Searchlights & Signal Flares
Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange
What is your best season for writing? (08/15/06)
Contributors this month:
Suddenly, I hear Robert Goulet singing "If ever I would leave you" to Guinevere at Camelot, and I realize even before I've started that there's no such thing as a best season for writing.
Looking back at my writing journals, I see a flurry of poems at the start of every season. That's no accident: I have a group of writers who gather four times a year, on or near each solstice and equinox. We each bring a poem by someone else to mark the season, and a writing exercise to share. We write for several hours together and go home with drafts of five or six new poems. This is an enormously generative practice.
If you're a teacher, like me, summer is the cherished season. I always plan a writing getaway then. Or I plan for my family to get away, so that I have the house to myself for a week or two. In fact, what makes summer good for writing is primarily that those we love go away. Then, of course, the long, long days, and no need to get up early. That means I can write away in the wee smalls, which I often do. I sometimes spend all day writing, to the dismay and bladder-distress of my cat and dog, who sit behind my writing chair hoping I'll move. Summer is a good time for heading off to a writing conference or retreat, which can help you generate new work or edit old stuff. But unless you're tied to the academic calendar, you could actually accomplish this in any season.
In fact, in terms of sheer abundance, spring is a generative writing season—mainly because every spring I find myself more stressed, confused, and depressed, than usual, and in need of the balance that writing gives me. Little of that kind of writing is worth doing anything with other than composting.
Winter I lie fallow. Except for the gathering of the poets described above, winter is my reading time. The well needs filling.
The most inspirational season for writing is, for me, autumn. My mother always said she hated autumn--it reminded her too much of death. Which is probably why I love it. As soon as the light takes on its slanted color, the air is full of seeds in flight, the hills turn brittle, poems pour out of me as if I were a teapot tipped on its side by the equinoctial shift of the earth. Except we're tilting the other way in autumn. So much for metaphor.
Every autumn, my mom used to call a priest, and in her later years, a monsignor, to give her the last rites. These days Catholics call it the Sacrament of the Sick, so you can have it over and over. It seemed to soothe whatever seasonal angst the autumn stirred up in her. And maybe writing is my own ritual.
Terry Ehret is a teacher, writer, and co-founder of Sixteen Rivers Press, a regional poetry publishing collective. From 2004-2006 she served as Sonoma County Poet Laureate. Her most recent collection of poems is Translations from the Human Language. She teaches composition at SRJC, in addition to creative writing workshops at the Sitting Room in Cotati.
Arlene L. Mandell
Five a.m., when the house is silent, husband and dog asleep, Gatsby, our sleek Turkish Angora cat, prowling in the meadow, and two owls calling from the huge bay laurel. I realize this is a time, not a season.
Accompanied by the hum of the computer and the click of the keyboard, I prowl through my mental universe, ferreting through memories. Or I rifle through the pile of stuff on my desk, vowing to file everything...later.
Sometimes I revise an old short story or essay, amazed to find a few extraneous adjectives or even (horrors!) a cliché. When I can't think of anything to write, I spin in my chair, stare at my bookshelves, or open the bulging folder of "Sparks." Did you know the newly discovered moons orbiting Pluto have been named Nix and Hydra? And the California State Insect is the dog-face butterfly?
Since retiring from teaching college in 1999 and moving to Santa Rosa, Arlene L. Mandell has been published nearly 300 times.
B. Lynn Goodwin
Since I write to share and to process, any season works for me. My writing can be prompted by my doggie's look backward on a morning "woofie walk." It can be prompted by Asher's grin as he rips his sippie cup out of his mouth and smiles when I pull out my camera. It can be prompted by Carter's stories spoken in 11-week-old baby burble. All seasons are filled with moments crying out to be shared.
Writers write in sticky heat and gusty winds. Writers write when their world is joyous or lonely, when the words flow or are dammed up. My best season is the one I am in today.
Managing Editor of WriterAdvice, Danville Weekly Freelance Reporter, Small Press Review (Dustbooks) Reviewer, CWC (California Writers Club) Columnist.
My best season for writing is whatever season I'm currently in, whether you mean one of the four seasons (summer) or the season of my life I'm in at the moment (struggling through the tail-end of menopause, with a busy husband, aging parents, grown kids still at home, a son in college, a son who never calls, and a granddaughter I don't get to see). I seem to get more done in winter and mid to late summer, since those times of the year find me holed up inside more than other times.
However, as a professional, I don't really have the luxury of waiting to write until my "best season." When I have assignments, I write. When I don't, I market. The rest of the time, I live, so I have something to write about.
Betty Winslow, writing and marketing and living in Bowling Green, Ohio.
My best season for writing is during the very busy winter months because I usually hibernate. Like the big, black bear who finds his cave when the light diminishes and dark surrounds us more, I'm ready to write, to sit at my computer, telephone unplugged, Katie, my Golden Retriever, fast asleep. No distractions.
Oh yes, I can distract myself, but this is the time I choose not to. I go in from where I dream as Robert Olin Butler says, and glide into the unknown, the rich text of imagination.
I'm on another plane. I forget the time, the space on earth and fly over the housetops of story, cruising down to smell the fornaio baked bread in Italy, taste the Yosemite Fall's water spraying on me, and listen to the rattle, rattle of my granddaughter Ginger's voice sharing her stories and her great adventures.
Bonnie Bruinsslot is looking forward to the dark times in Santa Rosa, CA.
Season…makes me think of cooking. Reminds me of the oregano, basil and rosemary planted in my garden, growing big in the hot, summer sun. Summer: not my best season for writing. Too much warm light, too much fun to be had outside. And certainly not winter: too much darkness and my ursine need to sleep.
I'd say my best season for writing is fall - that magical time of transition when shadows lengthen and the light tilts ever so slightly. When different colors paint the leaves on the vine and tree, and kids go back to school. When mornings are crisp and my steaming cup of coffee calls forth the words and voices like a cauldron of witches' brew.
It is on those slow, quiet autumn mornings that dreams come back to me, memories resurface and new stories seem to step over thethreshold from that other place - that imaginary world in which they dwell until they come whisper themselves to me. Autumn, with its chilly nights, low lying mists and smoke rising in the fields, is my golden time of writing.
Christine Falcone's fiction, non fiction and poetry have appeared in various print and on-line publications. Her work has also aired locally on public radio and nationally on public television. Currently, she is looking for an agent for her first novel entitled “This Is What I Know.”
Gianna Depersis Vona
I hate the rain. The dead cold of January and February seep into my skin and leave me pale, chilled, and broke. But this is when I have the most time to write, when the outside doesn't beckon, when there's nowhere to go, when writing becomes my life-vest in the deepest recesses of post-holiday depression. This is when I really remember why, when I make my most concerted efforts to submit, when I try different things. My only defense against yet another winter with no ski vacations, is to sit down at my computer and make some shit up. It's the most fun thing to do when it gets dark at five and you have to wear a down-jacket in your own bedroom.
Gianna Depersis Vona, Sebastopol, CA.
I have been writing long enough now to know that there is no best season for my writing. Writing is a dreaded chore—it's a luxuriant game—it's something I'm supposed to do every day. And why? Because I fancy myself a writer.
The bigger question, as I ponder this assignment, is: What happens if I don't write every day?
So, what does happen if you don't write every day—if every day is not your own best season to compose? You are not practicing your hard-earned craft. You are missing those rare moments when inspiration kicks the side of your head in.
You forget what metaphor really means and what power the notion of rising action has on a short story. You forget the pop that consonance delivers to a poem. You forget dialogue's ability to make your prose more intimate. You forego those moments when all that hard-earned craft, diligently practiced every boring, dirty-dog day, meets that ego-devouring moment of inspiration and there's a momentary realization that you have just created art.
And those are moments that I personally have no control over. I can wake up in the morning and know I have a sizzling idea that I can turn into a hell-wrecking short story—yet when I'm done writing, what I've created is a boring mass of pap. Contrarily, I can be instructing someone on how to write a certain kind of poem by creating an example and I have a moment of epiphanic ecstasy. Or I can just be going through the motions, doing my obligatory I'm-supposed-to-be-writing-because-I-think-I-am-a-writer daily sit down at the keyboard and a story comes out that gives me a satisfying burn in the middle of my lower intestine—almost serotonin-like in the swoon it induces.
And that's what I'm looking for. Maybe it's because I'm an alcoholic, or used to enjoy—no, crave—illicit drugs way too much, that I love that physical sensation that comes over me when I write something I like.
And in the quest for those oh-too-rare moments, I find myself tied to a grist-mill routine of literary creation—my own best season for writing.
Ken Rodgers lives, writes, and teaches in Boise, Idaho. His poem, “Karl Marx Needs a Haircut and a Shave,” will be published on-line at Switchback, Issue #4, Spring/Summer Issue, 2006. See more about Ken at www.kennethrodgers.com.
There's a season for all reasons or is it, there are reasons for all seasons. You mean, I should seasonalize my writing? Ah, but that is what writing is NOT. Writing is for all seasons. What you're saying is: no, you cannot think during the summer, the autumn, and the winter months; you can only write during spring! That is absolutely so "sabotaging"!
You're telling me to stop all my thinking; cease the flow of ink-energy into my brain, and cut off the line of ideas that keep me awake even in the light of day?
Totally unnecessary. My writing is my life. I live with it, in it, among it, within it, and in the life-giving energy that tingles every vein in my body. Can you imagine what it is like without my writing?
Because I am at an age when Alzheimer creeps in (did I read somewhere that Alzheimer starts to muddy one's brains at an early age?), the very thought of getting the affliction makes me tremble down to my tiny bones.
I don't mean to look down upon Alzheimer sufferers nor the illness itself but I do need to express (and as long as I am in my most vulnerable age), an utter fear of the disease. When I get to my 80s, I do not wish to stare out into space, lose the very thinking that gives me joy when I write, and live a day-to-day existence with an empty skull. It is said that a mind or a thinking brain is the worst thing one can lose, and to be a victim of such a disease is utterly treacherous. I do not wish to be a zombie when I grow older. All I want to do and wish to do is to write, write, and write some more.
There is the thing people call inertia. Webster's Dictionary defines it as: "without the power of action or resistance; sluggish; without active chemical properties". If according to this definition I can only think or write during spring, what do you think happens to my "power of action"? It diminishes. It stops completely. My process of thinking/writing slows down until I am unable to come up with an idea or thought to replenish the gray matter that got lost during the months that I am forced to seasonalize my thinking.
Surely, you find that absolutely disgraceful, a conduct that is most dishonorable to the art of writing? Do you think a writer would let such a think happen to her/his ability to think and/or to write?
Lastly, I have dreams in the winter, in the summer, in the autumn, in the spring. Do you think I would commit myself to a shameful degradation as to stop dreaming?
My dreams are my thoughts, whether I am asleep or awake. They are the very emotions that keep me going and the bloodline that courses through me as I write.
Seasonalize? Absolutely not.
Lilia Westmore writes short fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and essay. Although a few of her essays, nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry have been published, Lilia has not published a book as yet, which she intends to do one day.
Of course, we all know there is no one best season for writing. Really, it's a frame of mind, isn't it? There's the inspirational type of writing - whether we pan for nuggets from our childhood's mine, or writing for assignment, we write when we can and when we should.
The best season for writing is whenever we are moved to write - whether it's a stimulating class or writing workshop, or the time of day when the sun hangs low and twilight fills the air. Perhaps one needs a writing retreat, free from ordinary cares and distractions to put forth our best work.
But really, any time of day or night, any season is ripe for our effort.
Marlene Cullen writes as the pears in her yard ripen and the sun hangs low.
The song, If Ever I would Leave You, from the musical Camelot came immediately to mind on reading the prompt. I don't know what the connection is but I went with it; praying for the best. I thought of re-working the words into something funny; maybe try my hand at a little poetry.
If ever I would write more
it wouldn't be in summer,
writing words in summer I never would stop
My hair streaked with grayness,
my hands primed to type,
my eyes red and swollen
that puts me to shame.
Oh, no! Not in springtime!
summer, winter or fall!
No, never could I not write at all.
But I wasn't satisfied with the outcome; thinking it too corny, too forced, ridiculous.
However, this fun exercise did yield a discovery.
Every one knows an airplane needs a long runway for the plane to build up a good head of speed to pull out of the grip of gravity and soar upwards to the sky. I, too, need a long runway; impervious to seasons, moods, etc. That's the discovery!
My runway is composed of hours, sometimes days, in which I play around on the keyboard, striking out, beginning again, but all the while gathering speed for the right moment to go full throttle with engines roaring like a pride of lions, going for the lift off. Yes! Freed from the grip of indecision, censorship, and perfectionism. That is my best season of all.
How I got from Camelot to airplanes beats me. But that's part of the fun of these prompts.
Pat Oliver trying to blast off in Sebastopol, CA.
Poverty tastes like starch. Our meals in the winter of late 1983 were plain white rice, macaroni noodles in the generic brand five-pound bags, potatoes, and yams. Yams were always cheaper than potatoes. Green vegetables were expensive and rare. One Saturday we took the bus to the fairgrounds flea market and returned with sacks of grapefruit and oranges. In the side entrance room off of the kitchen they kept for weeks.
Our pleasure food was popcorn made on the stove in a large, covered pot that I rattled to keep the kernels from burning in the oil. My whole body shook back and forth and Heather, my then-girlfriend Janis's eight year-old daughter, laughed while she watched me shake. My food preparation process entertained her, and her epiphany of joy soothed me. I decorated the popcorn with heated cooking oil and melted butter, some salt, a half-handful of dried basil, and parmesan cheese if we could afford it that week. I filled washed and reused plastic bread bags with popcorn and we kept the bags in the refrigerator for comfort, for pleasure, for happiness.
That year Janis gave me two pounds of basil for a birthday present, the perfect gift for the starving artist who has nothing.
Since that New Mexico winter I have never eaten a yam. They taste of high heating bills, hungry children, and food stamps. They taste of standing on an icy step just outside of the kitchen door and smoking a cigarette that dampens the appetite before dinner.
The versatile potato represents the foundation of home-owning, family-starting. Years later I grew potatoes in a garden and witnessed their toxic purple flowers, their toxic green fruit, and their soft, toxic leaves. Picking them was to soak the ground with water and drive my open hand beneath the surface to discover a tuber as solid and crisp as an apple: pomme de terre.
A slew of cookbooks taught me the value of rice: the purity of Japanese sticky rice, the oily push and shove of Italian Arborio; a history of the grain: the short, the medium, the long, the brown, and the wild. Life is incomplete without rice. Pasta and olive oil are an integral part of what is now firmly the second half of my life, from boxed macaroni and cheese to anything fancy: Linguine with Prosciutto and Radicchio.
I still make popcorn with oil and butter, salt, parmesan cheese, and basil. Popcorn is the only food I season with basil. My own teenage son grew up on this treat, standing on a chair in the kitchen, watching the final kernels in the hot-air popper shoot around the kitchen like little snowflake meteors, laughing and holding my arm for support. Every time I make popcorn I remember winter, a cold adobe house, a little girl laughing at me, and me, laughing at her happiness in a life guided by hunger. The flavors of basil and solitude mix within me; and memory and nostalgia guide my hands, saying Write.
Robert Kostuck is a writer who found a change of climate and season in Florida. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The time of year is not important, nor is the time of day. My best season for writing is an attitude that can live in me on a balmy August morning or a rainy February night. If I can find that climate of quiet confidence, curiosity and amusement that allows me to grab onto a thought and follow it, well, then, it's open season on writing!
I have to point out that writing is a difficult activity to pursue in the midst of hustling bustle, and with so many demands on my time and energy, it's hard to distance myself from the clamor. I feel as if I'm forced to establish an armed camp, string razor wire around the perimeter and station guards who growl, "Who goes there?" when anyone approaches. Whenever I let myself be overrun, I have to reclaim that sacred territory for myself with a fierceness that scares me at first.
But once I get to the stage where people stop trespassing on what they mistakenly assumed was public property, I can pull some of the barricades down, send most of the guards home, and consider my realm a place of peace. It then becomes a state of mind, like Margaritaville, or a season I could call the Endless Summer, where the sun is always warm and the time is always right for another think.
Susan Bono is trying to think freely in Petaluma, CA.
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.
Back to Searchlights & Signal Flares