Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How do you welcome your muse? (06/15/06)

Featured writer: Ken Rogers

Contributors this month:
Betty Winslow
Catherine Montague
Marlene Cullen
Susan Bono

The relevant question for me is, do I believe in a muse?

by Ken Rogers

In the 1980s I drilled a couple of $13,000.00 dry water wells in New Mexico and on the next well, despite my reluctance, I contacted a water witch, figuring it couldn't cost me that much more to get his opinion.

He told me, "Everybody has the power. Some more than others."

I'm sure I smirked.

He told me, "Before I was a witch, I couldn't sleep. When I recognized my power, I discovered I'd been sleeping over an underground river for thirty years."

He was either lucky or good, because everywhere he told me to drill, I hit water.

Once, he handed me a forked willow switch and told me to start witching. I laughed but he nodded at me confidently. So I held the stick in my hands and started walking. After about twenty paces, the stick turned point down to the ground. I swear I didn't help it.

He smiled and said, "There's water there." I thought, there has to be a scientific explanation.

I didn't change careers and become a dowser. The notion of that kind of power makes me uneasy, as does the notion of a muse that exists outside me but has the power to direct my writing.

Part of my unease relates to the fact that I've spent my life trying to understand the world in rational terms: chemistry, physics, and biology. In my opinion the notion of mystical or spiritual powers ties in with other words not as chic or acceptable, like superstition and religion.

I want rational things to win out, to defeat the notion of otherworld. Why? Crusades, Thirty Years War, Salem Witch Trials, Osama bin Laden's anger because Charles Martel defeated Arabs at Poitiers, France in 732, Hindu ultranationalists with nuclear bombs, Jerry Falwell's disputations. The power of spirituality can be bad or good, unlike the rational, which is neither.

Even educated people I know are afflicted with the superstitious, which by the way, seems to be making an alarming comeback worldwide. I ran into a well-known Sonoma County peace activist the day the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. His glee at the opportunity to fight a battle against American globalism was startling. He used words like "apocalyptic" and "reverent," the same kind of words I hear from environmentalists. The same kind of words I hear from Christian evangelists. Spiritual words related to righteous causes and superstition, words to confront those who don't agree with us. The use of religious buzzwords to verbally frame the end we hope for, that we foresee—an apocalyptic end.

I'm leery of spiritual things—notions like apocalypse and reverence and muses that float around feeding me great writing when they decide I'm worthy.

But sometimes when I'm composing, words pour out and I don't know where they come from and they are GOOD. When that happens, I get the hell out of the way and let the muse take control.

Ken Rodgers lives and writes in Boise, ID. Ken teaches writing classes onsite and online. Sonoma County writers, don't miss a chance to work with Ken and Guy Biederman on Sept. 16 in Sebastopol. More on that and more on Ken at

Betty Winslow

I welcome my muse (Who is also my Lord and Father) whenever I pray to
Him, whenever I ask Him for help, whenever I seek to know what He wants me
to write next and for whom. I am fortunate - my muse has promised He will never leave me or forsake me. This is a mixed blessing, though, because it means that when I have nothing to write about, no inspiration, no reason to sit down and write, I have no one else to blame. It is my own fault, because when I welcome my muse, He comes in with an armload of work for me and another armload of ability to pull it off. Then, all I need to do is start writing!

Betty Winslow, waiting for the next armload in Bowling Green, Ohio

Catherine Montague

Opening the door: that's how I start another journey with the word-warbling goddess within. I'm not talking about having the muse come into the kitchen for a cozy cup of tea, but getting myself outside to revive my senses. Waking up, setting forth, going home to mama. Mother Earth—who else?

Wendell Berry said, "We need consciousness, judgment, presence of mind. If we truly know what we have, we will change what we do." That's from his afterward to Missing Mountains: We Went to the Mountaintop But It Wasn't There. (Wind Publications, 2005.) When I was a kid, my family always used to sing "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" on our way to whatever outdoor destination was waiting for our tent and campstove. It seemed like those Sierra campsites were always just there, always available for us, and like in the song, when we got to the other side of the mountain, we would see what we would see. It was what we had. But I'm not sure we were fully conscious.

Now when I go outside, I'm always afraid I'm missing something. This has got to be the muse, pestering me. Write this down, she says. It might not be here next time. She has an apocalyptic imagination. Those oak trees: bait for beetles or sudden death disease. That hillside: sure to be covered with yuppie palaces within a year. That lone butterfly floating above the invading Scotch broom: could be the last of its kind. Sometimes she can be such a nag. I want to tend my own garden and leave the dire prognostications to the professionals.

But the singularity of this view, these trees, this light-filled day seduces me, makes it impossible for me to do anything else but pour libations to the goddess of wordsmiths, this muse that demands my consciousness, to calculate, judge, ponder, how much time do I have, and how much of this world can I capture in mere words before I'm called away from her side?

Catherine Montague, a Sebastopol, CA writer, is preparing to take her muse on vacation and seek writing inspiration in natural (or unnatural!) wonders found in Philadelphia, PA, Wells, ME, and Franconia, NH.

How do you welcome your muse?

  by Marlene Cullen

I'm so practical, I have a hard time welcoming something I can't see.

However, I know when to listen.

My muses, or my angels, as I prefer to think of them, have been incredibly noisy this past year.

I acknowledge and honor them.

I delight when they sit on my shoulders, guide me and keep me company.

Marlene Cullen sits in her garden and enjoys musing about her angels.

Susan Bono

On Christmas Eves past, Mom used to remind me and my brother to leave a cookie and a glass of milk for Santa. It wasn't a bribe, exactly, more of a thank you gesture, kind of like the toothpick dispensers or bowls of peppermints you sometimes see next to the cash registers of family-style restaurants.

As with all sacrificial offerings, this gift was an important matter. During those years when Santa was my most eagerly awaited visitor, I conducted serious debates with my playmates regarding the most effective treats. Some of my friends were of the cookie-and-milk school, while others adhered to the theory that it was better to reward the reindeer with carrots and a handful of oatmeal. When my own kids were small, I was often tempted to suggest chocolates and a snifter of Remy Martin. These days, I think I'd vote for a bran muffin and a bottle of Smart Water.

Unlike the Jolly Old Elf, my muse is not impressed with snacks and beverages, although she did go through a period when she was hooked on M & Ms and cigarettes. Really, we're both better off a little hungry. It helps us both feel things more deeply.

I have tried to cajole my muse into visiting with promises and pleas, but what she really requires is my silence. My willingness to disconnect from my social antics and hold my own self-lacerating tongue creates an island of quiet that allows her to step out of the shadows and speak. The times I've had the patience and faith to relax into that silence, I have sometimes heard her sing.

Susan Bono is trying to keep herself quiet in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono


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 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.

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