Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How do you pace yourself? (05/15/08)



Featured writer: Betty K. Rodgers



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Betty K. Rodgers
Christine Falcone
Dan Coshnear
David Johnson
Don Edgers
Susan Bono


How do you pace yourself?

by Betty K. Rodgers

Once upon a time, a little girl's father wrote:

Rub-a-dub scrub,
Mike's in the tub,
Taking his Sunday shower.
If he doesn't play
Like his sister, Bettykay,
He'll be done
In less than an hour.

Of course, this little ditty was properly har-harred and repeated endlessly throughout the little girl's formative years. When she grew up, she was noted for living her life at "Bettykay-speed." Now, this may sound like the negative trait of a lazy person, but she was not a slacker. She simply found that when living life at her own pace, she accomplished more and enjoyed the people and world around her completely.

Lurking in the background of this woman's existence was the dreaded familial disease known as trying-to-pack-too-much-into-too-little-time-itis. Justification goes something like this: Why sit around after arriving early at the office when you can get just one more chore done before arriving exactly on time? Or, they said being on the board of directors would entail only one meeting per month, so surely that is manageable.

By the time this woman was 45 or so, the disease had taken a firm hold. She defied Bettykay-speed and packed 36 hours of activity into every 24-hour period. She didn't listen to her body's signals to slow down until it finally commanded her attention with a broken ankle. Suddenly the race came to a screeching halt. During the treatment and recovery period, she took the advice of a good friend and began writing to the fictitious "Mrs. Baloney" who had pushed her so hard. Yes, it was a one-sided conversation, yet the woman learned a lot about herself. She began to understand that she could live at her own pace and offer no apologies.

The outcome has shown promise. Though she still experiences relapses, "Prioritize" has become her mantra. The woman has learned how to pronounce the word "no." She makes time for her writing. And she still enjoys long, hot showers.



Betty Rodgers ponders pacing in Boise, Idaho, where the Mountain Bluebird sings and a newborn fawn and its mother attend local Audubon Chapter meetings. You can reach Betty at: bettykrodgers@msn.com


How do you pace yourself?

  by Arlene L. Mandell

Letʼs begin with a bold-faced lie: Each morning at eight, after a delightful breakfast where the big dog doesnʼt try to eat the little dogʼs food and the cat doesnʼt hit the big dog on the nose, I sashay serenely to my office to inhale the scent of heirloom roses wafting from a crystal vase. A few brilliant poems, an insightful essay, and a potential Pulitzer-prize winning novel await a final glance before being handed off to my devoted agent.

Closer to the truth: My paws grimy from weeding, I shuffle through piles of paper, notice I just missed a deadline, wonder what I called that charming poem about a rare yellow wildflower I discovered while pulling the aforementioned weeds. Then I toss my glitter ball from hand to hand, admiring the way the little green flecks float so gracefully in the nameless goo. Sometimes I ponder a notation in my journal for inspiration, such as: Tofu - Yuck! Then I may search for a quotation or delete a so-so stanza. Time passes. My fingers fly over the keyboard. The printer shoots out a few pages. And at least once a week I send something somewhere, and sometimes it gets published.


Since "retiring,"Arlene L. Mandell has had a total of 458 published pieces in newspapers and literary magazines.


How do you pace yourself?

  by Betty K. Rodgers

Once upon a time, a little girl's father wrote:

Rub-a-dub scrub,
Mike's in the tub,
Taking his Sunday shower.
If he doesn't play
Like his sister, Bettykay,
He'll be done
In less than an hour.

Of course, this little ditty was properly har-harred and repeated endlessly throughout the little girl's formative years. When she grew up, she was noted for living her life at "Bettykay-speed." Now, this may sound like the negative trait of a lazy person, but she was not a slacker. She simply found that when living life at her own pace, she accomplished more and enjoyed the people and world around her completely.

Lurking in the background of this woman's existence was the dreaded familial disease known as trying-to-pack-too-much-into-too-little-time-itis. Justification goes something like this: Why sit around after arriving early at the office when you can get just one more chore done before arriving exactly on time? Or, they said being on the board of directors would entail only one meeting per month, so surely that is manageable.

By the time this woman was 45 or so, the disease had taken a firm hold. She defied Bettykay-speed and packed 36 hours of activity into every 24-hour period. She didn't listen to her body's signals to slow down until it finally commanded her attention with a broken ankle. Suddenly the race came to a screeching halt. During the treatment and recovery period, she took the advice of a good friend and began writing to the fictitious "Mrs. Baloney" who had pushed her so hard. Yes, it was a one-sided conversation, yet the woman learned a lot about herself. She began to understand that she could live at her own pace and offer no apologies.

The outcome has shown promise. Though she still experiences relapses, "Prioritize" has become her mantra. The woman has learned how to pronounce the word "no." She makes time for her writing. And she still enjoys long, hot showers.



Betty Rodgers ponders pacing in Boise, Idaho, where the Mountain Bluebird sings and a newborn fawn and its mother attend local Audubon Chapter meetings. You can reach Betty at: bettykrodgers@msn.com


How do you pace yourself?

  by Christine Falcone

I do almost everything with a binge-like mentality. Always have. When it comes to writing, I go off on these weeklong benders once or twice a year and spend almost all day every day either at the computer or with a pen and a notebook. Material that's been building up with dam-like force for the preceding months or year comes flooding out. So I have these maniacal spurts that give me pages upon pages of raw material that I then work with and shape over the months to follow. Sometimes, I don't even remember what I wrote because a lot of it happens in what I can only describe as a trance. So my pace is very erratic. Think of the lines produced on a Richter Scale when here's an earthquake. Think EKG machine during a heart attack. There are spikes and dips all over the place. I wish I could have a pace more like when I'm exercising: slow and steady. I wish I could be more balanced. But the binge-type method seems to work for me, so I guess I'll keep it up.



Christine Falcone is gearing up for her next writing binge in Novato, California.

Pacing

  by Dan Coshnear

When I run, um, well, as a matter of fact, I've stopped running for like about two months, but when I was running, it was what, three times a week, four, like four and a half miles a pop and I paced myself very like slowly at the, at the start. The first mile, I discovered early in my second jogging career, after thirty, that is, when I went back to it, jogging, that is, is like a warm up mile. If I start too hard, and breathe too fast, too heavy, I don't recover well, not like I used to. The first mile is only roughly a mile, I have no exact measure, or exact way of measuring. My car, for some ass reason, doesn't do tenths. The end of the first mile, roughly speaking, is past that one house with the chipped paint and the chipped paint underneath, where I see the big hanging ball of pyracantha berries about eye level on the left side of Armstrong Woods Road heading north or like northwest and where I think, a) those are beautiful, like electrified orange bee-bees against the dark green leaves, or b) I can't even believe I haven't passed those fucking berries yet.

And writing is like that, writing pacing, except only the opposite. It seems to like begin with this voice I can hear literally in my head, like figuratively speaking, this voice that talks in a certain way, and that's how I start, mostly, or sometimes two voices.

Wait, am I like answering the right question? Or is this one of those questions about finding time for writing, like with work and homework and the dinner and the dishes and the way the dog is looking at me right now, because I don't even want to talk about that. That would be pacing myself, I guess, but there's this other kind of pace that like the story is running and I'm sitting still. For as an example, it usually comes to me when I'm driving and I pretty much have to be alone, which is like what driving usually is for me. I've already started the story, or the thing, because a lot of times I don't know what it is, and a lot of times I've written up to a place where I have to stop because I can't even guess what would happen next. And I think I stopped. But all of a sudden, surprise, I didn't, I didn't like stop thinking about it. In that way its got its own kind of pace. In that way it's like the anti-virus security thing that turns on in the middle of the night even though your computer's not on and you might be sleeping or whatever. With running they always talk about that thing called your second wind, and you don't always get a second one when you use up the first one too fast; but with writing it's like I don't even know. I don't even know if my start is going to keep on going until sometimes it does and then the way I see it my job is to like just let it.



Um, Daniel Coshnear -dan@coshnear.org - lives` in Guerneville and teaches writing at a variety of institutions: UC Berkeley Extension, SSU Extension, through The Sitting Room, sometimes at USF and also SFSU. He also works at a group home for men and women with mental illnesses where he runs a reading/writing/discussion class. He writes short stories and occasionally an essay, a poem.



Outside the margins

  by David Johnson

Pace myself? I don't fucking have the time!
-Labmate Kari Galvan at 1 A.M. one night in the lab


Under a clear night sky, my little Honda rifled along the narrow two-lane road that gashed through the rice fields of Enola, Arkansas. The first headlights I'd seen in over an hour belonged to a very nice Arkansas State Trooper who reminded me with his pen and pad that 92 mph is greater than the posted speed of 55 mph and that I should slow down. Immediately after his written admonition, I did slow down. A week later I returned to my lead-footed ways. Having been pulled over at least 25 times, I'm starting to detect a pattern.

Today I don't feel well. I think it's my body's way of telling me to slow down, to pace myself. The problem is that I live in a world of self-imposed extremes so I rarely pace myself. Too much of the Louisiana sun on the Amite River. Too much whiskey at Wild Whiskey Weiner Wednesdays with the fellas. Too many papers to read. Too many papers to write. Too many late nights in the lab. Not enough sleep, not enough fruit, not enough exercise, not making enough time to relax. Today I will rest because my body gives me no choice and I will make flimsy promises to pace my lifestyle, but I doubt my promises last long.

Like my body shutting down from fatigue and excess or the state trooper and his fast pen, there are times I am reminded to pace myself when I write. A bad review or harsh critique of an article. A missed deadline. Disappointment from those that I respect because what I've handed them is garbage and they know I can do better. Disappointment in myself as I send out something I know I shouldn't. Rarely is my poor writing due to writer's block, but typically a function of not giving myself enough time to go through several drafts. And it's not that I wait until the last minute to start thinking about a writing assignment, because my mind constantly churns about possible ideas but the physical act of getting my ideas organized on the computer screen causes me great vexation. I am convinced that brilliance in writing relies heavily on its organization and if you saw me use my underwear as a potholder last week, you would realize that I need more than the 11th hour to organize my ideas. Often, after a close or missed deadline I make promises to pace myself and like my conservative speeds after getting pulled over, I will do just that. But after a short while I look in the rearview mirror to see if there are any tiny blue lights in the distance before hitting the gas once again.

David Samuel Johnson is looking in his rearview mirror in Baton Rouge, LA.
www.impeccablepeccadillo.wordpress.com


A Tale of Three Paces

  by Don Edgers

Without a writing deadline I operate at a pace comparable to an old car with bad gas. I started my first book in 1992 using a typewriter. In 2002 I had gone through four computers and finally self-published.

Two computers, a stroke, and five years later, book two got self-published.

A book proposal to a publisher in 2007 resulted in a contract with a deadline. Not long after humming along at a comfortable pace, the publisher offered a sizeable bonus if I beat my deadline by a month. I upped my pace to that of a greyhound chasing a supercharged sports car on high octane gas. Third book - three months.





Don Edgers, of Port Orchard, WA, is presently working on a fourth book at the pace of a three-toed sloth on steroids. Check www.amazon.com for his book titles or his web site www.anislandintime.com and click on “books.”



It's Uphill From Here

  by Susan Bono

In 1976, my last year at San Francisco State, I acquired my brother's hand-me-down car—a faded blue Datsun with a manual transmission. It weighed about as much as a couple of stacked matchbooks. Its best feature was that it got 28 mpg. at a time when everyone still remembered the first Arab Oil Crisis. I was living out in the Avenues—flat land for the most part. The biggest problem there was finding a legal parking spot on street sweeping days.

But San Francisco is plenty hilly. I remember approaching some of those famous inclines with my heart pushing its way into my throat. I'd press the gas pedal to the floor for the slow crawl upward, feeling as if the tires were going to unstick from the street and send me toppling backwards. The worst part was heaving up to an intersection and meeting a red light or stop sign. I'd have to simultaneously engage the handbrake and stand on the brake pedal. Even with the engine in neutral, I'd usually stand on the clutch, too, preparing for that terrible moment I'd have to shift my right foot from the brake to the accelerator and start my left foot easing out the clutch.

In that white-knuckled lull before action, I always pictured myself flooding the engine and stalling, or worse, rolling backwards down Lombard or Divisidero, horrors I'd experienced on several occasions. In order to force myself to proceed, I had to imagine my little car's valiant, almost balletic lurch forward as the gas and gears engaged. It helped to remember some of the other hills I'd already climbed, each one equally impossible.

It's been mostly uphill in my writing these days. I feel like I'm in danger of burning out my clutch. That might explain why I'm not out and about as much as I'd like, no more joy riding. But if I relax as best I can and take it slow, I figure I'll eventually get somewhere. It helps to think about the downhill glide waiting on the way home.


Susan Bono is working the pedals 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.

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