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

Claiming a Space, Making It Yours

                       “Virginia Woolf has said it: What a woman (what any writer) needs in order to write is a room of one’s own.     It is not simply a matter of space — it is a space of one’s own that is needed.”  —Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and With Others

 Google “writers on their rooms,” as I did, and you will find blog posts, TV series, photo sequences, books examining “where I write.”  Even non-writers seem fascinated by the spaces in which their favorite authors spend their creative time.  As a tourist I have visited writers’ homes — from James Thurber’s house in Columbus, Ohio, to Anna Akhmatova’s apartment in St. Petersburg, Russia, and many spaces in between.  Something in us wants to see the rooms where writers sit doing their invisible work.  As if by entering that space we could enter the artist’s process.

In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard muses, “ . . . if I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamers, the house allows one to dream in peace.”   Writers’ rooms fascinate us because they house the dreaming that is the creative process.  The contours of walls, the angle of light, even the stacks of papers and books become the shape of that dreaming.

The need to understand writing spaces became urgent for me as my husband and I consolidated our family home of thirty years with my separate writing space of more than ten years — combining two kitchens, two sets of everything, including two writing rooms from two different phases of my writing life.  In my relief at letting go of the burden of a home too large for two people and my anticipation of no longer having to maintain two households, I denied what the moves meant for me as a writer:  the dissolution of a space I had slowly claimed in which to do the creative work essential to my wellbeing. Instead of the joy and ease I had expected to feel in claiming our new space, I have felt mostly anxiety — the primal terror of “disassemblage.”

In an essay I wrote twenty years ago I described the writing room I created for myself in our family home.

 But one room of the house is mine alone, reclaimed from Barbies, Little People houses, and the spring- frame rocking horse–Shy Anne (Cheyenne)–where [our oldest daughter] sang to Sesame Street.  Sitting in the quiet of what has become my writing room, rereading Wallace Stevens’ “Idea of Order at Key West,” I understand it at the level of the body: “there never was a world for her/Except the one she sang and, singing, made.”   Here, in what was the playroom for the first six years of this house, my girls sang themselves into existence.  Those years the bodies of my children enfleshed Paradise, ordered the universe.

And beyond that Paradise, this angled space above the garage has become my retreat:  to three favorite chairs, two desks, and half a dozen bookcases filled with poetry, volumes on craft, essays, science, and theology—my  room.   What is distilled here is an inner landscape, a different kind of garden, and one which it has taken me years to claim.  Beyond Edna’s pigeon house and the insanity of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper, I have brought Lessing’s “Room 19” home.  My place of solitude.  To not create this place, I finally understood, was death, a drowning in other people’s needs, a suffocation.  Here writing continues like the heartbeat in the center of the chest, life within a life.  My home.  [“No Place Like Home,” The American Voice, No. 49, Summer, 1999]

Of course, my old spaces, dismantled in the course of moving, are not recreate-able in this very different room.  Everything from the compass to the floor plan make it impossible. I can’t quite find myself in this room I have chosen, and I’ve given up my old writing rooms, which makes me angry as well as anxious.  Above all I’m impatient to get on with work long interrupted by this dual move which has dragged out now for five months.

Tonight, reading and preparing to write, I glanced up and for the first time felt my new writing space taking shape:  the space seemed to gather itself around my ratty peach recliner (reclaimed from that first writing space) and the desk moved from my writing studio, set at  90º  to a scarred work table inherited from my grandparents’ business, and the bookcases along the walls and the lamps I have gathered over years.

Yes, there are boxes to be unpacked and things to be sorted, put away, let go of, but I am making (again), in my intuitive, slow and inexact way, Woolf’s “room of one’s own.”  Inimitable.  Suiting only myself.  A dreaming space.

 

 

Going Soft

A few days ago, in a class offered by Karen Lodes at The Yoga Meditation and Therapy Center, I encountered a new way of thinking about the body and how it is affected by tension.

Our bodies exhibit the properties of both liquids and solids. We can be fluid and flowing, like a liquid, or rigid and unyielding, like a solid. We’re healthier when we’re soft and relaxed; we develop problems when we can’t let go of tension. And of course, the state of our body reflects our state of mind.

Frozen Falls on Limestone

 

A mixture of corn starch and water offers a vivid demonstration of a substance that can behave either as a liquid or a solid, depending on the force exerted on it. Pound your fist onto the surface of the mixture and you’ll meet a solid wall that can’t be penetrated. Press your hand gently into the mixture and you’ll easily penetrate it. This video is fun, and shows how it works:

 Walking on Water: Corn Starch and Water Demonstration

As I think about approaching my work in the new year, I have this demonstration in mind. In order for a new idea to penetrate my psyche, I need to be soft. For the work to flow through me, I need to relax enough to make that possible. If I’m worried about what the next project should be, or when I can finish it, or whether I’m up to the challenge, my thoughts are going to be calcified and the work isn’t going to flow. Force creates resistance.

The discipline to show up at the page is necessary. But so is the discipline of breathing, of relaxing, of letting go.

 

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Notes from the Ky Women Writers Conference

The 2014 Kentucky Women Writers Conference was full of inspiration and insight, and more ideas than anyone can absorb. I don’t have snapshots to share, but here are some snapquotes to give you a glimpse of what the conference was like. For anyone else who was there, it would be great to hear about what stood out to you.

2014 Ky Women Writers Conference

Jill McCorkle made the intriguing comment that “I’ve come to believe that the [short] story has more in common with a poem than a novel.” She also said that in beginning a new project she almost always starts with the voice of her main character.

Rebecca Makkai spoke about endings, saying “A good ending adds to the story; it tells you something you didn’t already know.” She noted that film has taught us that leaving the audience with sound at the end is often more effective than leaving us with an image. With this in mind, consider how the final lines sound. Pacing is part of that. It often works to slow things down at the end.

Margaret Wrinkle led a workshop on the spiritual work of writing, and the spiritual encounter with material that matters—what she referred to as the stories that are bigger than we are. This is what comes first, before the crafting of work. We journey to that deep place where we find the story and bring it back. “Creativity is a spiritual practice,” she reminded us. “The key to the creative process is surrender.”

Hannah Pittard told how reading Alice Munro’s “Runaway” changed her approach to critiquing work during writing workshops. “First find the most beautiful thing,” is her new philosophy. All kinds of surprising things can work in service to what resonates.

Kim Edwards noted that when Munro’s first person narrators question themselves, they become more accessible.

In Liza Dawson’s agent talk, among her many recommendations was to spend time on publishers’ websites and learn how books are sold. Look at how those books you like are described. You have a dual identity as a writer and as a business person.

But most vivid is a piece of advice from Margaret Wrinkle. Take a piece of paper and write down the mental impediments to doing your writing: the self-doubt, the fear, the questions about the validity and worth of your work. Then burn that list and put the ashes into moving water, letting them be carried away. Repeat as needed. Even the mental image of this exercise is freeing.

 

 

A Group “Artist Date”

It’s been years since our group worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way together, but we return again and again to some of the practices we learned from it. The “artist date” is one—time set aside to do something out of the ordinary, purely for the delight of it. The idea is that a creative life needs to be nourished, and that new experiences of beauty and art can infuse us with a sense of vitality that stimulates our own creativity. Ideally, we would have an artist date every week; in reality, it rarely works that way. But when life feels drained of its color, an artist date is pretty good therapy.

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Usually an artist date is an individual experience, but sometimes it’s fun to have one as a group. And because it’s harder than it sounds to take a break from our obligations, a group artist date helps make it happen when it seems out of the question individually.

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These are pictures from an artist date we set up for ourselves last week. It was time for a break from the routine, and we were captivated by the idea of a paper-crafting day. Maybe it’s the connection with the tools of writing, but making books and other objects with beautiful paper is like a mini-vacation for all of us. We have helped children and grandchildren with countless creative projects, and our group has even worked with a Girl Scout troop to make handmade books, but on this day we assembled all kind of papers, notebooks, stamps, glue, ribbon, awls, patterns, and scissors to see what we could come up with for ourselves.

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As we settled into exploring the materials our conversation quieted. We spoke in fragments when we spoke at all, absorbed in what we were doing. Even writers—perhaps especially writers—find it necessary to take a break from words from time to time. It was satisfying to work with color and texture, and to see the variety of results when we were finished. But the process must have been more important than the outcomes, because I forgot to take photos of the completed projects.

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What’s your idea of a good artist date?

 

 

 

 

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.

Wandering in the Woods

Gardner 003

I’ve been carrying around a copy of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction this summer. In addition to getting sand in the binding, waterlogging one corner, staining a few pages, and bending the cover, I’ve also read this wonderful book all the way through. Summer travel schedules meant our group has met infrequently these past couple of months, but during that time Gardner has made a terrific writing companion.  His insight and analysis provide helpful information. Even more, the depth of his thought about writing fiction affirms the value of this strange work we do.

One of the things I find satisfying about the book is its understanding of the creative process. Gardner appreciates, as well as anyone can, the powerful role of the unconscious and its symbolic language in shaping the strongest and most resonant writing. In a discussion of description he writes:

To the layman it may seem that description serves simply to tell us where things are happening, giving us perhaps some idea of what the characters are like by identifying them with their surroundings, or providing us with props that may later tip over or burn down or explode. Good description does far more: It is one of the writer’s means of reaching down into his unconscious mind, finding clues to what questions his fiction must ask, and, with luck, hints about the answers. Good description is symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where, little by little as his fiction progresses, he can work with them and finally understand them. To put this another way, the organized and intelligent fictional dream that will eventually fill the reader’s mind begins as a largely mysterious dream in the writer’s mind. Through the process of writing and endless revising, the writer makes available the order the reader sees.

Gardner reminds us that we have more resources than we can know when we start to write. It helps to remember that when we’re wandering in the woods, trying to find the path of the story. Giving ourselves to this work is an act of faith in a process that has no map. There’s nothing comfortable about that. But in spite of how it feels, not knowing where we’re going doesn’t mean we’ve lost our way. We know more than we think we do, but only as we work does it come to light. Maybe that’s the best reason of all for writing.

 

 

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.