Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Where does your mind go when it wanders? (02/15/10)



Featured writer: David S. Johnson



Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
Charlotte Grider
Christine Falcone
Claudia Larson
David S. Johnson
Elaine Webster
Linda O'Connell
Susan Bono


The Meander Not Taken

by David S. Johnson

At the intersection of red lights and microwave timers, my mind wanders off like a toddler in a petting zoo. It is in these micro-moments that my mind is quite curious. My mind needs the dullness of the everyday, free of concentration, to take his own path.

My mind stumbles into memories like someone walking into the middle of a conversation. He observes and moves on, his train of thought a track of inter-dimensional worm holes in a universe of the non sequitur. My mind sticks his head in a hole in a ground to see if he can really tell the difference. He sees a world of worm holes filled with sequoia-tall worms with snapping jaws and great tentacular crowns reaching higher than the moon. Each tentacle has a yellow and blue leg-warmer. The worms are stretching before gym class.

In a blink he's watching a catfish in a wide-brimmed hat betting on racing dogs who slams down his losing ticket and later enjoys a beer with friends at a fish fry.

He wanders over to the window of woman he saw yesterday sitting in her car crying. He asks her "what's the matter?" She tells him and he nods. He looks over a manuscript and jots down a few words. He thinks about himself as a good dancer, not as an epileptic three-legged duck on ice.

He is telling his own stories in a stream of mercury-meandering consciousness.

This is where I, the writer, should live, in the without-abandon wandering world of a mind's imagination. I should kneel by the liquid-metal water and reflect myself on paper. But I am corralled by syntax and wrangled by context. I am not as brave or foolhardy as my own mind, who always sounds better in my head.

At the intersection dinging bells and honking horns, my mind is dragged by one arm, like a toddler still clutching his stuffed toy, Daydream, back to where he's told he belongs. Reality.

David Samuel Johnson let’s his mind wander in Woods Hole, MA, where the worms are much smaller than sequoias.

Where does your mind go when it wanders?

  by Becky Povich

Since I am a writer, my mind constantly wanders. I have a very difficult time focusing on any one task at any given time.

Because I write non-fiction essays and memoir, my mind continually meanders from one decade to another. As it strolls along, it scratches and digs up fragments of people and events in my life, giving me enough time to jot down a few remembrances. Other times, it suddenly zigzags back and forth between the past and present, scooping up every memory and thought in its path, and dumps a mountain full of words and images at my feet.

As I attempt to gather the information and put it to some kind of useful purpose, such as in my memoir, my mind really begins to wander, and not constructively.

Did I remove that load of laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer?

Where's my grocery list? I need to add dog food to it.

What was it Ron said he needed from the pharmacy?

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. I'm writing my book.

Becky Povich lives in the Midwest, where she enjoys experiencing all four seasons of weather, although some more than others. A small publishing company recently accepted her book; therefore, she is trying desperately to control the useless wanderings of her mind.
Visit Becky’s blog at: www.beckypovich.blogspot.com


My Wandering Mind

  by Charlotte Grider

replays old black and white memories
takes me to a moonlit night
walking barefoot along a flat, quiet, uncomplicated street
in a flat, quiet, uncomplicated town
visits rooms full of laughter and rooms where silence has
fallen like a pall
then to a beach where it wonders if this was yesteryear or next year
where laughter is spontaneous and true
it wanders into a box
of perfect parallels where it imagines
death of consciousness
once extricated
sails through a tunnel where
faces flash in rapid sequence until
I recall it to the present and
remind the mind that it has to be
here and now
if I am to travel into the future.

Charlotte Grider, of St. Joseph, Missouri, aspires to be an unafraid writer.

Where does your mind go when it wanders?

  by Christine Falcone

When my mind wanders it visits avenues of memory, peeks into secret drawers and hidden closets. It sneaks down back alleys to unmarked doorways, to the early rooms of my youth, those childhood cubbies of sleep-overs and slumber parties, patty cake and Betty Crocker Easy Bake Ovens. It wanders to the back porch of my first house, its white rattan furniture with orange cushions something out of a 1970s Sunset magazine spread.

Dirt between its toes, it wanders barefoot through the garden plot of my house on El Verano Street with its curtain of corn towering high overhead. It remembers how that same garden once produced a forty pound zucchini and landed my dad in the paper. When my mind wanders, it dives down to the bottom of the pool, to the deep end, where the drain was - touch it if you dare - where eardrums popped and fractured sunlight danced on smooth white plaster.

It wanders into the backyard of my mind where self-doubt and self-loathing hang out like laundry drying on the line. It's there that it sometimes gets tangled hopelessly in that clothesline of negativity, spinning in a loop that it just can't break free of. It skulks down corridors of shame and embarrassment, punishes itself for all my shortcomings, all my failures, for every mistake made and for every area of my life at which I, in my wandering mind, will never succeed. When it wanders, sometimes it finds its way to the stage of imagined victories and accomplishments, too. A few times, I've even found my mind breathless, standing high on a snowy summit, arms raised high in the air.

Sometimes, my mind wanders into the kitchens and bedrooms of others. It wonders what you're having for dinner, what you fight about, what you look like naked. It tip-toes over to the garbage bin on the side of your house, snoops through old bills and letters. It wants to know what you've done, where you've been, who you've slept with. It wants to know what makes you cry, how much you drink, who you love. When my mind wanders, it goes home with strangers, has lots of one-night stands after too many cocktails and cigarettes and winds up hung-over. My mind often lurks more than wanders, ducking in and out of the shadows looking for signs of life or death or something to give it some hope for the human condition.

Christine Falcone is letting her mind wander in Novato, California.

Where does your mind go when it wanders?

  by Claudia Larson

My mind often must break out of work ethic prison, that once oh-so-alluring place with the promise of organization and accomplishment. Soy chai latte caffeinated lasers effectively blast obsessively built work walls, freeing my mind to bounce from thought to thought until it lands on the back of a crow flying past the office window. From that perspective my mind finds a calm moment and in that breath it inhales nasturtiums, sweet peas and hollyhocks. It envisions buff Orpington hens, their full-feathered petticoats swishing as they walk, and pale aqua eggs, still warm in the nest box.

Pastoral pictures entertain for a time, but my mind is like a flock of starlings in a grocery store parking lot, quick bright eyes searching for the next Subway sandwich crumb, the organic gluten-free cookie bits.

My personal parking lot is full of memory crumbs, bits and pieces of favorite farmstead childhood activities. Occasionally there's a chunk of later life what ifs and should haves, pieces that initially seem to have flavor other than mold and regret. But my flavor-searching mind's favorites are whole valentine cookies bearing the faces of my family. Large and extended, some passed to spirit, others still dancing earth's tunes, my family feeds my mind humor, concern, contentment.

Full from foraging, my mind settles slowly into the treasure cave, the deep, opalescent core of my being. In a few moments, words arise, unknown to my mind. As they filter through cell walls and into my bloodstream, they begin to weave a cloak of luminescent black fibers, fine and vibrant enough to be alive, strong enough to shield. My mind has a difficult time, at first, comprehending its meaning and validity. But as mental jaws soften and taste buds flower, my mind finds familiarity and focus as it surrenders to the moment.

Claudia Larson is in search of a soy chai latte in Sebastopol, CA.

The Meander Not Taken

  by David S. Johnson

At the intersection of red lights and microwave timers, my mind wanders off like a toddler in a petting zoo. It is in these micro-moments that my mind is quite curious. My mind needs the dullness of the everyday, free of concentration, to take his own path.

My mind stumbles into memories like someone walking into the middle of a conversation. He observes and moves on, his train of thought a track of inter-dimensional worm holes in a universe of the non sequitur. My mind sticks his head in a hole in a ground to see if he can really tell the difference. He sees a world of worm holes filled with sequoia-tall worms with snapping jaws and great tentacular crowns reaching higher than the moon. Each tentacle has a yellow and blue leg-warmer. The worms are stretching before gym class.

In a blink he's watching a catfish in a wide-brimmed hat betting on racing dogs who slams down his losing ticket and later enjoys a beer with friends at a fish fry.

He wanders over to the window of woman he saw yesterday sitting in her car crying. He asks her "what's the matter?" She tells him and he nods. He looks over a manuscript and jots down a few words. He thinks about himself as a good dancer, not as an epileptic three-legged duck on ice.

He is telling his own stories in a stream of mercury-meandering consciousness.

This is where I, the writer, should live, in the without-abandon wandering world of a mind's imagination. I should kneel by the liquid-metal water and reflect myself on paper. But I am corralled by syntax and wrangled by context. I am not as brave or foolhardy as my own mind, who always sounds better in my head.

At the intersection dinging bells and honking horns, my mind is dragged by one arm, like a toddler still clutching his stuffed toy, Daydream, back to where he's told he belongs. Reality.

David Samuel Johnson let’s his mind wander in Woods Hole, MA, where the worms are much smaller than sequoias.

Where Does Your Mind Go When It Wanders?

  by Elaine Webster

Wanderlust, a meditator's nemesis. I've been meditating for enough years now, that I can pretty much do it anywhere, anytime. I start out all soft and calm, a smile creeps on my face, my eyes focus on the swirling light, then BAM, I'm thinking about the ingredients of chocolate pudding. Not only the ingredients, but the way it tastes on a hot afternoon in July. July 4th to be exact, Independence Day. Then I'm wondering how it would feel to be independently wealthy. To go anywhere, buy anything, decide each day for itself. Where would I go? I know, the Bahamas. I have a friend who just came back from the Bahamas, where he swam with the dolphins. Not the trained kind of dolphins, but wild pods of them.

Okay, bring it back to breath, reel it in, be still, be centered. That's better. . . there's the peace again. Aum. Do some housekeeping, sweep out the clutter, watch the energy move up and down the spine. Little swirling lights, and Master, sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear. He is so beautiful.

Master liked sweets. I bet he'd like my chocolate pudding recipe. He also liked to play badminton in the upstairs hallways of Mount Washington. Badminton's an interesting game. I have another friend who wrote a book about it―a rulebook. Back to breath . . . aum. Master's here reminding me that meditation is not a mind game, stay in the stillness, feel the peace, feel the love. He says, "Sit, stay," as if I'm a pet.

Pets are interesting creatures. Dogs in particular. The embodiment of unconditional love that we crave. We're gods to them, providing food, shelter, leadership and in return, they'll die for us. Humans seem incapable of this type of love. Do animals simply not know any better? Or is it people that don't understand?

"Oh, Elaine . . ."

"Yes Master?"

"Where are you now?"

"I'm here."

"Sit, stay."

Aum.

Elaine Webster, is a staff writer for the on-line publication, Greener Living Today. She’s part of the Memoir Writing group in Sebastopol sponsored by SRJC and Steve Boga is the instructor. She lives in Windsor, CA and her e-mail address is Elaine@mediadesign-mds.com.

Traipsing Through the Decades

  by Linda O'Connell

Ahh, wanderlust! I inherited it from my father who had a third grade education and was functionally illiterate. He traveled wherever his wandering heart desired, and when he couldn't actually go someplace, he'd spin a yarn that kept adults and children spellbound with vivid details of people, places and things. His story telling was the catalyst for my writing.

Personal essay is my favorite writing genre. Writer's block is as painful as writer's cramp, but I have discovered that if I allow myself to travel into the past instead of plot a future story or article, I can write prolifically. Sometimes I am five years old smelling autumn leaves burning in the gutter and Grandma's homemade soup bubbling on the stove. Other times I find myself wandering into my children's childhoods. Remembering their baby days triggers a memory of nuzzling a newborn grandchild, and so it goes as I traipse through the decades.

Although I am planted in a chair in front of a computer, often I am walking across the tundra in Alaska where I left a little piece of my heart, or I am power walking on a beach listening to the ocean roar. I can almost feel the crunch of gravel underfoot as I stroll down Memory Lane with my best friend; and to feel lush grass on bare feet, all I have to do is kick off my shoes and allow my mind to wander. A short jaunt is all it takes to jog a memory. As I hop, skip and jump through the decades, I kick up dust-covered memories that result in nostalgic personal essays or blog posts. It does a writer good to take a short jaunt every now and again.





Linda O’Connell lives and teaches in St. Louis, Missouri. She is an award winning writer and poet. Her work appears in ten Chicken Soup for the Soul books, numerous anthologies, regional and national publications. Contact her at http://lindaoconnell.blogspot.com

Lost or Found

  by Susan Bono

My mind prefers well-trodden paths through flower-sprinkled meadows. It wants to lollygag on a sun-warmed boulder in the middle of a clear running river. It wants to study clouds as a child does, looking for the gateways to heaven. My mind wants to know the name of the bird that calls on February nights when the cold relents just a little, and follow that bird about its business in the light of a thumbnail moon.

My mind wants the crackle of hearth fires and the comfort of toasted bread and chunks of farmer's cheese cut from the wheel by the farmer himself, his well-used knife sharp, his hands square and strong. After dinner, it wants to be carried up a narrow flight of creaky stairs and laid in a feather bed, tucked in tight up to its chin with the night light on and the window open a crack.

My mind can't always go where it wants, but it always desires to be wandering. That state of wanting is better than having, most of the time, because once I've set it free, my wandering mind doesn't know how to take care of itself. It forgets to look both ways and be cautious of strangers. It doesn't know that hot fudge sundaes are usually at their best somewhere between the second and fifth bites. Once I let it off the leash, it gorges on everything in sight, wanders off into mazes and dangerous alleys, or ends up in a ditch, aching and exhausted, with no memory of how it got there. I don't know why my mind can't be trusted to head for the places it tells me it wants to go, or why, once it's good and lost, it never wants to come home.

Susan Bono keeps her mind on a leash in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

C. Larson, B. Povich, M. Petty, C. Crawford, T. Sanders

Columnists Emeriti: Christine Falcone, David S. Johnson, Betty Rodgers, Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Betty Winslow


Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer living in Petaluma, CA. She has published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. She conducts creative writing classes in Petaluma and Santa Rosa and co-hosts the quarterly Speakeasy Literary Saloon at the Aqus Café in Petaluma. She's on the boards of Petaluma Readers Theatre and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She is still writing a postcard a day. Her most recent publishing credits include Petaluma Readers Theatre, KRCB’s Mouthful, Milk and Ink, and Passager Magazine.

Marilyn Petty is a dyed-in-the wool Midwesterner, a long-ago émigré to California and a fortunate resident of Sonoma County, CA. She taught weaving through the SRJC for 8 years and was the reporter, essayist, editor and publisher of the Redwood Empire Handweavers and Spinners Guild for 10 years. When not tangling with yarns, she is unknotting words, writing poetry and personal essays. She putters in the garden when words fail her.

Catherine Crawford is a former technical writer, editor, and course materials developer for high tech industries. She has taught college English at the four-year degree level, published two award winning chapbooks of poetry, and written articles for 52perfectdays.com, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email: greenwriter1960@gmail.com

Claudia Larson, in her childhood, wrote long letters to her best-friend cousin and enthralled herself by writing a heart-rending story of two orphans. She writes fewer letters nowadays and prefers writing poetry and memoirs of her North Dakotan farm girl days. She is not yet an orphan, has six siblings and lives in Sebastopol, CA.

Becky Povich lives near St. Louis, Missouri. Although not young in "people years," she's only been writing for ten of those. Getting her first book completed, a memoir, is her current short-term goal. She can be reached at Writergal53@aol.com, or visit her blog at www.beckypovich.blogspot.com.

Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is completing a novel. A former award-winning technical writer and consultant, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Theresa welcomes email and would love to hear from you. Contact her at: TheresaLSanders@charter.net

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