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

Swift Words

I am blessed by having had in my life several configurations of writing circles. I highly recommend them. Wherever I have lived, I have found kindred spirits who write, who listen and who keep me aware of the changing life patterns. Currently, I write with two different groups—my KaBooM sisters in Lexington (all of them publishing writers) and the Crones in Frankfort. (old friends and family)

On the last evening of summer the Thursday Night Crones, as we often called ourselves, gathered. The last time that this journal group met (back in mid-summer), we promised to do it again soon—to not let time get away from us; and we do gather as frequently as our lives permit. It is not the same tribe, but it is the same spirit.

We began in 1992 as a cadre of mothers and daughters who gathered at one another’s homes once a week for about consecutive 15 years. On Sept 22nd we gathered on the porch at PenHouse Retreat Center. Among other old friends, I sat to write with two of my daughters. Alaina is 28, and Roxie is 36. They were 8 and 16, respectively when we began to write together; I was 38. It is hard to believe that this particular configuration of women and I have been writing together in the evenings for 20 years now.

After we write—usually three times all using a similar prompt—I listen to the round of voices, and I feel grateful for the way words on a page have kept us sane all these years. We have shared who we are in deeply personal ways. We have given voice to the wild ones within us, to memory and longing. In our now bookshelf of stacked journals, we have begun to write short stories, poems, novels, to longing through sorrow and ecstasy. We honor the passages, mourn the losses, celebrate the renewals, toast the possibilities.

I’m certain that as I was writing I was not conscious that I was ever working on  this or that book; although, looking back on it, I see that those journal pages were a riffle of flowing language that watered three books of short stories. It wasn’t literature I was seeking at the time I wrote; it was sanity and the only way to find it was laying down one word at a time, one breath at a time.

I think of that two decade process of writing as we pause this night during sunset. The group goes outside into the yard at PenHouse to watch the chimney swifts dive down into the darkness of their home at night. (Yes, we have rooms available for the swifts, too!) They become a metaphor for the act of writing as I watch them sweep across the page of sky, gathering night and tucking it under their wings. They fold night into their bodies and carry it with them down the chimney. In the gray evening sky, they look like clots of words being laid down on the page. A few of them straggle along, leaving meditative pauses in their flight, or perhaps line breaks. Then again, the birds as words cluster together, swirl and fall quickly. There is beauty in their patterns.

I know that these birds (and my cronies) will be leaving soon. Roxie and Alaina will come back whenever we meet. Glenda at the end of autumn has to go back to Alabama. She left an earlier configuration of our group to take a job at the university there. Debbie, a visitor to PenHouse and our group, will return to Louisville, but has promised to come back. I have also moved away several times (to Berea and Lexington) and then returned. Several of the other old-time group members are absent tonight, but our gathering whether in thick or thin continues.

This journal writing, like the migration pattern of swifts, also has its season.  Now that the light is waning in the sky, the chittering birds will soon leave for the rainforest of the Amazon. Our words, too, go out into the air, floating on currents of thought. We gather in our community, and reach out to continue at times to gather in more. The writing together over all these years has changed us. We have grown, we have flown, and we have returned again. The center holds us together—a communion of ideas among kindred spirits.

Wrting about Women’s Lives

I have begun many blog posts about the novel and movie “The Help” and have decided to summarize a few observations instead. Despite the sugary triumph at the story’s end, I felt grains of discontent in my craw. I heard white friends say, “Wouldn’t it have been great to hand the children over to someone else in the house and to have a maid?” This appalled me and confirmed some of the worries of many bloggers. That the movie would make the system of exploitation attractive and desirable for people who identified with the white women. I think that is the appeal of the book and the movie for white women. We would have been Skeeter, courageous and helpful, and outside the nasty little tribe of the Junior League. But would we?

I read blogs and heard first hand that at the film’s end audiences rose, applauded, and wept. This reaction makes me incredibly weary and sad. The acting deserves accolades. The screenplay presented a more politically aware Skeeter than the book did. But the emptiness of all the women’s lives is something I can’t applaud, no matter the presentation. The black women spent their lives cleaning for others who intentionally and daily demeaned them. The white women demeaned the black women in order to play bridge.

The movie, perhaps unintentionally, shows a tremendous waste of human potential. So why the applause?

That the women in “The Help” were most concerned about excrement was horrifyingly appropriate and gallingly sad. The plot action revolves around potties and potty jokes. Were women so demeaned that this issue was their main concern? It is true that murders and beatings swirled around the periphery of this novel. But poop and pee were the tools of the war among the women.

What could have been the main territory, the writing of the stories, a brave act of empowerment, was not given the plot. There was little danger in the book or the movie, actual danger, to the writers. They succeed fabulously. No one rips up their only manuscript. No one rejects it. No one puts Aibilene’s eyes out to prevent her from writing her prayers or her chapter. No one hunts Skeeter down and threatens her on a country road. She loses the editorship of the jr. league newsletter, which she is leaving behind anyway. Instead, the plot action centers on high school-like petty revenges. Almost an as afterthought, when Aibilene is fired for her chapter, we are told it frees her to be the person she wants: in the novel she becomes the columnist Miss Myrna. Is that a triumph? It’s the job Skeeter has left behind to become a “real writer.”

To aid in this discussion, I read an article in the current Atlantic Monthly by Sandra Tsing Loh called “The Madness of Menopause,” which calls fertility “The Change.” Fertility hormones cause women to “begin the mysterious automatic weekly rituals” of cooking, cleaning, and caring while the “rest of the family…reads the paper and lazes around like rational, sensible people.” When the “hormonal cloud wears off, it’s not a tragedy, an abnormality, or going crazy.” It means a woman can “rejoin the rest of the human race: she can be the same, selfish non-nurturing, non-bonding type of person every one else is.” I appreciate this because I have always been housework/housewifey/soccermom challenged. I always suspected there was something biologically different about me, even though I have produced three sons. I dare say that the haze of the hormone cloud interferes with the self-regard and self-discipline a writer needs to do her work.

In “The Help,” all the white women, Skeeter especially, have somehow missed this hormonal bondage. The members of the Junior League have children so there is a whiff of fertility in their chemistry but poor Celia Foote, the least racist white woman, can’t bring a child to fullterm. It is the black women, Minnie, Aibilene, Constantine, et al, who are the nurturers, care-givers, the abnegated. In “The Help,” freedom from this bondage is to be 1) white. #1) white and well-off. #2) white and unable to produce children. #3) white and career-minded (Skeeter). In this context, we have a weird depiction of women. The white women in the Junior League are really like men! Lazy, selfish, rational, unmaternal, and hierarchical.

Unfortunately for the women who do the work of nurture and care, menopause will not free them. If the white women are denied their hormonal expression, do they become mean? If biology contributes to this desire for nesting and homelife, then what happens if one has to pretend one doesn’t have it?

I don’t have answers. I am just disappointed and perplexed that the lives of women are so mysterious that we end up praising with our attention and pocketbooks these sad and demeaning caricatures.

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The Dao of Writing

There hasn’t been much spare time in my life lately, and in the face of work to be done and life maintenance to sustain, creative work is so easy to set aside. But today I felt like I could spend some time getting back to my long-neglected writing, and pulled out a yellow legal pad to get some thoughts down on paper.

I filled a page—no problem—but when I re-read it, the idea I thought was going somewhere just…wasn’t. So I tore that sheet off and started again. Words, lines, paragraphs, a page, but again when I looked over what I had written it was disappointingly trite. Another page to tear off and get rid off. At this point the frustration really kicks up. There are so many things I need to do. I can’t afford to be pursuing dead ends. Time is precious and I want something to show for it when I set aside an hour to write during a busy day.

Smokies Roadside

My impatience comes about in the midst of being busy with the new (to me) work of teaching a class on world religions. Ironically, I’ve spent weeks steeped in the spiritual ideals and common practices of a wonderful variety of faith traditions, yet it has left me in this urgent, scurrying state of mind. What’s more, one of the ideas I taught this week was a notion from Daoism called wu wei—a kind of effortlessness, or acting without strain. It refers to living your life sustained by the Dao, a life that puts you in harmony with your own nature and that of the world around you.

Daoism, as I’ve told my students, teaches that below the strivings of conscious effort is a power greater than we are, a power that we can draw from if we let ourselves. Wu wei yields access to the rich levels of creativity beneath the surface of our minds. It allows the abundant resources for creative work to move through us, so that we become a vessel for deeper and better work than we could ever accomplish with the strivings of our own merely conscious effort.

Action follows being, according to the Dao. So to focus on the busy, busy of our lives is to miss the point. Driving ourselves to act without attending to our state of being keeps us disconnected from the source of creativity. The work we do will flow most easily and be of better quality when it emanates from the source that sustains us, no matter what we call it.

If only I could keep that in mind! So I’m writing this post as a reminder to dwell in a better place than I found myself earlier, to dwell in that deeper strength and more profound creativity. Or at least to try. I think it will help with both the teaching and the writing.

May you experience wu wei as you work, too.