Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Where does your "vision" come from? (08/15/12)

Featured writer: Claudia Larson

Contributors this month:
Becky Povich
Catherine Crawford
Claire Holcomb-Drapkin
Clarice Stasz
Claudia Larson
Darlene Gray
Don Edgers
Sara Baker
Susan Bono

Seeing Stars

by Claudia Larson

The flavor of quinoa mixed with arugula held my focus, the grainy spiciness interesting me more than anything else in my dining sphere. Finally looking up, my sight wandered out the window and onto the deck, curving along strands of wisteria before settling on the aging deck railing. Still quiet, eyes softened as they glanced at the luscious garden to the left, brightening when sunflower faces beamed and squash blossoms trumpeted. For a few moments, the yellows and yellow-oranges held my focus until restlessness took the lead and opened my eyes to the pasture below, acres of blond grasses lending their seed to the earth. Night threw a shawl around my shoulders and held me until the stars reveled and Perseid meteors flew across the dark.

Claudia Larson bent her head back to view the Milky Way from her North Dakota birthplace. She still bends her head back to see the Milky Way, now from her Sebastopol, CA farm.

Seeing is Forgiving

  by Becky Povich

Ah, another challenging question posed by the illustrious Susan Bono.

Since I write creative non-fiction and memoir, my vision comes from my own memories. I don't have to have a wild imagination to write my stories. But those images don't automatically appear in my mind as if they happened yesterday, last month, or last year. They arrive from a distant time through assorted sights, sounds, and smells. Sometimes just hearing the first few lyrics or melody of a song transports me to a precise moment in time.

Example: Glenn Miller's "In the Mood." I'm five years old and it's 1958.The 45 record drops and spins on our heavy, wooden hi-fi. I hop onto our scratchy gray couch and watch my parents dance in our tiny living room. I hum along, too, because I've heard it so many times. I see smiles and love and happiness. I feel happy too, and secure, believing my parents will always be like this, that my life will always be like this.

Just a few short years later, though, when I hear that song, it brings jumbled feelings of hurt, anger, and sadness; because my dad has left us and I can't understand why.

Even today, more than fifty years later, I still have a few jumbled feelings, but also a new kind of vision. Forgiveness.

Although writing is definitely hard work, Becky has finally reached the point where she looks forward to getting back to it whenever she's interrupted, especially by silly things like sleep. She lives happily with her husband of almost 30 years, Ron, and their rescued lab/mix Vern. Becky can be reached at Or visit her blog at

Gnawings and Scratchings

  by Catherine Crawford

When my writing—or my life—isn't working well, I open one of my favorite books: a field guide to animal tracks. For a while, I immerse in the "sign" of creatures, from polar bear to harvest mouse. The footprints intrigue me by suggesting a spirit whose source is mysterious. Vision in my work is like one of those animals. It leaves tracks in my head, but I'm not sure where it has its den.

It's hard to say what vision is in my writing because I hate how this word's flung around. Sometimes, I think it's the moment I'm sprung from a trap I've built with my own pen. Other times, I see—with frightening clarity—what a whole work will be when it's done. Vision and inspiration are similar for me. But vision is more precise. It's a form of heightened awareness that creeps in, and, as welcome as it is, it can terrify.

Of course, I'd like to know where vision comes from. Where in Creation's cave it hides out. When I invite a higher force into myself, vision can come from that place. It may also appear when I'm cramming more facts in my head than it can hold. Or when I embrace ambiguity. Or when I finally release, in writing, some lost part of myself.

Idleness, I know, assassinates vision. Nothing happens if I stay in my comfort zone. But when I'm ambivalent or ill at ease about anything, the mood is perfect for a visitation. When vision comes, I don't think about its nest or lair. I just write fast before it's gone.

Catherine Crawford paddles her literary umiak in Washington State. Email her at E-Mail

It's a Gift

  by Claire Holcomb-Drapkin

I only have speculations. If I knew how, God knows, I'd summon them a hellva lot. A vision's intensity of feeling and acuteness of view are priceless.

Last year I enjoyed a series of acupuncture treatments. An unexpected side benefit was vivid dreams. When I told the doctor, trained for decades in China, he said, "Oh, no. Those are visions. They are gifts to you."

I remember them vividly. For example, I am phobic of snakes. If I'm reading a magazine and see a photograph of a snake, I'll close the magazine—push it away from me.

In one of my acupuncture visions, a cheerful looking reptile (snake), with a round friendly face wearing a rakish pink party hat came up, said hello, and asked if I would like to join a party. I was taken with the animal's cordial offer and funny face.

During another vision, a bald eagle suggested he give me a lift to the Pacific Ocean from the East Coast. We roared through the night, cities passing beneath us, while the eagle pointed out cloud formations and favorite mountain peaks.

My acupuncturist left the area, so now I'm back to more prosaic entry points for visions. I'll be driving to pick up dry-cleaning or some such, and will have an acute sensory experience of an idea and feeling which I know I have to write about. I pull off the road and write immediately. I am doing nothing dark, evocative, or spiritual enough to warrant these visitations. I don't have a clue from where they come.

They are welcome. Having them is one of the reasons I am content to be me.

There is one other place visions come from: memories of my grandparents' farmhouse. I lived there when I was six to ten. At the farm we sat on the front porch at night—no lights. There was the sense of mystery looking at the forest lines blending into darkness at sunset. There was the excitement of being able to watch summer rainstorms advance across the cotton fields beyond the back porch. I could see them coming. I'd call to grandma, "Hey, rain is coming." She'd walk out on the porch and we would together watch as the geometric line of rain moved toward us until it was battering on the rooftop above us.

Perhaps visions are a hint, intimation of some parallel universe, or another, yet to be discovered, place of consciousness. I cherish them.

Claire is working with a lot of frustration trying to decide if the characters she is writing about are going to form a memoir or morph into fiction. A thin line she’s had a lot of headaches straddling.

Giving In

  by Clarice Stasz

I have a Muse. She speaks to me through my senses. When it is time to write the book that she desires, she puts it in my hands, complete between hard covers. I weigh its heft, and feel serene that the work will emerge. As a result, I dive in without fear and commit myself to the daily slog of tired eyes, sore back, and eventual boredom. I research; she writes. When stuck, I jump a section, being confident that she will fill in later. The first draft completed, I enter my favorite activity, editing. She generally departs at that point, given that she prefers flow, not nitpicking and the Chicago Manual of Style.

She is intransigent when she disapproves. She simply will not offer help. I pace the house and worry. I don't understand how, after collecting every last drop of minutiae, I cannot transform the information into fluid prose. We struggle fiercely. There won't be another big project until I submit and allow her to place her book in my hands. I am at that stage now concerning a book I want to write. "Maybe later," she whispers. "Or, maybe not."

She also forced me to become a songwriter. Once, in the middle of the night at a noirish hotel in Los Angeles, I awoke with a song full-written, lyrics and melody, and quickly transcribed it. "Gassy Woman" has become a hit among my musical circle, and has led to a variety of unconventional tunes that surprise those who know me. Since then songs have emerged similarly through her graces. I can create songs without her insistence, but hers are amazingly complete, lack much need for improvement, and draw the best response from listeners.

When I saw this question in Tiny Lights, my Muse sent me straight to my word processor. I wish I knew her name and could introduce her to my sister writers who face more writers' blocks, anxieties, and doubts. I never expected to be a writer, but she took over, so why resist?

Clarice Stasz is waiting for the muse to hand her the next book.

Seeing Stars

  by Claudia Larson

The flavor of quinoa mixed with arugula held my focus, the grainy spiciness interesting me more than anything else in my dining sphere. Finally looking up, my sight wandered out the window and onto the deck, curving along strands of wisteria before settling on the aging deck railing. Still quiet, eyes softened as they glanced at the luscious garden to the left, brightening when sunflower faces beamed and squash blossoms trumpeted. For a few moments, the yellows and yellow-oranges held my focus until restlessness took the lead and opened my eyes to the pasture below, acres of blond grasses lending their seed to the earth. Night threw a shawl around my shoulders and held me until the stars reveled and Perseid meteors flew across the dark.

Claudia Larson bent her head back to view the Milky Way from her North Dakota birthplace. She still bends her head back to see the Milky Way, now from her Sebastopol, CA farm.

Read This

  by Darlene Gray

Dear Diane:

Thank you for your kind words about the story I shared. In your email you asked, "Where does your vision come from?"

I pondered that question, and I would have to say there are two sources: experiences and encounters. Over thirty years ago, a very wise teacher stated that "a writer writes from experiences." At that time, I thought I could put all my experiences on the head of a straight pin and have room left over. Now, I would list childhood memories, job experiences, difficult decisions, deaths, weddings, births, pets I've nurtured, vacations, happiness and disappointments. At times, these memories are at the forefront of my mind and at other times, they are lurking in the shadows and I have to pry them loose a bit at a time.

Why do I recall these memories or choose to use them? I may read about a theme or focus for a writing piece. That sets my mind to work pulling out those memories. I may not sit down right then and begin writing, but my mind is engaged and mulling over those ideas while I am busy in other activities. I think I told you that I created an entire story recently while on a five-mile walk! Once I am in front of my computer, the ideas flow quickly to the printed page.

In addition to experiences, I would also have to mention encounters. Everyone has a story, and "truth is stranger than fiction." Sometimes, I will be engaged in a conversation with someone I have known for years or with a new friend. That person will tell a story about something that happened to him/her or someone in their family. Many times, I will file that morsel away for later. I will then take one thread of that encounter and weave my own story. A few months ago, I was talking with one of my co-workers in our school district about books. I am not sure how we arrived at this topic, but she told me her dad would have his 83rd birthday soon and that, as a young man, he collected his own books for a personal library because of the segregation laws of our area.

That idea weighed on my mind until I sat down one day and, in an hour, had written the framework for a short story. After revising, proofing, and fine-tuning the piece, I sent the story to my co-worker, who read it at her father's birthday party in May. She said there wasn't a dry eye in the room when she concluded the story! I have also entered that same piece to be considered for publication.

I hope this answers your question. Please feel free to pass this information to anyone you know who may ask, "Where does your vision come from?"


Darlene Gray has been an educator for thirty years, teaching elementary and college-age students in Birmingham, Alabama. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and friends. Her writings reflect life in the south. She has previously been published in The Birmingham Arts Journal.

Videre [Latin for ‘to see’]

  by Don Edgers

Not everyone has "the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination." [New Oxford American Dictionary] An example of lack of vision is given in the W.H.G. Kingston's Saved from the Sea - where a character is described: "He was apt to take things as he found them, and not look far beyond the present."

Writers, particularly science fiction writers, have to conjure how their stories will progress. Jules Verne is a prime example of seeing the future.
In the Bible, the prophet Daniel was given the ability to see the future by God.

Though not prophetic in the biblical sense, I have the God-given ability to see and recall the value of experiences and observations to apply in future writings.

Don Edgers lives in Port Orchard, WA and sees what he can see in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. His website:

The Best Vision

  by Sara Baker

Each year that I worked in the corporate arena, I developed a rather succinct plan that I believed would improve my department's day-to-day functionality and productivity. One year, however, my manager surprised me when he asked, "Although your plan looks great, what vision do you have for your department? Where does that vision come from?" I chose to ignore him, for I didn't see a connection between vision and my plan.

Years later I entered the teaching profession and became equally proficient at developing daily, weekly, and monthly lesson plans for improving my classroom and educating my students. After several years as an educator, my principal ironically asked me similar questions: "What vision do you have for your students this year? Where does your classroom vision come from?"

"Perhaps," I thought, "there is some correlation that I've missed."

So, over the course of my career, I eventually came to understand that although I was proficient in plan design and even implementation, I hadn't engaged my vision. Vision is that passion, that driving force, necessary for any plan to work. I learned that a plan without vision can be frustrating because it's neither engaging nor sustainable. On the flip side, I realized that vision without a plan is clearly difficult and not advisable.

So, I felt an eerie sense of déjà vu when I saw this month's question: "Where Does Your Vision Come From?" Unlike Moses, I've never seen a burning bush nor been struck by lightning. Yet, I know I have vision, for I've seen evidence of it: When my vision looks outward, it becomes aspiration; when it looks inward, it becomes growth; and when it looks upward, it becomes faith.

Yet, I'm still left wondering where my vision comes from. Perhaps it began as a small seed with my family background then grew through my life's experiences and choices. Maybe along the way, I nurtured that vision by living from my heart as I loved my husband and family; lived with integrity and honesty; respected my friends and neighbors; shared myself; committed to challenges; wrote authentically; and acted joyfully.

Ultimately, though, my vision comes when I pause for a moment; cease working; and look around with new eyes.

Sara Baker is a retired educator turned freelance writer. In addition to writing memoirs and personal narratives, she has begun writing her first novel. When not writing, she enjoys spending time with her soul mate, Bill, with whom she has been married 29 years.

When the Dust Settles

  by Susan Bono

"If you want something done, ask a busy woman."

I used to believe in that saying and felt a surge of pride whenever someone implied I was busy enough to ask. Those were the years when kids, housework, yard work, classes, paperwork, events and friendships kept me in constant motion. I was part of an intricate dance, whirling round and round in a circle with eternally changing steps. Out of this blur came the ideas I wrote about. I won't say it was the best way to work, but inspiration rose from the dust of all that activity to grant me sufficient vision.

It's not like that these days. Busy isn't making it.

Frankly, I don't know what method to use anymore. Nothing's working, but everything seems to be pointing toward slowing down. Maybe it's like cutting gluten, white sugar and caffeine out of my diet, which I did about a year ago. I thought I couldn't possibly start my morning without a cup of coffee, but I learned. There is life after cookies. I still feel as if I can't possibly be a writer if I'm not linked in or Facebooking or blogging. But in these last few years, with the loss of my parents, my reproductive capabilities, and my duties as a hovering mother, a need for a new kind of vision is making itself felt. And for that, stepping back and getting quiet seems to be required.

I haven't a clue what getting quiet means, or what I'll find once I do, but I'm trying to let the dust settle. "You ain't seen nothing yet," I tell myself. One way or another, I'll be getting a glimpse of something new.

Susan Bono is trying to see more clearly 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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