Searchlights & Signal Flares

Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How Do You Manage Success? (03/15/03)

Featured writer: Ken Rodgers

Contributors this month:
Arlene L. Mandell
Betty Rodgers
Betty Winslow
Ken Rodgers
Susan Bono
Susan Starbird
Tony L. Johnson

How do you manage success?

by Ken Rodgers

Let's see. How to articulate this notion. - I let success inflate my head for just a little while. Maybe a week or so. Then events conspire to remind me that I need to pull my pants on one leg at a time. Generally, it's best to locate some warm fuzzy spot up behind my gall bladder. A protected space where no one can get to it with a Bowie knife or a sharp tongue. I store my successes there and go about my business of seeking another one to enhance the collection, knowing that the heady feelings are ephemeral as cow pies in the pasture.

Ken Rodgers, Sebastopol, CA.

Success? Who Me?

  by Arlene L. Mandell

During the past fourteen years my successes as a poet, essayist and short story writer have been like sparks from distant stars on a moon dark night. I don't stand outside in the chill staring into the void waiting for a brief flash of recognition. I'm just out there with the dog while she sniffs bushes and circles clumps of grass, seeking precisely the right spot for her relief.
All right, if you insist. I'll admit I maintain a file folder with my list of Published Works. And I'm vain enough to keep a running count: 163 to date. That's practically one a month, I see, but the numbers are misleading. It sometimes feels as though eons pass when I receive only those mimeographed rejection slips...or no response whatsoever.
Please forgive my whining. Just yesterday a letter arrived from Small Brushes, a quarterly poetry journal in Long Valley, NJ, advising they had nominated one of my poems, "In Our Brooklyn Kitchen," for a Pushcart Prize. "Yes!" I shouted, startling the dog. Then I considered the long-odds possibility that a modest slice-of-life poem, written twelve years ago, might make it into an anthology with such stars in the literary galaxy as Joyce Carol Oates and Grace Schulman.
Returning to the tasks at hand, I recycled the junk mail and took the chicken parts out of the refrigerator to marinate them for dinner. Could there be a poem in this? I hope not.

Arlene L. Mandell, formerly of Brooklyn, NY and various parts of New Jersey, can be found at her computer in Santa Rosa when she isn't pulling weeds or walking the dog.

Betty Rodgers

According to The Random House Dictionary, success is defined as "A favorable result that one has tried or hoped for." That was the first time an accomplished poet/friend looked at me, smiled, and enthusiastically stated, "Betty, you're a poet!" Or when someone uttered, "Mm-mmm," when I read my work aloud. Or when I offered what seemed a feeble attempt at a writing assignment, only to be told how creative and unique the results were. Perhaps the ultimate success, though, was when I felt confident and satisfied enough with a poem to actually send it out to a few close friends and relatives. That act felt like success. How did I manage it? I sat back, took a deep, satisfying breath, and whispered, "Finally!"

Betty Rodgers, Sebastopol, CA

Betty Winslow

I try not to let it tempt me to sit on my laurels and coast. Even when I've just made several big sales, I need to keep pitching, keep writing, keep plugging away at my job, to ward off the cycle of feast and famine that freelance writers are so often cursed with. (Besides, I'm no Jerry Jenkins or Dee Henderson, so my success - so far, at least - hasn't needed all that much handling. Here's to more success!)

How do you manage success?

  by Ken Rodgers

Let's see. How to articulate this notion. - I let success inflate my head for just a little while. Maybe a week or so. Then events conspire to remind me that I need to pull my pants on one leg at a time. Generally, it's best to locate some warm fuzzy spot up behind my gall bladder. A protected space where no one can get to it with a Bowie knife or a sharp tongue. I store my successes there and go about my business of seeking another one to enhance the collection, knowing that the heady feelings are ephemeral as cow pies in the pasture.

Ken Rodgers, Sebastopol, CA.

Susan Bono

If I think of success as a commodity, I want to rush to my nearest discount warehouse and buy my triumph in an industrial-sized box. Does that mean I want to be a Big Star, a huge success? Or am I thinking success is like laundry detergent and I need a gigantic quantity so I can wash my one good suit of clothes over and over until I finally get it clean enough to wear in public?

Over and over-I get the feeling that I have been covering the same ground repeatedly-tramping down a little grassy circle around my clean but tattered tent. "Step right up!" I call in my best barker's voice, but it's hard to hear me over the noise of the midway. I persist, trying to entice the passing crowd, and over the years I've gotten a little better at it. I've lured my share of spectators inside with descriptions of my two-headed calf and Little Egypt's cousin. A few dissatisfied customers have burst out the tent flap and given me a piece of their minds, but they've probably walked right past my prize exhibit.

In a corner of the tent, next to the tattooed man, is a small table lit with a single spotlight. On it sits a crystal bud vase containing a single pink rose. I made a sign once that said, "The Singing Rose," but I lost it a few seasons back and I haven't put up another. I don't even mention it much in my patter. The people who need to seem to find it without help. Word gets out.

I can tell when folks come in knowing. They head directly to the table and stand behind the frayed velvet ropes in an attitude of rapt attention. They wait patiently, oblivious to the gentle tauntings of the Bearded Lady, who has a hard time being ignored. I watch a dreamy softness drift into their faces when they pick up what sounds like the faint hum of invisible violins and a butterfly singing.

Sometimes I think I should get rid of the rest of my acts and try to make it big with this one, but the others been with me so long. Otis the Frog Boy, Penguin Girl, The Human Flytrap. I know I'd miss them. We stay up late at night after the crowds go home and listen to the rose together. They protect my prize from damage and theft. They may even be the reason it stays so fresh.

Susan Bono wants editing work to pay for Penguin Girl's costume and repairs to the tent. Email her for info:

Susan Starbird

How I manage my celebrity, you must mean. Oh, how smug I was once in my
notoriety as a Weather Subject. So often was my photo on the front page
(top right corner, 2" x 3") that even my mother stopped collecting the

What a proud pipsqueak I was! Then I made it big. Today as a Public
Intellectual, I gamely suffer the calls of radio reporters to comment on the
significance of society's current events and trends. I do it for the
money, of course. It's my job, and as to the compensation, suffice it to
say, I abandoned my Weather Subject status without a second thought.

There's a benefit even more important than the big bucks, rest assured.
The moment-to-moment risk of being called for insight on command forces me
to stay on top of my reading. Please don't hold it against me, but as a
Public Intellectual, I am lavishly rewarded for reading WHATEVER I WANT.
For the first time in years I'm actually caught up on my Wall Street
Journal, Science Magazine, and of course that most reliable of hard-news
sources, The Funny Times.

Ascending from Weather Subject to Public Intellectual was not the expected
course of struggle and setbacks. Here's how it happened. I was walking
across the street - it was the Kentucky Street crosswalk in front of Aram's
sidewalk café, and at lunchtime all the tables were full. Suddenly a tiara
held by unseen hands descended and planted itself on my head. I didn't
really understand what had happened until people near me stopped in their
tracks, shielded their eyes from the reflected light, and shouted, "My God,
it's a Public Intellectual!"

As soon as they collected themselves they ran forward, crowded around me,
and begged for answers to their most pressing questions. "Is there any
strategy whatsoever to this war?" "Is there any logic whatsoever to energy
prices?" "Can I make cheese in my backyard?" All these questions and
more set my busy little mind spinning, and I haven't looked back since.

Susan Starbird, Fantasist and regular Weather Subject, Sebastopol, CA


  by Tony L. Johnson

I have spent my life looking for a quiet place inside. During childhood, this was an effort to preserve my sanity in a home filled with fury and alcohol. I went into my room, closed the door and began a fierce listening. Inside the quietness of my room, I could hear a voice that told me never to give up. That voice sustained me when I had nothing else to hold on to. Years passed, the voice slowly became mine and was never very far away. I grew to love quietness, so I kept listening. I listened to mountains, to stars, to music, to the wisdom of teachers, the sound of wind and time. Now when I listen, I see a man dressed in white who sits peacefully next to a river. He has a twinkle in his eye and he is quiet.

No, I don't have a Ferrari in my garage, but on a good day, I know that every moment is holy.

Tony L. Johnson, Petaluma, CA. Tony has collected his writing in Anything Can Happen, available from the author at .

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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