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.

 

 

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.

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.

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?

Yarn. Tale. The thread of story.

As a writer who knits – or, on some days, a knitter who stops to write –yarn is, for me, a way into memory and story. One leftover ball, the colors of dusk sky, a fringe of evergreens wound into the horizon, bought at the Midway fair and intended for a baby’s hat, evokes a strand of words, a yarn to carry memory forward.

As I made the hat, the yarn bled onto my hands, onto the bamboo knitting needles. I called the alpaca farm and spoke to the woman who had sold it to me, who said to saturate the hat in salt water, then heat it in the microwave. Soaked and zapped, the seeping color stopped. Poor babe got a blurry, irradiated hat — proving that the harder I try to get some thing that will be so perfect (Kentucky alpaca for an expat infant in Salem, Mass.), so special (I met the alpaca!), so much beyond the generic, store-bought gift (hand-made, stitch by stitch, hand-dyed yarn), the more, in short, my pride demands I be beyond outstanding (is it pride or some other need?), the farther I have to fall.

And yet the baby wore her hat, her mother sent me a photo of her in it, and I have this part-ball left to knit into something else. And the colors still call to me, though I wonder if at the heart of this ball, the dye might still bleed.

And all this talk of bleeding and of winding takes me back to yarn as a tale, a thread of story coiled around itself and holding its heart hidden in the turning of its lines. Like a poem I’ve put down on the page or the turning of calendar pages reaching back and back. There never was a place that wasn’t tightly coiled and threatening to bleed. Even in the womb I was a curled bud wrapped in a cord of blood. “Wee weare within the wombe a wynding sheete” one of the Renaissance poets said, and when I read that line at nineteen, how I hated this assertion of our death beginning with our life, preceding even breath. Yet in that time of plague and filth and language lovely-harsh enough to catch it all, those poets spoke the truth.

I was a foolish girl, determined to reflect only the sun and deny the taste of earth already in my mouth, the sluggish drift of it in my very veins. I am wound up in this ball of yarn in ways I haven’t even come to yet. Its failing, its tendency to bleed or break under stress, its messy stain of color, even its softness and its lovely mix of shades are in my days. It sits in my wicker basket waiting to be taken up and used; if it is lucky, something will be made of it and that something – hat, afghan – will have its uses, elegant, unforeseen, ordinary, then will be tossed onto the trash, burned up in a fire or ruined in flood, folded into a trunk, a cardboard box, and stuck in some unused space.

As I knit (and when I write, as well), the lived experience and emotions of my days and hours are looped and caught into what I’m making. A scarf or hat can bring back the worries or the musings that overlay its creation, as this ball of yarn holds the October day and the fair at Midway, my daughter home for a weekend, our hours in the blue air, how I tried to just soak it up, to believe I really was there, and maybe tried too hard, as with the hat. This yarn holds my daughter’s tall form, her clear blue eyes, her laugh, and the long black eyelashes of the alpaca tethered in the shade beside the crafter’s tent, the percussive rhythm of the steam engine grinding corn into the grits we bought, the breakfast we shared the next morning, her driving away.

This ball of yarn, these words reach all the way back to her baby self and forward to the baby, then unborn, who has already outgrown her hat — and outward now, as story travels.

On the Subject of Book Fairs

Last week I had a conversation with a nice man who anticipates his self-published novel arriving at his house any day now. “Once they arrive,” he asked me, “what do I do next?”

I thought about this conversation Saturday as fellow KaBooM members and I sat in the middle of Main Street in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in 90-degree sunshine. Our umbrella tent provided some shade but was unable to keep us from noticing how heat shimmered above the asphalt or how good it felt to pour cold water over our heads and let it trickle down our necks.

Harrodsburg’s first Festival of Books and Arts coincided with an unseasonably warm June day in Kentucky, which meant that the crowds of book buyers were thinner than might have been expected, and, as a result, sales were lower. Had the newly-published novelist been present, he might have been disappointed by the results of his day and the undiminished stack of books in his trunk.

I concluded that you have to attend book fairs and local festivals for a multitude of reasons, not all of which include selling lots of books and making lots of money. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

Those other reasons might include the following:

  • Meeting other Kentucky authors. We were happy to chat with the famous and the soon-to-be-famous authors and publishing house representatives who happened by.
  • Noting how other writers go about making a sale. Those authors who sell books are accessible and inviting when browsers happen along. They make eye contact. They chat. They answer questions.
  • Checking booth arrangements for clues to success. Another writer also sold bracelets; Accents Publishing gave away pocket-size notepads. A basket of candy can help attract potential customers; if you are afraid the candy will melt, a vase of flowers is eye-catching.
  • Figuring out what equipment to invest in: Umbrella tent? Portable chair? Cash box/credit card swiper? Tablecloth? Display signs? Cart on wheels? Long-suffering friend, spouse, or partner who will help you with all this stuff?

And most importantly, recognize that you won’t sell out every single Saturday. Marketing your book is a time-consuming and time-spanning endeavor. You may have to convince yourself that the best reason to attend was to get your name and the name of your book before the public eye one more time.

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.

Where Preparation Ends and Real Learning Begins

Members of KaBooM enjoyed a lively session during LexArt’s Arts Showcase Weekend on Saturday. We talked about forming and sustaining a writing group, setting goals, writing grant proposals, and taking on a publishing project. The group of hardy souls who braved a wintry morning asked smart questions and brought great energy to the discussion. We had a wonderful time!

Yet amidst the rich conversation and advice about starting something new, a companion idea pulled up a chair.

No matter how carefully we plan, a new project means acting before we fully know what we’re doing. It’s wise to gather information and plan carefully, but preparing to launch something new is not the same as learning how to do it. That happens only when we take the plunge.

There’s a limit to what we can anticipate. Situations we don’t expect will arise, surprises good and bad will appear, and we can’t iron out all the details before we begin. This isn’t exactly a revelation, but it’s easy to lose sight of when we’re doing all we can to prepare for a new endeavor.

The intention to bring something new into the world entails meeting its unknown challenges, whatever they will be. Perhaps the best advice is to have a support system of insightful people who care about the outcome. A group of friends to help deal with the obstacles keeps us moving down the road.