Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Where Do You Go For Feedback? (09/15/05)



Featured writer: Catherine Montague



Contributors this month:
Catherine Montague
Gregory Gerard
Jennie Orvino
Natalie Timm
Susan Bono


Catherine Montague



When I think about getting useful feedback, on my writing, teaching,
relationships, or other things that matter in my life, I always run hard against the wall of my basic lack of trust in other adults. Sorry to sound suspicious, but sometimes when I ask another so-called grown-up for feedback, the response tells me a lot more about that individual's own agenda and biases than about my query. It takes a big effort for me to ditch the baggage from my past, and really listen to the people I have in my life right now.

A happy discovery, almost on the order of a revelation, is that my own children are an excellent source of no-nonsense feedback. My two teenagers and my young adult daughter have an uncanny ability to immediately get to the heart of the artichoke, metaphorically speaking. Problems that I might spend hours deciding dissolve into elegant solutions when my teenagers encourage me to keep things simple. Somehow I won't listen to my own intuition, but when it comes back to me from the mouth of one of my own children, it feels compellingly right!

Catherine Montague, Sebastopol, CA

Catherine Montague



When I think about getting useful feedback, on my writing, teaching,
relationships, or other things that matter in my life, I always run hard against the wall of my basic lack of trust in other adults. Sorry to sound suspicious, but sometimes when I ask another so-called grown-up for feedback, the response tells me a lot more about that individual's own agenda and biases than about my query. It takes a big effort for me to ditch the baggage from my past, and really listen to the people I have in my life right now.

A happy discovery, almost on the order of a revelation, is that my own children are an excellent source of no-nonsense feedback. My two teenagers and my young adult daughter have an uncanny ability to immediately get to the heart of the artichoke, metaphorically speaking. Problems that I might spend hours deciding dissolve into elegant solutions when my teenagers encourage me to keep things simple. Somehow I won't listen to my own intuition, but when it comes back to me from the mouth of one of my own children, it feels compellingly right!

Catherine Montague, Sebastopol, CA

Please don't feed the writer.

  by Gregory Gerard

Satisfying my stomach, which distends and contracts over the seasons, is an easy business.

Feeding my writer is the greater challenge; his need continues long after the last bit of tryptophan-laced turkey is plucked from the bone. He is a restless creature, composed of longing and purpose and ambition far exceeding reasonable measure. I throw him chunks of encouragement: from friends who tarry long enough to listen, from teachers who always seek his best words, and from you, the online caretakers, who know enough about his heart to visit.

Nourish him cautiously, he's an unquenchable beast.

Gregory Gerard maintains the writer in Rochester, New York, and accepts sustenance at ggerard@frontiernet.net. .

WHERE DO I GO FOR FEEDBACK?

  by Jennie Orvino

For a hefty sum, Squaw Valley Community of Writers summer conference; I did this once. It was so worth it, but I can't go back every year even if I wanted to. Repeats not allowed except by lottery. If I want to spend $100 for a day, I go to a David St. John workshop sponsored quarterly by the wonder-women of Runes: Susan Terris and C.B. Follett. They hold these intimate confabs of excellent caliber Bay Area poets in a world-class-view living room above SF Bay. It takes courage for me to go to one of these, but when I do, I love it. If I want to spend no cash, feedback has been harder to come by.

I've tried unsuccessfully to start "writers' groups" at my home with some hand-picked participants. Each of these lasted only a few months, and dwindled from six to five to none. I think the first broke up because we criticized a member who confessed in her story that she had taken an Indian artifact out of a national park. We liked her writing just fine, but someone got a little queasy about the theft and had to say something. (I may be dead wrong about this). The other group, well, I don't know if we stopped liking each other, or stopped having time, or it was too small and the group energy was weak if someone didn't show up. Maybe it was because I asked them to take off their shoes to save my new carpet. (I may be dead wrong about this).

My most successful experience with feedback was a group facilitated by a favorite poet-teacher at his home. We met once a month for a terrific year, just for the price of contributions to the snack table and one DVD movie per session as a gift for our host. The people in the group had met over the years in his SRJC writing classes, and were honored to be invited. We agonized over missing a session and sent each other our work and comments via email during the month. Technology supported us, as well as a consistent level of writing experience, mutual respect and shared values. Our teacher is a rare and brilliant person, a most insightful and helpful critic, a perfect role model for how to give feedback. We would still be meeting, I think, if our teacher's health had not taken a bad turn.

This week, I've had my first email exchange with a smart, savvy, well-read and fine poet friend I got to know at Squaw Valley Writers. I would love to be in a group made of five Davids, but I'm grateful for what I have. He's willing to give me praise for what he was affected by, suggestions for improvement, poems to read that might have a bearing on my style and subject, and best of all, a feeling of being in the same tribe, someone I both contribute to and learn from. He seems to "get me." (Important for my being able to take in the feedback.)

Like editing, this is something I can't seem to do for myself.

Jennie Orvino can be reached via jennieo@sonic.net.

Read her occasional rantings at "Poetry, Peace and Passion" blog http://www.jennieorvino.blogspot.com , or hear her CD, Make Love Not War, at http://www.cdbaby.com/orvino



Where do you go for feedback?

  by Natalie Timm

Feedback: I go to a girlfriend, who is 9 years younger, more of a people person, a great natural story teller, very positive and aligned with me spiritually. She accepts a monetary payment; we meet quarterly, or so. I talk to my husband about plot ideas and I join workshops when my schedule permits.

Natalie Timm, Sonoma County, CA

Susan Bono



I'm a writer who can talk a good idea to death. Take, for example, the story of how I came home one afternoon to discover that our living room couch was missing. While I was gone, my husband decided to give it to our son for his new apartment. We had discussed the possibility a few weeks previous, but I assumed such a significant piece of furniture would stay put until I said goodbye to it.

I have told this anecdote many times, careful to include how my husband's plan to improve our son's living conditions actually began with the disappearance of our only working can opener, followed closely by the toaster oven. Each time I convince my listeners I'm telling the truth, someone suggests I write it down.

But the laughs I've gotten have been all the feedback I need, I guess, because now that the story has been told, I can't quite fit it onto the page. My own gestures, pauses and inflections seem integral to the narrative. After being rocked by the sound of real laughter, catching a few chuckles from an imagined reading audience seems like far too much trouble, maybe even beside the point.

As a writer, I have to learn to write first, speak later. To be willing to sit and listen to the sound of my voice on paper first is the most helpful thing I can do for my writing. After that, I need to read out loud in order to let my own ear hear what I'm doing. Once I've struggled to capture my experience on the page, I can turn to others for opinions or guffaws. Until then, it's like writing on the wind.

Susan Bono is trying to be heard without speaking 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 2000ó2005 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 devilís-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 heíd 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. Davidís 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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