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

The Power of Spring Cleaning

I am spring cleaning. Hold on to those images of soapy buckets and floor waxers. Don’t expect the smell of ammonia and vinegar. I am cleaning my office: purging files, reorganizing my bookshelves, checking old drafts, and sorting through notes from presentations made long ago.

The office is chaos; the project has been underway for a month and with each day I descend into a new layer of paper.

My original goal was to weed out books I wouldn’t keep, passing them along to new readers. I hoped to shred outdated papers and sort out saved mementos that my children might appreciate. I imagined how grateful they’d be that I spared them this effort.

Fellow KaBooM writer Leatha Kendrick writes that such a process is like revision, a seeing again of the work of a life. To some extent that statement is true. As I’ve worked I’ve reread essays and stories and arranged them in file folders. Many of these pieces are accompanied by early drafts and feedback notes offered by writing friends. Many pieces feel finished. From this exercise I am reminded that throughout my career I’ve been blessed to receive immediate feedback on my writing. Because I led writing classes, and because I always wrote and shared my work, I seldom had to wait for a response. Writing in community gives a writer a public and the payoff of quick publication.

However as my cleaning continued, I find that I’ve looped through revision. I find myself back to a starting point, a moment of generation.

Examples. In what I hope will be a penultimate step, I have three relatively short stacks of papers on my desk. One stack includes articles I’ve saved. My idea is that I will read those materials and write from the ideas gleaned therein. I see enough new material to supply a writing life lasting a good many years.

Another stack includes drafts of pieces that don’t feel finished. They are a living presence, waiting for the breath that will bring them back into existence.

The third stack remains a mysterious hodgepodge. Nothing in life ever sorts into three neat piles does it?

Spring cleaning has been good on many levels. One, I simply can’t go on acquiring books. I need to invent some kind of protocol to help me make decisions about future acquisitions. Suggestions are welcome.

Two, my stacks and my file folders contain work abundant enough to carry me to the end of my days. I need not ever worry about a lack of material.

Spring cleaning is giving me new energy and reminding me of the wisdom of letting something take longer than you meant to allot for it.

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The Best Kind of Slippery Slope

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Last summer I plowed through an arts and crafts fair looking for inspiration for my annual Christmas ornament. For the past several years I’ve been using up old paper goods (posters and a faulty book signature printed on paper with a high linen content) by making gift tags and ornaments in bulk.

A velvet Christmas tree with button trim caught my eye, and I purchased it. The ornament sat on my desk into autumn as I deconstructed it and plotted its re-creation in paper.

The original had once been part of a crazy quilt, I decided. I admired the colorful stitches. Could I embroider paper? Could I push paper through my forty-year-old sewing machine without clogging the feed dogs with pulp? I traced the velvet tree and made a pattern, dug out my jar of buttons, purchased embroidery floss, and ran a couple of crafting trials.

Not much about the original plan was successful. Perhaps others have had better luck embroidering paper. Not I—I crumpled paper with needle and thread. I never got around to trying to stitch the layers on my sewing machine.

So Revision #1 began. I could not simply copy the velvet Christmas tree. I was disappointed. I had liked the idea of decorative stitching as a way to distinguish my 2015 ornament, a way to make it less black and white. Then I remembered that while it may be hard to embroider paper, Mohawk superfine loves stamp ink, so I stamped away.

From that point it was the best kind of slippery slope to the final product: a flat ornament became three-dimensional thanks to a friend with a good eye. His casual comment that the tree might be made to look more like a little book led to additional layers and to stitching things together with a bookbinding technique—and to my remembering that paper can easily be sewn when you pre-punch holes with an awl.

The “published” form of the ornament looked little like its prototype with the exception of its general shape and jaunty button hanger. But I was pleased with the outcome and felt I’d produced something that looked like me.

As I prepared for a December 21 writing class at a local retirement community, I realized I had a teachable moment. Not only would we write about trees, but also I could talk about finding my way as an ornament maker. On the one hand was a piece of art I liked but couldn’t replicate. On the other was an ornament I made by trusting my own experiences, materials, and skills. I had to enter into the creative process not so much with a fixed end in mind, but with faith that through fretting and failing, by seeking feedback and trying again, I could make a product that was all mine.

As I gifted the last seven trees to members of the class, heads nodded around the table. Several members told me they far preferred my paper tree to the velvet one. Of course they did. We all know that with effort and trust in what we know, by relying on vocabulary we’re comfortable with, we can find our way as artists.

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The Fairy Godmother Asks, “If I Could Give You Any Life You Wanted, What Would It Look Like?”

Her Smalls

Last Tuesday, I left our KaBooM meeting at noon, drove home, heated leftovers, and worked the daily crossword. An hour later I was walking.

Yes. I just opened the front door, walked through it, and spent the next forty minutes looping my neighborhood. The air was brisk but cloudless so the walk refreshed, filling my lungs and bloodstream with as much oxygen as a girl can handle.

I left my earbuds and podcasts behind. Instead, I let my thoughts play over KaBooM’s conversation, which had culminated with the Fairy Godmother Question. I think of such conversations as calibrations, thirty-thousand-mile tune-ups, wellness exams (or appointments made for minor illness). We need them periodically to right our ships.

What struck me first was the ease with which I started my walk. I just opened the door, walked through, and pulled the door shut behind me. Perhaps I should have stretched or filled a water bottle, but I didn’t. I was pulled by the beauty of the day, the limits on my time, and by my mental and physical need to stretch and move. I wore walking shoes and socks but considered no other special equipment.

Walking is an established habit, borne out of medical and psychological necessity. Walking ensured a quick recovery from surgery. Walking enabled me to maintain my sanity while recovering from medical treatment. Walking helped me keep off the ten pounds I lost during that process. I’ve been rewarded by a twelve-point drop in my glucose number, a drop that took me out of “scolding” range. I’ve been rewarded by drops in cholesterol that make medication unnecessary.

There’s much at stake with my walks, yet I can just open the door and without fanfare begin a walk? So why is writing, an equally life-giving, sanity-maintaining necessity, so much harder for me to initiate? Why do I surround myself with rituals before writing that sometimes prevent me from ever getting to the activity itself? The cup of coffee, hot, with just the right amount of my brand of creamer. E-mail checked and critical messages answered. Worries over interruptions, real and imagined. The dishwasher that has competed for my attention for forty years. Forty years, and I haven’t figured out how to outsmart that bitch? Shame on me.

Of course I know the answers to these questions. It’s time for recalibration, a wellness exam to cure a minor illness.

I must re-establish writing as a habit. For many years I spent summers with a writing project, beginning every morning with thirty minutes of quiet writing time. That early motion of the pen almost always resulted in my returning to that work throughout the day, whenever snatches of time could be found: between classes, at lunch, before bed. Momentum begun is difficult to arrest.

So, Fairy Godmother, thank you, but I do not want a different life. I want more of the same. It’s up to me to tweak time; to shave a bit here and attach it there. I will consider whether there are activities that sap more energy than I can afford to give, but this strikes me as an unusual activity for a retired person who ought to be wise enough to have given up those things which are truly draining and give nothing back.

I can manage thirty minutes of quiet writing time. I will walk though the door into the fresh air of my own brain without fussing about “getting ready to write.” I’d like to re-establish this habit and see if I can regenerate momentum.

How would you answer the Fairy Godmother’s Question?

Photo credit: “Her Smalls” by Jan Isenhour

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Keeping the Faith and Doing the Work

Sometimes writing is just work. It requires stamina as much as creativity—especially in revision, with a draft full of problems to address, holes to fill, questions to resolve. The only way forward is to put one foot in front of the other, page after page, through the manuscript.

In the phase I’m currently working through, I measure progress with a growing stack of pages face down and finished. After that, some larger issues about the structure of the work need to be addressed. I don’t have answers for the concerns that await, which is hardly comfortable. But I try not to think too far ahead right now, just do the work in front of me.

2014-04-22 KaBooM Writing Table

I try not to look too far to either side as well, because there lurks the nasty question of what else I could be doing with my time. This work I do doesn’t appear to be making the world any better. It’s in service to something others cannot see, at least for now. And there are times when I have a hard time seeing it myself. I consider myself blessed to have friends who help me keep the faith, who know the life-giving value of good writing and the worth of pursuing and sharing it.

It’s an act of trust as much as an act of will to write. The words, the lines, the chapters require genuine toil to be well-formed. In the effort required to bring them to light there is the hope that they serve a worthwhile project, but not a guarantee. Does my vision of the completed project merit this effort? I hope so; I think so; but it remains to be seen. I continue not because I’m sure of the outcome, but because for me participating in this process is necessary to be fully alive.

It’s the process I trust. The impulse to write, to create, is life-affirming. The drive comes from some place I cannot understand, but the wisdom and vitality in that pressing energy is something I must answer to. And because the creative process has led me to places of astonishing beauty, I know that following it yields more than anything I alone might do.

Working to serve that creative energy is not so different from the actions we take in other aspects of our lives. We are rarely able to see the whole picture. We do the best we can to meet the needs of the day, to choose well, to live generously, in hope that our actions are in service to something that matters. We set the priorities and live the values that give shape to our days, our lives. We hope our choices allow us to live as a full and worthy vessel, its form growing clearer as our lives unfold.

Courage is what we need, whether to work hard at our art or to live out our lives, when we can’t know for sure the result. May we encourage one another.

Handling Poetry

Poetry anthology illustration

Years ago when I worked for a boss who distributed poems at staff meetings, I started the habit of sticking my favorites into a loose-leaf binder. That binder became my own camera-ready anthology: poems at my fingertips to be shared with classes and recombined into packets for specific teaching purposes.

As life filled, the binder filled, filled to overflowing. When I retired, I crammed it in a box and carried it home to worry about another day.

That other day arrived this winter. Record snowfalls, cold, and ice canceled meetings, closed gyms, and kept me close to home.

Organizing the binder looked like a doable project: order a few poems by author’s last name and recycle extra copies.

Easy.

As I entered Day Three of the project, I was reminded that few tasks of this kind end up being straightforward. I first deviated from the path of start-to-finish when I found myself tallying which poet had written the greatest number of poems I prized. (Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Jane Kenyon, and Wislawa Szymborska were the winners.)

Next I made a pencil notation on any poems whose source I could recall, creating a provenance of poetry appreciation.

The individual poems soon came to life for me. Their physical appearances are so dissimilar. Some poems came by way of book release announcement, straight from a local letterpress, printed on high quality paper. Others are photocopies (some few perhaps photocopies of ancient purple dittos). Some poems are printed on paper with festive borders or in seasonal typefaces so hard to read that the giver translated the poem on the flip side in plain old Times New Roman. A very few are handcopied. Even the poems printed on turquoise cardstock have their advantages. Too dark to read, in the binder they are easy to spot.

And of course, I read and reread. I saw that themes converged (themes of joy and loss, reminders to value a closely-named present, seasonal markings), I remembered when I first heard a particular poem read aloud, I appreciated anew poems written by friends and students, amateurs and professionals, and that poem-distributing boss, who taught so many of us to love language on a page with wide margins.

Most importantly, the exercise reminded me that I have written poetry. There, among the I’s, are copies of my work. I remember the genesis of each creation, I relive the struggle to make each poem the best possible, I replay the rare occasions when I took a poem out in public and shared it with an audience. I find images and lines that please me still: a poem about choosing a china pattern written as a toast for my daughter’s wedding, a simile in which I compare another of my efforts to a tomato with blossom-end rot.

Handling words in this way strikes me as a useful prelude to writing (emphasis on “hand”) as opposed to reading, which permits an extra layer of separation from the text.

Nonetheless, I must bring this project to a stop, stop this wonderfully fertile “composting” as one friend calls it and go back to nurturing my own frail seedling words that have languished in the chill of this unseasonable winter.

Or in the words of a villanelle I forgot I wrote back in 1976:

Winter is sometimes fine for talking,

shoring against crack of spring.

Then comes a feeling in the blood for acting.

 

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.

Creative Starter

This is a jar of sourdough starter. It has a complex, yeasty aroma that lets you know something is going on in there—not particularly appetizing in itself, but interesting and not unpleasant. In baking it gives a depth of flavor you can’t get any other way.

Jar of Sourdough Starter

The starter is wonderful to use when I want to make bread, but keeping it available requires some tending. It’s a living thing, and the only way to have it on hand is to feed it regularly. Food in this case is flour and water. I stir it in and let the brew ferment for a while. The action starts in the depths, heaving lumpy air pockets toward the surface until a fine layer of bubbles breaks through. Once things settle down it’s ready to store and use.

As long as I pay attention to the starter once a week or so it remains alive and healthy, responsive when fed. It adds both flavor and leavening to the dough I make. But if I let it go too long between feedings it weakens and turns lifeless—not much good for bread or anything else.

Sometimes it feels like a lot of work to keep a starter going, but if I want to have the option of making sourdough it’s a lot easier to feed than to start from scratch. Beginning again requires more ingredients, time, and tending. It also involves letting the batter absorb airborne yeast, which I didn’t know existed until I learned to cultivate this magic ingredient. Fascinating that this fermenting concoction can take part of what it needs right out of the air.

When conditions are right, creativity works the same way.

We all know the effort of starting from scratch when life requires creative work of any kind. To keep my writing life going, I’ve had to make new starter countless times. But this summer my hope is to regularly feed an ongoing project and have some loaves coming out of the oven in a few weeks.

Working at it most every day is one of the ways I intend to do that. Staying with a project keeps it alive. But the other kind of replenishment that keeps the work going I feel less sure about.

Julia Cameron insists that creativity is nourished by Artist Dates—outings that break from the routine, pursued simply for delight. It keeps the work alive by keeping the artist alive.

The theory is great, but here at the beginning I can’t help but suspect the Artist Date approach could be yet another way to avoid getting the work done. At the same time, I want to keep the yeast alive. What I really want to do is earn that creative food.

I know from experience that following through on Artist Dates is harder than it sounds. Granting myself that kind of permission, not to mention coming up with good ideas for outings, can be a stretch. But perhaps I’ll give it a try. After all, it takes both flour and water to feed sourdough starter.

How do you feed your creative starter? And if it’s been too long, how do you go about mixing a new batch?

 

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.

Taking Time to Celebrate

Here at the end of the year with the holidays upon us, the days feel too short and the things to be done seem to multiply. Creative work easily falls victim to those long to-do lists, and it’s tempting to respond by trying to demand more of ourselves. But the holiday hiatus might actually nourish our creative pursuits if, instead, we take time to give ourselves credit for what we have done this year.

A life that embodies creativity is something to celebrate. The cultivation of creative gifts, at whatever level we’ve been able to work, puts us in closer contact with the world and helps us to appreciate the talents of others. A shared appreciation of art, or of the effort to create it, fosters friendship and community. Whatever our shortcomings as writers and artists, no matter the goals that are as yet unreached, life is richer and more meaningful for the creative efforts that we do make.

KaBooM at Holly Hill Inn Dec 2011-1

Our group celebrated the holidays, and another year together, with lunch at the Holly Hill Inn in Midway. (We missed you, Leatha!) A wonderful meal in a beautiful setting, the exchange of simple gifts, and time spent relaxing together is a tradition we look forward to. This year we’re celebrating the publication of books and the perseverance in writing those books we hope to publish. We celebrate making progress in our work and making gains with our health; bringing creativity to our lives and bringing life to our creative goals. We celebrate the friends who appreciate the work we’re doing, and the support that encourages us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Such abundance.

Christmas Lunch

So if you’ve written something, supported a reading, penciled a sketch, attended a show, played some music, made some art, shared a poem, or in any way contributed to the flow of creative work—it deserves to be celebrated! You’ve been part of what breathes life into everyday existence and makes the world more humane. These small acts are bigger than they might seem, and they deserve to be lifted up and acknowledged before the year is gone. It’s an effort that matters, so remember to give yourself credit for it.

 

 

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.

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