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

Mo’ne Davis will share her story: “I hope it encourages people to take a chance and play the sports they want to play and not just the ones people expect them to play”

Mo'ne Davis (photo: Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Mo’ne Davis (photo: Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Few pieces of news could make my Monday like the announcement that come March, we can expect a memoir from teenage athlete Mo’ne Davis, she of Sports Illustrated cover last summer (and the accompanying article by Albert Chen), and the “I Throw Like a Girl” Spike Lee video for Chevrolet.  And to hear that for this writing project she is said to be teaming up with author Hilary Beard, whose previous collaborations include “Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life,” is even better news, as it suggests that in her newfound fame and media scrutiny, she is good hands, and will be supported and mentored by wise elders.

http://static.squarespace.com/static/52687ed6e4b0b1f7d808ece3/t/52715587e4b023f89fe8977b/1383159175582/_CLC0156.jpg

Author Hilary Beard

To observe that Mo’ne Davis seems wise beyond her years is a cliche, yet one I return to when I read in the HarperCollins announcement of the memoir when Mo’ne says: “I’m just a girl that likes to play sports and I’m excited to share my story with everyone” … “I hope it encourages people to take a chance and play the sports they want to play and not just the ones people expect them to play.”

For weeks before today’s announcement, I’ve been trying to summarize what the example of this dignified, grounded young woman does for my spirit: how it lifts and inspires me beyond all rational explanation. Perhaps it’s partly that she exemplifies the gains made by female athletes since Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was passed over 40 years ago, which are astounding and worth recalling for ourselves. Now that the world that is possible for women and girls feels completely different from the one I grew up in, the gains we have made are worth remembering. 

For example, I’ve also been watching the PBS series Makers that documents, in oral histories, the women who have pioneered in so many professional fields. Watching these stories with my teenaged son serves as a salutary corrective to the impulse to take for granted the gains earned by these women. When my son heard Sallie Krawcheck reveal that photocopies of male penises were landing in her desk every morning, his shocked look reminds me: yes, we have traveled far. But we NEED to tell these stories, so that the gains are never minimized. (Educators: you can use the free discussion guides and lesson plans for this series at the website found at http://www.pbs.org/makers/discussion-guides/. )

Historian Gerda Lerner

Historian Gerda Lerner

Years ago I read something called “Lerner’s Law” referring to the pioneering work of historian Gerda Lerner. The “law” went something like: in the case of women who are pioneering in a field where women were not welcome, the fact that they know of one other single woman who achieved a similar feat made it exponentially more likely that they would be able to accomplish their goal. As I undertook research for this post, I could not find that comment: if you are reading this and are able to supply an attribution, I would be most grateful if you could let me know in a comment below. The nearest quotation I could find came from her book The Creation of Feminist Consciousness: From Middle Ages to 1870 (pub. 1993):

[T]he fact that women were denied knowledge of the existence of Women’s History decisively and negatively affected their intellectual development as a group. Women who did not know that others like them had made intellectual contributions to knowledge and to creative thought were overwhelmed by the sense of their own inferiority or, conversely, the sense of the dangers of their daring to be different….Every thinking woman had to argue with the ‘great man’ in her head, instead of being strengthened and encouraged by her foremothers. 

photos: AP images

Pioneering marthon runner Katherine Switzer does battle as the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. Photos: AP images

So whether or not Mo’ne fully appreciates the historical precedents that brought her where she is today (and what teen can grasp on whose shoulders she stands?), I find myself calling to mind the intersections of  essential gains won by pioneers who’ve received some recognition as such: what was won for all of us by Katherine Switzer, the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. She registered for the race using her initials, so that until she showed up to run, no one expected a woman (above is a series of photos documenting Katherine’s participation being discovered by Jock Semple, race official, his moving in to intercept her, then his being bounced himself by her boyfriend, Jack Miller). The recent #Likeagirl campaign reminds me that there are some strong voices reclaiming athletic abilities for women. They are welcome!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Standing-On-My-Sisters-Shoulders/55438180809

The heroines of the Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders documentary

But there are other pioneers I see even less recognized. For Mo’ne Davis inherits a legacy from Civil Rights foremothers in a way different than I do. The film “Standing On My Sisters’ Shoulders” reminds me of stories we are far too quick to forget, if we ever knew them at all. The film exists because

most of us have never heard of Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, Unita Blackwell, Mae Bertha Carter, or Victoria Gray Adams. But without the efforts of these women, the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi would not have been possible. In a state where lynching of black males was the highest in the nation, a unique opportunity for women emerged to become activists in the movement. This is their story of commitment, bravery and leadership in the face of a hostile and violent segregated society. In the name of freedom and equal rights, these women bravely faced great adversity and risked their physical safety, their jobs, and even their lives.

The accompanying book, “Pieces From The Past:  Heroic Women In Civil Rights” (edited by Joan H. Sadoff; co-Edited by Dr. Robert L. Sadoff and Linda Needleman) allows the women profiled in the film to continue telling their stories in more depth.

So: on a day I celebrate Mo’ne Davis, here’s to honoring all our foremothers, their divinely strong shoulders, and the incalculable benefits we enjoy even on the days we forget them.

  

While Owls and Poets Stalk Shadows

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This image comes from an old calendar, alas, without attribution for the photographer

 

This last-day-of-September morning, the sunlight outside the coffee shop window makes newly colored leaves glow. Passersby on the sidewalk squint into the brightness and hold up their hands to help themselves see better. In a season that still brings temperatures up to summer heat during the day, it’s finally undeniable that fall is here. And I? I am thinking of a poem I first read almost 20 years ago, a poem by poet Alison Luterman, titled “Invisible Work.”  It’s a lovely poem that begins:

“Because no one could ever praise me enough,

because I don’t mean only these poems but the unseen

unbelievable effort it takes to live

the life that goes on between them,

I think all the time about invisible work…”

excerpt from Alison Luterman’s “Invisible Work”  (The Largest Possible Life; Cleveland State University Press, 2001)

What kind of invisible work? The example she narrates is the work of a young mother, running rings around herself keeping her child safe, cutting “hot dogs into bite-sized pieces for dinner,” even though

“there’s no one

to say what a good job you’re doing, how you were

patient and loving for the ten

thousandth time, even though you had a headache.”

The poem appealed to me 20 years ago for this image, which is seen all too seldom: an empathetic appreciation for the quotidian task of raising small children. A number of online references you can find to the poem are often linked to Mother’s Day reflections.

But her work in this poem does not stop there, of course. Because the lines pivot, and the poet speaks directly to us again: 

 “And I, who am used

to feeling sorry for myself because I am lonely

when all the while, as the Chippewa

poem says, I am being carried

by great winds across the sky,

think of the invisible work that stitches up the world

day and night, the slow, unglamorous

work of healing, the way worms in the garden

tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe

and bees ransack this world into being,

while owls and poets stalk shadows,

our loneliest labors under the moon. …”

 

source:   http://bit.ly/fm-owl

source: http://bit.ly/fm-owl

Last night our own moon showed itself only the slimmest of fingernail clippings. My waking during the night was into a dim time, reflecting an experience of dull-witted moments of late.  I am most grateful for Luterman’s art that bears witness to the loneliness of frustration. Her lines succeed in helping remind us of so much.

So, as those colored leaves fall, and under the gathering leaf litter, the natural world begins preparations to enter the dark sleep that winter brings, I’m also holding out gratitude for all the invisible work that supports “our loneliest labors…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To pay attention… our proper work

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”  —Mary Oliver

One morning this week when the day was still cool I had the windows open.  Hearing a slight, skittery, fluttery sound, I moved into a room with a window not too far off the ground.  Outside the window was a flower bed that holds a patch of purple coneflowers, now dry and gone to seed.  I’d been meaning to pull them up; they had long since become unsightly.

What I saw through the screen, though, made me pause at the threshold.  On the heads of the brown, dried coneflower heads were a clutch of finch, feeding on the seeds.  I crept closer, moving slowly and as quietly as I could.  One was definitely a finch—it had that characteristic yellow color and the markings even I, no birder, recognize.  Most of the gathered fowl, though, were a soft grey.  When are finch grey, I asked myself.  Someone else in the house moved behind me and most of the small birds lifted off in a quick, nervous jump of feather and anxiety.  One closest to the window, however, stayed longer.  Looked over its shoulder, right at me, it seemed.  So soft, so warmly grey.

The wonder that is online searching turned up this photo of a mature finch and a fledgling, precisely like the ones I’d just seen outside the window.  These are even perched on a cone flower (though one in considerably better shape than mine).

Thanks to the Stokes birding blog: bit.ly/1amN23O

I consider this sight outside my window a very tiny treasure, one that might have been missed in the usual bustle of a busy day.  While my own writer’s notebook hasn’t yet produced a pearl from this beginning, at the Writer’s Almanac,  there is a fine poem by Billy Collins title “Aimless Love”: its opening stanza is clearly born of moments of observation similar to my own.

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

Billy Collins “Aimless Love”

 

Your assignment, should you choose to take it:

Today, give yourself a moment to notice small stirring and sights that—were you to rush—you might otherwise miss.  Bonus points: record them in your writer’s notebook.

 

Still sneaking up on the muse ….

"sneaking suspicion" -- cat at the wall

(Photo from: http://bit.ly/CatSq1)

This Monday morning when the muse again felt so many miles away all my inspiration might as well have taken off to Mars, I finally quit banging my head and — miracle — mercy dropped in.   An entire stream of thought, from nowhere I could have seen coming.

Well.

On reflection, this development shouldn’t be surprising.  Yet an old truth, newly rediscovered, certainly feels like revelation.  Writers have long known that the muse, like happiness, tends to flee direct pursuit.  There is a part of my conscious brain that knows this.  And yet.  And yet…still and again, I need to discover this truth anew.

As I read in a post by Misty Massey years ago, the best course of action is to remember that the best bait for inspiration is to “… lure it out into the open by pretending you don’t care. Before you know it, it’s curling up at your feet.”

At one level that doesn’t make much sense, does it?  Pretending you don’t care about your creative product can feel dangerous.  And sometimes, you may be so emotionally invested in the work that you cannot see anything but frustration at what you perceive as failures.

Every now and again, though, I can get just exhausted enough to learn something new—by finally letting go of the struggle.

(Photo from: http://bit.ly/Senv6b)

 

Turns out, all ll I needed this morning was to tell myself I had no time for the project that’s recently been frustrating me,  to sort of turn my back on it, and—sneaky, padded cat feet— it crept up behind me, purring to make its presence known, in a way I’d have killed for days ago.  Between its teeth was a tasty morsel; oh, sure, stolen from something else.  But I’ve got no scruples when it comes to such treasures.  I’ll take them however they arrive.   I simply need to remember that the arrival is more likely to happen when I can turn my back on my anxious, demanding mind and instead settle quietly,  entering a gentle waiting-that-is-not-quite-doing-nothing; entering an expectant interlude, a sympathetic distraction.

It was Kafka who famously said: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet” (from his translated Reflections on sin, pain, hope and the true way).

Here’s to finding ways, always, to welcome the world,  and then, to finding it rolling in ecstasy at our feet.

Enjoying Daffodils in the Lake District: Updated

Today at writing group I brought in a vase of daffodils from my yard and shared the classic “I wandered lonely as a cloud” William Wordsworth poem.  Many of us know the lines from school.  It is something to read them with fresh blossoms in front of you.  Like so many things that have become cliche because of frequent exposure, it’s worthwhile to re-experience them as close as possible to what an author’s intent might have been.

Another way to re-vision a familiar piece of writing is to have a young person re-imagine it.  In that spirit, I wanted to provide a link to this video of a “daffodil rap.”Beside the Lake and Beside the Tree, a Crowd of Daffodils.

From www.golakes.co.uk/wordsworthrap

According to the tourism webpage, the rap treatment was commissioned not to “dis” Wordsworth, but instead as a celebration.  It was created in the “bicentenary year of [the poem’s original] publication to help the next generation of Lake District visitors connect with his work” (for more details you can see the tourism page that supplies some background).

Here’s to the constant re-experiencing of great writing.

Word Snacks for the New Year

After the seasonal food-and-time-off debauch, I’m grateful for the turning of the year, though it’s slow going these past few days.  To ease back into regular work,  my practice is to turn to poems of the new year.  This morning it’s these lines:

“     … Gentle and just pleasure
It is, being human, to have won from space
This unchill, habitable interior
Which mirrors quietly the light
Of the snow, and the new year.”

“New Year’s Poem” by Margaret Avison.

Margaret Avison was a Canadian poet I had the good fortune to actually meet years ago.  She died in 2007 after leaving a valuable legacy to those to closely observe small moments.  Often, her poetry demands much of me as a reader so I take her words in small sips, remembering a comment made by Joseph Zezulka, an English professor at the University of Western Ontario and friend of Avison, who famously said: “Her poems were not snacks, they were full meals.”  Stuffed full of too many holidays, my writing self needs Avison, along with everything else, in tidbits at the moment.  But how necessary is the return  to words and work.

Not sure my digestion could handle a full word meal just yet,  I am also grateful to Lexington poet Sherry Chandler and one of her first blog posts of the year where she mentions “small stones” as a way to write our way into January.

There, she links to  The January Mindful Writing Challenge: A River of Stones,” a call to write a daily “small stone” during the month of January.

What are “small stones”?  The site says: “A small stone is a short piece of writing (prose or poetry) that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment. …The process of finding small stones is as important as the finished product – searching for them will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.”  This sounds like a good way to enter back into the work after a time away.  In a testimonial, one of the people who adopted the discipline of small stones says:

“…Several times I’ve had the thought that I absolutely don’t have the time or mental space or energy to stop and notice something outside my driven daily preoccupations, to compose even this tiny ‘small stone’ of words. But I keep finding that it doesn’t eat up time or mental space; on the contrary, time stops and new space is created.”

Here’s to each of us finding ways to create new space in this our new year—the best way there is, through our words.  Even beginning with sips or snacks, we’ll soon be back to those satisfying, full meals.  And as we get our creative momentum back, those words  really will build slowly, helping us create the new year.  What an image it is:  to conjure up that whole river of words our regular work will become.

On Setting One’s Intention

Readers of our anthology When the Bough Breaks know that one of KaBooM’s shared habits at our weekly writer’s meetings is individual goal setting.  As honestly as possible, each of us takes a turn to look back and summarize what we’ve accomplished in the previous week.  Then we take a few moments to review the week ahead, reflecting on the writing tasks to which we’ve committed and the ones that remain as-yet-unrealized dreams.  Finally, we articulate—speaking out loud to each other—how much of that task or goal we think we can, or should, accomplish in the week ahead.

The wisdom of this attention to our intentions becomes immediately obvious when you consider that “everyone knows the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”  Extend that aphorism and it becomes clear that no matter how bright one’s beginning, to accomplish the journey the traveller still make take each one of those thousand steps.    For some of us, each step requires a new commitment, and our KaBooM goal-setting time serves that purpose well.

This need to continually re-set my purpose is reinforced when I practice yoga with my wonderful teachers at the local Y.   There, we begin our classes with a mindful setting of our intention for that day’s practice on our mats by making our commitment physical.  We hold our hands in prayer position and place our thumbs on our foreheads, because that’s where intention starts.  We lower our hands to our hearts, because that’s where an intention begins to live, breathe, and have being.

From Sacred Source Yoga: http://sacredsourceyoga.wordpress.com/photo-gallery/ariele-meditating-in-nytimes/

Finally, our hands come back to our foreheads to “set” that intention.  When I set my goals at KaBooM meetings, I do my best to articulate goals that will live in my heart and prompt steadfast effort so that I have something of substance to report the next time we gather.

When I set my intentions for my writing work, I am taking seriously the dreams of my heart and the yearnings of my creative self.  At the root of the word “intend” is “tendre” which means, in part, to stretch.  There are times when the goals I set for myself feel too difficult, too great a stretch.  Yet by continually setting and re-setting my intention to make that stretch, the creative power available to me is a constant, wondrous surprise.

National Poetry Month—there’s one week left!

If I were a poet, celebrations of  National Poetry month would likely include the writing of some really great poetry.  Since I am not a poet, every year I use the celebration as an excuse to write some really bad poetry.  This may seem an odd way to celebrate the art of making, of poesis, but because these scribbles require attention, they produce increased respect for craft.  By treating the writing of poetry like inquisitive play, I’m given a gift: every happy failure committed to paper causes my appreciation for the really good stuff to go up like a bottle rocket.  So even the playful writing of bad poetry feels like one “right” response to the month’s intention.

One way to think of poetry is it’s a making that captures in literary form what might otherwise run down the drain with the dishwater.  Moments.  Images.  A glance.  New ways of seeing something familiar.  Considering that a miniature form might suit my non-poetic soul, this year I turned again to Gail Sher in her lovely book  One Continuous Mistake: Four Nobel Truths for Writers and her suggestion to write a haiku a day.  She suggested six months.  Fearing such a commitment too deep for a dabbler, I tried six days, and even in that brief span found myself growing more aware and open to fresh perceptions.

Sher’s introduction “Guidelines for Beginning Writers of Haiku” is elegant, simple, inviting.  She sketches the three levels on which a haiku works, and suggests a writer capture the “instantaneous now.”  Ah, I thought.  This is welcome discipline in the midst of my “too-much-to-do-in-too-little-time” daily race.Today I noticed the rain puddling—intense colors in the gray light—and a swelling gratitude for reminders to breathe deeply, settle, aim for clarity.

Which poems have you tried writing, or carried with you, to celebrate the month?

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

Is there anything so real as words?

“Magazines all too frequently lead to books, and should be regarded by the prudent as the heavy petting of literature.”~Fran Lebowitz

I often think of this quotation from Fran Lebowitz after I’ve started reading something when I should be doing something else.  “Just a little,” I tell myself.  I’ve glanced at the clock.  Then, I swear, it only felt like a moment.  I’ve only just gotten up a good head of steam on the story.  The clock must be lying!  But there they are again, the rest of my life’s obligations rudely insisting on interrupting a really good read.   For us tough cases, of course it’s not just magazines that lead to books.  Books lead to books.  All the time.

Just the other day, I picked up my first Christmas present to arrive in the mail.  A dear friend sent me Betsy Warland’s Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing. I opened it just about the time a responsible adult, a prudent person, would probably start thinking about making dinner.  “The act of reading is the act of belief,” says Warland.  And she had me.  Within the next few pages, she prompts: “As an exercise, you may find it useful to pull a number of books off the shelf and read only the first page of each.”    What a good idea.  Lots of writing teachers suggest exactly this.  What harm could a first page or two do, just before opening the frozen broccoli?

But because for me reading is like candy—who can stop at just one page?— before long I’ve read the first 50 pages of The Picture of Dorian Gray.   My children come into the kitchen.   The stove is cold.  All they can smell is my afternoon coffee. “Isn’t it time for dinner?” they ask.

It’s Oscar Wilde’s fault.  Not mine.  I hang the blame on the characters Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian himself, and more than that, on (page 36), “Words!  Mere words!  How terrible they were!  How clear, and vivid and cruel!  One could not escape from them.  And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed … to have music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of a lute.  Mere words!  Was there anything so real as words!”

But because kids can’t eat words, they finally convinced me to put the book down.  Dinner got made and eaten.

And today.  Well, today is a new day.  I can try reading the “only the first page” of a couple of books again today.  Before breakfast.

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