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 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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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.


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!


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.


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?


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?

Paying Attention

Diane Ackerman signing books following her talk at the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Sept. 11, 2010

In her recent talk as part of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Diane Ackerman shared with her audience the value she has found in paying close attention. It’s clear that her books grow out of her keen observation of the natural world. But she spoke also of the solace she finds in nature, when she can “loll in wonder’s swaying hammock.”

She described finding moments of transcendence during her husband’s illness at those times when she was able to bring her attention to the natural world. When fully present to some aspect of nature, the weight of other concerns eased. Even nature found in “the manicured wilderness of the city” offers such an escape. It takes us outside of ourselves.

Our work, our careers, our lives are shaped in large part by where we place our attention. Noticing the wonder of the world we inhabit is an ability that grows from both freedom and discipline. We need the liberty that allows our perception and thoughts to wander, absorbing the beauty and drama of this amazing earth. Yet when we are caught up in our individual lives, it takes strength and discipline to look beyond ourselves.  Curiosity and openness put us in touch with the world, while focus and discipline allow us to engage deeply with it so that we can create work and offer something back to the world.

Ackerman’s talk was a reminder that the skills of observation we rely on as writers are the same skills that refresh and strengthen us in the midst of living. The ability to be present, to really pay attention, to notice the life unfolding all around us, is the way toward “the satisfying state of mind we sometimes call joy.” The writing life teaches us a rich and rewarding approach to living.

Then there is the work of writing about what has engaged us. Ackerman described her own process of beginning new work as the task of picking something to focus on, then thinking of something, anything, to say about her subject. A process she described as “trying to get the goose of creativity to lay a golden egg.” Her method, however, is workmanlike: Write a sentence. Then write another about that sentence. And so on.

Inspiration is everywhere, but the work of writing is always specifically here, in this particular place, with this subject, on this page, with these words. Attention focused outwards will lead us to our work. Attention focused on the work will lead us to accomplish it.

Clearing the way for discovery

As I write uncharacteristic weather is demanding energy and attention and this morning while I shoveled drive and walks yet again, my mind turned mildly allegorical.  Born in Canada and sojourning in a half dozen different climatic zones, I’ve developed a discipline towards snow removal that, on reflection, serves me well when I apply it to my writing work.

As soon as conditions permit, I clear what’s on the ground: this causes my children, raised in Kentucky, no end of bafflement.  “Why bother?” they demand (hoping to dissuade me from insisting on their involvement in my odd behavior).  Because they asked, I delight in pointing out the advantages of my method.

Doing the work immediately means I get a sense of conditions “in the field.”  I know how the wind feels, I see up close what kind of snow this is.  Once I’m out, I notice details I’d never have seen from the window or on a quick scurry from warm house to car—the weather ceases to be just the stuff I have to slog through, and begins to present unique joys (this morning’s dusting, for example, had those large crystals that reflected jeweled light).

In addition, keeping up with the task means it’s rarely overwhelming: I live in Central Kentucky where the snowfall is never heavy.  Though my back and knees could never handle a deep snow, regular moderate effort serves me well here.

In fact, there are unexpected surprise benefits for my having simply done the work.  Yesterday, though the temperature never officially rose above freezing, the simple act of clearing what was on the ground meant that the day’s light reflected off the surrounding banks of snow and heated up the exposed drive and walks, so that by the day’s end everything was completely clear, down to the pavement.   Oh, sure, it snowed again last night, but this morning there was no accumulated, hard-packed neglect that threatens underneath this morning’s small collection.  In past snows, I’ve seen neighbors hacking away at dangerous ice once things begin to melt; our regular effort means our small plot harbors no hazards that demand such hard labor.

The analogy breaks down, of course, at many levels.  But I’m reminded that regular attention to the writing prevents despair and the feeling of defeat, and leaves the way clear for inspired discoveries to shine unencumbered.