Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What Makes You Think This Year Will Be Different? (01/15/04)



Featured writer: Betty Winslow



Contributors this month:
Anne Silber
Arlene L. Mandell
Betty Winslow
Connie Mygatt
Kathleen Lynch
Marlene Cullen
Robin Johnson


Betty Winslow



Every year is different, because each year I am different. I'm a year older, a year closer to the end, wiser (I hope), more skilled at what I do and more aware of what I need to change. This year is bound to be different, because I am a year more secure in who I am and what I can and should do (and maybe just as important, who I am not and what I no longer can or have to do).

And 2004 won't just be different, it'll be richer, more filled with things to be thankful for, because I'll be focusing more on the blessings in my life and less on the bumps, dips, and car wrecks that life's highway is filled with. So, I don't just think this year will be different, I know it will be. And I can hardly wait to see what it brings my way. Happy New Year, y'all!

Betty Winslow, who's waiting eagerly in Bowling Green, Ohio, for 2004's adventure to begin.

Anne Silber



Every year at 12:01am, January 1, I envision not a newborn, but a blank slate: a tabla rosa.

What makes the New Year so exciting to me is that I haven't the slightest idea how this year is going to be different.

Oh sure, we know an election will most likely happen, and I know that I will continue writing what's in my heart and psyche. I do not know how that is going to differ from previous years, and to be honest, I don't want to know. I even make a few of the standard resolutions.

Perhaps because I have climbed out of the box of requiring a tight structure, and have lived long enough to have developed flexibility, I look at that blank slate and just can't wait to see what gets written on it! At the end of the year I may look at the slate and see that it closely resembles the year before, or I may see entirely different patterns.

Please do not think that this indicates a complacent person in no-growth mode. That does not describe me. What I am saying is that I have learned to leave predicting to astrologers, and focus on allowing myself to unfold without relying on predetermination.

All I know is that I don't ponder on what may make this year different. I only thank God that I have another slate before me, and the strength to deal with whatever gets written upon it.

Anne Silber, Author of "Zaidy: A Story of Youth and Age in the 1940's," wishes all of you a wonderful year. www.annesilber.net

One Thing I Know

  by Arlene L. Mandell

When I woke up that slate gray January morning, the day did not look promising. I moved Gabrielle, my 10-year-old bichon, gently off my legs, then sent her into the hard rain while I jumped into the shower. As soon as I emerged, I let her back in and toweled her dry. She sighed with contentment. A half hour later, stoked with strong coffee, I was on my way to Susan's Wednesday morning writing group with a so-so essay to read, unhappy that nothing particularly brilliant had occurred to me lately.

As I drove down Summerfield Avenue in Santa Rosa, windshield wipers on the fastest speed, peering into the fog, I saw him...or maybe her. A small, lumpish figure with a bright blue tarp in some sort of four-wheeled chair. Someone has abandoned a child in the rain, I thought, as I turned onto Hoen Avene. No, I realized a moment later, that person wasn't a child after all, but an adult, waiting with wet, upturned face at a bus stop.

While I had been brushing a little blusher on my cheekbones, bending down to tie my sneakers, and remembering that we were out of bagels, again, this person was having a far greater challenge than I could ever imagine, just to get to that rain- and wind-swept spot.

Last year wasn't the greatest. Friends and children of friends sickened and died. I had a health scare (please, do not use the word "colonoscopy" in my presence). I spent too much time reading mindless best sellers and watching vapid TV movies, and not enough time on worthwhile pursuits: gardening, volunteering, yoga, and, of course, writing. Poor me!

That was 2003 and now it's 2004 and I hate whining, especially my own whining. I can still see the wet, shiny face of that person in the bright blue tarp, determined to get on with life. And I know my occasional twinge of arthritis or stiff neck does not compare. I can take two Advil and the pain subsides. So my problem (and possibly yours?) is simply sloth!

There's one thing I know, and maybe you do too: All we writers need is paper and pencil, eyes and ears and fingers. Our material is out there at bus stops, in supermarkets, by the creek where feral cats and the homeless huddle. Yes, 2004 can be different. Maybe we can even make it better.

Arlene L. Mandell is a Santa Rosa, CA writer whose work also appears in "Flash in the Pan" and the "Here and Now" issue of the Tiny Lights' online quarterly.

Betty Winslow



Every year is different, because each year I am different. I'm a year older, a year closer to the end, wiser (I hope), more skilled at what I do and more aware of what I need to change. This year is bound to be different, because I am a year more secure in who I am and what I can and should do (and maybe just as important, who I am not and what I no longer can or have to do).

And 2004 won't just be different, it'll be richer, more filled with things to be thankful for, because I'll be focusing more on the blessings in my life and less on the bumps, dips, and car wrecks that life's highway is filled with. So, I don't just think this year will be different, I know it will be. And I can hardly wait to see what it brings my way. Happy New Year, y'all!

Betty Winslow, who's waiting eagerly in Bowling Green, Ohio, for 2004's adventure to begin.

Connie Mygatt



As with every January the long list of resolutions to change or enhance, and the things to give up or barter with flow from my pen onto the empty, waiting paper. Well, here it is the seventh of January and I have already conveniently forgotten half of those good intentions. With the sun in the astrological sign of Capricorn it should have been easy to put my nose to the grindstone and work my way through the list, but alas, the grind stone and the determination must have been in the forgotten half.

Instead of beating myself up about what I didn't start to do I am taking a fine lens to life and looking through it to see what is changing, not as of January first, but certainly over the last months. What I am noticing is the willingness to take mundane, habitual chores and do them as if for the first time. It is like the pile of trash presented as an artistic expression that a friend recently talked about. It is all in how I look at a task that matters.

If I can look at the simple things in life with a new perspective, a newness of being very present in each moment to all that is around me, as the Buddhist would say, then, hopefully my personal artistic expression, whether in writing, painting or sweeping the floor will be fresh, lively and inviting to the soul.

Connie Mygatt is an artist, writer and traveler who currently makes her home in Santa Rosa, CA.

Kathleen Lynch



I am a year older—I rejoice in that I made it.

My son is a year older. This year will be different because he is growing up. He can tie his shoes, count to one hundred, make a PB&J, wipe, and take a shower all by himself. He will walk to school, learn to ski, skate, and swim. He will learn how to better cooperate, read, and ride a two-wheeler. He will experience disappointment, revel in success and bask in my love.

This year will be different because I, also, am growing up. I can feel the energy of my words, and am constantly inspired by the words of others. This year has never been done. It is a clean slate of a year, just waiting to be scribbled upon. I have a fresh box of chalk…and #2 pencils.

I will allow myself to notice things. I finally feel like I own my life. It is a challenge. Everyday. But it is mine and this year will be different because it is one of the first years in many years that I will not trade to be, become, or wish I was anyone else for a single moment. The year of my skin—I am psyched.

Kathleen Lynch
Farmington, Maine
klbmaine@netscape.


Marlene Cullen



Well, yeah, we're always hopeful, aren't we? This year I will lose that weight, write that short story, exercise more, watch less TV, lose weight (oh, I already said that), read great novels, and read less trashy stuff. But it's so much fun to do the bad, trashy stuff. Or is it? Nope, no philosophizing here. Not here, not right now. I have to get to the bottom of this. Why do I think this year will be different.?

I have come to a conclusion after much ponderation (I know there is no such word, but I have to have a little fun if I'm going to give up trash TV, junk reading and favorite fattening foods).

There is nothing that makes me think this year will be different. Oh, I had great New Year's Resolutions, which I made in mid- December so that I could break them by January 1st and be done with it.

This year has gotten off to a different start, though. For one, it's taken me until mid-February to recover from the holidaze. I usually recover much more quickly, often by February 8. But this year, I have vowed to take things a little slower. Chew my food more slowly, for example. Don't they say chew longer to lose weight? That takes care of the weight loss program. Write a short story. Does this count? Exercise more. My fingers are getting a workout. That's it. I have to stop before I exercise too much and strain something.

Marlene Cullen is seriously contemplating the South Beach Diet while she munches her way through daytime TV. (Just kidding, folks. If you know me, you know this isn't true at all. None of it. Well, the part about losing weight and eating right and exercising more is true. But everything else is a fabrication.)

BECAUSE I POLISHED THE SILVER

  by Robin Johnson

This past Christmas I became obsessed with polishing silver. It began with the six silver wine glasses, so tarnished, I spent two hours and went through three old T-shirts, turning them black as the glasses came clean. I then worked on the silver candlesticks and large silver coffee-pot I use for a vase at Christmas, just like my mom did. By late afternoon I was scouring the house for silver to polish: creamers, gravy boats, serving trays, napkin rings, shot glasses, spoons. By evening I had all of the silver shining and spread out on the dining room table next to a large pile of old T-shirts turned black.

The next day when I got up I spotted my silver jewelry and two silver bells atop my dresser. I started to see silver everywhere. I made a special trip to Longs for more polish. I raided my husband's drawer for more old T-shirts. Then my husband asked me what I was doing.

"Isn't it obvious, I'm polishing the silver?"

"But why?" he asked.

I told him that I'd been asking myself that question. "I think it's a metaphor." I went on, "I have everything I need, but I've let it get tarnished. It's all within me. I'm finally in a place of 'enough'. What I need to do now is polish what I already have."

Robin Johnson
Cazadero, California
Cajarc, France


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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