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

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering in the Woods

Gardner 003

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Peek inside Some Old Journals

When we moved back to the farm, I promised myself that writing would once again become the fulcrum of my life. I set to work on crafting the 3 books at hand. As 2011 wound down and the two years I’d spent writing and editing started to a slow trickle, I began to look around for the journals I had packed away in an attic. The next writing project might lie in there. Or at least the last three decades of my life, the part of my life that represented the 30 years I spent determined to write.

When I was 28, I swore that whatever else happened to me, I was determined to live like a writer, as if what I wrote mattered. Faithful to the journals, even when they were read without my permission, I kept writing, feeling, moving, living, trying to record the truths and the fictions, trying when I caught myself asleep to wake myself up, recording my dreams, observing my endless to do lists. A life. 30 years of a life.

I went to the attic where I had tucked away all those journals that I had written since I was 9 years old. And I brought them downstairs. I replaced the research books I’d used for the last 2 years with these journals and I have begun pulling them down to find out where I was as a writer as all those years ago.
September 23, 1980
The thing that holds me back, prevents me from even beginning a new story, is the fear that I don’t understand it {my life} enough, that there is some storehouse or arsenal of secret longings, dreams, hopes or fears hidden inside, so much there, but that I am so afraid of it, of what it might do if I understood it, that I would then have to hide myself from my Self.

November 7, 1990
View one’s life as a text awaiting translation. See it as some ancient tablet that has shattered and when found it be pieced together, along with the lacunae and errata; that is, the gaps in the text need to be filled in intuitively, and the mistakes made by scribes during the transcription recorded and supplemented with intuitive impressions on the true meaning.

October 15, 1995
If your desire is to be a true artist, know that this is a private matter which can be proven only to yourself through your efforts to become one.

 

I am reading and making notes. At the beginning of the year,
this year 2012 when the world is predicted to end (hmmm), I am busy trying to
figure out where I have been. It’s the least I can do to prepare myself for the
day of reckoning, whenever that comes.

 

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Wrting about Women’s Lives

I have begun many blog posts about the novel and movie “The Help” and have decided to summarize a few observations instead. Despite the sugary triumph at the story’s end, I felt grains of discontent in my craw. I heard white friends say, “Wouldn’t it have been great to hand the children over to someone else in the house and to have a maid?” This appalled me and confirmed some of the worries of many bloggers. That the movie would make the system of exploitation attractive and desirable for people who identified with the white women. I think that is the appeal of the book and the movie for white women. We would have been Skeeter, courageous and helpful, and outside the nasty little tribe of the Junior League. But would we?

I read blogs and heard first hand that at the film’s end audiences rose, applauded, and wept. This reaction makes me incredibly weary and sad. The acting deserves accolades. The screenplay presented a more politically aware Skeeter than the book did. But the emptiness of all the women’s lives is something I can’t applaud, no matter the presentation. The black women spent their lives cleaning for others who intentionally and daily demeaned them. The white women demeaned the black women in order to play bridge.

The movie, perhaps unintentionally, shows a tremendous waste of human potential. So why the applause?

That the women in “The Help” were most concerned about excrement was horrifyingly appropriate and gallingly sad. The plot action revolves around potties and potty jokes. Were women so demeaned that this issue was their main concern? It is true that murders and beatings swirled around the periphery of this novel. But poop and pee were the tools of the war among the women.

What could have been the main territory, the writing of the stories, a brave act of empowerment, was not given the plot. There was little danger in the book or the movie, actual danger, to the writers. They succeed fabulously. No one rips up their only manuscript. No one rejects it. No one puts Aibilene’s eyes out to prevent her from writing her prayers or her chapter. No one hunts Skeeter down and threatens her on a country road. She loses the editorship of the jr. league newsletter, which she is leaving behind anyway. Instead, the plot action centers on high school-like petty revenges. Almost an as afterthought, when Aibilene is fired for her chapter, we are told it frees her to be the person she wants: in the novel she becomes the columnist Miss Myrna. Is that a triumph? It’s the job Skeeter has left behind to become a “real writer.”

To aid in this discussion, I read an article in the current Atlantic Monthly by Sandra Tsing Loh called “The Madness of Menopause,” which calls fertility “The Change.” Fertility hormones cause women to “begin the mysterious automatic weekly rituals” of cooking, cleaning, and caring while the “rest of the family…reads the paper and lazes around like rational, sensible people.” When the “hormonal cloud wears off, it’s not a tragedy, an abnormality, or going crazy.” It means a woman can “rejoin the rest of the human race: she can be the same, selfish non-nurturing, non-bonding type of person every one else is.” I appreciate this because I have always been housework/housewifey/soccermom challenged. I always suspected there was something biologically different about me, even though I have produced three sons. I dare say that the haze of the hormone cloud interferes with the self-regard and self-discipline a writer needs to do her work.

In “The Help,” all the white women, Skeeter especially, have somehow missed this hormonal bondage. The members of the Junior League have children so there is a whiff of fertility in their chemistry but poor Celia Foote, the least racist white woman, can’t bring a child to fullterm. It is the black women, Minnie, Aibilene, Constantine, et al, who are the nurturers, care-givers, the abnegated. In “The Help,” freedom from this bondage is to be 1) white. #1) white and well-off. #2) white and unable to produce children. #3) white and career-minded (Skeeter). In this context, we have a weird depiction of women. The white women in the Junior League are really like men! Lazy, selfish, rational, unmaternal, and hierarchical.

Unfortunately for the women who do the work of nurture and care, menopause will not free them. If the white women are denied their hormonal expression, do they become mean? If biology contributes to this desire for nesting and homelife, then what happens if one has to pretend one doesn’t have it?

I don’t have answers. I am just disappointed and perplexed that the lives of women are so mysterious that we end up praising with our attention and pocketbooks these sad and demeaning caricatures.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Contrary Needs

As a writer, I have two strong and contrary needs, one for solitude and one for community. I once spent a month at a retreat where there were specific rules about community and solitude. Writers and artists breakfasted together and shared the evening meal, but between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm there was to be no conversation. These rules demonstrated the perfect understanding of the contrary needs of the actively creative person.

I don’t live in such a place now.

In solitude, the need I’d say I prefer to gratify more, I write with delight and anguish in private. It’s delicious to be alone with the imagination in a protected space where anything is possible. But, if the post man always finds me in my pajamas, or my children do after they’ve been at school all day, then I have some ‘splainin’ to do. Is this normal? Am I normal?

A community of writers validates this private self. It  offers the opportunity to talk with people who know the vocabulary, practice the struggle, and read books in a similar way. They understand a publication in a small magazine with a readership of less than a thousand is a coup, an occasion for a hand spring when it arrives at the door, much to the befuddlement of the post man.

It is fun to socialize and to feel a part of a community of like minded souls. Hearing a good reading, discussing a problem of construction, or a brand new excellent book or a bad one, links to the happiness inside: I am a member of a tribe. I belong here.

Sometimes this sense of belonging is too seductive, drawing the writer into on-line discussions or too many post-workshop get-togethers and the private life of writing suffers.

When I have over-indulged in community, I long for solitude and return to my desk, dreading meetings, feeling akin to Charles Dickens, who once said, that knowledge of an impending appointment can ruin an entire writing day. I feel that way, too, if my writing must be curbed for a meeting, even if I likely can’t sit for five hours in my chair until the appointed time. It’s the idea of interruption that adds anxiety to the act of writing in solitude.
Yet, in this 21st century in America, I appreciate the opportunity for both privacy and community. It seems a fortune to be able to reconcile the contrary needs. Thank you, fellow writers, for claiming this strange compulsion for self-expression and for insisting its needs be met.

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