Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How do those close to you see your writing? (05/15/11)

Featured writer: Trudy Martin

Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Becky Povich
Betty Winslow
Catherine Crawford
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Marilyn Petty
Sara Baker
Susan Bono

Other Windows

by Trudy Martin

The door to our journalism classroom suddenly burst open and a group of young men rushed in, fists flying, shouting, wrestling. All of us--twenty two students-- jumped from our seats, eyes bulging, mouths agape. A wastepaper basket tipped over; a small piece of chalk knocked from the blackboard tray was crushed under a boot. Some girls screamed, two or three boys started toward the melee.

Almost as quickly as they had entered, the group disappeared down the hall. Our teacher, Mr. Peak, calmly closed the door.

"Okay, okay," he called, raising his voice over the noise and confusion in the room. "It's all over. Please take your seats." It took a few minutes to restore calm, then Mr. Peak continued. "This was an experiment--a chance to evaluate your powers of observation and ability to report news. You'll now have twenty minutes to write your story for the paper--a complete account of what you've just seen. Don't talk to anyone or attempt to verify facts by exchanging information. Your twenty minutes start now."

We searched our minds, bit our pencils and scratched our heads, trying to reconstruct the action we had just witnessed. As we struggled, our instructor relaxed in his armchair. His feet in their size twelves rested on the edge of the right-hand bottom drawer of his desk. Although he appeared to be daydreaming, his gray-green eyes surveyed the class through half closed lids. When the time expired, some of us had not completed our reports.

Mr. Peak smoothed his neatly parted gray hair and with a knowing grin continued his experiment. "On another paper, please list your answers to the questions I will ask in just a moment. You may refer to your story and I will give you a few minutes between questions."

He asked:
How many young men entered the room?
What time did they enter?
How long did they stay?
Did you recognize any of the men?
What were they wearing?
What did they do? If so, with what kind of weapons?
Were there any injuries? any damage?
What, if anything, was said?

I consider this one of the best classes of that semester. It emphasized the value of accurate observation, the ability to concentrate and remember under chaotic conditions, and demonstrated beyond all doubt that each of us "sees" an event in his or her own way. Only two or three students agreed on every question and none of us answered all correctly.

This is why I choose not to have my siblings or others close to me read my memoirs. They have been privy to some related poems and fiction, but surely their memories of family situations, problems, celebrations, daily routines and trips differ from mine in some cases. I respect their versions but this is my memoir, not theirs. I have vowed to tell my story accurately as I remember it. Instead of their viewing it now, I rely on the comments of my instructor and the talented and helpful people in my class and my Critique Club who have guided me and honed my techniques with their questions and suggestions.

When my project is complete, each of my family members will receive a copy. The introduction will bear the caveat: Remember: This is the story of my life as I remember it; others may have looked looked through a different window.

Trudy Martin, Calistoga,California

The Near and Dear

  by Arlene L. Mandell

They rarely do. Only my Scribe Tribe writing group sees work in progress. My husband occasionally reads a draft and makes a mild comment, usually regarding punctuation. A few relatives have read something. Then there's silence. Followed by "very nice."

This used to hurt my feelings, but my family is not a receptive audience. I don't know why.

When I published my e-chapbook on line ("My Life on Hemlock Street: A Brooklyn Memoir"), I sent a link to my best friend from first grade. She was upset that she wasn't in my Sweet Sixteen photo taken in a Chinese restaurant. She insisted she must have been in the ladies room. We're both 70 now. I guess not including someone can still hurt her feelings half a century after the event.

So I send my work out into the world. As of today, I have had 464 pieces published for a total of 632 times. (Susan always enjoys these statistics.)

If you too get weird non-responses from those near and dear, don't be upset. I'll read your writing. So will the rest of Tiny Lights' admirers nationwide.

Arlene L. Mandell most recent accomplishment is organizing a Bibliophoria Poetry Chapbook competition in Marin and Sonoma Counties.

Knowing How to Take It

  by Becky Povich

A few of my friends and family members see my writing as just one of my hobbies. They don't take it seriously and don't think I do, either. They think I just write for "fun" and they trivialize my dreams.

Then there are those who don't take it seriously, but know that I do. They pity me, for being so naive, for fooling myself into believing my book will be a best seller, for having such unreachable dreams.

And then there are those who truly believe in me. They give me encouragement and praise. They cheer me on. My husband believes in me and is my constant source of support. Thank you, honey!

And finally, there are my writer friends. We cheer, uplift, and encourage each other. I truly enjoy going to critique groups, writers' meetings and conferences. But to me, nothing's better than just hanging out together. Talking in coffee shops, discussing story ideas in cafes, and celebrating even the smallest of publishing successes, at our favorite bar & grill.

All in all, what others see doesn't really matter. What matters is being true to oneself.

Becky Povich is a member of a critique group that meets every Tuesday morning, and the president of one of the local writing chapters of the Missouri Writers Guild. Right now what she would love to do more than anything, is attend a quiet writers retreat, in a beautiful location, and stay as long as possible… all at no charge! (Anyone know of such a place?!) You can contact Becky at Also see her blog at

It All Depends

  by Betty Winslow

It depends on who you're asking. My husband sees it as a way for me to express myself and maybe make a little money. My dad, a writer wanna-be, sees it as personal validation for paying for my writing classes once upon a time and as an example of what he could do if he'd just put his mind to it. My children, all too often, see it as embarrassing. My friends see it as amazing and emotional. Me? I see it as the output of a gift from God, one that I'm always trying to use for His glory and for the encouragement and uplifting of my readers. Some is good, some is bad, some is amazing and wonderful, some makes me ask, "Did I write that??" (in delight or dismay, depending on the day...) but all of it is a gift.

Betty Winslow, struggling to find time to actually use her gift right now, in Bowling Green, OH

My Shadow Twin

  by Catherine Crawford

People close to me write, or they don't. Those who do know I'm joined at the hip to the writing process. The non-writers don't understand this deep connection. They can't see writing is a shadow twin that haunts my life.

Friends and family have viewed my writing many ways. My father the wannabe novelist saw it as the career he longed for but chose not to pursue. Others have seen it as a hobby, indoor sport, surrogate family, religious practice, addiction, eccentricity, social maladjustment, path to money, or way to dodge doing things with them. I'll never forget the lovely older woman who, when she found out I wrote, exclaimed "What a marvelous way to stay busy in retirement!"

All those things are true as far as they go. But the bond is deeper and more organic. I share my desk, my chair, my life with a twin who's always right beside me. She's invisible to all but other writers.

Catherine discovered the magnetism of words in fourth grade when a teacher “punished” her by making her stay inside during recess and copy a page out of the dictionary.


  by Claudia Larson

Writing isn't something that I regularly serve up on a platter at family brunches or holiday dinners. It's more likely that a tidbit shows up in a birthday or holiday card, revealing my appreciation for their particular human qualities and their presence in my life. Sometimes they'll get a link to my latest hot-off-the-cyber-press words. When our Dad passed away, I gathered the mementos from Mom and my siblings, fashioning them into a distillation of his life, reading it for them and everyone else at his funeral.

I can see the chest gently rise in response to my appreciation. I can hear buoyant breath lofting the "thank you for the card." Sometimes I hear "that's lovely." But I don't know how each of them sees the words that rise up and out of me. I've not asked.

Claudia Larson lives in Sebastopol, CA. She’s thinking about asking.

Take Your Pick (The Smart-Alec Approach)

  by Don Edgers

The key words "close" and "view" are double and triple entendres and may be used as nouns, verbs or adjectives. So - - -

If you use "close" as an adjective to mean "connected at the hip" or "nearby," and "view" as a verb meaning "regard," "look," "see," then the close one would simply peer over my shoulder to view my writing.

For those who are "close" as in the adjectives "homologous," "ilk," and "type," and "view" as verbs like "appraise," "judge," and "rate," one would have to go to

Finally, if by "close" you're referring those personal contacts concerned with my mental health and time management, they probably "look" upon my writing as a wonderful diversion from other erstwhile activities such as wandering in the woods, looking for UFOs or stealing hubcaps.

Don usually can be seen close to his home in Port Orchard, WA. - or – cruising the Pacific side of the Americas journaling his travels:

No Comment

  by Marilyn Petty

Except for my letters to home, my mother never read my writing. My father died long before I ventured into prosody or prose. That leaves my husband, our children and my sister. At his request my husband used to read my little essays that appeared in a newsletter I once edited. If he responded, which he usually didn't, it was a noncommittal, "Pretty good." I wondered why he read them at all, but since I had no expectations, I could appreciate even that small effort.

The rest of my family live far away, so on occasions I have sent them one of my poems I thought apropos. The advantage of distance let them off the hook for any comments.

I don't know how those close (family) to me see my writing. If my compositions embarrass them, I don't need to know. I am willing to occasionally share with them something I wrote that pleased me and might please them. But I don't feel compelled to do so and I don't need them to respond. How they "see" my writing, figuratively or literally, is totally up to them. It's how I see what I do, and where it goes that matters.

Marilyn Petty in Santa Rosa tries to see all the ins and outs of her writing

Whispers of Truth

  by Sara Baker

In asking those closest to me how they see my writing, I had some interesting conversations like the following:

"How do you see my writing?" I inquired.

One friend replied, "I'm not sure why you are asking. Why do you write?"

"Uh…uh…," I stammered wondering just how to answer her. "Because it's not there yet," I replied.

She laughed uncomfortably and said, "What's that supposed to mean? You talk in riddles that I just don't understand."

Alas! I am her quizzical writer friend who, like most writers, leads a sort of double life experiencing everything twice—-once in reality and once in reflection. That reflection becomes writing that hopefully eclipses my quirkiness. However, the responses of those closest to me indicate they don't always separate the wacky writer from the writing itself. Here, then, in rhyme are their responses:

She clacks away at her laptop tuned into another sphere.
She records scribbles from napkins and scraps of paper upon which characters and phrases

Her purse is stuffed with several pens, highlighters, and random pieces of paper.
She always has her journal close at hand because writing is her caper.

She's constantly saying, "I need to write that down."
As long as I can remember I admired her acuity in creating verbal nouns.

She gets cranky when she doesn't have time to write.
She rarely misses a deadline; if she does, she becomes contrite.

She burns more ink cartridges than Kleenex in the winter.
She'd think twice before ever giving up her faithful laser jet printer.

Frequently, moth-like meditations flutter in her imagination.
Watching her getting them into words is a source of great inspiration.

Occasionally thoughts keep her awake at night and lie formless in her head.
So, in the end, many a rough draft has she shred.

In fact, her writing is like a butterfly net that acts like a sleuth.
I don't understand how she captures those elusive universal human truths.

Formless and shapeless, truth often whispers in her ears.
I've watched her writing morph like a butterfly that fans its painted wings with insights so dear.

Sometimes she sees the world with a wide-angle lens.
So, where her writing takes you truly just depends.

In the end, her writing reveals humanity and vulnerability though.
It takes you places you never intended to go.

Sara Baker is a recently retired educator who works part-time as an editor/proofreader and freelance writer. She enjoys spending time with her soul mate, Bill, with whom she has been married 28 years. She can be reached at

The Chicken Approach

  by Susan Bono

There's a chicken outside my office right now madly announcing the arrival of an egg, and it's not even hers. Angela is the only producing hen in our dwindling flock and her eggs are a distinctive blue. But Nadine is as proud as punch about the accomplishments of her coop mate. I've often wondered what it would be like to have that kind of enthusiasm from my family when I produce.

I grit my teeth every time I hear about those famously creative couples like Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman who coo on in interviews about how their spouses are their best editors. I can't stop the twinges of resentment for couples who can say to each other, "I'm working," and the intruding partner can hold their thought long enough to let the inspired one finish theirs. I'm not saying my writing gets no support or credit from my family. My husband loves to tell people I'm a writer and publisher. But that doesn't mean he loves what I write.

If you want to really give my ego a boost, just tell me you adore Tiny Lights and that you always go to the back page to read my essay first. My husband has been told of this weakness of mine, but after 17 years he still insists, "I always start at page 1 and read all the way to the end," despite the fact that it might take him months to do so. And after that exhausting ordeal, he often has nothing to say about it. I can't tell if he doesn't like my writing or if he's afraid he won't like it, or if it's even more complicated than that. I can only hope that one day he'll take his cue from the chickens and learn that all he needs to say while my gift to the world is still warm to the touch is, "Good job! That's wonderful, dear!"

Susan Bono is still learning a lot from her chickens in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


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 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, a Portland, Oregon online travel magazine. She works as an editor in Vancouver, Washington. Her email:

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, or visit her blog at

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:

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