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

Enjoying Daffodils in the Lake District: Updated

Today at writing group I brought in a vase of daffodils from my yard and shared the classic “I wandered lonely as a cloud” William Wordsworth poem.  Many of us know the lines from school.  It is something to read them with fresh blossoms in front of you.  Like so many things that have become cliche because of frequent exposure, it’s worthwhile to re-experience them as close as possible to what an author’s intent might have been.

Another way to re-vision a familiar piece of writing is to have a young person re-imagine it.  In that spirit, I wanted to provide a link to this video of a “daffodil rap.”Beside the Lake and Beside the Tree, a Crowd of Daffodils.

From www.golakes.co.uk/wordsworthrap

According to the tourism webpage, the rap treatment was commissioned not to “dis” Wordsworth, but instead as a celebration.  It was created in the “bicentenary year of [the poem’s original] publication to help the next generation of Lake District visitors connect with his work” (for more details you can see the tourism page that supplies some background).

Here’s to the constant re-experiencing of great writing.

The Power of Story

It’s a hot Friday afternoon in summer, after five o’clock, and already cars and people have moved away from downtown Lexington. I’m walking uphill toward the Carnegie Center with one of the many writers I’ve worked with during my time at the center.

We blink as our eyeballs adjust to the light, bright after the hour we’ve spent in the StoryCorps recording booth, an Airstream trailer parked next to the old courthouse.

This interview, as much as any other event of the past months, seems a clear dividing moment, marking my Carnegie Center life from the new one I’m going to live, the one I don’t yet know much about.

I have a long history with this particular writer, a Vietnam veteran who first walked into the Carnegie Center in 1993. He wrote his manuscripts on legal pads and never used punctuation; I was a former copyediting instructor who had recently learned how to lay out books using desktop-publishing software. I read literary novels; he preferred westerns. He had done time in reform schools and finished fifth grade; I had a wide-eyed optimism for life, a belief in the opportunities provided by education.

We are twelve days apart in age.

Over the years he’s learned to use a computer, tried voice-activated software, started more books, devised a plan to employ the unemployable, written dozens of letters to celebrities and politicians, found a home.

I’ve learned to set aside the assumptions I make about people I pass on the street and to be delighted by the surprises in what they have to teach.

We celebrate all these moments in the StoryCorps trailer. In the panel-lined quiet, seated across from one another at a café table, speaking softly into the microphone, we start with our prepared questions, but soon find ourselves moving from interview to conversation, agreeing on the power of the written word to bring human beings together, to show us how similar we are, even in the midst of our differences.

Sealed away in the dim quiet, with late afternoon traffic moving past us just a few feet away, we affirm the value of sharing stories.

 

 

The Power of the Pen

I love my computer. It simplifies the physical process of writing for me. Editing is easier. How did we ever compose without cut and paste? Spell check, for all of its faults(and they are many), catches errors that the eye might overlook. The computer makes writing faster so that when I type, I can keep up with the racing thoughts that sometimes accompany creative energy. I find it easier to get my thoughts out when I’m not distracted by the feel of the pen in my hand, the drag of the ink across paper, or the shape of the letters.  As arthritis gradually eats away at my knuckles, typing is also less painful than writing by hand. Yet, even though the benefits are many, I still feel the need for hand writing. Why do I bother with hand writing anything when it’s so much more convenient to tap out a quick email and hit send?

Have you ever wondered why legal documents require a hand written signature? The answer is obvious; our signature is unique. Nobody else can sign our name the exact same way we sign it. Even talented forgers make tiny errors that enable experts to detect the difference between a real signature and a forgery. The same thing can be said for all of our hand writing. Dr. Rosemary Sassoon, the creator of the Sassoon series of typefaces, said, “Handwriting is an imprint of the self on the page.” Our handwriting is imbued with our personality in a way that a typed page can never capture.  I can look at something scribbled on the back of an old picture and know if it was written by my mother, my father, or my grandmother. I have letters from my grandmother that show the passage of time by the way her script began to waver as she aged but even wavering, it is still undeniably my grandmother’s handwriting. My father often typed his letters; as a businessman, he had ready access to a typewriter. But he always signed them in pen and ink and I still get a warm feeling when I come across an old letter with his signature at the bottom. The hand written signature connects me to my father in a visceral way that the typed pages don’t. I can see my father’s hand swooping, forming the “d” for David and final swoop on the end that crossed the “t” in Harter with the tail of the “r.” It’s unmistakably my father’s hand.

Recently,  I received a short, hand written note from a woman I have never met. This woman had seen a piece of my art work that is hanging in the public library in Harrodsburg, Ky. She was inspired to write to me to tell me how much she loved my work and she offered me some hollyhock seeds for my garden, the hollyhock being the subject of my quilted work. I was so touched by the note that I immediately called to tell her. I told her that not only did I appreciate her compliment to my work, I appreciated that she had taken the time to write.  She laughed and said, “That’s what we old women do!” I told her that it was more than that. She gave me something to save; something to read again when I’m feeling particularly discouraged about my work. I hope that writing by hand is not a dying art. I hope it’s something that we all will continue to do, not just “we old women.”  I can’t picture a stack of emails being saved with quite the same reverence as a bundle of love letters tied with blue ribbon. I hope that the hollyhocks will bloom next summer in my garden and remind me of the kindness of a stranger and the power of the pen.

 

 

 

 

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.

Is there anything so real as words?

“Magazines all too frequently lead to books, and should be regarded by the prudent as the heavy petting of literature.”~Fran Lebowitz

I often think of this quotation from Fran Lebowitz after I’ve started reading something when I should be doing something else.  “Just a little,” I tell myself.  I’ve glanced at the clock.  Then, I swear, it only felt like a moment.  I’ve only just gotten up a good head of steam on the story.  The clock must be lying!  But there they are again, the rest of my life’s obligations rudely insisting on interrupting a really good read.   For us tough cases, of course it’s not just magazines that lead to books.  Books lead to books.  All the time.

Just the other day, I picked up my first Christmas present to arrive in the mail.  A dear friend sent me Betsy Warland’s Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing. I opened it just about the time a responsible adult, a prudent person, would probably start thinking about making dinner.  “The act of reading is the act of belief,” says Warland.  And she had me.  Within the next few pages, she prompts: “As an exercise, you may find it useful to pull a number of books off the shelf and read only the first page of each.”    What a good idea.  Lots of writing teachers suggest exactly this.  What harm could a first page or two do, just before opening the frozen broccoli?

But because for me reading is like candy—who can stop at just one page?— before long I’ve read the first 50 pages of The Picture of Dorian Gray.   My children come into the kitchen.   The stove is cold.  All they can smell is my afternoon coffee. “Isn’t it time for dinner?” they ask.

It’s Oscar Wilde’s fault.  Not mine.  I hang the blame on the characters Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian himself, and more than that, on (page 36), “Words!  Mere words!  How terrible they were!  How clear, and vivid and cruel!  One could not escape from them.  And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed … to have music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of a lute.  Mere words!  Was there anything so real as words!”

But because kids can’t eat words, they finally convinced me to put the book down.  Dinner got made and eaten.

And today.  Well, today is a new day.  I can try reading the “only the first page” of a couple of books again today.  Before breakfast.

Letters From Home

The birth of my first child changed my life in such a myriad of ways, I did the only thing I could think to do as a writer: I wrote about him and the new me I was discovering.  I wrote to document and to understand, because the contradictions of my new life baffled me, both my deep love for the baby and the bewildering grief at leaving my old life behind.  I wrote in my journal, and I wrote letters to friends.  When they responded, I wrote extravagant thank you notes.

Now that child stands taller than I do, those early days sometimes seem like a place from long ago, a home I left behind.  But one friend kept every missive I sent her about my new baby, and recently gifted me back a box full of my letters to her.

I sift through those physical artifacts, and their tactile presence places me back in those early moments as a new mother, when to keep back the tide threatening to overwhelm I scrawled a line or two and stuffed it in an envelope.  The need to post the letter gave me a reason to get out of the house, to pack up the baby I was still learning, so I could send out my latest struggles, and even my celebrations—send them to someone far outside the daily cycle of tending, feeding, caring.

When is the last time you wrote or received a letter—a physical memento of emotions, desires, connections?

This year the National Day on Writing takes place on Wednesday, October 20.  The day is a national celebration of writing sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and officially recognized through a congressional resolution.  Locally, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning is sponsoring “Letters From Home: A Glimpse of the Bluegrass Through Handwritten Words,”  an event designed to encourage the public to write and send longhand letters to friends, family, and U.S. soldiers.

So tomorrow, I’ll be writing new letters from my home in the Bluegrass, at Good Foods Cafe from 11 to 1.  The Cafe is one of 14 locations around Lexington where you can celebrate National Day on Writing by composing a handwritten letter with other writers.  (You can find the full list by clicking the link to the Carnegie Center’s web site, above.)  The day’s events will culminate at the Carnegie Center for a community reading and celebration at 5:30 PM.  Participation in National Day on Writing activities is free and open to everyone.

Come write with other writers.  Make a new artifact or two.  Post your letter and send out your words, from the home you’re in at the moment, into the world.

The enduring power of words

The last thing I expected to hear when my twelve-year-old son sidled up to me Saturday afternoon was him, asking casually: “Where’s the Velveteen Rabbit?”

A confession: as a wordaholic, I used books to parent in ways that felt vaguely like I was cheating in the game of motherhood. I was shameless, reading to distract, entertain, surprise and astonish, to soothe, and to brighten long dull patches—to have words in my mouth far more courageous, wise and curative than any I could have come up with on my own. Certainly we went through picture books the boys chose for themselves, of dinosaurs and earth-moving machines, demolition derbies and space adventures. But I also had a private stash secreted away for the times the coin of my abilities was spent long before the day was done. I couldn’t have loved my boys more intensely, and yet there were times I was poured out, squashed flat, by sleep deprivation and the unceasing needs of those very children. Then, the audience needing distraction, calming, and exemplary modeling was not a child, but me. The Velveteen Rabbit was a story for those times, as Margery Williams’ tale of the Rabbit who learns to be Real only after his shiny surface has been loved off suited my stretched-thin mother-self precisely.

Since it was a book I read for myself, I never would have guessed it would the one my son would recall or request. In fact, he said he needed the book for a language arts assignment to bring in a favorite childhood story to read aloud. I have yet to ask his teacher if she knows what a gift she bestowed with this requirement.

He reads on his own now, of course—this proto-man-child who is taller now than I. His choices are great tomes of adventure and mystery. But for the time it took us to read the Velveteen Rabbit together again, it was as if he were again the tiny child he was so long ago. When we were done, he nodded sagely, and said “that’s a good book,” as he lifted it from my hands.

Of course not all of us will necessarily write a classic on the order of Williams’ Rabbit. But I am renewed in my faith in this power words have. Her words, published in 1922, rescued the harried mother I was years ago and have managed to embed themselves into the heart of a boy in spite of his need to be “manly” around his friends. This is a special kind of magic that is far beyond what Williams called in her book “nursery magic,” bursting past any nursery walls she knew, to continue living in ways she could not have possibly imagined.

In the face of this kind of enchantment and power, all I can offer up is gratitude—and a renewed desire to dip into that well, that power, myself.