Last Wednesday morning, high on chocolate-raspberry coffee and too many sugary macaroons, I made my way to the first fall session of Tinderbox — 8 weekly workshops facilitated by Kimberly Brock. Of course I’d entered the wrong address into my GPS and ended up a few miles away, but, as per my usual M.O., I didn't panic or freak the hell out. I quickly entered the correct address and reached Broadwell Cottage on time. When I walked into the sun-dappled meeting room, a sense of serenity and acceptance washed over me. I was home, and these were my people.
My journey to Broadwell Cottage for the spring session wasn’t so bright and breezy. You see, driving scares the bejesus out of me. My overactive brain thinks I’ll lose control of my car, which will cause it to flip, and I’ll die from the resulting injuries. Morbid, I know.
Four years ago, after my family and I moved from Ireland to Atlanta, I got my first ever driver’s license at the age of 37. Over the following months, I gained some confidence on the roads, but not nearly enough to drive outside of a two-mile radius. For three years, there was no reason why I needed to venture outside of my safety circle. I was a stay-at-home mom who wrote when time allowed. I had my family, my friends, a Kroger, a Super Target, and three Starbucks nearby. All of my needs were met, weren’t they?
Nope. In May 2014, I took the route into self-publishing. A thrilling ride if ever there was one. By Christmas, I was burnt out. Self-doubt wrapped its spindly hands around my creative cup and filled it with loathing. Idiot. You think you’re a writer? Loser. You had to self-publish because no one else wanted you. Phony. You’re so ashamed of your writing; you hide behind a pen name.
Was I really all of those things? My writing friends, who, at the time, were mostly online, would say no. But my increasing uncertainty urged me to find real-life people who also fought in the self-doubt trenches. People who would understand what it’s like to have a brain wired to create and who might know how to conquer crippling fear. But here’s the thing, I run from new people and unknown environments like Wile E. Coyote’s snapping at my tail with metal teeth.
Curious about writing workshops and groups in my zip code, I asked my all-knowing friend Google to find some. A few clicks later, I found Kimberly’s blog. Her post What We Wish For touched me deeply. Here was a lady who spoke my language. The Tinderbox workshops sounded like the safe, creative space I needed. Hallelujah, right? Not so fast. A map search showed me the workshops would take place twenty minutes away from my house. It might as well have been in New York. No way no how could I drive there. I’d need an oxygen tank just to drive past Kroger—a whole 1.7 miles away.
But every few days, I’d browse through the Tinderbox website and then do a virtual drive of the route. I even had my husband drive us there so I could see how busy the roads were. But no matter how easy it seemed, I just couldn’t do it. After a particularly frustrating day where writing words was akin to wrestling adult alligators, I got a rush of the “screw its” and booked the workshop. No matter what it took, I was going.
The night before, I didn’t sleep.
The morning of, I didn’t eat.
I programmed the GPS and set out an hour earlier than needed. Do you think I got lost? Yup. Forty minutes into my drive, I pulled into a gas station in God-knows-where Atlanta. My hands shook so much that a kind trucker, who in my memory looks like Santa Claus, had to pump my gas. Tears filled my eyes, and I wanted to go home. But I stopped myself. If I didn’t make it to Broadwell Cottage, I would never get over my fear of driving, and I would forever hide behind my laptop screen afraid to reveal my true creative self to others.
Eventually, after several more wrong turns and many crumpled tear-filled tissues, I made it. I sat in my car relieved I was there, but terrified about walking through the doors. Again, self-doubt delighted in whispering all of the things I couldn’t do. There was no point going in because I wasn’t a writer. I was a wannabe. The voice of doom and gloom was right. Giving in, I turned the ignition. But then anger kicked my backside and pretty much kicked me out of the car.
I shuffled into the meeting room and sat by the door in case I needed a quick escape. I didn’t. On a beautiful Wednesday morning at the beginning of spring, I met five ladies who welcomed me with open arms and listened to my special kind of cray-cray without judgment. Over the following eight weeks, we cried, we created, we celebrated each other’s work, and we chatted like old friends. Self-doubt and the fear of driving will always be there, it’s who I am, but because I took a chance and went way out of my comfort zone, I reclaimed my creative joy.
My first drive to Tinderbox is very much like the creative journey many of us take. Moving towards your goals will be scary, at times petrifying, and several wrong turns may take you out of the way, but if you persevere, you’ll get there and what’s waiting at the other end will be worth every bump in the road.
Today, I'm a contributor over on the wonderful writers site, Writers in the Storm. If you haven't already found this resource, go check them out!
I'm talking about being in the in-between spaces and how hard that can be for writers - for anyone! You might be surprised by my conclusions...
I'd love to hear your thoughts on writing from the Blue World! Leave me a comment.
Here's the link for the post. You, Storytellers of the Blue World
By Kathleen Craft Boehmig
Helping a friend with some light hauling at his half-built and still-unplumbed cabin in North Georgia last week, I found myself needing a rest room. Fortunately for me, there was a Port-a-Potty on site.
Inside it I noticed a bit of chaff on the floor, like a tuft of grass. Or was it? I peered at it more closely. It wasn’t grass. It was the tiny skeleton of a baby bird. I saw a bit of organic residue several inches above it on the interior wall. I figured the Port-a-Potty was stored on its side when the little creature fell in and expired. Poor thing…what a stunningly brief, ignominious life. I wondered if it ever saw the light of day. Did it suffer an injury when it fell, or did it starve to death? Did it break a wing and die in pain, or of heat or dehydration on a hot summer day? Did its mother flutter outside, frantically calling and trying to get to it? How long had it cheeped for her, before succumbing to death? How deeply do baby birds feel pain, and fear?
My Louie, a Green-cheeked Conure (a small green parrot) is very loving and affectionate. He sometimes gets pissed off, but doesn’t hold grudges. He loves baths and head-scratches, and looks to me for comfort and security. He lavishes me with kisses, chuckles frequently, loves to snuggle and play, and screeches demandingly, the little sausage—when I leave the room without him. When I share a snack with him he becomes territorial about it. He tries to drag my teacup away so he can finish my decaf Earl Grey. Our dog, a pit-lab mix, is terrified of him since Louie lunges at him at every opportunity, jealous of my attention.
Louie also talks. He says hello when my phone rings. He asks, “Do you want something good?” and makes smacking noises when he’s hungry. He is a funny, rambunctious, playful creature who feels the usual emotions: love, fear, anger, loneliness, sadness, contentment, happiness. He is six ounces of badass, bodacious love. Approximately twelve parrots have owned me during my lifetime, and they have all, despite their unique personalities, shared similar characteristics.
I don’t know how the intelligence of other wild birds measures against that of parrots…but I know that any baby will cry for its mother, and most mothers diligently care for their babies. It’s instinctive. Love is the default emotion of the universe, I believe. Even for a small morsel of life like a baby bird, love and need exist.
We all need love…and we all face death. We will all fall from our earthly nests into the eternal Port-a-Potty. We may feel pain, loneliness and despair toward the end. We may cry out, and there may be no evident answer. Or we may be well-loved and content by then, ready to go. We will leave our own organic residue; but our essence will go back where it came from, no longer isolated from Source. I believe we will all, someday, fly back to that big nest in the sky, the source of our awareness, where love’s origin dwells.
So what is life for? What was the purpose of that baby bird’s life? Why was it born, just to experience death after, perhaps, just moments? What good did that little life do? Did it have meaning, other than to prompt me to ask the question? How important is that, anyway?
And what of our lives? What difference does it make whether we are wild creatures who die almost immediately after birth, or human beings capable of abstract thought who may live over 100 years? Some birds live almost that long…and some, like the deceased baby, only briefly. Are their lives less important than ours? Not to them. And, I contend, not to the universe. In the vast spectrum of eternity, our lives here are just a blip, like that baby bird’s short span.
Sometimes I wonder, what’s the use of even pondering these issues? No mortals know the answers. As Robert Frost said: “We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”
My best guess at this point is that we, as particles of Source, enable the universe to grow, play and have new experiences. Through our lives, through our differing levels of engagement with the Great Mystery, the universe lives in realms of seen and unseen patterns in its elegant sacred golden-mean geometry, its ever-reaching fractals and exquisite beauty. At some point most of us will be the needy baby, the caring parent, the playful adult. Those of us who are lucky enough may experience being wise old sages. But I don’t think our worth varies by how close we come to answering philosophical questions, or solving the problems of life on Earth. I believe we are here to engage the issues, though; and that our level of engagement, in spite of or because of our struggles, can determine character.
I couldn’t bear leaving the little skeleton in its vast, cold, blue plastic coffin. I brought it home, and buried it gently in the soft dirt of our woods where the Lenten roses are blooming. When I get back to Source, maybe I’ll get a snuggle with the soul of the fallen baby bird whose remains I found.
But for now my Louie, ever engaged, is demanding my attention. It’s a mild day, and I’m sitting outside next to the Lenten roses with Louie on my shoulder.
“Mom!” he says. “You’re a silly bird!”
He kisses my cheek, rubs his little face against mine and begs for a head scratch. It’s a sign of love…from the universe.
What signs from the universe have you experienced lately?
What comforts you in grief?
What inspires you to experience meaning and be present each day?
BIO: KATHLEEN cRAFT bOEHMIG
I’m an Atlanta native married to another one, and am the mother of a brilliant, kind, funny guy (like his dad) who’s a college freshman. A small green parrot and a crazy dog are my owners. I love the ocean, the mountains, Long Island Iced Tea, reading, Andy Griffith reruns and Jeopardy, horses, birds, and biking our greenway. I will never be completely organized. Massages and pedicures make me want to be a better person.
I love art: painting, sculpture, assemblage, mosaics, jewelry. Some of my art can be seen on my facebook page, Sparrow’s Song Art.
I also love writing, and have served as a board member of the Atlanta Writers Club, have appeared on the Writers Radio Show, and taught at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference. I have also taught memoir at Spruill Center for the Arts, and was a feature contributor in North Fulton Magazine. My pieces have appeared in O, Georgia!, Chicken Soup for the Grandma’s Soul, Sacred Stones, Lessons Learned, and North Point of View.
When Tinderbox Writers Workshop began last year, I posted this blog. We are almost three sessions into our second series and I thought I'd share it again, as a testimony and an intention and an expression of gratitude for all the good that can rise from the ashes of our lives.
And most of all, as an invitation.
There's a place for you in our circle.
WHAT WE WISH FOR
My life broke.That’s the best way I know to explain the past nine months. I’d been going ninety to nothing, publishing my first novel, loving my family hard, raising three kids, each in a different school, managing aging parents, aging pets, peanut allergies and a husband whose work kept him out of town for a good portion of every week. And I was managing. I was moving. I was shaking. I was paying attention. I was doing everything right. And then…I woke up one day and the people in my life started dropping like flies.
In truth, no one actually died, but every person who was significant went into their own personal crisis and I was the last (wo)man standing. I’d been a celebrated teacher, an award winning author, a beloved wife and mother and daughter – that didn’t stop the breaking. It was more than I could manage. And it was nothing I could mend. As the ones I loved struggled, I felt my foundations tremble. My hands were completely tied, my heart was broken, and I’d never been so alone. So here’s what I did: I went into my closet and shut the door.
The thing is, I love my closet. It is my nest. It is my metaphorical womb. It is my most favorite place. And because I have my closet, all my life I’ve been a person who persists. I’ve been a survivor. I’ve been the person who is grounded. I’ve been able to turn inward and find what I need because I lived a rich, creative, thoughtful, faith-filled life. I believe in miracles. I believe in magic. I like to act like I’m all rational and worldly, but truthfully I am a die-hard optimist in a pessimist’s clothing. But that day in January when I went into my closet and I shut my eyes and went to gather my strength and belief in good, good things, a terrible thing happened.
I was empty. Depleted. Exhausted. Where I’d always been able to come out of that closet refreshed, with a plan, ready to take on what came next, suddenly I couldn’t even bring myself to open the door. And I kept thinking the same things over and over. Mostly, I’d catch myself thinking one thing, an unfinished thought: I wish…I wish…I wish…
And when I turned to my work, the thing I thought would get me out of my mess – writing – I discovered every creative person’s nightmare. I was blocked to the bone.
What happened to me? Life broke. And the pieces created a great big dam.
For the past few months I’ve been floundering and questioning. I’ve been wandering around, blinking like a mole, picking up pieces and tucking them into my pockets. I’ve been doing a lot of sleeping because it’s hard to get out of bed. I’ve been eating lots of carbs and reading lots of books and taking care of my house and not answering the phone at all. I’ve been fighting cynicism. I’ve been afraid. Of so many things. Of having nothing special to offer the world. Of being ordinary. Of days passing and watching them go by without being inspired…or inspiring someone else.
Friends and family have watched me, uneasy. It’s scary for them, too, I think. They’ve never seen me…well…stop. I mean really, seriously STOP. But I did. And something new started to happen. I realized this: creativity – the source that has always been the soul-restoring energy available to me in that nest-closet of mine – is like any other thing on this earth that FLOWS. It needs a clear path.
If I wanted to continue to survive – and especially to come back from trauma - it was going to be up to me to learn how to take care of my creativity. And that started with taking care of myself. I started by taking care of myself in all the extravagant, thoughtful ways I wished to be cared for. (Which also gave me the renewed strength to care for those around me.) I worked in ways that felt good instead of exhausting, clearing a path for my creativity. (I learned to say no to a lot of things, too. I’ve never had a problem saying no. But I did have a problem saying yes to the wrong things.) And then I allowed myself to enjoy all the unexpected ways that recovering my creativity brought well-being and purpose and joy back into my life.
Sound like I’ve gone all Oprah? Well. Not really. Half the time I’m still guessing. I don’t live in Chicago or know everything. I know very little, actually. And I like it that way. I like that I’m learning from so many women who are also on this path. So when I started looking around at the women in my life, the girls I see at the grocery store or the school meetings, ladies who sit beside me at church or on airplanes, or book clubs, I started to notice so many of them are whispering things to me.
I’m lost. I’m burnt out. I don’t even have time. I don’t even remember myself. And…I wish. LOTS of I wish.
Tinderbox Writers Workshop came out of I WISH.
I’m calling it a writers workshop, but really it’s a creativity workshop. I believe stories are the surest path to our source - our hearts. Stories teach us how to speak our truth. Stories change everything. Stories teach us about our wishes. Stories are the home of every creative effort, no matter the form.
I’m a believer that if you want something in life, you should create it. And then you should share it. I wished I could create the life I wanted each day. I wished I could create a space for women who are blocked, who are stuck, who are silenced or depleted or just searching for a safe place to discover or recover or express their gifts. I wished for a space for women to share and explore and CREATE and celebrate their stories and voices. I wished to nurture my own soul and the souls of sisters and daughters. I wished for a sanctuary where women can learn to live fully, joyously, passionately – lives lived from our creative core.
I hope you’ll join me.
Discover your story. Recover your voice. What do you wish?
Author Rona Simmons has done something that has set the bar impossibly high for me. She wrote a blog and told the world about the little stuff I try to do as I come to the page every day. And whether she knows it or not, she’s encouraged me with this piece. Rona poked me with a stick and whispered to keep at it. And I hope what she’s written will be an encouragement to a TON of other, better, more prolific or struggling or beginning writers out there. Those who pray for their publishing contracts to come through or those who go without recognition. Those who blog and those who journal. Those who want to see their words in print and those who write in secret to heal a broken heart. For all of us, for the million things we do to help along a friend or a sister or a mama who is trying to find the way to tell her stories.
What Rona says loud and clear in this blog (not just in her post about me but all the women she writes about), is this:
What you’re doing, it matters.
(If you want to read her post, click here for the link.)
****AND, I'd like to bring some attention to a post she ran a few weeks before this one, featuring the lovely and brilliant Soniah Kamal! Click here to read that piece - A Suitable Woman.****
Meeting Rona has been one of the gifts of my writing this year. I hope you’ll all rush out and pick up a couple of copies of her books. Drop by her website and see what she’s up to. She’s inspiring!
To make it easy, here are her links:
book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQBxj_gdb7w
Today I'm sharing a blog post that originally appeared on author and writing teacher extraordinaire, Jordan E. Rosenfeld's blog, which I follow and highly recommend! (Her sight is PACKED with great information for writers and she's written some wonderful books on writing which I frequently reference. Her complete bio and links to her books are posted below. Check them out!)
I'm posting the complete guest blog with permission from the author, my friend, Tomi L. Wiley. Happy reading! Leave a comment! And keep warm, ya'll!
tinderbox society blog
Life lived from your Creative Core.