KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

Yarn. Tale. The thread of story.

As a writer who knits – or, on some days, a knitter who stops to write –yarn is, for me, a way into memory and story. One leftover ball, the colors of dusk sky, a fringe of evergreens wound into the horizon, bought at the Midway fair and intended for a baby’s hat, evokes a strand of words, a yarn to carry memory forward.

As I made the hat, the yarn bled onto my hands, onto the bamboo knitting needles. I called the alpaca farm and spoke to the woman who had sold it to me, who said to saturate the hat in salt water, then heat it in the microwave. Soaked and zapped, the seeping color stopped. Poor babe got a blurry, irradiated hat — proving that the harder I try to get some thing that will be so perfect (Kentucky alpaca for an expat infant in Salem, Mass.), so special (I met the alpaca!), so much beyond the generic, store-bought gift (hand-made, stitch by stitch, hand-dyed yarn), the more, in short, my pride demands I be beyond outstanding (is it pride or some other need?), the farther I have to fall.

And yet the baby wore her hat, her mother sent me a photo of her in it, and I have this part-ball left to knit into something else. And the colors still call to me, though I wonder if at the heart of this ball, the dye might still bleed.

And all this talk of bleeding and of winding takes me back to yarn as a tale, a thread of story coiled around itself and holding its heart hidden in the turning of its lines. Like a poem I’ve put down on the page or the turning of calendar pages reaching back and back. There never was a place that wasn’t tightly coiled and threatening to bleed. Even in the womb I was a curled bud wrapped in a cord of blood. “Wee weare within the wombe a wynding sheete” one of the Renaissance poets said, and when I read that line at nineteen, how I hated this assertion of our death beginning with our life, preceding even breath. Yet in that time of plague and filth and language lovely-harsh enough to catch it all, those poets spoke the truth.

I was a foolish girl, determined to reflect only the sun and deny the taste of earth already in my mouth, the sluggish drift of it in my very veins. I am wound up in this ball of yarn in ways I haven’t even come to yet. Its failing, its tendency to bleed or break under stress, its messy stain of color, even its softness and its lovely mix of shades are in my days. It sits in my wicker basket waiting to be taken up and used; if it is lucky, something will be made of it and that something – hat, afghan – will have its uses, elegant, unforeseen, ordinary, then will be tossed onto the trash, burned up in a fire or ruined in flood, folded into a trunk, a cardboard box, and stuck in some unused space.

As I knit (and when I write, as well), the lived experience and emotions of my days and hours are looped and caught into what I’m making. A scarf or hat can bring back the worries or the musings that overlay its creation, as this ball of yarn holds the October day and the fair at Midway, my daughter home for a weekend, our hours in the blue air, how I tried to just soak it up, to believe I really was there, and maybe tried too hard, as with the hat. This yarn holds my daughter’s tall form, her clear blue eyes, her laugh, and the long black eyelashes of the alpaca tethered in the shade beside the crafter’s tent, the percussive rhythm of the steam engine grinding corn into the grits we bought, the breakfast we shared the next morning, her driving away.

This ball of yarn, these words reach all the way back to her baby self and forward to the baby, then unborn, who has already outgrown her hat — and outward now, as story travels.

Where Ideas Hide

The past few weeks I’ve had my head down, working diligently—focused, goal-oriented, driven. Necessary for getting through the task I needed to accomplish, but not much fun. And worse, I frightened away all those feathery near-ideas that are so nice to have around. I want them to feel safe enough to float nearby, to tickle my nose and get my attention. I want them to stay close and grow into good work. But the force of single-mindedness scatters them, so they disappeared.

I was really too tired to go find them, it takes a lot of energy to go out and round up creativity. So I rested a little once I got to a stopping place. I missed the faint sense of possibilities brushing across my skin, but figured I’d think about that tomorrow. I stared out the window.

But the next morning, in the shower, I found one in my soap. Sometimes it’s when you’re not looking that an idea turns up. For sure I wasn’t giving a thought to anything at all when I picked up my mandarin-scented bar. Maybe ideas like the smell of oranges, or the wholesomeness of soap. Hard to say. But anyway, there it was.

I felt better after that, for a little while. But pretty soon, one idea starts to get heavy. You can feel the weight of all the other companion inspirations it needs that aren’t there. One idea is lonely, and it starts to wonder whether it picked the right place or time to show up. You can hear it asking these questions out loud. It feels terrible.

I took a walk to get away. The nattering was just too annoying and besides, while I had been doing all that work I hadn’t put nearly enough miles on my sneakers. I tend to overrate thought and underrate movement. I needed to bring some balance.

It took maybe three blocks to forget about how my body felt about it and to just be a body walking. Striding along past houses and parked cars I had no agenda, not even exercise. I had nothing to think about and no desire for mental exertion of any kind. I can slip into that brain on vacation mode more easily than I’d like to admit.

So I can’t say I found the next idea. I think it was in the magnolia tree I walked beneath, and it let go of the branch just at the moment I passed by. But wherever it came from, suddenly it was there, and I hadn’t done a thing to make it happen. Just the opposite. Ideas are sneaky that way. They like to drop on your head when you least expect it.

I still wasn’t much in the mood to think about it, but I was happy that the first idea had some company. It made me feel like things would be all right. I kept walking.

If you like the idea of being productive by not thinking,  you might want to read the article, “Bother Me, I’m Thinking” by Jonah Lehrer. It’s about the value to creativity of not paying attention.

The Accurate Detail: Redeeming the World

On this day, International Woman’s day, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the gifts I have enjoyed from women whose devotion to speaking their truths as specifically and accurately as possible has lit the way for all of us who came after them.  This, after all, is the centenary of the first International Women’s Day.  That’s a lot of history for which to be grateful.

And because life goes forward, I need to note, too, how much I appreciate the young women who continue the work to make the world more just, free, and equal, encouraging all of us to press forward.    Author and blogger Courtney E. Martin provides such encouragement in her TED video titled “reinventing feminism.”

The image that stayed with me well after I first viewed the video clip was Martin’s final word picture, when  she deftly provides us with tactile memories, of being a small child lying on the kitchen floor, sucking her thumb while holding her mom’s “cold toes” with her other hand.  And as she lay there on that floor, she  listened to her mother’s voice while she spoke on the phone, organizing and doing activist work, her “daily acts of care and creativity.”  This concrete detail gives the entire talk such grounding—yes, take the pun there!

But that grounding, at the feet of the mother, brings Martin’s story full circle.   She needed to write her latest book, she says, because it was the one she needed to read.  In it, she interviews young women who are finding their own way into caring for the world in a way that does not exhaust and deplete them.   She relates her discovery that these young women had almost nothing in common—except that for each, it was the mother who was the strongest influence.  Which brings us right back to that small child on the kitchen floor.

Martin concludes by saying that a lifetime of challenge and reward requires that one  “Embrace the paradox; act in the face of overwhelm; and love people well.”  Her newest book is called “Do it Anyway: The New Generation of Activists.”

Comments (1) — Categorized under: Gail Koehler

Just Looking—Notes from Normandi

Note: In the 13 years KaBooM has nurtured writers, some of our members have taken leaves of absence.   Normandi Ellis is one such member, recently returned and contributing again.  Today she posts from Gail’s account.

I had an A-ha moment in the Louisville Barnes and Noble Bookstore one morning last week. I had gone to Office Depot to print out some copies of a manuscript I am working on. That process was going to take a little while, so I popped over to the bookstore.

I’d never been to this particular store and so everything was a bit turned around. I walked in circles, got lost in the cookbooks and travel books. I went through the aisles looking at this and that, stopping to pick up a cover that intrigued me.  Then I’d move on.  A nice young clerk came up to me at one point and asked me if he could help me find something.

I said “No, but thank you.” I merrily went on my way looking around, walking through a maze of shelves, lost but happy.

After about 30 minutes I walked up to the counter with a magazine, Isabel Allende’s memoir (My Invented Country), a book of W.S. Merwin poems (The Shadow of Sirius) and a Ted Andrews book I’d never read before. The clerk asked me if I had found everything I’d been looking for. “No,” I said, “but it didn’t matter.”

“Well, I could have helped you find it and saved you some time,” he said.   I laughed, saying “Well what would be the point in that? How would I ever have found these books if I knew what I was looking for?!”

I think that is also true about writing. I sit down thinking I know what I’m looking for, but then suddenly something else grabs my attention as I write and I find myself off on a tangent. Sometimes I have to go back and start over, but most of the time I find that being willing to be a little bit lost in the process allows the writing to pleasantly surprise me. The discoveries then, the synchronicities, and the recurring symbols that I hadn’t seen the first time, become a beacon for the writing rather than my imposing a form on it and strangling it into submission.

There are many books on the flow experience including the work of Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg. I like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention and John Briggs’s work Fire in the Crucible as inspirational texts on the writing process.

I hope you find time to follow your nose and keep writing even though you don’t know where you are going. I think I could adapt a poem by David Wagoner called “Lost”.   He suggests that when lost, one must “Stand still. The forest knows/Where you are. You must let it find you.”

Stand still. Let the words find you.