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

Writing as a Communal Art

 

I have just finished writing a poem a day during April. Having set that goal and (mostly) met it, it was a relief for the first few days not to have to come up with “something like a poem” in the midst of other obligations and demands.  At the same time, I felt bereft. The lull after the intensity of writing and sharing poems daily felt a bit like grief.

“Writing and sharing” – Yes. I gathered my poet friends via email, and we made the commitment to share a new poem daily no matter what else was going on in our lives. Part of what I miss this week is that conversation in poems, about poems, in support of our mutual (and solitary) work as poets. The surprises in the poems we shared. The way we allowed ourselves to write badly. The daily immersion in craft on some level. The encouragement of working daily. And, maybe most of all, the audience we were for each other. It’s this sense of being heard by astute but generous readers that I miss.

This was the fourth year that I have taken the month of April as a challenge to write a poem daily. This year my friends, poets George Ella Lyon (past Kentucky Poet Laureate), Sherry Chandler, Sue Churchill, and Martha Gehringer were my companions. (George Ella and Martha and I have written together in April for the past couple of years.) The level of writing was amazing some days—and bordered on silly on others (Okay, so we did cross that border!). We wrote for fun, just to see what might happen.  We could write three lines or three pages, revise or not, send something we’d started last year and wanted to rework. We could write something on our phone in a waiting room or spend a whole day wrestling with lines. The only rule was to write “something like a poem” – and even that rule was loosely applied.

As we wrote, I printed out each of our poems and put them into a loose-leaf binder. Another habit I’ve acquired.  I have four binders now, with poems from four Aprils. The binders capture the raw poems as they emerged – in the body of emails, as screen shots, or in documents we shared. Many of the poems where written “on the fly” – the fruit of productive minutes snatched from a day’s flow. A reminder of the power of setting an intention and of the collaborative nature of art. No, we did not collaborate in writing individual poems, but the poems we wrote and shared not only kept us accountable to each other but also sparked new work. What is writing but a kind of “call and response” between our words and all the literature that has ever inspired us?

When I meet with these poet-friends in person next week, we will read back through our “collected poems” of April, 2017. We intend to point out poems we particularly admired and talk about what works in these poems. I know we will laugh and moan about the “bad poems” we each produced and enjoy the freedom of letting them go. But we will each have a few poems we know we want to keep and revise—poems we see more clearly because of our friends’ responses to them.

If you haven’t tried this kind of shared writing challenge or if you didn’t get to write daily in April, start today – or write in June or whenever you choose to begin. Email some of your favorite writing buddies and see who will join you.  Not only is it more fun with friends, writing together deepens and enriches our work.

If you don’t have a local writing community, you might want to check out opportunities at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning here in Lexington. I have found the classes and groups at the Carnegie Center to be supportive and welcoming. Lifelong writing groups often begin with friendships formed in a class or workshop.

And, of course, the web offers many virtual groups.  The links below may be helpful.

 

National Poetry Writing Month      http://www.napowrimo.net

Websites for writers                          https://thewritelife.com/100-best-websites-for-writers-2017/

The Worth of the Writing Life

Glendalough, Ireland 1

The frame for the Canterbury Tales, one of the early works of literature in the English language, was a pilgrimage.  As the characters make their way along the road, having set aside their everyday lives for a time, the travelers share the stories that make up the collection of tales. It was a natural and effective way to structure that important work, and the connection it suggests between pilgrimage and literature seems particularly apt.

Learning to shape a love of the written word into an artistic offering is a journey in itself. When we commit to being writers, we set off on a pilgrimage. We set aside the urgent and relentless concerns of everyday life, for at least some part of the day or week, and focus on something that calls to our higher selves. We learn to see the world differently, becoming more careful observers in the context of the work we do. We form relationships with like-minded souls, fellow travelers on the same road, whom we might be unlikely to meet in any other way.

We have a destination in mind—publishing the book that elevates us from writers to authors, hopefully with the backing of a respected press and to the acclaim of critics and readers. A truly crazy dream is for sales figures that make for financial success as well. But what if that doesn’t happen?

Whether the path is through self-publishing or finding a publisher, the market is a wild and woolly place. The currency has more to do with gaining attention than writing well. Some wonderful writers have excellent careers, and that is something to celebrate. Yet it’s entirely possible to be a publishing success without committing to excellent work. I would like to believe that all good work will find its audience, but I’m not convinced.

With the outcome so uncertain, what would be the point of the writing life? For me, the reward has been the journey with my writing friends. The camaraderie in the shared devotion to our art has elevated my life and made life as a writer meaningful.

I don’t know who I would be if I had not claimed the desire to become a writer, learned to write well, and connected with others whose souls are fed through writing. How my work is received is out of my hands. When I can let go of the outcome and appreciate how devotion to the work makes me more fully alive, I find it easier to hold the destination loosely. I appreciate the satisfaction that comes from doing the work. And I remember that being part of a community that truly values the written word is itself a privilege.

 

 

Invite Yourself into Your Life

Welcome

 

Most days I rise early to spend a little time alone.  What I want from these morning hours is a sense of welcome to the day.  That feeling we get when we approach the door of a home as an honored guest, certain of comfort and cheer within.  The gift of hospitality.

What hospitality do I offer myself day-to-day? And how can I create it?  It seems a basic courtesy I might do myself to simply welcome the me of me into each instant, each hour.  Instead I find myself too often anxious, screened off from vitality in a world where there are screens everywhere — digital tv, smartphones, iPads, Kindles — broadcasting everything from details of the latest atrocities to mundane street corner murders, to pleas for money for every kind of cause to “sharing” of cute photos of grandkids or of cats Photoshopped to impossible expressions and attitudes.  I long for the squeal and slap of a wooden screen door interrupting the whirr of cicadas.  I want an unrefrigerated air at night through windows screened in rusty mesh.  Screens whose only information is the metallic tinge of iron, the sough of wind, the calls of sleepy birds and waking insects— sensual knowledge without guile or goal.

Barring these fantasies of lost time, alive now only in memory, I want to find myself at home in this now — in whatever place and moment I find myself — not pulled into puzzling out how history has led us to the Greek financial crisis.  Or worrying about how the fear and frustration of people caught in poverty or seduced by their private screens morph into racial and ethnic hatreds.  Beamed from the ubiquitous sources, each action and moment and decision of our mutual lives condemns me.  I am part of an inextricable tangle of cause and effect too large to comprehend except piecemeal.  I know too much and not enough.  Burning coal and traveling automobiles, even cattle breaking wind (and a  myriad of other variables I cannot keep hold of) determine there will be torrential rains one region, drought in another.  I am an accomplice to outcomes I cannot fully foresee or prevent — an insoluble part of universal conundrums.

I can find respite, though, if I am lucky or mindful enough, in the white expanse of silence that is the blank page.  No matter how long it has been since I wrote last, the page waits for my pen to trace a way through the briar patch of the day’s thoughts and facts and in the process draw a clearer outline of what has troubled me.  In the act of writing I turn the huge helplessness that oppresses me into squiggles of ink that flow into letters, words, sentences, paragraphs to contain and clarify it.  This respite waits not just for those who call themselves writers, but for anyone willing to sit down and shape their thoughts on a page.

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Finding words for what looms around us, it is possible to disperse its shadow, to be calmed by the rhythm of breath as it rises, steady and welcoming.  Here is the hospitality we crave.  The practice of reflective writing invites each of us to be the honored guest in her life.  Words, as they unfold across the page, have the power to name what feels wrong around us and — most importantly — to remind us of all we cherish.  This kind of writing rights the world, welcoming us home.

Letter to a Poet I Will Never Meet

effiesmith1

 

On the last day of Women’s History Month, I am sending out this letter to a poet I will never meet— Effie Waller Smith: b. January 6, 1879, Chloe Creek, near Pikeville, Kentucky; d. January 2, 1960, Neenah, Wisconsin

First, some of Miss Effie’s words, her poem, “Preparation:”

Preparation

I have no time for those things now,’ we say;
“But in the future just a little way,
No longer by this ceaseless toil oppressed,
I shall have leisure then for thought and rest.
When I the debts upon my land have paid,
Or on foundations firm my business laid,
I shall take time for discourse long and sweet
With those beloved who round my hearthstone meet;
I shall take time on mornings still and cool
To seek the freshness dim of wood and pool,
Where, calmed and hallowed by great Nature’s peace,
My life from its hot cares shall find release;
I shall take time to think on destiny,
Of what I was and am and yet shall be,
Till in the hush my soul may nearer prove
To that great Soul in whom we live and move.
All this I shall do sometime but not now –
The press of business cares will not allow.”
And thus our life glides on year after year;
The promised leisure never comes more near.
Perhaps the aim on which we placed our mind
Is high, and its attainment slow to find;
Or if we reach the mark that we have set,
We still would seek another, farther yet.
Thus all our youth, our strength, our time go past
Till death upon the threshold stands at last,
And back unto our Maker we must give
The life we spent preparing well to live.

—from The Collected Works of Effie Waller Smith, Oxford University Press, 1991.

Dear Miss Effie,

I have only found you and your work in this, my sixty-sixth year of life.  Though you were a Kentucky poet born and raised 50 miles from my home in Floyd County, Kentucky, I had never heard of you.

It was your poem, “Preparation,” that made me write to you.  I heard it read aloud about a month ago when you were inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Lexington at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.  Though the reader, Frank X. Walker, did a fine enough job of presenting the poem, I could not help but wish that a woman had been chosen to read it — any woman, black or white. Though your poem does not declare itself a woman’s poem and could apply equally to men and women, I think that too often it is women who allow the “ceaseless toil” you write of to come between them and “what [they were and are] and yet shall be.” At least when I heard the poem and heard the fact that you had stopped writing at the age of 38 (at which age I was just starting out), I felt that teaching or mothering or other kinds of care-giving had surely pushed your vocation of writing to the side.

Now I have read more about your life — how you moved to Wisconsin to live in a strict religious commune with your mother around 1919, for instance — and I see that your story is more complex than I had imagined.  For one thing, it’s clear that you did not let teaching and supporting yourself, moving from place to place, marrying or divorcing stop your important work of crafting poems.  You published steadily from at least as early as 1902 — when you were 23 and finishing your course work at the Kentucky State Normal School for Colored Persons, now Kentucky State University — until 1917, when as far as I can tell, you were living again in or near Pike County.  You taught in Kentucky and Tennessee during that time.  By 1909 you’d been married twice (in 1904 and 1908), each marriage brief, each ending in your divorcing the man.  You’d lost your only child (I haven’t been able to find out if it was a boy or a girl) when it was a young child.  You’d seen enough violence in the mountains to last you a lifetime, including the murder in 1911 of your ex-husband, Deputy Sheriff Charlie Smith, who had also been a lifelong friend.

Your self-possession astounds me, even from the distance of all these years.  What I have discovered of your life makes me certain that the more than forty years you spent not publishing poems were a deliberate act, at least to some degree, on your part.  Because I am a woman, too, who struggles with how and even whether to continue to pursue publication, after twenty-five years of publishing poems and other writing, I wish I could talk to you.  Your last publication, a sonnet you entitled “Autumn Winds,” was in Harpers, for goodness sakes.  One of the most prestigious places in the nation.  Why did you stop publishing?

Your work itself gives us some clues — its somber mood, its intense religious overtones.  And the fact that World War One was raging and that you had lost your only child may have been part of the beginning of your silence.  You had to have been weighed down with grief.  You moved away from your beloved hills, which has been not only a solace, but a source of imagery and inspiration for you.  Was it the convergence of all of these things?  I have moved twice this past year and often find myself wordless, unsettled in a world that seems more than ever bent on violence and hatred.  Was silence your answer to despair?  I don’t want to believe this.  Was it an act of faith to relinquish your writing career?  Or were there other “hot cares” that kept you from your poems?

Writers and scholars before me have wondered at your disappearance from print, and I am grateful for what they discovered or pieced together about your life.  In next week’s blog post I will continue this letter, using the work of David Deskins, Elizabeth Engelhardt, and your adopted daughter, Ruth Smith — as well as your own words  — to piece together more of your story.

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.

  

The Art of Finishing

 

Blog photoGreat is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When we moved this summer, I found these words tucked into a pile of old clothes.  The yellowed half-page torn from a steno notebook nearly thirty years ago had hung on the back wall of our walk-in closet above the small desk where I wrote.  That walk-in closet was the “room of my own” I claimed in our brand new house in 1984 as I mothered three children aged eight to one.  I knew I was good at starting things; I wanted to remind myself that finishing a piece of writing mattered.

Though I have finished books of poetry, an MFA, and a novel since those days of writing in the closet, I still find finishing a challenge.  Most writers struggle to complete a work and wonder if it is our fault that it takes so long to get it right.  The form we glimpsed as we set out on our poem or novel becomes less clear as we write ourselves into the interior.

Thanks in part to Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing as a Way of Healing, I have learned the value of reflecting on the writing process for each piece I undertake.  I set down what I have realized and what I plan to do next.  Capturing insights and seeing a way ahead has been so important in my work that I’ve incorporated keeping a process journal into the assignments for the classes I teach.

Here’s an excerpt from one of these:

September 16, 2009

And now for my fifteen minutes on the novel — the assignment I gave the Finishing class.

It’s one thing to write about the novel and have its stacks of pages safely out of sight  . . .  It’s another to read those pages and see what’s there and despair of ever making a coherent book out of them.  . . .  But it was necessary for me to see that my coming to know the story, to see its end and feel a general shape for it, was not the same as . . . having worked it out on the page for myself.  What was needed was for me to accept that I still had a period of wandering in the wilderness ahead of me, and that I had to surrender to that if I were to write the novel I want to write.

 

I wish I had made entries like this more systematically as I drafted my novel.  And that I had not buried them in the pages of my journals where I cannot easily access them.  Louise DeSalvo says in The Art of Slow Writing that she keeps her process journals on the computer where she can search them easily.  She accesses them to remind herself of the stages in finishing a work: “Whenever I’m stuck . . . I turn to an earlier journal and . . . learn that I habitually think about abandoning a project just before I see how the book should be organized; this helps me reengage with my current work more confidently.”

I was wise to post Longfellow’s words in that closet.  Finding a way to the end of a piece is an art in itself.  An art that isn’t only about finding the best ending, but also about having the patience to discern the story I’ve wandered into, to receive its wisdom and work out the techniques I need to tell it well.

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.

The December Calendar

Here we are at the beginning of December, with the pull of the holidays like a force of nature shaping how the days and weeks unfold. The traditions and expectations, the hopes and desires, the lists and tasks, are fully capable of taking over most of this month.

Tiffany's Christmas Tree

I’m trying to remember that I have a choice in how to navigate the season, and that I don’t have to shelve my writing for the duration. If I can find a way to stay connected to the work, at least a few hours every week, most everything else will go better. Yet every day presents a dozen demands pulling against that simple goal.

So I’m taking a look at the December calendar. I want to enjoy the traditions I’m preserving—this season of light is supposed to actually help us get through the darkest days. There are friends and family I want to see, halls to deck, gifts to shop for, and cooking to do. These things are pleasures, but remaining connected to the writing I need to do makes them easier to enjoy. I’m also looking at what it will take to finish the semester’s teaching, and the chores at home I need to accomplish. It’s hard to focus on anything else when those tasks remain to be finished.

In addition, I’m looking at the spaces on the calendar I want to set aside for writing—something like the temporal equivalent of a nature preserve. The spirit needs protection from over-scheduling just as nature does from over-development.

I know how easily the season’s activities can expand to fill all the available time these next few weeks. But with some boundaries in place I hope to keep the to-do list from encroaching—at least most of the time. Setting aside two hours for creative work means that wrapping gifts has to be done another time. If all goes well, I can plan for that and get both accomplished. Maybe the Christmas spirit and the creative spirit can co-exist.

Here’s hoping, anyway. I’d love to hear your strategy for finding balance in this beautiful, challenging season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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