and spin off associations that lead to the solution I need to correct my plot's course. If I were to drive across town, an image might suggest a new dimension for my setting. An overheard conversation at the market might reveal something about my character that I didn't know before, something that would explain why he's behaving oddly.

The trick is to be open to possibilities for your story writing during all times of the day, not just during your writing time. This way, you are more likely to find that skeleton key that fits all your problem-solving needs.

Tamara Sellman’s work (poetry, short stories, nonfiction) has been published widely and internationally (US, Canada, Mexico, UK, Malaysia. At the electronic journal, Long Story Short, her short story, “Search Engine,” appeared as the October 2007 Story of the Month. Tamara is the director of Writer’s Rainbow Literary Services www.writersrainbow.com
(and founding director of MRCentral.net, an interactive literary community www.mrcentral.net. She can be reached at tamara@writersrainbow.com.


Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

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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