Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Are you ever satisfied with anything you write? (06/15/09)



Featured writer: Arlene L. Mandell



Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Charlene Bunas
David S. Johnson
Don Edgers
Elaine Webster
Inez Castor
Marilyn Petty
Rodney Merrill
Susan Bono


Satisfied? Never . . . Well, Hardly Ever

by Arlene L. Mandell

OUCH! What a painful question. I'm rifling through my four file cabinet drawers crammed with folders, perhaps 700 or 800 individual poems, essays and short stories written over the past 15 years.

Wow! Who wrote all this stuff? What's with that awkward adverb? That convoluted sentence?

"Calm down," my overworked and underpaid muse, Gravida, whispers. "You've been published 500+ times. Some editors must think your writing is fine."

I guess. Now and again I do write something that unspools gracefully to arrive at a surprising yet delightful conclusion.

Guess I should get back to, selecting three spectacular poems to enter in a contest where I know two of the judges, but they won't know it's me (it is I?). Hmmm. Something about butterflies? Chocolate syrup? Not just any chocolate syrup but U-Bet Chocolate Syrup made in Brooklyn?

I know - infinity. Yes, The Infinite Agony of Inevitability.

Arlene L. Mandell searches for synonyms and metaphors while training her Havanoodle puppy, Ringo, who was just awarded a Certificate of Accomplishment from the Paws & Affect Family Dog Program.


Satisfied? Never . . . Well, Hardly Ever

  by Arlene L. Mandell

OUCH! What a painful question. I'm rifling through my four file cabinet drawers crammed with folders, perhaps 700 or 800 individual poems, essays and short stories written over the past 15 years.

Wow! Who wrote all this stuff? What's with that awkward adverb? That convoluted sentence?

"Calm down," my overworked and underpaid muse, Gravida, whispers. "You've been published 500+ times. Some editors must think your writing is fine."

I guess. Now and again I do write something that unspools gracefully to arrive at a surprising yet delightful conclusion.

Guess I should get back to, selecting three spectacular poems to enter in a contest where I know two of the judges, but they won't know it's me (it is I?). Hmmm. Something about butterflies? Chocolate syrup? Not just any chocolate syrup but U-Bet Chocolate Syrup made in Brooklyn?

I know - infinity. Yes, The Infinite Agony of Inevitability.

Arlene L. Mandell searches for synonyms and metaphors while training her Havanoodle puppy, Ringo, who was just awarded a Certificate of Accomplishment from the Paws & Affect Family Dog Program.


Getting Satisfaction

  by Charlene Bunas

Satisfaction is more than finished product; it's also found in the process of writing.

So, I just write; I do the physical exercise, pen to paper, fingers to keys. Write what I know. Sooner or later, honesty happens. Puzzle pieces fit together; they are found by hours of "just writing." It's then that I hum with satisfaction.

When music seeps from my writing, I sing along. If it pulses with rhythm, if it paces with dashes, clashes, softness, and stillness and if, in the end, it offers reflection, I'm delighted. Of course there should also be an attention-grabbing beginning, a page-turning middle and a satisfying conclusion. Plots are nice. Multi-dimensional, my characters make mistakes and face consequences. They suffer or they grow; they're human. They are me. I grow because I write.

Am I satisfied with what I write? Am I satisfied that I write? I check box, "Yes."

Charlene Bunas and husband Gary celebrated their 46th anniversary on June 15, the same date as this month’s deadline. She’s relieved she didn’t wait until the last minute to submit her answer.

This title sucks

  by David S. Johnson

I'm finding that age inspires me to be a pickier person. No, I think that I'm more forthright with myself these days because I've always been a persnickety little priss. There are few things that consistently satisfy me, three of which are Pepsi poured over two ice cubes, orgasms, and listening to my favorite music on headphones.

For our one-year anniversary my girlfriend Ellen bought me Pepsi and a new set of headphones. She bought ear-buds and I prefer over-the-head, vertical in-the-ear headphones. The good boyfriend would have said, "Ah, thank you, dear, that's very sweet," but the douche-bag boyfriend explained - in a way that I thought was gentle - how they weren't what I wanted. I didn't score the hat trick of satisfaction that night.

I am a crank today here in Salem. I blame it on the dismal New England weather where it has rained 90% of the time in June. I admit that this Southerner is unsatisfied with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its cold weather and Mumbai-like overcrowding. I'm willing to bring back the 1600s and burn people as witches for warmth and to reduce traffic volume on I-95.

I am absolutely not satisfied with anything I write. I know that even Romeo and Juliet could be edited for errs, but I am forever left creatively lifeless by comas, word choice (selection?), and continual impalement on the jagged lust-filled sin of overblown metaphors and clichés.

Writing is no walk on the beach. Just as a shard of glass in the sand that slices open your foot, severs tendons and the medial plantar artery can ruin an otherwise pleasant walk at the shore, so too can an awkwardly written sentence sever the rational synapses in my editorial mind and send me into creative paralysis. But then again, I have a brilliant flair for the melodramatic, one that signals distress of a lone writer on a sinking life-raft in a sea of indecision.

I often miss the forest for the trees. I might cut down the trees and build new ones. Or make it a desert. Or a lagoon. It's not a character flaw to dwell on specifics, but I dwell on the wrong specifics. If I take a breath and think about how sweet a girlfriend can be, or how inspiring the New England coastline can be and worry less about what's wrong in my life and focus on what's right, then I might be a happier, more satisfied person.

Perhaps writing can be a walk on the beach, because if I look at my foot I find that it was a pebble in my flip flop, not a shard of glass. And a rock in my shoe shouldn't ruin an otherwise pleasant walk. I'll leave that to the cold wind sandblasting my face and trembling torso.


David Samuel Johnson would take a walk on the beach if the damn sun ever came out.

R U ever satisfied with anything you write?

  by Don Edgers

Russian playwright, short story writer and MD, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, certainly spent time with the satisfaction question as written in the book How to Write Like Chekhov by Anton Chekhov (edited by Brunello & Lencvek,) "—rough drafts of all true artists are a mess of deletions and corrections, marked up from top to bottom in a patchwork of cuts and intersections that are themselves recrossed out and mangled."

In the author biography segment of A Treasury of Short Stories for Honoré de Balzac it says: "Balzac, never satisfied with his finished manuscripts, went over the proofs time and time again, changing the order of stories, rewriting, spending a fortune on printers' bills for revised proofs."

I won't claim to be in the class or subclass of Chekhov or Balzac; however, when I began writing and had the low standards required in the writing school of imperfectionism and mediocrity, this ‘satisfaction' question would have seemed absurd.

Then, I developed as a wannabe writer, and if one were to look at many scratched out and erased personal notebooks (a la Chekhov), or my wastebasket filled with discarded writings, a 180-degree attitudinal change is apparent.

But, because of the adverb "ever" in the topic question, and the fact that some of my writings have been published, the 180-degrees may have to be revised to maybe 135-degrees. The answer to the ‘satisfaction' question becomes YES!

Don Edgers gets his satisfaction in Port Orchard, WA His website:
www.anislandintime.com


The Pleasure of Content

  by Elaine Webster

One definition of satisfaction is anything that brings pleasure or contentment. In my case, satisfaction is the pure pleasure of having any content at all. As in life, it's all about which syllable to stress. Am I contented with my writing? Rarely. Am I glad to have content? Always. Sunday mornings I sit in my garden, greyhound sprawled at my feet and laptop screen blank. I gaze out on my personal domain; the small piece of the world for which I'm responsible and I start to write.

Some Sunday mornings I write poetry in freeform. No rules, but the ones I make. Pure thought without thinking; created with words that swirl and tumble down the page. This is the most fun a person can have and have it be legal.

Other Sunday mornings I work on snippets of fiction, creating characters with more problems than I have, in situations filled with conflict. These people need help, big time. They do all the bad things in life and they do them well. They come from poverty and wealth. They lie to and steal from each other. They have sex and do drugs. I hate and love them all.

Then there's my memoir, yikes! It shares some of the same characteristics as my fiction, except it's real and much scarier. It frightens me so much that I can only work on it in short spurts. The villains are mean, the lovers unfaithful, and the money scarce. But the heroine is a personal friend of mine.

I'm as satisfied with my creative writing as I am with myself and I'm still working on both. Is what I write flawed? You bet. Am I perfect? Not the last time I looked.

In comparison journalism is a piece of cake. I write for Greener Living Today, an on-line publication. This is the easy part. I'm always satisfied with lots of content filled with keywords favored by search engines. The emphasis is definitely on the first syllable and on the money. Earning money with writing brings its own sense of satisfaction.

Elaine Webster is a staff writer for Greener Living Today www.greenerlvingtoday.com. She’s also a part of the Sebastopol Memoir writing group that meets on Friday at the Community Church.

Satisfied? It Depends.

  by Inez Castor

"Are you ever satisfied with anything you write?" This is an uncomfortable question. I know what the "correct" answer is. The correct answer is, "Of course not!" But if I'm going to be honest, and honesty is the only thing I've got going for me, I have to admit that I'm as happy as if I had sense about 80 percent of the time.

It's not because I'm talented, organized, inventive, creative or any of those other fine adjectives that writers aspire to. It's because I'm a storyteller and my position in the writing process is that of scribe. I tap the keys. I am responsible for punctuation, grammar and word count.

The story comes through me rather than from me. I see, hear or experience something that triggers the need to write. It usually feels a bit like early labor, just a discomfort, an inability to hold still, a generalized anxiety.

Those early signs intensify and eventually I have to sit down at a computer. Then I slip into a day-dreamy state, a bit like a laboring mother given a mild sedative. My mind wanders away and I notice a swallow feeding its fledgling, which leads to thinking about what a great parent my daughter is, which leads to relief and delight that her husband is equally wonderful. AND he loves his mother-in-law.

By the time my floating mind returns to the body seated at the computer, the writing is pretty much done. All that's left to do is button its periods, zip its dangling participles, pat it on the po-po and push the "Send" button.

I accept responsibility for errors, but the good stuff is all new to me and therefore I'm free to enjoy the flowing phrases. The other 20 percent of the time, I'm facing a deadline, my head is full of packing peanuts, my poison oak itches and the end result is pure crap.

Inez Castor follows the little animals around the redwoods and beaches of beautiful Del Norte County, California. When she goes into labor, she writes.
She can be reached at lockhartisfree@yahoo.com.


Are you ever satisfied with anything you write?

  by Marilyn Petty

If I find satisfaction in anything I write, it's the delicious word, the perfect turn of phrase, the sly peek around the corner of an emerging character, a sentence that blooms, a heart and mind confluence of story. It's the bits and pieces that turn out to say exactly what I wanted to say, but wasn't sure I could.

It's the putting it all together into a coherent and cohesive narrative that is the hard part, that conjures up dissatisfaction. Already I can see that creeping alliteration with a plethora of "c..." words threatens to destroy what might have been a satisfactory exposition of how to satisfy myself in my work.

On the other hand, were I completely satisfied with what I wrote, would there be a need for ever doing it again? To not write is not an option. Instead, I will continue to seek for and savor those satisfying little gems that occasionally drop down out of my head onto paper portending of more and more satisfaction.

Marilyn Petty is immensely satisfied to live in her house in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County while writing.


Are you ever satisfied with anything you write?

  by Rodney Merrill

Yes, but not for long.

Rodney Merrill grapples with satisfaction as he completes his PhD dissertation.

Sailing Away

  by Susan Bono

Most days, writing is a series of herky jerky movements—a thought half-formed, a few clumped phrases, a wobbly rush of ink across the page as I attempt to beat the inevitable waning of inspiration. Most days, satisfaction comes if, in that session of anxious groping, I end up with a few coherent sentences.

Of course, without the pressure of a deadline, I might never be satisfied enough to share my words with anyone. But, as I tell everyone I know, any writing is better than no writing. The goal, I've learned, is not to feel done, but done enough.

What keeps me returning to writing are those rare days when the words unspool from my pen like a fishing line dropping deep or a string following a bright kite up into the sky. The pleasure of that flow of words—ruined always if I pause to think too hard—is that of a child on roller skates sailing down the sidewalks of her neighborhood. She knows to jump the crack in the Crutcher's sidewalk, how to pick up speed mid-block, and why the uphill slope of the Hulbert's driveway makes the best place to slow and turn around. The child doesn't have to make anything out of her skating session, not even a label called "fun" or "exercise." She doesn't have to know that this is part of an experience she may some day write about. Her satisfaction comes from meeting a moment as whole-heartedly as possible, just experiencing it without thinking too much about it.

Susan Bono is trying to keep her focus on process over product 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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